I find that my mind goes in strange directions when starved of stimuli. I was driving from Sydney to central Victoria during the Christmas/New Year break. I was driving alone, for eight hours, along the Hume freeway. The Hume is incredibly boring, with pale yellow fields, sparse trees and shimmering asphalt for over 700km.
So there I was, driving along and slowly going stir crazy when I saw, off in the distance, a wind farm up on a hill. I got thinking about sustainable power and where we might find a viable, renewable replacement for oil, coal and other finite resources. This is what passed through my head.
The concept of sustainable power
Energy is generated constantly all around us every day. In nature, there is energy being generated everywhere. The force of wind and temperature, the motion of the tides in rivers and oceans, the heat in the earth’s crust. These and many more energy sources are for all intensive purposes, infinite. Some of these energy sources have been partially harnessed, such as wind farms, hydro-electric plants and so on. 99% of all naturally occurring energy in the world however, remains largely untapped.
Part of the problem is, our concept of energy generation is severely limited. Before I go any further, I should preface my statement by noting that I’m not a scientist. I’m not a professor or physicist of any kind. I am merely making observations about the world. Okay, moving on.
The basic structure of energy generation remains the same across coal, gas, nuclear, hydro and wind. A force is created that acts upon a turbine, tuning it and generating electricity. With hydro, flowing water turns the turbine. Wind farms use wind in a similar fashion. With coal, the coal is burned to boil water into steam, the steam turns the turbine and voila! The fuel may change, but the premise remains the same.
Consider nuclear power for a moment. Millions and millions of nuclear explosions are happening in the core of our sun every day. Nothing in the known universe is more powerful than a nuclear reaction. What are we doing with controlled nuclear reactions? Boiling water. Seems a bit wasteful, doesn’t it?
So let’s back up for a moment. If everything around us is in the process of generating energy, then theoretically, this endless power supply could be tapped. Imagine if you could truly harness the energy generated by a nuclear reaction. Siphon off and convert it into viable electricity. The energy yield would be enormous. The same could be said for heat from the earth’s crust.
One aspect of renewable energy i haven’t touched on is solar energy. Our sun’s capacity to generate power is practically limitless. However, our ability to manufacture and maintain the solar panels required to harness this power is limited by resources and economic considerations.
My own idea for renewable energy came from observing what was around me.
Trees: nature’s solar panels
What if we could tap into the power well within a tree? They may not generate much power, but working together, trees can support entire ecosystems. They generate energy for themselves and the living creatures around them through photosynthesis. Not only that, they clean and filter the air, converting carbon dioxide and noxious gases into clean, healthy oxygen.
Imagine inventing a technology that was able to tap into the tree’s energy source. Perhaps threaded through the forest floor, using the intertwined root structures to tap multiple trees at once, putting the power of collaborating foliage to work. If this technology exists, any tree could be a power source.
Think of the implications.
Self-sustaining cities that have a 10 trees for every one person. Power plants replaced by forests. Self-repairing, naturally expanding solar power generators. Charging your phone or laptop is as easy as plugging into the nearest pine tree.
Now no doubt the trees would suffer from this taxing of their resources. Nature abhors waste and trees don’t produce any more energy than they need. However, our knowledge of arboriculture and manipulation of trees for higher yields, more frequent fruit and so on demonstrates that we could probably breed a variety of tree that is hardy, produces far more energy than it requires and is self-propagating.
Unfortunately this technology doesn’t exist, to my knowledge.
But the basic theory is there. It will take greater minds than mine to find the solution to the energy crisis. But at least I’m thinking.
I had one other idea whilst on this loooong drive, however I’m keeping that one a secret. Never know if I could make money off of it.
Here’s a hint though: 100% sustainable drinking water.