Saturday, June 9, 2018

Psi-Wars Power Technology

As discussed last month, I wanted to dive into the Psi-Wars technological infrastructure in greater detail, carefully defining how everything works.  Today, I have power technology.  There's a companion post on Patreon for all $3+ patrons, which goes into making this technology compatible with GURPS Vehicles, looks at the values behind the technology and the design process I used to come to those conclusions, and then looks at some additional technology that I don't discuss here (technology unique to artifacts or ancient civilizations).  So if you're a patron, check it out!

Power Technology

Like most advanced societies, most of the Psi-Wars galaxy runs on electrical power (though a few ancient civilizations ran on psionic power!). Power generators create this electricity, which is transported along cables, and then used to power everything from small appliances to towering industrial infrastructure. However, the power technology of Psi-Wars has advanced to include fusion reactors, advanced power cells, and high efficiency energy transportation technology.

Power Plants


Fusion is an older technology, typically found in older settlements, on older ships, or where power generation needs to remain constant over long periods of time. It represents the common fusion technology described in GURPS Ultra-Tech where a relatively small store of hydrogen can be turned over a very long period of time into useful energy. Fusion generators tend to be exceedingly heavy, thanks to the intense pressures and heat they need to generate to kickstart a stable fusion process. While the power generated is not as great as generated by Hyperium Fusion, it can remain stable for literally centuries. Thus, vast dreadnoughts with considerable power needs and an inability to refuel regularly and no major concerns for a heavy reactor often make use of fusion reactors.

Fusion reactors are too large for a portable reactor: the smallest weigh over a ton, thanks to the amount of shielding and pressure necessary to keep such a reactor running. Thus, fusion reactors tend to be mounted in large, heavy vehicles (typically starships) or as static installations.

Hyperium Fusion

Hyperium is a dense, metallic liquid that can be found deep in some planetary cores, or in oceans deep below the cloud layers of certain gas giants. When properly treated, Hyperium can fuse like hydrogen, but at much lower temperatures and pressures, allowing a form of "cold fusion." This generates far more energy than standard fusion and a hyperium reactor can be built at a fraction of the mass and cost of a standard fusion reactor. The price of Hyperium is that the process "burns" through fuel at a much faster rate than "hot" fusion, and thus the reactor needs to refuel much more often than a fusion reactor, on the order of days rather than years. Furthermore, hyperium is much less common than hydrogen and thus more expensive. Nonetheless, the Hyperium Mining Guild ensures that the galaxy has a steady, if pricey, supply of the powerful substance.

Unrefined hyperium, in its natural state, is only metastable and thus extraordinarily explosive. It has an REF of 6, making it slightly more destructive than thermobarics. Psi-wars has more destructive explosives, but insurgents often make use of it when creating improvised explosive. Unrefined hyperium can be used normally in a hyperium reactor. Refined hyperium has had additives that stabilize it, and to use its mass more efficiently in hyperium reactions. It only has REF 1 and weighs half as much per gallon as unrefined hyperium. The refinement process can be reversed with a Chemistry roll, resulting in half a gallon of unrefined (and highly explosive) hyperium.

Hyperium Fusion Technologies

Semi-Portable Hyperium Reactor: This relatively small reactor contains a space for five gallons of hyperium fuel, which provides the reactor with enough fuel for 20 days of constant use. $75,000, 300 lbs.

Hyperium Fuel: Hyperium fuel can be mined from gas giants, deep planetary cores and, for the daring, from certain exotic stars themselves! Hyperium in its unrefined state is highly explosive and has an REF of 6. When refined, it has an REF of 1. 1 gallon of Hyperium costs $100 and weighs 6 lbs (for refined) or 12 lbs (for unrefined).

Solar Power

Solar power is not a preferred form of energy generation in the Psi-Wars galaxy; it takes up far more space, and it generates less energy than fusion and presents a greater target for raiders or attackers. Nonetheless, it offers "free" energy and isn't especially expensive to build. Many non-military, non-mobile installations, such as space colonies of planetary farms make use of solar panels to handle their modest electrical needs.

Solar Power Technologies

Semi-Portable Solar Power Array: A small generator that unfolds into a large solar panel that can generate “external power” sufficient to power a small farm or nearby habitat. Requires steady sunlight! The solar panel array is 100 square feet. $5,000, 100 lbs.

Energy Storage

In cases where a generator cannot be carried with you (and a hyperium reactor can be remarkably small!) the people of Psi-Wars turn to power cells. The power-cells of Psi-Wars use a "caged plasma charge" technology similar to, but much more stable than, that found in plasma grenades. Treat Psi-Wars power cells as superscience power-cells, holding 5x as many "charges" as normal power cells from Ultra-Tech.

Power cells aren't typically explosive, but they can be changed into improvised explosives by those who know how. This requires both an Electrician roll and an Explosives (Demolition) roll to use the parts of the powercell to construct a proper plasma explosive. The resulting explosive is typically inferior to a true plasma charge, and only has REF 6.

Energy Generation Infrastructure

Power-plants differ in construction. Fusion or Hyperium reactors both utilize the same basic principle: the fusion reaction generates heat which is dumped into a coolant (this can be simply water, though more compact designs use denser coolants). The expanding coolant turns turbines and thus generates electricity.

In the case of solar power and fusion power, the energy is then dumped into an energy bank, essentially enormous power cells. Both have "constant" energy outputs, while the energy needs of the vehicle or the city vary over time, and this energy bank helps to stabilize peaks of demand. However, if demand grows too low and the energy banks fill, the fusion reactor must be turned off, and can take some time to cycle back into an on-state. Hyperium reactors can precisely control their flow of fuel, and don't need energy banks.

Extreme energy flux, caused by an unexpected runaway fusion reaction or a sudden surge in the power-grid, must be discharged before it damages the local infrastructure. Power-plants use "Plasma discharge stations," sometimes called "Flux chambers" to dramatically discharge excess energy in dramatic displays of crackling lightning. Such chambers can either be buried, discharging their excess charge into the ground, or they can be open-air, discharging them into the atmosphere. The latter tend to occur on highly industrial worlds or especially poor worlds, and their lightning is visible for miles.

Psi-Wars transmits power over power cables, thumb-thick grey-sleeved wires, generally buried in the ground. These have far less energy loss than TL 8 power lines but nonetheless operate on simiar principles. Those lines nearest the station tend to be the most energetic, with those energy levels "stepped down" as they reach regional, then local stations, then stepped down again once they reach their final point of access. The points at which they are "stepped down" are called "Power exchanges" or "Exchange stations," and they typically house their own energy banks, to manage local energy needs, and resemble "mini power-plants." Sufficiently large vehicles might also have power exchanges, and every home has a small "fuse box" sized power exchange.

If a hero needs to tap directly into the power-grid for some illicit purpose, the GM may rule he needs to "step down" the energy to keep from frying his devices. This can be done with an Electrician roll and a jury-rigged power cell, or by any electrokinetic with the power-generator perk.

Energy Security and Sabotage

Solar power plants tend to be sufficiently fragile that severe weather can damage them, making them a maintenance hassle. Most solar plants tend to be space-bound as a result.

Fusion and Hyperium reactors are much tougher targets. Damage to turbines or coolant tanks will disrupt the energy generation process. Destroying a flux station or local energy banks won't immediately damage a power-plant, but if used in conjuction with a surge, can result in a catastrophic faiure of the power-plant. Damaging a fusion reactor itself will not result in anything but power-plant failure and dissipating hydrogen gas. Damaging a hyperium reactor and hyperium fuel tanks, however, results in explosions that can result in a cataclysmic feedback cycle. A character may roll Electrician or Engineering (Civil) to know where possible entry points are, or how best to sabotage the reactor. Planet-Bound reactors tend to be wrapped in a protective shell, not to protect the populace from radiation (Psi-Wars fusion reactors are cinematically radiation free), but to protect the reactor from external attack.

An attack on a power exchange also represent a serious danger: while it won't wipe out global power, it can seriously damage the power grid of a specific area. Large power exchanges tend to be as well guarded as power plants themselves. The smallest power exhanges, those connected to houses and buildings to transform "power grid energy levels" to local, "external power" energy levels can also be sabotaged to "cut power to a building." Secure facilities keep their power exchange internal (and may even have onsight energy banks or their own backup hyperium generator), but cheap buildings, especially apartments, have external power exhanges. In all cases, deducing the location of a power exchange requires an Electrician or Engineering (Civil) roll. Sabotaging one is as simple as an Electrician roll, or inflicting sufficient damage (a small grenade shoudl be sufficient). Many areas or buildings where security is a concern may have redundant power exhanges. This too can be deduced from with an Electrician or Engineering (Civil) roll.

Tampering with power cables and exchange stations can be dangerous! An attack from a high-power cable will inflict 6dx2(3) per second, while exchange stations or city-scale power-cables will inflict 6d(3) per second; a house-scale exhange station or power cable will inflict 3d(3) per second. Use the rules for lethal electrical damage on B432

Typical Power Plants

The sort of power-plant found on planets or in major colonies can be building sized all by itself. The sort of power-planet necessary for a city or a colony is SM +8 and fits into a decent-sized building. It usually has a “missile shield” with a DR of 10,000. A “planetary generator,” one large enough to power a planetary shield and typically found on highly industrialized worlds tend to dwarf the smaller reactors on other worlds and reach SM +11 and take up sprawling structures all on their own, and typically have a “missile shield” with a DR of 25,000.

A power plant, on a world, is generally housed within a broader campus or complex. Security walls or fences ring the power plant. The campus will have numerous “support” facilities, including warehouses with loading docks for the storage or transport of spare parts or hyperium cannisters, workshops and labs for onsite repairs and maintenance of the facilities, offices and reception areas where employees can meet to discuss future plans or to receive or train new engineers. At the core of the complex, one can find the reactor and its support mechanisms, including its coolant tanks, energy banks and flux stations, and the control rooms used by the staff to monitor the energetic fusion reactions and the energy flow. Some “power plants” have multiple reactors, typically located near one another; a particularly popular combination is a few classical fusion reactors with a spare hyperium reactor which can be activated when additional energy is needed (say, in wartime or during “peak” hours). A small scale power-plant employs 100 people or robots, while a large-scale power plant typically employs around 500 people or employees. About half are engineers and mechanics, while the rest are managers, scientists, receptionists, secretaries, instructors and security personnel.

Exchange stations tend to be much smaller. An exchange station for an entirey city might fit into a single house-sized building, and employees about 10 people, including mechanics, security and a handful of office workers. Smaller exchange stations tend to be entirely automated, and may have a single technician who visits them occassionally. Most cities will house a single exchange station in a building that also houses the support staff that visits smaller-scale exchanges, as well as management and local public relations and legal counsel that represent the power plant and its management to the city.

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