Matt and Sean talk about floating solar panels on the ocean, capturing carbon in concrete, and more from the mailbag.
Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, How Offshore Solar Could be the Future of Energy https://youtu.be/4CMk7Sp831Q?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7
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That’s right, it’s Matt Ferrell. Who knew? I, as usual, am Sean Ferrell. I’m Matt’s older brother. I’m also a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids. I’m just generally curious about technology. And luckily for me, my brother is that Matt, who talks about emerging tech and its impact on our lives.
Matt, how are you doing today?
I’m doing pretty well. It’s a nice fall weekend here. I’m trying to relax a little bit before a trip. I’m going to see a solar recycling plant down in Texas. I’m really excited to see that in person.
That sounds like everybody’s best case scenario for a fall getaway. That’s
Solar panel recycling. Yes. Leaves changing color, aluminum getting recycled.
You’re leaving, you’re leaving New England, which is famous for its leaf peeping in the fall to head down to Texas to watch aluminum get shredded. That’s right. That’s Matt’s life in a nutshell. As we always try to do, we try to revisit some comments from previous episodes before we jump into the newest conversation.
And in that vein, I wanted to share some comments from episode 191, which was. Last week’s episode, which was a long form conversation between this Matt. And a different Matt, Matt Reisinger, who, Matt and Matt talked about alternate home building techniques, and I am trying not to take it personally how excited everybody was.
not a, it’s not a you thing Sean. I was not a part of the conversation, but everybody was just like, this, this is fantastic, this is it, this is, you’ve found the formula. Like this from Dropshot1967 who wrote, more of the Mad Matt Matt show please, maybe a monthly podcast. There was also this from Off Grid who wrote, two guys I learned from when building my off grid home, cool that they’re collaborating, and WB wrote, I’m here for this, glad to see this alignment, Matt Powers Unite.
That’s awesome. Yeah. Yeah. I was really happy to see that there was a lot of positive feedback.
Yeah, people are excited to see the two Matts. People are excited to see, uh, good conversation, strong collaboration. And as I said, I’m trying not to take it personally. You shouldn’t. There was also this from JMac.
Who wrote in to say, I love these collaborations, while awesome, and the reduced cost of less labor can make homes more affordable, I also can’t help worry about yet another workforce reduction. I live in a crap manufactured home, can’t afford to rebuild, so I’m looking to overfit insulated zip type systems to at least increase the R value, but structural strength, cost, and durability here in Central Texas.
So, JMAC’s comment is one that I can understand the concerns about workforce reduction as we look at, uh, different ways of building, different ways the labor are utilized, the smaller number of people it takes to build a thing. And I’m just wondering your big picture thoughts on this. I know my feeling on this is that what JMAC is expressing is an anxiety Over what effectively for about 20 years has been an overly inflated workforce by overbuilding.
There’s been a trend in this country to say, if you build it, they will come. And we have massive urban areas, I’m thinking about around Las Vegas, around Reno, parts of Texas, where there are just empty homes because They’re propping up their economy by supporting building when there aren’t actually consumers to purchase those buildings.
And there’s a tipping point to the economy and that’s when we hit recessions. That’s when we hit, like, the bottom falls out and then we have to do a massive reset and it’s very difficult and it’s very hard. Changes in building type into the direction that your videos are talking about. Isn’t a solve, I don’t mean to say that’s the solution, but it is a part of the resizing, the right sizing of home building, I think.
What do you think about all
of that? I agree too. For me, I understand the concern, but at this point in time, I am not concerned, uh, for those changes with processes that take fewer people to make the home, mainly because the pandemic changed. Everything. Uh, that was kind of like a big reset button on the world economy and what people were doing for a living.
And tons of people. left being cooks in restaurants. They left being waiters in restaurants. They left the construction industry. Some of these are, I don’t wanna say they’re low skilled jobs, but there are jobs where it’s easy to get trained to get into it. And people were finding other opportunities and the building industry, this is highly regional.
So don’t take this as a universal across the board, huge swaths of the building industry around the country. Uh, don’t have enough people to do the work anymore. There’s just not enough people. And that’s part of the reason why, uh, it wasn’t just, uh, shortages of parts and materials. It was also a shortage of people who could do the labor that even wanted to do the labor.
So it’s like part of the reason the costs just started to skyrocket was couldn’t get lumber and we can’t get enough of a crew to build the house. Or we don’t have enough skilled electricians and you have to wait weeks and weeks and weeks for the electrician to come in and do their work because there’s only so many electricians in the area.
So, yeah. There’s not enough people to do the work. So for me, when I’m looking at this and I’m thinking, okay, well, this is going to take fewer people. Well, actually, that’s a good thing because there’s a demand that currently cannot be met because there aren’t enough people and supplies to do the thing.
So if we have something that helps to reduce the number of people that it takes to build a house and the amount of materials it takes to build a house, it’s like, that’s going to benefit in the, in the long run. Um, I would understand though if it’s like, you know, like we’re, we overbuilt Las Vegas and like we have entire neighborhoods where it’s like there’s vacant, vacant houses all over the place.
That’s just overbuilding a, an area, uh, beyond demand. But like when you’re talking about just the sheer workforce, the number of people that are doing the work, it’s the same thing with farming. There’s not enough people in the farming industry right now to do all the farming. So it’s like there’s a shortage of people willing to fill those spots.
So at this point, I don’t think it’s a big thing to be concerned about. But it is definitely something that you always have to keep your eye on because it’s going to be always fluctuating and changing.
It’s part of the, that part of the conversation is one that plays out over a longer period of time and it’ll be over the next five to 10 years that we’ll see either a increase in the workforce in the form of people willing to move into those jobs or we’ll see a change in.
The sector that leads to smaller workforces needed to do it. And I wonder if big picture it will turn out to be that this style of home, which requires fewer people on site will gain traction and seem more appealing because of the workforce issue. If it avoids delays, yeah, if it avoids, if it simply they’re able to match the bidding of other builders.
Because their scale of workforce is right sized for them already, as opposed to those that might have to delay projects and put things off to, well, this has to be 2026 build because we can’t do it in the short term because we just don’t have enough people. I wonder how much that will play a part. Only time will tell.
Yep, exactly. Before we move on to our conversation about Matt’s most recent Episode, I want to share this from the New York Times from November 9th, 2023 headline in a US first, a commercial plant starts pulling carbon from the air. This is an article that I shared with Matt recently, and I knew he would be interested in it because this is actually a concept and a industrial technique of capturing carbon that Matt has talked about in his videos.
I remember it being about a year ago. Is that, does that feel? I think it was
longer. I think it was more like a year and a half, maybe even two years ago. I talked about it. It’s been a while.
Yeah. So this is a plant in California and it’s called Heirloom. And a brief quote from the article, Heirloom will take the carbon dioxide it pulls from the air and have the gas sealed permanently in concrete where it can’t heat the planet.
To earn revenue, the company is selling carbon removal credits to companies. Paying a premium to offset their own emissions. Microsoft has already signed a deal with Heirloom to remove 315, 000 tons. of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So effectively you have Microsoft over here pumping carbon into the atmosphere like it’s, it’s job and they pay heirloom to suck carbon out of the atmosphere somewhere else.
It doesn’t even have to be near a Microsoft plant. That’s not the goal here. This isn’t scrubbing emissions from a factory. This is just pulling it out of the air wherever, but by pulling it out. Anywhere, it’s a benefit globally, so that’s, that’s what’s at play here, and I wonder if we’ll see other companies jumping in.
In the same way, California being a leader in this in the U. S., trying to, uh, set things right in this way. It’s another impact of California’s size of its economy, how large California is compared to, uh, the rest of the U. S. California by having this plant and Microsoft, which is of course a global company.
Paying them to do this, if this does in fact work as a model, California by itself, this company in California could benefit from global customers. So there’s, it’s an interesting thing to keep an eye on. So that was from the New York Times just a couple of days ago. And uh, Matt seems like maybe it’s time to revisit that video and do an update.
It’s one of the, it’s a very, um. Divisive topic. Because a lot of people think pulling CO2 from the atmosphere like that is just a boondoggle and just a stupid waste of energy, money and time and all that kind of stuff. I definitely don’t fall in that camp. I don’t think it’s the silver bullet, but it does make sense in certain use cases and for making concrete.
It actually makes stronger concrete. There’s a, you end up with a better product and Hey, we’re scrubbing the atmosphere a little bit. So it’s, it’s gonna to be really interesting to see how this kind of plays out. I definitely want to revisit the
topic. Yeah, and it’s, it’s, I also think one of the benefits of it is, is it puts the onus upon the companies that are directly manufacturing the carbon in the first place.
We’re providing them with, I mean, I won’t call it, I’m gonna use the word cover, um, but this isn’t,
I don’t, Greenwashing is, most people call this greenwashing.
Yeah, it’s, but, but there’s a legitimacy, there’s a legitimacy to it, as opposed to, uh, seeing an ad from Bell Petroleum saying like, we’re out there, part of the future, and then putting a little green leaf on their marketing and kind of masking the fact that What we’re doing is drilling for oil, like, like that feels, uh, a little bit like Three Card Monte, whereas this is, as opposed to a government imposed tax.
This is given to a private enterprise to offer a opportunity for companies that produce a lot of carbon and the tech industry is one of the leaders in that to say, okay, we will pay our fair share to solve this problem and it not being government action, but being this kind of Uh, for profit transaction, I think, is going to make some people who kind of knee jerk response to any kind of government involvement, like, this is the solution they’ve been claiming could come.
So, I think it’s important to give it the attention, uh, and the analysis it deserves to say, is this, in fact, working?
On the ecological side, this becomes a way for you just to keep polluting. It’s like, I can keep polluting because I can go over to this company and just take out the CO2 that I’m putting in the atmosphere. And there’s a concern around that. I get it. I understand that concern, but it’s one of those, let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face kind of a moments.
It’s like, there’s a technology here that Could help us. Um, we shouldn’t just throw it out because of concerns that somebody might use this as an excuse. Um, we have to find a good, smart way to use it and
apply it. Yeah. It’s, you don’t, you don’t stop funding skin cancer research because if people just stayed indoors all time, they would not get skin cancer.
It’s you, you, you can look for a solution to the problem. And understand that the way our world works and the way industry works, there is going to be a continuation of the problem. And it’s not through, nobody is out there saying, I want to pollute. They see the pollution as a necessary byproduct of doing what they want to do.
So, the goal is not the pollution. So, solving that problem is not the same as endorsing the source of the issue. So, it becomes It’s a sticky situation, um, and there’s a lot of angles to look at it from, but I think that it’s a good time to revisit that and take a look at not only the concrete capture, but some of the other carbon capture stuff that you talked about in the past.
And now, from Matt’s most recent, which was dropped on November 7th, 2023, How Offshore Solar Could Be the Future of Energy. This is taking a look at a related plan to something we’ve talked about previously. And you point out at the beginning of your video, putting solar panels over water is not a super New idea.
There are benefits that come from keeping the solar panels at a consistent temperature, a lower temperature, where they are more efficient, and we talked previously about some of the plans to try to cover canals, and that also included some things in large bodies of water, like at reservoirs near dams and things like that, where the water is still and otherwise is not being used as .
You know, something that would need to have access to, uh, nobody’s going to be impacted if the Erie Canal is partially covered by a, uh, solar panel array. And so it’s a little bit like, Oh, we’re using this area in a way that otherwise it’s completely unused and it’s not super impacted by extreme weather.
It seems like a far easier proposition than what this most recent video talks about, which the moment you describe it’s going to be solar panels on the ocean, anybody who’s ever seen even a still image, an old 18th century painting of the ocean is immediately going to go, is that going to, is that a good idea?
Yeah. Uh, so does this, I’m, I’m curious. In your taking a look at this, does this feel like it’s right now a corporate means of gaining local energy? As opposed to mass scale energy production, in other words, does it look right now like this is being driven by companies that are saying, like, you have the one example of the test case where they had a solar panel right on the water near a fish farm and using that electricity for the fish farm, is this where the interest is coming from?
People saying, like, Well, we’re doing a thing. It’s on the ocean or it’s near the ocean. So this would be a great place for us to get electricity for that thing. Or is this actually large scale? Like, no, we want to have solar panel farms generating enough energy to feed this small city. It’s
a. This is a chicken and the egg kind of problem, uh, typically what I’ve seen from all the different companies and different industries I’ve talked to, I’ve talked to people who are making crazy new cold climate heat pumps, to new energy generation services, to stuff like this, and in every case, These companies tend to come out the corporate path first, um, like that fish farm.
It’s a good example. And the reason for that is there’s deep pockets there. So this technology, which is oftentimes somewhat unproven, it’s going to be a little more expensive up front. Who can, who’s interested in this that could benefit even with the higher costs? And that come typically comes from corporations.
So it makes sense. It’s like, um Uh, there was a, I can’t talk about what the technology is, but there was this company that had this new form of, um, generating electricity. And they were talking to data centers because data centers, companies like Microsoft and Google have incredibly deep pockets, incredibly expensive energy needs.
And so even though this new form of generator is really expensive upfront, Microsoft looks at that and goes, we could cut our operation costs by 15 percent even using this risky. You know, new generators for them, it makes financial sense. So for something like that fish farm, it’s probably something very similar.
So you’re going to see this kind of stuff coming out in that path first, because that’s where they can get the money from. Uh, it’s not going to be until it’s more proven and those, those costs are to come down that you’ll start to see the more large scale. A utility is trying to generate enough power for an entire city.
That’s, it’s going to be a while before you see something like that, mainly because it’s just not financially feasible until other people have kind of proven it out.
So, is there a best use case scenario right now? Is this, like, we’ve talked about the fish farm, can you think of other places where you’ve seen or could speculate about, like, oh yeah, there are things like these where this would
I, I think where it could work is that dual use. We mentioned this in the video briefly, but the dual use between wind farms. So it’s like existing wind farms could really tap into this because they already have the infrastructure and the underwater power lines to go offshore and bring the power onshore.
They already have it. They’ve already established that stuff. So for them, the costs of implementing and layering this on top of that. It’s going to be way less than somebody just trying to do it from scratch on its own. So I think the fish farm is the first place kind of you’ll see it. And then I think in conjunction with existing offshore wind farms is probably the next place you’d start to see this stuff pop up.
There were a lot of comments about this topic and speculation of what it would involve, like this one from Franz Von Kralingen. And Franz, first of all, I hope I got your name right. And second of all, if I did, I am Immensely proud of myself. Having visited a few buildings about 50 to a hundred meters from shore on the east side of the Caribbean islands and witnessing the mushy growth of more than 10 centimeters of salt, algae, and other slimy stuff on and in them.
I reckon that offshore floating solar can only work with a rigorous maintenance schedule from the start, which makes them lose the couple of percentages of added gain in maintenance. There is the reality of. Storms might smash these things together. You described the one instance of the catastrophic fire in Japan where the solar panels were actually burning.
Um, and. Aside from all of that, there is this low level maintenance issue of, like, it’s sitting in seawater. It’s going to have lots of little living things growing all over it. It’s going to be disgusting. Uh, is there a model that you think From what you, you found in your research, that looks like it would be the best option to avoid some of this.
To me, it looked like, the one that looked like the giant kid’s swimming pool.
one looked like, Okay, yeah, you, you’re keeping everything that’s growing on underside of that. And the top part, which is able to even be walked on, seems like it’s, it’s more manageable. The scale of that, the first one, the prototype, looked like it was much smaller.
It looks like the one that looked like it was, I don’t even know how large in diameter it was. I can’t imagine them getting much bigger than that one. Is that one proposed as like, this is what they would look like. And you can just string a bunch of them together if you needed to.
It sounds like they’re going to get a little bit bigger, but I don’t think they’re getting much bigger because there’s a point at which it becomes so large that you wouldn’t be able to really handle it well.
Right. So it’s, I think it’s roughly at the size that most likely will be going forward. But I, I, I want to kind of bring up that point of the, like the issue with things growing on and getting dirty. It’s like, yes, that is an absolute problem, but I think it’s easy from an armchair quarterback point of view to look at this and go, that’s not going to work.
Cause all that stuff, I see it grown on all these boats. It’s like. The engineers that are building these know that that happens, and they’re trying to come up with systems to try to help slow that down, not, you can’t stop it, but they can potentially slow it down to a point where they could have a maintenance schedule of people going out there and cleaning it every month or something like that, where cost, it’s still cost effective and it can work.
So I would just be cautious of saying, I see it will look like this in this marina for stuff and that’s not going to work because of that. I, it’s. It’s a very different use case and you can engineer around some of it to do that. And I think the kiddie pool example is a good one because they’re trying that the cleverness of the system is helping to alleviate some of those concerns.
Um, doesn’t get rid of them. But it does
help. Just as a, uh, opportunity to talk not only about this tech, but other means of energy production that might be taking place in the ocean, like wind turbines, um, there’s this comment from Yap Fulmore who wrote in to say, my first reaction is that this is too cute by half.
The ocean is like a desert. Nobody lives there. That means that any power you generate must be transported. For over large distances and that hikes cost. Mm-Hmm. . It might see applications in places like Singapore or remote islands where spaces at a premium. But outside those niches, I don’t think so. So this is a, you have an oil rig.
It’s in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. It pumps up the oil. They have to transport the oil from the rig to the processing area so that it can be processed into fuel. I feel almost like that. Element of like oil drilling, like they want to drill for oil in Alaska. We don’t all live in Alaska. So, like, what, uh, this commenter is revealing is true that yes, if you make energy in one area and then you have to transport it, that raises costs.
But that’s already always going on to begin with, from my perspective. What do you think about that?
Oh, it definitely is. We live in a, in a, in a logistical operation right now with the fossil fuel industry that has taken decades to get to the way it is right now. And the reason that it’s so cost effective to do what they’re currently doing today with oil and drilling and transporting it all over the world.
It’s because those systems have been set up and have been operating at an efficiency that they’ve been able to kind of really maximize, min max it. We’re in this middle of this transition where this new direction of stuff is going to require new logistics, new infrastructure, new things to kind of take advantage of this.
Fast forward 30 years, this is going to be a moot point because they will have figured out all of these issues and figure out how to min max it and get the most value out of it. These are things that are baked into the calculations of trying to decide, are we going to do this or not? So, it’s, I get the point, and I, he, not wrong, he’s absolutely not wrong, it’s like there’s efficiency losses in transmitting electricity long distances, it’s high costs,
but that can be baked in absolutely right that the first best case scenarios might be islands, uh, Places like Singapore where land is added at a premium and putting something on the ocean does make the most sense.
So they may be the best case scenarios today. That’s not to say that 20 years from now it’ll be the same. This
is going to lean into the channel’s name, Undecided. My personal view. On solar panel generation is I believe in more microgrids. I believe in generating the electricity on location as much as you can.
So like on top of my house, on top of a commercial building, on top of that IKEA over there, we should be using rooftops and generating power all over the place because the technology is perfect for that. You then you don’t have to transmit it across huge power lines all over the place. It’s generated and used locally.
That, I think, is an awesome solution, but you can’t rely on that 100 percent of the time. There has to be a mix of electricity coming in from elsewhere to make up for those dips in production and all that kind of stuff. So, Even though I’m a big fan of microgrids, and this might seem on the periphery to me of like, is that a good idea?
It’s kind of like, logistically, if it makes financial sense, where they can make it work financially of like, yeah, it’s more complicated to do this, but we can still make it worth the cost, then do it. It’s like, why not? It’s, that’s kind of where I sit on this. It’s like, It’s not to say that I’m undecided, but I’m keeping my mind open on approaches like ocean solar.
There is also a comment from Mike Fochtman who wrote in to say, I’d just like to point out that floating offshore drilling platforms do not weather heavy storms. For example, the ones in the Gulf of Mexico will stop drilling operations and get towed hundreds of miles during hurricane season in order to avoid storms.
Of course, offshore PV could do something similar, leaving a subsurface power connection behind while being towed out of harm’s way. That is a really good, yeah, there’s a good, that’s a good element to keep in mind that, that when we’re comparing these things and saying like, well, this is something that they could use as a model, the model.
May not in fact be the one that we think we’re looking at. Oh, they make this oil rig that can stand that storm. No, they’ve made an oil rig that they can safely move quickly if they need to. And so that, that may be the model that we’re looking at. And they actually talked about it. You talked about it in your video where you said that the.
Again, the kiddie pool version of the solar array on the water is able to be transported pretty easily in a standard flatbed truck, which considering all the things we’ve talked about as far as transporting, we’ve talked about this in just recent episodes and talking about the, uh, the wind turbine size and the difficulty of getting the wind turbine parts from place to place because they are so enormous and that playing a part in how big they can be.
This. If it is, in fact, easy enough to say, okay, we’re going to pull it ashore and dismantle it and put it back in the truck and drive it 500 miles up the coast because the seasons have changed and the sun is better up there. Or they can simply hook it up to some boat and slowly tow it to a different location if it’s a different structure array.
Uh, that has to be a part of the thinking because there are going to be times of year where if you do have this array. In a place that hurricane season is going to impact. It does make most sense to say, well, during hurricane season, we’re pulling it ashore. So pack it up and take it out of there. Yep.
Thank you for that comment, Mike. So listeners, what do you think about all of this? Do you agree that this is a viable technology that might find some use cases in the ways that Matt and I have talked about, or do you think that this is just another case of a. Idea that in theory could work and it works on paper, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s just not going to work out.
Let us know in the comments and thank you for your comments, not only on this channel, but on Matt’s main channel, as you can tell both of those areas feed our conversation for this podcast. If you’d like to support the show, please review us wherever it was you found us, whether that be YouTube, Spotify, Google, Apple, wherever, go back there, leave a review, don’t forget to subscribe, and please do share us with your friends, that really does help.
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