Free Energy

Well, the tour is going pretty well.  I’m just taking a break here for a moment in Buffalo – it’s actually pretty hot, and I just got out of the pool.  I’m not sure what I’d do without it.  If you haven’t been checking, we’ve got more live audio up on the Jack Swift Blog.  Some of it doesn’t sound too bad, considering we’ve been using a single SM57 for many of them.

But anyway, I just checked Slashdot today only to find this story.  Turns out Steorn, the company claiming to have created a free energy machine are at it again.  This time, after the panel of experts they hired failed to determine that their device actually works.  Now, of course, it turns out that they are still confident in their Orbo, and are going to start commercial production.

I’m not sure what to think about this.  I’m inclined to say that they’re just trying to soak up investor money, and that they really don’t have anything.  On the other hand, perhaps they do have something?  Perhaps it could be really practical, and thus be beneficial to society?

I’m not one to necessarily shoot this sort of thing down; people have been looking into free energy for a while – just do some research on Tesla.  And when you think about it, ‘free energy’ doesn’t really mean that you’re just pulling something out of nothing.  (A few Slashdotters brought this up in the discussion.)  I mean, I have a few photovoltaic panels on my house.  The power I get from them is free.  It comes from the sun, but as far as I’m concerned it’s free.  Maybe the Steorn people really did find a new energy source.

Well, I have hopes of two things in this situation: that either they get that thing working, and we can have another source of clean energy and get away from coal etc., or that they fail gracefully and don’t bilk many people out of their money.  I guess we’ll see; I wish that they’d give more detail on their site, like maybe even how to build one.  With something like this, it would be nice if they could, say, allow people to have enough information to build one, for non-commercial use.  Then they could still license the technology out if they wanted to let other companies produce it commercially.  (Actually, this might be a bad idea; I don’t remember what the patent law is like in Ireland, but you see what I mean.)  If I could build one of these in my basement, I think I probably would invest.

Solar Powered Web Server

As you have probably noted from past entries I like to run my own servers.  I’m not running a big enterprise here, so they don’t have to be extremely reliable (though they have been very reliable).  Mostly, I like the control that I have, and the flexibility.

But I find myself running into a few brick walls here.  Mainly, electricity.  Now, it’s relatively cheap, particularly if I run a server at school where I don’t pay for electricity.  But, there’s also the wastefulness factor.  Global climate change or not, I’m not a fan of the idea of wasting energy.  Or at least grid produced energy that could result in carbon emissions.

Alright, if I really wanted to reduce my footprint I suppose I could walk a lot more instead of drive, maybe get a more efficient car, you get the idea.  But there are a lot of servers running out there, and someday it would be nice to be able to keep them all going with an alternative source of power.  Or maybe keep them going out in a remote location, or during a prolonged blackout.

Hence, my idea for a solar powered Web server project.  I have some of the parts for this project already, so but I’d still need to make a few more purchases.  The big thing is design, and here are my thoughts: If I can get some kind of embedded, single-board computer that draws say 3 watts at most and runs 24/7, that is 72 watt-hours per day.  (Just in case anyone is unsure, to get watt-hours you multiply watts by hours.  So 3 watts for 24 hours is 72 watt-hours.)  I will bump that figure up to say 90 watt-hours a day, just to compensate for losses in the battery.  After all, we do want to be able to serve Web pages at night, right?  So 90 watt-hours per day is not too bad.  Supposing that, in sunny Buffalo, NY we get an average of 3.5 sun hours per day, you would need about 25 watts of solar.

My solar arsenal right now consists of one 32 watt panel mounted on the side of my house, plus another 32 watt I have not yet installed, as well as a 21 watt flexible panel and a couple smaller ones.  (There’s also a big 100 watt panel in the garage, but that’s a different story for another day.)  So I have more than enough to make this work in terms of producing power; in theory one 32 watt panel should be enough, but having a second one in case of shade or low light from clouds would be good.

Now, we want some battery backup as well, as I mentioned before.  To do this we probably want to be able to run the server for say two days without sun.  (This isn’t mission critical.)  So, 90 watt-hours at 12 volts is 7 amp hours (90/12), so for two days that’s 14 amp hours.  Not too unreasonable; I have a 18 amp hour gel cell battery that should be able to handle that, without drawing it all the way down (which is bad for the battery).  Although I may consider getting a bigger battery.

Now, this will be a simple server, probably not something I’d install the standard LAMP stack on.  My main thought for this would be that it would also log data from the system via shunts and some analog-to-digital converters, and then present the data in a nice looking Web page.  Maybe if I felt like it some day I could even add some AJAX stuff to it, but whatever.

So this would really be proof of concept.  It would also be great for backup power; if there was a bad power failure I could of course turn the server off and use the power for other things, like charging cell phones and running lights and a ham radio.  So it would be a good thing to have.  I will soon be looking around for a nice single board computer to use as the server, and then maybe a better battery and solar panel location.  With a little luck I will be able to pull something together.  Stay tuned.