Saturday, May 17, 2008

Weather as a power source?

So, the wind's blowing like hell around my neighborhood this evening, and as I was closing some windows around the house, I thought to myself, Man, am I ever glad that we don't have tornadoes around here. It's tragic how they rip through a town and tear apart peoples' homes. I can't even imagine how awful it would be to have everything I own -- and the lives of loved ones put in jeopardy -- by something lunging out of the sky with virtually no notice.

People wonder why tornadoes seem to prefer trailer parks, never realizing that land that's proven to be so dangerous tends to drop in value until it's the only thing people living in trailers can afford. I realize that tornadoes can't be predicted with any certainty -- and surely there much more about them that we don't know, than we do. But an area of the United States has long been nicknamed "Tornado Alley." I wonder, with our global energy crunch tightening by the day, squeezing us all, why we don't build some kind of massive generator, or whatever, that could harness the lethal energy of tornadoes. Or hurricanes. Could we not build a couple of power plants equipped to harness the insane power of one of these monsters?

We're surrounded by almost otherworldly power sources. I've heard that flashes of lightning are either hotter or brighter than the sun, I can't remember which of those. I have no idea how a scientist would determine that, but if it's even close to being true, what interesting potential that could have as a power source. Again, it's inconstant as hell, utterly unpredictable, but surely some large aluminum towers could be erected in areas of the country most prone to lightning strikes and the energy of these strikes converted into power (and the United States is the world capital of lightning strikes according to meteorologists). How interesting it would be that my computer could be powered by lightning, rather than shitcanned by a lightning induced power surge during a storm.

Or waves. My family has home movie footage of me as a one year old sitting on the sandy beach out front of a friend's house, trying to catch the small waves of Lake St. Clair as they rolled in. Every time I've been near a body of water of any size, I'm continually amazed by the unstopping metronome regularity of the waves. Is there no way to harness this very regular, predictable, unending source of water movement?

I'm sure all sorts of people have thought of these things, and maybe each idea is laughable. But I can't think of anything more inexcusably laughable than continuing down the road we're on -- burning oil and coal for most of our fuel, with nuclear power waiting in the wings like a plutonium-faced Oz monster, just waiting until we're all desperate enough to say, "Throw the switch! Who cares!" I think we're closer to that than we'd like to believe.

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