Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So Long, Futurist

I'm removing The Futurist from my blogroll. Fare thee well!

To days ago Steven Den Beste wrote this article about alternative energy sources, building off his old articles here and here and here.

I wrote to ask him what he thought about The Futurist's article here article about solar energy. He replied with a number of reasons why it was garbage. A few are in comment #4 to his recent post. Besides needing a solar panel farm the size of New Jersey, he also wrote about the storage problem.
The problem with reliance on solar at the level that talks about,
irrespective of any other questions about it, is that you need some way to
store energy captured during the day so it can be used at night.

Such a storage technology represents a substantial additional capital
expense which doesn't increase overall capacity. The two best answers
available to us now for doing it are to pump water uphill into artificial
lakes, to supply turbines later to produce electricity, and to disassociate
water into hydrogen and oxygen, which are later burned to produce

Both of those are possible but they don't reasonably scale to the levels
necessary. If he wants to produce 69% of our electricity with solar, he's
got to figure out how to produce 14 hours of maybe 300 gigawatts from stored
energy at night in the winter -- and that isn't easy to do.
This is not the first time I have had a conversation with someone who had expertise in his or her field has debunked The Futurist.

Since my father is an actuary, I mentioned this article about life expectancy to him. He read it and laughed, explaining to me that the recent global increase in life expectancy all relates to infant and child mortality, and statistically means nothing whatsoever about how long the elderly are living. Improvements in medicine are helping to make longer life more common but that effect is still very minor compared to what the improvements to keeping children alive.

I enjoyed reading The Futurist for a few months. He picks interesting topics, writes well, and uses graphs to support his conclusions. But I have no interest in falsehoods presented smoothly, and no time to constantly consult with experts to check his conclusions.

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