Monday, August 23, 2010

Solar Power in China? LOL!

I heard a story on the radio today about Chinese mass transit in cities trying to run on solar power. Anyone who has ever visited China, and spent any time in the cities, and who knows how solar power works, sees this for the stupidity that it truly is.

Lemme explain. In 1999, I stood next to the general manager of quality, and the general manager of manufacturing, from a large factory in a western Chinese city where 8 million people lived and worked. A truck was being loaded, to head off to America, full of shiny, smooth surfaced, stainless steel parts that were 4 axis rough machined and manually hand polished. I was the quality engineer responsible for assuring that what was going into that truck was what was specified on the drawings and specifications. I picked up one of these hand polished stainless steel parts out of a almost sealed shipping crate, and held it in the air, pointing to towards where the noon day sun SHOULD HAVE BEEN. It was not a cloudy day, but there was so much smog in this large western Chinese city that the location of the sun was indiscernible.

An old gray bearded engineer back in the US had taught me the trick of holding parts up to a bright light source, to look for the amplification of hand polished "waviness" would invariably produce - like a cheap mirror distorting the photons. The Chinese factory executives watched me do this, and asked my interpreter in Mandarin what I was doing. I told them "checking for waviness, per the specification for grind lines and finish lines". The Chinese managers erupted in laughter. "Mei Wenti!" the head of Quality exclaimed (which means "No Problem"). "In China, we can never see the sun, so there is no waviness!". He wasn't kidding. In 13 trips, totaling 6 months of my life, the only time I saw the sun was when flying at altitudes over 10,000 feet in commercial jet liners. The entire landscape below was a shroud of gray. We knew it was time for a landing when you heard the landing gear go down, and then around 1000 feet of altitude, features of the landscape below would just start to emerge in the sun-less, soot covered, bird-less land.

Every time I blew my nose in China, the facial tissue would come out black. And it would take a week of recovery, in Europe or the US, before I could breathe normally again. The Western Hotels there had "day of the week" floor mats in the Elevators. Each morning you could read MONDAY or TUESDAY on the elevator floor, and by that evening, the letters were indecipherable, covered in blackish gray soot-mud. This happened regardless of rain, or no rain. Chengdu, Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing.. every city holding millions of inhabitants had this issue. But that was 1999 and 2000 - China's quadrupled the numbers of cars on the streets since then. I am sure that all of those cars running on leaded gasoline are Much Cleaner than the 100s of millions of bicycles commuters used to use.

So it is against this back drop, that the Chinese are going to put in solar panels to "power" their mass transit. Unless they hire someone to wipe clean the panels every hour or two, the photo voltaic energy produced won't be enough to light up a dim LED, much less power a train.


  1. perhaps more of these will convince China to be more environmentally friendly. ummmm.. who am I kidding. ;)

    although I'm sure I would have just walked back home by the 2nd hour. 9 days? no way.

  2. Yeah, I heard about that massive traffic jam on NPR as well. Entitlement society - I've obtained my wealth, got my car, now I'm gonna travel. So what if there's only 1 highway, and there's 100 million other other citizens with cars who decided they have the same idea as well.

    What amazes me, is that the toll booth guys let that many people through. You CANNOT travel from one province in China to another, unless your papers are in order. Everytime I traveled by minibus in China on company trips, and you'd leave a city, you had to pass through a toll booth, where they looked in the mini van, saw there were 2 or 3 Westerners in the bus, and pulled it over to check everyone's pass ports and papers. The driver would hand over a few hundred RMB (AKA bribe) and they'd let the minibus pass through.

    Perhaps there's some really rich toll booth operators now, having taken a windfall of bribes from rich travelers who owned their own cars, and who were gonna drive to Western China, dag-gam-it!

    9 days... where did everyone go to the bath room? (ew - I already know)

  3. I was in Shanghai a couple times. I did really like it, actually, except the air. On a *good* day, you could see clearly the length of 1 city block. Solar power? I guess that's what tibet is for.


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