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.

EV overview 2 – freight transport

The first part of this overview of Electric Vehicles looked at the progress in electrifying everything from bicycles to cars, 4WDs and tradie trucks. Now for the heavy haulage!

As vehicle size and weight increase, batteries need to get bigger to maintain similar ranges; but bigger batteries increase vehicle weight, too, as well as costing more and taking longer to recharge. At some point the combined weight and range requirements seemed to be ‘too hard’ to achieve with battery-electric power. That is where everyone thought that hydrogen power would find its niche, but the latest studies show the point being pushed out so far that the niche has probably vanished.

Delivery vans and small trucks

The Brits already have plenty of vans to choose from, Continue reading “EV overview 2 – freight transport”

Electric vehicles – an overview

Electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes have been developing so quickly over the last few years that it’s hard to keep up with the changes. This survey pulls together information on the current state of play of all sorts of EVs, from bikes and scooters to freight trains and ships. But first, a quick look at three technological issues common to all of them.



Batteries are crucial, and development is still pushing ahead quite quickly.

Continue reading “Electric vehicles – an overview”

How long do solar panels last?

Solar panel lifespan is an important question but its answer is only gradually becoming clear.

The first point to make is that some of the first PV panels on the market are still out there, pumping electrons, after 35 years or so. That tells us we have yet to find an upper limit to their lifespan.

The second is that the output of any panel diminishes gradually over the years, so ‘how long a panel lasts’ may depend on what percentage of its original output we can tolerate losing.

Continue reading “How long do solar panels last?”

Going solar – David, ten years on

I recently received an unexpected email from David, who was good enough to write about his rooftop solar power installation for Green Path ten years ago:

As I was cleaning out our filing cabinet (yes, still have one of those!) I found all of our power bills back from when we first had solar installed. I crunched the numbers out of curiosity and found that in solar credits, we saved $7594 over the last 10+ years. This doesn’t include the offsetting of power (e.g. using the power off the roof during the day); that’s about $3000 worth. Given our 1.5 kW solar panels were only $3300 at the time, that’s not a bad return.

Continue reading “Going solar – David, ten years on”