Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Energy to Spare

The news media is invested in negativity. Fear and negativity sells. If a disaster looms, you can expect the media to transform it into a mega-disaster. All you need to do in order to see this work is to take a look at the incorrigible merriment in the eyes of the announcers as they describe to you the terrors coming your way. Listen to the words they choose. Set aside the unbearable inanity of what they say for a moment and hear how they insert words designed to make things sound that much more dramatic. Hurricanes always "churn" towards shore. They also tend to "barrel" your way. The stock market tends to "plunge" and tornadoes "wipe" towns "completely off the map."

I find this irritating as hell, but that's beside the point, as in not the point itself. Take our energy "crisis" for example. To hear it described by the mainstream press, we are doomed to a future of sucking at the very last drop of oil left in the earth like a kid slurping up the last bit of milkshake in the glass. That unnerving gurgle will be the sound of our demise, we are told. Wait a minute. Do you mean to say that there are no promising developments going on? Are all the scientists in all the world's labs just sitting around? That would be the impression created in the media. But is it correct? No. It's not.

This just in! MIT's Technology in Review tells us yesterday that "A new type of material could allow solar cells to harvest far more light."
Much more efficient solar cells may soon be possible as a result of technology that more efficiently captures and uses light. StarSolar, a startup based in Cambridge, MA, aims to capture and use photons that ordinarily pass through solar cells without generating electricity. The company, which is licensing technology developed at MIT, claims that its designs could make it possible to cut the cost of solar cells in half while maintaining high efficiency. This would make solar power about as cheap as electricity from the electric grid.

Such a development could spell the doom of our beloved energy crisis!
The effort uses a type of material called a photonic crystal that makes it possible to "do things with light that have never been done before," says John Joannopoulos, a professor of physics at MIT who heads the lab where the new designs for solar applications were developed. Photonic crystals, which can be engineered to reflect and diffract all the photons in specific wavelengths of light, have long been attractive for optical communications, in which the materials can be used to direct and sort light-borne data. Now new manufacturing processes could make the photonic crystals practical for much-larger-scale applications such as photovoltaics.

The future may be brighter than you know. Don't tell anyone I said that. Keep tuning in here to find out more.


Spaceman Spiff said...

I *highly* recommend Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman (amazon link below) on the sociological effects of the way news is presented. Very well written, funny, and incredibly insightful. But it or put it on hold at the library! I want to hear your thoughts on it! That is all...

bmahfood said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I've reserved it at the library!