Continuity in Renewable Energy

air

Renewable Energy

Here at Technology Bloggers we are all great fans of renewable energy developments, so I was extremely interested in a project that has just received funding on the Northern Irish coast.

As we all know there are problems with wind and tidal electricity generation, not least due to the weather, lack of wind, sun and sea swell being the obvious thoughts. But developers have an interesting proposal that may work towards alleviating some of these problems.

The idea is to use excess power to compress air and store it in huge caverns underground, to then use it to drive turbines when the wind drops. Sounds like a great idea, but of course there are always pros and contras for these things.

The caverns have to be mined, about 1.5 km below ground, and this will be done using a salt water erosion process. Simply put, a bore is drilled down, water pumped in that will circulate as if in a bottle, erode the surrounding rock salt and be washed out of a drain hole into the sea. The salt solution that comes out with then disperse into the wider sea.

When the cavern is ready, wind turbines will be used to force air into them, which can then be released in a controlled manner to turn turbines on days when you couldn’t dry a handkerchief in the back garden.

Environmental Concerns

So it sounds great, but there are of course those who argue that it is not a good idea. What will the impact be of pumping all of this salt solution into the sea? I think everyone concerned realizes that it will kill wildlife over an area, but how big that area might be, how long it will take to recover and how much damage it will do seems to be under debate.

Some locals suggest that it might lead to an industrial wasteland.

More is explained on this BBC report. Once again a new and possibly extremely positive power development brings the many complexities surrounding renewable energy sources. Issues of responsibility loom large, as do issues of public engagement and risk.

One to follow.

Glocalism

glocal

This week I have had an article published in an international peer reviewed journal called Glocalism. The article is about food production, and reports on many of the arguments that I touched upon in my recent food series.

The article, rather catchily entitled “Collective food Purchasing Networks in Italy as a Case Study of Responsible Innovation” by J. Hankins and C. Grasseni is free and can be downloaded here. It is slightly more of an academic article than my blog writing, is co-authored with anthropologist Cristina Grasseni, and reports our joint fieldwork looking at alternative food production networks in Italy and the USA.

Glocalism

As I said above the article is in the journal Glocalism, which is all about glocalism. So what is glocalism? Well it is all in the name, it is being local and global at the same time. To take part of the explanation offered by the Globus and Locus Association

“The term “glocalism” identifies the momentous changes generated by globalization, changes which have resulted in a permanent intertwining of the global and the local dimensions. In fact, there is no longer any place on the planet which has not been touched to a growing degree by various types of global flows and, at the same time, there are no global flows which are not increasingly parsed according to the many different characteristics of the places”.

Do you agree with this? That globalism means that the local can only exist in relation to the global? Or that globalization has effected every corner of the world?

Globalization

If we think about changes in the environment that maybe we should accept this line. If we think about how event in one part of the world effect others (or all) then we can see the local as part of a global system. If we look for local solutions to a problem are we in some way involving the global? If we are talking about anything that has to do with poverty, or pollution, or the environment, or anything related to technology, then we would probably have to accept that these are not local issues, but global. A house in Detroit is not sold for $1000 because of the state of Detroit, but because the world that Detroit is in has produced a situation that makes a house in Detroit (some areas) worth $1000.

If we think about technology use through this framework, we can see how much the Internet (to give one example) is taking the local and moving it into the global. The proportion of our world’s population living in cities of a million or more has risen from thirty-seven percent in 1970 to fifty percent today. By 2030 more than two-thirds of world population will be in large cities, and most of them will be in Asia. Why is this? Well one reason is the need to operate via high speed Internet. The infrastructure is in the big cities, and it has become a necessary part of working life.

So the fact that a city in India or Thailand has high speed Internet infrastructure effects mobility across the globe, the local and the global are entwined. This has an effect on food production capability, transport, the environment, and everything else you might like to think about across the globe.

How about that for a thought on an autumn morning in front of the computer in the Netherlands or a wintry start to a New York day shovelling snow?

The Size of Space

I’m starting with a fact today; two actually.

FACT

According to astronomer Dr Peter Edwards, if our solar system was a grain of sand, then The Milky Way (our Galaxy) would be 1,000 times the size of Durham Cathedral.

Durham Cathedral from the South

Durham Cathedral

FACT

According to NASA there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe.

Need a more visual representation of that? Well luckily for you, the American Museum of Natural History have spent quite a long time developing a digital universe.

Somewhat mind boggling, isn’t it. Dr Edwards doesn’t think the human mind is really built to understand the enormity of the universe. I think I probably agree with him.

In 2012 the Hubble Space Telescope zoomed in on a seemingly empty area of space. This area of space could be covered up with just a single grain of sand if you were looking at it from Earth. Astronomers didn’t think they would discover much, but if you have a super duper space telescope, why not see what it can find?

This is what that seemingly empty bit of space actually looked like when Hubble zoomed in.

A Hubble Space Telescope picture of millions of galaxy clustersEvery single speck of light you can see is a galaxy. Yes the 100 or so huge ones in the foreground, but also the millions in the background.

Each of those galaxies contains billions of stars. Yes many of them look insignificantly small, but they are very very far away. So the well used fact that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth is actually true. In fact there are many billions more stars in space than there are grains of sand on the Earth. Each star is in solar systems filled with matter – from specs of dust to moons and planets.

The title of this article suggests that I will try to quantify the size of space. This isn’t really possible, so all we can currently do is describe its size relative to other things. If I had to use one word to describe space, I think it would have to be enormous.

A key question surrounding space is: is it infinite?

That is an existential question which I doubt we will ever know the answer to, but never the less it is still an interesting question, which is worth considering.

The theory that the universe is a sphere – like the Earth – is a popular one, and I can understand the logic in this, if you keep going, eventually the universe will loop you back around to where you started. But then my problem with this theory is we can go beyond the Earth. We can travel around the Earth, but space travel proves that we can move in 3 dimensions, straight and sideways on Earth and then upwards into space. If you got to the very edge of the universe, what would happen if you went upwards? If there isn’t an upwards, what is there?

New Scientist states that from all current data, it seems that the known universe has a diameter of about 93 billion light years. That’s pretty big, but by no means infinite. So if this estimate is correct – which is ridiculously unlikely – what comes after that? A big wall with a no entry sign? Just empty space? Another universe? Who knows…

That’s Your Lot

See you next week for the next in the series.

Touchscreen Problems (Zombie Finger)

iPad zombie finger - Touchscreen ProblemsOver the last couple of weeks I have flown from the USA to Britain, then to Italy, and back finally to the USA. I flew on some lovely new Airbus aircraft, but had a constantly recurring problem with the on-board entertainment systems.

The problem is that in the seat above me there is a fantastic touchscreen entertainments system, but my fingers do not work. My son who was sitting next to me has good fingers, he touches the volume section and can turn the sound up or down, but I cannot because the slider does not seem to recognize my body.

So it must be my screen I think, my son leans over and it works perfectly well for him. We swap places, now mine works for him but I still cannot change the volume, this time on a different machine.

It must be me I conclude, but why? Long ago I gave up using anything touchy for this reason. I try licking my hands, warming them up, cleaning the screen but I do not make any progress. So I started looking around the web for some answers to find that I am not the only one, hurrah. There is even a recognized name for the problem in some fields, Zombie Finger!

Touch screens operate in many different ways. At Walker Mobile you can download a free PDF that explains how the different technologies work, but the vast majority of application that we know use one of two approaches. They can be described as Resistive Touch and Projective Capacitance.

Resistive touch is old school analogue. Two surfaces are together, typically one of glass with a thin film over it. You push down on the film and it makes a circuit using a grid of electrical conductors. The system is cheap but being mechanical liable to damage and wear, and it is thick.

Projective Capacitance has no moving parts however, and some of its advantages mean that it is rapidly taking over the market. It is a system that works on capacitance, which is the thing that gives you a shock when you walk over a synthetic carpet and then touch the brass door handle in the hotel that you are staying in.

iPhone touch screen technology

How iPhone touch screens work.

Again there are two layers, both charged but to a different extent. When you touch the screen some of the charge is released into your finger, and this tiny change can be measured. And here lies a variable, because the nail will not carry a charge, gloves stop the action and so I wonder if even the state of the skin at the end of the fingers might effect usability. Do I type too much? No charge transfer means no volume.

For a fuller explanation of these 2 competing systems see this article, it is short but extremely informative. I would just like to know if anyone else has issues with touch screens, and if so if they have been able to address the issue in some way. As technology advances this interface is becoming the norm, and we wouldn’t want to leave people with particular skin types behind now, would we?

Airvibes – Bluetooth Headphones Review

The Airwheel craze swept across the UK in 2015, with ridable technology becoming more popular than ever before. If you don’t think that riding along on a self-balancing unicycle makes you look flash enough on its own, then you need a pair of Airvibes! Airvibes are Bluetooth headphones designed for Airwheel users – although if you don’t have an Airwheel, they are still a pretty cool set of headphones to own.

No Wires

Airvibes plugged inAirvibes are Bluetooth headphones, meaning you can sync them with any Bluetooth compatible device, and ditch the awkward wires that run from your headphones to your phone. If you are a frequent (hi-tech) runner or cyclist you will know the problem I mean. Your smartphone is secured to your arm – as that way you can use a tracking app to keep a record of your run or cycle – and then you’ve got to run wires up your arm, under your cloths and up your neck in order to listen to your music. Airvibes only have one wire: the wire between the two earpieces. This makes connecting and disconnecting your headphones a much less stressful experience. I have been asked why they have the wire between the earpieces if they truly are wireless, to which I surmised that it would be really easy to loose one of your earpieces if they weren’t connected together.

Charge

So if these headphones don’t attach to your phone, then they must have a battery right, which probably has a pretty shoddy lifespan considering how small the earpieces are. Well Airvibes do run on battery power, yes, however the life span – considering they are both syncing via Bluetooth and playing music – is actually pretty impressive: around 5 hours. I’ve had my Airvibes over a week now, and use them regularly, however I’ve only charged them once; when I first opened the packet. Airwheel seem to be pretty good at making a little battery go a long way.

Airvibes headphone set

What you get in the Airvibes pack

Thankfully Airwheel realised that micro USB was the way to go in terms of charging, as pretty much every phone (Apple devices aside) sat-nav and digital camera you have ever owned connects and charges using this port. All your current chargers will therefore work with the Airvibes too; meaning it’s not a disaster if you lose the charging lead. That said I would expect the Airvibes to come with a means of charging, and a micro USB lead is included in the box, however it seems to be a growing trend that manufacturers expect you to own an abundant supply of USB wall-plugs, as like when I reviewed Samsung’s Wireless Charger, Airvibes don’t come with a wall-plug. Maybe we are expected to use our laptops USB ports as a means of powering devices. Or maybe because more goods are being sold globally, and the USB is a global port, whilst wall-plugs differ from country to country, it’s just easier for manufacturers to leave these out of product packages these days.

Ergonomics

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the Airvibes have been designed. They fit really rather well into your ears, without much effort, and a little rubber loop just above the earbud keep them from falling out.

Airwheel earpiece

The Airvibes control earpiece

The sound quality is what you’d expect from a standard set of headphones: good, but not exceptional. The rubber around the earbud does a surprisingly good job of soundproofing, blocking out enough background noise to mean you don’t need to have your music deafeningly loud to drown out what’s going on around you. If you are a frequent Airwheel rider, you’ll be pleased to know that this soundproofing does a good job of blocking out the annoying beeping noise the Airwheel makes when it gets near the speed limiter!

The Bluetooth works pretty well, if you’re staying in one place, you can walk away from your phone a little (assuming it’s not in your pocket) and you’ll still pick up a signal. When using Airvibes on an Airwheel, they work just as well. Occasionally I have noticed a slight drop out, especially when going fast, but it’s quite rare and only momentary.

Controls

Being Bluetooth, the headphones can not only play music from your device, but they can also be used to control your device too. The functions are relatively easy to learn, although a glance at the instruction manual would do you some good, as it may prevent you accidentally calling people in your address book, as I did when I first tried the Airvibes out! A built in microphone matched with the function buttons means that you can make and receive calls through the Airvibes; a useful add-on feature. Volume up and down, skip track, pause and play are the key functions available.

When out riding an Airwheel, I have found the buttons are all reasonably easy to use, all being accessible on the one earpiece. I have sometimes found it difficult to press the play/pause button, and this could do with being slightly raised, or recessed, just to make it that bit easier to find.

Airvibes Verdict

Airvibes are a decent little set of headphones. If you have been looking for a good pair of wireless headphones, I can highly recommend you try Airvibes. The sound quality is good, you can control your music and make phone calls on them with ease. They currently retail at around £30 GBP which I feel is a fair evaluation of what they are worth.

My Airvibes were from Airwheel.direct, the same place that I bought my Airwheel from. If you’d be interested in finding out more about Airvibes, or want to get yourself a set, head over to their website.

The Future of Solar Energy

Sol-Term

Travelling Through Morocco

20 years ago my father retired from work, and to celebrate he gave me and my brothers £1000 each. I went to university and sat next to my buddy Sam, and asked her if she fancied going to spend the money on a holiday. I skateboarded to my favourite travel agents and booked flights to Morocco.

6 weeks, a long road trip. We divided the remaining money into daily allowance, $20 US per day. Not really enough. Well enough to eat, or travel, but not eat and travel. So on days that we travelled we only ate once, and on other days we ate twice. Not a lot though.

Anyway we wanted to go and see the sahara. We went from Casablanca via Radat and Meknes, down through Azru and all the way to Merzuga. It’s quite a thing to see. Then to Ouarzazate.

Now the Marocco of 20 years ago is not the country of today. And we were poor. We did not have enough money to take the national bus lines, we took the local buses, no windows, animals on the roof tied into canvas bags, goats inside. Today Ouarzazate is a world leader in solar energy.

Desert Solar Energy

Morocco wants to become a world leader in solar energy production. The development that is underway and newly online will eventually provide 20% of the country’s energy needs. It will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world. The mirror technology it uses is different from the photovoltaic panels that we see on roofs the world over, but it will have the advantage of being able to continue producing power even after the sun goes down.

The system uses mirrors to heat an oil, known as heat transfer solution (HTF). Each parabolic mirror is 12 metres high and focussed on a steel pipeline carrying HTF that is warmed to 393C. It then goes into a heat transfer plant, is mixed with water that turns into steam and drives turbines.

In order to operate after dark excess heat is used to turn sand molten, the heat being released overnight allowing the plant to function for a few hours longer, and the plan is that in a couple of years time it will be able to operate 24 hours a day.

Distribution

If Morocco becomes self sufficient through solar wind and hydro, they will look towards exporting. There have been several projects involving laying power lines from North Africa into europe (Libia to italy comes to mind) but as far as I know nothing is currently operational.

For more details check out this article in the Guardian.

GM Salmon

salmon

Food Revolution?

The news is out, the revolution has begun. The US Food and drug Administration has passed the first ever GM animal for food consumption, and it is a fish.

This week a company gained a license to sell their new breed of GM salmon. It is modified, although it has genes from a different type of salmon, so not as Frankenstein as some other combinations, but that of course does not mean that this will always be the case. But I don’t want to be a scaremonger, they say it is safe (although that is of course based upon the company’s evidence), and so the choice is yours.

The new food is merely a type of Atlantic salmon injected with a gene from Pacific Chinook salmon to make it grow faster, but critics raise questions about safety, possible cross breeding and whether the general public even wants to eat GM fish. Without being too corny though it does raise questions of floodgates. First a cross salmon, then what comes next?

Oh but we can choose of course whether we want to eat it or not. But that requires information. Will it be labelled as a GM food? Well it won’t in the USA. That is because GM produce is viewed by the administration as being nutritionally equal to non GM, and so does not require labelling. Well to be exact it is voluntary. So if you want to sell it as science, advancement in nutrition, the way forward and futurism, you can label it, but if you want to slide it in unnoticed, then Bob’s the word.

Growth

It is about making it quicker and cheaper. A fish that will grow all year round gets bigger in half the time, so you can eat it earlier. You can farm it in tanks near the city, so it cuts down on various environmental pollutants and practices, but of course creates others.

And where to next? Surely in a few years there will be giant cows that grow to adulthood at twice the speed, and maybe sheep with dreadlocks?

Animal farming for foodstuffs is grizzly enough at is is (was), but now maybe we open another chapter.

I don’t want to put any links in this post, a quick search will find what you need. This is merely a personal opinion post, and I would like to hear others. The photo above is quite telling though, they are supposedly salmon of the same age, but one has been modified. Can you guess which one?