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Ask Slashdot: Can FOSS Help In the Fight Against Climate Change? 154

dryriver writes: Before I ask my question, there already is free and open-source software (FOSS) for wind turbine design and simulation called QBlade. It lets you calculate turbine blade performance using nothing more than a computer and appears compatible with Xfoil as well. But consider this: the ultimate, most efficient and most real-world usable and widely deployable wind turbine rotor may not have traditional "blades" or "foils" at all, but may be a non-propeller-like, complex and possibly rather strange looking three-dimensional rotor of the sort that only a 3D printer could prototype easily. It may be on a vertical or horizontal axis. It may have air flowing through canals in its non-traditional structure, rather than just around it. Nobody really knows what this "ultimate wind turbine rotor" may look like.

The easiest way to find such a rotor might be through machine-learning. You get an algorithm to create complex non-traditional 3D rotor shapes, simulate their behavior in wind, and then mutate the design, simulate again, and get a machine learning algorithm to learn what sort of mutations lead to a better performing 3D rotor. In theory, enough iterations -- perhaps millions or more -- should eventually lead to the "ultimate rotor" or something closer to it than what is used in wind turbines today. Is this something FOSS developers could tackle, or is this task too complex for non-commercial software? The real world impact of such a FOSS project could be that far better wind turbines can be designed, manufactured and deployed than currently exist, and the fight against climate change becomes more effective; the better your wind turbines perform, and the more usable they are, the more of a fighting chance humanity has to do something against climate change. Could FOSS achieve this?
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Ask Slashdot: Can FOSS Help In the Fight Against Climate Change?

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  • The best way to fight climate change with it is to turn it off.
    • A massive carbon tax would do a much more effective job at accelerating our transition off fossil fuels and slowing global warming.

      A massive carbon tax so that, to start with, Americans pay the same for gas as Europeans, who do just fine with that, and then keep increasing it.

      That's the best thing that would work, because except for tilting the playing field the way we have to move, it lets the free market take care of how to achieve the change.

      But unfortunately, an effectively large carbon tax would take p

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I agree we need more environmentally friendly energy options but...

        The problem with any energy taxing scheme is eventually you price the cost of energy so high that slavery becomes a viable option again.
        Cheap power did exponentially more to reduce slavery than all the historical do-gooders combined.

        This is of course an extreme argument but you need to be aware of unintended consequences.

        • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @09:31PM (#56325587)

          The whole point of a carbon tax is:

          Energy != Fossil Fuels

          There are other ways we can harness solar energy, and geothermal energy. Our addiction to the drug of cheap fossil fuels is preventing us from getting to those other ways fast enough.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            In this case, the design of the blade for wind turbines is only a part of the answer and good vertical axis wind turbine, needs a far more complex design to achieve really good outcomes and the blade itself, whilst important does not the whole design create. A really tricky problem to resolve but human imagination always delivers in one way or another. I find it a interesting subject and have whiled away many an hour coming up with and investigating various designs. Always puttering around with one in the b

        • by jbengt ( 874751 )

          The problem with any energy taxing scheme is eventually you price the cost of energy so high that slavery becomes a viable option again.

          Then just increase the slavery tax. Problem Solved!

      • A massive carbon tax would do a much more effective job at accelerating our transition off fossil fuels

        Because history has shown us that making an entire population poor greatly enhances care for the environment. Why, look t what a model for environmental protection East Germany was under communist rule [thefederalist.com]! A large enough carbon tax, and everywhere gets to be East Germany. Fun times!

        • Hmm, Germany is on 100% renewables now, so that argument kind of backfired on you.
        • If you don't agree with spending the tax on R&D into new energy economy technologies, then you can just lower income taxes by the amount of revenue taken in by the carbon tax, or use it to start funding the universal basic income we're going to need soon because of automation and AI.

        • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

          making an entire population poor

          Could you explain how a carbon tax, even one that isn't revenue-neutral [theguardian.com], would make everyone poor? What do you expect the people YOU elected would do with the money, burn it? If so, you need to be a little more careful how you vote!

          Or maybe you're saying that we would be be poor because we wouldn't be digging up as much oil out of the ground and enriching ourselves at the expense of our children and grandchildren. This reasoning I could agree with.

      • by hAckz0r ( 989977 )

        So I'm not that optimistic given the garbage we currently have.

        Can we please have just a little optimism? I hear there is a new technology using plasma that can cleanly convert common garbage directly into electricity! I think that solves both problems at once. /s

      • We know how to make cheap plentiful power, we lack the will to do so. The same people that are running around yelling global warming also hate it. Fission works it's got far too many regulations to do cheaply. It gots far to many court delays to finance. Everyone in the US is a bespoke design but all 70's level tech. This is all by design you need far to much political capital to get one put in.

        Build them in factories with a design that's not 40+ years old. Hells we can use the spent rods as feedstock for modern designs.

        Carbon taxes are crap it's just a tax and a regressive one at that. Want change put in sensible PV incentives and billing. The entire concept of taxing things you don't like people doing is broken, an end run around the constitution to allow nearly unlimited federal power.

        • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

          Carbon taxes are crap it's just a tax and a regressive one at that.

          Revenue-neutral carbon taxes where the revenue is returned equally to everyone is highly progressive. If for example the tax were $1 per gallon of gasoline and the average person buys 500 gallons of it per year, everyone would receive a $500 check every year whether they purchased any gasoline that year or not. $500 may not seem like much to you and I but to a poor person that's a lot of money!

          If you are truly opposed to regressive taxes, w

          • Sure till you figure out that the poor person needs to use 750g a year because the drive a POS car or live in a house with poor insulation but would still not like to freeze. It's much like the PV buybacks it hurts anybody who can not put up PV ya know people like renters because you end up subsidizing the people that can.

            I've got no issue with use taxes if they actually go towards what they are supposed to, yes they can affect the poor but they tend to be fairer. I absolutely hate when you siphon off the

      • by Anonymous Coward

        But unfortunately, an effectively large carbon tax would take politicians with brains, a conscience, and guts. So I'm not that optimistic given the garbage we currently have.

        Unfortunately, an effectively large carbon tax would take an electorate with brains, a conscience, and guts.

    • Nah, for OP the best way to fight climate change is for him to /wrists.
    • The best way to fight climate change with it is to turn it off.

      That's a little like saying the best way to fight high healthcare costs is to not go to the doctor. It's true, but isn't the whole picture.

  • This is a job for evolutionary software. Definitely.

  • Of course (Score:4, Funny)

    by wyattstorch516 ( 2624273 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @07:43PM (#56325209)

    FOSS can solve the hunger crisis, cure all disease, and anything else your imagination wants to believe.

    Reality may be different however.

  • Genetic Algorithms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Edis Krad ( 1003934 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @07:45PM (#56325213)

    You get an algorithm to create complex non-traditional 3D rotor shapes, simulate their behavior in wind, and then mutate the design, simulate again, and get a machine learning algorithm to learn what sort of mutations lead to a better performing 3D rotor. In theory, enough iterations -- perhaps millions or more -- should eventually lead to the "ultimate rotor"

    You're describing Genetic Algorithms [tutorialspoint.com]. It's a fairly old technique. It shouldn't be too hard to implement it. The problem here is not FOSS, it's computational power. You need quite a lot of CPU time to run all the simulations and evolve the solution.

    Some sort of distributed computing framework like INSERT_PROJECT_NAME@home would work. But then you'd have to convince everyone to use it....

    • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @08:44PM (#56325431)

      It's a fairly old technique.

      Yes. Back in the day we called it "trial and error". It is the most unscientific approach to solving problems that you can get. But computers have the advantage that doing it a million times to come up with something reasonable is feasible.

    • by javaman235 ( 461502 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @10:52PM (#56325829) Homepage

      The actual problem here is "simulate the wind". Doing so requires a FOSS fluid Dynamics package that runs fast, and to my knowledge this doesn't exist. NASA opened up theirs a few years ago seeking speedup:

      https://www.nasa.gov/aero/nasa... [nasa.gov]

      But there's physics stuff computers can't simulate fast, else we'd have AI's designing robots now.

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )

      Some sort of distributed computing framework like INSERT_PROJECT_NAME@home would work. But then you'd have to convince everyone to use it....

      I wish @home would be folded into bitcoin, then at least all those CPU cycles would be useful for something, not just heating and generating fake money...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... unless it's GPL3.

  • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @07:55PM (#56325247)

    ...Such that they slice the birds into easy-to-swallow bite-sized pieces instead of mostly just pulverizing them?

    Summer BBQ season is nearly upon us, after all.

    Strat

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2018 @07:57PM (#56325253)
    And they’re wasting tons of energy for funbux.
  • Betz's law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @08:07PM (#56325281) Journal

    "Traditional" turbine designs are already up to 80% theoretical maximum efficiency. Trying to eke that last 20% is not really going to save the planet since we're nowhere near using that much wind in the first place.

    That is - if you want to get FOSS to improve tech adoption, direct it to making things more affordable or accessible, not toward having more expensive higher-efficiency, higher-complexity devices.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ah yes, but what if we could find a turbine with much greater theoretical maximum efficiency?

    • Re:Betz's law (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ishmaelflood ( 643277 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @10:53PM (#56325833)

      No Betz's law is that the efficiency of a system that extracts energy from a free flowing windstream cannot be more than 59.3% . The reason is that if you take more energy than that out of the incoming windstream, it all piles up behind the rotor (as a sort of handwavy explanation). It doesn't matter what the configuration is you won't beat that.

      The idea of using a GA to develop aero is of course not new, it is not hard to put a matlab or pythn program together to do this. Many years ago i had a GA script that optimised a structure using FEA that worked well enough.

      However, you need to define a set of genes to describe your shape. That might be tricky.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Perhaps GP was talking of 80% of that theoretical maximum of 59.3%. Your statements don't seem to be mutually exclusive to me.

      • To be clear (I had to look it up) the second poster is right - Betz's Law caps the max efficiency of such systems at 16/27 or 59%.

        The previous poster (turbines reach 80% efficiency today) is ALSO right, but that 80% is 80% of the Betz cap (so 80% of 59% = about 47% overall efficiency).

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The DIY "PowerWall" guys have done a lot to make recycling batteries easier and cheaper. That includes developing things like 3D printed brackets and open source power controllers.

      It's time to start thinking about having every lithium battery tested and if possible re-used instead of being discarded or broken down. Most batteries that are "dead" are actually mostly fine, it's just one or two bad cells. Not only will it prevent those cells becoming waste, it will build up the grid's battery backup capability

  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @08:07PM (#56325289) Homepage Journal
    "In theory, enough iterations -- perhaps millions or more -- should eventually lead to the "ultimate rotor" or something closer to it than what is used in wind turbines today."

    That pretty much sums up machine learning/AI today. A million monkeys on a million typewriters will eventually write Shakespeare. Except it won't happen.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Slashdot was once a tech site for CS and EE news, operating systems, Linux, BSD, etc. It veered of course a couple times with the Jon Katz episodes, but was able to quickly restabilze.

    These "glboal warming" stories have pretty much hijacked the content on Slashdot. It is political and completely off topic for tech news. It reeks of George Soros and other globalist one-worlders and fellow traverllers.

    Please boycott the advertisers until Slashdot rights itself, if that is even possible. Slashdot is only a

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I hear ya. Now it's turned into a cesspool of pseudo-science... at best.

    • by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @10:01PM (#56325683)

      These "glboal warming" stories have pretty much hijacked the content on Slashdot.

      Slashdot has always done science stories. Anthropogenic climate change is science.

      I remember when almost all Slashdotters respected science. That was a long time ago.

      • I remember when almost all Slashdotters respected science. That was a long time ago.

        I remember when science was respectable, before it made statements like "the science is settled" and "90% of scientists agree". That, too, was a long time ago.

        • Science used to reserve language like that for astrology and creationism. Those were the days when pseudoscience was fringe.

      • But catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is poor computer simulations fed with dubious assumptions, statistics manipulations, hand-wavery and hysteria. And a great taxpayer-funded income source.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    True or False?

  • by larwe ( 858929 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @09:22PM (#56325551)
    The evolutionary part of this software (the piece that says "let's vary parameters and see what results we get, and learn what makes the overall result better") is sort of the easy bit. It's the flow simulation part of it ("how do we create a simulation of the thing being tested, that will accurately transfer to real life") that's hard. Your evolutionary algorithm might be wonderful, and there's _lots_ of FOSS in that field, but it's worthless if it's optimizing a simulation that doesn't accurately model real life. An illustrative article about this was published just the other day https://www.popularmechanics.c... [popularmechanics.com]

    Fluid flow simulation is what one might call a military grade problem - efficient and accurate ways of doing it are either protected by commercial secretcy (because CAD software to design multimillion dollar yachts and aircraft is expensive) or actual military secrecy - because the problem you're solving is the same sort of problem that's being solved (for example) when designing SSBN propellers and hulls to minimize cavitation and make the ships run silent.

  • A free software package, Tux Racer, could help in the fight against Climate Change. No, I'm not talking about the Tux Racer game as we all, ahem, normally play it. This would be a version where the player moves a cardboard cutout 'tux' down the 'screen' (a big sheet of cardboard.)

    The energy savings would be immense, though Steam would lose a lot of revenue.

  • Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Sunday March 25, 2018 @10:17PM (#56325719)

    If you want to save the world through free and open source software, there's an easy way to do this: stop building systems that waste resources.

    Don't use programming languages that spend 10 CPU cycles to do 1 cycle of work. Don't arrange things so a program is recompiled every time it is run. Write software that uses less RAM. Write replacements for spyware-laden crap. Do not support battery-burning DRM and tell them why. Encourage wired rather than wireless connections.

    Stop thinking like a coder and start thinking like an engineer.

  • I just do not believe that we humans will be able to do anything about it in the next 50 years.

    Just my 2 cents ;)
    • disagree. wind and solar power are now cheap enough to take away investment dollars from coal and oil into wind and solar. floodgates are opening.
  • Yes take a look at: http://www.solarnetwork.net/v4... [solarnetwork.net]
  • an Archimedes screw approaches theoretical maximum efficiency

  • This thing is as far as I know neither commercially nor open source available. Maybe you can find some simulations programming languages but I would assume you will be writing the software.

    Given you're most likely looking at writing a paper rather than developing a company, your software will have to be open source so it can be properly peer reviewed.

  • As the fight is a social one, I doubt that this is the exception where a technical solution would work.

  • Improved alternators(they are not generators!) and reducing bearing friction will will bring a bigger gain.
    As far as that goes better bearings would improve energy use in many areas!

  • There's plenty of renewable energy out there and our technology to extract it is for the most part is pretty good as it is. The biggest problem is a way to store this energy efficiently and cheaply. We have no solution for this at the moment. Power grids for example need to match usage exactly with generation at every instant. Don't do that and you start seeing brownouts (causing problems with consumer devices) or worse the generator blows up. Fossil Fuels are used for the reason that they're highly c

  • is this task too complex for non-commercial software?

    or is it too complex for commercial software?

    In any case, commercial and FOSS are not mutually exclusive.

  • Already blew the 1.5 degree carbon budget. On track to blow thru the 2.0 degree carbon budget very soon (2024? 2027?)

    Wind power (and other alternative energy) is still good as are batteries that would allow coal plants to run at more efficient levels as are electric cars as are LED lighting solutions to reduce consumption.

    If you want to address climate change you need to either find a safe (switchable) way to block incoming energy in huge quantities or you need to find a safe way (i.e. again- you can turn

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