STEM news – The World Needs Your Energy and Your Light (really!)

stemnews 051915

STEM friends, this has been such an amazing week! I asked you guys to share and like me on facebook, and the response was UN-BE-LIEVABLE!! Thank you all so much, and welcome to the site! I also had some great twitter convos last night that will have their own separate post – to my new Twitter friends, I’m so glad to have ‘met’ all of you too! You rock!

I was thinking about what kind of news story would be good for this week, and picked three headlines that sounded interesting to me. My reasoning is shown in parentheses:

  1. Apocalyptic skies return above Chile after second volcano erupts” (so sensationalized – who could resist?! What does an apocalyptic sky look like, anyway?)
  2. Dallas-area quakes are likely due to fault lines, geologist says” (fault lines seem like obvious cause, but Dallas isn’t known for earthquakes)
  3. One in seven people still live without electricity” (no way – that can’t possibly be right. this is why we need people to pursue STEM)

I just couldn’t pick, so I consulted Mr. SciGuy. I had to drag him away from watching The Weather Channel to get his opinion– he thinks tornados are fascinating! I read him the headlines I picked, and he said “power is obviously the most important thing to talk about”. So, there we have it – tonight we talk about power.

This story fits perfectly with what we talked about on Monday. Those of us who are blessed to live in the developed world can’t imagine going a night without our smart phones, let alone lights and running water. There are lots of us who think it’s a big problem and want to solve it, and I know many people who actively work in the energy industry.

What if you went to a town without power, though? What if you took someone from that town, and gave someone the education and resources they need to develop an energy infrastructure? I would bet 99% of people, given the opportunity, would work tirelessly to bring power to their friends and family.

Being personally invested in something makes you work so much harder. Everyone has their own interests, causes, and passions. For every interest, cause and passion, there are accompanying problems that need to be solved. Thus, we circle back to the point from Monday that we need people from all walks of life to bring their passions together to solve big problems.

Whew, we haven’t even gotten past the headline yet….lets continue.

According to the article, the United Nations developed an initiative called Sustainable Energy 4 All in 2011. One of its aims is to provide access to ‘modern’ energy services worldwide by 2011. We’ll just focus on that part for now.

In the past 5 years, global electrification increased by 2% to 85%, and energy access was provided to 100 million people. That’s incredible. Last year, about 20 million people who had never had power got access to it. For comparison, the population of the entire state of Florida is about 20 million. India made the biggest progress – go India!!

Let’s stop and do the math though. 1.2 billion people were without power, and 0.1 billion people (1/12) got the power they needed in the first 5 years of the initiative. Assuming we keep moving at the same pace (I assume we won’t, but for simplicity sake), it will take 60 years to finish. That’s not until 2070 – we’re missing the 2030 deadline! The banking powers that be suggested ‘we’ as a global economy may need to invest as much as $1.2 trillion annually to meet the 2030 goal. We’re going to need some of you economists and mathematicians to figure out how on Earth we’re going to pay for that.

Another major problem the story points out is the type and reliability of energy infrastructure being developed. A lot of infrastructure is being developed for urban centers, but it isn’t always reliable. The lines are there to run high power, but there isn’t enough power to go around. In Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, most people spend nights in the dark, even though the grid runs to 90% of the population. Engineers and physicists, this is a problem for you. How do we efficiently, inexpensively save up energy during the day to distribute at night – in the third world?

Rural areas have their own issues, too. It doesn’t make sense to run power infrastructure to extremely remote locations. For those places, portable renewable energy from sources like solar, wind, and water flow make more sense. Physicists and engineers, inventers and entrepreneurs – I hope you haven’t checked out. We need you on the case here to develop energy options that are inexpensive, durable (it is in the third world!)long-lasting, and reliable. That’s a lot of features to check off your design list!

Want to learn about a couple energy options in development? I was pretty curious myself, so I googled for you. The first story I got back was a 2012 National Geographic article, which talks about some cool energy developments.

Ten years ago, putting solar panels on a house with capability to light 3 rooms cost $1500. Today, portable solar lamps are available for just $2-3 each and can rugged versions with phonce chargers can be purchased for less than $50. Think about how many more people $1500 impacts at $3 / light!

An even cheaper option (for sunny days) is to build ‘windows’ into the roofs of homes using pop bottles filled with water and bleach. This idea was developed at MIT, but the idea may be based on designs of a Brazilian mechanic (someone looking to solve a problem he was passionate about!)

Many of the companies doing the work in this field aren’t just focused on the bottom line. They’re also focused on truly improving the lives of their customers. It’s totally inspiring that these people are using their STEM intellect to make a huge difference in the lives of others – literally bringing them light!

Have a great day today, my friends, and stay inspired! (and if you want to know about earthquakes or volcanos, let me know!)


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