Saturday, March 7, 2009
There is plenty of energy for everyone.
Sure, I know all about peak oil and the dangers of nuclear energy and the high cost to produce solar and wind energy.
But those things are all trivial compared to the untapped energy sources we have all around us.
In hot climates, black thermal-electric mats could be installed on roofs to generate electricity.
Heat is a byproduct of other processes, and so nothing special needs to be done to create it. Just about every human activity and many natural processes create heat, so we just have to utilize it.
For example, a train station in Japan installed piezo-electric equipment in the ground, so that the foot traffic of those walking through the train station generates electricity (turnstiles at train, subway and ferry stations, ballparks and amusement parks can also generate electricity).
Similarly, all exercise machines at the gym or at home can be hooked up to produce electricity.
But perhaps the greatest untapped sources of piezo-electric energy are freeways and busy roads. If piezo-electric mats were installed under the busiest sections, the thousands of tons of vehicles passing over each day would generate massive amounts of electricity for the city's use.
Harvesting The Ocean of Energy
We are like a starving man who can't see or smell and is surrounded by food, but doesn't know it. We can learn how to cheaply "harvest" the energy that is all around us.
Well, scientists have figured out that solar collection is much more efficient if you focus the sunlight:
And see this.
Similarly, we can build devices that efficiently collect and concentrate other types of electromagnetic energy. Initially, engineers should tinker with Faraday cages - trying by trial and error every conceivable natural and high-tech material - until they figure out how to build collectors which can channel, concentrate and collect useful forms of electromagnetic energy. (Instead of a rectangular shaped Faraday mesh to keep electromagnetic energy out, you can build out shapes to channel energy, like a fountain can channel and collect water - get it?).
The sun produces light and heat, but also various forms of magnetic and other energies. It also produces exotic particles like neutrinos.
At first, we will be only able to collect and use very limited portions of the EM spectrum. Eventually, we will be able to use more and more parts of the spectrum to power our machines directly or through conversion to other types of energy.
One day, virtually every surface will be turned into an energy-production medium. Instead of having discreet energy-producing machines, roofs, exterior walls, sidewalks, roads and many other surfaces will be coated with "smart materials" which convert light, heat, pressure and other inputs into useful energy, which are then collected, stored and distributed as needed.
Hundreds or thousands of years in the future, mankind might even learn how to collect the virtual particles which are constantly popping into and out of existence.
Indeed, one of the world's leading trend forecasters, Gerald Calente, believes that zero point energy or energy generated by neutrinos or other high-tech methods might be stumbled upon fairly soon - and that such a discovery would lift us out of the economic depression. He also says that producing our own energy for our homes and cars (called "micro generation") will become a huge trend in the next couple of decades. See this.
Harvesting The Ocean of Energy
Perhaps the biggest evolution needed in people's thinking - in any area of life - is how we think about energy.
The current paradigm is that energy is produced expensively by governments or large corporations through gigantic projects using enormous amounts of money, materials and manpower. Because energy can only be produced by the big boys, we the people must bow our heads to the powers-that-be. We must pay a lot of our hard-earned money to buy electricity from them, and we can't question the methods or results of their energy production.
Note 1: A better future of plentiful energy will only happen if we loudly demand it from our politicians and other "leaders". If we just sit back and wait for it, the powers-that-be will buy up and suppress all promising technology, to ensure that the models of scarcity and centralized energy production - and thus high prices and concentration of power - prevail.
Note 2: Buckminister Fuller worked for 50 years to show that things can be designed and built efficiently and with little input of energy, materials, money and manpower. Energy engineers must obviously ensure high EROI (energy return on investment, to ensure more energy output than input). However, high energy requirements during the R&D and production phase may be more than compensated for by a long lifetime of energy generation once installed. In other words, it is obviously necessary to look at the entire lifecycle of the technology.
Note 3: Engineers looking for ideas to test need not brainstorm from scratch. For example, you can look at sites like this one for brainstorming from non-scientists on means of generating energy. If you throw out 99 ideas as contrary to the laws of physics or impractical but find one good one, that one idead could be worth its weight in gold.