Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Thursday, November 22, 2012
To begin, photovoltaics (or solar technology - PV) is the wave of the future. This is nearly indisputable. I say this with confidence firstly because I have been cataloging PV advancement for over 3 years, in concert with biotechnology, nanotechnology and optics publications.
Ray Kurzweil, the prominent inventor, writer, and futurist, proposes the Law of Accelerating Returns, which simply states that complex systems which are governed by the flow of information evolve exponentially. This law applies to the full range of the universe's properties, from the Big Bang's physical laws to the Cambrian explosion of biological diversity, to Moore's Law (doubling of computer power.) For more details, visit KurzweilAI.net. The (LAR - law of accerating returns) applies to several technologies which are involved in PV research, including but not limited to optics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and theoretical physics.
So, the basics are this: Take the output of oil and natural gas, combined with incremental efficiency increases and compare it to future projected solar power efficiency based on the LAR. When we reach a point where solar power overtakes the traditional power methods of the grid, it is called "grid parity." There are already several places which have surpassed grid parity, as described in a publication out of Queen's University, Canada, writing:
"Grid parity is considered when the LCOE of solar PV is comparable with grid electrical prices of conventional technologies and is the industry target for cost-effectiveness. Given the state of the art in the technology and favorable financing terms it is clear that PV has already obtained grid parity in specific locations and as installed costs continue to decline, grid electricity prices continue to escalate, and industry experience increases, PV will become an increasingly economically advantageous source of electricity over expanding geographical regions."
Grid parity has been achieved in a number of locations, including in California, Italy, China,and even some parts of India, which previously employed diesel generators.
I will post a few graphs here for the benefit of a visual depiction of how the market has been evolving:
(A graph from KurzweilAI.net detailing solar grwoth per megawatt)
The study at Queen's university also shows that solar efficiency dropped in North America from around $7.5 per watt in 2008 to a minimum of $3.9 per watt last year, give or take some outliers. During that time, the field saw advances in self-organizing crystalline technology, as well as thin-film PV and biological substrates. Additionally, manufacturing innovation in China vastly reduced the cost of solar panels. The report from Queen's University details that:
"From 2000 to 2010, global solar PV deployment has increased from 0.26
GW to 16.1 GW1  with an annual growth rate of more than 40% [3, 9-11], due to both
technological innovations that have reduced manufacturing costs by 100 times and various
government incentives for consumers and producers [3, 4, 11-15]."
In fact, China is currently overproducing solar cells, despite having lost market share and dropped in profits during the second quarter of 2012 (Trina Solar). This continual overproduction (in my opinion) is a move to get a larger piece of the PV pie, while squeezing small start-ups out of the race, whose infrastructures are not as vast, and not facilitated in part by cheap labor standards and governmental aid. China currently holds nearly two-thirds of the market share for PV, according to an article published in the New York Times.
Now, the US has made a drastic move to stop the growth of China's solar industry, imposing a tariff on imported solar panels which can reach as high as 36%. Despite this, however, US solar panel installation in 2012 surpassed the total sum of all installations from 2000-2010. Although this is a xenophobic move in a manner, and perhaps a little dangerous, to poke the bear who holds your metaphorical nuts (US bonds). Still, this won't halt China's ascent, as they have filed complaints with the WTO against Europe and the US. My personal feelings on this are that China is justified in doing so. During the multinational boom of foreign US interests, WTO and other such organizations were highly beneficial to American companies such as the IMF and world bank, not to mention the myriad of American multinationals that spawned afterwards.
All things considered, both parties are at fault, as short-term violations of international trade policies weaken relations and destabilize markets. Each of the parties needs to come to an agreement that will result in cohesive international trade. This decision comes in the wake of an investigation launched by the EU for "antidumping" practices from China. Dumping in economics refers to intentional price control of goods (making them cheaper in another country than in your own, flooding markets with unexplained surplus of goods). Additionally, the report "A Review of Solar Photovoltaic Levelized Cost of Electricity," details how
"[t]he private sector favours higher discount rates to maximize short term profit, but these may be too high to capture the benefits of long term social endeavours undertaken in the public sector, such as infrastructure and energy projects ... Solar manufacturing prices have been rapidly
declining with economies of scale through turn-key manufacturing facilities and industrial
symbiosis [68, 70, 71]...
So what is the solution? The trend seems to be that subsidies do not have a profound impact. They have been abolished in the US, Germany, and the UK. Despite that there were massive increases in implementation of PV, however, there is an asymmetry in the transition from traditional grid infrastructure, not to mention the meteoric cost to governments.
The problem with solar implementation isn't with subsidies, it's with investment infrastructure. Governments need to have forums of some kind, investment branches where bright-eyed graduate students and ambitious innovators can pitch their ideas to both private and governmental investers. These panels should have oversight, and should be highly integrated with academic and industrial sectors, to both anticipate and implement emerging technological change.
Now, for the implications:
The world population is growing. Not only that, as developing countries emerge into the Western sphere, their energy consumption jumps with their GDP. This is being seen en masse in China, as internet penetration and the automobile industry begin to boom there. India is another top contender for most energy consumed, also another emerging country.
How does one meet an exponentially increasing demand? With exponential supply. This is why solar is slated as a big boy in the playground. Diffusion of PV will affect energy markets drastically in the next 10 years.
This may sound far fetched, but PV is a democratizing force. People will not only be completely independent of the grid, but they can, if they choose to, sell some of that electricy via a contract with their respective governments over time. In Ontario, Canada, for example, the MicroFit program provides static pricing for consumers selling their power to the government. They have even fixed the rate for inflation.
What we will see at first, with the decentralization of energy, is less dependance on centralized institutions and government. This, in addition with the vast quantities of information at the ready on the web may provide a catalyst for deep social change.
The implications have already begun here. China, the EU, and America are all vying for the top spot in PV manufacturing. There has definitely been some foul play, and I doubt I have found all the evidence. I would suspect that special interests are breathing down Obama's neck to keep natural gas flowing, and to keep solar panels nice and expensive. Let's not have that massive natural gas or biofuel infrastructure become useless in 5 years hmm? That would be/is embarrassing. I foresee a sort of arms race. China is in the lead. Wait for the results of the WTO investigation, and we will see who comes out on top.. Maybe China will just call in the US debts and claim montana as retribution for their insolence. Doubtful, as America is surely still their primary export partner.
In sum, PV is the wave of the future. Don't let policymakers fuck it up with ham-handed subsidies that are inefficient. Especially don't allow large oil and gas companies to gain a foothold in the important forums and circles (they are already there). My last advice is actually TO the oil companies: Diversify your portfolio. If you want to do business in energy, vertically integrate - find a small startup and merge. Wean off of oil - it's expensive to harvest and move around, and it's far less efficient than solar will be in less than a couple of years. Additionally, mr. Oil company man who is definitely not reading this, do not try to stem the flow of PV, because masses will find out, will get pissed off, and will crush you.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
The capabilities of the car exceed most human counterparts, and Wired magazine describes Google's car as "the poster child for self-driving cars." It uses a series of sensors and pattern-recognition algorithms in an on-board computer to navigate an endless sea of possible driving situations.
Vern Brownell, CEO of D-wave systems had this to say: "Jeff Bezos and In-Q-Tel are well-known visionaries. Both understand the implications of quantum computing as a world changing force, and these investments affirm their belief in D-Wave's unique approach to quantum computing. We want to thank our current investors for their abiding support. With these funds, we are accelerating our trajectory, putting this technology and its applications into the hands of users." The impact of this new round of investments is three-fold, and the subject of this post.
First of all, the investment will allow D-wave to continue optimizing the Quantum Annealing approach to QC. Most of all, improving the scaling methods and software (BlackBox) will be the direct results of such funding. The secondary result is exposure and public perception. D-Wave, with the backing of prestigious investors, is slated to be the Quantum Annealer of choice. The McDonalds of burgers, the Kleenex of tissues. This is important for future funding and attracting talent, as well as when the technology is sufficiently deflated in cost that it can be circulated among non-research and industrial applications (personal computers used to be half the size of a football field, and cost a million dollars. Now they cost 100 and fit in our pocket).
Finally, this investing toes the door to approaching more mainstream conceptions of quantum computing, specifically, a universal quantum computer. Currently, D-Wave is NOT pursuing this avenue. Rather, they are fine tuning their business model and working on approaching BlackBox relative to the specific needs of research groups and companies that make use of quantum annealing.
Other investors for D-wave include"[the] Business Development Bank of Canada, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Goldman Sachs, Growthworks, Harris & Harris Group, International Investment and Underwriting, Kensington Partners Limited."
For further reading on D-wave, visit their website at http://www.dwavesys.com
I will continue to update on the advancement of QC - stay tuned.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Climatology and depression are sure to come hand in hand these days - with governments lacking the motivation to make significant changes to clean energy policies and carbon emissions reduction while overwhelming evidence continues to accumulate to our gravest expectations.
The world is, according to several groups of researchers, approaching a point of social turmoil. Studies are beginning to indicate a correlation between food prices and rioting. Complex systems theorists from Cambridge claim that periods of unrest are very strongly correlated with high food prices, as dictated in the graph below:
This fact in combination with the increasing speed of communications means more uprisings. Groups can band together easily over cyberspace, spread an ideal. This has been evidenced in the Middle East. Oxfam released a report detailing the impact of climate change on global food systems and found "climate change is making extreme weather – like droughts, floods and heat waves – much more likely." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that as the world has been warming, "both maximum and minimum daily temperatures have increased on a global scale due to the increase of greenhouse gases.” This also means larger, more powerful storms - the likes of which wrought further destruction to the polar ice caps, where "temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average." New Scientist also reports that the ice thickness of the Arctic has been rapidly reduced: "From 1979 to 2000, the average volume of Arctic ice in September was 12, 000 cubic kilometers. This year, it is less than 3000." On the fifth of August, a large cyclone made its way into the Arctic Circle. Prof. Ziangdong Zhang at the University of Alaska Fairbanks said in an interview with New Scientist that "Such events used to be rare, but are now more frequent, stronger, and last longer than before." That cyclone tore large pieces from the already dwindling ice cap. Clearly there's a feedback process at work in our global weather system. I would expect to see the rate of heating increase over time. An ominous thought, especially for those who are living in coastal cities.
Throw in some religious zeal, some nuclear pissing contests, and an argument over a piece of land 2000 years old, and you start to teeter in your boots. If you're feeling anxious, don't be alarmed, right? Because they're all the way across (the now radiated) Ocean!
So let's go ahead and hit a little closer to home, my southerly neighbor, America! The irony of a drought in Texas due to global warming is not lost on me. There are reports that extreme weather has damaged crops; "corn futures have averaged about $6.895 this year, more than twice the annual average of the past decade, and are heading for the costliest year on record;" livestock, and infrastructure (not to mention natural ecosystems) with drought and massive dust storms, which researchers said, can be filled with particles of pesticides, fecal runoff from farms and heavy metals. These can lead to respiratory infections and other health hazards.
Let's not forget the economic turmoil. According to Reuters, they have experienced "the worst U.S. drought in 56 years," which "decimated the corn crop." Analysts estimate prices at a record high last month. Now add in a pissed off and piss-poor population. Add in a scapegoat. The financial system is to blame, they'll say. Indeed, it's partly true. Special interest groups have made their claim to history but are too short-sighted for the job - four year planners, presidents. The system demands corruption by its very nature, maximization of profit as Nirvana, the responsibility to the shareholders. Let's draw a few historical parallels shall we? Taxation without representation was the foundation of the civil war that gave birth to America. Now we're faced with the modern Boston Tea Party (not the bullshit idiots) - the 99% - as the campaign goes. Surely one could argue that we are being taxed by these corporations:
- Environmental damage:
According to New Scientist, we are experiencing the most dramatic reduction in polar ice in 3 millions years. Forest fires spread farther and are more frequent because of the heat. There are a myriad of consequences associated with global warming that need not be listed here.
Toxicity in the oceans and air is growing daily. A paper published in nature with the aim of quantifying the influence of CO2 on the acidity of the ocean found "that oceanic absorption of CO2 from fossil fuels may result in larger pH changes over the next several centuries than any inferred from the geological record of the past 300 million years."
- Economic damage:
The corrupt financial system, in collusion with the US government during the Clinton and Bush administrations caused a cascade effect of economic destruction which is difficult to quantify, yet some have tried. In a report released by Better Markets entitled "The Cost of the Wall Street-Caused Financial Collapse and Ongoing Economic Crisis Is More Than $12.8 Trillion," the report details the spectrum of damage the collapse caused in the US alone.
- Cultural damage:
The dilution of art and culture is obvious from the corporate perspective. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, had 70 advertising partners. Pop music is churned out for the masses like pudding - amorphous and easy to swallow. The "MAC" generation, the iPhone cult, the Nike jock, the PC user, or Firefox, or chrome - or what-the-fuck-ever smartphone someone is using at a given time. Consumerism makes us democratic in our spending, and we become associated with those things - they're part of us. Ingest enough McDonald's and you'll know what I mean. There could be textbooks written on this stuff, so I digress.
The point of all this is to highlight how fragile our infrastructure really is. We live in trying times, and require spectacular vision and motivation from humanity to get out of this one.
Monday, September 10, 2012
To my limited understanding, the paper demonstrates that D-wave is performing quantum annealing operations, through several levels of inference and games of theoretical physics. The details can be read here. However:
To clarify, D-wave's "quantum computer" is not a UNIVERSAL quantum computer. What that means is that it doesn't take advantage of the quantum phenomenon called entanglement. Instead, the processor takes advantage of another quantum process called annealing. Annealing is essentially the tendency for energy to move to its lowest state. A similar analogy would be to shake a jar of marbles consisting of different sizes, finding the smallest marbles always sink to the bottom and the largest always float to the top.
As a result, the D-Wave system is good for creative optimization processing. More importantly, the D-wave system is setting a precedent for integrated quantum bits (qubits). The architecture of the chip, in fact, is strikingly similar to other proposed memristor and nanometer wafer designs, excluding the obvious fact of it being quantum versus classical.
In previous posts, I had discussed the elements of a quantum mind, and what might be possible with quantum computing's convergence with metamaterials. The Rubicon is an apt metaphor for the journey to quantum computing, with the important difference that when it is crossed, the bridge burns itself. No going back! You can read more about the "BlackBox" programming system for the D-wave here. In short, the annealing process "chooses" the best binary strings for an output of a Real number. To use the examples outlined on D-wave's site:
This is a binary string output - binary consisting of a string of zeroes and ones that represent a real number (once the annealing process is complete). Additionally, the BlackBox system allows the user to program for highly complex parallel problems like the "travelling salesman" problem...
"The input bit string represents a 'potential solution', and the number returned by the function given that input gives a measure of the goodness of the potential solution - the lower
So clearly what we're seeing is not a quantum mind. Aside from the fact that the D-wave processor is not performing at the level of a universal computer, the amount of qubits on the chip is insufficient for that purpose anyhow. But twice that many qubits on a universal QC would be inconceivably powerful (literally, inconceivable because we'd have to build a universe-sized classical computer to simulate it). Such a computer would be quite good at thinking on its feet (on its chips?).
There is a distinction between human thought and "quantum thought" that is important to outline. Neurons act like elecrochemical logic gates - action potentials are either inhibitory or excitory. As such, binary is still the programming language of choice, even though our brain uses neurotransmitters, cells, and genes instead of electrons, silicon, and copper! While it is enough to consider that there is an eery universality of thought (researchers have built computers using water droplets, gears and levers, beakers of DNA, bacterial colonies, etc.); what is more ominous, in fact, is the idea that quantum computing isn't really bound by time in the way that we are.
Our minds are causal generators. We build hierarchical models of the world in a series of catergorizations; of expected results in cause and effect. Causality, however, is itself a binary process. 1-1-0-0-1-1-0-1-1 - each number or event occurs in succession, whereas a quantum computer performs those binary choices simultaneously. As such, the unachievable idea of infinity inches closer. The true irony of the quantum journey is that if we are ever successful in building a QC, we will have no possible way to confirm it! Decoherence occurs, and observation destroys quantum phenomenon, as exhibited in the two-slit experiment. So when we raise the hood of the QC, the qubits all become hushed and suspicious ones and zeroes, until we close it again and the party can resume. In this way, a quantum computer would have to become self-aware in order to prove that it is indeed quantum. Although I think it will be obvious when such a computer begins performing quantum algorithms successfully, I'm much more interested in the first instance where mathematics can go beyond itself, in the Godel sense of things. When this new form of processing inverts, as many classical systems tend to, we will likely see the emergence of an entirely new class of mind, a speciation that branches from technology and humanity's long-standing marriage. We may all be in the thrall of a QC before long, not because of its power, but because of the potential wisdom (in human terms, those are never the same thing). So here's to the cat in the box - dead or alive - I'll pay attention when it proclaims "hear me, for I am quantum."
Sunday, September 2, 2012