Springing into action

A Blog to Watch published this just over a month ago and I loved it. I’m quoting just enough of it to make sense of my own follow-up, below, but I encourage my readers to visit the original which is three times as long and with more pictures.

It couldn’t be more timely. As the world debates the future of energy sustainability and supply, a new concept has just been completed in Switzerland. Known as the SpringStation, this novel power plant concept is yet another approach to energy diversity for a future in which power generation must be local, sustainable, and renewable. …

The SpringStation concept is relatively straightforward, but getting it right was something that few outside of Switzerland could manage. The station uses a series of mega-sized versions of the mainsprings that power traditional mechanical watches. As tightly wound springs unwind, they are able to move a complex series of gears that in a wristwatch power the mechanism that tells the time. These systems have become super-sized in the SpringStation. Such springs also have the power to generate electricity. …

To release energy as they unwind, SuperSprings must first be wound, and on a regular basis. … This is where the human effort comes in, and it’s in the form of a gym.

Attached to each SpringStation is a human-focused facility known as the WorkStation, with a variety of machines that, when operated, transfer power to a system that gradually winds the SuperSprings. Those machines are in the form of exercise equipment, ranging from stationary bikes to pulley-based strength-training machines …

Now that we’ve all had a chance to enjoy it as an April Fool’s joke (and a very good example of the genre) I’m going to turn around and say something original like, “Many a true word was spoken in jest,” and take it semi-seriously.

In the real world…

The first thing is that I reckon it’s really dumb for gyms to turn all that puffing and panting on treadmills, rowing machines and exercise bikes into heat energy and vent it to the great outdoors. (Especially in a climate like ours, where aircon is such a hugely expensive power-gobbler.) Why not harvest all that energy and turn it into nice clean electricity?

The second is that springs are a perfectly plausible form of energy storage. We know that we can store energy by raising weights and get it back by letting them come down again – whether the weights are water in pumped hydro, or trains driven up hills when the sun is shining and allowed to roll back when it isn’t, or a crane-and-block system which stacks concrete blocks and then lowers them.

I’m not sure whether the spring energy storage achievable in the real world is worthwhile but, thirdly, it is used in the fictional world of The Windup Girl which is such a good SF novel that I’m going to recommend it again.

Walking in White Mountains

Every time I have visited White Mountains National Park I have wanted to explore beyond the identified visitor areas. Camping at Cann Creek was lovely – but what lay on the other side of the ridge? Looking out over Sawpit Gorge wasn’t enough – I wanted to hike down into it.

But I was always suitably intimidated by the warnings saying things like, “Only suitable for strong, well-prepared groups of experienced bushwalkers,” and citing heat, lack of water, rough country, etc, which I always interpreted as, “Don’t try this on your own!” So when the Townsville Bushwalking Club offered an Anzac weekend walk in remoter areas, I made time for it.

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The last of the Wet

I have noticed before that our Wet seasons can end with a farewell deluge. If what we’re getting now – 200 mm and more in a day or two – is this year’s example, it’s a bit late.

John Anderson, veteran rural reporter for our local paper, reckons that if we haven’t had rain before Anzac Day, we’re not getting any. My own rule of thumb was that Easter marked the end of the Wet season, and I suspected that it might be tied somehow to the lunar and solar calendars. Easter, after all, falls just after the first full moon after the Equinox (more detail here).

Either way, this rain is later and and heavier than we would expect. It follows the drenching that Gympie, Brisbane and Northern NSW copped earlier this year. Both events are entirely in line with what we’ve been told – repeatedly – to expect from climate change, although we can’t say that they were “caused by” climate change (for a look at the difficulties in event attribution, try this video).

Our climate has already changed and further changes are unavoidable. None of them are for the better.

Climate action now is imperative, which is why I have neglected Green Path for nearly a month in favour of political action. Normal service will not resume until after the election but I will try to maintain some continuity here on the blog until then.

Paper wasps again

Most people don’t like paper wasps because they have such a painful sting but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to dislike them (the wasps, that is, not the people).

I find them interesting because their lifestyle bridges the gap between the social insects, like honey-bees and most ants, and the non-social majority. Paper wasps are technically semi-social, as shown in a chart borrowed from an introductory entomology course.

“Primitively eusocial wasp colonies, such as Polistes, are commonly inherited by dominant workers on the death of a queen,” according to a short but fairly technical article on Scitable about evolutionary advantages (through kin selection) of sociality.

All of which is an introduction to these recent photos, taken on one of the regular Wildlife Queensland walks. The first shows a paper wasp adding to its family home.

Paper wasp Polistes stigma
The wasp with construction material

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The new IPCC report (AR6) – an introduction

The IPCC is one of the world’s biggest scientific projects, with thousands of scientists in dozens of countries collaborating since 1988 to produce a series of reports. Its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is in three parts. Working Group 1 released Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis last August, and WG2 has just released Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability which “assesses the impacts of climate change, looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels,” to quote its home page. Part 3 and a Summary will appear later this year.

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