Sunday, February 28, 2010

Energy Revolution?

Recently I have come across a term "energy revolution". This is one of those terms that regularly contorts my face into a quizzicle frown. If I'm not feeling quite so over-dramatic then at least a dignified Mr Spock like eyebrow raise.

In one way I can accept the term. If a drive shaft exercises a moment and rotates 2pi radians then that is an energy revolution. Not a particularly useful term but neither is it very offensive. Unfortunately I don't think that is what is meant when the term is used by those that believe (at least by implication) in perpetual motion (after all it's only the fuel companies keeping the technology from us).

My 1987 edition Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus describes revolution (the one I think the wistful mean) as
  1. the overthrow or repudiation of a regime or political system by the governed
  2. (in Marxist theory) the inevitable, violent transition from one system of production to the next
  3. a far-reaching and drastic change, es. in ideas, methods, etc

The term "energy revolution" then is of the class ollux and b-grade at that; what I like to call b-ollux.

Here's the thing, work (or energy) will be expended when a force is applied to something that moves before the 'revolution' and will be expended when a force is applied to something that moves after the 'revolution' (strangely enough this works for both definitions of revolution - spooky).

Here are other realities that will transcend the revolution:

  • the useful energy will be a fraction of the energy expended - let's be clear on this point by putting it another way. The energy out will not exceed (and will be less than) the energy available.
  • something big and heavy (at least in aggregate - probably aluminium, copper, steel and/or concrete) will be needed to make use of the energy - and it will cost something
  • it will use natural resources in some way - at least by taking up space - but also the energy must come from somewhere, an energy system must be 'robbed' of the energy
  • no matter how hard you try someone will be annoyed about whatever you do because people like being annoyed.

My great fear is those wistful 'energy revolutionaries' seem to have transcended even the perpetual motion machine. Now they don't even want the machine. They just want energy to appear in a puff of smoke (which, admittedly, is probably how energy would appear if it was going to be spontaneously energetic), but again I don't think this is what the wistful want.

Now let us move forward in perfect clarity. We can either have an energy non-revolution (conservation) or we can exercise a moment on a driveshaft (in a large machine - or a large number of machines) for 2pi radians (many times) by using the earth's resources. There are no other options. Oh, and it won't be free either way.