09 February, 2007

Need Business Angel!

I have some sound ideas for generating and using alternative sources of energy which are hopefully cleaner and more renewable. These are all ideas which a lone gun working in the back shed can't hope to attain, but I am out there and trying. Every time I have a bit of spare cash it goes into materials and equipment to try and approximate what I'm trying to do. I am looking for a company or government department that will help me develop these ideas and commercialising them.

Most of these ideas consist of tweaking existing technology or using it in less conventional ways to achieve better efficiencies, get more out of less. It's still too much for one person working in bursts and starts between contracts to cope with. I'm contacting as many Government departments and businesses as I can find, but so far that's only been a handful. As I collect businesses I will add their details to the sidebar here, so that you can find them more easily. I hope they recognise my assistance with some form of assistance with my R&D, if you know any business which may be relevant (alternative energy, survivalist, small farm, biodiesel, etc) and which would like me to place their details here, or if you know any business or government department that can help, please either let me know in comments or put them in touch with me via this blog or any other means.

I am really keen to see some of these ideas hit the shelves as they WILL make a difference to the current global warming / weather disturbance / greenhouse gas situation.

So let me start by saying that this problem is political as well as technological, it's our governments' faults as much as it is our own. It's the fault of greedy multinational companies every bit as much as it's our fault for desiring the things those multinationals place within our reach.

Make no mistake about it, every time you buy a fast food meal in a disposable container set, YOU are the one directly responsible for the pollution and greenhouse gas that it cost to make those containers and process that food. When you bought your car, YOU caused the pollution of extracting the iron ore, shipping it to the smelter's, smelting, turning into steel, forming into car parts. YOU produced your share of the demand which caused the plastics, airbags, electrics, and electronics to be developed and manufactured in quantity.

Up until now it's been enough to buy your car, drive it through the drive-through, and shrug your shoulders and say "well, they caused the pollution, I am just buying the result." They can't be blamed any more, because they wouldn't bother if YOU didn't create the demand.
That's why I will not leave it to "them" to fix this mess, and that's why I will make every effort to improve on their technology, clean up their wastage, and make US responsible for the recovery of the world.

Now why is it the Government's fault then? I can safely say that much of what a manufacturer gets away with, is because the Government hasn't kept its eye on the ball. The key phrase is "gets away with" - because we know that it's morally wrong to pollute, it's ecologically unforgivable and by the laws of most lands it's illegal - but enforcement is the key, and most Governments have a history of turning a blind eye if there is tariff or excise involved.

For the rest of this article I'll use the example of the humble light bulb. A filament bulb turns perhaps 6% of the energy it consumes into light you can use. That means that if you put in a 100W globe, which consumes one unit of electricity every ten hours it's turned on, you are basking in about 6W of light. The other 94W of power is going out as heat, and then you are going to use airconditioning to suck that heat outside your house, but it will take about an extra 20W of power to achieve that. So you are sitting reading in 6W of light but have cost 120W in energy to do it...

Enter the Compact Fluorescent Lamp or CFL. It is 30% to 50% efficient, meaning that for you to sit in 6W of light you only need an 18W CFL at the worst, for the same amount of light. 12W of that will be wasted as heat, and your A/C will use maybe 3W more power to shift that outside. Your light has just cost you 21W of power instead of 120W.

Your Govenrment gets a tariff on the electricity consumed in your region. It much prefers you to use 120W than to use 21W. The Government furthermore gets excise on the coal or fuel oil used to generate that power. So they have less incentive than you or I to do anything about light bulbs, despite the fact that lighting takes up about 20% of the power consumption on average.

Why Not Leave It To Them?
So it's not enough to "leave it to them" because them is we, they be us, and greed is apparently better than altruism. We are all going to be very uncomfortable together, irrespective of whether we were users, polluters, or environmental angels. Our Government here in Australia is just recognising that Global Warming is a "nationwide concern" and they are falling way short of the mark, it is a "global universal concern." The Amazonian tribespeople are going to get every bit as dead as the worst industrial ecology destroying greedy bastard.

We need to all do something. And in order for that to happen, the bar has to come down slightly. It's all well and good to say we're all responsible and do something fer chrissakes but if what we can do costs us our income for the next five years then that's just not do-able...
I believe that leaving the technology to recover from a global crisis like this in the hands of the very same people who have already proven their capacity to ignore all human, ecological, and moral concerns in pursuit of an abstract concept of money, is sheer stupidity. Sorry, but once I've been bent over and shafted a few times I won't just bend over at your gentle touch again...

My concern is to make existing alternative energy technology as efficient as possible, to allow us to do more with less, to allow us to recover from the blow which (much as I hate to hackney) capitalistic greed has caused to fall.

Back to the humble light bulb... It's now available in such an array of sizes and shapes and finishes and materials, each apparently designed to give you the "ultimate experience." How saddeningly true that's turning out to be... How bad can it be that they have to continuously "improve" their light bulb? Light is light after all, and the alternative we face if things run their present course is going back to candles and oil lamps so why are they milking this inefficient and ancient technology?

Well, for one thing, they would have to retool. That costs money. Mind you, the original light bulb making machine is probably still in operation and hasn't cost a cent in maintenance in the last 80 years, but that all improves the company's bottom line. Setting up new production lines, that is on the wrong side of the ledger.

Then too, the manufacturers who are making CFLs are also still making filament bulbs. By making CFLs they are admitting how ecologically and economically unsound their filament bulbs are, but they won't stop making them because... YOU still buy them...

Why Should We Have To Change?
There are a number of things each homeowner or landlord can do right now to bring the consumption of energy down. These are outlined in this document at another point. For now, rest assured that we can already do a lot better than we have been doing.

For example, how many of you still buy a cheap filament globe at the shop? Shame on you! You are supporting a bunch of companies who are too cheap-ass to retool their factories, because the equipment they have had for decades is still churning out a profit for them.

You are probably justifying it by saying that filament bulbs give out a "nice natural" light but I'll tell you what, the alternative at this stage is bloody candles so you'd better bloody well rethink that hadn't you?

Some people justify that by saying that CFLs are too expensive. All I can say is that in ten years you will use about six globes in your house regularly for around three hours a day apiece, buy around 30 replacement filament globes at an average cost of $2 each, i.e. $60. Your obsession with "natural" light will also have cost you at least 6570KW/hrs of power, a dollar cost of between $900 and $2000 approximately, depending what your utility company charges you.

That is all money thrown away, because for the same amount of light using CFL lamps you might have had to buy 8 replacement CFLs at a cost averaging $5 each, or $40 for the ten years. They would have consumed 1100KW/hrs, or between $160 and $390 in the same time. One household can immediately save about $100 a year, and - more importantly - 5.5KW/hrs of electricity, just by switching to CFL lighting.

Our lifestyle will need to change voluntarily, while we still have some control - or else it will change involuntarily, in directions we may not be so happy with...

Why Mess With The Technology?
Last point for this article - why, indeed, mess with the technology? Aside from the sheer stupidity of leaving it to light bulb companies to lead a change (a change which will result in them selling less product, of a kind that they stand to profit less on because the retooling and infrastructure costs have to be recovered from the sales, and selling no more of the staple of their incomes,) there is also the reason that the technology is not tweaked. It is not yet as good as it could be, it is not yet at the point where we can affordably install it and profit by doing so.

For instance, I've been using the example of the filament bulb versus the CFL on this page - now there's another twist to the story...

If we wanted to reduce our dependence on coal or other fossil fuel based power, we could (for example) put the load on our Government to install operate and maintain alternative energy plant. This would be at a cost we'd all bear anyway in increased rates, taxes, and tariffs, and with typical Government efficiency it would cost several times (and possibly several orders of magnitude) more than it is worth. Remember, the Government doesn't make any fuel excise on wind power generators or solar plant. It's in their interests to steer you to hydrogen power that you can be billed for per litre, than it is for them to reward you for putting solar power cells on your roof.

But that's precisely my point. If you want to do your bit, you can voluntarily do it - right now - by placing a small solar panel farm on your roof and you can even contribute to the grid by feeding your excess power back into it. You can earn money from your excess power, or you can be altruistic and let it flow back for free when you have an excess, thus reducing the load on existing coal and oil fired power stations. If one or two houses return 5KW/hrs a day back to the grid, that's a drop in the ocean to a grid which talks in megawatt/hrs. But if 10,000 houses each return 5KW/hrs, that's 50,000,000W/hrs, and additionally, it means those 10,000 houses have stopped feeding from the grid and have thus saved another 100,000,000W/hrs that they would otherwise have consumed...

So - if existing technology can put a solar farm on your roof for $15,000, then that repays itself in ten to fifteen years for you personally, at today's electricity prices. And as electricity prices now climb due to the higher cost of green power generation, that ROI period will shorten to seven to ten years, then five to seven years... Worth thinking about it now, isn't it?

And - if by tweaking the technology and making it more efficient, you could make a $10,000 solar farm do the same as the $15,000 solar farm, that would be even better, yes?

And THAT is why tweaking the technology is important - once you have the best number of kilowatts for your dollar, your solar installation will recoup it's costs quicker and you'll be in the black much sooner.

Two things I'd better mention here - one is that existing solar cell technology is poorly adaptable to current building practices - either building practices will have to change, or solar cells will. I prefer both, but just making solar cell technology more suitable to use in building will do as an immediate achievable goal.

And the other is that twist to the filament/CFL example which winds its way through this summary. After all, it wouldn't be fair to just leave you hanging on this would it?
Okay - so you've gone to all the trouble of putting in a solar cell installation and you have kilowatts of power. But it's all at 12 volts (like your car) or 24 volts. In order to use your 240V appliances and equipment, you have to have a thing called an inverter, which converts the 12V to 240V. So where's the problem?

Well, anytime you convert anything, there are losses. So it is with the inverter - if you hang a 1000W refrigerator off the inverter, it will draw 1400W from your solar installation, and that is a large loss that you have there. Even when just a small amount is drawn off the inverter, it will still have power needs of its own, so for a 100W load, the inverter will still draw 300W from the solar installation.

Now think about lighting. You power all your lights off 240V so you will run 108W worth of CFL lights off that hulking inverter which is designed to be able to cope with your refrigerator (which by the way is the largest electricity consumer in the average household, except for the A/C unit which is usually worse) and draw that overhead of power whether you are running one light or the whole houseful plus the refrigerator.

A far better thing to do is to replace your house's lights with low voltage lights and power them directly from the solar installation. No losses, no inefficiencies, less wasting of the solar instalklation you invested in. When (if!) you ever need to run from mains electricity again, a simple switchmode power supply would power your lighting quite easily if it was also CFL.
And there's the rub - CFLs are currently only made for mains voltages. Yep, even though they are inherently a low voltage light, they are made for 240V or 110V. And there's a little brother to the CFL - meet the CCFL or Cold Cathode Fluorescent Light. One company makes a 12V CCFL bulb styled like a miniature CFL. One.

So there is a market for making various voltages of CFL and CCFL based bulbs. Even better, would be to make the prohibitively expensive and hard to dispose of electronics and the tube part, as separate items. You could easily run all your house on CCFLs and instead of using 2000W/hrs, use only 300W/hrs. Did you know that if you changed all your house lights over to CCFLs you could plug them into a laptop power supply and use that to run ALL of them?

And that is why I'm asking for your help in developing these ideas and many more. We desperately need better ways to do things - and while I have got the ideas, I'm sitting here unable to develop them. If you know of a business angel who would take this on, please let me know because there are several very commercialisable ideas that I have

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