Posts tagged ‘Solar Energy’

For Earth Day, 7 New Rules to Live By

On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, is the middle-aged green movement ready to be revived by some iconoclastic young Turqs?

No, that’s not a misspelling. The word is derived from Turquoise, which is Stewart Brand’s term for a new breed of environmentalist combining traditional green with a shade of blue, as in blue-sky open-minded thinking. A Turq, he hopes, will be an environmentalist guided by science, not nostalgia or technophobia.

Ordinarily I’d be skeptical of either the word or the concept catching on, but I believe in never ignoring any trend spotted by Mr. Brand, especially on this topic. He was the one, after all, who helped inspire Earth Day by putting the first picture of the planet on the cover of his “Whole Earth Catalog” in 1968.

Now he has another book, “Whole Earth Discipline,” in which he urges greens to “question convenient fables.” In that spirit, let me offer a few suggestions gleaned from the four decades since Earth Day. Here are seven lessons for Turqs of all ages:

1. It’s the climate, stupid. The orators at the first Earth Day didn’t deliver speeches on global warming. That was partly because there weren’t yet good climate models predicting warming in the 21st century and partly because the orators weren’t sure civilization would survive that long anyway.

They figured that the “overpopulated” world was about to be decimated by famine, the exhaustion of fossil fuels, global shortages of vital minerals, pollution, pesticides, cancer epidemics, nuclear-reactor meltdowns, and assorted technological disasters. Who had time to worry about a distant danger from a natural substance like carbon dioxide?

Well, the expected apocalypses never occurred, and it’s the unexpected problem of greenhouse gases that concerns scientists today. Greens say they’ve shifted their priorities, too, but by how much?

2. You can never not do just one thing. Environmentalists of the 1970s liked to justify their resistance to new technologies by warning that you could never do just one thing. It was a nice mantra and also quite accurate. New technologies do indeed come with unexpected side effects.

But resisting new technology produces its own unpleasant surprises. The “No Nukes” movement effectively led to more reliance on electricity generated by coal plants spewing carbon. The opposition to “industrial agriculture” led to the lower-yield farms that require more acreage, leaving less woodland to protect wildlife and absorb carbon.

3. “Let them eat organic” is not a global option. For affluent humans in industrialized countries, organic food is pretty much a harmless luxury. Although there’s no convincing evidence that the food is any healthier or more nutritious than other food, if that label makes you feel healthier and more virtuous, then you can justify the extra cost.

But most people in the world are not affluent, and their food budgets are limited. If they’re convinced by green marketers that they need to choose higher-priced organic produce, they and their children are liable to end up eating fewer fruits and vegetables — and sometimes nothing at all, as occurred when Zambia rejected emergency food for starving citizens because the grain had been genetically engineered.

In “Denialism,” a book about the spread of unscientific beliefs, Michael Specter criticizes the “organic fetish” as a “pernicious kind of denialism” being exported to poor countries.

“Total reliance on organic farming would force African countries to devote twice as much land per crop as we do in the United States,” he writes. “An organic universe sounds delightful, but it could consign millions of people in Africa and throughout much of Asia to malnutrition and death.”

4. Frankenfood, like Frankenstein, is fiction. The imagined horrors of “frankenfoods” have kept genetically engineered foods out of Europe and poor countries whose farmers want to export food to Europe. Americans, meanwhile, have been fearlessly growing and eating them for more than a decade — and the scare stories seem more unreal than ever.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.

“I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” Mr. Brand writes in “Whole Earth Discipline.” “We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”

5. “Green” energy hasn’t done much for greenery — or anything else. Since the first Earth Day, wind and solar energy have been fashionable by a variety of names: alternative, appropriate, renewable, sustainable. But today, despite decades of subsidies and mandates, it provides less than 1 percent of the electrical power in the world, and people still shun it once they discover how much it costs and how much land it requires.

6. “New Nukes” is the new “No Nukes.” In the 1980s, Gwyneth Cravens joined the greens who successfully prevented the Shoreham nuclear reactor from opening on Long Island. Then, after learning about global warming, she discovered that the reactor would have prevented the annual emission of three million tons of carbon dioxide. She wrote a book on the nuclear industry titled, “Power to Save the World.”

Mr. Brand has also renounced his opposition to nuclear power and now promotes it as green energy because of its low-carbon emissions and its small footprint on the landscape. He wants to see the development of small modular reactors, and he quotes a warning from the climate scientist James Hansen, “One of the greatest dangers the world faces is the possibility that a vocal minority of antinuclear activists could prevent phase-out of coal emissions.”

Some groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, are still resisting nuclear power, just as groups like Greenpeace are fighting genetically engineered crops. But if Mr. Brand is right, maybe some greens will rediscover the enthusiasm for technology expressed in his famous line at the start of “The Whole Earth Catalog:” “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Technological progress, not nostalgia or asceticism, is the only reliable way for greens’ visions of “sustainability” to be sustained. Wilderness and wildlife can be preserved only if the world’s farmers have the best tools to feed everyone on the least amount of land. Solar power will be widely adopted only if there are breakthroughs that make it more efficient.

Greenhouse gases will keep accumulating unless engineers build economical sources of low-carbon energy or develop techniques for sequestering carbon. And if those advances aren’t enough to stop global warming, we’ll want new tools for directly engineering the climate. Given the seriousness of the danger, Mr. Brand supports climate-engineering research, and he has updated his famous line from four decades ago. The update makes a good concluding lesson for Turqs:

7. We are as gods and have to get good at it.

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April 21, 2010 at 9:43 AM Leave a comment

Solar Plane Almost Ready for Record Flight

In Switzerland, two pioneers are coming closer and closer to a flight around the world powered only by solar energy.

It doesn’t make good business sense, physics sense, or much of any kind of sense, to try to fly an airplane on solar power. Not yet. With the state of the technology, and how relatively young the solar sector still is, such an endeavor would be considered quixotic today—let alone in 2003, when Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, co-founders of Solar Impulse, announced they would design a solar-powered aircraft and fly it around the world.

It would be a statement, they said, about our global dependence on fossil fuels and the untapped promise of burgeoning green technologies. The Swiss pilot-entrepreneurs were after “perpetual flight”: a plane that could climb to 9,000 feet and fly on the sun’s energy by day, then descend below cloud cover to lower altitudes, where it would cruise on stored battery power by night.

It was a long shot. And yet seven years of innovation later, the 70-person Solar Impulse team is nearing its goal. “We were intrigued by this notion of perpetual flight,” said Borschberg when visited in September in Solar Impulse’s massive hangar, situated smack in the middle of Düendorf Airfield, a Swiss military zone. “We wanted to be totally independent of any fuel.” Forget hybrid planes, or the biofuels fixating most of the sustainable aviation sector today; Piccard and Borschberg are purists. “No fuel, no CO2, no pollution. It could fly almost forever, assuming good weather,” Borschberg said of their invention.

By November of last year, test pilot Markus Scherdel—formerly of DLR German Aerospace, the NASA of Germany—was climbing into the cockpit of the completed prototype to taxi down the Dübendorf runway for the first time. Soon after that, Scherde was back in the cockpit, this time guiding the plane not just down the runway but up into the air for a series of successful “flea-hop” mini-flights over the tarmac.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA, as it is officially named, is a strange sight to behold. Resting under the sky-high ceiling of its hangar at Dubendorf, it looks fragile to the point of breakable. And no wonder: HB-SIA, comprised of a carbon skeleton covered in a flexible polycarbonate “skin,”� weighs only about 1.5 tons, about as much as a small car. Its wings are so light that a single person can carry them. And when I tested both the pilot’s parachute and the detached nosepiece of a second prototype of the plane for weight, the parachute was heavier.

Article continues: http://www.good.is/post/powering-planes-with-the-sun/

March 2, 2010 at 11:00 AM Leave a comment

Solar Energy Industry Brings Ray of Hope to the Rust Belt

At a recent solar energy conference in Anaheim, economic development officials from Ohio talked up a state that seemed far removed from the solar panels and high-tech devices that dominated the convention floor.

Ohio, long known for its smokestack auto plants and metal-bending factories, would be an ideal place for green technology companies to set up shop, they said.

“People don’t traditionally think of Ohio when they think of solar,” said Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of Ohio’s economic development agency. But in fact, the Rust Belt goes well with the Green Belt, she said.

For all of green tech’s futuristic sheen, solar power plants and wind farms are made of much of the same stuff as automobiles: machine-stamped steel, glass and gearboxes.

Article continues: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-rustbelt-greenbelt23-2009nov23,0,3232106.story

November 23, 2009 at 1:19 PM Leave a comment


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