Before I get into this, I'll first say that I'm an engineer's daughter. My dad has been a mechanical engineer for over 30 years, and has been good at his job . He has to use his brain and all his skills every day at his job, and for that, I am grateful. He's also learned new things every year since he took on his most recent job. Without hard-working people like him, we wouldn't have the electricity to power our homes, keep our houses cool in summer, keep them warm in winter, or be able to cook food on our stoves.
One of the coolest parts of being an engineer is using your creativity and scientific knowledge to solve everyday problems . Coincidentally, my grandpa (mom's side) was also an engineer and a genius. He invented quite a few useful devices that various agencies still use today.
It was because of dad that I was inspired to take a tech class in high school (the only one I ever took, really). I was the ONLY girl in the whole class, and it was very awkward . The sad part was, this was 2004-2005 when it happened. You'd think this would be something that occurred in the 70s-80s, but nope. It was the early 2000s (I absolutely refuse to call them the "Naughties" or "Notties," or whatever the hell pop culture calls that decade these days). It's sad, but true: the field for girls studying technology is still a very large, sparsely populated one. Most of the time it's a boy's club, even today. I tried to be polite to my classmates, but being teenage boys, it was not easy . Many clammed up when I got near, some were nice to me, some were just plain dumb, and some were assholes. Some had no idea what to think of me, and it was hard trying to treat them as colleagues when all they wanted was boning material . Oh well. I did my best to be polite to them and try to engage them in conversation about technology, especially regarding the computer stations we were studying. I didn't get far, but at least I learned some things on my own .
I actually like the idea of alternative energy. Being able to get electricity from the environment with no pollution sounds like a dream come true . But there's one problem: the technology to harness such power is extremely inefficient, and almost seems more trouble than its worth . It's like trying to use coupons at your favorite store, only to find out you could have gotten everything cheaper without coupons at a different store, and that you hardly saved any money at the first store . It almost seems criminal that the technology to harness things like sunlight and wind have hardly changed at all since they were implemented 40-50 years ago . I'll provide some examples:
Wind: wind farms are not efficient because they are situated on the ground, and the wind does not blow steadily, even at the windiest places on earth.
Sunlight: Solar panels aren't efficient because they can only absorb visible light, and there are parts of the world that are almost never sunny for half the year, or there are places in the world that are notorious for their cloudy, stormy weather.
Yeah, sure, your electricity bill is lower, but think about all the money you wasted, putting those pretty blue panels up on your roof in the first place. And how much as it really helped in the long run? The only reason solar panels are even partway feasible is because of batteries for storing what they absorbed in the daytime. Frankly, it's almost not worth your time.
I remember watching a futuristic tv show called The World in 2057. It was made by Science Channel back in 2007, so we're looking at a possible future the world would have 50 years from then. One of the hosts of the show pointed out that one way solar panels could become better, is if someone came up with a way for them to absorb more than just visible light . If solar panels could absorb radiation from even one other part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, or even all of them, imagine how much electricity they could produce! If we had solar panels that could absorb infrared, and ultraviolet light, they would still be able to produce electricity, even at night! The problem is, nobody's cracked the code in how to do that, but I take comfort in the idea that someone, somewhere out there is studying that very thing.
Another way to improve alternative energy was presented on another show. This one suggested that a better way to harness wind power was through special balloons . The balloon I saw looked interesting. I'll be honest, in a funny way , it reminded me of those little crepe paper party decorations that you unfold, and they create what looks like a cute, crinkled flower or ball with "cells" in it. The balloon in question was pill-shaped, white, and had "fins" built onto it. The fins were designed to catch the wind and make the balloon spin. The balloon had a hollow tube that had an axle inside, and the axle was attached to cables that came together below the balloon. They then would act as both tether and a means of transporting the electricity generated by the balloon down to a transformer station on the ground. The balloon would be floating high enough in the air that it would catch an almost constant air current. The spinning of the balloon would generate electricity in its axle, and the power would flow to the transformer on the ground. (No, we're not talking about Optimus Prime and his gang ). In power-plant-speak, transformers are stations that take a ton of electricity, and channel it into different venues for different needs. If you ever see those pale gray, garbage-can things on electrical poles, those are very small transformers. The electricity in the wires you see by the highway is often too high in volume and would overwhelm most houses in some nearby neighborhood. The "garbage can" transformers allow the electricity to flow at a lower level so that there's just enough for each house. It's kind of like irrigating a farm field using a little bit of water, instead of the whole danged raging river nearby.
Problem is, such a balloon might be a flight hazard for small, low-flying planes . The people building such wind-balloons would have to set up flashing beacons around the balloon and have it give off a radio signal planes could pick up, like warning buoys they put in water that's dangerous to sail a boat through. Still, even with the problems it presented, the wind-catching balloon generators would be much more efficient than crappy wind-farms stuck close to the ground . Seriously, the troposphere may be full of weather, but ground-based weather in general can be as fickle as fame or luck in gambling.
One of the more interesting proposals I've heard for generating electricity came from a college student. She proposed a special type of tile that could be used to pave sidewalks, walkways in malls, and even amusement parks. Basically, areas where tons of people walk all the time. The idea is, the tiles would go up and down from the vibrations of people walking on them all the time, and the vibrations could generate electricity. Isn't that interesting? People walking around, producing the very electricity that powers the lights above them! I'd love to see that in action . People in China and Japan would love that kind of technology, considering how many people walk in big groups around those two countries.
So while I love the idea of alternative energy, I'm irritated that so little has been done to improve it.