Sunday, September 28, 2008

Energy: Every solution is faced with a difficult decision

Revolutionary thinker and theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, talks about the year 2057 being a tremendous footprint on the technological advancement of mankind. From various pieces of literature, he alludes to this incumbent year in which we receive true salvation from our ancestral counterparts. It is projected that by this time, we will have finally been able to manipulate the energy from the sun with enough efficiency to power planet Earth’s ever-growing energy demands.

Currently, solar technologies being used are already becoming household and inexpensive in nature. The lights in my backyard, for example, are powered by batteries which are recharged by four small solar panels made mostly from silicon. However, the efficiency level of silicon-based solar technology is rated at a mere 14%, due largely to the fact that silicon is mainly capable of only absorbing infrared light, while ignoring the rest of the color spectrum, such as ultra-violet and visible light. In order for this technology to replace oil or coal for our energy demands, it is estimated that our efficiency levels will need a roughly 50% level of diffusion.

So this brings us to our current year, 2008. What will happen in the next 49 years? Well the current energy powerhouses of the world are already investing millions into technological research and development of solar energy. Much like the human genome project, where it took several years to simply map 3% of the human genome, skeptics were rampant with their degradation of the project. It was considered a waste of resources as it would take hundreds of years to accomplish such as a task. This example of skepticism lies deep within linear thinkers who did not realize one simple concept: Exponential growth. With exponential growth, we can easily foresee a future (in as little as 49 years) where mankind is finally able to harness the limitless power of the sun.

Corporations such as TÜV Rhineland and Daniel Vanmaekelbergh from the University of Utrecht are currently researching and developing new materials comprised mainly of cadmium and selenium, then heating them to 570 degrees Fahrenheit. At this extreme heat, the molecules arrange themselves into crystal lattices known as “nano crystals”. The light absorbing properties of these crystals have finally given scientists the material needed to harness greater potential of the suns spectrum of light. However, this answer to a problem has simply created a new and more complex problem. Think of your LCD monitor, where it contains several hundred-thousand pixels. What happens if you have a dead pixel? Well it simply cannot be fixed and must either be replaced or ignored. Now, let us replace the complexity of your LCD monitor with the billions upon billions of nano-crystals contained upon a single solar cell. Do we just ignore these flaws and deem them as acceptable losses?

The trend of the future seems to be, the greater the solution; comes a more complex theory with an equally opposite amount of room for error.

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