Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Other Solar Power

In this article by Joseph Romm at Salon.com, Romm argues that a simpler form of solar energy, concentrated solar power, may be the silver bullet to save humanity from global warming. Perhaps he's overstating the case.

On the other hand, Romm presents a historical perspective, arguing that the Chinese used mirrors for igniting firewood, and that the principle has had numerous other applications through the years, including the potential for steam production, but that the technology was placed on the backburner when oil was discovered as a cheaper and more versatile replacement for coal.

Romm argues that converting solar heat to electricity, by heating a fluid and running it through a turbine, requires zero carbon emissions, and it can be incrediby productive (see my first blog entry on solar towers). For example, Romm claims 92 square miles of mirrors in Arizona could meet current U.S. power needs.

Here's my meta-take on all this, if you'll indulge a flight of fancy. Each area in the world will develop its own sustainable energy plans. These will range from coal to geothermal, from solar to wind, from whale oil to pedal power - there will be a place for it all.

Here's the kicker, though. We'll begin to see new types of storage systems, so that there is less need to transfer one kind of power to another, thereby preserving even more energy for specific rather than entropic use. In fact, overall world energy use (by humans) will increase by orders of magnitude, yet all the power will be harvested and stored sustainably.

Mechanical energy will be stored mechanically using new kinds of fly wheels with magnetic axels, and micronic gearing systems will be developed so mechanical power can be distributed at healthy distances for subtle ranges of purposes without loss to friction.

New electrical batteries, some employing biological components and hydrogen cells, will store small-scale, locally produced, clean electricity, for uses in computers, audio and video production, and connection to world wide communication networks.

Heat will be stored as heat, and coolth as coolth, through the use of underground water tanks and other ingenious forms of mass heat storage.

Perhaps we will learn the secrets of storing carbon in petroleum, and oil and gas combustion will continue to have its place. Clean burning wood, coal, and oils of all stripes will continue to be required for ground transportation and flight, high-powered construction and maintenance equipment, and portable tools requiring high power input over short spurts.

Nuclear energy, too, will find its proper place. Not for the mundane purposes of residential and commercial electric production or horrific warfare, as it is currently being used, but primarily in humanity's quest to see and hear and meet our neighbors, among the stars.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wind Power News

This article, which largely focuses on companies around Sacramento, California, discusses some of the issues making wind power more appealing. It notes a trend for companies to place wind turbines on their roofs, and it discusses some of the technologies available and legal challenges to further development of small scale wind power generation. The article also notes that wind production increased 45 percent in 2007.

Marquiss Wind Power is one of the companies mentioned in the article. Their windmill is pictured above. According to the story, Marquiss "is marketing 5- and 10-kilowatt wind turbines which cost 29,000 and 59,000 dollars respectively."

Read the full story here.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Floating Wind Mills

Here's an interesting article about the newest generation of wind mills under development. There's a push underway to satisfy the cost demands of producing wind power at sea, while also not messing with the pristine look of the ocean.

"[I]t will be out of sight and thus, the company hopes, out of mind for competing local interests such as tourism. The site off Cape Cod where Blue H intends to install a test platform next summer for its first U.S. wind farm will be 23 miles off the coast."