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University of Arizona (1978)

SOLAR ENERGY TECHNOECOSYSTEMS IN ARID LANDS

Duffield, Christopher

Titre : SOLAR ENERGY TECHNOECOSYSTEMS IN ARID LANDS

Auteur : Duffield, Christopher

Université de soutenance : University of Arizona

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 1978

Résumé
Although solar energy technologies show promise as energy base for global civilization, they are now evolving, diversifying, and proliferating so rapidly that no individual or government can control or even keep track of them all. Technoecology, the study of industrial systems by analogy to biological systems, particularly at ecosystem level, provides a unified overview of this complexity, helping us design and manage solar technologies, comprehend their evolutionary patterns and significance, and predict and guide their future manifestations.
There are many physical, morphological, and organizational parallels between solar energy technoecosystems and sun-powered bioecosystems. At organismic level, industrial modules are developing hybrid and multiple-function strategies, energy conversion and optical concentration systems, and siting and behavior adaptations similar to those in the biological world. At ecosystem level, technoecosystems are developing similar spatial and organizational patterns, based on analogous competitive, mutualistic, and symbiotic interactions. Patterns of evolution and succession are also comparable, although industrial evolution is millions of times faster than biological evolution, and is consciously guided. Solar energy niche, like all biological and industrial niches, is limited by environmental effects, flow and stock energy resources, and material resources. Many adaptations of solar technoecosystems to aridity imitate biological adaptations, consciously or unconsciously. Similar water niches are tapped, and similar water conservation means are employed. Water technologies are particularly important in deserts. Solar technologies for processing water include water harvesting, pumping, treatment, storage, desalination, and evaporation. Water’s many uses in solar technoecosystems include solar energy collection, storage, and distribution, evaporative cooling, and operation of heliohydroelectric and salinity gradient powerplants. Large water requirements limit practicality of biomass fuel systems. Crop production, using desert plants, seawater irrigation, or controlled environment greenhouses, is better adapted to aridity. Complex technoecosystems which symbiotically integrate solar energy and water technologies may be very successful. Proposed colonies and technoecosystems in space represent the ultimate extension of such complex arid-adapted technologies. Large scale proliferation of solar technoecosystems in arid lands could reverse desertification trends through albedo modification, and could help balance atmospheric carbon dioxide budget.
Arid oil countries must develop solar technologies to prevent collapse when oil runs out ? technoecology can help them organize their present development boom more efficiently. Oil-importing developing countries need small appropriate solar technologies for desertification reversal, energy independence, and life support amplification. Massive solar technology transfer from industrial to developing countries, perhaps funded by oil producers, could lower costs and speed global transition from fossil to solar energy.
Technoecosystem history can be seen as an evolutionary and successional scenario. Early autotrophic solar powered agricultural technoecosystems, with upright pyramid trophic structure, gave way to present heterotrophic fossil fuel technoecosystems, with inverted pyramid structure based on geologically concentrated energy from ancient bioecosystems. As fossil fuels run out or must be abandoned, a new technoecosystem energy base must be found. Solar energy appears to be the only viable long-term niche available. Succession from fossil to solar energy will involve adding mechanical as well as natural biological and physical solar energy production systems to present energy consumption technoecosystems, giving them upright pyramid trophic structure again. Photovoltaic solar cells are industrial analogues of chloroplasts, and may have global industrial impacts similar to ancient chloroplast transformation of biological systems. Solar cell advantages include simplicity, durability, adaptability, and water independence (ideal for deserts).
Projected solar cell cost plummet in the next few years could trigger a self-accelerating market explosion, perhaps resulting in complete successional replacement of fossil fuels in the 19 90’s. Development of cheap solar cells should clearly have top international priority. Sudden arrival of technoecosystem strategies and effects at global scale signals the start of a new geological age — the Technozoic.

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