Slow Light

The trouble with the speed of light is that it’s dismayingly slow. Get in a spaceship… head up… you’ll be old by the time you get to anywhere interesting.

We have a funny relationship with space… and space travel. We know what it’s supposed to be… what it’s supposed to be like – we just can’t do it. We’ve got a whole (massively popular) genre of entertainment based on something we can’t (for one reason or another) do. Part of it is that our political systems are too corrupted by wealthy interests – so more is spent on air-conditioning in war-zones, than on NASA. But part of it is that the laws of physics simply ain’t allowing it. We’re kindof stuck.

But this post isn’t about that, it’s about solar – which seems to be taking a fucking eternity to get here. At least once a month, some amazing new breakthrough happens… like this:


That’s a solar-cell array printed on paper using vapor-deposition (low-temp in a vacuum etc), in a way that is so robust that it’s foldable… up to about 1000 times (it ain’t indestructible, but still…). It’s from MIT (for all you people who think that only corporations innovate).

Currently running at about 1% efficiency – which they say they can improve… the crystalline cells are approaching 29% these days.

So what’s going to happen? Fuck all I bet. It’ll get tied up with patents so no one gets to use it except massive corporations, who don’t really want to use it and would rather sell incremental improvements to existing products, or whatever.

Konarka seem to be quite close to… changing the world, but they’ve seemed that way for years now – and the only thing that I’ve seen that I can actually buy, is a fucking solar-powered backpack, which is extremely underwhelming. Their web site has pictures of things that look like this


But danged if I can find something that I can actually buy and chuck up on the roof. If I want solar, I have to fall back on the clunky glass variety, or…

… actually, scratch that, these things ARE starting to turn up on Ebay.


$240 for a 68W flexible strip – that’s a fuck of a lot cheaper than it was last time I looked. $240 is less than I spend on a drunken night out. I spend over $3000 a year on fucking latte. Instead of buying more nuke power plants, the Japanese should just buy millions of these and drop them from helicopters over Tokyo. It’ll be cheaper than re-nuking – and more resilient. Trouble is… their govt already invested in nuke, so now they’ve got a $70-$250bn cleanup bill (The Belarus govt estimated Chernobyl to be over $250bn… and really, that disaster is still going on, which is why the Russian Govt is asking for financial help from the British to re-build the containment on the fucked reactor)

The Japanese are already committed to waste… and now millions of jellyfish are attacking their remaining power-plants, as they’re also doing (weirdly enough) in Israel and Scotland.


And for the same £ that the UK pisses up the wall on storage of nuke-waste created by people in the 1970s, it could buy about 6.3 MILLION of these panels a year, and just give them away. And that doesn’t account for bulk buying, or Moore’s law, which does alseo apply to solar, albeit at a slower rate.

But they can’t because they’re committed to waste.

Which naturally leads to this : Solar-uptake from the favela, or more accurately, the faveloid farm. People in India not bothering for major institutions to provide the infrastructure, and instead (like they did with cellphones) going straight for the (semi) off-grid option.

I think we’re going to see more and more of this – the innovations that really matter are slum-driven… or… favela-chic driven… or… places where lack of “governance” (which is expressly designed to create corporate monopolies) grants freedom to create solutions that are actually people-based, rather than serving some capitalist aim.

I see in Ebay, adverts for solar cells are accompanied by photos of scantily-clad women… and by scantily-clad, I mean really, budget-level, pirated stock-photography scantily-clad.

chick1 chick2

And I see this as a good sign, because it means that the market has hit drek-bottom and is competing on every desperate angle it can possibly find – which means the prices aren’t artificially high, because some toss-weed corporation is charging a monopoly rent on patents that it bought.

Ignoring that though… I think there’s another interesting angle that comes from uptake of off-grid solar – and that is that people will become aware of what electricity they’re actually using… which naturally feeds into and multiplies with a revolution in home-automation, which is coming, I promise you. Being able to play your power-consumption like a computer game, will massively reduce the amount we use.

1 Comment » for Slow Light
  1. Applauding each thought here.