Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead - Robert Brockway (2010)
Chapter 5. NEW ENERGY
ASIDE FROM BEING less profitable and more difficult to implement than conventional methods, so-called green energy has another, far more important problem to overcome: It’s for pussies.
Or at least that’s the popular consensus. Sorry, hippies, I want to save the world as much as the next Bruce Willis, but there’s simply nothing sexy about our available alternative energy sources. All of our past major fuels have had at least one important thing in common that eco-friendly power lacks: They could fucking kill you. Fossil fuels burn, nuclear power irradiates, and coal once killed a man in Kentucky just to win a bet. Even pre-Industrial Revolution power was distilled from pure badass. Whale oil was the fuel of choice, and this was at a time when whales were poorly understood leviathans. They were quite literally demons of the deep—near legendary creatures the size of your entire goddamn boat—and the only way you could read your copy of Pride and Prejudice after sunset was to slay that sea monster with a fucking spear and render its fat to light your lamps. But solar panels, windmills, hydrogen fuel cells—shit, you might as well power your car on kitten hugs.
Well, lucky for the planet, science is about to change all that and make green energy as sexy and dangerous as she is renewable and clean. It’s just that it may be at the expense of all of our lives.
THE FUTURE OF HYDROGEN ENERGY
At the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, England, a group of scientists is refining designs for a new energy facility they call HiPER (high power laser energy research). This facility, apart from proving that scientists cheat at acronyms (if you’re being fair about it, it should be HPLER, but “Hipler” apparently isn’t sexy enough, sounding more like Adolf’s rap alias than a high-tech research center), may also solve the world’s growing energy crisis in the most awesome way that science knows how …
The HiPER facility is pursuing the heretofore presumed pipe dream of nuclear fusion, which they hope to achieve by using a combination of hydrogen and superlasers. The idea is to build a superefficient, giant, rapid-fire laser—not for world domination or eliminating that bastard James Bond, but to superheat a tiny little pellet of hydrogen. The hydrogen would be dropped down a 33-foot concrete and lithium shaft, where, upon reaching the dead center of the reaction chamber, it would be struck with 192 separate lasers, the combined output of which would be 500 trillion watts (or one thousand times the power of the entire U.S. national electricity grid) delivered all at once. This creates temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius in the hydrogen pellet, thus replicating the same fusion process that powers our sun. Tubes of water surrounding the chamber superheat from the reaction, the steam is converted into electricity, and hydrogen pellets learn never to cross mankind again.
You see that, hippies? That’s how you fucking do green energy. Maybe some people won’t trade horsepower and performance for mileage, but even if it tops out at 16 mph, comes in only bright pink, and the engine sounds like Tiny Tim singing Hello Kitty songs, there’s still not a man alive who wouldn’t drive an electric car powered by goddamn laser fusion. All right, so maybe that’s not strictly true: The laser fusion would be converted to electricity in a separate station rather than the actual car itself, but hell, even lasers by proxy is more lasers than you have right now. Let me throw a little bit of complicated math at you to explain why that’s a beneficial development:
Manlier Ways to Power a Vehicle
· Pulling it with your dick
If “lasers” = “good,” then “more lasers” = “gooder.”
Clearly, the logic is infallible.
Though this technology isn’t quite feasible yet, it is close: Technicians at the National Ignition Facility, part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, while typically busy having the most badass job titles in the history of everything, are also spending their time carrying out early versions of the experiment right now, and eventually hope to combine their efforts with the new HiPER facility to create a viable electrical grid.
A few worrisome things about this process, however, are the temperatures and pressures created: Akin to a tiny, controlled sun, remember? So, how much of an issue is containment? The process has already been proven viable by the National Ignition Facility, and they’re planning to scale up to a larger form when the HiPER facility is built, yet little is said of containing this energy in the event of a failure. Forgive me for being a tad bit worried when somebody borrows a plot point from a comic book supervillain’s best-laid revenge schemes just to power their home, but creating a miniature sun on the surface of the Earth seems like the God King of bad ideas. After all, back in the ’40s there were rumblings that the first nuclear tests would ignite the oxygen in the atmosphere, leading to a global chain reaction that would, in turn, ignite all of the air on Earth—and they still went ahead with testing the bombs.
Worse Ideas Than Creating a Miniature Sun on Earth
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I hope this kind of thing helps you see why trust is still an issue, Science. Seeing as how you risked lighting our lungs on fire just to build a better bomb, I don’t know if we as a people are ready to let you penetrate our pristine, virginal electrical grids with your hot, throbbing lasers. It might just be too soon to go all the way with you; at least prove you’re not going to strangle us for kicks afterward.
THE FUTURE OF WIND ENERGY
Even assuming that the fusion lasers don’t get us, there’s also a new experiment in alternative power under way in Canada. It’s called the AVE, which is short for Atmospheric Vortex Engine (Note: That’s how you do acronyms, scientists. The pseudobiblical tones succeed in scaring the shit out of us with three little letters alone), and it’s got the scientific community in a whirl.
Well, more like a whirlwind.
Actually, exactly like a whirlwind.
That’s what the AVE is, after all: a giant, artificial tornado, reaching up to ten kilometers straight into the atmosphere. Like slapping a leash on a volcano, the AVE proposes to literally tame a natural disaster by creating and controlling its point of origin, then harnessing the resultant power. The principles it functions on are pretty straightforward: Tornados are formed by cool and warm air mixing in sufficient quantities. So it’s really just a simple matter of forcing the warm air upward far enough to contact the cool air above … and then attempting to harness a force of nature that has killed human beings and destroyed cities since the beginning of time.
Listen: Canadians are great—national health care, clean cities, a very polite disposition—but there’s a limit to how much faith Americans can have in their neighbors up north, and literally reaping the whirlwind might be a little beyond that.
Things Canadians Are Good At
Things Canadians Are Bad At
· “Yo momma” jokes
· Starting wars
Things Canadians Are Questionable At
· Wrangling tornadoes
Assuming they don’t immediately bring forth the wrath of God for usurping his powers, a ring of turbines on the ground would both maintain ideal tornado conditions (perpetually pumping warm air in a circular motion) and also do double duty in harvesting all that energy, just like windmills. The AVE generating facility would be a low, squat building surrounding a giant cylindrical tube that’s open to the sky. The artificial tornado would emanate from this tube, with only the lower part contained by the structure. Essentially, the large, flat ring and containment wall would look like the stand of a trophy, with the trophy itself being a several-kilometers-high twister. If it helps you to picture it, just think of it as a giant award for World’s Scariest Building.
Its inventor, Canadian scientist Louis Michaud, says the AVE would also serve to stabilize the localized weather around it—maybe even facilitating rainfall by assisting the transportation of ground moisture to cloud level.
Win, win, and win, right? Farmers get drought protection, the world gets energy, and metalheads get a new thing to watch instead of laser light shows!
At its heart, it’s the same principle as conventional wind farms, and those seem pretty quaint and harmless, right? The chief difference here is that conventional wind farms consist of giant pinwheels in rolling green fields capturing the essence of a gentle summer breeze, while the AVE is a gargantuan black tower in the center of a dry lakebed in Utah topped by a giant, artificial, eternal typhoon. You read correctly. This isn’t mere theory. There is actually a working prototype of the AVE. It was built solely as a proof of concept, so the whirlwind it generates is not kilometers high and the energy it reaps is insignificant, but it does work! The rest of it is just a matter of scale now. Oh, and just to mix things up a bit, the experimental AVE tower is also used to generate something called Fire Spirals, presumably just in case Harry Potter tries to meddle in your whole “eternal whirlwind” plan.
The most likely locations for a finished tower will be in the temperate northern hemisphere (like the northern United States, southern Canada, and most Western European nations), because the height of the troposphere there drops to a measly seven kilometers. Provided that a tornado can be prompted to reach that high, the natural difference in atmospheric pressures between the anchor point and top of the twister should help to maintain the vortex. So really, if you just have a large enough base unit installed somewhere in the north that supplies the occasional burst of circulated hot air, you should have a fully functioning domesticated whirlwind. One that is theoretically kept fully in check behind its tiny containment wall, despite the funnel rising ten kilometers into the sky into space.
Other Potential Uses for the AVE Tower
· Collecting storm data in a controlled environment
· X-treme kite testing
· Murdering hang gliders
Uh … theoretically.
Nobody’s ever actually, y’know, made a tornado their bitch before, and anything from a high wind to a warm spell might theoretically cause the twister to jump the wall and go rampaging away—free to wreak a terrible vengeance upon mankind for their arrogant attempts to confine it. Louis Michaud is an engineer, not a meteorologist, so just to be on the safe side he recommends that the AVE be built away from populated areas—as he says, “just in case.” And when a man proposes to build a machine that creates tornados, “just in case” is the last thing you want to hear from him. That shit would worry Dr. Doom. There is simply no place for a “just in case” when you consider that the AVE is not actually a self-sustaining power plant; it’s an addition to a power plant. The warm air the AVE needs would be cast off from already existing power stations, so the idea is to supply every power plant in the world with an Atmospheric Vortex Engine … including the nuclear ones.
Especially the nuclear ones.
And if you think the prospect of a nuclear tornado in every major city in the world doesn’t sound like an “end of the world” scenario to you … well, good for you, Batman. Put down the fucking book and go do something useful, like fight crime. Your giant, fearless balls are wasted here.
THE FUTURE OF SOLAR POWER
Solar power reaps the very rays of the mighty sun, but it does it too passively. You just lay out a panel and let it get warm. That’s boring and, unless you throw some tits and a bikini on said panel, pretty unsexy. Well, no longer! Thanks to space-based solar power systems—or, as their friends call them, Barely Controlled Orbital Death Rays—the future of solar power is as awesome as it is insane. Everything else about the SBSP is like duct-taping Awesome to the back of Badass and then deep-frying it all in some “Fuck Yeah.” SBSP refers to a satellite in permanent orbit that basically collects energy from the sun and then fires it back to Earth in the form of giant lasers from outer space.
“Giant Lasers from Outer Space” Sounds Like:
· A B-grade Japanese monster movie
· A folk-rock circus troupe
· A Talking Heads album
· A frightening prospect
The chief advantage of SBSP is that there’s no diurnal rotation to worry about—no alternating periods of day and night that effectively cut the energy-gathering time in half, because it’s always sunny in space. And that’s great! That’s just the kind of optimism you don’t often hear when referring to lasers fired from an irradiated, vacuous void. Way to think positive, SBSP!
An American company named Solaren says they have a plan for a fully functioning SBSP station with available technology, and they’re not the only ones: A private Indian corporation has thrown its hat into the ring, as has the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Any number of entities expect to have working prototypes circling the Earth in the near future, firing buckets of sweet, hot, lasery goodness into the mouths of naughty, subservient little power stations all across the globe. And while these stations will be strictly limited to remote locations like deserts and mountaintops at first (which is pretty much like saying “just in case” again), the SBSP companies do expect to expand the operations globally. The JAXA in particular sees a future where power needs would be accessed “along much the same lines as a cell phone call,” and you’d simply “put in a request” to have power harvested from the sun itself fired at your exact location from orbital lasers in outer space, thus enabling you to either jump-start your dead car battery or hold an entire city for ransom, depending on your needs and moral flexibility. So if you were concerned before about stuff like radiation from your cell phone, or living beneath power lines, you might want to start subscribing to Bunkers and Canned Food Monthly, because unfortunately, that homeless guy in front of the library was right: Soon we actually might all be softly microwaved from the inside out by Japanese space lasers.
But the JAXA’s microwave lasers aren’t even the scariest of the planned systems, and that’s why we’re mainlining some Solaren. As mentioned, Solaren is a California-based power company that hopes to launch solar panels into space. What was not mentioned previously is that these solar panels are more than a kilometer wide, and would ideally channel hundreds if not thousands of megawatts of energy once operational. The principal electric company of the state of California, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, in a sign of either optimism or proof that they’ve given in to space-based solar terrorist demands, has agreed to purchase all of this energy if Solaren does succeed. So Solaren already has a buyer; they just need to build the product, which they expect to have completed by 2016. All told, the entire system would annually generate up to 4.8 gigawatts of power in geosynchronous orbit, convert it to radio waves, and then fire it to a collecting station on the ground. Because the radio waves would be spread into a rather wide beam, the hope is that they wouldn’t be too dangerous to everything below them.
Situations Where the Word “Hope” Is Comforting
· Church services
Situations Where the Word “Hope” Is Not Comforting
· Describing the certainty you have that vast areas of U.S. soil will be immune to the lasers you are going to fire at them.
Oh, but that whole “harmless to everything below” thing is a far cry from Solaren’s initial goal: Absolute control over the weather for destructive purposes.
What? That came out of left field, didn’t it? Surely it can’t be true: Why would California be buying sci-fi power stations from a space weapons developer? It’s almost too crazy to believe, and if it weren’t California—home of the bad decision—you probably shouldn’t. But in this case it’s true. The inventors, Jim Rogers and Gary Spirnak, wrote in their patent application:
The present invention relates to space-based power systems and, more particularly, to altering weather elements, such as hurricanes or forming hurricanes, using energy generated by a space-based power system.
The theory is that by either heating up or diverting heat from a burgeoning hurricane, Solaren’s panels could either destroy or encourage the infant storm. If you heat certain parts of a tropical storm, thus lowering or raising the pressure differential between the upper and lower layers of a hurricane, it is possible to weaken, strengthen, or completely dispel it, depending on your purposes. Let’s repeat those points for emphasis: Kilometer-wide solar satellites firing lasers that destroy or create hurricanes.
That shit is being built right now, destined for the skies above California, and it will be operational by 2016.
And you promised to pay them, California. You know what happens to people who don’t pay their debts to shady loaners? They get their legs broken. Your loan shark has a hurricane laser, and everybody is well aware that you’re broke as hell.
This begs an interesting question: Can an entire state go into the Witness Protection Program?