Sunday, May 19, 2013

On Hope

Have you noticed that there are more and more people who have no Hope, and that they frame their lack in various ways, depending on their disposition, where they think they caught the disease, that sort of thing.

Hope, of course, is an essential ingredient for those of us trying to keep up on the news. Why keep up, if you have no Hope? It would be too depressing. But it’s almost mundane, how this modern plague of dark consciousness seems, on the surface anyway, to be fairly straightforward, a reason-based phenomenon. Any nominally intelligent person--with a heart--who stays reasonably in touch with the news can say “Look here!” or “Imagine that!” or more commonly “The #%$*#& IDOITS!!!” and call it good. They contracted the malaise there, with that despairing issue, as any reasonable person--with a heart--would. Pretty straightforward. Almost boring through repetition. Why bother?

Well, here’s an exercise for all of you hope-deficient intelligent people who read too many newspapers but probably not enough. Look at it as kind of a test. See if the following doesn’t spark a glimmer deep down inside your happy-belly, where Hope resides, or if maybe some doctor accidentally gave you a Hope-ectomy during some unrelated but obscenely-priced medical procedure and now, through no fault of your own, you are truly hopelessly Hopeless.

What if a guy invents a real game changer in the energy world, a “solar-trap” technology that solves the solar-energy storage problem by using such materials as sand for its “batteries”. What if this new technology is almost 100% efficient, works in cloudy climates, could provide over 90% of our energy at pennies on the dollar compared to carbon-based technologies, and, if deployed, would not only turn all conversations about how much gas, oil and coal to extract and use on their heads but could put a serious dent in major zombie bank accounts that fund wingnut philosophies such as the Koch Machine (just for example)? What if this guy is so sure he’s got a sure thing that he keeps the details of his patent application secret until he owns the patent, knowing that if it leaked out before he had some nominal control over its trajectory it would be stolen by the aforementioned Lex Luthers of our age and deep-sixed until they’ve successfully sizzled the planet? And what if the technology was such a no-brainer it took a trained genius to actually see it?

Science fiction? Comic book material? Well, maybe, but look around. We live in a Sci-Fi world if we live in any world at all. The computer age is defined by the impossible occurring and becoming the new norm about once every other month. So what if a guy invents a technology that can save the world and is hiding it from the evil Lex Luther who would rather see the world sizzle? Is that any more far-fetched than “face time” on an I pad?

This story  about a patent application by an independent inventor from Maryland named Ronald Ace came from McClatchy News last week. A few outlets picked it up, including Common Dreams, where I saw it. But I don’t think it made it into a single Montana daily, or many other papers around the U.S. Maybe Mr. Ace’s claim that he had come up with a solar energy breakthrough that would end humans’ reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of current solar energy costs seemed too "far-fetched" for most corporate editors. Read it. See what you think. Here’s what I think:

Maybe it’s just that we’re all too addicted to our own despair to see the answer we so desperately seek under our collective noses. I know. It’s hard to let go. Kind of like picking at a scab. You almost can’t not do it because there’s a certain kind of fascination to pain. All I’m saying is give this guy a chance. Google him a lot. Keep track of him, because such news outlets as the Missioulian and the Helena IR will demonstrably be the last to let you know. If the reality of such a breakthrough turns out to be even half of its promise, this is something big, in our time. 

If not, then we haven’t lost anything in being naturally inquisitive, and Hopeful. We live in the age of The Jetsons, after all. We can have solar energy technology that can save the world. Our only task is to keep it from Lex Luther, who surely lurks. But there’s probably Hope.

Below is a summary of Mr. Ace’s “Solar Trap” technology he’s apparently trying to keep from Lex Luther. You can see where I got it here:

Current solar technology
·       It's inefficient. Photo-voltaic panels collect less than 20 percent of the sun's energy that hits them. Higher-temperature solar thermal power plants radiate away most of the energy collected.
"Solar Trap" solutions
·       Ron Ace says his device is nearly 100 percent efficient, absorbing almost all of the solar energy that hits it and containing radiation losses to a negligible percentage.

Cost of Energy Storage
Current solar technology
·       It's costly to store. Rooftop photovoltaic systems can store energy in lead acid batteries, but only at very high cost. Solar plants that use concentrating mirrors can store energy in molten salt for 4 to 12 hours, usually enough for the plant to get through the night in the desert. To increase that to a week would more than triple the cost of a solar thermal plant.
"Solar Trap" solutions
·       High-temperature rooftop solar traps could capture enough energy for economical storage in cheap materials, such as sand, for as long as desired. When Solar Traps are used in solar power plants with arrays of mirrors, energy can be stored cheaply at much higher temperatures for as long as desired.

Impact of weather
Current solar technology
·       Most solar thermal power plants are being built in the Southwest to maximize sunshine and aren't even economically viable in deserts without government subsidies.
"Solar Trap" solutions
·       Solar Traps can be mounted on rooftops or used in solar thermal energy plants almost anywhere, though the cost will rise proportionately in cloudier regions.

Cost of panels
Current solar technology
·       Purchasers of photovoltaic panels usually recover costs in 15 years, roughly the life of the panels, with the help of tax subsidies.
"Solar Trap" solutions
·       The cost of rooftop Solar Traps can be recovered in two to four years, after which buyers will power their homes for free and can sell excess energy to utilities, Ace says.

Cost of large power plants
Current solar technology
·       Existing plants drawing energy from mirror fields produce electricity at 15 to 18 cents a kilowatt hour, triple the cost of coal-fired plants, even with government subsidies.
"Solar Trap" solutions
·       Conventional nuclear, coal and gas plants can be retrofitted with Solar Traps and produce electricity for about 2 cents a kilowatt hour.

Space requirements
Current solar technology
·       For current photovoltaic panels to power the country, it would take 8 to 10 times more rooftop space than exists over U.S. homes and businesses, enough to cover the state of Utah, and with inadequate energy storage.
"Solar Trap" solutions
·       Solar Traps could power the country if they covered all existing rooftops, Ace says.
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