Weekly Editorials Page
12/6 to 12/12, 2001
 

12/9/2001::  I want to thank Jonathon Koves for forwarding an article  ("Scientists Build Transistor Made of One Molecule") describing a molecular transistor (see also, "Tiny Transistor".) Jonathon Koves' November 8th MSNBC account is a better and more informative description of this monomolecular transistor than the ABC article I posted on the 11th. I don't know why I didn't publish his article on the 8th, since it's a better choice. Anyway, I want to belatedly express  my  appreciation.
12/8/2001:
:   Fourth Energy Update:  I haven't mentioned landfill or aeolian (wind) power here, although they're cited in the Green Power paper. It would take 30,000 or more  landfill power generators to generate enough electricity to power the nation's homes (but not the nation's industrial requirements). That would require one landfill for every 9,000 people. We probably need several times 9,000 people to create a landfill every ten years. It sounds as though landfill power is a valid source of renewable energy, but not a complete source. Like geothermal power, landfill-generated power is continuous and predictable. Although it produces carbon dioxide, the latter is carbon dioxide that has previously been sequestered from the atmosphere. Releasing it to the atmosphere doesn't add to the world's carbon dioxide budget.
    Wind power is unpredictable. The entire TVA aeolian program would only power 400 homes. 
    Wave power is another source of renewable energy, although, like the wind, waves are unpredictable. The UK is developing wave power.
Time Tables:
    It might be worth considering time-tables for renewable energy.
    Fusion power is far off, but could be an excellent source of renewable energy. However, it will produce some radioactivity.
    Landfill power should be available immediately, and sounds like a practical power source.
    Geothermal power is available immediately, and sounds like the brightest star on the horizon if what little I've read about it gives a correct picture.
    Wind power is also available immediately, and would be best-suited to applications that are indifferent to power fluctuations, such as electrolysis or battery recharging.
    Solar power isn't quite ready for mainstream use. The projection of providing 10% of U. S. power by 2030 probably says it well.
    Wave power is a possible option for seacoast areas.
We're Back to Conservation:
    Clearly, the quickest approach to renewable energy and one over which we have personal control is energy conservation, which not only cuts our carbon dioxide emissions and dependence upon Mid-Eastern oil, but also reduces our utility bills. My own approach to this is to make changes that don't require sacrifices on my part. For instance, I've mentioned shifting to the new fluorescent bulbs that are indiscernible from incandescent bulbs. There are a few seldom-used bulbs that would still look best with incandescent bulbs, and of course, we'll stay with incandescent lights with out Xmas decorations. The last few days, I've started using less volume with the shower. I don't notice any difference in comfort level, so I can save energy without giving up anything of value. We might start washing our clothes using cold water, since our clothes don't get really dirty. Modern detergents can handle this. Anyway, we could try it and see how well it works. 
    If everyone reduced power consumption by 20%, we could cut our emissions and utility bills by 20%---far more than the 2% goal for the Kyoto Treaty.
    When cities and towns were first electrified, the only electric appliance in the house was probably a few light bulbs hanging from the ceilings. Fans, pumps, and radios probably soon followed. A refrigerator arrived at our house in 1932. Only gradually did electric power demands increase, with the advent of thermostatically-controlled air conditioning and heating in the 1950's.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?:
    Within a few decades, we'll probably have sufficient renewable energy sources that energy conservation won't be terribly important even with the whole world freely using it.
    

12/7/2001:
: Third Energy Update: 
    New air conditioning standards and air conditioners will be introduced in 2003 that will mandate air conditioners that are 20% more energy efficient than current equipment, upping costs by about 15%. Air conditioners that are 30% more efficient are possible, but they would be still more expensive.
    Another approach would be to use earth-based heat pumps and air conditioners. These use either horizontal pipes located just under the ground or deep vertical wells to exchange heat with the earth. They can also pre-heat water, using waste heat from the air conditioner in the summertime.
   Another adjunct that was marketed during the 1970's was a device that would spray water onto the condenser of an air conditioner to provide evaporative cooling. Such a scheme could also be used at the ridge of a roof to allow a film of water to evaporatively cool the roof, and could spray water onto the (brick) walls of a house for the same purpose.
    Of course, the automotive industry is where the greatest petroleum savings could be realized. Britain is moving toward natural-gas-powered vehicles. That would eliminate our dependence upon oil, but it wouldn't eliminate carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel cells require fuel of some description. An announcement in tomorrow night's Science News will describe a Japanese discovery that may convert sunlight directly to hydrogen. Efficiencies are only about 1%, so it has some distance to travel before it becomes a viable fuel production technique. And of course, conventional photovoltaic power could be used to electrolyze water.
    You wonder if a means might be found to chemically produce methyl alcohol with electricity or sunlight.
    Another dark horse in this race is thermonuclear fusion, which is reaching the takeoff point in  Europe. Fusion power would sidestep the radioactivity problems that complicate fission-based nuclear power.
    In the 80's, when U. S. automotive fuel efficiencies reached their highest levels, people drove more, offsetting the higher fuel efficiencies with even greater fuel consumption.

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