Sunday, May 07, 2006

Valuing Elegance: Annoyances and Annualized Geo-Solar

This is perhaps the scariest thing that I have seen in recent memory: My Super Sweet 16” on cable network MTV. The reality show chronicles the 16th birthday parties of American teenagers. Even in the ‘80s, I’m not sure that people actually exclaimed “it’s supposed to be all about me!” the way one recent birthday-girl did on the show. This show, unwittingly but unerringly, documents the conspicuous-consumption attitude of today’s youth, facilitated by both pop-culture marketing and their credit-happy parents. One girl was actually picked up from her comparatively-dumpy suburban condo in a stretch Range Rover and dropped off at the red carpet to her $30,000 birthday party. We—and by that I mean humanity—are so screwed.

From my not-far-removed vantage point, this seems pretty pathetic. While conspicuous consumption may be de rigueur among the young and hip, it strikes me as falling short. If American youth—and their parents—really want to distinguish themselves, they should consider conspicuous simplicity. Elegance—not the elegance that has been spun by the media-marketing establishment, but the original notion of elegance: seemingly effortless beauty in form, proportion, or design. Along those lines, I’ve recently been captivated by the concept of Annualized Geo-Solar design.

Solar power is the root of most of our energy: it is captured by carbon-based plant life and available for our later use as firewood or ethanol or oil, it causes the wind to blow. It powers Photovoltaic Cells—high technology, low efficiency means of converting solar energy into electricity, and a notably poor example of elegance. PV is really more of a brute-technology approach. A much more elegant design use of solar energy is passive solar. I’ve long been an advocate of the superiority of passive solar over active (PV) solar—owing largely to its use of vernacular technology. PV creates a dependent power-relationship for the individual—not very elegant. But passive solar, despite its ability to effectively heat our homes, our water, cook our food, is not perfect. One issue is that many climates have cold and cloudy winters, so heating that depends on passive solar will also require a backup system. But thanks to the work of architect Don Stephens, the possibility of Annualized Geo Solar (AGS) is a tantalizing solution to these problems. Basically, the AGS approach stores heat in a huge bank of thermal mass under a house all summer long, and harvests that heat throughout the winter to maintain a comfortable 70 temperature year-round. Here's the basic concept:

Figure 1: Don Stephen's diagram of an AGS structure (see .pdf for details).

The design is brilliant: entirely passive, superior, utilizing only simple, vernacular technology, and adaptable to many different regimes of climate, materials, etc. It could even be inverted, using a passive solar chimney that I have outlined previously, to draw cold winter air to cool an insulated bank of earth under a house in, say, Phoenix, to provide lasting cooling all summer long. Overall, it is extremely elegant. Perhaps most importantly, it shows that achieving elegant simplicity really only requires looking for it: Stephens just wasn't satisfied with the techno-utopian approach of using PV to drive a heater, nor with the day-to-day passive solar heating systems, so he found something both better and simpler. I wonder what that kind of 16th birthday party would look like?


Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff --

Interesting... but do you know if any real world tests have been done on this design?

Just picking through my brain on the variosu things that I have read and been told (by actual users, etc) makes me seriously question the functionality of the design.

Just a few bits that immediately pop to mind... I've been looking into earth-sheltered homes, and it turns out that passive solar has not proven to be terribly effective with them. That the interior temperature, without added heat, tends to stabilize around 50 degrees. You know, cave temprrature. So then I was talking with a women that has a passive solar home (for twenty years, now, nice, huh? :-) ) and she talked about having only small thermal masses beneath each 'heating' window, because otherwise the heat becomes too diffuse to be effective.

Putting those together, it seems that the big picture is that the suns intensity level plus duration is not high enough to raise a truly large thermal mass signicantly. So yeah, a passive design like this would prevent it from being COLD (assuming high R-value), but not provide heat to temps that we are generally comfortabl with.

In the schematic, it looks like the thermal mass in use is simply the earth beneath the building? If so, then really, you are trying to utilize the mass of the entire planet, because there is no 'boundry' -- is that accurate?

Elegant, yes. But perhaps not when you consider effectiveness.


PS My latest thing is too look for ways to encorporate earth-sheltered with non-concrete building techniques, with small, immediate thermal masses for passive solar...

Jeff Vail said...

I think the AGS concept is actually pretty realistic. It has been implemented in a few existing homes:

Mica Peak home:
Liberty Lake home:

plus one home build by government grant under a similar PAHS system (can't find link at the moment). That said, your criticism is right on: this is largely theory. But I think that it's pretty sound theory.

I've personally seen several passive solar homes that keep the house between 60-70 degrees all winter, but sometimes dip into the 50s with several cloudy days in a row due to low thermal mass. It all depends on how well you mix amount of glazing, solar access, R-value, and thermal mass. If you use flat plate collectors or some other external direct-gain source, your solar gain (glazing x solar access) is theoretically unlimited, so it's just a design issue to provide enough BTUs to get your home to whatever heat you want. Keeping it there is another issue, when the sun isn't shining, and thus AGS. a typical passive solar solution, a 4" exposed concrete slab that warms up from direct solar gain during the day and then moderates heat loss over the night, is only adequate if there is a lot of solar gain each day and a high R-value to let the limited diffusion surface of the slab keep up with the heat loss through the walls and roof. AGS has two advantages: first, it has a lot more mass, so it can keep heating over several cloudy days in a row, and second, it is large enough to handle additional diffusion surface--in this case underground pipes that warm air that is then drawn into the home via a solar chimeny (that uses its own thermal mass to continue operation into the night). This fixes the primary problem with passive solar homes: in order to achieve balance between diffusion from thermal mass and heat loss, ventilation must be kept to a minimum. With AGS, ventilation is a key part of the heating scheme--healthy and warm.

The issue of dealing with the thermal mass of the whole planet: this isn't really a problem so much as it is a drag on efficiency. There are two approaches. First, you can insulate all around the mass, but this requires diggin a "basement" 20' deep under the whole house, insulating its walls and floor, and then filling it back in with earth. It allows almost all the thermal mass to radiate INTO the home, but it requires a much greater initial investment. Second is to only insulate with a horizontal waterproof skirt (as shown in graphic), which prevents "short-cut" heat loss to the surface and prevents rainwater from draining heat with it as it percolates. Much lower initial investment (less digging), but it means that only about half of the heat deposited in this mass will actually warm the home, the other half will go down and moderate with the mass of the earth. This is because heat travels quite slowly through such huge amounts of thermal mass, so it won't all just escape into the mass of the earth. It takes several months to several years for heat to diffuze over 10' - 20'. If the heat is deposited in summer just below a central patch of slab that is insulated from below (but the perimeter of the floor slab is not insulated), then it will diffuse down into the gound and about 6-months later re-radiate out of the perimeter of the slab.

Anyway, all very valid concerns--most of the problems with "passive solar" are, in my opinion, problems of design, not of concept. In places where passive solar has turned out to be "not terribly effective," it is probably a design problem. You just can't get around the fact that almost all climates have a virtually unlimited potential to capture solar gain, given enough collector. If you squander that energy gain, that's a design problem, not a fundamental flaw in the concept. Earth sheltering, for example, seems like a poor design for dealing with that gain: the earthen berms are high mass but low R-value. They DO end up sucking the heat out of the home and radiating it to the atmosphere, eventually equalizing at about the annual mean temperature (say 50 degrees). A better solution would be a high R-value walls and roof coupled with a high-mass floor bank (insulated from loss-to-earth as possible) that is then charged with an exterior (e.g. not the windows on the house) collector and drawn down with a solar chimney. That's AGS in a nutshell.

I don't see a problem with earth sheltering, but I don't think that earth-shelter equals very good earth-insulation or earth-thermal-mass. Now if you insulate those earthen berms from heat loss to the atmosphere, that might work, but that would be one step towards AGS.

AGS also takes away another design constraing of Passive Solar: south-facing orrientation. Most Passive Solar houses are longer on the East-West axis and shorter on the North-South axis, with lots of glazing on the South side for direct gain (which also creates glare problems). AGS doesn't require that shape or orrientation, which frees the architect to optimize for other factors: internal access to a single water-wall or a square shape that optimizes the ratio of interior area to wall length (cost and materials required...).

My personal preference at the moment is straw-bale with simple truss-arch roofing (with very high R-value insulation) combined with some AGS elements, some exterior collectors, and all driven by a solar chimney. I think solar chimneys are fascinatingly elegant features--they can draw heated air out of deep thermal mass, they can ventilate a home, they can cool it in summer, they can ventilate a mouldering toilet, they can even assist with initial chimney draw for a wood stove or rocket stove to increase efficiency...

Anonymous said...

Hey --

Interesting. I only just now spotted the pdf link so I'm gonna have to read up on this in greater detail.



JCamasto said...

Local ground temperatures and climate are key to figuring out your specific heating and/or cooling needs, and thus appropriate thermal mass, glazing, insulation, and "% coupling" with the earth.

(then with local materials... with simple building techniques/technologies... sustainable yada yada... I'm stealin' PV off the roadway signals if I hafta...!)

gene said...

In my part of Central NY, a number of friends have built houses - since the 1970s oil shocks - with an insulated mass of sand or stone in the cellar. One small fan draws down the warm air from the high point of the house year round. The air is circulated through the mass in the cellar and returns to the house through registers. Works very well. I was in one of the houses a few years ago on a day in December when it was 10 degrees F outside and, indoors, everyone was in t-shirts. No fire in the stove although they had burned a couple of sticks early in the day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

For an example of what is possible have a look at this campus near where I live... designed from the outset (mostly) with low environmental impact concepts in mind.

Please note this is the Southern Hemisphere so the building aspect is to the North.

I don't see it clearly stated but some of the site has zero flush (ie composting toilets) - part of an effort to promote water saving technology in Australia. They appear to work fine... so long as you put the recommended 'dose' of wood shaving (or other carbon source) in.

So you know, summer can reach 40C+ and winter nights down to about 0C (maybe a bit below). The summer here can see extended periods (nearly up to a month) of above 30 - 35 max temps.

Anonymous said...

This is hardly a new concept. The Underground Space Association, in Minnesota, wrote "the book" on geothermal energy transfer in 1981. I myself will break ground in 2007 on my earth-sheltered abode, designed to fully utilize the "Thermal Flywheel Effect", a variation on the concept detailed here. I am confident that once finished, my 2,500 square foot home will require neither heating nor cooling input to maintain an interior temp of 70 degrees F. Peace-n-Love, ~David.

Syn Diesel said...

"It powers Photovoltaic Cells—high technology, low efficiency means of converting solar energy into electricity, and a notably poor example of elegance."

Not elegant? Sorta like this?

Sometimes the neo-primitive attitudes and neuroses of this community are just too much.

Jeff Vail said...

The "H2-PV Breeder" concept is an excelent example of inelegance. Not to mention fantasy land. The suggestion that PV can produce more energy than went into its manufacture is preposterous--it has never been demonstrated, and contradicts all existing EROEI analysis. Go to that website and see if you can find anywhere an anaysis of the embodied energy in the raw materials (mine operations, mine equipment, transportation from mines, peopl at mines), the manufacturing machinery (energy to manufacture the machines, energy to manufacture the machines to make the machines, raw materials, transport, etc.). Not there--because it pokes a rather large hole in their argument. Definitely not elegant.

The real neuroses here is the inability to move beyond the belief that somehow technology will save us from geological reality. But good luck with that project...

JCamasto said...

My bias: I consider the photovoltaic effect quite an elegant solution to producing electricity. A slab of silicon, a bit of doping, some wiring and photons and you're making direct current with no moving parts (like a generator)... I'm pretty confident we could make PV modules with fairly primitive techniques, if we bent our minds to it.

Regarding total embodied energy, ERORI, and the like - I'm not nearly as pessimistic as Jeff. I agree, I haven't found any life cycle studies that include EVERYTHING (nor have I looked very hard), but here's a oft-cited study that considers manufacturing and construction (and manufacturing the machines to manufacture), embodied energy of the silicon, aluminum, copper, etc. (if burned directly as fuel), transport, installation hardware, decommissioning, reclamation, etc. My only gripe is the mining component - I believe they start with/assume scrap stock from other industry...

Anyway, typical analysis I've seen indicate embodied energy payback (depending on a variety of conditions, applications or technoligies) of ~3-15 years, with recent estimates of frameless techniques ~1-4 years. Considering module life typically estimated at 30 years, that leaves a lot of room to cover mining energy that may not be included...

Syn Diesel said...

"The suggestion that PV can produce more energy than went into its manufacture is preposterous--it has never been demonstrated, and contradicts all existing EROEI analysis."

... paid for by the Oil and Nuclear Industry. All the EROEI information one needs is contained in the input prices compared with the value of the output of the Total System. The cost of a kg of metallurgical grade silicon - made from monopoly-resistant, ubiquitous sand - contains all those scary "machines that make the machines" input costs at ever reducing per-unit fractions. Payback in measured in months, not years, and solid state PV lasts indefinitely with minor repair cycle inputs. EROEI of 20 is a low-end. Before you Liberal Arts-types turned Arrested-Development Collectivists straight outta Ayn Rand's Anthem give too much credence to the NWO CIA-backed anti-alternative economic mind control propaganda you might remind yourselves that PV isn't energy; it's the engine. The fuel that contains the energy is delivered free for free everyday right where it's needed by real people.

Good luck Blogging on the energy from a toasty-warm rock.

Jeff Vail said...

I agree completely that "All the EROEI information one needs is contained in the input prices compared with the value of the output of the Total System." But rather than just throwing that out there and assuming that it supports your point, let's actually do the analysis (which is what us Bachelor of Science types do). Turns out it proves you wrong:

Take a look at Kyocera's top-of-the-line 120watt PV panel:

It costs $685, but just to be really, really lenient, let's cut that to $300 (WELL below wholesale).

That cost includes the market's estimation of the total energy embodied in the product--to include the energy of the raw materials extraction, the transportation energy, the energy to support the humans involved in the chain all the way along, etc.

Now a 120W panel will, over a very GENEROUS 2000 hours of maximum solar power through the year, provide about 240,000W-hours, or 240kilowatt hours of electricity.

Nationwide, electicity averages $0.04/kilowatt hour (KWH). So that PV panel's whopping 240 KWHs has a market value of $9.60. That means that it will take 31 years to produce enough electricity to pay for itself, and that is NOT including the time value of money, nor the cost of any of the battery, converter, etc. required to make such a system work. Batteries alone--which are far less long-lived than PV--will double this payback time. And this is with very generous assumptions--in reality, the situation is probably 2-4 times worse.

So what does this mean? By your own suggestion to use price as an EROEI indicator, solar PV has an EROEI of somewhere between 0.25 and 0.5. Not very impressive.

Now, is there a role for PV in our future? Certainly--those applications that require ELECTICITY to function, mainly communication related, will continue to work off of some kind of PV/Wind/Hydro composite. But beyond a cell phone and a laptop (both low-powered DC appliances), electricity is a very poor format for energy. Other sources are far better at providing the real energy needs of our society: heat, propulsion, etc.

JCamasto said...

Yeah, today's $RO$I sucks. But we were talking about Energy, trying to account for externalized costs not represented in today's free market.


Anyway, low powered DC current is good for lots more than just cell phones and laptops. Pumps & motors alone offer innumerous applications and variations of scale and complexity. Also consider lighting, re-charging energy storage (electrical, mechanical, thermal), ignition, direct heating, compressors, etc.


PV is part of the energy puzzle in front of us, not the whole picture. (Certainly not at today's magnitude...)

Syn Diesel said...

Mr Vail, your quoting current market prices within the Empire Free Trade Zone makes about as much sense as quoting EROEI numbers based on fossil fuel inputs. All that is important is how much energy - and emergy (emergent energy - not just electrical energy but chemical, thermal, pneumatic and time-spatial energy) - will a given area of PV system produce over a given timespan. It will soon be cheaper to make a watt-per-kg capacity of PV and other solid state electronics than it is to make a watt-per-kg of heat engine machine. And without the unending need to drill, pump, plant, harvest and refine and deliver the fuel that make fuel-driven engines work. If the output (useful work) of PV is only slighty net positive, then it is sustainable, and will garuntee a level of wealth to Humans till the next planet killer asteroid hits. If it is only slightly net positive then a growth curve will allow Humans to exploit opportunities accordingly.

The output of a hectare of PV collector area most certainly generates more than enough work energy to replicate the hectare of PV material in well under 30 years.

More like under a year. Once the first hectare is established you have the choice to sell the DC output or generate value-added materials for export... materials which will generate even more DC output. Ignore fossil fuels and "money" for just a minute Jeff. What can you do with 6 Megawatts per Nevada or Sahara hectare per day? People can't make oil magically appear under their land, but they can, almost miraculously, make energy - useful work - appear from the warmth of God's Light. Miracles are miraculous precisely becuase they happen in the mundane physical world, made to happen by the logical choices of Humans that see the patterns of life. Keep up your pessimistic ways and risk being shunned as a part of the problem Jeff.

ps Jeff, time value of "money?" How about the value of that same 4 cent kWh 30 years from now?

And you still have the writing style of a Liberal Arts major.

Syn Diesel said...

And may I ask if you even read the proposal for PV Breeders that I had linked to? A Bachelor of Science type could certainly be useful these days, assuming they used proper methods before blogging their opinions.

Jeff Vail said...


For someone who claims the intellectual high-ground of "science," and disparages the "liberal arts types" (who, by the way, tend to be more adept at spotting logical fallacies), you rely on some interesting tecnique:

1: You have yet to back up your claims with any numbers--even theoretical numbers, even though you surely understand that science demands the prodution of real-world results (which you also don't provide). For example, in response to the EROEI of PV, you state:

"The output of a hectare of PV collector area most certainly generates more than enough work energy to replicate the hectare of PV material in well under 30 years."

"Most certainly," because I said so, sounds like the a real winner of a scientific argument. What university granted you a B.S.? I don't think they're very proud of it right about now...

Then you tell me that it's "[m]ore like under a year" to pay back the energy needed to produce the PV. Again, no support, just an assertion that you then use as the basis for the rest of your argument.

Here's another example. You said:
"It will soon be cheaper to make a watt-per-kg capacity of PV and other solid state electronics than it is to make a watt-per-kg of heat engine machine." But no support for this bold assertion--are we just supposed to trust you? The link that you provided earlier certainly doesn't provide any support for this. It has lots of nifty molecular symbology without really saying anything. So your vaunted argument rests on a series of unsupported assertions that we are just supposed to accept on faith? I could go to church if I was looking for that kind of reasoning. Watch carefully--I will now thoroughly debunk your entire argument using the very logic you have boldly pioneered on this very comment thread:

You're wrong, because I said so.

If that's your idea of a sound, scientific argument, then you can keep it. Go invest your time and money in PV--more power to you.

Now, if you actually have SOME factual basis for your claims, then please, share with us.

Big Gav said...

Jeff - while I'm loathe to disagree with you (especially given the arguing tactics of your opponent on this), but I think PV panels do have a positive EROEI.

There is quite a detailed study in here looking at the issue:

(courtesy of Sherry Mayo from ASPO Australia)

Syn Diesel said...

Boy, I'm getting you all worked up, aint I Jeff? You wouldn't happen to be emotionally invested in your arrested-development central-planning-for-peak theories? :Op

Here's a nearly 30 year old abstract of a EROEI study by the original breeder concept originators. The previous link had plenty of modern numbers related to reduction, refinement and crystallization of silicon - sand - for use in solar pv. You're the one that started all this Jeff - a self-described scientist (notice I don't make any claims to authority) - and never provided any numbers to explain why Humans shouldn't invest in PV Tech when it's the most efficient and ELEGANT way to harvest solar energy which is the ONLY form of energy we will be able to use 100 years from now.

So far 3 links have been posted which show payback times at most in the 5 year range. But you think solar passive is the best idea for Humans. - crystallization inputs - sourcing inputs - free energy delivered free daily

Jeff Vail said...

Not worked up, Syn, more amused. I never claim to be a scientist, though I do have a B.S. I don't have any problem with investment in PV technology--in fact, I hope that it proves to be a viable part of the eventual solution. I'm just skeptical--and while it does seem to be a potentially elegant solution to the generation of electricity under certain circumstances, it is the desire to produce an electrical generation capability sufficient to meet our current, inelegant use of electricity (in so many situations where electricity is non-optimal: heating, cooling, etc.) that strikes me as problematic. Even if we accept that PV payback time is less than 5 years, I still think that passive solar is a superior solution for three reasons:

1. Passive solar is vernacular technology, and doesn't create a dependent power-relationship with a technology provider, as PV does.

2. Passive solar still provides an EROEI that is less than current sources of energy--readily demonstrable by the fact that the market is not investing in solar in any significant way. If solar could out-perform a coal-fired or natural-gas genrator then we would have lots of solar plants all over the SouthWest. We don't--the total generation from PV is insignificant, and would be virtually non-existant without various tax-credits and incentives.

3. An EROEI of greater than 1 isn't the requirement. Read Joseph A. Tainter's "Collapse of Complex Societies." Civilization is in a battle to the death with the problem of diminishing marginal returns--and any energy source with an EROEI of less than the easy crude oil that we've enjoyed for the past 50 years will only complicate that problem of diminishing marginal returns. As Tainter convincingly argues, when diminishing marginal returns turn into diminishing aggregate returns, then any civilization that is predicated on an assumption of continual growth (as ours certainly is) will collapse. And after collapse, the economic coordination required to make the EROEI of PV greater than 1 goes away... leaving us with passive solar.

Big Gav: the study you posted was the best that I've seen for a full discussion of PV-payback--thanks. While I'm still skeptical (owing mainly to lack of market endorsement) of PV, it certainly seems possible that PV is already at an EROEI of greater than 1 with manageable payback times--and it seems almost certain that, until a collapse, these numbers will keep improving. The root cause of my concern (as mentioned in my 3 points above) is that absolute positive numbers won't prevent a collapse--only numbers that are relatively greater than today's sources. In a post-collapse economy (meaning far less efficiency of coordinated production activity), I think that virtually all "modern" energy sources will have an EROEI of less than 1--PV, wind, ethanol, biodiesel, etc. That doesn't mean that they won't still be invaluable because of the unique nature of the energy that they can respectively provide. I just see their useage as becoming very tailored to those areas where the specific attributes of an energy format are required (such as liquid fuels for transportation, or electricity for communications). I could be way off base here, but I don't see any of the current "alternatives" overcoming the diminishing marginal returns hurdle--and if we can't do that, then a Star-Trek utopia is just not in the cards... really the only power source that I think can provide a temporary reprieve from the diminishing marginal return problem is Fusion, and while I concede that it is possible, I'm not holding my breath...

Syn Diesel said...

"potentially elegant solution"

You lose! I win! Read some Rand Jeffy.

Ayn Rand's Monadnock

The following quote is Rand's description of Howard Roark's Monadnock Valley development in The Fountainhead (which I think was modelled after Frank Lloyd Wright's Como Orchards Summer Colony in Darby, Montana).

The leaves streamed down, trembling in the sun. They were not green; only a few, scattered through the torrent, stood out in single drops of a green so bright and pure that it hurt the eyes; the rest were not a color, but a light, the substance of fire on metal, living sparks without edges. And it looked as if the forest were a spread of light boiling slowly to produce this color, this green rising in small bubbles, the condensed essence of spring. The trees met, bending over the road, and the spots of sun on the ground moved with the shifting of the branches, like a conscious caress. The young man hoped he would not have to die.

Not if the earth could look like this, he thought. Not if he could hear the hope and promise like a voice, with leaves, tree trunks and rocks instead of words. But he knew that the earth looked like this only because he had seen no sign of men for hours; he was alone, riding his bicycle down a forgotten trail through the hills of Pennsylvania where he had never been before, where he could feel the fresh wonder of an untouched world.

He was a very young man. He had just graduated from college — in this spring of the year 1935 — and he wanted to decide whether life was worth living. He did not know that this was the question in his mind. He did not think of dying. He thought only that he wished to find joy and reason and meaning in life — and that none had been offered to him anywhere.

He had not liked the things taught to him in college. He had been taught a great deal about social responsibility, about a life of service and self-sacrifice. Everybody had said it was beautiful and inspiring. Only he had not felt inspired. He had felt nothing at all.

He could not name the thing he wanted of life. He felt it here, in this wild loneliness. But he did not face nature with the joy of a healthy animal — as a proper and final setting; he faced it with the joy of a healthy man — as a challenge; as tools, means and material. So he felt anger that he should find exultation only in the wilderness, that this great sense of hope had to be lost when he would return to men and men's work. He thought that this was not right; that man's work should be a higher step, an improvement on nature, not a degradation. He did not want to despise men; he wanted to love and admire them. But he dreaded the sight of the first house, poolroom and movie poster he would encounter on his way.

He had always wanted to write music, and he could give no other identity to the thing he sought. If you want to know what it is, he told himself, listen to the first phrases of Tchaikovsky's First Concerto — or the last movement of Rachmaninoff's Second. Men have not found the words for it nor the deed nor the thought, but they have found the music. Let me see that in one single act of man on earth. Let me see it made real. Let me see the answer to the promise of that music. Not servants nor those served; not altars and immolations; but the final, the fulfilled, innocent of pain. Don't help me or serve me, but let me see it once, because I need it. Don't work for my happiness, my brothers — show me yours — show me that it is possible — show me your achievement — and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.

He saw a blue hole ahead, where the road ended on the crest of a ridge. The blue looked cool and clean like a film of water stretched in the frame of green branches. It would be funny, he thought, if I came to the edge and found nothing but that blue beyond; nothing but the sky ahead, above and below. He closed his eyes and went on, suspending the possible for a moment, granting himself a dream, a few instants of believing that he would reach the crest, open his eyes and see the blue radiance of sky below.

His foot touched the ground, breaking his motion; he stopped and opened his eyes. He stood still.

In the broad valley, far below him, in the first sunlight of early morning, he saw a town. Only it was not a town. Towns did not look like that. He had to suspend the possible for a while longer, to seek no questions or explanations, only to look.

There were small houses on the ledges of the hill before him, flowing down to the bottom. He knew that the ledges had not been touched, that no artifice had altered the unplanned beauty of the graded steps. Yet some power had known how to build on these ledges in such a way that the houses became inevitable, and one could no longer imagine the hills as beautiful without them — as if the centuries and the series of chances that produced these ledges in the struggle of great blind forces had waited for their final expression, had been only a road to a goal — and the goal was these buildings, part of the hills, shaped by the hills, yet ruling them by giving them meaning.

The houses were plain field stone — like the rocks jutting from the green hillsides — and of glass, great sheets of glass used as if the sun were invited to complete the structures, sunlight becoming part of the masonry. There were many houses, they were small, they were cut off from one another, and no two of them were alike. But they were like the variations on a single theme, like a symphony played by an inexhaustible imagination, and one could still hear the laughter of the force that had been let loose on them, as if that force had run, unrestrained, challenging itself to be spent, but had never reached its end. Music, he thought, the promise of the music he had invoked, the sense of it made real — there it was before his eyes — he did not see it — he heard it in chords — he thought that there was a common language of thought, sight and sound — was it mathematics? — the discipline of reason — music was mathematics — and architecture was music in stone — he knew he was dizzy because this place below him could not be real.

He saw trees, lawns, walks twisting up the hillsides, steps cut in stone, he saw fountains, swimming pools, tennis courts — and not a sign of life. The place was uninhabited.

It did not shock him, not as the sight of it had shocked him. In a way, it seemed proper; this was not part of known existence. For the moment he had no desire to know what it was.

After a long time he glanced about him — and then he saw that he was not alone. Some steps away from him a man sat on a boulder, looking down at the valley. The man seemed absorbed in the sight and had not heard his approach. The man was tall and gaunt and had orange hair.

He walked straight to the man, who turned his eyes to him; the eyes were gray and calm; the boy knew suddenly that they felt the same thing, and he could speak as he would not speak to a stranger anywhere else.

"That isn't real, is it?" the boy asked, pointing down.

"Why, yes, it is, now," the man answered.

"It's not a movie set or a trick of some kind?"

"No. It's a summer resort. It's just been completed. It will be opened in a few weeks."

"Who built it?"

"I did."

"What's your name?"

"Howard Roark."

"Thank you," said the boy. He knew that the steady eyes looking at him understood everything these two words had to cover. Howard Roark inclined his head, in acknowledgement.

Wheeling his bicycle by his side, the boy took the narrow path down the slope of the hill to the valley and the houses below. Roark looked after him. He had never seen that boy before and he would never see him again. He did not know that he had given someone the courage to face a lifetime.

— Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Sorry, needed to share.

Syn Diesel said...

"Civilization is in a battle to the death with the problem of diminishing marginal returns--and any energy source with an EROEI of less than the easy crude oil that we've enjoyed for the past 50 years will only complicate that problem of diminishing marginal returns."

Civilization is in a battle with the concept of Love.

We don't care. Taylor Hicks sings regardless. :)

Anonymous said...

I live in an area where HEAT is not an issue, at least we don't really worry about heating our homes in the winter.

So for AGS to be real, it needs to show BOTH how to heat a home in winter, AND how to cool and dehumidify a home in Summer. Where I live HDD is 1263 and CH is 2803. On the SAME DAY, I can and frequently do run the heater at night and the AC in the afternoon!!!! Houston TX

Anonymous said...

The price of sand is cheap. $20-$30 per cubic yard, which is 1.5 tons in weight.

The cost of used beer cans is $2.35 a kilogram, with assured availability in most areas -- plenty of communities are uneconomically distant from recycling consumers, so 75% of all aluminum cans goes to the dump.

Combine the PROVEN public-domain technology of expired patents # 4457903 & # 4588571.

The cost for sand, dead aluminum, and electric furnace power is $0.06 (6 cents)/watt to go from raw sand to cast ingots -- the prorata costs of furnaces, labor, equipments, taxes, insurance and the pricce may be $0.30 (30 cents)/watt.

There are 12 watts per square foot of 13% efficient PV. A 2,000 square foot home will generate (2000 x 12) 24 kilowatts per peak hour, 144 kWhs per day or better in parts of the eight southwest sunbelt states, less elsewhere. It would cost $7,200 for the blue roof of the silicon PV portion of the home. PV rooftops make a durable fireproof covering on homes, good for 20 or 30 years at least.

Retail cost for electricity is $0.12 per kWh on my bill. One day's power from the rooftop has a value of $17.28, per month = $525.60 and times 365 days equals $6,307.20.

There's power to spare to sell some to the grid. The system payback costs look like under two years and then free electricity for the next 18 years -- not a bad deal in my world. Over 20 years it produces power currently valued at $126,144.

Your mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff,

Great article. The comments at the beginning were very on point, then the thread went way off topic. Perhaps you can edit this and move the other discussion to another page.

Keep up the good work. Let's get more research on Annualized Geo-Solar.


v said...

Global warming is the biggest problem faced by all living things.
There is much talk about carbondioxide but not about gaseous water moleules in the atmospheric air.
Gaseous water molecule absorbs more energy both from incoming solar energy and outgoing radiation from earth's surface when compared to carbondioxide.
Water molecules are huge in numbers(atleast 13000 billion tons) when compared to carbondioxide molecules(only a few hundred tons) in the air.
Also whenever hydrocarbon molecules are burnt more water molecules are given out than carbondioxide.
These gaseous water molecules become liquid water molecules ONLY WHEN THEY GIVE OFF THEIR ENERGY to the surroundings/sky.

Promotion of white surfaces on a massive scale (roofs,cars & other surfaces) can tackle the global warming problem most effectively.
Incoming solar energy, reflected from flat white surfaces have better chance of leaving earth EVEN IN THE PRESENCE OF GREEN HOUSE GASES LIKE WATER VAPOR & CARBONDIOXIDE.
In hot countries, it will mean huge energy savings resulting in reduced carbon emissions.Evaporation loss of water will be reduced.
In cold countries it may not make much problem (snow covered roof is already a white surface).
Local climate will be altered as the cooling and heating cycle of the region is altered.
Cooler temperatures reduce the amount of gaseous water molecules in the surrounding areas which helps to reduce the greenhouse effect.

3% of land area of the world is said to be occupied by humanbeings. If we promote white surfaces on a massive scale we can make a very very big difference in the fight against global warming.

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