Battery farms: one key to a better grid

Battery farms could help create a better grid.

An article in IEEE Spectrum discusses the case for “replacing” power plants with “battery farms.”  Besides the obvious problems that batteries don’t generate energy but only store them, there is some merit in implementing battery farms.  Most importantly, they serve as a stock that can help balance the differences between rates of power generation and consumption.  That systems aspect is particularly interesting to me.

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SunTech’s bankruptcy underscores flawed global business model

The world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, China’s SunTech, appears to be going into bankruptcy.

What I see here is a series of problems, caused by business and political concerns, that that created the problems both that led to SunTech’s bankruptcy and that will impact the employees and investors, and indeed, the entire global economy.

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The Conundrum by David Owen

I wrote a mini-review of The Conundrum, by David Owen, and posted it on Google+.  It’s a book about climate change, resource depletion, and that science and technology will only make matters worse.

I didn’t like it, not just because I’m a science geek, but because Owen makes poor arguments in it.  Unfortunately, I agree with him on his major premise – that only massively lowering consumption will work to save humanity in the long run – but his book offers nothing useful to advance or even defend this position.  Read my Google+ post for more.

Short version: doesn’t bother with The Conundrum.

How NOT to clean the ocean, and how to do it better

Pacific garbage gatherer concept
This is a really bad design for cleaning up the Pacific Trash Vortex.

I came across a post at Core77 about a concept design for a device to clean up the Pacific Trash Vortex, a region of the north Pacific Ocean that seems to be gathering garbage, particularly plastic, where global ocean currents converge.  Unfortunately, it’s a really bad design.  I will sketch a solution that I think is much better.

The Pacific Trash Vortex is an interesting phenomenon that no one really saw coming till the 1980s, but, in hindsight, seemed rather obvious.  Floating garbage will be carried by currents.  Any gyre where several such currents meet will result in collections of garbage. This garbage eventually starts to poison the water and the wildlife that lives in it.

The idea behind the design in the Core77 post is that a device slowly wanders through the Vortex, collecting garbage in its net.  When it’s full, it gets pulled up to a “mothership,” emptied, and then sent back for more.

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Solar school roofs are a great idea

solar panels on a school roof
Well, that's obvious!

19 May 2011: The Toronto District School Board announced a plan to put solar panels on 450 of its 558 schools – over 1 million square metres of roof space – and use the panels to generate the revenue needed to fund the $3 billion needed to repair those same roofs. Regardless of the narrow-minded nay-sayers, this is a great idea.

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The elegance of simple design

Image of Amy Smith's corn sheller
Simple is beautiful.

Amy Smith of the MIT D-lab has come up with a concept for a corn-shelling device for certain communities in developing countries. You can read all about it, including how to make it, here. I think this work is brilliant, and that the characteristics that make this design so good are key characteristics that should exist in every design, regardless of context.

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Goodbye ASME

Earth held in a child's hands
I have to do the right thing.

I disagree with those who think that there is a “debate” about climate change.  I disagree so strongly that I’ve decided to dissociate myself from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), of which I have been a member since 1992.  For a mechanical engineer in North America, dropping one’s membership in the ASME is a big deal, but I’ve had enough of some of their actions in regard to climate change, and I am compelled to take decisive action.

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Obfuscating the climate change “debate”

The earth may soon burn due to climate change
Let's not let this happen, please.

I read a recent blog post by Steve Milloy, about one aspect of the recent Climategate controversy.  Milloy’s is a great example of the kind of faulty logic employed by many deniers of climate change: he conflates the political and social issues of scientists and their institutions with the science itself.  This just obfuscates efforts to convince the public that climate change is real and dangerous, which is reprehensible behaviour.

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