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National Ignition Facility. And, a waterwheel. May 5, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Technology, Uncategorized, What?.
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It’s been a long time, I know, but I’m back now and I hope to post regularly from here on. I just finished three weeks of work experience at two local papers, and followed that with a week-long, live-newspaper exercise for my course.

Things are back to “normal” now though, and except for looming deadlines (which are also “normal”) I have nothing in the pipeline except achieving 100 words-per-minute of shorthand and waiting for the World Conference of Science Journalists 2009 in London.
Also, my parents are popping by for a weekend in June.

Now that we’ve caught up, here’s the skinny:

First off, the BBC website has this article about a Sheffield group looking for investors to help set up a water wheel which could power “about 40 homes.” 40 homes?! That’s like one street!

The article quotes Rob Pilling, chairman for Sheffield Community Renewables, as saying: “Small schemes like this are nice because they generate lots of energy and people in the community can relate to them.”

Well, that’s nice. Wait a second…you received a government grant of GBP50,000 to help Sheffield become a low-carbon city and you’re using it to “deliver renewable energy schemes in Sheffield by giving local people the opportunity to make an ethical investment in these projects?” So, you’re using GBP50,000 of taxpayer money to encourage taxpayers to invest more of their money in schemes like water-wheels? What’s going on here? What’s this article even about? Give it a read and let me know.

Second, energy on a wholly different scale: The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California is the first fusion lab that is actually expected to achieve fusion ignition, meaning more energy will be produced than consumed. Is nobody else as excited about this as I am? This changes everything!

192 lasers will hit a target the size of an air-rifle BB with a total of 1.8 million joules of ultraviolet energy, or 500 terawatts in two billionths of a second. This is about 500 times the peak power output of the US. That’s a lot of energy.

Check this article out for a great photo tour of the place. The comments are great too.

The NIF is my new favourite machine, even if countless computer games have warned against doing things like this. Will it open a portal to another dimension or turn someone accidentally trapped inside the chamber into a god? Even the hoped-for results are mind-blowing.

Someone should tell Walter Wagner about this. He’s the guy that filed the lawsuit against starting up the LHC for fear of it creating a black hole, and he gets torn to shreds (metaphorically) in this hilarious Daily Show video. Thanks to Bad Astronomy for catching it.

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Comments»

1. ROb - May 6, 2009

The Sheffield Renewables article is about a bunch of local people taking the initatiave to develop renewable energy projects in the city.

The Kelham Island scheme is just one of the projects we are looking at. Its an awesome site, located in the heart of the city and next the industrial museum. Excellent for raising profile and catching attention. Our work is as much about communications as it is about direct carbon savings.

This said don’t be too quick to dismiss the power it generates. On a city scale 40 homes isn’t huge, but as your own article implies on a street scale its pretty damn impressive. So the key question is what scale is important. I suggest we need action at all levels – individual, neighbourhood and city. The proposed scheme won’t solve all our problems on its own, but its a useful contribution.

For info, the £50k is over two years. It pays set up costs and some feasibility work. Otherwise, all we do is voluntary. Our aim is to develop further shemes using a range of technologies. Hopefully some bigger ones too.

Happy to answer further questions if it helps.
Cheers,
Rob (Sheffield Renewables)

2. Mike Trudeau - May 7, 2009

Rob, let me first say how nice it is to get a comment that isn’t from an online casino. I’m sure there must be better ways to screen comments for spam.
I don’t mean to knock raising awareness, grassroots green movements or alternative energy. However, the BBC article I refer to doesn’t make clear what your organisation does. It doesn’t explain why you believe these small-scale projects are important, and says more about you trying to drum up investment than trying to raise awareness of effective local-level production of electricity. In fact, it reads a lot like a barely re-written press release, whether or not that’s what it actually is. It’s unbalanced.
Also, LIP-SERVICE is a big problem when it comes to changing the way we produce energy. A lot of people talk about it and nod their heads, but fewer act. From your website it looks like your organisation has a lot of projects on the go, and I agree with you that changes need to happen on every scale of society. That’s great.
However, “communication” and “awareness” are the means to an end and should not be touted as ends in their own right.
By the way, are you the Rob Pilling of Cenex?


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