Author Topic: Episode #586  (Read 3135 times)

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Offline Steven Novella

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Episode #586
« on: October 01, 2016, 11:57:59 AM »
What’s the Word: Apophenia; News Items: Europa Venting, Piezoelectric Roads, Unhackable, Change in Astrological Sign; Who’s that Noisy; Science or Fiction
Steven Novella
Host, The Skeptics Guide
snovella@theness.com

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2016, 05:05:20 PM »
One of the rogues (I can never differentiate them from their voices except for Steve and Cara) seemed really fixated on the idea of using batteries in a home solar set-up. Batteries are good when you are in an isolated location and have no access to the grid. Otherwise, they are an unnecessary expense. The grid itself can serve as your "storage" by taking your power when you have excess and feeding power back to you when your system is not producing.

I was also surprised that the rogues guessed so low when asked to speculate on what percentage of Steve's power would be produced by his new solar panels. I guessed 125%. I knew a guy in South Dakota who put up a wind turbine as his retirement plan: He sold so much power back to the utility that investing it over a couple of decades provided him with a nice savings balance. (Probably not his entire retirement, but a chunk of it.)

Steve didn't mention what company installed his panels, but I'm on the other side of that equation: I've invested in solar bonds: Corporate bonds used to finance the installation of systems just like Steve's: The money I paid for the bonds goes to installing solar panels on people's roofs; those people pay for the electricity; that money pays the interest on my bonds and profit for the company that installed the panels. The home-owner gets cheaper electricity than provided by the public utility. The company makes a profit. I get 5% return on my investment. Everybody wins except the public utility, which loses customers. If enough people put up solar, the utility will have fewer customers and will have to raise rates, making solar even more attractive.

One of the rogues went off into fantasy, wishing for a nuclear or thermonuclear generator in his back yard. A better system would be to have a thermonuclear generator far away, and have it beam power wirelessly directly to your home. Then you'd just have to put up a small collector to grab that power. Even better if the thermonuclear generator was just magically there and we didn't have to build it. Maybe have it, oh, I don't know, let's say a nice safe 93 million miles away.
Daniel
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Offline truffles

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Re: Episode #586-->Solar Panels
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2016, 08:03:15 PM »
A few years back the provincial government in Ontario started a "feed in tariff" program to encourage solar panel installation.   

http://microfit.powerauthority.on.ca/

The amount paid for the power produced is higher then I pay for my electricity and is high enough to pay for the panels in 7 to 10 years.  I recently decided to purchase panels though I did look at renting the roof space a few years back.  I have slightly less then 10 kWh worth of panels(limit for home owners..ie Micro feed in tariff MicroFIT is 10 kWh).  The contract price is guaranteed for 20 years, which carries some risk on my part, but I intend to live here for a while.  In effect, I have become a power generation company and I can take advantage of deductions to offset the tax implications of the income I receive from the panels.   

Having said all that there is a substantial controversy when it comes to Hydro rates in Ontario, renewables have taken some share of the blame.   Daniel1948 mentioned the utility might raise rates due to loss of customers, what has occurred in Ontario is lower usage due to conservation efforts has resulted in price increases in order to maintain income levels of the utility.    The purchase of renewables by the government is being stopped for the time being and MicroFIT will end in 2017.    Though my prime motivator for installing the panels was an effort to help with lowering/offsetting my carbon footprint, without the incentives I likely would have delayed installing them. 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-electricity-plans-1.3780440

Offline Fast Eddie B

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2016, 05:22:53 PM »
About that rotating universe...

As soon as I heard it, I thought it had to be the fiction.

I immediately said - in my head - rotating relative to what???

To measure the rotation of something, it has to be in relation to some other reference. I think some of the rogues intimated that.

The only way it would make sense of a spinnng universe would be if you decided there was something "outside" of it to measure its spin against.

Which is possible, but not a given.

Expanding on Einstein's elevator example, if you were in a windowless capsule, how could you ever determine if you were spinning. Centrifugal (centripetal?) force might give a clue, but that could also be due to a gravitational field outside the capsule, and I think like gravity/acceleration, would be indistinguishable.

Or so it seems to me. Perhaps a cosmologist can set me straight.

"And what it all boils down to is that no one's really got it figured out just yet" - Alanis Morisette
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Offline gpdno

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Re: Episode #586 piezoelectric road
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2016, 09:23:36 AM »
Piezoelectric stacks are fairly common.  as an example http://www.piezo.com/prodstacks1.html
Very small defections to product voltage difference - about 15 microns.  Defiantly would need a bunch but they are small.  About 10mm x 10mm x 20mm 

Offline Pusher Robot

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2016, 11:08:15 AM »
Expanding on Einstein's elevator example, if you were in a windowless capsule, how could you ever determine if you were spinning. Centrifugal (centripetal?) force might give a clue, but that could also be due to a gravitational field outside the capsule, and I think like gravity/acceleration, would be indistinguishable.

A gyroscope can measure changes in angular momentum independent of gravitational forces.  This is in fact how inertial guidance works.  Angular momentum is somewhat weird in that isn't relative in a Newtonian sense.
A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.
Knight, seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: “You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong.”
Knight turned the machine off and on.
The machine worked.

Offline Dan I

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2016, 11:41:40 AM »
Even better if the thermonuclear generator was just magically there and we didn't have to build it. Maybe have it, oh, I don't know, let's say a nice safe 93 million miles away.

Yeah sure, SOOOOOO safe...just you wait till it explodes then tell me how safe it it!

 ;D

Online Harry Black

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2016, 11:43:16 AM »
I dont think I have ever heard or read a boring story with the word DARPA in it.
If such a thing does exist, that in itself would interest me!
The idea of a new way of constructing code (not that I know much about current methods) seems fascinating to me, hackable or not!

Offline amysrevenge

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2016, 02:21:12 PM »
Maybe it's the cynical engineer in me, but I spend some of my time dealing with replacing circuitry in temperature/humidity controlled, dust/vibration-free control rooms.  And the rest of my time dealing with replacing circuitry in areas that are none of those things.

There are just so many things that can go wrong.  Temperature changes will expand and contract metal, which can (and does) pull wires out of terminals.  Vibration can (and will) shake connections loose.  Dust can (and will) get in and loosen connections.  Moisture - do I even need to start with all the chemical changes water can perform on metals?

There's a whole sub-industry around wiring up equipment in dusty, wet, vibrating, temperature-varying conditions.  It's a VERY expensive thing to do, and requires constant maintenance.  And a highway is going to be one of the worst areas I can imagine for this type of thing.

This is one of those areas where scientists need engineers on staff.  There are so many practical factors in the way of getting access to all of that theoretical wasted energy.  Good ol' free market capitalism already has a huge incentive to find ways to make these sorts of projects work, in other contexts, and even then the best we can manage is still not all that great.  If we were talking about megawatts per mile of free energy, or even kilowatts, maybe the economics would work.  But even then, there'd be technicians in orange vests and hard hats standing ankle deep in a puddle in a ditch re-tightening terminals all over every highway.
Big Mike
Calgary AB Canada

Offline Mormegil

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2016, 03:10:18 PM »
I too was shocked at the low estimates the Rogues (besides Cara) gave for Steve's solar return.  Like, Cara, I'm in Southern California, and we get inundated with ads for going solar.  There are reps at every home improvement store selling the things.  So, maybe it just seems weird to me since more folks here seem to be knowledgeable about solar.  That said, I'm still surprised folks around here don't know about no-cost solar.  We actually went with a purchase.  Depending on your latitude, the pay-back will probably vary quite a bit, but 20 years seems excessive to me (we're at about 4 years out of the 7 years payback).  You currently get a 30% Federal Tax Credit, and at the time, Los Angeles Dept Water and Power were giving about 1/3 rebate, so we were only paying 1/3 out of pocket.


On the concept of batteries, Elon Musk is pushing for the "Solar Wall" to be produced at the GigaFactory (primarily for making Tesla car batteries).  These battery ideas don't make much sense to me if you are on the grid and have net metering.  That said, there are folks who like to be "off the grid" both literally and figuratively.  These guys need battery storage (funny how Solar attracts both liberals and gets anti-NWO conservatives).  The other group there's useful for are people who live without net metering.  Net metering is the type of billing where your meter runs backwards when generating an excess of power, and feeding it back into the grid.  I believe Nevada (where the GigaFactory is being built), doesn't have Net Metering (power company lobby may have had something to do with that).

Of course if that 100 year Solar Flare knocks out all the electrical infrastructure, I'll be wishing I invested in off-grid solar...
« Last Edit: October 03, 2016, 03:12:51 PM by Mormegil »

Online Friendly Angel

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2016, 03:19:36 PM »
I looked at solar and figured it was about a 15 year payback.  My utility is predicting every home will be on time of use metering by 2019 and that really messes up confidence in the payback calculation.

A 6kW system would be about $20,000.  I think I'll do it when it's time to re-roof anyway, but that'll be a while.

I don't like the free options - too many unknowns like maintenance and liability and problems when selling your house.

If you don't have net metering, you're donating excess to the grid.



Amend and resubmit.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2016, 03:26:02 PM »
Even better if the thermonuclear generator was just magically there and we didn't have to build it. Maybe have it, oh, I don't know, let's say a nice safe 93 million miles away.

Yeah sure, SOOOOOO safe...just you wait till it explodes then tell me how safe it it!

 ;D

Then we just need one that won't explode. Maybe just expand slowly. Anyway, as long as it happens after I'm dead, what do I care? I bet we could have a nice low-mileage used one that won't engulf the Earth for a few more billion years.

As for the piezoelectric highway (or its cousin the solar highway) it makes more sense to me to put PV panels on every suitable roof. I'll bet the cost including maintenance would be a lot cheaper for roof-mounted PV panels than any kind of energy-recovering highway.
Daniel
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Online Harry Black

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2016, 03:44:34 PM »
Nuclear reactors dont explode though do they? I was under the impression that they melt down and leak radiation...
And if you had a small one with sufficient casing, even that would not be an absolute disaster?

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2016, 03:51:36 PM »
As for the piezoelectric highway (or its cousin the solar highway) it makes more sense to me to put PV panels on every suitable roof. I'll bet the cost including maintenance would be a lot cheaper for roof-mounted PV panels than any kind of energy-recovering highway.
That is why the solar roadway idea is so stupid, there are much more suitable places to put PV panels that don't required them to be armored or have an appropriate coefficient of friction or be among the cheapest building materials available.

The last bit is likely the deal breaker for the piezo electric road way, asphalt is so incredibly cheap that it wouldn't surprise me if the piezoelectric idea increases the costs by an order of magnitude.

Its just like CA to spend a bunch of money on pie in the sky nonsense because its "alternative energy" so, its no surprise they'd do it even when some else has already done the research.   

ETA: Chernobyl basically exploded as did the US Army's experimental SL1 reactor.  Its nigh on impossible for a conventional boiling water or pressurized water reactor to explode though.  Which I believe are the majority of operating reactors. 


ETA2:

On the battery thing.  It sorta makes sense consumers in mass if not for individuals.   The big issue for wind and solar is storage because neither is particularly consistent.  If there is a lot of small storage available all over the grid it can help even out the demand cycle which could eliminate the need for excess generation capacity which should reduce prices because we won't have to support a lot generators that sit idle most of the time. 
« Last Edit: October 03, 2016, 06:05:42 PM by Ah.hell »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Episode #586
« Reply #14 on: October 03, 2016, 05:52:18 PM »
Nuclear reactors dont explode though do they? I was under the impression that they melt down and leak radiation...
And if you had a small one with sufficient casing, even that would not be an absolute disaster?

Sufficiently large thermonuclear reactors explode at the end of their life. Below some specific size, they don't explode, but merely get really, really big.
Daniel
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