More evidence that endless growth is abomination

Last year, I wrote a post about the abominable notion of endless growth.  The point of that post was to indicate how absolutely delusional it is to think that things like the economy will always grow, and that the bigger a thing gets the more catastrophic the failure when it finally fails.

Today, nearly a year later, I found a blog post – the first on the wonderful Do The Math blog – dating back to just a few days before my own, and that covered the same topic, the absurdity of continued growth, but from a strictly mathematical point of view.  It’s a great post that shows that – at our current rate of growth of energy consumption – we will become a galaxy-consuming civilization in a mere 2,500 years.

I tip my hate to Tom Murphy’s excellent blog.  If you’ve not subscribed to Do The Math, you’re missing something special.

Greenpeace, Ontario nurses show sad ignorance of nuclear facts

Nuclear energy should be in our future.

We need to pursue nuclear energy.

Today, an “urgent appeal” was issued by Greenpeace and the collective of Ontario nurses to the provincial government, to defer discussions meant to result in the construction of new nuclear power stations in Ontario.

What sad, ignorant fools they are.  Nuclear energy – though not a definitive long term solution – is an excellent intermediate measure that can be used very safely while we find better, more usable energy sources – and learn to stop being such energy hogs.

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Rethinking nuclear

Nuclear energy should be in our future.

We need to pursue nuclear energy.

It’s politically incorrect to talk about nuclear energy as a viable means to maintain our standard of living.  But that’s largely a product of misinformation, ignorance, and fear-mongering.  Here’s why we need to take a much closer look at nuclear energy.

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Lights out in Dörentrup, but it’s too complicated

In Dörentrup, Germany, you can literally call up the streetlights.  It saves energy, but at what cost?

On 30 July, Time posted an article about the town of Dörentrup, Germany, where the local council recently voted to turn off streetlights at night to save energy and carbon emissions.  This naturally caused a fuss.  What’s the point of streetlights that are off when you need them?

Town resident Dieter Grote and his wife, working with the local utility company, came up with a solution.  You can now use your cell phone to send a special ID code to the utility, and the streetlights with that ID (grouped by stretch of road) will come on for a certain length of time.

The energy saved by turning off the lights at night saves the town (population, around 9,000) about 12 tons of carbon emissions per year.  That’s not bad.  And other towns around the world are asking Dörentrup for help to set up their own similar systems.

While it’s fine and good to try to lower consumption – especially when no one needs the service – I think their solution is too complicated.  First of all, there is a carbon footprint associated with the machinery and electronics needed to keep this new service running; I don’t get the sense that anyone has compared this footprint with the alleged savings.

Next, this system ties the utility infrastructure directly to the phone system quite deeply, in a rather centralized way.  You call the magic phone number, which no doubt accesses a facility in one of the utility’s plants, but by way of your phone provider.  The centralized system then has to understand the ID code, which can be dialled in or spoken (requiring voice recognition software).  The IDs are stickered onto every streetlight.  The system then has to direct the pertinent streetlights to turn on, keep track of the time, and then direct them to turn off.

If something goes wrong at the system’s home base, the streetlights won’t come on, even though they otherwise could.  If your phone’s battery dies, or you lose signal strength, you can’t control the lights, even though they would respond otherwise.  If you don’t have a phone, or your hands are otherwise occupied carrying groceries or whatever, you might not be able to use the phone – again, you can’t get the streetlights to work.  If you can’t read the ID sticker on the streetlight (because the streetlights are off), then you might enter the wrong ID or be unable to figure out the ID at all.  Vandals could change the ID stickers.

These are all failure modes that don’t need to exist.  There are probably others that I haven’t thought of.

I would suggest something simpler.

Residents would carry some kind of semi-active sensor, like a battery-assisted RFID tag, or the GPS locator already in many cell phones.  A small unit would be attached to every streetlight, that can detect the presence of a nearby RFID tag or GPS locator.  The unit then turns on the streetlight, and keeps it on till the signal moves out of range.  This can be rigged to ensure that two or three streetlights are on for each person.

Assuming these kinds of sensors have the required range (and I think they do), I think this is a better solution because:

  • no hands are required to activate the system;
  • no hardware/software needed at the central utility facilities;
  • power for the streetlight unit can be drawn from the streetlight itself;
  • the RFID battery can last ‘way longer than a cell phone battery;
  • no need to remember phone numbers or look up streetlight IDs;
  • this kind of distributed/decentralized system is more robust and resilient than centralized alternatives; and
  • fewer streetlights would be on, and for shorter periods.

In other words, I think my suggestion is more effective, without giving up efficiency.  It compartmentalizes the whole on-demand streetlight system so that failures anywhere are less likely to affect related systems.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.