The weather is getting warmer and we are getting closer to Spring. Time to start thinking about severe weather – anyway, training to spot severe weather. The National Weather Service of Green Bay and La Crosse have issued their storm spotter training schedules. The Green Bay schedule covers most of ourarea. La Crosse covers the far south and west. The Duluth office (which covers Price, Iron, and Ashland counties) has not yet released their schedule but they do have a nice page that explains how easy it isto become an official skywarn spotter. If you enjoy watching the weather and would like to help save the lives of people in Northcentral Wisconsin, then I would suggest attending one of these classes this year. We have not experienced much severe weather over the last couple of years, so it might be building up for 2010.
How about a follow up on the Bloom Energy fuel cell device that I blogged about earlier in the week. As I expected there was some flowery hyped-up language coming from the press event. Politicians called it “transformative” and “revolutionary”, which it is not. It is just a fuel cell. It is a very good fuel cell power plant and has the potential to generate electricity much more efficiently. But it is not going to transform the whole energy infrastructure of the planet or even of just one state – California, where the announcement was made. This device will not allow you to go “off the grid”. For most of us it would mean switching from the electricity grid to the natural gas grid. If you had your own biofuel production plant at your house, then you could go off the grid. Alternatively you could store hundreds of cubic liters of natural gas at your house and then run the Bloom Box for a few years. The point is, it needs fuel to operate. Some of the drawbacks: Price. The model for sale right now costs $800,000. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, at my house it would take me about 1,000 years to recoup the cost of just one “server” as the company calls them. Perhaps the large units shown in the recent articles are not meant for home use. Still, the price would have to come down by a factor of at least 200 before it would be economical for most home users. The company does expect the cost to come down to about $3,000 in a decade. And therein lies another knock against the “revolutionary” claim. In a decade we will likely have much more efficient and cheaper solar panels which are much more environmentally friendly than using a fuel cell and natural gas. Here is an article comparing the bloom box to other forms of alternative energy. Technology review also analyzed some of the positives and negatives. Again, this is a great new fuel cell. Using the Bloom Energy “servers” could help cut pollution and bring down the cost of electricity (as long as the price of natural gas stays low). Combining some of Bloom’s devices with other smart grid technology could theoretically make the US much more efficient when it comes to energy production and use. I don’t want to sound too negative. I am just noting that I don’t think it is “revolutionary”.
Since I mentioned improvements in solar power (above), I thought I would mention this recent breakthrough: Silicon nanowires embeded in polymer can efficiently generate electricity. This is a long way from commercial production but an indication of things to come. This advancement could lead to much cheaper solar cells since they do not use as much silicon.
In another interesting development, Dow Chemical and United Solar Ovonic are now producing and testing solar shingles. The idea has been around a while but it has been a difficult engineering problem to solve. No word on cost, but no doubt they will be expensive at the beginning. I would also be concerned about their toughness with regards to hail. I wouldn’t want to roof my house with tens of thousands of dollars worth of solar shingles only to have them destroyed in one hail storm.
Lastly, as you could have guessed, the US Drought Monitor shows no change in the drought conditions here in Wisconsin over the last week. I won’t belabor the point, since I probably complain too much about the dry weather.
Have a fine Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on February 25, 2010