Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saving the World with Electricity?

Many of us have pretty much given up hope of heading off climate change before we go off the cliff, now predicted to occur around 2050.

We've heard that solutions such as wind and solar energy, though plentiful, aren't competitive in price, and they're intermittent. The sun doesn't shine at night, after all.

But what if we had a way to transport energy where it's needed much more cheaply without needing extra storage? And what if that system both ameliorated climate change and made our energy grid more secure against threats such as terrorism, electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), and solar flares?

At the Boulder-Denver annual meeting of the American MeteorologicalSociety (AMS) this week, we had the privilege of hearing a keynote talk by Alexander ("Sandy") MacDonald, former head of the NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory and Past President of the American Meteorological Society. MacDonald presented the exciting idea that the U.S. could build an underground electical superhighway system for renewable energy, which he compared to Eisenhower's initiative to build the Interstate Highway system.

MacDonald noted that the current electrical grid is vulnerable to many problems, and even a single transformer can take months to replace. In case of massive failure, adequate supplies of food and water could be disrupted, overwhelming police and disaster recovery efforts.

MacDonald had the idea that working over a large region (such as the whole continental U.S.) would simplify the solution, because it would smooth out the variability of the wind and sunshine. Working with a supercomputer simulation model, he and his colleagues designed an energy distribution grid that would satisfy needs for electrical energy throughout the country. Some use of natural gas would continue for occasional backup.

The system would use high-voltage direct current (HVDC) and could be buried underground and shielded to make it less vulnerable to electromagnetic and solar pulses.

The Pros

Why is this idea so exciting? It's because it seems so much more do-able than many climate geo-engineering solutions we've heard about, such as injecting sulfur in the stratosphere, orbiting big mirrors, or increasing cloudiness and albedo. Here are the pros I see:

o The Interstates were built without disruption of the roads already in place. The same could be done with electricity.

o If completed by 2030, carbon emissions from power generation could be reduced greatly once the system was fully functional. If the rest of the world, such as Asia and Europe, built their own systems, the climate problem could be solved.

o Rather than using taxpayer funds, the system could be built by private contractors, as was done for the recent upgrade of the Boulder turnpike. Multiple contractors worked on sections of the highway simultaneously, speeding up completion. MacDonald estimates 8 million jobs could be created in the U.S.

o The technology for the electrical pipeline already exists, and cable could be buried alongside many rights-of-way, such as railroads.

o The U.S. electrical system would be much less susceptible to power disruptions.

More information

MacDonald's work has been published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change,
and he wrote a guest commentary of his results in the June
2 Washington Post.

Photo: Energy Corridor from Niagara Falls, near Buffalo Airport, NY, by Eric Chaffee.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Editor's notes: Third Flatiron's Hyperpowers anthology

Third Flatiron has embarked on a "first" for its Summer 2016 anthology, Hyperpowers. We invited a guest editor, Bascomb James. (Thanks, Dan Koboldt, for introducing us!). Bascomb previously edited several military-fic anthologies, notably the well-reviewed Far Orbit series, and is starting a new publishing venture, Pushpin Books.
         The collaboration turned out to be fortuitous, since we were about to do an anthology right up his alley. So, for you authors and readers, we're including below the Editor's Notes for Hyperpowers. We hope you'll benefit from a taste of Bascomb's thinking and from seeing what editors look for in submissions.

--Juli Rew, Publisher, Third Flatiron Anthologies

Bascomb James: Welcome to the Hyperpowers anthology, the 16th volume of speculative fiction published by Third Flatiron Publications. When Publisher Juliana Rew offered me my choice of assignments, I was drawn to the Hyperpowers anthology because of its theme—Military Science Fiction and Space Opera, arguably the most maligned yet popular sub-genre within the speculative fiction pantheon. Many people believe the overall popularity of this story-form is due, in part, to the success of movie and television franchises including Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Firefly, The Expanse, and Guardians of the Galaxy. While that may be true, the print-world has embraced space opera since its inception in the early 1900s. From 1982 to 2002, the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel was commonly given to a space opera nominee. Not that it marked the end of an era; Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice won the 2014 Hugo Award in addition to the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the BSFA Award. Whether you love it or loathe it, I firmly believe good space opera embodies the best features of SF—dramatic, large-scale adventures focusing on character, world building, and plot action.
        Hyperpowers opens with William Huggins's "Grid Drop." In this story, William introduces us to a fallow Earth and a cadre of eco warriors working to keep the remaining humans from recreating ecological mistakes of the past. Dan Koboldt's fast-paced "Dirt Moon" brings us another group of grunts who battle gravoid-like beasts that move rapidly through the dirt and take their victims from below. The space navy takes center stage in "Outer Patrol" by E. J. Shumak. In this timeless story, patrol crews discover the unsavory secret behind alien attacks in the sector.
       When I think about artificial intelligence, my mind quickly wanders to the sentient beings depicted in Blade Runner, the soulless AI assassins from the Terminator franchise, and to the noble BOLO units described in Keith Laumer's classic SF tales. In "Pre-emptive Survivors," Martin Clark introduces us to naval intelligence unit Polyakov Seventeen, a covert AI "sanitation" unit who has no problem snipping loose ends to further its cause. And finally, John M. Campbell brings us "The Silicates," a tale about sentient AI units hunted by a space miner for their salvage value. But the silicates are tricksy, so very tricksy.
        Two authors show us the lighter side of military science fiction. In Erik B. Scott's "Duck and Cover," cheesy public service announcements are instrumental in staving off an alien invasion, and in "Kill the Coffee-Boilers," Robert Walton introduces us to a stuffy academic soldier leading a training simulation on an alien planet.
       Poignant takes on future military conflict are the darlings of the SF community right now, and this anthology includes several poignant tales for your enjoyment. Sam Bellotto, Jr. brings us "Symphony in First Contact, Hostile," an account of an alien invasion and its emotional aftermath. The story is told within a symphonic structure. In "The Mytilenian Delay," Neil James Hudson spotlights the human conflict within a warship after it receives orders to destroy a heavily populated planet. Should they countermand the order? Author Noel Ayers provides a modern twist on a classic tale about a military veteran irrevocably changed by the war in "Yesterday's Weapon." Can this soldier ever feel normal again?
     Writing space opera in less than 3,000 words is incredibly difficult, but our authors demonstrated they were up for the challenge. In Jonathan Shipley's "Between Two Heartbeats," a quick-thinking young space trader uses a Highborn Princess to escape corrupt planetary officials. A solar miner encounters aliens who want her precious exotic matter cargo in Elliotte Rusty Harold's story, "Claim Jumpers." Mark Rookyard shares a thoughtful tale about an Imperial Chief of Staff who wants to forget everything and enjoy life for a while in "Dreaming Empire." "Child of Soss" is an anthropological morality play by Brandon L. Summers. In this story, an insect-like alien grows to respect a human refugee. To round out this category, author K. S. Dearsley shares her story, "Alien Dreams," an interesting tale about alien explorers who encounter a spacecraft carrying a golden data disk. The disk contains an ancient prayer.
     "Grins and Gurgles" is a regular humor feature in the Third Flatiron anthologies, presenting as it were, a literary palette-cleanser after a meal of delectable speculative fiction. In this volume, we've included a flash fiction story from Art Lasky. "I've Got the Horse Right Here. . ." is a cautionary tale about a man who saves a fairy and is granted one wish.
     As I wrap up these notes, I must confess my surprise and pleasure when Juliana Rew first asked me to edit this volume. This is her baby, and fans of the series will note that my editorial preferences don't perfectly overlap with hers. We are, after all, different people. For these reasons, I am extremely grateful to Juli for her trust and for giving me this exciting opportunity. I also want to extend my thanks to all the authors who answered the call for stories. I had to make tough choices, eliminating some really good stories in order to create a balanced and varied lineup. To you, the reader, I offer this outstanding selection of short speculative fiction. It truly represents the best of the best.
Happy reading!
Bascomb James