Hyperion Solar Updraft Tower

Hyperion Energy is looking to build a gigantic, kilometer tall tower in Australia.  Where it really gets interesting is the ‘why’.  The base of the two has holes in it.  The land around it, for almost fourteen square miles, would be covered, creating an air gap between the ground and the cover.  The sun would heat up the air under the cover, and hot air would rise up through the tower, drawing in cool air from the perimeter of the cover.  Turbines installed in the base of the tower would be turned by the rising hot air, thus generating electricity.  Perhaps the best part is since this operates on a temperature DIFFERENCE between the ground air and the air at the top of the tower, when night falls this will continue to generate electricity as the ground will retain heat while the air above the tower cools down.  Natural power storage.  So, not only is this clean, renewable energy, but…the plant pictured here would produce about as much electricity as as small nuclear reactor (200MW)!  Awesome!  They’re hoping to get this build and operational by 2014.


Hyperion Energy from Hyperion Energy on Vimeo.

What to expect from our changing climate

The scientific consensus is clear – humans are responsible for global warming.  The political consensus is likewise clear – we’re not going to do what it takes to avoid significant climate change.  So, we must face the reality of this world we’re creating.  What can we expect?  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a report summarizing what our children will have to deal with as they grow up.  Things such as stronger storms, hotter and longer heat waves, higher temperatures, and more precipitation.

It’s a shame that we can see this happening around us and see where our current path will lead, yet lack the willpower to alter this course.  It will be up to the scientists and engineers to help our society adapt to this changing climate.


Community Solar Garden

SunShare is doing something cool in Colorado Springs…they’re making it really easy for individual homeowners to reap the benefits of solar panels, without having to install solar panels on their own homes.  SunShare is building a ‘solar garden’, where individuals can lease a minimum of two solar panels.  The electricity from those panels is fed into the city’s power grid, and the leases then get a credit on their electric bill corresponding to how much power their panels produced.  You can read more about how it works here.

There’s something similar in Sacramento, CA, with SolarShares.  The big difference I can see is that instead of committing to output from a specific number of panels, it’s a less specific monthly fee that you pay the company.

Peak Lumber

Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that lumber is not being harvested in a sustainable manner in the tropics, raising the specter of Peak Lumber in the future, when the demand will exceed supply.  The basic problem is one of greed…trees are being cut down faster than they can regrow.

Of course, this just treats forests like a resource to be exploited.  The concern about Peak Lumber doesn’t deal with the damage that destruction of habitats this can result in.  Logging can be done sustainably, but not when greed is allowed to drive decisions.

Read more about this over at the BBC, or check out Wikipedia for more on sustainable forest management.

iBook Author

Well, Apple has done it again.  Today, some people would say they made it easier to put textbooks onto an iPad.  I say those people are not seeing the full picture.  What Apple has done is to modify the textbook and classroom model that has been essentially unchanged for hundreds of years.  They’ve adapted that model to today’s technology, in a way that facilitates creation, access, and usage of this new medium.  After poking around it a bit and getting a closer look, I’m convinced that this new approach is far superior to the traditional teaching method.

The question now is, will it be adopted?  A resounding ‘yes’, if you ask me.  The ONLY downside I see is the cost to equip each gradeschool student with an iPad.  However, even before this new textbook concept, some public schools have already been doing just that (like Manitou Springs in Colorado).  Even in times of decreasing school funding, the schools are being challenged to be more innovative, more resourceful, more efficient, and more effective…and this presents a very compelling argument for them.

What a fantastic age we live in.

Melting permafrost

The very name ‘permafrost’ implies permanently frozen, but thanks to global warming, that’s changing…the permafrost is melting.  Why should you care?  Because frozen within is a very, very large amount of greenhouse gasses (methane AND CO2).  Scientists estimate that the gasses released from permafrost will eventually be about 15% of that produced by our human activities.  So, not exactly mind-blowing, but when you consider that we’re already failing to reduce emissions to the levels necessary to avert catastrophic global warming, this will make it just that much harder for us to do so.

Face it.  We, as a species, lack the will power, resolve, and courage to change our habits and avert the global warming that most scientists believe will happen.  It’s the sad truth that I’ve become resigned to, unless we can find a source of energy that is so cheap as to make fossil fuels outrageously expensive by comparison.  Greed and fear are some of the most basic human motivators; fear of a warming climate is insufficient, so we must appeal to peoples’ greed and provide a clean, renewable, zero emission energy source that is incredibly cheap.  Solar and wind are interesting, but both require large capital expense up front so don’t meet the ‘cheap’ criteria (payback needs to be in a matter of months, not years!).