Wednesday Topsight, November 8, 2006
Okay, giddiness over, back to business.
Super Elastic Solar Plastic: Say "solar power" and what normally comes to mind are those hard, dark slabs of silicon solar cells. But if folks at companies like Nanosolar and Konarka have anything to say about it, you'll soon think instead of slick, flexible plastic. Polymer photovoltaics have the potential to be the nifty energy technology of the coming decade, in part because they're cheap and rugged, and in part because they can be produced easily and with few toxic chemicals. Wired News has a good one-pager on the current status of polymer photovoltaics (and, of course, I wrote about them fairly often over at WC).
The value of photovoltaic plastic isn't as a direct replacement for rooftop solar panels, but as a fabrication material to add energy production to locations or products that normally wouldn't be thought of as energy sources -- window shades, for example, or patio umbrellas, car roofs, or even the backs of jackets.
Unmentioned in the Wired piece, unfortunately, is anything about the energy production efficiency of plastic solar. While silicon solar runs in the 15% or so efficiency range (that is, the material produces about 15% of the energy potentially available from insolation, about 1kw per square meter), polymer solar has been stuck down in the 3% realm. And while it may be possible to boost polymer photovoltaic efficiency to 10-15%, silicon solar in the lab has been pushed as far as 60% efficiency. Those hard, dark slabs won't be going away any time soon.
Presidents Need To Know Science? Berkeley Physicist Richard Muller teaches a course called "Physics for Future Presidents," and the entire course content can now be found online. His goal with the class is to provide, every session, information that every world leader should know about how the physical universe works. Topics include energy, radioactivity, light (useful for understanding capabilities of spy satellites), and basic quantum theory (important for understanding modern electronics, solar power, and lasers).
Interestingly, it's clear that Muller knows physics, but doesn't understand other subjects quite as well as he should. He dismisses the Tesla Roadster, claiming it will cost a million dollars and weigh well over three tons -- all on the basis of a comment in a Wired article about the kinds of batteries it employs. In reality, the Tesla runs about $100,000 -- not cheap, but 90% less than Muller asserts -- and weighs about one ton. Maybe somebody needs to teach a class on Googling for Future Physics Professors.
Eco-Socialism: Pan Yue, China's deputy director for the State Environmental Protection Administration, has long been startlingly outspoken, declaring in an interview awhile back that China's so-called "economic miracle" was going to be strangled by the runaway environmental degradation. Now he's back, talking about the concept of "eco-socialism," and what real sustainable development might look like.
The scientific view of development seeks a comprehensive and sustainable change of politics, economics, society, culture and theory – a transformation of civilisation. And so, the period between now and 2020 will be crucial in determining whether China can complete this transformation from traditional to eco-industrial civilisation.
China faces some difficulties in achieving this. Firstly, there is a tension between our population, resources and environment. Secondly, in today’s world, each country vies for energy, resources and the environment. We cannot export our pollution as developed countries can. We must resolutely work towards to a new style of industrialisation, whatever the price. Japan is a good example of this.
I know that Pan Yue is hardly representative of China's leadership as a whole, but we can dream...