Is alternative energy, disruptive enough?

The nuclear disaster that occurred Fukushima has of course brought out the danger of Nuclear technology. Never mind, if new technologies like NuScale’s modular nuclear power plants are coming online, and never mind how research into nuclear technology is important in the future exploration of space. Never mind how such a technology could matter in the ultimate survival of our species beyond this plant. That isn’t to say those in favor of green technologies as alternative energy sources are wrong. In fact, it isn’t the green technology itself but the fear about other options that is bothersome. It is, ultimately how to maximize viability of alternative energy that’s the key. So the question is: how disruptive should alternative energy sources be?

There have been very interesting urban designs that have come out in the past decade. William McDonough’s Cradle-to-Cradle design of a city for China is one. Thought the project didn’t pan out, the concept is irrevocably an interesting idea. The design concept would have our farm lands on top of the buildings. Factories will have massive solar panels that would power not just the factories themselves but the whole city. The City was designed in such a way that the sun will always strike every part of the city at least once a day. Transportation is always a five minute walk. Sewerage is likewise recycled and reused. When one looks at the design, it is like turning a city into one huge ecosystem.

The best thing about McDonough’s design, it compliments the environment. That’s the dream isn’t it? To live in a world where our technology, our modern life doesn’t disrupt nature, but is a part of it.

But is this the right way to go? Is this disruptive enough?

Currently, society sees electricity as a utility. We have a power plant somewhere, and we have transmission lines going from that power plant to our homes and offices. Some of the arguments against solar, and wind for example, we will need a huge chunk of land to generate electricity to power our towns and cities.

MIT a few years ago, had a major discovery. They discovered a catalyst that when applied to fuel cell technology would mean carbon-free electricity enough to power a house, or an electric car a day or a night. The technology was inspired by photosynthesis.

 

 

That’s the key right there. Imagine future houses 15 to 20 years into the future, drawing their power from the sun. We’re not talking about setting up a solar energy plant a few kilometers away from town. No, this is about each home having its own solar panel, and using that to power the house, as well as to keep going for days on end. This means, electricity isn’t a utility anymore. We can have home designs or building designs that generate their own electricity; that pump and recycle their own water. City designs are going to change, because each house, and each building becomes self-sufficient.

The real future of an alternative energy source from an energy efficiency stand point and from an economic standpoint is to disrupt the status quo of having utilities serve power. It is about bringing energy to the masses. It is about making each house, a power station.

The contention has always been the inefficiencies of using alternative energy sources and delivering them to the customer. What if that’s not the answer? What if the answer is commercializing technology so that each home or office becomes energy independent? Is the future of energy independence about being disruptive enough to break the status quo?

Image credit: via MIT.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • Bert ,

    Most alternative energy technology being presently developed are in its infant stages and does not offer huge potential to provide enough power on a wholesale worlwide scale as those from nuclear and fossil, hence not disruptive enough.

    On the other hand, fusion technology has great potential though we’ll have to wait for maybe 50 years more for it to be perfected and bear fruit.

    Let us see which of these new alternative energies being developed today will be disruptive enough within this period of fifty years from now.

    • Cocoy ,

      Bert,

      As far as I know Fusion technology is at least 100 years into the future. The US, Korea, Europe are building a test site in south of France. They estimate the experiment to last 20 to 30 years. Who knows if we can come up with technologies from it or if it is viable or not?

      Fusion from how i understand it: we don’t have technology to contain plasm, yet.

      Even this whole design on solar technology is a good 15 to 20 years into the future. I’m all for alternative energy and nuclear energy and all that. We need a viable energy source. The new ones are unfortunately 20 years in to the future.

      If we for example begin commissioning a nuclear reactor today, it would take 10 years to get that energy source operational.

      If I’m not mistaken Congressman Roilo Golez has a Philippine Solar Initiative.

      But as I have hypothesized in my thought-problem: could it be to make Solar viable is to simply cut off the middleman?

    • UP nn grad ,

      Here is an ethical question that is very easy to ignore, so easy that a lot of people who can effect change refuse to face up to it.

      Should Noynoy administration continue the GMA-policies (focus is primarily on making better the lives of the top 20% of society (the middle-class and higher), or should Noynoy administration do what FPJ or even Erapmay have focused on — more Malacanang leadership with regards making better the lives of the bottom 30%? This is the question between broadband versus drinking-water-and-electrification projects, the difference between more skyways for metro-Manila versus irrigation and 2-lane highways for Mindanao and Southern Luzon.

      • Bert ,

        UP n, my friend,

        Why should there be always a versus between two something as if good results depend on clashes between two conflicting elements when all we need from the president is good governance?

        Good and clean governance, my friend, are the key words.

        Not versus.

        And everything will fall into its proper places where they should be, for the benefit of all.

        • Cocoy ,

          UPnG

          The what? I’m no rocket scientist, but i’m not dumb either and I couldn’t get what you just wrote. If you’re taking about President Aquino’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, Doy has spent a great number of time discussing the issue. Here’s a list on Conditional Cash Transfer.

          If you’re looking into Public-Private Partnerships, which President Aquino promised to focus on, we have a few posts on them: here. They’re mostly news stories and some commentary.

          If you’re looking at population development we have a whole list of them at our views on RH BIll.

          Cheers!

          • GabbyD ,

            well, 2 defend up, at some point, it is a “versus” question as the govt cannot produce all that people require of it.

            so, the answer is simply this: investments must lead to economic growth. why? if they dont, then you are just spending money on something with no returns.

            • UP nn grad ,

              Manila-centric top-20% thinking drives Malacanang and for simple reasons. The business groups that propel the candidates into malacanang focus on the top 20% which are the ones that buy products or pay for services. The unfortunate fact about Pilipinas politics is that the votes of the classes-D-E do not translate into proportionate services for the classes-D-E. Evidence — lack of sanitary water for such an abysmal large percentage of Pilipinas population. Evidence — lack of classrooms. Leadership like CCT programs are not even 100% home-grown but are forcefed into Pilipinas governance from the outside.

              • GabbyD ,

                forcefed? paano?

                • Cocoy ,

                  UPnG, and this is news, or new, how? I think you’re misjudging the efforts of the government, or the depth and breathe of what’s wrong with the country.

                  Anyway, there are real issues. This thread is on energy. Let’s focus on that. There are others on population development, on PPP, corruption, etc. I believe we also published one on ARMM, if anyone care to comment on that.

                  Eyes on the ball people.