Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Most discussions focus on what can and can’t work; that is, which options are precluded by the laws of physics as we understand them. And a lot of what might seem to be options ARE precluded by basic physics. Energy works according to non-negotiable rules, after all, and like all life, we must live within them. However, too often it’s assumed that if som ething is NOT precluded by the laws of physics, then it’s a feasible option. That’s wrong on many levels, but this wrongness is not automatically obvious to those making the decisions for our societies. When thinking about the future, we are tempted to put our faith in advancing technology. For instance, if you look at the cover of any of a number of “popular” science magazines, you may have seen an artist’s rendering of orbital power satellites that would beam power back to earth via microwaves and generate all the electric power mankind would ever need. And indeed, there are proponents of such a scheme, and the concept is fun to think about, yet it’s bonkers on many levels, many of which are defined below. It is not “impossible” in the sense of being in c onflict with thermodynamics or natural laws, but it is no more likely to happen than a thousand-foot cheese sculpture of Paul Bunyan being built in Ecuador, which also doesn’t inherently conflict with science or thermodynamics. Moreover, a project might make reasonable sense but not meet the necessary criteria for being a solution to a given problem. This is an inexhaustive list of qualities needed for a solution -- to kickstart your ability to discern what is likely to be a solution and what is not:

Energy affordability : Does it have a significantly positive ER/EI?

Energy quality tradeoff : Does it output energy that is roughly similar in quality to the energy required to create it? The irony is that you can use fossil fuels to build infrastructure that us es fossil fuels, but you can’t build more solar panels using only the energy from solar panels. What we are doing is making a tradeoff between high-density liquid fuels and slow- payback intermittent electricity. Energy investment thresholds : How much of so ciety’s limited remaining burnable fossil energy would have to be diverted to build the new system? If the answer is “half of it,” that would be an important ramification. Financial affordability : Can our current society do whatever it is without going bankrupt due to its cost? What are the odds of, and the mechanism for, funding it?


Powered by