A New Source of Energy Production From an Old Idea

“This is a radical innovation in the field of ecologically clean generation of energy.”
—Prof. Hugo Tschirky, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich

Nicola Tesla came up with the idea, but it’s taken a century to put it into motion. The principle is quite simple: take a hose with warmer water and a hose with colder water, plug them into this system of magnets and you’ve got energy production. How does it do it? By activating magnetic force and converting it into rotation energy which can fuel a generator.

Dr. Nicolaus Vida, an ophthalmologist and inventor has founded Swiss Blue Energy where they’re turning Tesla’s concept into reality. Their power units generate energy instantly by feeding water at two different temperatures, both below 100 degrees, which is considered low heat. The same warm water can be used several times, fed like a cascade into several different power units and then collected after each flow. If you start with water of nearly 100 degrees, that same water can be used up to 25 times producing energy the entire time.

So where does the heat for the water come from? Industrial and power plant waste heat as well as solar- and geothermal heat of low temperatures present the greatest renewable energy sources on the planet. As Markus Birchmeier, President of the Economic Forum Zurzibiet and CEO of Birchmeier Constructions in Döttingen put it:

I am convinced by this impressively simple, robust and highly-reliable system. Low temperature heat is a very large, but yet hardly used source of energy. Aargau in Switzerland and our Zurzibiet is a well-known energy region in Switzerland, i.e. the right place for the realization of this extraordinary new technology, and hopefully Swiss Blue Energy will create a lot of new jobs in our area.

Swiss Blue Energy can be used as a simple mobile system wherever a warmer and a 20 degree cooler source of water are provided, and that means pretty much anywhere on Earth. It’s anticipated that in 2019 the first containers with different capacities will be delivered, ranging from 200 kilowatts up to one megawatt.

Here’s a brief video to give you a better idea of just how water temperatures and magnetic force work together to generate energy.

We Had a Green Christmas, How About You?

After two nasty winters in a row over my part of the world (curse you polar vortex!), this year we get to experience warmer temperatures just like the vast majority of the planet. Turns out we had a Green Christmas, and so did the rest of the eastern half of North America. In the US alone, several states broke records:

  • 86 degrees in Tampa, Florida
  • 83 degrees in Houston, Texas
  • 67 degrees in Boston, Massachusetts
  • 68 degrees in Burlington, Vermont
  • 66 degrees in New York City

Nobody should be surprised because 2015 will be the hottest year we’ve ever documented. Everybody is experiencing weather that’s more like spring than winter. According to the Weather Channel:

According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), at least 2,693 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 23 days of December. An additional 3,912 record-warm daily low temperatures have been set during the same time period. By comparison, just 147 daily record lows and 140 additional record cool highs were set in the same time frame.

This on the heels of a record-breaking month as NOAA recently announced that November 2015 was the hottest November ever recorded at 0.97 degrees Celsius, or 1.75 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. That means that November is the seventh consecutive month where a monthly global temperature record has been broken.

And as you may already know, the Arctic is more sensitive to global warming than the most of the planet; parts of the Arctic and Siberian permafrost were a whopping 10.2 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual. And that’s bad news because permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. As it thaws, carbon is released either as carbon dioxide or methane, and that’s only going to contribute to even more global warming, a dangerous positive feedback loop.

Some people want to blame this all on the particularly strong El Niño e’re experiencing, but a recent analysis by Climate Central found that our emissions have been a far bigger player in global warming than natural factors like an El Niño.

So like it or not, we’ve made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Someday people will wonder what it was ever like to have a white Christmas.


How Has Santa Been Affected by Climate Change?

I recently had the chance to have a brief chat with Santa Claus at my local mall. (I realize that most mall Santas are actually Santa’s helpers and not the real one, but not in my mall. This guy is the real thing! He stays at Santa’s Village in Bracebridge in the off-season.) I asked him how climate change was affecting everyone at the North Pole. How were he and Mrs. Claus coping? What impact was it having on the reindeer? Or the elves?

His responses were blunt and to the point. He pointed out that the melting ice cap was definitely affecting the workshop, and that they’re looking at moving sometime in the next few decades. In Santa’s words:

We can’t have the ice cap melt away completely because our workshop doesn’t float. My magic only goes so far. You think Miami real estate is in trouble? Scientists are telling me our home will likely sink to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean before the end of this century.

I asked him where he thought he could relocate. He’s been giving some consideration to Antarctica because everyone is already used to the cold, but thought maybe they should take the opportunity to reinvent themselves completely.

Maybe we should move to the Sahara Desert. It’s only getting bigger so there’s no fear the desert will ever disappear. Perhaps instead of a sleigh and reindeer, I’ll use a dune buggy and camels!

As he said that, he winked and laid a finger aside of his nose, so I thought he might be joking. But he pointed out the elves are already getting used to the warmer climate but they don’t like the slush they have to trudge through as the surface ice melts. Their toboggan test track has flooded most years in recent memory, and the reindeer have had to learn how to swim.

I asked Santa what he was doing to try to combat climate change. He mentioned he’s been an environmentalist far longer than most people realize. Through a combination of solar (six months out of the year), wind, excellent battery storage, and a little elven magic, there are no fossil fuels used to heat the workshop. And since the reindeer are his only means of transportation, that means there are no fossil fuel emissions there either. (He did point out that Blitzen’s been known to release more than his fear share of emissions all on his own, but that has nothing to do with transportation. Turns out Santa purchases carbon offsets to cover that little issue, too!)

I encouraged Santa to join me and get the message out. He said he’s already been doing that, but he thinks it’s falling on deaf ears.

For years I was giving the Koch brothers lumps of coal in their stockings, but it turns out they considered them to be gifts and were happy about it.

For so many years politicians have been ignoring climate change and Santa’s naughty list was getting longer. But he pointed out that because of this year’s relative success at COP 21 in Paris, he would be making more trips to politicians’ houses this year than he has in a long time. (He even said he was going to be visiting the Canadian Prime Minister!)

Maybe my words aren’t so important but hopefully Saint Nick’s will have some impact. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope that Santa doesn’t put you on the naughty list.

Al Gore in 1983: Could Be Today

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the old saying goes. On an episode form the classic science program NOVA entitled “Climate Crisis” that was broadcast in 1983, then-Senator Al Gore explained the science behind human-induced climate change. As he put it:

I don’t know if our civilization has ever confronted a problem quite like this. This problem has reached a new level of development. A scientific consensus has emerged and now the debate is over when the first effects will actually be felt.

Decades letter, this same words are just as appropriate, so it’s amazing how there can still be so much resistance from a handful of skeptics and deniers. Progress has been achieved to be sure, but there is still much more work to be done.

Climate Change Affects Us Now

“The future trend will be hotter, longer, and more severe and ultimately more costly fire seasons.”
—US Department of Agriculture communications director Matt Herrick

Too often people are able to easily dismiss the threats of global warming and climate change because it seems like all of the problems are things that won’t happen for decades to come. By then our smarter grandchildren will have come up with the solutions to how best to deal with sea level rise, an acidifying ocean, and expanding disease vectors because tropical regions will be expanding.

But the effects are truly tangible right now, particularly when it comes to extreme weather. Let’s just look at wildfires alone. This year’s US wildfire season was the worst ever on record: 9.8 million acres which is the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined were consumed. So not surprisingly, it was also the costliest wildfire season ever with a price tag of $1.71 billion that the US Forest Service has to contend with. The previous record was $1.67 billion back in 2002.

Why was this season so bad? It’s not just the hotter weather but the longer season as well. For example, wildfires in California started as early as February and some in the western US continue to burn today.

High temperatures and dry conditions are the simple formula for wildfires, and given that both were extreme this year, it’s easy to see why this year’s wildfires were so volatile and so quick to burn. Here are just a couple of the highlights:

  • Alaska broke its record with over 5.1 million acres burned
  • Washington saw its largest fire in the state’s history, burning more than 400 square miles with one wildfire that lasted months, unusual for the normally wet and temperate state

More than half of the US Forest Service’s budget was dedicated to fire this year, the first time that has ever happened. That means there are less funds for programs like forest management which are helpful to reduce the risk of fires.

A report from the US Forest Service this past August put it this way:

Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970. The U.S. burns twice as many acres as three decades ago and Forest Service scientists believe the acreage burned may double again by mid-century. Increasing development in fire-prone areas also puts more stress on the Forest Service’s suppression efforts.

Within the next decade the report anticipates costs of fighting wildfires will surpass $1.8 billion. Although Congress has voted to increase funding to the Forest Service for now, Robert Bonnie who oversees the Forest Service budget referred to the increase as a “band-aid,” emphasizing that the Forest Service needs a long-term solution, not simply a one-year increase in funds.

Clearly global warming and climate change are affecting us now. And you and I both know what needs to be done to make a difference in order to minimize the damage. There’s no time like the present.