Nick Cook – A Ramble Through an Oxford Author's Imagination and Inspiration

A New Chapter In Aviation – Airlander 10 – A Hybrid Airship

A New Chapter In Aviation – Airlander 10 – A Hybrid Airship

In the 1920s, when commercial aviation was still in its infancy, the main method of crossing the Atlantic Ocean was by steamship and ocean liner. However, there was also a luxurious alternative…the airship.

The mention of airships, for many, will conjure up an image of a Zeppelin, the archetypal airship with its elegant streamlined design. In 1929 the Graf Zeppelin managed to circumnavigate the globe. This wonderfully evocative video captures the end of its journey in New York.

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Fractured Light – A Ten Year Creative Journey

Fractured Light – A Ten Year Creative Journey
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” 
― Ernest Hemingway
Sometimes when you start a journey you never know where you’ll end up. A case in point is when I have a creative writing project – WIP – work in progress, underway.

My writing process has evolved considerably over the years. These days I always start with a clear plan, with my key scenes, story arc events, and major characters, all worked out before I even begin. But there is one story that I have been recently working on, that was born in a very different way. 

Ten years ago, I left my job as an art director at a very successful games studio that I had helped co-found, to pursue a long held dream of becoming a full-time writer. 

It was the bravest decision of my life, but I was partly propelled to take it, by a story that was not so much book whispering into my ear, as screaming at me to be born. Enthusiasm is one thing, but I was a much less experienced writer ten years ago. However, with bright-eyed optimism, I began what was going to be a long creative dance, and  dived straight into writing that first book. No plan to guide me, no thought of the destination, just a burning passion to write… You can probably guess how that worked out...
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A Permanent Moon Base May be Realised Within Ten Years

A Permanent Moon Base May be Realised Within Ten Years
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
John F. Kennedy (Moon Speech - Rice Stadium)
Image credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

When I was growing up during the era of the space race, I clearly remember how it felt at the time that we were heading towards a revolution in space exploration. The film, 2001 – A Space Odyssey, neatly captured that vision...of an orbiting space station that you could take a domestic flight up to (courtesy of Pam Am – there was even an Airfix model of the craft) and then a shuttle from it on towards the moon base. And this really what we believed was just around the corner back then, but subsequent history, since those heady days of the 70s,  had other ideas.

A base on the moon rapidly became the stuff of dreams, the cost too great to be practical. As that dream and other crewed space exploration crashed around it, it wasn't long before some claimed that the moon landings were fake. But of course  there will always be a few who prefer to believe in conspiracies, rather than the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Regardless of the chequered past of human space exploration, we do now at last seem to be heading towards a new dawn. 
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Grid Parity – A Revolution That Will Change Power Generation Forever

Grid Parity – A Revolution That Will Change Power Generation Forever

Here’s a date to put in your calendars…2020. Why? Because, based on the more conservative projections, that’s the year that countries like the UK will reach a tipping point in power generation. Slipping under the radar of many people, there has been a quiet revolution that’s been steadily building momentum for many years now. It has everything to do with all those solar panels that have been appearing up on the roofs of many homes, the numbers of which have growing exponentially over the last few years.

In the UK, government feed in tariffs (FITS) have partly helped fuel the rapid deployment of photo voltaic (PV) panels. Unfortunately for an industry that’s just started to hit their stride, the subsidies they have recently been slashed by the UK government, a decision that many believe is very short sighted.

However, things aren’t necessarily as bad as they might as first seem. There is something rushing towards us that will change everything – grid parity – a phrase that we are all going to be hearing a lot more about, over the next few years.

So why all the excitement?

Grid parity is the moment at which solar generated power reaches the same price point as grid generated power, which in the main is still provided from fossil fuel sources. For very obvious reasons PV reaching the same price as fossil fuel generated power, has very bug implications for our planet. And before you think this is fanciful notion, grid parity has already been achieved in states like California. Even with subsidies falling away, nothing is going to slow down our rush towards this far reaching power generation paradigm shift for our world.

It gets better. There is nothing to stop the plunge in price of PV power, shooting far below that of the fossil fuel equivalent. PV cells are increasing in efficiency every year, and they are also getting cheaper. In the many scenarios, it is only a matter of time before fossil fuels can no longer compete with PV power.

Wind and wave power have their place in green power generation, and also some make the case for nuclear generation, despite the huge costs related to it. Of course many argue against it, including for reasons of safety.

There is one major obstacle for PV power generation, that it is lumpy and it doesn’t work at night. Also in winter PV produces less power due to the decreased sunlight. However, there are two other developing areas that may prove to have a significant role in dealing with PV power's shortcomings – and both are to do with power storage. 

The first technology is industrial scale flow batteries. Flow batteries are a maturing technology that have the potential to be able to store huge amounts of energy generated during the day from PV, and other renewable, sources such as wind turbines. Once stored, this power can be delivered back into the grid when the sun isn’t shining and the winds are calm.

Flow battery technology will be key to weaning us off coal powered generation addiction. There are very exciting developments in this area, with the recent announcement on a lithium based flow batteries that, compared to the current flow batteries on the market today, deliver ten times the amount of power storage. There are technical hurdles to be solved, but the future is looking extremely promising for this technology.

The second key development is linked to weaning off households on their reliance of the grid. At the moment a typical household with PV panels, generates excess power, that during the day, is fed back into the grid. However, what if you could store that unneeded power in your own super-sized battery? That is exactly what people like Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX fame, has been pondering about, too. His company's solution is called Powerwall, a large battery storage device, that when used in conjunction with PV cells, will mean that household will be independent of the grid for long periods of time, maybe even in some cases, completely.

One thing is for certain. The renewable power generation revolution is gathering force and 2020 is rushing towards us. And when we reach grid parity, that can only be a good thing for putting the brakes on global warming.

If you have time, I highly recommend spending 25 watching Al Gore’s excellent TED talk, New Thinking About the Climate Crisis. This is his follow up talk to his famous, An Inconvenient Truth TED talk (2009). It would seem there is an awful lot to be optimistic about. 

Image at top of article copyright NASA
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