Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Wei Forward.

A new article about the verity of China's purported technological leadership in green power strikes the kind of skeptical note I think is important.

I think the Chinese excel at the older kind of production line system, where labor is used instead of robots. This is why I wrote several months ago that the loss of Evergreen solar, a second generation polycrystaline PV manufacturer, was no great loss to the west.

What would be a huge blow would be the loss of technology such as the PV production systems belonging to Nanosolar. Each Nanosolar factory, and there will eventually be many, can make enough PV capacity to retire top-of-the-line coal-fired power plant every two to three years.

Other touchstone technology we westerners should be proud of? "Bloom" boxes? Fourth generation nukes? The couple kinds of floating turbine currently in the design phase? Plug in hybrids? Passive solar houses? Grid scale battery storage?

There are any number of contenders.

Luckily, and just in time, there are now the backstop technologies we can deploy as oil price rises, several of which, like Nanosolar, are in the production phase already.

There was a time, somewhere between Newcomen and Watt, when the failure of the old wood, water and wind powered economies to provide enough power for British industry was obvious, but before the key new steam idea, the separate condenser, had been developed.

Separate condensers were the thin film solar of their day, an idea that could take an existing technology and double or triple the energy output per unit cost. But the build-up to their deployment was a period of intense competition and industrial rivalry.

I think we may have passed the separate condenser point. I think we can now pick some winners, and even some winning combinations.

By the way, we wouldn't have to worry about China if they abandoned the one-party system and became a pluralistic democracy. It's inevitable that they do, you can't hold back the creative drive of the Chinese people very much longer, but how long will it take?

Ai Wei Wei is in many ways a silly western style abstract artist, and like most technologists and engineering types, I don't understand or care about his art. Lowry, MacColl, and Orwell are more my style: direct visual and written criticism that hits the establishment where it hurts, not a silly room of fake sunflower seeds.

But I care that he's now in jail because the Chinese government is made up of cowardly apparatchiks that are afraid of an idea.

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