Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 20th Mar 2011 20:20 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless A major deal just went down in the United States, which seriously shakes up the mobile industry on the other side of the pond: AT&T has announced it plans to buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom.
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RE[10]: Invisible hand
by Neolander on Tue 22nd Mar 2011 12:40 UTC in reply to "RE[9]: Invisible hand"
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I can't imagine why we'd think we can't produce sufficient electricity to power cars - we produce enough petrol to spare, and that comes from a single freaking source that has been "about to be exhausted!!!" my entire life.

That's spiderman's claim. IMO, we'll always be able to produce enough energy, the problem being how much it will cost us.

Electricity can be generated from darned near anything. Heck, Dean Kamen's team has invented a generator that can power an entire village just by sticking a pipe into a pool of raw sewage. It "pollutes" by producing 400 gallons of pure water a day as a by-product. (If you get a chance to hear him speak about it, or the "city of the future" they are building in Florida, don't miss it. The guy makes me proud to be an engineer.)

I wonder how this sewage-based generator could possibly work... I've seen it written here and there that it would be based on a Stirling engine, so maybe it burns the methane generated by wastes in order to power itself... I'll try to see the guy's videos on TED once I have more time.

Indeed, sounds like an interesting guy.

You're thinking about technology as the problem; technology is the solution. We're just using the wrong technology for the long term.

If I am the target of this, it is partly misguided. I don't see technology as the problem, I see it as part of the solution.

I really don't think that coal power plants and metallurgy techniques from yesterday were better for the environment than what the evolution of technology has brought to us today, and if I consider working on making photovoltaic panels cleaner and more efficient in the future, it's at least a bit because I believe that tech has a role to play in sustainable development. I'm also fond of pretty much everything which is powered by electricity and floats or rolls on a rail, and like the childish speed contests between Japan and France on those matters ;)

BUT I also think that tech alone can't do everything in the most efficient way. Just look at the average US suburb, featuring several square kilometers of super-low-density housing, with a mall or some other service here and there. Look at people taking a 5-seats car just to go to work all around the world, having its intrinsically inefficient internal combustion engine push more than 1.5 tons of metallic mess just to carry an individual and its luggage which overall weight ~100kg. Look at those cities where you have housing on one side and jobs on the other side, with an overloaded transportation system in the middle.

Our urbanism and some of our daily habits are badly messed up, you can't deny that. It's all about efficiency : if you're an automobile engineer and care about energy savings in order to make , what is easier ? Building a modular 2-seats electric car, where the second seat can be removed in order to put groceries when you go shopping ? Or try to save the same amount of energy while sticking to a 5-seats car which most of the time is overkill ? For the former to succeed, some habits must change, but it's a better approach in the long run.

Talking about 2-seats cars, when looking at the electric lineup which Renault has recently unveiled, I was much impressed by their "Twizy" concept. In my opinion, this was the most interesting and innovative part of the announcement. It's a kind of car which does not exist yet, but which really should get more exposure.

I'm all in favor of public transport and bicycles and such, but I think you underestimate for how many people that won't work well - particularly in a geographically diverse nation such as the USA.

It depends at which distance you look in the future.

In the near- and mid-term, public transportation and rented cars are certainly not ready to become the sole means of long-range transportation. Especially in countries where they are not much developed yet. Right now, we should rather work on simpler things like putting photovoltaic panels on offices, getting rid of fioul heaters, increasing wind power and hydropower coverage, and putting laptop components in the average office computer as it really doesn't needs more than that.

But in the long run, we should aim at getting rid of the car for daily and monthly travels, as it is intrinsically a totally inefficient mean of transportation (due to the very low transported weight/vehicle weight ration). Phasing out the car could actually work for a lot of people, but it takes more than just artificially increasing the price of oil and unsuccessfully trying to make buses cover a larger area. What's needed is a total change of mentality and a very different city organization (be it only because trains and buses work on linear tracks, they don't cover discs like cars).

Such a process would take many decades to complete, but I think it's needed in the long run.

Energy efficiency is also a great goal, but Garrett's Constant (9.7 mW/$) implies that wealth is directly proportional to our ability to generate energy. See for my thoughts on his work, including a link to his original paper.

Not sure about that. Cellphones cost boatloads of money compared to the amount of energy they use, I think that even if we took into account the amount of energy it takes to produce and recycle them that would still be true. Everything we buy is bought because it provides us with a service, and many services don't have an intrinsic energy cost (or if they have one, it's pretty low).

Suppose that tomorrow we discovered a new material so light that it could be the basis for vehicles which are propelled by solar energy alone. We wouldn't have produced more energy, just have used less, but these vehicles could cost the price of a current car, or maybe more, as they provide the same service (carrying us around without effort).

The solution isn't to enforce less energy use on a rebellious people, but to make boundless energy use sustainable and the most attractive commercial option. You won't need laws - you won't be able to keep people away!

Beware, sir, exponential growth can never last forever in a finite world ;) Personally, I wouldn't like to live permanently in a cave just because the surface of the Earth is fully covered of photovoltaic panels in order to produce gigantic amounts of energy in a sustainable way.

Edited 2011-03-22 12:41 UTC

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