A year ago when we saw an article at MAKE: on how to make a fuel cell out of a band aid we knew we had to get in touch with this guy. Gavin D.J. Harper is a frequent contributor to EcoGeek and has written several books in McGraw Hill's "Evil Genius" series.
Most recently, Gavin completed "50 Solar Power Projects for the Evil Genius." The book, filled with projects on how to harness the sun for your own personal gain was forwarded by Willie Nelson and has been sitting on my nightstand for the last few days. We're happy to have Gavin as this week's ecogeek of the week.
EcoGeek: When I think of evil geniuses, I don't generally thing of solar power. That's more for benevolent geniuses. Where do evil geniuses fit with solar?
Gavin D.J. Harper: Hey Hank! You must have missed the Solar Powered Death Ray..... It's OLD technology, Archimedes was rumoured to have suggested it waaay back when, like a lot of renewable innovations - we've known how to do it for a long time - we are only now starting to refine the technology. However, I must state, despite the natty title, I think solar power is definitely a force for good in the world.
EG: What's your favorite project in the book?
GH: I think that the photochemical solar cells are 'really cool' as they are
such a futuristic high tech - wowfabgroovy technology and yet they are something easy that you can make at home and get to understand relatively easily. It's complicated science, but made easy for the smart kid in the street.
EG: What's the easiest project in the book?
GH: Hmmm... that all depends on your skills and where you are coming from; but I have to say making a solar powered engine from a drinking bird is the most impressive project for the least effort... that is if your not a clumsy klutz and manage not to break the drinking bird (no names.... Gavin Harper).
EG: As an environmentalist, what scares your pants off.
GH:Transport. Electricity we can do, EASILY if we put our minds to it. I have total faith in renewables, and think that their large scale adoption could meet our electricity needs with relative ease. However, transport is waaay scary - I think there are a lot of issues surrounding alternative vehicle fuels, that we don't yet fully understand - these problems are as much social, economic and political as they are technical. I also think that we are going to struggle to live in the built environments that we have created with a 'reduced' level of transport that will be neccessitated by an increase in the cost of energy.
EG: What keeps you hopeful.
GH: Kids. I see some really great ideas come out of school Design & Technology departments, and I passionately believe that if we can get more kids fired up about science and technology, they can come up with some fantastic ideas for the future. I have less faith in adults... they've kind of got us where we are today, and the rate of change isn't fast enough by far, so I think if you are going to do anything important... drum it into a kid who is a friend how important these issues of sustainability are, and show them, empower them with the tools to change the world. (Pass the tissues Hank, I think I'm going to burst into song.. "I believe that children are our future.... teach them well and let them lead the way...." [Stoppit... NOW... - Hank]
EG: What applications for solar power do you think will be most important in the next 20 years.
GH: Thin film... thin film... we all love thin film. I think we will see thin film EVERYWHERE very soon indeed. I look forward to seeing innovative building designs using vast arrays of thin film solar. I think we are going to see solar power become 'ubiquitous' due to the versatility of the thin film material - we are already moving forward to 'ubiquitous computing' we see power-munching computers in every possible application - but I think we now need to move forward to ubiquitous energy generation - where everything you see around you has some element of embedded generation, doing its bit to capture some ambient energy.
EG: Do you hope that solar power will someday be a significant source of electricity for our planet?
GH: I don't hope Hank, I 'know'. Let's face it, as time goes on, our options are going to get more and more limited. We have this 'HUGE' nuclear reactor, that is 149 600 000 000m away (which I think is the only safe distance away from my home that I'd wish to have one), and it is producing this massive amount of energy for free. The smart man harnesses that energy. I think that there is going to have to be a focus on large scale solutions as well - I think that 'embedded' generation has it's place in the world - and we can go a long way by deploying solar panels on our homes, but I think that we still need to be considering some element of centralised generation - albeit implemented using renewable technologies.
EG: What's next for "High Tech Guru" Gavin D.J. Harper?
GH: Lots more learning, lots more books. I'm going to be a research student for the next several years, looking at Alternative Vehicle Fuels and their impact in society, which I am really excited about. I love writing the books, on the immediate horizon, 'Fuel Cell Projects for the Evil Genius' is going to print very soon indeed, and I'm already discussing 'what next' - probably a How-To book on Biodiesel Conversion. Of course, expect lots of posts to EcoGeek!