World saved by the Wii

April 8, 2008

Sorry folks. Another title tease. Patience.

When I wasn’t at the STFC Community Forum on Thursday, I was instead at a really good seminar about renewable energy, given by David Mackay from the Cavendish. He gave a hard headed look at UK requirements and what various renewable schemes can deliver. (David has a marvellous book called “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air“). The main conclusion was that if you insist on European or US levels of consumption, then any successful renewable scheme has to be country sized – cover Wales with photocells etc – which isn’t practically or politically possible for the UK. This didn’t surprise me. Before STFC politics took over this blog, my most read post was about how extrapolated world energy requirements will get uncomfortably close to the solar input. However, David was more optimistic than I was there, suggesting that if we take an international approach, we really can solar-farm several Wales-areas in the North African desert and fuel Europe and Africa. So its possible in principle but still politically kinda tricky… Alternatively of course you can do it the Roger Angel way. Mirrors in Space.

That evening I had dinner with David, Alan Heavens, and Stephen Salter, a well known Edinburgh engineering genius. In the 1970s he invented the wave duck, and now he is having another go at saving the world – global cooling with albedo control. All we need is a fleet of two thousand automated ships, that drift around the oceans, hoover up sea water, and shoot a fine spray of particles up to the clouds. The idea seems to be that this (err somehow) changes the way cloud particles nucleate, and so changes their size distribution, making the clouds more reflective to incoming visible and UV, but without changing the reflectivity for IR on the way up. We make the clouds whiter folks. This takes very little energy cost. I haven’t read his paper, which is in press in Phil Trans, but there is a BBC news item on it.

Back to energy. Of course if we can just cut our consumption … David said that our energy consumption is about equal amounts transport, heating, and making stuff. Of course we can insulate our drafty Victorian Edinburgh homes better, but we can also turn down the thermostat. David said (I think… this was after a few glasses of wine..) that in the 1950s the average household temperature in the winter was 12C, compared to 20C now. Part of the problem is, we are all so sedentary… but things are changing !

When I were a lad we watched TV all day. My kids of course have spent years playing on the Playstation or checking Bebo. But since Christmas – things have changed ! We have a Wii and now the whole damn family leaps about playing imaginary tennis and so forth. Much less heating needed.

There. You knew I’d get there.