For the evening blog update I just wanted to continue on the theme of positive trends in technology and clean energy. The world needs a little more good news. When it comes to current pollution and the forecasts of potential long term AGW things can seem rather dire but all is not lost. By some perspectives the future could even be called rosy.
First a tiny pat on the back for the U.S. In a recent survey, the U.S. did not rank worst in proportional environmental impact or absolute environmental impact. Don’t get to excited about this result, the U.S. still ranks fairly low and we have a tough road ahead. The hardest part about the U.S. “coming clean” is that we have built up an infrastructure mostly revolving around the automobile. Even if AGW is mostly hype, the plain fact that the U.S. has paved over millions and millions of acres beautiful natural land, makes it very hard to reduce environmental impact. We have a love affair with the automobile and this affair is at the expense of clean air, water, and soil. The only way that this will change soon is if Peak Oil theorists are correct and the price of gas shoots up to $10 a gallon. Otherwise I think we are looking at a decade or two before the gas fleet is replaced with electric vehicles or something else that is cleaner. Unfortunately, even if everyone decided to dump cars and switch to trains and planes, it would take a long long time and cost a lot of money to dismantle all the sprawling ugly concrete and asphalt infrastructure.
Since I just mentioned planes (airplanes), there is some good news here as well. They are becoming more energy efficient. The Dreamliner from Boeing has of course garnered headlines and airlines are scooping it up hoping to save about 20% on fuel costs. Now MIT researchers have proposed a new design that could save up to 70% on current fuel usage. The design has a body that allows for more lift and wing designs that match the efficiency of the engines. The changes are not that dramatic, but calculations indicate it could save A LOT of fuel – 70% more efficient. The one minor drawback is that is does not fly as fast, but it isn’t so slow so as to be bothersome.
Many of you have probably already read about Solar Impulse – the first all electric plane that will attempt flying around the world non-stop, but what about helicopters? Believe it or not, Sikorsky plans to fly a piloted electric helicopter for the first time this year. They want to explore the potential benefits of all electric flight.
In less flashy news, more and more small companies and entrepreneurs are coming up with ideas on saving electricity in high rise office buildings. They mostly revolve around smart monitoring of lights and air conditioning. tests show some of these system can reduce energy usage of a building by a significant percentage. Read more here.
A bit more flashy (sometimes literally) are solar panels. A new nano coating developed by Yi Cui of Stanford could help produce much cheaper solar cells. I have reported about different nanoscale enhancements on solar cells over the last year, but many of them are very difficult to scale up and/or are very expensive. Cui’s method is simpler and could dramatically reduce the cost of thin film solar cells.
Have a good evening! Meteorologist Justin Loew.