Saturday, April 9, 2011

GE is Taking the Lead in Solar

Once again, its good to see a big corporation take a stand in the world of alternative energy. I just found out today that GE, along with PrimeStar, has developed the world's most efficient thin-film photovoltaic solar panel. at almost 12% efficiency, it takes almost a 2% leap over previous thin-film arrays, and can boost energy savings by up to 20%. This is big news, considering the money going into this operation is astronomical. GE has decided to invest $600 million in a brand new solar facility that can produce enough solar panels to power 80,000 more homes every year, or roughly 400Megawatts. On top of this, they are filling orders for another 100Megawatts. This is huge news for solar power, which as I've written on my blog before is in my opinion the true green energy of the future. Below is an image of a thin-film solar array. In my opinion, they are more aesthetically pleasing and economical than standard solar arrays.

 I believe that we can invent solar panels that may one day power an entire house off a single panel and power cities off of a single square mile of panels. The power is there, its bountiful, and we almost have a solid grasp on it. One day we won't have to peer up at buzzing wiggling high tension towers stretching across the landscape, or watch worriedly as we blast apart mountains for coal and pollute the rivers and ecosystems, such as we are doing now at increasingly destructive rates. I may be a green liberal, but I still have faith in our capitalist system to switch our demands to that of green energy and sustainable infrastructure. It's up to us as consumers to move forward with the transition to renewable energy


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Data Centers: Hidden Behemoths of the Internet

When you type a search into google, it scans billions of pages, delivering your results totalling possibly in the millions, or in the dozens, in a fraction of a second. How does it do that? Data centers. Information hosted on the internet has to have a place to stay both when being used and for simple storage. The more information a website hosts and indexes, the more data is produced in these centers, and are archived in massive arrays of servers. When you host a website, often your information gets stored on a server somewhere in your webhost's data center. With the huge influx of information into the internet rising exponentially, how we are storing this data is becoming a huge problem, both online and offline. Data centers for huge websites are massive energy sinks, using up large amounts of electricity to cool the servers as they heat up from running through so much information on a second-by-second basis. It's quickly becoming one of the major sources of energy use in our country. There is a huge need for sustainability in data centers. Many web hosts these days are offering green solutions: a small surcharge to ensure that the carbon emitted into the environment for your website's information storage in their data center is offset. Its different though for huge web corporations that use up so much energy they can't just offset their carbon.

This is what a typical server array in a Data Center looks like.

Take Facebook, a website with over 500 million users, who upload millions of images a day, posting almost 20,000 comments every second. Each bit of info uploaded to facebook goes into their data center's dedicated servers, and they are running out of space. Now, facebook is planning on building a new data center, one that uses passive heating and cooling to lower energy use, as well as relying on fewer batteries for backup power in case of a blackout. Not only that, but theyre planning everything in an open environment, posting images of the blueprints, details, as well as providing information on their new data center. This will hopefully raise awareness of the hidden energy being wasted by our fiddling on the internet.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The New Generation of Space Exploration

You may have heard recently that SpaceX has unveiled their latest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to much praise by the press. It's brand-spanking-new thruster technology and payload ability makes it by far the cheapest orbital transport craft yet to be made. At a staggering $1,000 per pound to lift into orbit, it is changing the young game of commercialized space exploration. If the average human weighs 150 pounds, then it would only cost $150,000 to send a man to space, compared to the millions for NASA and other space missions. This may seem like a lot of money to the layman, but in space terms, its dirt cheap. This means that the new Falcon Heavy rocket can carry huge payloads; twice as much as the closest competitor the Delta IV heavy, for a third of its price. Good news for the mega-rich who hope to one day sail to the International Space Station for the price of a well-optioned Porsche 911. Heres the rocket up close:

All this excitement brings me to some good news: Companies like SpaceX and Virgin galactic represent the first examples of sustainable business dealing with space travel, and now that such corporations are taking it upon themselves to push the limits of space travel, this has changed the economy of space. Along with Obama's plan to take money away from traveling to the moon, and allowing private business to develop orbital space stations and transport vehicles, NASA now has more room in their budget to refresh aging technology, improve the space infrastructure, develop new technologies for Solar Power to provide energy to space stations, and invent newer, more efficient means of moving our society into space and opening up a new frontier. When the news came down that we weren't going back to the moon, it was taken as a bad omen, but more and more we are realizing that it is not just closing a door to the moon, but opening another door to the rest of the Universe.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A New Ozone Hole over the Arctic?

Yes, but also no.

Recently the World Meteorological Organization sent out a warning to Scandanavian countries, warning of increased UV exposure. This is due to a recent discovery of a shallow ozone layer hole over the North Sea and Scandanavia. The ozone hole is as a result of the unusually cold winter, which caused a very cold stable high pressure to form over Scandanavia, sending frigid air into europe, and stabilizing the stratosphere, preventing ozone from forming in the typically unstable environment found in the ozone layer. Long story short: The cold winter in europe has led to a minor ozone hole. Its nowhere near the strength or size of the antarctic ozone hole, but then again, nobody really lives in the Antarctic, while tens of millions live in Scandanavia, Great Britain, and the rest of northern Europe. It's important to be aware of this, especially with the looming threat of climate change.
One of the biggest threats of climate change isn't just increased temepratures, but increased volatility in the atmosphere. This means that much colder-than-normal winters are quite possible, and may already be happening. It'll be another decade before we can be sure of this, but if the pattern of cold winters continues over northern Europe, we may be looking at an ozone issue far greater than the Antarctic ozone hole.

There is good news though! The hole is minor, and highly anomalous, and with spring rapidly approaching, the stratosphere is once again mixing up and the hole is dissipating, so don't worry; though it is still something to watch in the coming years.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gas Prices are on the Rise

Heres an article for my buddies in the US. Some of you reading this may call it Petrol, but here we call it Gasoline, and in the U.S., we're starting to understand what it feels like to pay out the nose for the most precious fuel that we use every day. Recently, the price for a barrel of light sweet crude oil (The main oil used for automotive gasoline), has started to rise after spending a couple months between $80 and $100 per barrel with the price of a gallon rising to over 3.70 (close to $1 US per liter). Heres the past 3 months gasoline price chart, along with the price of a barrel of crude oil, courtesy of

Many people are up in arms over the gas prices, blaming everything from the President to greedy businessmen. However, the truth makes a lot more sense. Theres three main factors at play here

1: The Middle East: Uprisings and revolutions over the last 4 months have put pressure on many governments in northern Africa and Arabia that regulate the drilling and shipping of oil around Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as much of the oil exported to the US. This tension has caused insecurity in the prospect of receiving oil, forcing a higher demand to claim oil contracts at lower prices, which in turn drives up the price. When a commodity is threatened, it costs more to secure the shipment of it.

2: Inflation: The value of the U.S. dollar is slowly falling in global markets. Seeing as much of the oil shipped around the world is traded on the U.S. dollar, when its value falls, it costs more for each barrel of oil, pushing prices up. With wages being outpaced by inflationary growth, people aren't going to be making enough money to catch up to price increases, placing pressure on our wallets every time we pull into the gas station.

3: Supply and Demand: more and more economists are becoming smart to the idea of Peak Oil: The idea, nay the fact, that world oil production is or will be peaking soon, and that after this peak, we will no longer be producing enough oil to keep up with its rise in demand. As oil becomes more and more scarce over the coming decades, it will be valued higher and higher, until its either unaffordable, or completely gone. While this  factor is the least considered in day to day trading of oil, its certainly the most certain.

What can we do? Conserve. Drive less often when you don't need to. Walk to the store or to pick your kids up from school. If you have a car that gets less than 20mpg and is over 5 years old, consider upgrading to a newer, more fuel efficient car. The money you spend on increased efficiency can be saved over the long term when you will be thanking yourself for not having to stop so often for gas when the price reaches $4-5 per gallon. Also, try driving 55. Unless you are in a hurry to work and willing to burn the gas, you don't need to rush everywhere. Every increase of 5mph above 55 you drive can chop a mile or two per gallon off your fuel mileage. After all, the EPA mileage estimate for your car is measured at 55mph, so if you drive 65 in a car that is rated for 30mpg you can really only be getting 26mpg, and that can make quite a difference. If we work collectively to lower the demand for gasoline, we can bring the demand down in the markets and hopefully slow the rise of oil prices and not break the bank.