Sterling Gets on the Wattage Train for our Energy Future

Posted on January 18, 2009
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Bruce Sterling blogs about Stewart Brand’s notes from the Long Now Foundation about a similar Saul Griffith presentation to that I referenced a few weeks ago. Brand’s post includes the specifics that I didn’t transcribe from the audio.

Two terawatts of photovoltaic would require installing 100 square meters of 15-percent-efficient solar cells every second, second after second, for the next 25 years. (That’s about 1,200 square miles of solar cells a year, times 25 equals 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic cells.) Two terawatts of solar thermal? If it’s 30 percent efficient all told, we’ll need 50 square meters of highly reflective mirrors every second. (Some 600 square miles a year, times 25.) Half a terawatt of biofuels? Something like one Olympic swimming pools of genetically engineered algae, installed every second. (About 15,250 square miles a year, times 25.) Two terawatts of wind? That’s a 300-foot-diameter wind turbine every 5 minutes. (Install 105,000 turbines a year in good wind locations, times 25.) Two terawatts of geothermal? Build 3 100-megawatt steam turbines every day-1,095 a year, times 25. Three terawatts of new nuclear? That’s a 3-reactor, 3-gigawatt plant every week-52 a year, times 25.

This is highly challenging stuff but the part that really inspires me and gets me excited is not the enormity of the challenge (and it is enormous) but how achievable it is. We, the USA and the world, can do this. The other thing is that while it will be expensive, it will be expensive in the best possible way, by leaving behind infrastructure that will strengthen our economy and make the world a better place. Contrast that with the $1 trillion we will have spent in Iraq. Other than lining the pockets of Halliburton and Blackwater executives, what is left behind that will strengthen our future? Nothing. This “energy Apollo mission” can restore what is missing in this country, give us a common initiative, put people to work and oh by the way, possibly save civilization on the planet. Let’s go for it.

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