Thursday, August 03, 2006

Heat Wave

It seems that the whole country is gripped in a record breaking, news making heat wave. You no its bad when its the lead story on the national news. (but not the local news, since they're always blowing weather out of proportion) Perhaps the one good thing is now weather is a serious topic of discussion, and no longer just small talk to prevent awkward pauses in about that weather?... It seems likely that these heat waves aren't going to get any better, but only worse and more frequent. So besides showing us that Al Gore was right, (You won, alright? Stop raising our temperature and we'll make you president.) it reveals problems with our energy infrastructure, as our antiquated power grid in many cities is overwhelmed leading to power outages. People are dying of this extreme heat. So all this got me thinking on ways to solve the problem.

My first suggestion is we start living underground. Caves are about a nice frosty 65 degrees year round, so why not? Not only would we save energy from not using AC, but it would eliminate those skyrocketing gas bills in the winter. Now 65 is a little chilly, but thanks to Jimmy Carter wearing sweaters is patriotic, and also fashionable. So go do yourself a favor, take your tax refund and go to the mall, you'll be cooling off while stimulating the economy. Oh wait, you might want to move underground first, our you'll just end up with heat stroke. Now if wearing a sweater can be patriotic, couldn't it be patriotic to wear a t-shirt and shorts? But I digress. I'm from Kentucky, maybe my state could start building in Mammoth Cave. I know what your wondering, how are we going to build underground? Well, thankfully we had the Big Dig in Boston to learn how to successfully construct underground while keeping the cost down. Your other objection is, but there are no windows underground, that's not very pleasant. True, but we now have large flat panel screens which could serve the same purpose as those outdated windows. Plus, you could change your location with a click of the remote. Want to be on the beach, there you go. But seriously, I wonder why we couldn't use the cool ground to cool the air in our buildings.

My second suggestion, in all seriousness, we need to update our outdated power grid that is being overwhelmed in times of high demand. We need one that can handle more electricity, and direct the power automatically using computers instead of manually having to control it. It would automatically take steps to prevent outages. A new, modern power grid would also need to be able to handle buildings putting power back into the grid as those with solar panels, etc., generate electricity.

Thirdly, power usage is not constant, but varies over the day, slowing rising and falling. So the power grid gets overwhelmed when the power demand is peaking. What we need to develop is fuel cells for homes. During the night when electricity demand is the lowest, they could convert water to hydrogen and oxygen using electricity (this process is called electrolysis) and store it. I say we need fuel cells and not large batteries because batteries probably would require too much metal, but fuel cells run on hydrogen and oxygen which we can get from water. These fuel cells would serve several functions. First, during power outages they would provide backup power. For long lasting power outs like those in St. Louis which lasted days and people were dying from, more hydrogen could be brought in to replenish the supply in people's homes. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they would help prevent outages in the first place. During peak hours buildings would use the fuel cells to generate electricity some of their electricity, reducing demand on the power grid. Thus reducing the chance of black outs would need to be done in conjunction with a modern power grid, which would orchestrate the fuel cells to reduce strain by telling each building how much power to draw from the fuel cells and how much from the grid. It should be pointed out the fuel cells would not help reduce our overall electricity demand, but would even out the demand for electricity fromt the power grid. Right now, if during the height of the day power plants were running at max, that means at night there would be a surplus of energy if they're all running full steam but no where to put the surplus power.

These fuel cells in the future could help in another way too. As we switch more to alternative energy like wind and solar, it is going to be necessary to store power. That's because the sun is not always shining and the wind isn't always blowing, and so the electricity supply will vary. The fuel cells would regulate the demand for energy from the power grid with the varying supply.

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Anonymous Jason eats bugs said...

Here's an idea, though I don't know how feasible it is (and I should note I've had this idea for a long time, just not sure how to implement it, and if the government and ACLU type groups would allow it): Instead of having this big weight rooms in prisons, I say we put in exercise bikes for each inmate. They have to do a minimum of 4 hours riding each day. They will be in shape with all this exercise, and the bikes will be hooked to a power cell like you're talking about, to store that electricity. That would be pumped to the cities these prisons are in, to help with the power demand. There will also be areas, like parks, where there are these energy producing bikes, and anyone and go at any time of day to get some exercise, and help with the cities power need. If worse comes to worst, we can just build robots to harness us as the great batteries that we are (alá The Matrix).

Fri Aug 04, 08:53:00 PM EDT  

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