Archive for the ‘energy conversion’ Category

Our Responsibility for Creation

May 11, 2019

Back in the 1960’s, when the Greening urge seemed to dawn upon us domesticated industrialized people . . . after the influence of Rachel Carson and others who followed in her path of conscientious awareness . . . we found a useful word to name the bad, destructive stuff we dump into our environment.

The word was: Pollution.

In the last decade or two, when the contemporary Green movement adopted the “global warming” and “climate change” phrases, they did not realize they were doing their cause a disservice. Those two terms—what has now been settled into as “climate change,” are too ambiguous to be of any real use.

Why? Because in the billions of years this planet has been evolving, the climate has always been changing; furthermore, those changes have, all along, included periods of warming. Now that we have determined—accurately, in my view—that much of that “warming” or “change” is our fault, we need to start fixing the problem, not fight about it. The fighting will only throw up more carbon.

But we ought  not, in that campaign, negate the human rights of people to make judicious use of what we have found in this planet.

For Greens and others who advocate for clean or redemptive policy to ceaselessly nag the rest of us about climate change is self-defeating. The chosen terminology confuses the real issues. Joe Sixpack and Jane Doe don’t understand what you mean by “climate change.”

The term is counterproductive. Citizens are missing the point because of your ambiguous terminology.

The real point is that we are polluting this, our planetary home. And we collectively must find a way to minimize that pollution as much as possible, if not altogether eliminate it: pollution—whatever is bad shit that adversely affects or damages our holy Earth. Some pollution is carbon, and some is even more seriously destructive than mere carbon.

Carbon is, after all, the essential component of life itself. You can’t go organic without it.

See what you think about this idea . . .

Let’s just divert all the carbon into one place and then form it into bicycles so we can pedal around the planet without spewing destructive gases everywhere we go. Is that a good idea? Yes? OK, you go first and maybe I’ll follow along if I can summon up the energy in my 67-year-old legs to pedal from here to wherever I have to go from now on  in life.

Furthermore, how are we going to get all the carbon diverted to a pre-assigned appropriately contained space?

Good luck with that.

AirSilt

As far as getting started or building up some momentum in this planetary cleanup project is concerned, let’s just cut to the chase in our strategy. Tell everybody:

Give a hoot; don’t pollute!

Widespread awareness among mankind is the key to making reparative change on this front; education is the means to achieve it. All ye extreme climate change advocates need to focus on educating us the public instead of threatening all mankind with your proposed centrally-planned regimes of soviet  oppressive control.

I am supportive of your zeal for our threatened planet, and I want to help. But my entrance into the fray is colored by a worldview that, among your peer group, seems alien to the cause of planetary cleanup.

But we Christians are not really against you. We are against politics that wants to abscond our human rights for the sake of improvement that may actually never be workable.

Meanwhile, back at the green, hopefully carbon-neutral homestead . . .

I just read an essay that says concisely almost everything I have been trying to say about environmental issues for the last ten years.

   https://www.amazon.com/Sex-Economy-Freedom-Community-Essays/dp/0679756515.   

Thirty or so years ago, a compatriot of ours, Wendell Berry, wrote and spoke:

~ “the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world,  and the uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction are now established cliches of the conservation movement. This is a problem. . .”

~ “Christian organizations, to this day, remain largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and its traditional cultures.”

~ “Our predicament now, I believe, requires us to learn to read and understand the Bible in the light of the present fact of Creation.”

~ “. . . careful and judicious study. . . (and) making very precise distinctions between biblical instruction and allegedly respectable Christian behavior.

~ “. . . our native religion should survive (and should be allowed to survive -editor) and renew itself so that it may become as largely instructive as we need it to be. On such a survival and renewal of the Christian religion may depend the survival of the Creation that is its subject.”

~ “We will discover that God found the world, as He made it, to be good, that He made it for his pleasure, and that he continues to love it and to find it worthy, despite its reduction and corruption by us.”

~ “We will discover that for these reasons our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of our family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy.”

~ “We have the right to use the gifts of nature but not to ruin or waste them. We have the right to use what we need but no more, which is why the Bible forbids usury and great accumulations of property.”

In support of this last statement, we note In the book of Leviticus:

“The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine (the Lord’s); for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.

“Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land. . .

“ . . . but if he (the poor one who has defaulted) has not found sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser until the year of Jubilee.”

So we understand from the Bible that private property is a part of our heritage. But in a larger sense—a world understood to be co-habited by billions of pooping people— the earth belongs to all of us, and we are all, all of us, collectively responsible for it.

—Even as we are individually responsible for our own souls, and whatsoever property the Lord hath entrusted to each man, woman, family, group, nation, species of us.

Looking even further back in our history, and in the enduring Biblical canon which many of us still subscribe to, we find in the very first chapter, this directive:

“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Back in the industrial age when we mechanized using steam power to rearrange the entire civilized world, we interpreted that “subdue it” command as: do whatever you need (want) to it to make it work in your favor.

But now, two or three centuries later, we need to interpret that “subdue” differently.

In biblical retrospect, we see It means: make Godly use of the resources we find. It does not mean “destroy it.”

It does not mean use nature for a dump. It does not mean “pollute it.”

It does not mean frack it.

Fracking? What the hell?

I think you fracking oil companies should voluntarily cease the practice of injecting poisonous chemicals and busting up earth’s crust for the sake of pumping out oil. If that means I’ll have to do with less oil and/or gas, then I’ll just have to deal with it.

When God created the world, he pronounced it “good.”

Let’s keep it that way if we can.

King of Soul

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From Grand Coulee to Grand Solar

May 8, 2019

Everybody ought to have something meaningful to do. Wouldn’t you agree?

A job, a volunteer project, or at least some personal pursuit, to occupy one’s time in an activity that is beneficial to one’s self, or helpful to others, maybe even improving society.

Whether it’s a job with a private enterprise—a small business,  a corporation, or a .gov agency, a non-profit foundation, or a personal pursuit . . .

Everybody finds benefit in having meaningful activity,

especially if it may make life better for the rest of us.

Recently I caught wind of some public discussion about maybe combining this need for individual productivity with work that benefits our public purpose. Consider the prospects of projects that would improve our infrastructure.

Infrastructure is, you know . . . roads, bridges, electrical grids, communication networks, parks, public spaces and lands . . . systems and places, etc. that we share—

networks and common spaces that tend to fall apart or degenerate if someone doesn’t take responsibility to maintain or take care of them.

As I was pondering this idea, my mind wandered back in time to an era in our national history–the 1930’s– when people working together got a lot of important work done by teaming up to improve what was our infrastructure at that time.

Back in that day there was a fella who went around lending a hand in public works of all kinds, and he wrote songs about his experiences,

Woody Guthrie.

Woody wrote a good ole song about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, out west between Washington and Oregon.

It’s an authentic song about a great project. Listen to Woody singing  Grand Coulee Dam, which he recorded in 1941.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vLZOKshJPs.     

And check out this pic of that immense, power-conserving structure, when it was being built, back in 1933: 

CouleeConst

You can find more about the building of the Grand Coulee dam here:

    https://omsi.edu/calendar/science-pub-portland-building-grand-coulee-dam   

As I was a-listening to Woody’s song about the Grand Coulee, the thought occurred to me that we should perhaps take on a similar project, or two, today—construction of a cooperative facility to provide electricity in a manner that is clean and green and maybe even carbon-neutral.

So I added a verse to Woody’s ole song:

In a trillion solar sunbeams of any shining sunny day

flies a steady stream of energy, more watts than man can say.

We oughta build a great collector like the big Grand Coulee dam;

and capture solar megawatts in this great  Grand Solar Land.”

Have a listen and see what you think about it:

    http://www.micahrowland.com/carey/GrandCouleeSolar.mp3

And envision electricity this way:

SolarGrand

King of Soul

Green Money

March 20, 2019

It has been about 200 years since our great American expansion picked up enough steam to really get going full throttle.

From Maine to Miami, from Seattle to San Diego and everywhere in between, in our humongous exploitive thrust westward, southward, and  every whichaway you can think of— we went bustin’ through the Adirondacks, the Appalachians, across the  wide prairies, over Big Muddy, up the Missoura and all the way down to the Rio Grande, through Sierras out to Pacific shores, even leaping oceanward and skyward to Hawaii.

EucTre4

Back in the day, when we got into the thick of that vast continental expedition, we moved over and through rolling virgin landscapes of living green.

Green were the great evergreens of the North. Green were the hardwood forests on coastal plains, on Appalachian slopes, on heartland grasslands. Green were the piney woods of the South. Green were the grains of the far-stretching prairies.

And the certificates by which we assigned value to our works—these too were green.

Dollars—we designed them in green.

Dollar

So, green were the dollars that transacted our nation through thousands of ventures, millions of contracts, compelling trillions of working hands that were capitalized by investing hands, then driven upward in value by speculating hands and traded cleverly by arbitraging wallstreet whizzes.   

Some newly-immigrating Americans moved independently, others collectively, across the continent. All along the way they cultivated green crops and earned green dollars wherever they settled, digging, mining, organizing co-ops, forming companies, building roads and bridges, collaborating, accumulating capital, incorporating, expanding, growing, thriving, burgeoning and burdening.

Burdening the earth. Extracting to the max all along the way. Tow that line; tote that bale. Milk it for all its worth.

By the time mid-20th century rolled around, ole mother earth was bursting at the seams, displaying scarred hillsides, scraped-out open-pit mines, hollowed-out insides, chemicalized sores, oozing green slime. . . but enabling us thereby to whiz along on continent-wide  interstate rides. Hey, let’s pull over for a song break:

  http://www.micahrowland.com/carey/Deep Green.mp3

We grew up with stock-green scenery whizzing by outside the windows at 65 miles per hour— seemingly insignificant landscape sliding through the view on our way to wherever our best-laid plans of mice and men might propel us.

At ramping exits we egress to fill-up on the American dream, then cruise control at 78 mph in our lean dream transportation machines. Green, green is just a tucked-away scene behind the gas station.

Still yet are the the dollars green, but only in our minds, because now we’ve digitized them so we don’t actually lay eyes on them $$ any more.

And then, lo and behold, a new thing happened. Motivations morphed. The politics that drives our nation states began to turn green.

Whereas, before, red, white, and blue were the colors that motivated us.

Now we find that the ole faithful red, white and blue of Liberty has run its course through world history. Those other nation-states that had followed our galavanting, capitalizing lead. . . now they have fueled their engines with our money-green currency, and they did park billions of our little federal reserve notes into every marketplace and bank vault across the globe. . .

But what goes around, comes around, and when it recycles, it morphs as something different.

Alas, so now what new Green through yonder Continent breaks?

Turns out that some Keynesizing technocrats have devised a means to turn the whole financialized world around so that the new motive—the re-greening of earth—becomes society’s great purpose and goal. On the old economic scenario of Supply and Demand, Sustainability arises as the new Remand.

Instead of the profit motive! Instead of Go West Young Man, now we find a new clarion call: Go Green Young Band!

     https://www.socialeurope.eu/green-money-without-inflation

Will it work?

Glass half-Full

the Word BigBang

January 18, 2019

Way, way back in time, before all this stuff was here, even back before the Big Bang, something very amazing happened.

Reflect

I was wondering about our universal origin, so I  took a chance on a Wikipedia entry about it. This is what I found:

The (Big Bang) model describes how the universe expanded from a very high-density and high-temperature state.”

Scientists and dreamers like me have, for many and many a year, puzzled about what that “very high-density and high-temperature state” might have been.

I was pondering this development. My irrational dreamer self was wrestling with Reason as I attempted to figure out what that very high-density pre-Bang substance might have been. Being the 20th-century educated baby boomer that I am, my mind stumbled into an idea that I must have discovered in a science classroom somewhere along the line. Therefore, E=mc² banged into my big (bigger than a chimpanzee’s) brain.

Energy = mass x the speed of light squared.

Which means something like: When a very small chunk of (mass) material stuff gets its atomic parts whirling around at a certain  extremely high speed, and when that speed is zipping along at a rate of that same velocity multiplied by itself (faster than I can imagine), the whole baleewick crosses some kind of transformational threshold and suddenly that mass of nuclear stuff gets changed Presto Chango! into something fundamentally different— Energy!

Waves and waves of energy . . .

Energy. . . hmm. . . whataboudit . . . Now I do know that there are many different forms of energy. There’s kinetic energy, like a bat hitting a ball, which then suddenly propels that ball to an absolutely reverse direction from the direction in which the pitcher had pitched it. Pretty amazing thing for a batter to do, when you think about it.

Amazing. Lots of amazing in this universe. Moving right along. . . don’t blink or you’ll miss something.

And then there’s potential energy, like Mr, Newton’s apple, which was, naturally, connected to an apple tree until, all of a sudden, something gave way and the apple dropped to the ground, which provoked Mr. Newton to ask:

Say what?

Which translates from 17th-century English to: what the heck is going on here? Or, if you’re an out-of-the-box kind of thinker . . . what the hell is going on here?

Potential energy instantaneously being converted to kinetic energy! That’s what.

Perhaps it’s a little microcosm of the Big Bang, but on an exponentially smaller scale. The apple does make, you know, a kind of thud when it hits the ground, and then it transforms into a treat for an itinerant traveler to partake thereof.

Meanwhile, back at the tranche,  back to the the case of the macrocosm, the, as it were,  Big Bang, which was hypothesized as high-density matter being converted suddenly into kinetic energy, and subsequently expanding outward . . . (as John Lennon sang back in the day) across the universe . . .

and then, along the way, settling into a reverse of the mass-to-energy scenario, back into the energy-to-mass state of being, which brought forth . . . mass, stuff . . .

a Universe, duh . . .

I can only wonder, well, it is what it is, or . . . or it is what it has a become, as a result of all that instantaneous transformation, which has been transforming itself over 14.5 billion years to ravel as what we call “the Cosmos,” and everything therein.

14.5 billion years of unfolding Universe.

Wow!

Francis Collins’, in his book the Language of God, described the beginning of the phenom, this way:

“For the first million years after the Big Bang, the universe expanded, the temperature dropped, and nuclei and atoms began to form. Matter began to coalesce into galaxies under the force of gravity. It acquired rotational motion as it did so,  ultimately resulting in the spiral shape of galaxies such as our own. Within those galaxies local collections of hydrogen and helium were drawn together, and their density and temperature rose. Ultimately nuclear fusion commenced.”

All of this posited data reverberates in my 21st-century brain, settling into my born-again spirit, and restates itself as an expanded statement of Moses’ ancient, pre-science explanation:

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light; God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

Makes sense to me. You?

Glass half-Full

From Digging to Digitization

October 26, 2018

The history of mankind has consisted of humans pulling stuff out of the ground and reworking it to suit our own survival purposes.

As people became more and civilized, and organized, the underlying survival instinct took a back seat to other motivations—gathering surplus, tribal organizing, development of skills and trades, cooperation and competition. . . eventually industry,  government, education, business, recreation, sports, entertainment.

The progressive developments of all these human activities required something that was necessary and common to all of them:

Resources.

Stuff from the earth itself. Raw material. Basic stuff:

Water, dirt, plants, rocks, ores, animals, hides.

As civilization moved forward, these basics were refined by us— reconstructed, manufactured to fulfill the requirements of human development.

Locomotv copy

The list of basic stuff (above) was revised to include:

Drinks, processed foods, fertilizer, livestock, leather, pets, tools, machines, lumber, metals, trains, cars, planes, appliances, telephones, radios, televisions, computers.

Computers–aha! With these, human development embarked upon a new phase.

Information itself becomes as useful (or at least we think it is as useful. . .) as all the other stuff that we’re using to make the world a more convenient place since the beginnings. Knowledge itself has became a resource. Yeah, though I dare say it—a commodity.

So we notice that over the course of human progress we did move steadily from pulling stuff out of the ground, and reworking it so that we could improve our life, to—

Pulling information out of our data machines.

Like it or not, this is the outcome of human history. We have come to this. Now development is largely about retrieving and using data files to improve life or capitalize upon its developments.

In the same manner as we traditionally removed natural resources from the ground and turned it into our good stuff.

And bad stuff. Let’s not forget that part. Our progressive high-tech life now generates bad stuff. Pollutants, toxins, noxious substances and, of course, shit itself, which still happens every day on a very large scale.

A consequence of our globally massive improvement project is that more and more persons are being driven into knowledge jobs.

Instead of all that plowing, digging, mining, constructing that we did all through history—more and more of us are typing, cataloging, programming, sitting at desks and watching computers do our so-called  work for us. Such activity (relatively, it is inactivity) becomes the order of the day for us as far into the future as many of us can see.

This digitized transformation of human development will bring us to some huge changes. I read an article about it this morning:

  https://www.ips-journal.eu/regions/global/article/show/the-false-hero-called-digitalisation-3050/n

Seeing as how we now have entered the age of information retrieval slowly overtaking natural resources recovery. . . seeing as how we gaze collectively at what seems to be the setting sun of human physical toil, I offer a tribute to the noble enterprise of Human Labor.

RailEngn

This tribute I offer in the form of a song. Gordon Lightfoot wrote it years ago.

It is one of the best songs ever written about the glory of human labor. You may listen to the songwriter’s rendition here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXzauTuRG78 

I also offer my own rendition of Gordon’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, a song that I dearly love to sing.

    Gordon’s Railroad Trilogy

As you listen to both versions, imagine you are watching a sunset—the disappearing brightness of human labor accomplishment, being supplanted by a foggy dawn of. . . whatever is ahead for our collective endeavor.

King of Soul

The Better Waves

June 30, 2018

Everywhere everywhere we have waves bouncing around.

The sun sends them to us, across 93 millions of space. They hit our little planet; they reverberate in all kinds of ways. Some of them we capture and channel into energetic uses.

Others we do not capture at all. They just ripple around placidly in places unseen.

Out in the wild, in some natural place where the planetary stream gently trickles through unspoiled environs, we may notice waves just rippling along being their leisurely selves.

Ripples

If we peer closely at them, we may notice the universal vibration passing through our brief moment in time and space.

Waves

In other locations, where humans have captured the waves and trained them into commercial or utilitarian applications, they just degenerate into more of the blahblah interference that we encounter every day in our electronified existence. Like this pic taken at a gas station, where apparently the petrol pushers have determined that we cannot be without electronic stimulation for any amount of time—even the 2 or 3 minutes it takes to fill an itinerant gasoline tank.

EWaves

Although it is strangely reassuring to see a human face there in the mix, especially a pretty one. . .

GasGirl

Glass Chimera

The Mysterious Door

June 24, 2018

The great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, had a problem in 1867. It was a very old problem; many had tried to solve it before he came along. It wasn’t actually his problem to fix, but merely to figure it out; his objective was to try and determine who or what had already solved “the problem”. Because, you see, the matter had already been taken care of long, long ago.

Otherwise none of us would be here; nothing would be here.

The actual problem-solver who had worked it out was not thought to be credible at the time of Maxwell’s work. The problem-solver’s presumptuous  representatives had made such a mess of things.

Consequently, in the 1800’s, the scientific community placed little or no credence in what the so-called Church had to say about anything—especially presumably scientific matters like the origin and unfolding of the Universe.

19th-century scientists and other serious researchers like Darwin, Marx and many others were all in a tizzy about throwing the God idea out with the bath water. It was a leap of faith instead of a rational inference. They did have some legitimate arguments about the Church’s faith-based input, because the so-called Church had made such a mess of things while they were running the show back in the middle ages. Two especially bad screwed-ups the Church had done happened when they had, earlier, rejected the findings of Copernicus and Galileo.

But you betcha the mystery still lay unsolved when the science boys took over, long about 1800 or so. They were working on the mystery intently. And so Mr. Maxwell, diligent Scot that he was, took hold of the mantle in 1867, as many others were doing at the time, and he gave it a shot—solving the riddle.

The question of how all this happened.

This existence, this world we live in—how did it get here?

There was, you see, a piece missing in this great puzzle of existence.

In the chain of events that ostensibly took place when the universe was made, there was a missing link that no one had been able to figure out. So, James Clerk Maxwell tackled the question, striving to solve the riddle of the missing link.

Therefore Dr. Maxwell came up with what he called the “Demon.” My unschooled opinion says he could have chosen a better word. . . something like what Rene Descartes had termed it, the Prime Mover.

As Peter Hoffman gives an explanation of Maxwell’s work, the Scot posed this profound question:

“How can molecular machines extract work from the uniform-temperature environment of cells without violating the second law of thermodynamics?”

In other words, how can atoms and molecules organize themselves to become something more than what they already are—just a bunch of damn molecules kicking around like unemployed vagrants?

Or to put it yet another way: How could life have come out of dead particles?

And so, as Dr. Maxwell pondered the problem of the missing link in 1867, he came up with the idea of (what was later called Maxwell’s. . .) Demon.

Peter M. Hoffman explains it, in his 2012 book, Life’s Ratchet,    https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00A29OFHS/ref       this way:

“Maxwell’s demon . . . was a a tiny hypothetical creature who controlled a little door separating two gas-filled chambers, which initially have the same average temperature. The job of the demon was to separate gas molecules into fast and slow molecules. . . Starting from a uniform-temperature system, the demon had created a temperature gradient—making one side cold and the other side hot. . . This temperature gradient could now be used to do work if a little turbine could be placed in the demon’s door.”

The analogy of a demon is not, of course, to be taken literally. James Maxwell was a brilliant physicist whose work paralleled Einstein’s. His use of the hypothetical creature is merely a literary device to communicate the function of an unidentified catalyst that makes something constructive happen in an environment in which (theoretically) nothing can happen.

Obviously something did happen, back in the days of universe origin, or we wouldn’t be here. Nothing would be here, if the problem had not been solved. Someone, demon or otherwise, must have worked it out.

Rene Descartes, a mathematician who lived in the 1600’s, had stumbled upon the same dilemma. He had posited the idea of a Prime Mover, which seemed pretty logical at the time.

Still does, if you ask me.

An original cause (as in cause in effect), that caused everything else to happen, big bang blah blah etc. and so forth and so on.

But what diligent mathematicians and scientists neglected to mention was that the problem had long ago been solved by a mysterious entity who had been so erroneously represented by the so-called Church: God.

Not a demon, but God. The demons were the created beings who tried to pull rank on the Creator, YWHeh.

Therefore, in order to now— in the 21st-century— give credit where credit is due . . .

MaxwellDemon

I say it was a notable accomplishment what YWHeh did, when he solved the problem of the missing link, way back in time. And he said so.

He said it was good— in the first chapter of his bestseller, Genesis.

It was good when He separated light from darkness. Genesis 1:4:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

This “separation” function is no chance development. It needed to happen. It’s no coincidence that Maxwell’s demon and Creator YWHeh both are depicted as having “separated” something from something else. . .  The Separator’s accomplishment was functionally something like Maxwell’s presumed demon’s task of separating molecules into two different energy levels in order to create

“a temperature difference between the chambers without expending work, thus seemingly violating the second law.”

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the law that YWHeh seems to have broken when he started the ball of the universe rolling. But it didn’t matter if he broke that “Law” because he set up the whole kitnkiboodle anyway, back in the Day. That 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was an idea that we came up to try and explain it all. It wasn’t something that YWHeh declared when he declared Let there be light and so forth and so on.

On Day 1 (whatever that means to you) the Prime Mover separated light from darkness, and the rest is history.

Not bad for a day’s work, YHWeh. Keep up the good work.

Glass Chimera 

Solar Tech–what needs to happen

January 24, 2018

When I was a young man, idealistic and foolhardy, I attempted to start a newspaper.

I was in Asheville, a progressive southern town that was collectively trying to morph itself into a sort of Santa Fe of the South.

The year was 1977, and the gas-rationing effect of the so-called Arab oil embargo was still fresh in American minds. We, the generation who had convinced the gov. of the US to get the hell out of Vietnam, were convinced that we could also make a constructive impact on the way business and industry was conducted here in the USA.

Solar tech was a rising star in everybody’s minds, or so we thought at the time. With leadership from Mother Earth News and other early sustainability advocates, many of us free-thinking boomers thought we could shift American Big Business interests from dependency on costly oil to a widespread earth-changing acceptance of Solar, Geothermal and Wind technology.

Solari

So the fledgeling “newspaper” that we were promoting did a center-spread on Solar Energy and Solar Collectors. One of our fellows was a fellow named Jim Samsel; he was from Oregon, or had lived there, and seemed to know more about the subject than most us. He included some diagrams that, as I remember, helped us and the readers to get a visual on what solar collectors looked like and how they were supposed to work. We felt good about our tentative thrust into progressive energy conservation.

That was 41 years ago. Since that time, my life has shifted toward more down-to-earth activities such as loving my wife, raising the children, educating them and living as a Christian family. So my interests drifted away from quasi-experimental pastimes such as dreaming of solar tech, which was known to be expensive to install and maintain.

Since that time, my wife and I have purchased and lived in three houses. On none of them have we installed solar collectors. The expenses of of life and a growing family overtook my nascent interest in alternative, home-based, power installations such as solar.

Now we live in Boone, which is home to Appalachian State University.  Here at ASU, the alt-tech professors and students have put together a noteworthy Sustainability curriculum, with appropriate technology workshops and experimental projects that I occasionally hear about. I haven’t been keeping up with it, but I do know there’s a lot going on out there pertaining of improvements of solar collectors and storage cells.

And that is good. I say more power to them. I hope they can make a big  earth-friendly dent in the massive oil-based infrastructure that has for so long held us all in hydrocarbon bondage.

Solar1

Over the years,  I have occasionally pondered the plight of solar pioneers who have stayed with it, and I formed a little scenario in my mind that posits what needs to happen for solar to really get a significant foothold in our American infrastructure, by way of John Doe’s household and Jane Smith’s homestead.

My scenario starts with a fantasy: a widespread societal/economic attitude shift that inspires homeowners to install solar-panels on a massive scale—millions of homeowners thinking (believing) they can actually save money on their electrical bills by gathering energy from the sun on their very own rooftops. Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And the scenario works something like this:

Joe Blow has a few extra hundred bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he decides to go to the local Lowe’s or Costco or Sam’sClub and pickup another collector or two. He hauls them to the house and mounts them on the roof with a hardware system that has been patently engineered for simplicity of design and installation. The electrical connections below—hooking up to the panel and thereby the household electrical system—have previously been done by his electrician friends Wayne and Bryan.

Solarj

Then, after the connections and installation of the new panels have been accomplished in a half-day or so, he settles into an evening of relaxation with the surety that next month’s electric bill will be lower a a result of his incremental investments up on the roof. As time goes by, Joe uses a few extra bucks here and there to consistently repeat these simple periodic installations and thereby save $ by lowering his household’s power consumption.

Now what would it take for such a scenario to be reality instead of my tech-fantasy?

Starting with a look  back into history, back in the day, over a hundred years ago . . .

Henry Ford figured out how to actuate a new idea called mass production. Within a few decades, a Ford “in every garage” began to be a reality in American development and life. Every Joe Blow now understands that the reason this could happen was because Ford’s mass production assembly line enabled the company (and ultimately the wider automotive industry) to get the unit cost down to an affordable number that Joe and Jane Sixpack could actually spend to purchase a a car or truck for their family.

Now this is what we need for the solar industry in America–mass production and mass-market.

Who will take up the mantle? Who will heave the solartech excalibur out the stone of oil-dominance?

Tesla? GE? Some as-yet-unknown Startup in Phoenix, Detroit, Boone or Montgomery?

That remains to be seen, when and if it ever happens.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .in a brand new 2018. . .

Now suddenly appears an Omen that  perhaps the previously-thought-to-be-conspiracy Industrial Establishment has finally gotten a hold of the Solar vision! The next new expansion manufacturing industry!

What omen is that? The President announces a 30% tariff on foreign-manufactured solar collectors (and washing machines.)

Does this protectionism portend a willingness of American Industry to, at last, leap into solar production because they can now, with a little gov. help, compete with the Chinese and South Korea?

Or, more cynically, does it indicate the continuing Establishment denial of Solar development on a large scale for the sake of continuing oil hegemony?

We shall see in the days ahead what the effects of this tariff will be on our still-nascent Solar industry in America.

SolarStLuke

  Glass half-Full

My Solar Sadness

September 29, 2015

When I was a young man, back in the 1970’s, I found a shoestring in Asheville. I appropriated it and then used it to try and tie all the problems of the world together so they could be disposed of. I took that shoestring and initiated a little newspaper, which, as it turned out, only published six issues before biting the dust.

It was a learning experience, trying to start a newspaper in 1977.

The first issue, as I recall, had a very hopeful article about solar energy development and the possibility of solving our energy woes with new applications of solar technology.

The newspaper-on-a-shoestring idea did not pan out. As for the solar technology featured in the first issue, let’s just say: there is still great potential there.

Now. Fast-forward about 38 years. I’m on vacation in Hawaii, the Big Island. Cruising along the highway that runs northward from Kailua-Kona toward Waikoloa, I see a large, quite impressive solar photovoltaic collector arrangement that seems to embrace a whole building.

This is interesting, I thought. That’s a pretty impressive framework of solar power-generating collection around and above that building. I wonder what it is.

Although I did not snap a picture of it, I later learned that the building is the Visitors’ Center and Office for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.  You can see it here:

http://friendsofnelha.org/

A few days later, that is to say yesterday, on Monday morning I attended a presentation there, hoping to find out what the place was all about. And I learned quite a lot about, among many other interesting things, renewable energy development and sustainable aquaculture and mariculture on the Big Island of Hawaii.

At 10 a.m., I watched and listened to an excellent presentation by  Sarah Crawford, who is Executive Director of Friends of Natural Energy Laboratory in Hawaii (FON). Using a multimedia setup, Sarah delivered to me and eight other curious visitors the big-picture introduction to this forward-looking business park-enterprise incubator next to the Pacific on the sunny, leeward side of the Big Island.

The primary resource–you might say the heart and soul of this 870-acre site and its many infrastructure connections–is a constant,plentiful supply of very clean, cold ocean water that is pumped from 2000′ or 3000′ depths of the Ocean. The water is used prolifically by many companies, LLCs, and startups for aquaculture/mariculture research & development, as well as profitable commercial ventures.

One venture in particular–the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) project–is the largest and most productive of its type in the world, “pioneering the design of systems that use deep cold seawater for air conditioning and electricity.”

Among the many projects and enterprises being conducted here are: a large-scale commercial abalone aquaculture facility; algae-based biofuels extraction facility;  nutritional supplements company; commercial desalination drinking-water production;  kampachi-fish farm; shellfish hatchery nursery for shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels; Maine lobster holding-tank; farming operations for tropical fish, seahorses, edible sea vegetables, black cod; and even a public charter school.

I was impressed. Here in Kona-Kailua the Hawaiians are doing amazing things with that cold seawater that’s being pumped up from way down deep.

As for actual heat collected for hot water or for heating some other medium. . .not so much. More about that in a moment.

Nevertheless, solar energy is taking off big time in Hawaii–for electrical generation by means of photovoltaic collectors. Hawaiians are leading the way. Part of Sarah’s presentation included some impressive statistics about increasing widespread use of roof collectors among homeowners and businesses. She said that recently an aerial photo of the town of Kailua revealed that every major commercial building in the town sported solar collectors on the roof.

The one exception–Home Depot. No solar collectors on the Kailua HD.

Now here I’m finally getting around to the title of this here posting: Solar Sadness

Because you see, ever since that time back in the day when I tried to start a newspaper with its first issue featuring the potential of solar technology–ever since that time– I have thought that the only way that solar tech could really take off in the good ole US of A would be this scenario:

Joe Blow has a few extra bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he goes to Home Depot or Lowe’s (our North Carolina favorite since that company started only 30 miles from my North Carolina home), and Joe invests is an easy-to-install solar collector or two, hauls it home or has it delivered, then climbs up on the roof, like any energetic homeowner (or hires someone) and connects the new hardware with a few turns of the crescent wrench and a screwdriver or two, assembling the new hardware in series with other collectors that he has previously installed.

In this way Joe Blow or John Doe or Betty Freedan or whoever, socks away some serious energy savings for the next 30 years or so, and so that’s the way solar tech would take off in America: chicken in every pot, car in every garage, collector on every roof kind of middle-class thing.

Well, that has not generally happened on a large scale in America, yet. And if Home Depot is not willing to make use of the emerging solar tech on its own roof on the sunny side of Hawaii, then what hope is there for the sun in middle-class yankee homeowner energy conservation?

Now all that is about power, you know, electrical power, kilowatts blah blah–generating your own so you don’t to buy so much from the regional monopoly or co-op.

But my disappointment about solar actualities came about half-way through the presentation on energy developments at National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

Near the Visitors’ Center is a very impressive-looking mega-field of solar collectors, all of them hooked up together in series. The sight of this had been part of my original curiosity about the NELHA facility:

SolrHWColl

In Sarah’s informative exposition of the on-site projects, her explanation of this installation revealed that it consists of rows and rows of long plastic pipes which had been cut lengthwise down the middle and painted with a special reflective coating. Sunlight striking the half-round concave curve of the 8″ pipe would be focused on a smaller, suspended 3/4″ pipe that contains a heat-carrying substance, water or some other medium. These half-pipes were mounted in such a way as to track the sun’s rise and fall in the sky, thereby maximizing the solar energy gain.

http://keaholesolarpower.com/news/farming_the_sun/

Very impressive.

But here came my disappointment, the solar sadness: this incredible energy-gathering bank has been non-operative for about a year and half.

Why?

Something about running out of money or some such thing. I don’t understand it. There’s plenty of solar energy in Hawaii, and plenty of water. So what’s the problem?

But I’m the clueless tourist here, whose mind starts to fill up with old 1970’s-style conspiracy theories about mega-corporations getting in the way and so forth and so on. Although I don’t believe all that; there must be a legitimate reason why this thing has not worked out.

As for the rest of what’s going on at that NELHA –very impressive!

The cold seawater resource development  that’s happening at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority is  good, and also profitable for an array of startups for aquaculture, mariculture, and energy conversion enterprises This place is a a beneficial  partnership between the State of Hawaii and all the businesses and LLCs who are working there.

Abalones

Keep up the good work, NELHA! Keep them abalones and other critters coming.

 

Glass half-Full