The Influence of Science and Technology in the Solar Energy Field on the Autonomy in the Built Environment

1. Science and Technology open up new Options and Possibilities

Science and technology in itself are neither good nor bad. Within the range of possible applications are hidden many opportunities, which often are not exploited. (Fig. 1)The choice of which of these opportunities should be persued, however, should not be made by science or technology experts, but according to a "set of (abstract) values" that come out of society (Fig. 2 and 1/2) . The reasons for this are threefold:

  • the future potential in R & D lines, and improvements in science and technology are partly foreseeable and programmable;
  • new options often lie in between major R & D lines, i.e. outside the direct interest of the expert scientist, or even worse may mean a deviation of efforts to him. They are therefore neglected;
  • the future evolution of the set of values is depending on the evolution of many factors and may be intuitively foreseeable by few people, possibly called prophets (which does not imply that anybody listens to what they say).
The conclusion of this is, I think, to look for applications of science and technology which leave as many options as possible open for societal evolution and alternatives to avoid a societal evolution governed by fast moving science and technology only (Fig. 3).

2. Self-Controlled Growth of System Size

Systems are monetarised individual actions. They have an inherent tendency to ever-increasing size, accepting limits of growth only in a technical sense (Fig. 4).Examples for this are:

  • system problems are solved with system solutions, i.e. networks (waste heat from nuclear power stations could be sold via huge district heating systems which depend again on the existence of nuclear power stations);
  • concentration to achieve higher productivity leads to higher vulnerability and thus to an increased security need. Security systems incorporate the danger of tota litarian control (nuclear power systems need a "military" surveillance);
  • diminishing returns on investments ask for a higher production volume i.e. bigger'markets to pay for R & D expenditures. This leads to multinational think ing and companies.

A typical term in this context is also rationalisation. Rationalisation is normally the product of a financial analysis. Rationalisation (or mechanisation if you prefer) is a substitution of capital (and thus machines and energy) for labour, i.e. we replace individuals by a (investment) system (Fig. 4).This does not pose any problems as long as society de velops according to the same guidelines as science and technology. However, what happens today is a turnaround loop in societal evolution, as observed in A. Maslow's need identification research (5th and last need being the one for self-fulfilment) or as observed in the ongoing regionalisation (decentralisation) of political powers in Europe (Fig. 4/5). This inevitably leads to a clash of different interests between individuals and small groups on one hand, nation states and/or big industry on the other hand. A sure sign of this is a rapidly growing security market at both ends, a phenomenon which we have observed over the last few years in all industrialised countries.The conclusion of this is, I think, the potential for a continuous clash between industrial interests and individuals' interests in the choice of technology and the choice of science subjects to be persued: big centralised systems such as nuclear power, or small independent systems such as the decentralised use of solar energy, which has an inbuilt flexibility/adaptability.

3. A Choice between Autonomy and Dependence

A choice between several applications of science and technology of radically different nature demands for near simultaneousness of the opportunities, or for open systems with a low inertia.An analysis of autonomy and dependance on one hand, and big centralised systems and small decentralised systems on the other hand, shows a smooth flowing into each other of the two definitions (Fig. 6) .In some cases, a given problem may only be solved by one of the two systems. In many cases, they are substitutable. Again, we need a set of values as well as the conviction and will to enforce them, in order to direct science and technol ogy to explore and develop the type of systems and technolo gies we want.

4. Energy Production/Energy Risks/Energy and Jobs/System Size

Energy is used in three basic forms:

  • to move something against gravity or friction (transport)
  • to produce something (goods and materials)
  • to maintain a (survival to comfort) temperature (heating/cooling).

In the context of FACT 79, I do not want to comment onenergy savings possible in the first case, transport.In the second case, production of goods and materials, I -just would like to show you some recent research findings that, I think, speak for themselves. Some energy savings are possible without any reduction in the standard of living through e.g.:

  • an intelligent choice of materials with a low "Energy-Capital-per Unit-of Performance" ratio;
  • a choice of manufacturing processes seeking to fulfil societal goals, such as job creation, reduction of raw materials consumption, waste and pollution (reconditioning, see fig. 9) .

But the main interest for you is surely the third case, heating and cooling. The only study I know of that analyses key factors for several big centralised energy production technologies and (one) decentralised small one, is Dr. Inhaber's study on "Risk of energy production .

With regard to adaptability and monopoly. Dr. Inhaber himself disqualifies nuclear power: "p. 21: It is unlikely that a nuclear plant will be used for a solar plant back-up since a nuclear plant is unsuitable for this use". Dr. Inhaber evokes the problem of resources: land, trees, steel, even glass, which may all become scarce through an extensive use of alternative energies. He does not mention water, which is already scarce in many countries (especially drinking water) and which is used in large quantities'for the cooling of big centralised energy production, including nuclear plants. However, the main of the report is risk assessment. Nuclear power has, together with electricity production from natural gas, by far the lowest overall risk factor, expressed in mandays lost per MWa of output. Coal and oil are highest, followed by most alternative energies. Yet there is an old saying in energy analysis: "there is nothing like a free lunch". So allow me to point out to you some details of the analysis.If we concentrate on two extremes of system size, which are also extremes with regard to risk analysis, i.e. nuclear electricity production and solar thermal heat production we find the following (Fig. 10):Two assumptions to arrive at these figures are of special interest:

  • the risk attributable to the demolition and removal of nuclear energy structures after the expiration of their useful life is not considered, but is expected to be small. (I do not know of any big reactor that some company has had the courage to dismantle, but energy and financial cost are certainly not marginal) .
  • The risk attributed to the cleaning of solar collectors by homeowners is multiplied by four (4), using existing data as base. 1. The difference between professional cleaning on the floor and D-I-Y-cleaning on the roof is due to a lack of efficiency (more time on the job) and lack of skill (falling down). The risk of normal roof maintenance which is necessary for any roof has not been deducted.
  • The most costly, material production, in mandays lost per ton of output, is hard coal mining. There is an important amount of steel in solar heating plants of the study by Dr. Inhaber, steel which is mainly neces sary for storage tanks. Nobody says you have to use steel storage tanks, and in Switzerland and probably several other European countries many systems such as storage in soil or gravel are utilized which use hardly any steel at all.

To come back to what I have said in the beginning, I would like to make it clear that I do not say that Dr. Inhaber's analysis is wrong. But it is a science expert judg ing a science and technology problem in a way to optimise a certain value (risk).The conclusions of this study (Fig. 10) could also be formulated like this: if you want to create many safe and qualified jobs, use solar thermal energy for heating and cooling. But use it in a decentralised way and on a small scale.