Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The Bloom of the New Sun
Solar storms pose a grave threat to electrical devices on Earth. A large enough solar storm could wipe out power across half the globe, but new methods of predicting solar storms could give us enough warning to shut down the transformers in the affected areas so that they don't overload. A warning would also have to go out to everyone to turn off their electrical devices, so that the devices would not be irreversibly damaged. Solar storm forecasting would be useful for rare, once-in-a-lifetime solar storms, but what about ordinary Earth weather forecasting? It wouldn't be as helpful in preventing outages.
A recent storm blacked out power to millions of Americans for upwards of five days, while power companies struggled to repair downed lines and power stations damaged in the storm. It got me thinking about the whole idea of centralized power sources themselves. Solid Oxide Fuel Cells like those being sold by Bloom Energy could power a house, or more likely a block, with one refridgerator-sized "server" (known as a Bloom Box), without the need for a wasteful and expensive power grid that fails like a line of dominoes when even one part of it is compromised. Better yet, an SOFC can run on almost any fuel, so scarcity would not necessarily lead to increased prices for the energy. The biggest hurdle I see to this revolution in energy is that -- at present -- Bloom Boxes are prohibitively expensive for private use. That could change, however, if enough of them were sold.
A more immediate application of the technology might be to use Bloom Boxes, or another SOFC, to power the neutron detectors at the South Pole, which would be used to calculate the presence of electrons related to Solar radiation to predict Solar Storm activity [see link above]. Something like that might already be in practice, but my research into the neutron detectors didn't extend to power sources. If this is what's already being done, bravo researchers! If not, that's something to consider. Either way, a future where Bloom Boxes are in wider use has the potential to make a more energy-efficient, lower emission, and generally better world for all of us. They still would be susceptible to Solar Storms, however, and it would be more of a headache to shut them all down. Nothing's perfect.