I went to a meeting at the Golden Cross in Cirencester a few days ago. We enjoyed a great presentation from Vijay Shah who spoke about his experiences in Arctic regions where climate change has been particularly severe. He also outlined other aspects of climate change including its causes and actions we might take to limit it and the damage it’s doing. Vijay pointed out that there are individual actions we can take in terms of our diet, modes of transport and so forth, and there are industrial and government actions that can be taken too. In the excellent discussion afterwards some of these individual and local matters were raised from the floor.
It was good to talk with others at the meeting, I was surprised by the wide variety of ages, professions, and opinions represented. And I was prompted to think about some new ideas that the talk sparked in my own thinking as I listened, chatted, and again as I walked home afterwards.
Some are original, others are already being widely discussed, some were mentioned at the meeting, but I present them here in the hope they will encourage others to think creatively about what is possible. Here are some of those ideas:
Streetlights – LED streetlights are becoming common in towns and villages, replacing the less efficient high-pressure sodium lamps just as they in turn replaced the older sodium and mercury lamps installed in the 1960s and ’70s.
But why not go further? Instead of drawing power from underground cables, why not fit lithium-ion batteries in the streetlight posts and top the lamp off with a solar panel and a wind generator? The one-off cost savings of not providing a mains power connection, and the lifelong savings of electrical energy would help offset the additional manufacturing cost. Once installed, the street lighting would be entirely green.
Greening the desert – Some deserts have ready supplies of seawater nearby, parts of the Sahara, the Kalahari, the west coast of South America, and regions of Southern Australia spring to mind. Building wind farms and solar farms in these coastal deserts would allow for green desalination, green pumping of the fresh water far inland, and the literal greening of large areas of desert. Not only could the land be used for crops, it might also be possible to establish areas of forest, thus sequestering significant amounts of carbon. And evapotranspiration would reduce the temperature and increase the humidity of the climate downwind of the greened zones. If a sufficient area could be greened in this way, clouds might form and reflect away some of the incoming solar energy
Solar car parks – Many towns and cities have public parking areas, asphalt ‘deserts’ where cars bake in the summer heat while we are shopping or working. Why not cover these areas with solar farms supported on frameworks above the cars and pedestrians? Most towns could generate as much power this way as would a small solar farm in the countryside. As a bonus, radiant heat transfer would be partially blocked from the covered area, so parked cars would stay cooler on hot days, and warmer on cold nights. And pedestrians would get shelter from rain and snow.
Using electric cars to balance demand – Electric cars have considerable amounts of energy storage and this could be used to help smooth power peaks and troughs. Cars plugged in overnight at home or during the day in town and workplace car parks would absorb wind power when excess is available, and return some of it to the grid at times of peak demand. Combined with dedicated battery storage facilities, this would make a change to fully renewable energy supplies possible.
Generating methane – Elon Musk is considering using green electrical energy to extract carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with hydrogen from water to generate methane and oxygen. Using the methane as a fuel would consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide and water – a closed system. Originally this idea was intended to allow refuelling of SpaceX’s Starship on the surface of Mars, but he is now looking at the idea of using the same process on Earth to fuel the spacecraft. Extending the idea, methane has potential to be used as a storable fuel for air, sea and land travel. Clearly, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it will be essential to burn it in an oxygen-rich manner to make sure none escapes.
Using ocean trenches – Why not place organic materials (including plastic waste) in the subduction zones in deep ocean trenches where the material would be buried as layers of silt are deposited naturally, and in the very long term would be carried down by plate tectonics and processed by heat and pressure into simpler, harmless molecules.
Solar farms in polar regions – This is, perhaps, the oddest of ideas -but aspects of it may have some merit. Incoming radiation from the sun comes from low in the sky during a polar summer. Solar panels would need to be angled close to vertical and would throw very long shadows; they would need to track the sun across the sky, east to west. The shadows would provide some cooling by absorbing incoming solar energy, reducing the melting of ice and snow in the shadows. But what to do with the electrical power? I suggest radiators at the focus of parabolic reflectors pointing vertically upwards, sending the energy back into space. The atmosphere is transparent at visible, radio, and some infra-red wavelengths. Rather than trying to cover large areas, the idea would be to protect specific areas at risk of losing the white, reflective cover of snow and ice. This scheme might be a bit zany, but perhaps it will spark other minds to come up with more practical alternatives.
Solar rooftops – By no means a new idea, but many industrial and commercial buildings do not currently have solar power generation installed. Reduced taxation could encourage more rooftops to supply energy in this way, and it would be generated in towns and cities, right where it is needed. Lobby governments and local authorities to encourage this.
Burying organic matter – Organic waste and/or purpose grown biomass could be air dried and packed into disused coal mines or other available spaces. Sequestered in this way, the carbon content would be removed from the atmosphere, reducing the levels of carbon dioxide that drive global heating.
Over to you! – Maybe you can come up with some green energy ideas of your own; this planet needs all the good ideas we can provide. Anything that reduces our level of consumption or enables us to live in harmony with the natural world should be publicised and adopted as widely as possible. If you have a good idea, leave a comment and tell us about it. And make sure to share it as widely as you can.