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« NAS to Review NNI | Main | Invisibility »

December 21, 2004


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Who wants to even remotely sound like the atomic energy "too cheap to meter" boosters? That would invoke even more criticism, wouldn´t it? And balanced opinions are usually to complex to present them in appealing form, i.e. to people that don´t spend much time on these matters.

Just think of our regulation discussions and the difficulty of approaching the best balance between allowing too much and restricting too much.

As far as I can tell from experience, the first reaction after presenting the upsides usually is "just science fiction", and not in the rather positive sense of "it could happen in the future like many other things SciFi predicted". People do tend to focus on the downsides; when I talk about the downsides, there is hardly ever the "SciFi" reaction although they are two sides of the same coin and logically have to get the same amount of acceptance.

Tom Craver

We commonly think that MM will provide an up side of finally "curing" poverty - via a combination of cheap solar power and efficient manufacturing of durable goods.

However, sunlight corresponds pretty closely to surface area. Land ownership is highly concentrated, and would become even more so as the solar collection value became real. So one might foresee a future in which poverty stricken masses live in dimness under huge arrays of solar collectors / heat radiators, granted just enough energy to survive - or slightly less. (Interesting side discussion - how to take into account the area of the traditionally un-owned seas?)

Is that a reasonable, if unattractive prediction? If so, how might that future be avoided?

I think some kind of property-based solution might make sense. Give everyone currently alive the right to convert a certain amount of solar insolation to energy/work/heat - but no more than that amount. To limit concentration in the long term, only enforce transfers via inheritance or temporary (say 5 years maximum) contract.

Note that owning this right would not mean one is given the means - no one would have to allow others to use their land to collect solar energy. Natural solar collection uses of land - such as agriculture and natural lighting of dwellings - would have to be grandfathered somehow.

Likely this would be done on a national basis - globally it's too complicated to attempt, though once the principle is widely applied, treaties would probably be created to control solar collection on the seas as well.

Note that this is not a wholly new approach to property - ancient Israelites had a similar concept, that basically cancelled all debts and contracts, including sale of land, every 50 years - http://80.1911encyclopedia.org/J/JU/JUBILEE_or_JUBILE_YEAR_OF.htm

John B

Don't all current property rights (US at least) stop at a certain height? Wouldn't this height limit imply something along the lines of water usage - you have to let a certain amount flow through unimpeded to those downstream/below you?


Tom Craver

Interesting comment - though those below would be the land-owners, who are not likely to be the poor, and not likely to tolerate any airborne poor significantly blocking their solar insolation.

Most likely the true poor of the future will be those who are denied access to MM - i.e. those who are given just enough to keep them from revolting, but not any means of escaping their circumstances, let alone becoming airborne.

John B

Heh. Depends on if the national powers decide to nationalize the area "above" the landowners and set up umbrellas there - in the nation's best interest, of course. What with genemodded crops designed to grow well in the reduced solar radiation, perhaps tuned to absorb more in the infrared spectrum, the crops will continue to grow.

'Course, this gets us more into monoculture, which could conceivably be a Very Bad Thing...

As for the poor of the future, I suspect the dividing line will be even more clear at the education level. Those who get a decent education will be able to make something of themselves. Those who don't, won't - unless they happen to be a gifted rabblerouser or the like. It's somewhat of an extrapolation based on the current trends...


Karl Gallagher

I can tell people not to walk into my yard but I can't tell them not to fly over it. The FAA has that power at all altitudes, subject to the rules set by Congress.

John B

Well, according to http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/Gallery/Photo/Albatross/HTML/ECN-13413.html there's been efforts since the early 70's to fly using solar power - and no squawks yet that I've heard of.

Anyone else heard any? *wry grin*

Now, for that high-efficiency solar panel - craft it into a flying wing, add a simple autopilot and parachute in case the pilot goes offkilter, and a big counterrotating flywheel. Loft it in the morning, let it catch rays all day, and drop it to the ground in the evening and pick off the juice. . .

(OK, that's a stretch, as the FCC isn't as sanguine about 'robot craft' and the like - but they're developing them as is today anyways. How much work does a pilot do today on a cutting edge airliner like the 777 or better? Answer - not a whole lot.)


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Assume 10^15 solar watts are available without causing excessive climate change (from Freitas's calculation). Assume the world's GDP is comparable to individual salaries. The poorest people earn less than $1 per day; figure $200 per year. The GDP is about $50 trillion. If everyone bought heat pollution credits according to their share of GDP, the poorest would get about four trillionths of the 10^15 total wattage, or 4000 watts.

So if things are no more unequal in the future than they are today, even the poorest people will be able to live. Of course, things might easily get more unfair; powerful technology will tend to concentrate power. On the third hand, it shouldn't be assumed that the richest and most powerful people are the most to blame; often it's petty warlords or corrupt bureaucrats who keep lifesaving aid away from starving people.



Attempting to quantify the amount of energy that will be available to every individual post molecular assembly is a interesting and tricky question. Even to define the variables in play we are left with questions. I will attempt a rough estimate of the described variables.

One number of humans alive during the transition period post MM.

The defined at number of ways of producing energy given longevity.
One solar power
two wind power
three thermal

The defined number of ways to produce energy given shortages
four atomic
five fossil

Taking a closer look at each one individually we see first off solar power poses several problems when taken to the extreme. The shadowing effect of large solar umbrellas would appear at first glance to be a substantial negative. I am left with a series of questions in regards to the effect of converting solar energy into electrical energy for use by individuals on the surface. For instance if the solar cells are 25% efficient this still leaves 75% of the energy being absorbed by the Earth. I also seem to recall reading something about the conservation of energy where energy is stored but then is used later would still constitute the same effect from a temperature standpoint as if the energy fell without being captured. If we extract 25% of the energy from the sun that strikes the surface planet but then we turn and use that energy thereby producing heat in the end do we actually cost the planet any negatives? On another question if we use transparent solar cells and again only subtract 25% of the energy the remaining 75% passing through the solar cells to the surface with this not be sufficient for some plant life to continue although perhaps decrease in capabilities.

To the issue of wind power I live in Iowa there are growing numbers of wind farms consisting of a hundred or so large windmills gathering energy. Is there a theoretical limit to or eight impact on the weather systems if one were to put up a vast network of windmills covering the Earth?

To the issue of thermal energy this is a example that I was considering for my personal use a scenario where I would take using diamond cutters a substantial hole perhaps 100 miles into the crust of the Earth allow pressurized water to descend to the base of the 30 foot diameter hole. At that point we would inject the water to the open cavity the water would heat and boil to steam perhaps it would already be mostly steam at that depth but the pipe would be pressurized and the cavity would not. At that point the steam would rise and perhaps at the 90 mile point would pass through turbines and again at the 80 mile point the 70 mile point the 60 mile point and so forth. At some point the steam would condense forming water which would then be collected at perhaps the half-mile or 1 mile point this would then be reused injected into the ascending pipe to the base of the 100 mile shaft and reused. I'm not that familiar with the mathematics of how much energy would be generated with this technique but I would assume a considerable number. Taking this to the next level if one were to punch many thousands even millions of 100 mile shafts around the crust of the Earth at some point we could assume a cooling effect diminishing the power returns. Although at first glance it would seem we could simply take deeper shafts and continue the energy extraction for some period of time.

To the issue of atomics there are considerable reserves of material for use in nuclear power plants utilizing new production capabilities we could likely increase the safety of such facilities in order of magnitude. Although it would seem reasonable that at some point all material would be converted to a unusable substance not capable of producing energy through standard methods. In given a 100 fold increase in the number of atomic plants this threshold would appear to be off many years in the future before exhaustion of available fuel.

When we discuss fossil fuels we have a considerable debate over longevity. We also have a situation where contamination and negatives coincide with the consumption of fossil fuels. If they energy shortage occurs at some point post MM certainly individuals will continue and utilize fossil fuels hopefully the above list of alternative sources will allow individuals to move away from this activity.

In closing this issue is complex and should be reviewed more carefully in the future. One possible alternative to the increasing need of energy for individuals would be a society aerial conceptual belief that one does not need material goods to exist. That is to say if we could simply get by with less we would all have more. Another direct impact on this issue will lie in the longevity of products produced through molecular manufacturing. It has been said in other writings and I believe will likely hold true that products produced from diamond will last considerably longer and maintain their usability throughout an extended lifespan. So in closing if we all merely do not or recognize we do not need as much as we might believe we need and that which we create for ourselves is manufactured in a method which is long-lasting. We should all essentially be able to have everything that we would desire.


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Todd, good point about efficiency. That 4000 watts is the amount that can be absorbed from the sun, not the amount of usable electricity that results. With 50% efficient solar cells (e.g. diamond thermionics) you'd just get 2000 watts you could use.

The main limitation in energy use, once we have the ability to build lots of solar cells or geothermal plants, is climate change. Releasing too much heat into the environment will change the climate. And you have to worry about where you release it, or you could change at least the local weather.

If we had to, we could use more than 1% of solar energy without a lot of climate change. A lot of sunlight goes into warming up the oceans--97% of the sunlight hitting the ocean is absorbed, and most of it is not used by life. If it were shaded by something reflective, you could dump maybe a kilowatt per square meter into the shaded part just to keep the same thermal balance. But this kind of thinking is not sustainable. Even without playing games with the ocean, we will have more than enough resources to make the poor rich and the rich incalculably richer. All we have to do is keep our population below 50 billion or so, and avoid the kind of greedy hoarding in which a 10,000,000 watt person would let someone else die for another 1,000 watts.

With a few exceptions, the efficiency of extracting energy is limited by the temperature of the heat source. The hotter it is, the more efficient it is. In general, geothermal energy is not very efficient. But one very good use of geothermal energy, which could supply much of the world's energy needs for a few decades, will be cooling down the Yellowstone caldera. That's a supervolcano that threatens to devastate the continental U.S. and disrupt the world's climate. It goes off every 700,000 years, and we're almost due. (It erupted 2.0, 1.3, and 0.6 million years ago. Between 1923 and 1984 the ground rose by 86 centimeters.) If we can find a way to cool it off without disrupting it enough to cause an eruption, we'll save millions--maybe billions--of lives and incalculable ecological devastation. It'll be hard to dump all that heat without causing massive local climate change, but this is an application where shading part of the ocean and dumping heat into the shaded area might be worth doing.



OK as to looking to energy and the availability of energy post MM question what is the current energy output worldwide I believe the number is around 15 Terra watts I'm going to take a moment to look it up now.


The International Energy Outlook 2004 (IEO2004) projects strong growth for worldwide energy demand, over the 24-year projection period from 2001 to 2025. Total world consumption of marketed energy3 is expected to expand by 54 percent, from 404 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2001 to 623 quadrillion Btu in 2025

This gives us some idea of the heat output from all energy sources worldwide through the year 2025. It is my greatest hope that by this point that is 2025 we will have a developed and functioning MM capability.

One of the first questions assuming we discount worldwide destruction immediately following the development of MM. We'll be the steps taken to increase the amount of available energy to those possessing the technology. Assuming a widespread distribution of available production units throughout the United States given the United States is the first to develop or is one of the first to develop MM. It would appear to me the first and easiest up for increasing the available energy would be to coat all available structures with 50%+ efficient solar cells.

Leading to the next question what sort of energy requirements would be needed to produce the solar cells in quantity capable of covering all available building surface area. If this number is excessive then no one would assume a slow transition where perhaps 10% of the available energy is bled off the grid to facilitate construction of new energy production equipment and capabilities. On another note I believe at least in the United States available energy and availability of production of energy are two different numbers that is to say we have X amount of energy on the grid at any given moment but our total capacity of production is considerably higher. During peak time energy demand energy production goes up substantially throughout the entire United States. It is this perhaps increased capability that could be utilized to initially produce quantities of solar cells and not disrupt the current power grid.

When looking to utilizing thermal energy reserves/capabilities I would be interested in hearing anyone's opinion on the amount of energy that will be required to build the facility itself as this will reflect a net loss of energy while production is underway. Also a relevant number would be the time frame for recapturing the energy lost through construction of the power facility. If the time frame for retaining the use of energy is reasonable and small one could assume many such facilities will be constructed in a timely manner.


Summer Odom

I want to know if you can help me find the upside of the nuclear energy? If so can you please send me some information or some good sites.
Thank you Sincerely Summer Odom

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