Energy of Sci-Fi

Bizarre, featured

Conservationists across the globe are scrutinizing the daily energy use of developed countries more closely than ever before. The rising cost of electricity and mounting proof that global warming is more than just a political campaign platform are two driving factors in the scrutiny. Some light has been shed on this issue already, which is supported by millions of organizations publicly, but annual household electricity consumption in the U.S. alone remains at an all-time high.

This begs the question: If the dependence we have on technology in the 21st century means that our planet is hard-pressed to find ways to control the over-consumption of electricity, how would the light-year technology from our favorite Sci-Fi  movies and TV shows fare on an energy-efficiency scale? We took a look at Hollywood’s classic portrayals of the distant future to compare the theoretical usage in our respective worlds.

“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings”

optimus prime

Transformers’ autobots leader Optimus Prime may be wise within his years – all reputed several million of them – but environmentally friendly he is not. The seemingly fearless and noble Optimus Prime (G1) is one-half doctor and one-half soldier, utilizing his serious skill set to help heal others of his kind, and protect earth from other robot aliens called Decepticons. Decepticons need not be fooled by his compassion – peace be damned, this righteous robot has another component, “Roller,” who will charge into battle to protect what is good against what is evil. But at what cost to the environment? Perfect balance of brain and brawn, few can match the prowess – or energy consumption – of this Alpha bot. [1]

Despite Optimus Prime’s ability to handle (and subsequently destroy) 12,000 pounds – think three Honda Civics – with his hands of steel, his weapon of choice is actually the laser rifle,  mounted on his shoulder. Relative to size, this weapon is not unlike the Information Unlimited’s handheld Laser Ray Gun, which requires roughly 6,000 watts per shot to cut a hole in a sheet of “even the hardest of metals.” That’s equivalent to the energy used to power approximately two dishwasher cycles released instantaneously. Now consider the energy needed to power Optimus Prime’s laser rifle – its usage isn’t just designed to simply cut through tough metal, but rather destroy Decepticons, severing heads and piercing chests of his enemies. One shot from his laser rifle packs more watt-wallop than the average household dishwasher would in a 10-year lifetime. [2] [3]

Needless to say, this character from Sci-Fi would be an energy guzzler of infinite proportions. And that’s not even counting the mega watt Auto-Launcher, which is self-loading; the dexterous grapple-arm and the mounted communications disk antenna provides a link to his team within a 50-mile radius! It’s no wonder he’s red and blue. By 2010 standards, he sure as heck wouldn’t be considered “green.”

“That’s no moon … it’s a space station!”

DeathStar

A celestial replica space station armed with planet-destroying weapons, Star Wars’ Death Star was at the forefront of Emperor Palpatine’s plan to rule the Galactic Empire with an electrically over-charged iron fist. The iconic battle station, measuring several hundred kilometers in diameter, comes armed with a directed-energy super laser rifle able to destroy an entire planet with one single shot – talk about weapons of mass destruction. [4]

For the Death Star’s laser to be able to blow up an entire planet, it would have to be packing some serious heat. We’re talking 10^32 joules worth of heat per one-second shot. Having a hard time grasping that number? You’re not alone. Luckily, another Sci-Fi fan in the blogosphere set out to explain it. According to the National Ignition Facility, the United States has a 5 x 10^11 energy generating capacity. Working off of that figure, it would take approximately a billion trillion Americas to produce the same amount of energy released by the Death Star laser in a single second! Wow – that’s a whole heck of a lot. But, if that doesn’t put it into perspective for you, just understand that it would take more energy than currently exists. [5]

“Is it better to be feared or respected?

iron man

When the story of Tony Stark – aka iron-clad bodyguard to the world – first appeared in comic books circa 1963, the parallels between the fiercely strong superhero’s reality and the United States’ ongoing political fight (and resulting technological advances in military weaponry) against communism during the Cold War were uncanny. It was widely believed that The Iron Man comic book was creator Stan Lee’s exploration of the role of American technology and business during that turbulent era. Whatever the case, Tony Stark, in his technologically superior metal suit, was – and remains – the crime fighting machine we could only dream of having on our side. [6] [7]

Unfortunately for us, we are several generations (perhaps galaxies) away from seeing this technology realized. According to an article featured on Wired.com, the amount of energy it would take to create the directed-energy weapons synonymous with Iron Man – namely the repulsor rays that are built into the suit’s gloves – makes it unattainable given our realm of (current) possibility. [8]

The powerful weapon is described as being able to produce a laser beam powerful enough to melt a hole through a half-inch-thick steel plate. For such a laser to actually exist, it would require 2 gigawatts (2 billion watts) of power. That’s more energy than is produced by a nuclear power plant! Too bad – the world could really use a real-life Iron Man right about now. Here’s hoping to one day having him around… Until then, we’ll have to settle for watching him in all his glory, on the big screen. [9]

“One-point-twenty-one gigawatts! Great Scott!”

back-future

You have to wonder if the manufacturers at the now defunct DeLorean Motor Company had even the faintest idea just how iconic their DMC-12 model would become. The DMC-12’s infamy had little to do with the sports car itself, which came standard with gull-wing doors and a fiberglass underbody, and more to do with an ingenious doctor who tinkered with the model to create the world’s most recognizable – if not always reliable – time machine. One thing Doc failed to pay attention to during his travels to the future? Heated debates on energy conservation. The DeLorean Time Machine is hardly a Toyota Prius, but the car itself does fare much higher in fuel-efficiency testing than most sports cars in today’s market. [10]

Boasting a fuel efficiency of 19mpg the DeLorean was actually efficient for its time – compared to let’s say a Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster, which rates at about 8mpg. The DMC-12 model was originally designed with a 170 horsepower output for the engine in mind. However, United States emission regulations required additional parts be added to the car before green-lighting them for sale, which effectively reduced the horsepower to 130 horsepower. Despite its sports car exterior, this model, sans time machine, runs more like a modern day Volkswagen GTI, which ranks respectably mid-range on the fuel-efficiency scale.



Add a flux capacitor – which needs 1.21 gigawatts, or roughly more than a billion watts of electricity – and suddenly you’re dealing with a much bigger beast. Charging up the car with 1.21 gigawatts of plutonium-powered nuclear reactor produced enough electricity to keep the entire New York City metropolitan area running for almost 11 minutes. This may get you “back to the future,” but it sure isn’t going to score you points with any environmentalist groups! (Unless of course, you’re channeling that electricity from a lightning bolt.)

“The force will be with you, always”

obi wan

No other weapon is able to inflict more fear, or inspire more imitation and mockery (just try YouTubing ‘lightsaber duel’) than the Jedi’s signature plasma energy blade, the Lightsaber. Calculated by one Star Wars enthusiast to reach an approximate temperature of 6241F and using an estimated 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, the metal-melting lightsaber can cut through most substances with the same ease used to slice a knife through butter. This iconic Sci-Fi weapon will sear flesh with one effortless swing, all the while producing a distinctive, infectious hum. [11]

Minus, of course, the added-bonus of a colorful light-show, the taser guns often used by police officers assigned to crowd control are fairly similar to Luke Skywalker’s iconic energy sword. Sure, they don’t sear flesh, but they do inflict a paralyzing pain all their own. Just ask this student who was tasered at University of Florida. This is a bad way to get your name in the newspaper. [12]

Tasers work by emitting an electrical current between two points, then the users touch the intended person between those two points to disrupt voluntary control of muscles in the victim. While tasers are considered non-lethal weapons, the electrifying guns have many critics advocating against them and have been blamed in over 245 documented deaths, according to Amnesty International.

On average, tasers are capable of pumping 26 watts of electrical power into the target for a debilitating few seconds – that’s more than enough electricity to power a light bulb. While it may not be quite enough to defend the galaxy as say, a lightsaber, it proves plenty in warding off drunk concert-goers. Even if it’s not the most efficient use of electricity.

“To boldly go where no man has gone before”

starship-enterprise

The past 30years of Sci-Fi have seen many predictions about the times that we live in today. Little did we know, however, that our friends aboard the Star Trek Enterprise were giving us an early glimpse into what would become the epicenter of society in the 21st century: the cell phone. (And, subsequently, the unreliable cell reception that comes with it.) Sure, their devices did not rely on artificial satellites to relay the signal, instead using subspace transmission that defies the rules of physics.

“Communicators,” as they were called, were (and coincidentally continue to be) devices that instantly connected two crew members on different parts of a planet. Like the story of our real lives, communicators were often more of a nuisance than a convenience. Star Trek’s hand-helds were often to blame for stranding characters in challenging situations when the devices weren’t operational or were out of range. It seems the creators of Star Trek predicted some things right on the money. [13]

The true difference lies in the amount of electricity they use (if any – they more than likely found a way to channel solar power) to keep their devices operational versus how much energy is drained from the iPhones and Blackberrys of 2011.

According to an article on Slate.com, cell phones draw approximately 3.68 watts of power from the outlet while charging and 2.24 watts once it’s fully charged. Consider how many people across the globe have cell phones, and again how many of those people are habitual over-charging offenders, and this might be one example of an eco-friendly Sci-Fi tool that has us beat.

These alternate universes may have us beat in terms of technological advancements, but 2011 is a leader with a “billion light years away” in energy conservation. Still, even we have a long way to go in the realm of energy consumption versus responsible production. Many hope that the new and developing tech toys are designed to go hand-in-hand with the green initiatives that are shaping our future.

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…”

superman

With the gracefulness of a ballerina and unparalleled sub-human strength, Superman certainly lives up to his moniker. Well, at least in the (comic) books. During his lengthy fight against evil, this superhero has been known to lift vehicles, stop trains on their track (he is, after all ‘faster than a speeding bullet and strong than a locomotive’), and he can even expel frigid breath with a single exhale. But perhaps his most mind-boggling feat is his seemingly effortless reversal of earth’s orbit. Say what? Can’t help but wonder about the force and energy that would be needed for this to actually occur. (Hint: it’s A LOT.) [14]

According to calculations worked out by a very dedicated, physics-loving Superman fan, in order for anything to alter the earth’s orbit – whether that means throwing it off or reversing it – something with a mass exceeding one billion trillion kg would need to collide with the earth. Oh, and about that unbelievably large mass? It would also have to be traveling at the speed of light to cause even a hiccup in the routine gravitational orbit of the planet. Forget for a second that light speed is about a million times faster than any current vessel in the world. There isn’t enough energy in this world to propel such a massive mass (for lack of a better word)  toward a planet. Much less at such an infinitely fast speed!

One curious blogger took it a step further by setting out to determine how many Supermen it would take (presumably operating under the false hope there is even a single Superman among us) to make this impossible feat possible. His findings? Approximately 3.4 x 10^10 Supermen. That’s a lot of caped superheroes for one planet, don’t you think? [15]

 

Sources:

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AM74D1mFjN0

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimus_Prime_%28Transformers%29

3. http://www.amazing1.com/burning-lasers.htm

4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6v5VahaEL7s

5. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/geekend/?p=277

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Man

7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkTW2xAEc7U&feature=PlayList&p=DCCF21B7D161AE26&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=3

8. http://www.wired.com/underwire/2008/05/iron-man-extrav/

9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siQgD9qOhRs

10. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bH_i4QEAzUU&feature=related

11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVQx1RkVtV4&feature=player_embedded#at=33

12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVa6jn4rpE

13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEy8CHbXXHg

14. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjS6B4KuPY0

15. http://roasm.com/2007/01/06/the-superman-hyphothesis/

 

This article is from Wellhome, which provides Home Energy Audits or Assessments with the ability to upgrade HVAC, Windows, and Home Insulation, and perform Duct Tightening and Air Sealing to create a comfortable more well balanced home that performs at its best level.  Home energy assessments through WellHome allow the homeowner to get a bigger picture of the efficiency of the home and its ability to maintain comfortable temperatures and air flow.

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