Friday, May 08, 2009

Efficient, elegant and economical - pick one

Ideally one searches for all three in any solution, on the other hand, as NASA engineers said about Dan Goldin's mantra: "better, faster, cheaper", pick two. Steven Chu, the new US Secretary of Energy likes efficient, although when pushed to the wall he would not object to adding elegant to the mix. Eli would like to point out that the Walmart solution, cheaper, by itself ain't bad.

Consider where the costs and problems associated with reducing carbon emissions comes from, from having to transform a dispersed, costless source of energy such as wind or solar or geothermal, into a form which can be centrally distributed to cover all needs. For that we need efficient and elegant. On the other hand there are applications where cheap by itself would do the job, such as an inefficient small windmill or a solar array you could hang out the window which would generate enough electricity to recharge all your Ipod, Iphone, Inks (a very old device made by Apple for taking memos), etc. and run the standby power for your TV. Eli remembers some awkward windmills that used to pump well water on farms. Same sort of thing. The ultimate example is drying clothes on a clothesline.

Things such as this will not solve the problem by themselves, but they will make the problem soluble.

YMMV, but then again, you would be wrong.


jg said...

The only thing that keeps me from hanging out my clothes to dry is the birds...and the only thing that keeps me from putting up a windmill is that it kills birds....wait a minute, I think the windmill is one of those two-out-of-three solutions.


EliRabett said...

You get to eat the birds, unless the birds eat you.


frflyer said...

A related post today at Get Energy Smart Now, about simple solar solutions for third world countries is worth a read.

hank said...

> simple solar solutions

Yeah but

It's paywalled, but Google's brief snippet is a good source of keywords.

Light, melatonin and cancer: current results and future perspectives

C Bartsch, H Bartsch, E Peschke - Biological Rhythm Research, 2009 -
... leukemia (Conti et ... and for which a deficiency of melatonin secretion may ... and using street lamps with no or little blue light. ...

The LEDs and CFLs emit right across the band that suppresses melatonin.

Search a bit and think about what adding new sources of blue light may be going to do. Then invest in sleep pharma (sigh).

Anonymous said...

I think you first have to define "efficient", "economical" and "elegant".

In China, bicycles as a means of transport might be considered all three.

In America, maybe only one of the above: economical. And even that is debatable, if one works 50 miles away from where one lives.

The take home lesson (if there is one) is that the solution is not going to be the same for everyone. In other words, there are going to be lots of different solutions.

The one thing they will almost certainly have in common, however, is end-use energy efficiency: performing whatever it is one wants to do without needlessly wasting a lot of energy.

Increased end use energy efficiency will enable solutions to the carbon emissions problem that would not be possible otherwise.

Quite frankly, I think that's the only way we are going to have any hope of keeping climate change in check.

If we simply keep using energy in our old wasteful ways, there's no way we are going to even make a dent in the problem.

Magnus said...

Well any way I pick efficient...

Anonymous said...

You get to eat the birds, unless the birds eat you.Not legally, unless the bird is an introduced species or a species covered by your state and game laws and in season and you've got a license and "windmill" is one of the approved harvesting tools :)

Of course, if you live in the city, you'll likely snag a lotta starlings and house sparrows. Your windmill would be providing a public service, very literally in the spirit of killing two (introduced pest) birds with one stone...

Back when I was on the board of Portland Audubon we published a recipe for starling pie, as part of a newsletter issue on introduced species.

Got some interesting reactions ...

Anonymous said...

There are micro-wind-turbines which do not kill birds. Such as the Helix Wind Turbine:


Anonymous said...

Context is important i nthe case of bird deaths due to wind power.

The National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) completed a comparison of wind farm avian mortality with bird mortality caused by other man-made structures in the U.S.

The NWCC did not conduct its own study, but analyzed all of the research done to date on various causes of avian mortality, including commercial wind farm turbines. They report that "data collected outside California indicate an average of 1.83 avian fatalities per turbine (for all species combined), and 0.006 raptor fatalities per turbine per year. Based on current projections of 3,500 operational wind turbines in the US by the end of 2001, excluding California, the total annual mortality was estimated at approximately 6,400 bird fatalities per year for all species combined."13

This report states that its intent is to "put avian mortality associated with windpower development into perspective with other significant sources of avian collision mortality across the United States."14 The NWCC reports that: "Based on current estimates, windplant related avian collision fatalities probably represent from 0.01% to 0.02% (i.e., 1 out of every 5,000 to 10,000) of the annual avian collision fatalities in the United States."15 That is, commercial wind turbines cause the direct deaths of only 0.01% to 0.02% of all of the birds killed by collisions with man-made structures and activities in the U.S. " -- end quote
To say nothing of the fact that continued climate change will probably kill orders of magnitude more birds than wind turbines ever would.

Anonymous said...

The tiny windmills according to some studies (which I'm too lazy to find again now) produce less energy during their perhaps 15 year operating life than what went into their production.
It seems natural, you have all kinds of rare metals and composites in a few hundred watt turbine.

I'm a wind power advocate, I'm all for the right turbines in the right places, but AGAINST feelgood wind power where you just put a couple of mills somewhere as a gesture and then they stand still because the siting and sizing (blade size vs generator size) went wrong. Or the technology wasn't mature and they broke down.

Offshore power with huge turbines is the future but it's not going to be easy or cheap because of the significant issues with the foundations and power cabling.

Then again, I'm for more advanced nuclear (sixties tech level as opposed to the current forties tech level) where long time transuranic waste can be almost avoided completely. LFTR - Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors to be precise. Low pressure operations (no steam) enable massively simplified construction, little fuel is used and thorium is plentiful. I really honestly urge the readers of this blog to look at that technology.

We need to shut down the coal plants. That is a very important and simple goal. We are not going to get there with personal windmills. Perhaps some will help in the countryside, but in the cities, no use.

Also, of course, energy saving is important. It probably should be more expensive, (and poor people should get more social security otherwise).

Anonymous said...

The helix wind turbines suck because of large blade to power ratio - they use a lot of materials to produce little power. Costly and ecologically inefficient as well.
They have their niche uses like places where reliability matters more than cost (ocean buoys, weather stations etc)

Anonymous said...

Lastly, Goldin era NASA Faster Better Cheaper was not just the title, it was actually a working thought out philosophy of doing space missions.

Remember the last Mars probe before the tiny Sojourner rover in 1997 or around then? It was Viking, in the seventies!

AFAIK and IIRC, FBC meant building small teams of highly skilled individuals and letting them have some freedom and design a mission without interference by the whole agency. Instead of one "Battlestar Galactica" mission, there would be many fairly small ones in rapid succession, improving both the chance of success and enabling learning from past missions - both science and engineering wise.

It worked. Besides the rover there were two orbiters.

Of course, after these successes, the teams were largely split up and NASA went back towards more Battlestar like missions. Spirit and Opportunity still are perhaps in the middle - not absolutely huge yet and use knowledge from beforehand.

NASA has become completely risk averse, meaning it tries to reduce all risk before actually trying anything. It has also learned all the wrong lessons from Apollo - program mentalities (and not capability) and huge budgets.

Space development should get back to a lot more cheap little demonstrators of new technologies (done by small talented teams with little bureaucracy) and not decades long gigaprograms that bloat with internal politics.