By Bernie Littlejohn –
Life continues to become more complex in our search to stop destroying our planet. Despite the few focused totally on profit regardless of environmental damage, most us focus on ways of saving the planet and our descendants. Some have already moved to alternative energy, regardless of the cost and complications. But the rest of us keep waiting for something more effective and affordable. We need a better way of storing energy, on small and large scales. And global multi-billionaire Bill Gates believes gravity batteries are a major component of that solution.
If you have ever seriously considered using alternative energy, you probably thought of solar panels first, if for no other reason than they appear simple. You can put as many panels as you can afford on the roof, or, if you have the space on your property, on a sloping frame on the ground facing south. It looks reasonably simple at first, doesn’t it? Then you learn you need a number of wet batteries to save the energy and reclaim it later, and these become an expensive portion of your system. And if you know anything about wet batteries, you know they will probably need some maintenance as an electrochemical device, just like your car battery.
But what if there were a simpler energy storage device that has been around for more than a hundred years? You have probably seen one, without recognizing it is a gravity battery. We call it a cuckoo clock; there are some grandfather clocks powered the same way. They are powered by a weight on a chain that turns the clock mechanism as it descends under gravity. And when the weight gets to the bottom of its travel you rewind it by pulling down on the other end of the chain, until the weight is up as high as it will go again. This weight not only drives the clock, but also drives the cuckoo in and out of his hole at appropriate times.
Now although this machine does not store a lot of energy, it is just a matter of design to increase its capacity. Imagine if, instead of using a one-pound weight, we used a one-ton weight on a chain running over a cogwheel on a chain. How much more energy would be stored? Then imagine the chain and cogwheel it drove were 50 feet or higher. That could drive some rather large, loud-mouthed cuckoo. Or maybe instead, we could drive an electric generator. Now all we need to do is use the alternative energy (solar, wind, or water) to raise the weight, and we have saved it until we want to use it.
Gravitricity is one company working on it. There is little doubt many companies will be looking to such systems to use in their own operations. I have not yet seen a DIY plan for an average home system, but I would be surprised if there are not people working on a design here and there. As a retired engineer, I could see a design that used a piece of sloping property rather than vertical holes like Gravitricity is proposing.
For instance: Take a retired pickup truck, put it at the bottom of a hill attached to a winch at the top of the hill. Drive the winch at the top of the hill with your chosen alternative energy source, winching the truck up the hill and thereby storing as much energy as the truck and whatever it is loaded with can store. If you have a yearning to get some ideas on what it takes to store energy, consider this. If you lift 550 pounds up for one foot, in one second, you will have saved 746 watts. Allowing for a bit of loss due to friction, etc. it could generate almost as much energy while it is lowered under gravity.
The fact is, we can ignore Bill Gates as he proceeds to his intention to save megawatts of power for large public systems. We can perhaps form a local group, or groups, designing and building our own gravity batteries. I suggest we consider building 12-volt, direct current gravity battery systems on any available hillsides. By using 12 volts DC we would have a host of new and used truck parts at our disposal, including winches. I have been contemplating such a project on my hillside property in Chimney Valley outside Williams Lake. For the do-it-yourselfer, a hillside has the advantage of not needing to holes bored. Although everything is out in the open and would require covering from snow in the winter, this set-up offers the advantage of accessibility during construction. And using 12 volts DC would not require the approval of the local electrical inspector.
So, who is up for this? I would be prepared to act as an initial communication centre to get it going, or not.
Contact me at email@example.com
Bernie Littlejohn was born and grew up in London, UK. He attended the Borough Polytechnic Institute to earn a national certificate in mechanical engineering during the WWII blitz years. He served in the Royal Air Force, emigrated to Canada in 1954 to work in the paper industry, and later retired in Williams Lake.