Powering the future

I'm concerned about the potential for anthropogenic climate change to irrevocably damage
ecosystems and biodiversity, and cause a lot of human suffering.  I'm also excited about the potential of new technology to mitigate the damage by reducing carbon emissions.

I found myself thinking about the technologies I've read about that could help, and below I've collected some of my favourites that, in my amateur opinion, have the potential to greatly reduce carbon emission in residences, commerce and wheeled-transport.

Energy Efficiency
Greater efficiency can reduce the building of new coal power, as well as make it more feasible to supply residences and commerce from wind and solar resources.
  • Replacing residential and commercial incandescent and halogen lamps with LED lamps & computer-controlled timing.   LEDs go one better than fluorescent.
  • Replacing street lamps with dimmable LED street lights.  Traffic lights already under way.
  • Replacing residential and commercial electric water heaters with solar water heaters.
  • Replacing conventional electric and gas cookers with induction heating.
  • Use passive house technologies to greatly reduce energy needed for heating and cooling.
    • Need technology to get more affordable.  Also the problem of old houses, less effective to retrofit.
Transportation without fossil fuels

Electric transport pushes up grid power requirements, but even electricity from coal is more efficient than burning fuels directly.
  • Replacing buses, taxis and commercial delivery vehicles with battery-electric vehicles.
  • Self-driving electric taxis could serve most of the needs of most urban commuters - home, office, shopping, nights out.  Use smartphone to schedule pickup times and dropoff locations.

Energy Production and Storage
Moving to cost-effective renewable power generation is going to take more technical advances than efficiency or transport.  
  • Exploiting onshore and offshore wind energy resources.
    • Requires generators not using expensive rare-earth permanent magnets.  Promising: electromagnetic excitation, superconducting magnets.  Also requires advances in offshore generation.
  • Exploiting solar energy resources
    • Requires cheap high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. Promising: vapor-deposited material on sheets of flexible substrate.  Imagine: 100 megawatts from carpeting 1square km of desert with photovoltaic material.
  • Exploiting geothermal and tidal power resources. To a lesser extent, biomass
    • Greater technical hurdles here: geothermal power is extremely deep down in most places.  Tidal and wave power is also in very early stages, difficult to make machines reliable at sea.  Re biomass, we'll never grow enough of it.
  • Pumped storage hydroelectric can smooth supply fluctuations. Also, gas turbines provide instant smoothing over fluctuatinos.
  • Batteries the size of shipping containers placed at substations to enable distributed energy storage and load balancing in a smart grid, also helps with smoothing supply fluctuations.
    • Requires cheap way to make giant batteries. Promising: molten-salt and liquid metal batteries.
The demands of heavy industry will probably require supplementary fossil or nuclear power, and of course air and sea transport will still need liquid fuels. I don't think biofuels are a good solution, because of the dubious carbon and energy balance (oil-intensive fertilisers and harvesters and energy used in processing), and that we'll never grow enough with shrinking availability of water and arable land due to climate change.

Even so, I reckon the combined effect deploying these technologies worldwide would go a long way in reducing the burning of fossil fuels.  Plus, most of them are really cool.

Popular posts from this blog

A comparison of file synchronisation software

Growing large crystals of Copper (II) Sulphate