Dec 3, 2008

Two Stations of the Cross and Zimbabwe

Before Mass this morning, I made the fourteen Stations of the Cross around the Church. Two stations seemed particularly appropriate--the tenth where Jesus is stripped of his garments, and the eleventh where Jesus is nailed to the cross.

The two stations made me think that many of our country's citizens may be stripped of most material possessions in the next few years. Many may be painfully nailed to a cross of financial difficulties as jobs, homes, and savings are lost.

Zimbabwe provides nightmares of how bad things can get when a government keeps printing more money. Current stories found in THE ZIMBABWE SITUATION abound about the effects of Zimbabwe's extra-super-dooper-hyperinflation:
  • All of the country's main public hospitals have closed and those that operate have little or no medicine and suffer a shortage of staff, whose monthly salaries do not cover even one day's bus fare to get to work.
  • Zimbabwe riot police on Wednesday broke up a peaceful march by health workers protesting against the collapse of the health infrastructure amid mounting signs that the situation is slipping out of the government’s control.
  • Doctors in Zimbabwe said as many as 1,000 people have died in the cholera epidemic caused by the breakdown of the country's water purification system.
  • Army discipline is breaking down and on Monday soldiers looted shops in the capital Harare and beat foreign currency dealers.
  • Authorities have turned off water taps in Harare because they ran out of purifying chemicals, so people are now digging shallow wells in open ground.
  • Zimbabwe police beat union members as they demonstrated against tight restrictions on cash withdrawals.
  • The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said it would now circulate new Z$10-million, Z$50-million and Z$100-million notes. The previously highest denomination was Z$1-million.
  • Unemployment is more than 80 percent.
  • Millions survive on nothing but what they are gathering in the wild. McDonald Lewanika of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition reports [in Wedza, a town only 60 miles from the capital, Harare] "You see people fighting with each other and even with wild animals like wart hogs just to take some food back to their children."
  • President Robert Mugabe's decided in June to suspend humanitarian aid during his one-man presidential runoff. His suspension of foreign aid remains in force.
  • Former President Carter, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Graca Machel, wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to visit Zimbabwe a week and a half ago to report on the humanitarian situation. But they were denied visas by Mugabe's regime.
Zimbabwe (formerly called Rhodesia) was once one of Africa's most successful nations, but now has the world's highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231 million per cent per year, but thought to be much higher.

Nov 30, 2008

Vatican Solar Energy Calculations

Two German companies have donated and installed 2,400 solar panels (5,000 sq meters) on the roof of the Vatican Nervi Hall where the Pope holds his weekly Wednesday audiences with pilgrims. The new Vatican solar system cost $1.6M and will produce 300 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy a year.

But is solar power cost efficient? Is it truly green to manufacture photovoltaic cells? How much land would be needed and what would it cost to replace a typical power plant with a solar energy system?

To obtain the power rating of the Vatican solar installation, simply divide 300 MWh by the number of hours per year, e.g., (365 x 24) to obtain 0.034 MW--the power rating for the Vatican solar photovoltaic system.

To predict how many solar panels would be needed to get 1,000 MW [1 GW) of power, such as is produced by a small nuclear power plant like Wolf Creek in Kansas, solve the equation:
0.034 MW/2,400 panels = 1,000 MW/x panels.

Solving for x gives 70,588,235 panels needed to replace a single small power plant. Each installed solar panel at the Vatican costs $667, so the cost to replace a small power plant is 70,588,235 x $667 = $47,082,352,750.

The 70+ million solar panels needed to replace a single power plant will cover an area of 70,588,235 x 5,000 sq meters/2,400 panels = 147,058,823 sq meters. There are 4,047 sq meters in an acre, so dividing 147 million square meters by 4,047 sq meters gives 36,338 acres needed to replace a small power plant. At 640 acres per square mile, this represents 57 square miles of land needed to install over 70 million solar panels to replace ONE small power plant. [BTW, to replace a large power plant would require five times these values.]
"My solution to the energy crisis? Nuclear power. We already know how, it is less dirty than fossil fuel, power plants require only acres of land, not square miles and the US has all the uranium she needs inside her own borders. Forget trying to store the waste forever--settle for a century. We should also drill offshore for more domestic oil since nuclear plants can't be built overnight, and the American automobile fleet won't be all-electric for some years to come. And we can use wind and solar power where it makes sense.

"Oh, and since candidates for president can spend a hundred million dollars to get us to vote for them, maybe we can spend the same to undo the 30 years of anti-nuclear nonsense that brought us today's energy crisis in the first place." [Jeffery D. Kooistra in Alternative View, published in ANALOG: Science Fiction and Fact, January/February 2009.]

An Upsetting Sign