I get the impression that there are not all that many people interested in Utopia (as a concept). Maybe we’re a bit more skeptical than folks were in the 1800s. Or maybe charismatic leaders just don’t gain so much traction in an era with electronic criminal records and background checks.
The good parts of living with room mates were really good. A built in social network and a always-on source of good conversation and affirmation? Yeah. Doing other peoples’ dishes… not so much.
I follow three projects with utopian visions:
Open Source Ecology
Paul Wheaton’s Permaculture community
I love that these folks are putting their experiences out there. It’s exciting to see folks trying to build something grand. It’s even interesting to watch the setbacks. I don’t know how much popular interest there is in this kind of thing.
If you want to solve global warming, here is the method: help solar to beat the price per kilowatt-hour of natural gas. I think it can happen.
Consider the future of solar power. The price of panels is dropping quickly. A price of $0.50 per peak watt would have been absurdly optimistic a few years ago but it is now a virtual certainty. While solar panels may not advance as rapidly as Moore’s Law (as I read recently) they still fall in price by a significant margin every few years. I got my price data from renewableenergyworld.com. After removing the points from 2006-2008 because those years were hit hard by a silicon shortage, the data actually fit an exponential decay reasonably well.
This graph shows the price of solar panels (blue circles) and an exponential fit to these data (green line). The black line indicates $0.50 per watt.
I have said for years that Canada would eventually use nuclear energy to process the tar sands. It looks like Toshiba is going to make it happen. Converting tar sand to useful oil takes a lot of energy. Since there’s lots of tar on site, that’s the source of energy. A significant fraction of the energy in the tar goes into processing instead of into the consumer’s gas tank. Putting a nuclear reactor on site means that the processing energy comes from uranium instead. In some sense, it’s a conversion of uranium energy into hydrocarbon energy.
Of course, from a climate standpoint, it could be better. We could convert uranium energy (or solar energy!) into converting carbon dioxide into fuel instead of converting tar sand into fuel. But tar sand is a much more concentrated carbon source than the atmosphere.
What I think it really interesting is the funding model. Buy a nuclear reactor and plug it into your plant. That saves energy so you don’t have to burn your fuel on site. That frees up fuel for sale which pays for the reactor. How long before countries without tar sands figure it’s worth their money to convert other resources (e.g. biomass, municipal waste, natural gas) to fuel?
A new ARPA-E startup is developing a battery improvement with a target price of $0.17 per watt-hour. I imagine that this price reflects current market prices for materials and so it might not reflect a revised demand scenario as we try to build large scale grid energy storage. However, if lithium batteries can be developed for this price, it seems likely that liquid magnesium (target price $0.05 per watt-hour), iron air (target price $0.10 per watt-hour) or some other advanced battery can get to a similar price point.
There are now two ways to combine CO2 from the air with electricity to make liquid fuels. Li et. al.1 from UCLA published a paper in Science showing that they can use bacteria (not platinum) to convert electrically generated formic acid to fuels.