[FoRK] Are you Malthusiastic? Re: Concrete results

Aaron Burt aaron at bavariati.org
Tue Jun 18 12:43:35 PDT 2013

On Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 01:22:34PM -0700, Stephen D. Williams wrote:
> Getting a heliostat energy relay working will take decades. Building
> some boilers and turbines could be completed in a few years, at
> scale, if we were serious.  I don't see anything about it that can't
> be built out in parallel, other than a few key scientific and design
> problems.

Well... my engineer buddy is building his third solar-thermal plant at the
moment.  It takes time, and at the moment I suspect that he and his flock
of physicist-engineer-coders are the only ones in North America who know
how to build them right.  Not that it matters, there aren't that many
suitable sites for concentrated solar.  You need blue sky all year round to
make that work.

Meantime, my brother-in-law manages drivers for one of the main wind-turbine
trucking companies.  Those drivers are elite but few, because the volume of
work fluctuates so much.

I seem to recall that orbital-to-ground microwave power transmission needs
so much land that your watts per square meter is down within an order of
magnitude of PV.  I hope I'm wrong.

> It does now.  When we, collectively, are dragging our feet.  A
> serious scale out is much different.  What limits this in an
> emergency, really?  Number of trained welders?  Electricians?

Yes, highly skilled (i.e. nuclear-grade) welders are a limiting factor.
More importantly, steamfitters.  Good controls guys are scarce too, I
understand.  Let's not forget the lineworkers and ironworkers, capital,
permits (and copper!) to build all those transmission lines.

We lost about a generation of skilled workers due to offshoring and a
refusal to hire and train up replacements for the retiring generation.
We've been planning to become a post-industrial society since (IIRC) at
least the mid-80s, so we've been running lean.  Oops.

Also, welders in general may be getting scarce.  It's boring, difficult
work and wages are pretty low at the moment.  I suspect wages are being
actively suppressed in the trades, which is really choking the supply of
new workers and hurting us long term.

> Anyway, hopefully you are wrong, but we should act like you are close
> enough to right and start doing something.

Thaaat's the spirit!

It pleases me that most folks appear to be at the point of discussing what
to do and how much money to spend, rather than arguing over whether there's
a problem and/or standing in the room shouting, "what elephant?"

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