|With no fuel-costs, or toxicity, solar PV technology, largely based on our friend "Silicon" offers a truly sustainable means of powering industrial loads. This marks the threshold for our transition from the "Hydro-carbon Man, to the beginning of the "Silicon Man".|
by Toby Kinkaid
Director of Technology Development
California Energy & Power
Material science has always been a means of defining our industrialization. Anthropologists tell us that since the dawn of man we have been hunter-gatherers, not yet industrial. Around 2 million years ago early hominids started to design and fabricate tools. Was this the beginning of our industrial age?
Our species, homo sapiens (modern humans), have been as we are now for nearly 40,000 years, just as clever and intelligent as we feel about ourselves. This is the beginning of the Paleolithic, and the "Stone-Age" was born. Through all of this, our economy was based on human muscle. Still our industrialization was only as far as a man could throw, or gather, or travel as fast as a man could run. About 10,000 years ago, the Earth's temperature increased at the end of the last ice age, and this began to change.
With the Neolithic stone-age, modern human societies began to flourish. Around 6,000 years B.C., humans became agrarian, domesticated animals; the rise of modern human society began. Still, there is only human and animal muscle to drive the industry of man.
Around 5,000 years B.C., the weather changed again, cooling off a bit, and innovative humans made a huge advancement: the discovery and use of Copper. So much harder than stone, Copper was excellent for tools and weapons. Fire became much more useful than just heat, light and cooking. So significant to human activities was copper that we call this the "Copper-Age". The advantages of hotter and hotter fires became apparent; it was soon discovered that adding amounts of Tin to Copper in the forge produced an even stronger alloy and the "Bronze-Age" had begun around 2500 B.C.
As the "Bronze-Age" flourished, the forges got hotter and hotter again and soon Iron, from a common ore, could be smelted, worked, and tempered into hard iron. The tools and weapons continued to improve, yet industrially, we still relied on human and animal muscle despite that we're now in the "Iron-Age". The notable exception to this is the physical evidence of water and wind wheels in China and Persia, and the widespread use of vertical axis wind turbines for water pumping and grain grinding, including Greece and Turkey, throughout the Bronze Age. Early evidence of sails for ships goes back in Egypt to around the early Neolithic. Was there an industrial revolution in the Bronze-Age?
The First Industrial Revolution, is usually considered to be with the introduction of the steam engine (either Newcomen circa 1700 or later Watts circa 1750). The mechanical advantage of machines was 10,000 fold over mere muscle. Industrialization had come of age and we became "The Hydro-Carbon Man" burning coal to fuel our industrial fires.
Historians often cite the Second Industrial Revolution beginning when electronics were used to control mechanics, and another 10,000 fold increase in capability was realized. This occurred in the late 1890's and the electronics age was beginning to flourish. Around the 1920's more people worked with information than physical machines and the "Information-Age" began.
The Third Industrial Revolution, the use of optical devices, to control electrical devices to control mechanical devices really started in the 1960's with the Laser. Optio-Electric devices became more wide-spread and another 10,000 fold capability was launched in the industrialization of man.
Since the introduction of the transistor and the integrated circuit (also in the 1960s) mankind's technology has transformed human society with incredible capabilities: the PC, Local Area Networks, cell phones, PDA's and the Internet. With solid-state power production from photovoltaic (PV) solar cells, not only can we use these wonderful electronic devices that offer distributed data processing and communications, but we can power them.
With no fuel-costs, or toxicity, solar PV technology, largely based on our friend "Silicon" offers a truly sustainable means of powering industrial loads. This marks the threshold for our transition from the "Hydro-carbon Man, to the beginning of the "Silicon Man".
This brings us to the dawn of the 21st century. How will future Anthropologists' define us now, and in the near future? I would propose that the only way the human species can survive, and prevail would be through a sustainable industrial society, as we become "The Renewable Man".
Returning to the natural forces around us, the "Renewable Man" will find again his greatest natural power supply: nature. Modern machines require substantial amounts of power.
Hydrogen can be derived from water by adding electricity from solar and wind generators, through electrolysis. "Use" the hydrogen, releasing energy, and you get a "waste-product" hydrogen-oxide: water again. The Earth is mostly covered with water. Humans' are mostly made of water. How amazing that the most powerful chemical fuel known is Hydrogen - found in water.
Used in fuel-cell based spacecraft power since the Apollo program, the "Water Cycle" is totally in-tune with human biology (as well as the earths), and offers the most exothermic oxidation known to our science. The "Renewable Man" is all about more - not less.
The "Renewable Man" is all about industrial power supplies - with no fuel costs, or toxicity - everywhere we wish to be. As in the Industrial Revolution of the Neolithic, solar and wind resources are available to everyone, everywhere. The "Renewable Man" enjoys all of the benefits of our many industrial revolutions, while tapping into a means of providing power to all who want it. All you need is the right hardware.
As history cycles, perhaps by evolving forward into the "Renewable Man", we can return in some fashion, to an interaction with our environment as natural as the early hominids, forging our tools in the sun for a bright and dynamic future.