And to think…

Many of you must have watched the news headlines on TV this week; many might have gathered it from the ‘net.

Mumbai—and much of Maharashtra—has gone down under. Under water.

And to think that all this water is now going to go purely to waste, completely unused.

… And that, starting some time right from say February next year, we are once again going to yell desperately about water shortage, about how water-tankers have already begun plying on the “roads” near the drought-hit villages. … May be we will get generous and send not just 4-wheeler tankers but also an entire train to a drought-hit city or two…

Depressing!


OK. Here’s something less depressing. [H/t Jennifer Ouellette (@JenLucPiquant) ]:

“More than 2,000 years ago, people were able to create ice in the desert even with temperatures above freezing!” [^]

The write-up mentions a TED video by Prof. Aaswath Raman. Watched it out of idle interest, checked out his Web site, and found another TED video by him, here [^]. Raman cites statistics that blew me!

They spend “only” $24 billion on supermarket refrigeration (and other food-related cooling), but they already spend $42 billion on data-center cooling!!


But, any way, I did some further “research” and landed at a few links, like the Wiki on Yakhchal [^], on wind-catcher [^], etc.  Prof. Raman’s explanation in terms of the radiative cooling was straight-forwards, but I am not sure I understand the mechanism behind the use of a qanat [^] in Yakhchal/windcatcher cooling. It would be cool to do some CFD simulations though.


Finally, since I am once again out of a job (and out of all my saved money and in fact also into credit-card loans due to some health issue cropping up once again), I was just idly wondering about all this renewable energy business, when something struck me.


The one big downside of windmills is that the electricity they generate fluctuates too much. You can’t rely on it; the availability is neither 24X7 nor uniform. Studies in fact also show that in accommodating the more or less “random” output of windmills into the conventional grid, the price of electricity actually goes up—even if the cost of generation alone at the windmill tower may be lower. Further, battery technology has not improved to such a point that you could store the randomly generated electricity economically.

So, I thought, why not use that randomly fluctuating windmill electricity in just producing the hydrogen gas?

No, I didn’t let out a Eureka. Instead, I let out a Google search. After all, the hydrogen gas could be used in fuel-cells, right? Would the cost of packaging and transportation of hydrogen gas be too much? … A little searching later, I landed at this link: [^]. Ummm… No, no, no…. Why shoot it into the natural gas grid? Why not compress it into cylinders and transport by trains? How does the cost economics work out in that case? Any idea?


Addendum on the same day, but after about a couple of hours:

Yes, I did run into this link: “Hydrogen: Hope or Hype?” [^] (with all the links therein, and then, also this: [^]).

But before running into those links, even as my googling on “hydrogen fuel energy density” still was in progress, I thought of this idea…

Why at all transport the hydrogen fuel from the windmill farm site to elsewhere? Why not simply install a fuel cell electricity generator right at the windmill farm? That is to say, why not use the hydrogen fuel generated via electrolysis as a flywheel of sorts? Get the idea? You introduce a couple of steps in between the windmill’s electricity and the conventional grid. But you also take out the fluctuations, the bad score on the 24X7 availability. And, you don’t have to worry about the transportation costs either.

What do you think?


Addendum on 12th July 2018, 13:27 hrs IST

Further, I also browsed a few links that explore another,  solution: using compressed air: a press report [^], and a technical paper [^]. (PDF of the paper is available, but the paper would be accessible only to mechanical engineers though. Later Update: As to the press report, well, the company it talks about has already merged with another company, and has abandoned the above-ground storage of compressed air [^])

I think that such a design reduces the number of steps of energy conversions. However, that does not necessarily mean that the solution involving hydrogen fuel generation and utilization (both right at the wind-farm) isn’t going to be economical.

Economics determines (or at least must determine) the choice. Enough on this topic for now. Wish I had a student working with me; I could have then written a paper after studying the solution I have proposed above. (The idea is worth a patent too. Too bad I don’t have the money to file one. Depressing, once again!!)


OK. Enough for the time being. I may later on add the songs section if I feel like it. And, iterative modifications will always be done, but will be mostly limited to small editorial changes. Bye for now.

 

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Micro-level water-resources engineering—8: Measure that water evaporation! Right now!!

It’s past the middle of May—the hottest time of the year in India.

The day-time is still lengthening. And it will continue doing so well up to the summer solstice in the late June, though once monsoon arrives some time in the first half of June, the solar flux in this part of the world would get reduced due to the cloud cover, and so, any further lengthening of the day would not matter.

In the place where I these days live, the day-time temperature easily goes up to 42–44 deg. C. This high a temperature is, that way, not at all unusual for most parts of Maharashtra; sometimes Pune, which is supposed to be a city of a pretty temperate climate (mainly because of the nearby Sahyaadris), also registers the max. temperatures in the early 40s. But what makes the region where I currently live worse than Pune are these two factors: (i) the minimum temperature too stays as high as 30–32 deg. C here whereas in Pune it could easily be falling to 27–26 deg. C even during May, and (ii) the fall of the temperatures at night-time proceeds very gradually here. On a hot day, it can easily be as high as 38 deg C. even after the sunset, and even 36–37 deg. C right by the time it’s the mid-night; the drop below 35 deg. C occurs only for the 3–4 hours in the early morning, between 4 to 7 AM. In comparison, Pune is way cooler. The max. temperatures Pune registers may be similar, but the evening- and the night-time temperatures fall down much more rapidly there.

There is a lesson for the media here. Media obsesses over the max. temperature (and its record, etc.). That’s because the journos mostly are BAs. (LOL!) But anyone who has studied physics and calculus knows that it’s the integral of temperature with respect to time that really matters, because it is this quantity which scales with the total thermal energy transferred to a body. So, the usual experience common people report is correct. Despite similar max. temperatures, this place is hotter, much hotter than Pune.


And, speaking of my own personal constitution, I can handle a cold weather way better than I can handle—if at all I can handle—a hot weather. [Yes, in short, I’ve been in a bad shape for the past month or more. Lethargic. Lackadaisical. Enervated. You get the idea.]


But why is it that the temperature does not matter as much as the thermal energy does?

Consider a body, say a cube of metal. Think of some hypothetical apparatus that keeps this body at the same cool temperature at all times, say, at 20 deg. C.  Here, choose the target temperature to be lower than the minimum temperature in the day. Assume that the atmospheric temperature at two different places varies between the same limits, say, 42 to 30 deg. C. Since the target temperature is lower than the minimum ambient temperature, you would have to take heat out of the cube at all times.

The question is, at which of the two places the apparatus has to work harder. To answer that question, you have to calculate the total thermal energy that has be drained out of the cube over a single day. To answer this second question, you would need the data of not just the lower and upper limits of the temperature but also how it varies with time between two limits.


The humidity too is lower here as compared to in Pune (and, of course, in Mumbai). So, it feels comparatively much more drier. It only adds to the real feel of a real hot weather.

One does not realize it, but the existence of a prolonged high temperature makes the atmosphere here imperceptibly slowly but also absolutely insurmountably, dehydrating.

Unlike in Mumbai, one does not notice much perspiration here, and that’s because the air is so dry that any perspiration that does occur also dries up very fast. Shirts getting drenched by perspiration is not a very common sight here. Overall, desiccating would be the right word to describe this kind of an air.

So, yes, it’s bad, but you can always take precautions. Make sure to drink a couple of glasses of cool water (better still, fresh lemonade) before you step out—whether you are thirsty or not. And take an onion with you when you go out; if you begin to feel too much of heat, you can always crush the onion with hand and apply the juice onto the top of your head. [Addendum: A colleague just informed me that it’s even better to actually cut the onion and keep its cut portion touching to your body, say inside your shirt. He has spent summers in eastern Maharashtra, where temperatures can reach 47 deg. C. … Oh well!]

Also, eat a lot more onions than you normally do.

And, once you return home, make sure not to drink water immediately. Wait for 5–10 minutes. Otherwise, the body goes into a shock, and the ensuing transient spikes in your biological metabolism can, at times, even trigger the sun-stroke—which can even be fatal. A simple precaution helps avoid it.

For the same reason, take care to sit down in the shade of a tree for a few minutes before you eat that slice of water-melon. Water-melon is nothing but more than 95% water, thrown with a little sugar, some fiber, and a good measure of minerals. All in all, good for your body because even if the perspiration is imperceptible in the hot and dry regions, it is still occurring, and with it, the body is being drained of the necessary electrolytes and minerals. … Lemonades and water-melons supply the electrolytes and the minerals. People do take care not to drink lemonade in the Sun, but they don’t always take the same precaution for water-melon. Yet, precisely because a water-melon has so much water, you should take care not to expose your body to a shock. [And, oh, BTW, just in case you didn’t know already, the doctor-recommended alternative to Electral powder is: your humble lemonade! Works exactly equivalently!!]


Also, the very low levels of humidity also imply that in places like this, the desert-cooler is effective, very effective. The city shops are full of them. Some of these air-coolers sport a very bare-bones design. Nothing fancy like the Symphony Diet cooler (which I did buy last year in Pune!). The air-coolers locally made here can be as simple as just an open tray at the bottom to hold the water, a cube made of a coarse wire-mesh which is padded with the khus/wood sheathings curtain, and a robust fan operating [[very] noisily]. But it works wonderfully. And these local-made air-coolers also are very inexpensive. You can get one for just Rs. 2,500 or 3,000. I mean the ones which have a capacity to keep at least 3–4 people cool.(Branded coolers like the one I bought in Pune—and it does work even in Pune—often go above Rs. 10,000. [I bought that cooler last year because I didn’t have a job, thanks to the Mechanical Engineering Professors in the Savitribai Phule Pune University.])


That way, I also try to think of the better things this kind of an air brings. How the table salt stays so smoothly flowing, how the instant coffee powder or Bournvita never turns into a glue, how an opened packet of potato chips stays so crisp for days, how washed clothes dry up in no time…

Which, incidentally, brings me to the topic of this post.


The middle—or the second half—of May also is the most ideal time to conduct evaporation experiments.

If you are looking for a summer project, here is one: to determine the evaporation rate in your locality.

Take a couple of transparent plastic jars of uniform cross section. The evaporation rate is not very highly sensitive to the cross-sectional area, but it does help to take a vessel or a jar of sizeable diameter.

Affix a mm scale on the outside of each jar, say using cello-tape. Fill the plastic jars to some level almost to the full.

Keep one jar out in the open (exposed to the Sun), and another one, inside your home, in the shade. For the jar kept outside, make sure that birds don’t come and drink the water, thereby messing up with your measurements. For this purpose, you may surround the jar with an enclosure having a coarse mesh. The mesh must be coarse; else it will reduce the solar flux. The “reduction in the solar flux” is just a fancy [mechanical [thermal] engineering] term for saying that the mesh, if too fine, might cast too significant a shadow.

Take measurements of the heights of the water daily at a fixed time of the day, say at 6:00 PM. Conduct the experiment for a week or 10 days.

Then, plot a graph of the daily water level vs. the time elapsed, for each jar.

Realize, the rate of evaporation is measured in terms of the fall in the height, and not in terms of the volume of water lost. That’s because once the exposed area is bigger than some limit, the evaporation rate (the loss in height) is more or less independent of the cross-sectional area.

Now figure out:

Does the evaporation rate stay the same every day? If there is any significant departure from a straight-line graph, how do you explain it? Was there a measurement error? Was there an unusually strong wind on a certain day? a cloud cover?

Repeat the experiment next winter (around the new year), and determine the rate of evaporation at that time.

Later on, also make some calculations. If you are building a check-dam or a farm-pond, how much would be the evaporation loss over the five months from January to May-end? Is the height of your water storage system enough to make it practically useful? economically viable?


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “mausam aayegaa, jaayegaa, pyaar sadaa muskuraayegaa…”
Music: Manas Mukherjee
Singers: Manna Dey and Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Vithalbhai Patel

Micro-level water-resources engineering—7: Dealing with the [upcoming] summer

Last monsoon, we’ve mostly had excess rain-fall in most parts of Maharashtra, even over India, taken as a whole.

Though the weather in Maharashtra still is, for the most part, pleasantly cool, the autumn season this year (in India) is about to get over, right this month.

Therefore, right now, i.e. right at the beginning of February, is the perfect time to empirically check the water levels in all those check-dams/farm-ponds you have. … That’s because, evaporation is going to happen at an accelerating pace from now on…

Between end-October (say Diwali) and March (say Holi), every solar year in India, the reduction in the levels of the stored water is dominated by the following two factors:
(i) seepage (i.e. the part which occurs after the rains cease), and
(ii) usage (i.e. the irrigation for the “rabbi” (i.e. the winter agricultural) season).

But from now on, the dominant factor is going to be the third one, namely, (iii) evaporation, and it is going to be increasingly ever more important throughout the upcoming summer, i.e., until the arrival of the next monsoon.

As I had earlier pointed out in this series  [^][^], in Maharashtra, the losses due to evaporation are expected to be about 5–8 feet (or 1 to 1.5 “puruSh”) deep.

Don’t take my word for it. … Go out and actually check it out. (Take snap-shots for your own record, if you wish.)

The beginning of February is also the perfect time to start executing on your plans for any maintenance- or new construction-activities on any check-dams/farm-ponds/residential water conservation that you might have thought of, in your mind. If you start executing on it now, you still have a very realistic framework of about 4–4.5 months left, before the next monsoon rains are slated to arrive [give or take about a half month here or there].

…Just a reminder, that’s all.


Keep in touch, best, and bye for now…


[As usual, I may come back and edit this post a bit after its publication, say, after a couple of days or so… I don’t know why, but things like that—viz., thinking about what I did happen to write, always happen to me. But the editing wouldn’t be too much. … OK. … Bye [really] for now.]

 

Summer, boredom, city skyline, etc.

Boredom. That’s what my life has become of late. … Boredom. … Pure boredom.

Life is boring.

Nothing interests me. Don’t feel like writing anything.

No, it’s not called a writer’s block. To have a writer’s block, first you need to be a writer. And my problem is that I don’t even want to be a writer. Not even just a plain reader. Both are boring propositions.

Life, somehow, has become boring to that great an extent.

Summers always do that to me.


While at IIT Madras, we (a few friends of mine and I) had begun using a special term for that: (Sanskrit) “glaani.”

Usage pattern:

“Did you work out those lab calculations?”

“.” [No answer from me.]

“Ajit, did you complete those lab calculations?”

“.” [No answer.]

“Machchaa…”

“.” [Still no answer.]

The fellow turns around, lethargically. [He, too, doesn’t have much energy left to pursue anything; the heat has been that bad…] … Begins to drag his feet back to his room.

“glaani.” [One attempts some answer, some explanation.]

The fellow does not even care to look back.

The use-case scenario is over.

Currently, it’s summer time, and this year in particular, I am finding it even more lethargy-inducing and boring than it usually is…


Here is an idea I had. I wanted to expand it in a blog post. But since everything has become so summer-ly boring, I am not going to do that. Instead, I will just mention the idea, and let it go at that.

How do you visually estimate the water requirements of a human settlement, say, a city? Say a city with skyscrapers, like Mumbai? (Skyscrapers? In Mumbai? OK, let’s agree to call them that.)

Start with a decent estimate of per capita water requirement. Something like, say, 135 liters/day/person. That is, 1.35 \times 10^2 \times 10^{-3} = 1.35 \times 10^{-1} cubic meters. For one year, it translates to 0.135 \times 365 = 49.275 \approx 50 cubic meters.

An average room in an average apartment is about 10 feet X 12 feet. With a standard height of 10 feet, its volume, in cubic meters, is: 3.048 \times 3.6576 \times 3.048 = 33.98 \approx 35 cubic meters.

Of course, 135 liters/day is an estimate on a slightly higher side; if what I recall is right, the planning estimates range from even as low as 50 liters/day/person. So, taking a somewhat lower estimate for the daily per capita requirement (figure out exactly how much), you basically arrive at this neat nugget:

Think of one apartment room, full of water. That much volume each person needs, for the entire year.

If one person lives in one room (or if a family of four people lives in a 2BHK apartment), then the volume of that apartment is their yearly water requirement.

Hardly surprising. In the traditional water-harvesting in Rajasthan, they would have single-storied houses, and roughly the same volume for an underground reservoir of water. Last year, I blogged quite a bit about water resources and water conservation; check out tags like “water resources” [^].

So, the next time you look at a city skyline, mentally invert it: imagine a dam-valley that is just as deep as the skyline’s height, containing water for that skyline. That would be the residential water requirement of that city.

Of course, if the population density is greater, if one apartment room accommodates 2, 3 (or even more number of) people (as is the common in Mumbai), then the visualization fails. I mean to say: You then have to imagine a deeper (or wider) dam valley.

… I used to be skeptical of residential water harvesting schemes. I used to think that it was a typical NGO type of day-dreaming, not backed up by hard data. I used to think that even if every 3-story apartment building covered its entire plot area (and not just the built-up area) with a 1 to 2 story-deep tank beneath it, it wouldn’t last for even a couple of months. But when I did the actual calculations (as above), I became convinced of the utility of the residential water harvesting schemes—if the storage is big enough.


Of course, as one often hears these days, if common people are going to look after everything from electricity (portable gen-sets, batteries and inverters), water (residential water harvesting), garbage (composting in the house/terrace garden), even security (gated communities with privately paid watchmen), then what the hell is the government for?

If your anger has subsided, realize that only the last (security) falls under the proper functions of government; the rest should actually be services rendered by private businesses. And if government gets out of every thing but the defense, the police and the courts, the economic progress would so humongous that none would bother reading or writing blog posts on residential water conservation schemes—there would be very competent businesses with private dams and private canals to deliver you clean water very cheaply (also via private trains, if the need be)… But then, I am not going to write about it.  Writing is boring. Life is boring. …. So, just look up Ayn Rand if you want, OK?

… Yawns. Life is boring.

BTW, did you notice that boring also means digging, and I was somehow talking about inverting the skyline, i.e., imagining wells and valleys. Kindaa double meaning, the word “boring” happens to have, and I happen to have used it in both senses, haven’t I?

Oh well. But really, really speaking, I meant it only in the simplest, most basic sense.

Life is boring. … Yawns….

[E&OE]