We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:
Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.
Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.
Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.
Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.
“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”
Keep going, science.
So… one man’s colossal miscalculation is
another man’s a planet’s sped-up timeline for addressing climate change? I’m not trying not to see it that way, and energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins doesn’t need to convince me. But the winds are at somebody’s back:
Lovins, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has been one of the world’s leading advocates and innovators of energy conservation for 50 years. He wrote his first paper on climate change while at Oxford in 1968, and in 1976 he offered Jimmy Carter’s government a blueprint for how to triple energy efficiency and get off oil and coal within 40 years. In the years since there is barely a major industry or government that he and his Rocky Mountain Institute have not advised.
But for much of that time efficiency was seen as a bit of an ugly sister, rather dull compared with a massive transition to renewables and other new technologies. Now, he hopes, its time may have come. Lovins is arguing for the mass insulation of buildings alongside a vast acceleration of renewables. “We should crank [them] up with wartime urgency. There should be far more emphasis on efficiency,” he says.
He sees Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as an outrage, but possibly also a step towards solving the climate crisis and a way to save trillions of dollars. “He has managed to bring about all the outcomes that he most feared, but he may inadvertently have put the energy transition and climate solutions into a higher gear. Whether or not we end up in a recession because of the disruption, [Putin’s war] may prove to be a great thing for climate economics.”
As he explains, solar and wind are among the cheapest bulk power sources, and Putin’s authoritarian misadventure has put energy externalities in the center of the frame.
Again, it’s the boringest, not-technology solutions that have the greatest effect. And there’s a lot to reckon with in what he says about nuclear:
The most energy-inefficient design of all, he says, may be nuclear power, which is heavily subsidised, costly and pushed by a politically powerful lobby. Using it to address shortages of electricity or to counter climate change, he argues, is like offering starving people rice and caviar when it’s far cheaper and easier to give just rice.
I know a lot of people, sure don’t we all. And I know many of them think this ‘slide’ is a horse that departed the barn, found the violin factory and played no small part in a performance of the Brandenburg concerto in 1971. Okay, fine.
But still. I’m going to interview the critic Jed Perl for my show in a month or so. He had a recent piece out about the Met director and Davos and well, horse… barn… Brandenburg D minor 7th:
“We need to make our case with metrics, framed in a language that businessmen understand.” That’s what Thomas Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had to say the other day, while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. My heart sank when I read these words. They may be the saddest words ever spoken by the director of a major museum. Campbell had begun by complaining that at Davos culture was “an add-on,” “the entertainment”—and I can sympathize with his frustration on that score. But Campbell’s problem—and more than five years into his tenure it’s beginning to look like Campbell’s tragedy—is that at the first sign of frustration he’s ready to turn art into a business.
I’ve been told by people close to Campbell that I misunderstand him. I’ve been told that deep down he’s still the scrupulous scholar who as a curator at the Metropolitan produced what are probably the two greatest tapestry shows ever mounted in a museum. But the gifts that make a great curator (visual refinement, historical imagination) are not necessarily the gifts required to be a great museum director, who must make the case for art’s elusive, transcendent powers in the face of a world dominated by the rapacity of metrics, big data, and businessmen who live and die by such measures. I don’t think Campbell meant any harm to the arts when he argued at Davos that what he called “the culture industry” had to connect with the rest of the world “at a deeper socioeconomic level.” The effect of Campbell’s words, however, was to deny art the unique, stand-alone power it must have in a modern society.
The trouble with Campbell is that he imagines the only way to speak truth to power is in a language you’re absolutely sure the powerbrokers understand. But the great cultural arbiters have always taken an altogether different approach. They have taken it upon themselves to reimagine the nature of power. They have set out to convince the people with the fat bank accounts and the political clout that transcendent values are urgently important, an essential aspect of a healthy democratic society. What the great cultural arbiters have always done is insist on the power of art in the face of other kinds of power—the power of bottom lines, flow charts, metrics, big data.
As they say in the old country, read the whole thing.