Tag Archives: energy

Alien Supercivilizations Absent from Nearby Galaxies

This piece from Scientific American:


is mostly about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).  But on the way, it gets into some interesting musings on exponential growth, energy usage, and whether our picture of what “advanced civilization” entails is realistic.  Here’s a quote:

In 2011 the science fiction author Karl Schroeder coined an all-too-plausible reason for the apparent absence of aliens: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.” In this view the future of technology would not consist of star-hopping civilizations spreading like wildfire through galaxies, disassembling planets and smothering suns, but rather of slow-growing cultures becoming more and more integrated with their natural environments, striving for ever-greater efficiencies and coming ever-closer to thermodynamic equilibrium. Simply put, profligate galaxy-spanning empires are unsustainable and therefore we do not see them. “SETI is essentially a search for technological waste products,” Schroeder has written. “Waste heat, waste light, waste electromagnetic signals—we merely have to posit that successful civilizations don’t produce such waste, and the failure of SETI is explained.”

Blogging for Week 9

I’m going to keep the proposed theme for week 8 (alternative energy sources) open for another week.  That’s partly because not many people have posted yet, and partly because you haven’t had the opportunity to hear Andrew Gutberlet whose case study presentation had to be postponed because of the weather.  You will get to hear him this Wednesday (March 18th), and I think his talk will suggest several ideas related to this theme.

Remember that the themes are only suggestions.  You can post about any topic that is relevant and interesting.  Read here for details about the Alternative Energy Sources theme.

I expect that the next case study session I conduct (Wednesday March 25th) will be specifically about blogging. Stay tuned for more information about that.  The second blogging assessment period ends on March 27th and the third and final period will begin at that time.


Blogging Theme Week 8

The second blogging period ends on March 27th, that is in four weeks time. As you are thinking about your posts for this period, I’d encourage you to read my post summarizing the results of grading for period 1.  To improve your posts, I’d encourage you contact me, Sara or Kaley and make an appointment to talk in office hours or at another time.  We will be happy to provide advice and suggestions, including specific feedback on your current posts if you ask.

A brief general reminder about blogging requirements: you may post on anything related to the course (the “theme” for the week is only a suggestion), and your postings will be graded according to the rubric that appears in the syllabus,  The rubric involves five grading elements: frequency of posting, mathematical content, thematic content, organization and presentation, references and connections.  Blogging is your only “homework” for this course and a high standard will be expected.

The suggested blogging theme for this week is Alternative Energy Sources. I suggest that you take one possible source of non-fossil-fuel based energy and discuss it from the perspectives of economics (cost), feasibility (how near are we to commercial-level application), energy return on energy invested, plant lifetime, distribution mechanisms, long-term sustainability and so on.  Among the sources you could discuss might be

  • Onshore wind energy
  • Offshore wind energy
  • Solar photovoltaic
  • Solar thermal
  • Geothermal
  • Hydro-electric
  • Nuclear fission
  • Nuclear fusion
  • Space-based photovoltaic
  • Wave energy
  • Tidal energy
  • Biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel)
  • Wood

And you could talk about these from a global perspective, from a national perspective, or specifically with reference to Penn State (Andrew Gutberlet’s presentation will provide a lot of useful information here.)

A good general reference for calculations about renewable energy is http://www.withouthotair.com/   Another is Do the Math.

Remember, you are also welcome to post on any of the earlier themes (or on any other relevant topic).

Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels

On Friday I will talk about the idea of “peak oil”.  The fundamental paper in this area, Hubbert’s 1956 Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, is easy enough to read (you can ignore the few references to calculus at the beginning, they are mostly just mathematical window-dressing).  You can download Hubbert’s paper from this link.   Try using this as the basis for some blog posts.

Investing in Energy Efficiency Pays Off

From the New York Times.   Lots of math to dig out here:


The idea that money is available for the taking defies economic logic. But sometimes it’s true. That’s the case with a vast opportunity that’s routinely overlooked by institutions across the country — from universities to hospitals, companies to governments.  The opportunity is investing in energy efficiency.

Retrofitting buildings for energy conservation in the United States could save $1 trillion over a decade, reduce American greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, and spur employment across the country.

Sustainability Institute seeks public comment on University goal setting process

I’m not sure this is directly relevant to the course, but students may be interested:

“Penn State’s upper administration and the community have looked to the University’s Sustainability Institute as a convener of conversations and engagement processes around various sustainability issues, such as the concept of zero-carbon communities and a stakeholder assessment of the recent natural gas pipeline controversy. To that end, the institute commissioned and is now publicly releasing the results of a recent project that proposes a new community and stakeholder engagement process for setting University-wide goals for sustainability, starting with energy. In order to explore how the process might best be adapted and refined, the institute is seeking public comment on the report until Feb. 18; details on how to access the report and where to submit comments, can be found below.”

Read more here


Polling the US public on climate change

Here’s an interesting article that relates to climate change, a subject that we will discuss this week:

“An overwhelming majority of the American public, including half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.”

Full article can be read here.