Energy and Environment

We have an unlimited supply of energy available to us, we just need the will to go get it.
The world’s energy usage has stumbled forward over time in awkward steps, inefficient at best; but, in the past, we were limited to use energy from whatever source we could find. Now we are on the cusp of a tremendous energy transformation.

Now, more than ever before, due to a culmination of some crucial worldwide factors, some bad (pollution) and some good (technological advances), we are ready for a complete revolution in the production and use of energy. The first consideration is pollution and the global warming phenomena which is greatly influenced by greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels. The world is getting warmer, some don’t think so, but let’s agree the world’s temperature is rising for the sake of argument. My way of getting energy will slow down our energy pollution by 25% nearly immediately. Also, after a relatively short time span, fossil fuel energy generation will be phased out, we will stop using fossil fuels entirely. Then greenhouse gas emissions will cease altogether; hence, “global warming” and other associated pollution, will end.

America has recently found new, vast national reserves of oil and natural gas, and this is in addition to known huge reserves of US coal. This discovery is enough for us to become independent of foreign suppliers, and possibly make us a net exporter of fuel to the rest of the world. That’s good news; but, guess what, I have even better news. My energy story is about one action leading to a cascade of sub-actions; in which all end good (a virtuous cycle, normally there’s some bad news too). Let me tell you what they are…then, I’ll talk in depth about each one later.

My plan for energy is to “think bigger.” Energy is a global commodity, it is universal and should be considered a worldwide “public utility.”  Actions taken to correct energy problems can affect the whole earth and everybody’s future. Energy is at the heart of everything. It’s ubiquitous. Energy was necessary to ignite the industrial revolution; all leisure time to ponder & enjoy things comes through energy, and all technological advancements are due in part to energy. We are on the verge of ignition of fusion reactions on earth and mastery of its source of mass to energy conversion. This would be a tremendous achievement; but, we already have a convenient fusion furnace, it is our star, the sun. We must use our star, Sol (the sun), as our prime source of energy. After all, the Sun is a nuclear fusion furnace at just the right distance from earth to shield us, give us warmth, good weather (in general), liquid water, and unlimited energy. The amount of energy hitting the earth from the sun is 5,000 times greater than the total amount we use. Hence, energy is not a limited resource, it is not scarce, it is just difficult to capture and use.

Okay, keep that in mind. Here’s the plan.

First, we increase our gas, coal, and oil production to the maximum. Open the spigots on all of the USA energy resources, fire up all of our refineries, do whatever it takes to sell a massive amount of US fossil-fuel in the world’s marketplace. We want to sell the energy and use the money to build the next stage of energy capture for the future.

Second, convert America’s general energy use away from coal and oil to natural gas. This would only be necessary for the near term transition time to fully convert from using fossil fuels to a completely solar source. This will accomplish two major things: get us off the dependence on foreign oil sources (and eventually, all fossil fuels) and cut our atmospheric energy pollution by about 25% almost immediately.

Third, use the money from selling gas and oil, to ourselves and the rest of the world, to finance the construction of a space based solar energy program of global proportions. Space based solar energy capture was researched by NASA in the ’70s and again in the ’90s…it was found to be doable, but expensive. We then need to keep investing in solar cell technology, so we can capture solar energy efficiently on the ground. We also need to invest in solar tower technology, which uses solar heated air rising in a convection tower to power turbines (this is already a proven, cost effective, competitive, technology). The third thing we need is to start work on the “Dyson Sphere,” or the better name in our case, the “Dyson Swarm.” The Dyson (Dyson, 1960) concept is a series of space satellites to capture solar energy, condense it, and send it to earth in the form of heat or converted to microwave energy. A fourth approach is to continue research on harnessing fusion energy generation on earth.

History and Projection – a brief description of our energy usage and where we stand based on a cosmological scale (Kardashev, 1964).

The entire existence of human beings on the planet earth is based on the availability and use of energy. Civilization is categorized into three classes (Kardashev 1964). The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to utilize. The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. A Type I civilization uses all available energy resources available on its home planet, Type II harnesses all the energy of its star, and Type III of its galaxy. The scale puts energy consumption in a cosmic perspective. It was first proposed in 1964 by the Soviet astronomer-physicist Nikolai Kardashev. Michio Kaku, PhD Physicist, NY City College, suggests that humans may attain ‘Type I’ status in 100–200 years, ‘Type II’ status in a few thousand years, and ‘Type III’ status in 100,000 to a million years.

K = \frac{\log_{10}P - 6} {10}

Where value K is a civilization’s Kardashev rating and P is the power it uses, in watts. Using this extrapolation, a “Type 0” civilization (not defined by Kardashev) would control about 1 MW of power at the beginning level, and humanity’s civilization type as of 1973 was about 0.7 (using 10 terawatts (TW) as the value for 1970s humanity).

In 2008, total world energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×1018 J=132,000 TWh), equivalent to an average power consumption of 15 TW (or 0.717 on Sagan’s Kardashev scale).

Type I civilization – Large-scale application of fusion power. According to mass-energy equivalence, Type I implies the conversion of about 2 kg of matter to energy per second. While there is no known method to convert matter (by itself) completely into energy, an equivalent energy release could theoretically be achieved by fusing approximately 280 kg of hydrogen into helium per second, a rate roughly equivalent to 8.9×109 kg/year. A cubic km of water contains about 1011 kg of hydrogen, and the Earth’s oceans contain about 1.3×109 cubic km of water, meaning that this rate of consumption could be sustained over geological time scales.

Renewable energy is available through converting sunlight into electricity by either solar cells, concentrating solar power, or indirectly through wind and hydroelectric power. Currently, there is no known way for human civilization to successfully use the equivalent of the Earth’s total absorbed solar energy without completely coating the surface with man-made structures. However, if a civilization constructed space-based solar power satellites, Type I power levels might be achievable.

Type II civilization – A Dyson sphere or Dyson swarm are hypothetical structures originally described by Freeman Dyson as a system of orbiting solar power satellites meant to enclose a star completely and capture most or all of its energy output. Capturing the energy of gamma-ray bursts is another theoretically possible power source for a highly advanced civilization.

Type III civilizations might use the same techniques employed by a Type II civilization, but applied to all possible stars of one or more galaxies individually. They may also be able to tap into the energy released from the supermassive black holes which are believed to exist at the center of most galaxies. The emissions from quasars can be readily compared to those of small active galaxies and could provide a massive power source if collectable.