[FoRK] Malthusian machinations

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Thu Jun 17 06:01:17 PDT 2010

On Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 07:14:59AM -0500, Jeff Bone wrote:

> >>Three choices today:  public sector, private sector, or none at all.
> >
> >I think there's a great case to be made that energy falls
> >under infrastructure, and infrastructure should be
> >ideally owned by end users or municipalities, with
> >actual operation sometimes outsourced to the private sector.
> That's fine if you're 100% locally self-sufficient.  Obvious goal- 
> state, but we're clearly not there yet. The necessary investments to  

We have two groups to consider: first-worlders trying to reduce
their (large) eco-footprint, and the upcoming 3rd-worlders who're
basically self-sufficient, but aspire to 1st world standards of

Both would profit from the decentral approach. This allows
you to push back the problems, giving you time to develop
better solutions. Think of it as achieving escape velocity
with SENS. The disaster never strikes/is infinitely postponed, 
since your countermeasure rate outruns the degradation. 

> get there (ie cost-effective fabbing of efficient-enough solar film,  

Insulation and solar thermal (heating and hot water) are low-tech
enough to be fabbed quite locally. In situ self-replicating solar
driven systems are a bit challenging, and will be fielded on Moon and
Mars first. There's no need for thin-film fabs to be local.
Though Nanosolar claims to be able to ink an annual GW worth of
panels in a garage-sized ~MUSD plant. There's no reason why
a reactor for quantum dots (or CTZSS liquid phase, see IBM) can't 
be simple and compact. Unobtainium is only needed in trace
amounts, if at all.

> the necessary research and infrastructure retooling, etc.) don't seem  

R&D can be arbitrarily large and concentrated, and so can
be production in principle. The solar antennae themselves
need not to be fertile in principle, though of course that
would be an extremely desirable property. Perhaps not the
last invention you need to make, but certainly extremely
disruptive for the energy industry.

> practical on that scale, so how do you fund it?

The nice thing about solar is that it is simple in principle, and
can be done using local skills and supplies. 
> Too, who gets to define the extent of a municipality and / or its  

It is typically already well-delineated politically. I'm not
sure whether this applies to the US, though.

> power to force the issue.

The point is that it makes sense economically, because it removes
the profit motive, which is about building once, and renting forever.
You can keep the profit motive for outsourced operation.
> Austin's one of the (at least would-be) greener places around on this  
> front. Huge subsidies were being offered last year for all kinds of  
> not-yet-efficient-enough half-measures.  Once the costs of those  
> subsidies started to roll in, they got scaled back fairly quickly...

Infrastructure is expensive. Tax breaks are cheaper.
Cheapest is changing the building codes, though this way lies
potential regulation burden madness.
> I don't see how you get there without either letting those evil old  
> "profit motives" Ken likes to bemoan drive things OR introducing some 

I don't see why there's an intrinsic conflict. If anything, you
see private suppliers suddenly rallying themselves and/or lobby
when a local muni fibre project is launched. The hypocritical
> even more egregious confiscatory / punitive / authoritarian  
> measures...  And I'm not convinced either would actually do the trick.

If we do not do what is required, the reality will eventually deal
with us. In a way that we probably will not like very much.
We need to do something what works well, and worry about ideological
correctness afterwards.
> Municipalities don't build and launch your orbital harvest facilities  

Why do they need to do that? They can build their own rectenna
array, and buy microwave time slices from an SPS constellation
operator. You can tell that military will be the first customer,
since issues like ROI and EROEI are mostly irrelevant to them,
at least within the current budget envelope.

But, really, we're talking pie in the sky stuff. Lunar bootstrap
would take many decades, including a decade or two setup time, and
this assumes this is getting funded. So far, only Japan has made
noises in that direction, though surely if they start delivering 
the Chinese (and then everbody else) suddenly decide to rush in.
If they can afford it by the time, that is.

> either at today's cost structures, though if you take away the R&D  
> costs somehow there launch and operation are probably not too far  
> off.  But if municipalities do it then you're probably talking geosync  
> rather than LEO, and that's more complicated and expensive still.

I'm talking about construction people/electricians frolicking on your 
roof and your basement. Or hauling home a fridge-sized appliance you 
bought at the local supply house. Simple things like plot alignment,
roof inclination, insulation, zero-energy (seals, heat exchangers,
insulation), solar thermal collectors for heating/cooling, geothermal
wells, natural gas micro co-gen (both ICE and high-temperature fuel 
cells), smart home automation and control, rainwater catchment.
In general tying up the material flow loops and energy flux over 
a patch of property.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820 http://www.ativel.com http://postbiota.org
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