Monday, April 30, 2007

A Bright Future?

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

-- John Lennon, Imagine

Yesterday, I wrote about recent trends in solar energy collection. Specifically, it looks like the cost of converting your home to solar energy may soon become affordable. If this happens, the future may be very bright indeed.

Some who've converted their homes to solar energy express a certain amount of satisfaction at selling their extra power to their local utility. Granted, a single home probably doesn't add much to the grid, but consider what might happen if entire neighborhoods begin creating power, as opposed to consuming it. One house would become two, ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, and more...each adding a few watts to the global power supply.

At some point, the entire electrical economy could be turned on its head as most homes contribute more electricity than they consume. Can you imagine the possibilities? In some respects, the generation of electricity becomes a democratic process.

This would also help with global warming because it would obviate the need to use fossil fuels to generate electricity. Oil wells could be topped off. Strip mines could shut down. Nuclear plants could go offline. Indeed, this may be the cleanest way to solve several environmental issues.

Once this goes effect, the grid becomes an ideal mechanism for connecting homes to whatever passes as the Internet, which in turn could help bridge the digital divide. Suddenly, the World Wide Web truly becomes available to everyone on the planet. (Well, OK, everyone with a power outlet.)

Oh, I'm sure all of this a pipe dream. But wouldn't it be cool if this particular dream came to pass?

Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Let the Sun Shine In

Solar energy may finally be ready to solve the world's energy problems and drastically reduce the production of greenhouse gases said to be a leading cause of global warming.

You probably already know that the amount of sunlight that strikes the Earth each day could, if properly collected, easily support our electrical needs as a race. The problem, of course, has been in figuring out how to effectively and economically convert sunlight to electricity.

Traditional solar cells are made from silicon, the main component of sand. Silicon solar cells are expensive to manufacture. The process itself requires a lot of energy, so much so that some have questioned the overall benefit of solar energy cells.

In addition, the yield (the amount of electricity created from the light striking the cell) of traditional solar cells is low, somewhere in the range of 10-20% (depending on who you talk to).

The high cost and low yields have held the technology back as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. However, a number of recent announcements may help solar energy regain the limelight.
Here are some of the ones I've stumbled across over the past several weeks:

  • At Massey University (Albany, New Zealand), they've created solar cells from an organic dye that mimics the sunlight-collecting abilities of plants. While the yields of these cells is much lower than that of silicon-based cells, they cost up to 90% less to manufacture and are more effective environments where light is more diffuse (e.g. cloudy Seattle).

  • Last December, Spectrolab (a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company) was able to boost the yield of traditional solar cells to 40%.

  • Researchers at The University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) have discovered how to use more of the area inside a solar cell to collect energy. They expect this discovery to increase yield by 20% while reducing costs by 30%.

  • At Wake Forest University (South Carolina, USA), they've increased the yield of plastic-based solar cells to 12%. While that modest given the recent advances with silicon, it represents a 400% increase in yield for plastic-based cells and also suggests applications beyond traditional solar cells, perhaps even a solar energy collecting coating that could be applied to the windows of office buildings and skyscrapers.

When you take these discoveries in context, it looks like the cost of rewiring your home to use solar energy is going to become much cheaper, perhaps as much as 90% less, in the near future. While today's conversion prices vary wildly based on your goals, the price of a $10,000 conversion could theoretically drop to $1,000 in the near future.

If that's the case, then conversion becomes a no-brainer. In our home, for example, we spend ~$800 annually for electricity. At today's prices, it would take about 13 years for a conversion to pay off economically. At 1/10th that cost, however, the project pays for itself within the first fourteen months. In addition, I imagine a conversion would add quite a bit to a home's resale value.

The true benefit, though, would appear rapidly over the next few years. I'll talk about that in my next post.

Photo credit: NASA

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Meditations on Tragedies

Regarding the tragedies of last week, I don't have any insights that others haven't already expressed more clearly. However, this post inspired a response.


When does awareness lead to action?

Photo credit: The Rodin Museum

Dark Clouds Rising

Today's Sunday Scribblings prompt is rooted and allows one to explore two different aspects: the feelings of being rooted or the confusion of rootlessness. The latter describes how I've felt about my blog recently.

A couple of months ago, I inadvertently caused a bit of a stir by expressing a good idea poorly. Feelings got hurt and people rose to defend those who were hurt. And, as commonly happens on the Internet, many commented wildly about what I'd said, my fitness for life, and how I should be burned in effigy. (I might possibly be exaggerating a teeny bit.)

As the situation escalated, I became more embarrassed and shamed. I apologized repeatedly, but some chose to continue to pile on.

Generally, I have a pretty thick skin...but some of the comments lobbed in my general direction cut very deeply. They opened old wounds and raised old doubts. Old embarrassments were resurrected. Did you know that sense memory can burn as deeply as the original moment of shame?

So I withdrew. I reduced my comments and withheld my ideas. I posted about safe things, thing few would criticize. Yet, when it came time to write about risky things, things that might offend...I found myself blocked. I could start the post, but when it came time to weave my personal ideas into it, my confidence faltered and I was unable to finish the post.

So I find myself rootless at the moment, at least with respect to this blog. I started blogging to speak my truth to power and to bring my light to darkness. I believe I have good ideas and that my thoughts are worth considering. And yet, when storm clouds rise, my light remains dark and my ideas stay unexpressed.

I know I need to work my way through this and to find my own way back to self confidence. And perhaps this particular post is my attempt to do just that.

Photo credit: Jason Antony

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter, JP

An Easter Basket
Happy Easter, My Love

Here's an Easter surprise, just for you.

It's hidden in the best place possible...right in plain sight.

Yet, I don't think you'll find it very quckly.

It's sugar-free and low-calorie. It won't wilt over the next few days. And, you'll know where to find it the next time you want it.

I love you very much. While our lives get crazy sometimes, our love isn't. I'm very proud to be your friend, partner, and husband.


-- f

Photo credit: Alexandar Iotzov

Sunday, April 01, 2007

An Observation on Life

As you may have heard, DD recently turned eleven. I periodically write about my experiences as a parent and about the pride I have in my children. DD and I have an interesting relationship in that we have honest and connected conversations about many things.

As she's gotten older, she asks me about things and I try to explain them to her, or at least I try to explain my perspective on them to her. For example, we've had several conversations about B's drug use and how the choices he's made have lead to various outcomes. We've spoken about the importance of self-image and how a poor sense of self can lead to choices and actions that are less than ideal.

We've talked about divorce (and separation) and why it's important to focus on what's possible, rather than what wasn't. We've talked about Kara's unique situation and how her experiences as a child of divorce is different than DD's...and how those differences complicates Kara's experiences, actions, and choices. We've even spoken about how Kara's sense of identity is more complicated because of the roadblocks my ex raises.

DD and I have talked about responsibility, both personal and financial. (She's really wants a cell phone and is desperately trying to convince us to get her one.) We've talked about cause and effect...and why it's important to plan a few things out before you jump into them.

DD surprises me with how much she understands, especially for someone of her age. She's aware of other people's feelings and tries hard to take them into account when she makes her own choices. She understands that things don't always work out the way one would like. She understands that frustration is a part of life.

Yet, through it all, she is cheerful, bubbly, goofy, loving, generous in spirit, and...well, happy. She's a very happy, giving spirit.

I mention this because I wanted to share a poem she wrote yesterday. She calls it Life.

Past is our Present
We can’t leave it behind
It maybe the hope we carry
Or the guilt we hold
We can’t let it go

The Present is our Future
We worry what will happen next
We won’t know what to do
Or how it will happen
So we pray

Future holds the pain
We struggle through the years
Sometimes we’ll lose our dignity
But never faith
We hold faith in others
But hardly our selves

We may cry
We may laugh
We may lose hope
But don’t give up

Our lives are difficult
We’ll lose the things that mean the most
Our friends, our family
We are here for a reason
To live, to be imperfect, to be different
But not suffer so let us remember
In our times of need to stick together

Labels: , ,