Monday, 4 February 2013
New Fangled Rubbish?
This is never easy.
Take, for example, wind turbines.
Here we have all the usual reaction from people who don't want change and vested interests prepared to fund dirty tricks.
Actually this is a hugely disputed area and, leaving aside the rather important fact that most of the costs of coal and oil, especially Climate Change, aren't factored into the bill, much of the extra cost of wind is a 'fiddle factor' to cope with fluctuating demand. This, though, is not just a problem of wind. War can double the price of oil and various factors, including algae, can knock out nukes unexpectedly, but only poor old wind has to pay extra for this problem.
Take, for example, the machine gun.
You'll read in some books that the French were complete tosseurs to loose their war with Germany in 1870 as they'd secretly invented the machine gun, and if they'd only used it properly they'd have sent the spikey headed Prussians packing.
The Mitrailleuse, as they called it, was treated it like a cannon and grouped it in batteries. As their own artillery was usually waiting at the rear for orders that never came they frequently had to use it as a cannon too, and the German Krupp guns made mincemeat of it.
That anyone could regard this unreliable device as a potential war winner is to write history backwards, and to project the killing power of the Maxim guns of World War One onto its large and unworthy frame.
Or the aeroplane. This seems a bit of no-brainer, but read the history of aviation and up until the 1930s the long distance speed records are largely held by airships, mostly the Graf Zeppelin.
Or transistor radios. The sound quality of the first ones was considerably worse than that of valve radios.
Pong, was simpler and less interesting than the pinball machines it replaced in pubs.
And so on. In fact, often the person we remember as inventing a device is in fact just the person who got it to work properly, such as James Watt or Werner von Braun.
Eventually machine guns, petrol engined cars, aeroplanes, transistor radios and computer games would blow the opposition away completely with their abilities - literally in the case of machine guns. But at the time they first caught on, it was factors other than outright performance that gave them the edge.
All of which should give advocates of Green Energy something to think about.
We don't know who will win, but the raw cost of energy may well not be the most important factor. Already nuclear has pretty much dropped out of the race due to Fukoshima, even though we don't have too many Tsumamis here.
off grid or the security of being out of the Persian Gulf or maybe something we haven't thought of yet. Certainly people seem to like having a part share in power generation or seeing the former industrial areas of Britain getting back into engineering.
Predicting the future of technology is a mugs game.
16 bit computer could now be bought for 'only' $8000.
So what can we conclude?
Only that judging an energy by what it can do now or how well it can replace coal and oil may be a big mistake. Green Energy is the future, or rather, it must be Green Energy if we are to have a future, but what form that energy will take will be hard to predict.