It says "shiP". :-)
Having just put up a grouchy post which could seem anti-technology, this may to be a good time to counter that. I'm not anti; I'm pro "GOOD science", and good technology; well thought out, and well implemented. That's what I try to do myself, which is possibly why it ticks me off so much when ill-thought out crap gets great press. I've got two spectacular examples for you here; both potentially of HUGE environmental significance; both with trials actually in place, and working.
Colin is busy tilting at wind generators today - holding direct conversations with a guy who believes the world has no limits, and everything is going to be fine, if we just invest in new technology. Personally - there is no way around the fact that the world is FINITE. Uh - it just IS. There ARE limits to everything, and pretending otherwise will get you in trouble, every time.
At the same time, there is no denying that real "breakthroughs" DO happen, from time to time. There is a chance for a really cool breakthrough technology to happen - but it really is NOT predictable, and not something you want to bet the farm on. The whole world has been betting that if we just spend another zillion dollars on the cancer research industry, we'll cure cancer soon- for about 40 years now. In spite of incremental improvements- there's no "cure" in sight; and may never be. "Investing" in innovation is not a proven pathway to actual results.
Oil burning ships are filthy filthy dirty. They put out more carbon than the airlines, by quite a bit; and it's way dirtier, to boot.
Since the oil is getting more expensive, it occurred to me to predict (privately alas) that commercial shipping would, in the near future, start going back to sail, and start moving away from oil. Sure, sail is slower. So? Not that hard to put X onto the ship a week earlier.
I predicted, specifically, that the Chinese would be the first- and they'd do it within 3 years.
Wrong, wrong wrong. It was the Germans- and the ship is on the ocean NOW; hauling containers. The "sail" doesn't resemble the old clippers - OF COURSE. I never expected them to go back to square-riggers. We know quite a few new tricks with wind; I expected a radical system.
It's a kite - not a sail. It's THREE TIMES more effective than the old sails. That's huge.
(click on pic for bigger version)
This ain't fantasy; the MV Beluga SkySails is currently at sea; having set out from Bremerhaven, Germany two days ago. Carrying wind generator parts, to Venezuela.
The SkySail kite on this ship is NOT as big as they intend to make them- it's a little smaller, and flying a little lower, so they can learn, I think; an excellent idea. They're intending to eventually make them more than 5,000 square meters (!!?? really?); and flying at over 1,000 feet of altitude. (The numbers I was finding are kind of inconsistent at the moment.)
There is a shipload of wind up there- way stronger, and hugely more consistent than surface winds. Something to learn and remember- the "power" or force of a flowing fluid (liquid or gas) is not a linear relationship. Power varies as the CUBE of the speed (or maybe the 4th power, I've been taught at one time) - there's a LOT more available power up there.
The kite is actually a self-inflating "parafoil", which lifts like an airplane wing; generating far more pull than a plain kite - computer controlled and guided for maximizing power.
For the technically inclined, there's quite a bit more info available by googling - but it's kind of disjointed. This is NEW news- not well digested yet.
This is a BIG big deal. This ship uses the kite as an auxiliary power source- it supplies only about 20% of motive force. I'll bet as the technology matures, and new ships are built specifically to take advantage, (one of the proofs of intelligent design for this system- you can just "bolt on" a SkySail to an existing ship) you'll see that change to 80% - or more. (Not that I expect all my predictions to come true- but it's fun making them...)
What a fabulously good idea. Hard to see any downsides to it. One of the UPsides - any ship relying primarily on sail will be - slower, and just a little unpredictable in its schedule. Do we need to slow down? Oh, yeah. Do we need to be able to wait, for something that's being done right, instead of paying extra for "overnight" instant gratification, extra carbon expended - etc.? Oh, yeah. This may open some of those doors, and help generate some of those attitudes.
This technology is far from done developing. When they get a little more expertise on launching, recovering, managing- I can see - piggybacked sails; more than one on the same rope (that rope has to be darned strong) and possibly - a sky generator there to provide power for the ship- refrigeration, etc. All working together.
In case you can't tell- I'm enthusiastic about it all. Maybe it's just because I used to sail when I could, and I do play with kites a lot still - in any case, we'd better go on to the next possible breakthrough -
NanoSolar photovoltaic panels. That's their corporate website- there's lots of info there, but quite a bit of it is aimed at engineers; not always accessible to the layman.
They may have a REAL breakthrough here- and they also are not fantasy; they're shipping solar panels now. No- you can't buy one- 100% of current factory output has been bought by a German utility, to put up a really big solar generator plant. But they're expanding.
Here's the thing- current price for solar panels averages around $5/watt for small consumers; $4/watt if you're a big customer. NanoSolar says they can sell panels for $1/watt- and still make a profit. Wow. As Crunchita was noting a day or so ago, solar still gets listed as "too expensive" (though life span isn't included in those cavils) - but $1/watt is scary cheap.
And they say the panels are not inferior. They give a 25 year warranty, just like the best single-crystal silicon panels. Here's the breakthrough- NanoSolar panels aren't silicon. They're based on a different semiconductor, long considered very promising, known as CIGS - copper-indium-gallium-selenide. And they don't grow crystals - they PRINT the cells, as ink. On copper sheets, eliminating one whole conductor connecting process.
Very seriously cool- not widely publicized at the moment, because you can't actually buy any - but people are paying attention; they've raised over $100 million in capital for building production plants.
And- again, this technology is not mature- there's a good deal of room for incremental improvements on what is already a major breakthrough. If it really holds up. (It looks good, but the track record is short.)
Breakthroughs in technology CAN happen- and do. But they're not predictable- and they're subject to easy distortion; like the whole biofuels nonsense. Biofuels like ethanol were always an obviously bad idea- but the promoters managed to con a huge number of farmers and politicians by selling HOPE - not facts. (I've talked about that before here- like the current fantasy of cellulosic ethanol...)
We just have to be very very hardnosed about requiring facts before we start doing a lot of hoping.
And meanwhile- we can't count on breakthroughs. We have to do what we can; where we are; with what we have. (Teddy Roosevelt, I think.)