Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Inventions take time

11th October 2011: I was tidying up my powerpoint about the Surya Sunbox project and looking at the page about the Catalytic converter. I realised that there was a similar, more dramatic precedent to the notion that normality can take decades to follow an invention or an idea - and it is nearer to my own favoured topic, that of Skyscrapers.
Home Insurance, Chicago
the first 'skyscraper'
   Elisha Otis (1811-1861) demonstrated his idea for the safety elevator (even though unsafe elevators had been around for 100 years preceding). The date of this demonstration is reported as various dates, of 1853, 54 or 55. In the demonstration, he got his assistant to cut the cable holding up the elevator, and the public could see the elevator being saved by a safety brake. He did many such demonstrations, far and wide.

  • The point he was making was that you couldn't have an Elevator unless it incorporated his ingenious safety brake. 
  • The point I am making is that you should not instal a GSHP without including Solar charging (if the soil conditions are right).

    Otis died in 1861, but the idea and his company lived on, and is still the market leader. The first safety elevators were in factories, warehouses and the growing phenomenon of Department stores.
   The usual story is that 'his elevator made skyscrapers possible'. This is an exaggerated compression of time. The first 'Tall Building' was not until a full thirty years after his demonstration - the Home Insurance Building of Chicago, by William leBaron Jenney. This was made possible by the growing pressure to make more profitable use of land and the emergence of the steel frame. The elevator was a useful tool to make the first skyscrapers acceptable, it did not generate them. The safety elevator was used in low rise buildings such as department stores and warehouses for decades before the first high-rise.
  I don't intend to do anything as dramatic as swinging an axe to prove that GSHPs can be augmented - the catalytic converter is still a very good analogy, indeed, the effect that direct solar input has had on the GSHP has been more 'catalytic' than simply a 'linear improvement' in efficiency.

Heat pumps took a long time, so did MVHR and Solar panels
I heard about heat pumps a long time ago, indeed, they have been the mechanism in a refrigerator for over a century. But it is only in the recent decade that they have taken off for domestic buildings, reversing the usual cycle, thus cooling the air or ground and heating the house. The same applies to MVHR. I first installed two MVHR systems in 1981, one of which is still working. But never heard much marketing about them from the industry in the 90s. But they are now a key technology for the Passivhaus concept. In the same way, Solar panels as we now know them were invented decades ago, but the circumstances were not right for them to become mainstream until the recent decade. 

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