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118 comments

Evil (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332348)

Patents are evil Google. Mission failure.

Re:Evil (4, Insightful)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332418)

all patent are not evil and this is exactly the kind of patent that the system was designed to encourage.

to develop electricity from renewable energy sources at a cost less than coal' at 'utility scale.'

This is not a good example of evil.

Re:Evil (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332642)

...this is exactly the kind of patent that the system was designed to encourage.

Yeah, if using your R&D to build up a huge patent portfolio to lock others out of the market, or charge exorbitant licensing fees is what you're after, this is exactly what the system was designed to do.. to cripple innovation, and it's working like a dream. If the government wants to create and protect monopolies like this, then we should demand that it regulate the prices, and institute a 'use it or lose it' policy. Patents and copyrights are simply there to make speculation profitable.

Re:Evil (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332748)

Unlike copyright, patents actually expire. In the extremely unlikely event Google coming up with something good, they get a short term monopoly on it. Good for them, and anyone else doing something in the physical world. A generation later, this is as good as public domain and anyone can implement it.

If they're locking away uber tech, it still doesn't matter. We miss out now, but our kids will have access. Unless you believe "my uncle's friend came up with a way to save fuel consumption but got bought out by $OIL_COMPANY" conspiracies.

Re:Evil (1)

joggle (594025) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333972)

So there should be a heck of a lot of innovation in China, right? They don't enforce copyright or patents over there. Interesting how most patents by Chinese people are registered in other countries.

Try getting some venture capital with a business plan of releasing all of your intellectual property immediately with no mechanism to earn royalties/fees.

A short-term, finite monopoly to a new invention is a good thing as that gives inventors a chance to capitalize on their work and gives them an incentive to make new inventions. A never-ending monopoly on an idea is another story (see Disney).

Re:Evil (3, Interesting)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332840)

all patent are not evil and this is exactly the kind of patent that the system was designed to encourage.

Except that if you read the patent application, it should be shot down. The patent essentially claims "use a camera protected from heat and some image processing software to feed a control system with inputs to control heliostat mirrors to get an optimal image."

There is absolutely nothing novel about that concept, unless they are using a novel method of image processing (which the claims do not appear to indicate; they talk about "measuring bright spots" which is all a camera can do in the first place) or a novel method of keeping the camera cool (which the claims also do not indicate).

Linking image processing to a control system has already been done, and just because it hasn't been done "for a heliostat" doesn't make it novel. So I would argue that this is indeed just the type of patent that should not be allowed.

Re:Evil (1)

MikeURL (890801) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333480)

I tend to agree. I'm not skilled in the art but if I were using a mirror to focus the heat of the sun I think the first thing I'd try is a light sensor, paired with some custom software to turn the servos. In fact, how else would you do it?

That appears at first glance to be pretty basic. We're not exactly talking about discovering the photoelectric effect here. Forget discover, if this invention was making use of the photoelectric effect to do the aiming then I'd be on board. That I don't think would be obvious. But just pairing a light sensor to a servo?

Re:Evil (2)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333502)

There is absolutely nothing novel about that concept, unless they are using a novel method of image processing (which the claims do not appear to indicate

See claim 5. The "based upon the determined error". Why patent the image processing to determine the error when it could and should be better maintained as a trade secret.
Patents that attempt to claim what is done are not valid. Patents that attempt to claim what is done, but in a much better, or even in a not-so-much-better but still novel way are patentable.

We hear about the patent system being broken, but my recent patent reviews have asked some good questions about what is being claimed. Since this is an application and not a patent, it is reasonable to assume it will receive some degree of examination related to the obviousness of the invention.

Re:Evil (2)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333644)

So the patent should be on that method. "Based on the determined error" is how every single control system in the universe* works. In fact, claim 23 says "determine the error by comparing images," which is still a "what" and is an obvious "what"; if they want a patent then patent the method they use to compare the images, not stating that they are going to compare them.

While I agree that often people don't actually look at the claims in a patent, this patent still doesn't claim any "how" but merely "what." In fact, even if you go to claims 24-26, you just see a calibration procedure that anyone would know: "put all the mirrors in the desired position to get the reference image, then move them to another position to get a reference undesired position."

There is nothing novel in this particular application, and it makes me ill to think that just because it's Google it will probably get approved.

*This is not the hyperbole for which you are looking.

Re:Evil (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333172)

all patent are not evil

Yeah, they're backed with threats of initiation of violence, so they are.

Re:Evil (2)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333224)

all form of societal organization are evil then since they are all backed with threats of initiation of some kind of violence. It is a valid philosophical position but it is not a pragmatic one.

Re:Evil (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333364)

all form of societal organization are evil then since they are all backed with threats of initiation of some kind of violence.

Not at all - there are plenty of voluntary models.

Re:Evil (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333600)

what happen in those model when an individual don't want to contribute anymore and use violence against his host society?

Re:Evil (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334238)

what happen in those model when an individual don't want to contribute anymore and use violence against his host society?

Contributing is optional, but you won't get very far if you don't participate and exchange. If he initiates violence, self defense is always allowed. It's a matter of who starts the aggression, not lay-down pacifism.

The vast majority of people agree with the idea that it's not OK to start violence but it is OK to defend yourself.

Re:Evil (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334460)

then we just don't agree on the definition of violence.
Mine is Violence : rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment.
Yours seems to be : an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws.

If I use your definition we seems to agree. Violence less society can exist.

Re:Evil (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334590)

Yours seems to be : an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws.

with the emphasis on unjust and without the last disjunction.

Re:Evil (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334734)

I'm not sure the vast majority of people actually agree with the "it's not OK to start violence" part. But leaving that aside, you end up in a semantic game. What is violence? Is breathing violent? No? Is second hand smoke violent? No? Then is spraying gaseous cyanide at people violent? Yes? Okay, so where's the crossover?

What about theft? Let's leave aside copyright infringement and theft of service and just talk about somebody taking your physical things. Is that violent? I don't generally think so, and yet it's not conducive to society. There hasn't been a society yet that was completely absent the concept of ownership, although the details have varied over times and places. Yet it only has meaning if either every last person agrees that it does (and they don't), or it is backed with the threat of initiation of violence (or you define violence to include taking your property).

The violence that is threatened for patent infringement, by the way, is basically fines. And if you refuse that, then conitnued refusal to participate in society. Maybe in extraordinary cases somebody might be captured by police and thrown into jail. It's not violence in the sense of torturing and beating a person senseless and maybe killing some dudes.

And when arresting a suspect in a crime, does that have an exception? After all, we don't know he's guilty yet, so it is therefore you who are initiating force (I'm assuming you don't want to throw out presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial).

So under the definition of violence I'm inferring from your statements, I reject the idea that being "backed by threat of initiation of violence" is a moral failing when it comes to lawmaking.

Re:Evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333248)

ROFL. So all laws, regulations, and rules are evil. What are you, 12?

Re:Evil (4, Interesting)

tqk (413719) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332432)

Patents are evil Google. Mission failure.

IP patents may be an oxymoron, I agree. But what they do with a patent is the salient part. Squash competition, or donate it to some patent freedom pool? I'll await further details.

Re:Evil (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333556)

So making money off one's invention is evil while giving one's invention away is not? Google may have a lot of money, but giving away inventions is still a bad business model. Would it benefit society for all Google employees to lose their jobs and all the money they spend in their respective communities and all the taxes they pay to suddenly cease?

Re:Evil (1)

tqk (413719) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333808)

Google may have a lot of money, but giving away inventions is still a bad business model.

So says you. Where's your proof? I've gained immeasurably over the last couple of decades because a few people chose to give away what they had. They have too in return (Hi Linus, RMS, L. Wall, ...).

Would it benefit society for all Google employees to lose their jobs and all the money they spend in their respective communities and all the taxes they pay to suddenly cease?

Just go ahead and try to prove that would happen.

I'm a small "L" libertarian. I think everything and everybody would be much better off if none of us needed to care about whatever it is that floats your boat.

Re:Evil (0)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333940)

I've gained immeasurably over the last couple of decades because a few people chose to give away what they had.

That's great. One choosing to give away what they have is wonderful. If they chooseto give it away. Making it mandatory to give inventions away so you might profit is wrong, and removes the incentive for motivation. If you want altruism, be the inventor and give your stuff away. Don't assume others should too so you can "gain immeasurably" from their work.

Just go ahead and try to prove that would happen.

I asked Google to give up their IP and remain profitable. They declined. Prove you are not a moron.

Re:Evil (1)

tqk (413719) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334104)

Making it mandatory to give inventions away so you might profit is wrong, and removes the incentive for motivation.

To quote Bugs Bunny: "You im-BEC-ile! You ultramaroon!"

Where was anyone suggesting anyone be forced to give anything away? Google would retain copyright on their stuff even if they donated its power to a patent troll fighting org.

Done with you idiot. You're shallow as a pane of glass.

Re:Evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332666)

What is "evil Google"?

PageRank is patented (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332764)

As the exclusive licensee of Stanford University's U.S. Patent 6,285,999, Google controls the patent on ranking the relevance of documents that cite one another by calculating the dominant eigenvector of the adjacency matrix of the documents' citation graph. Is the software patent on "PageRank" also evil?

Re:Evil (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332836)

Don't bother. The Slashtard horde is going to find all sorts of ways to spin how Google patenting things (even software) is okay whilst it's evil for anyone else to do.

Re:Evil (3, Insightful)

pjbgravely (751384) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333132)

Patenting physical devices that actually work is what the system was designed for.

Patenting software which physically is a long string of ones and zeros on paper is not what was intended. Symbols on paper are covered by copyrights.

Re:Evil (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333590)

So software, no matter how novel, is never inventive? The patent process was meant to protect inventions.

And why is it no one argues about the obviousness of an invention before it was invented? Could it be that before it was invented it was non-obvious and didn't exist yet?

Re:Evil (3)

pjbgravely (751384) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333858)

Lets say I invent a device that gets you from point A to point B. Someone else invents a machine that gets you from point A to point B in the same time. The fact that both devices do the exact same thing but in different ways ( car and flying car) doesn't make one patent violate the other.

Two pieces of software do the same thing( VOIP). These two programs run on different hardware, do the same thing differently but with the same end result. Even though the two programs have different ones and zeros the first was patented and the second is in violation. In what world does this make sense.

Re:Evil (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334014)

But what if your car patent described wooden wheels and I came behind you with a patent for a car with rubber tires and was able to undercut you? Not trying to take away your point (which I agree with to a large extent) - merely pointing out the devil is in the details

Software patents make sense. It is the way software patents are being implemented which is incorrect. Software patents should be reformed, but I'm not in favor of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Re:Evil (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335296)

Patents don't protect the physical device they protect the idea of the device. How is the idea of a physical device different then the idea behind software, music, food, or other thoughts? Now the actual physical device is protected by regular property rights.

And that is the problem with the theory of IP rights. The reason property rights exist is because property is scarce. If I take your car you no longer have the car. If you come up with an idea and I learn about it doesn't force you to forget it. By giving rights to an idea you have to violate other people's rights to do what they want with their own physical property.

What about rewarding innovation. There is a natural system of temporary monopoly. When a new product is released on the market nobody knows to copy it until it is successful. Then people will copy it. This takes some time. What is interesting is that the bigger the leap forward the more difficult it will be to copy and the longer the monopoly. So there is no need for a government creation of IP rights because they exist naturally. So the real stupid patents that are easy to copy like one click shopping would enjoy a monopoly of about a day while if someone invented a tabletop fusion power plant it may take years after the product is released on the market for someone to reverse engineer.

And even with copies the market seems to reward the originators in markets where There are no IP rights like cooking and fashion.

Re:Evil (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333294)

patents on physical things are great, they give incentive to bring things to market. also, other companies can make the things google patents, they'll just pay 10% or so royalty. whoop de doo. And you can legally build the google-patented thing for your own amusement and not owe google one cent.

Renewable? Hah! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332356)

The Sun has a limited supply of hydrogen fuel. If we start depending on solar, in a few measly billion years we'll be depending on hydrogen imports from undemocratic planets. And the chance of a meltdown within 5 billion years or so is pretty much 100%.

Re:Renewable? Hah! (1)

FredFredrickson (1177871) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332386)

Right, what we expect to see from google is the first anti-entropy patent. Licensing it would be too expensive though, so all-in-all we're doomed.

Re:Renewable? Hah! (4, Funny)

dogmatixpsych (786818) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332796)

It's worse than that. If we start building more solar energy plants we'll use more of the energy from the sun, causing it to burn out faster. The one positive thing about that is it will counteract global warming because eventually the sun will cool down as we suck all the energy from it.

Re:Renewable? Hah! (3, Funny)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332844)

Not sure about peak sun, but we passed peak wit, obviously.

Re:Renewable? Hah! (2)

dogmatixpsych (786818) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332956)

Ah, but my wit is multi-modally distributed. ;)

Re:Renewable? Hah! (2)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332990)

And with a local maximum so short after a local minimum. Well played, Sir, well played ;)

Re:Renewable? Hah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333010)

Missing humor tags, but I found it quite funny. I suppose I'm just in a good mood.

Re:Renewable? Hah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334280)

We in the solar industry wish for depletion allowances as well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depletion_(accounting)

Link? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332382)

That is a solar patent? Does the summary have a wrong link or something?

Re:Link? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332596)

Perhaps somebody can shed some light on this problem?

Re:Link? (1)

Ambvai (1106941) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332612)

Nope. But it's the same link in the article too!

Re:Link? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332630)

TFA has the wrong link too. It's called "journalism".

Probable real patent. [uspto.gov] The claims describe a relatively simple control system for aligning mirrors, not exactly requiring incredible R&D investment to come up with. Considering its content is practically irrelevant to the article's hype, no-one gave two shits about fact checking it.

Re:Link? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332716)

No, right patent. From further down:

BACKGROUND

[0002] A heliostat solar energy system generally includes a number of heliostats configured to reflect light into a receiver. The resulting heat can then be converted into power. Use of heliostats as a source of solar energy often requires receiver temperatures of nearly 1000.degree. C., which in turn requires sunlight to be reflected from the heliostats into the receiver at high concentrations.

SUMMARY

[...]

By using a camera scheme to control the orientation of individual heliostat mirrors, a closed-loop heliostat control system can be provided that ensures that sunlight is reflected from each heliostat into the desired receiving location. Given the available speed of image processing, errors in the heliostat reflection can be controlled on a real-time, or near-real time basis. Such a system allows concentrated sunlight to enter the receivers for a large fraction of the day in order to provide sufficiently high temperatures for the creation of solar power.

solar patent in my pants (1)

slashpot (11017) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332406)

I have Google's solar patent in my pants.

OK, I'm sold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332412)

Where can I download a solar panel?

Another attempt (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332438)

Google' is really interested in clean energy. It invested in Makani Power that targeted high altitude winds (these winds potentially being a source of energy cheaper than coal). Wasn't bloombox too talking about google as its beta customer?
Good luck with the new venture.

Re:Another attempt (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332582)

Google's also been really involved in enhanced geothermal, one of my favorite techs. For those not familiar, here's [renewableenergyworld.com] a good rundown of its promise and pitfalls. Namely, it's baseload, works basically anywhere on the planet (all that changes is the required depth of the borehole), is renewable with virtually no environmental impact, and can provide thousands of times more power than we currently consume. At the same time, it's not widespread currently for one main reason -- not that it doesn't work, but that it doesn't work *reliably*. When you fracture the rock to pump in water to heat, the fractures go wherever the heck *they* want, and in many cases your water just seeps away (also, the fraccing can cause minor -- up to just over mag. 5 in theory in most places, lower in practice -- earthquakes). Here's [gtherm.net] one of the latest ways around those pitfalls, using a closed-loop system with an underground heat exchanger instead of fraccing a new reservoir. That also has the advantage (or potential disadvantage, depending on how you look at it) of not bringing minerals back up with the water.

Re:Another attempt (1)

munozdj (1787326) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333258)

Would it have real consequences to extract the planet core's heat to use it for our own purposes? I admit that the amount of energy extracted by geothermal is insignificant compared to the total heat inside the planet; but if we managed to make the temperatures drop by a few degrees celsius inside, wouldn't it disrupt plate tectonics or the earth's magnetic field or something else? It's an open question, I'm by no means familiarized with this field, so any answers wolud be greatly appreciated.

Re:Another attempt (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333676)

In a word, no. Plate tectonics are driven by mantle plumes two thousand miles deep and hundreds to thousands of miles in diameter. Geothermal boreholes don't even pierce the crust. To call the amount of heat extracted from the Earth's mantle by a geothermal plant insignificant is playing it safe; there are more accurate words like "infinitesimal" or "undetectable". It can really only affect the temperature of the (solid crustal) rock in the immediate vicinity of the plant. The magnetic field, of course, is created by currents deep in the Earth's core that is well out of reach of any conceivable human technology.

Re:Another attempt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333614)

Geothermal is not fully green either. The process does allow some CO2 to escape into the atmosphere, about 1/8th that of a coal fired plant. Not insignificant.

Re:Another attempt (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334206)

The amount varies widely depending on the location and the tech -- one study I saw in Iceland put the average emissions there at 122g/kWh. but with a range of 4-740kWh. The further you move toward EGS and away from conventional geo, and thus move away from the volcanic hot spot areas and into deeper strata, and using your own injected water instead of existing hot water, in general, the less CO2 is released. Also, closed-loop EGS appears to be the next big thing, which has basically no emissions.

Re:Another attempt (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334306)

Two other notes: one, the geothermal plant isn't creating the CO2, only providing an alternate route up to the surface. Such areas generally have high rates of natural CO2 seepage on their own. The depth of the reservoir and the strata above it affect how long it will be before the depletion of the subsurface CO2 will have the effect of reducing surface CO2 flows (anywhere from days to millions of years), but in the long run, any CO2 emitted by the plant is CO2 not emitted by other means. And two, some new geothermal plants are looking at using supercritical CO2 as the working fluid -- wherein the plants are actually *sequestering* CO2 in carbonates, as some of the injected CO2 will be lost.

Re:Another attempt (4, Funny)

Zerth (26112) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332620)

I just hope they can maintain interest longer than they did with their Power Meter API, which was just deprecated.

OT: Slashdot FIX the fucking LOGIN (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332446)

For the love of GOD, Slashdot, fix the login popup to STAY ON THE ARTICLE BEING READ.

What's the point of having a fancy Ajax Web 2.0 "popup" login if it just redirects you to the main page afterward???

Re:OT: Slashdot FIX the fucking LOGIN (2)

Azmodan (572615) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332510)

For the love of GOD, Slashdot, fix the login popup to STAY ON THE ARTICLE BEING READ.

What's the point of having a fancy Ajax Web 2.0 "popup" login if it just redirects you to the main page afterward???

What's the point of having an account if you post as AC?

Re:OT: Slashdot FIX the fucking LOGIN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332632)

> What's the point of having an account if you post as AC?

I post AC when I know I'm not likely to get modded up, e.g. when I'm off-topic.

Re:OT: Slashdot FIX the fucking LOGIN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36335020)

> What's the point of having an account if you post as AC?

So I don't have to read comments using the stupid Ajax Web 2.0 comment system....

Open Link In New Tab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333736)

I usually open the login link in a new tab and then close it once in. Then I just refresh the article.

Here is the correct patent link (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332524)

I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332526)

I for one do not welcome our evil expanding conglomerate overlords.

!solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332536)

I suspect the link is wrong. This is a non-solar patent application filed back in 2009.

Re:!solar (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334040)

Do you know what a heliostat is? It's a mirror that tracks the sun. Helio == sun. This is a patent application for a heliostat tracking system using a video camera.

What a waste. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332562)

Solar is doomed by the amount of land it requires to make "utility-scale" energy available for anything, by its intermittance, and by the fact that the sun ultimately must go down. This is a chimera, but they will spend a lot of money chasing it.

It's politically incorrect on Slashdot to say these things anymore, but they will be no more successful here than anyone else is -- i.e. ultimately not at all. The people at Google are all energy users, not producers, and they haven't really internalized that.

Re:What a waste. (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332656)

Solar is usually about an order of magnitude more land-dense than hydroelectric (when you include the area taken up by the reservoir), and about on par with coal (when you include the land taken up by the coal mines required to fuel the plant and the few decades it takes life to regrow on them after an exhausted mine is abandoned)

Daily intermittence is readily countered by a wide range of factors.
  * Thermal storage
  * Pumped hydro energy storage (works with any type of power; already widespread in China for day/night demand averaging) (does not require a river or a large impounded area!)
  * Integrated peaking (you already have a thermal power plant; adding a supplemental source of heat for when demand exceeds supply costs you almost nothing)
  * The natural correlation between solar intensity and power consumption (night is off-peak, sunny days have more AC load, etc - -it's not perfect, but it's a nice start)
  * Generation-source diversity (wind, solar, tide, wave, etc do not all line up with each other in terms of what generates when)
  * Long-distance HVDC power transmission lets you take advantage of the fact that the sun doesn't set in all places at the same time.
  * Smart grids and demand-flexible industry allow to shift when power is drawn to when it's abundant.

Re:What a waste. (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333342)

I have a question related to location. . .

I think that solar has a lot of potential in places like TX, NV, CA, NM, AZ, etc.

Here in Ohio, we just came off a stretch during the spring where in 2 months we had like 5 days of sunshine. It wasn't just Ohio either; most of the United States East of the Mississippi was being affected by this cloud cover all at the same time for those two months.

There are companies building solar power plants in Ohio. I just don't understand how that makes any sense? If we convert a significant part of our grid to solar, what are we going to do when you have 2 months of clouds? That doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

I think a lot of "renewables" supporters would say, "supplement the Solar with Wind - during that 2 months of storms, the wind was blowing plenty".

Ok, so now we have to build, whatever Ohio consumes in power - say 5GW - of solar AND 5 GW of Wind. We also have to build plenty of storage to back that up, to even out the peaks and valleys in demand, and there's still NO guarantee you couldn't have a long stretch of days (say a week or two) where it's neither very sunny nor very windy (maybe you can generate power from both the solar plants and the wind plants, but perhaps they're each only generating at 5-10% capacity).

I don't understand how "renewables" supporters ever think it could make sense to depend entirely on solar and wind for 80 - 90% (I'm sure some of them would think 100% is a good idea) of our nation's power.

You have to build FAR more capacity - my statement above, with the example of building 5GW of each isn't really accurate, I think, either. They both have relatively low "capacity factors". So, if your state needs a 5GW supply, you probably need to build like 10GW of each.

Yes, I'm making up some somewhat arbitrary numbers, but the point is valid - with renewables, you basically need both wind and solar, and you need both to have nameplate capacity that is significantly in excess of your desired power level, AND you need lots of storage.

Renewables advocates like to say nuclear is too expensive, but I don't see how the combination of Solar PLUS Wind PLUS storage can become cheaper than nuclear - even as expensive as nuclear is.

On the issue of storage, some people might counter that storage would be good even if you're building nuclear, but it really wouldn't be necessary - just perhaps, advantageous.

Re:What a waste. (1)

Lifyre (960576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333796)

Part of the answer is that not all solar requires full sunlight. They don't produce the most power but they are able to produce some. That was also his point with the long haul HVDC lines and smart grids allowing you to shift between where the power is produced and where it is used.

Re:What a waste. (3, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334076)

Let me start you off with this [youtube.com] . Tell me when you see the whole US clouded over.

A particular Ohio city is not an island (btw, there has never been a time in recorded history when a city in Ohio has had only five days of sun in 2 months). Ohio is connected on a grid to the rest of the country. The regional grids are increasingly being connected over longer and longer distances by high power runs. It doesn't matter if your particular area is cloudy, because somewhere else isn't.

A single wind or solar plant has a lot of randomness. A large number of them, spread out over a large region, have very little randomness. Also, FYI, but the time a power plant is down for is already built into its cost equation. That's known as the "capacity factor", and is a key element in economics planning for power plants.

Secondly, the grid *already* has to handle fluctuations. Not only fluctuations in supply -- yes, conventional power plants go down too, both for maintenance and for unexpected failures -- but even moreso due to demand. Demand fluctuates wildly, and a demand fluctuation is no different than a supply fluctuation. We deal with this by having "peakers" available. These are power plants that can rapidly scale their production up or down depending on the needs of the grid. One of the great things about solar thermal is that it basically comes with a built-in "peaker"; all you need is a natural gas burner, and you've got your backup at almost no extra charge. The turbines are already there, the transmission, etc.

Beyond all of that, please read the bullet points at the bottom of my last note.

Re:What a waste. (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334516)

>>Secondly, the grid *already* has to handle fluctuations.

Right. With coal, NG, or nuclear backstops.

It's not practical to build a 100% wind and solar grid, because the amount of overcapacity provisioning you have to do is pretty extreme. Variability in solar and wind plants is much much higher than at a coal or nuclear plant (which get a 90% capacity factor industry wide), and they run at much lower capacity factors than other power sources (around 10%-20%).

In other words, a 100MW solar plant is really a 10MW plant, but a 100MW nuclear plant is really a 90MW plant.

Solar is still one of the most expensive technologies around, even though it has been falling in price, but it's still an order of magnitude more expensive than coal.

Re:What a waste. (1, Interesting)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334532)

I don't really think you've addressed my questions:

That video you linked routinely shows anywhere from 25% to 50% of the US under clouds at the same time - that's a pretty big drop in supply.

"A particular Ohio city is not an island (btw, there has never been a time in recorded history when a city in Ohio has had only five days of sun in 2 months)."

Huh. Go look at the statistic for April and May of this year that we just got off of. Maybe 5 days isn't exactly the right number, maybe it's 10. The point is, it was cloudy and rainy for virtually the entire months of April AND May. I know because I just lived through it.

Yes, a city isn't an island, it's attached to the grid.

Are you suggesting that some areas of the country will purchase capacity and be producing on the order of 100% more energy capacity than they would be expecting to use (e.g. if most of the East Coast is seriously underpowered because virtually everything from Mississippi to Main is under a giant storm system for most of a day)?

You seem to be saying that shipping very large amounts of power across very large distances will not be a problem? I know that advances are being made in superconductors and HVDC lines to reduce losses when transmitting power long distances, but again, if you have several days in a row where a large portion of the country are only producing 10% or 30% of the power they need, that seems like setting the stage for problems.

Natural gas has has limited supply and is pretty expensive (we're in a period where, from what I've seen, NatGas prices have come down a fair amount, because of an explosion of Shale Gas drilling. That may last us a few decades (The Gas Industry Marketers like to proclaim we have 100 years of gas to produce; if you look into the numbers, that's actually about 80 years at current levels of consumption - but we are starting to increase Gas exports to places like China, we are talking about building new Gas power plants, using Gas to supplement Wind and Solar, and even use Gas for transportation - if we try to do all those things, that 80 year supply of gas could become 40 years).

I think we need to think long term. I'm not convinced we can rely on "cheap natural gas" for centuries.

Don't get me wrong, I DO think that solar and wind can, and will play a significant role in our energy mix in the future. I just have not seen a good, strong argument that convinces me that you can reach that 80-100% level.

I see more of a future where Solar and Wind might provide around 40-50%, with a little gas and coal (hopefully CCS coal) maybe being around 10%, and safer nuclear for the other 40-50%.

I don't really like our current Light Water Reactor technology, but I'm pretty optimistic about the potential for the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor [energyfromthorium.com] .

The short description of the LFTR is that it can burn off the waste from our current nuclear reactors, reducing that waste from a 200,000 year problem to a 200 year problem. We *really* need to burn off our waste anyhow, so if for NO OTHER REASON, we need to investigate doing this.

It uses Thorium as the primary fuel, which is about 5X more abundant in the earth's crust than Uranium (every State in the USA has Thorium, pretty much every country has Thorium). But here's the kicker - you need about 1/200 the Thorium as you do Uranium for a nuclear reactor of equivalent output. This means much less mining, and much less waste.

With Thorium reactors, a few mines could power the entire country - it should only take one or two tons of Thorium per year to run a reactor - 1 ton Thorium yields roughly a GW-Year of electrical power.

So, if we want to generate 200GW per year, we need about 200 tons of Thorium per year - that doesn't sound like very much, compared to the millions of tons of coal a year that we need.

Finally, the reactor design has several characteristics which should make much safer than LWRs (although LWRs aren't terribly dangerous, there is the risk of something like Fukushima happening, and I think we'd all rather not have such a risk). Thos characteristics include no water in the reactor, so you can't get hydrogen explosions like you did at Fukushima. The reactor runs at atmospheric pressure - no dangerous high pressure steam or other fluids to contain or cause explosions. The fuel is contained in a very stable salt, which will keep most fission products contained during any emergency. There are, from what I understand, a couple volatile (that is, gasseous) fission products, the main one being Xenon, but with the LFTR, the Xenon is continuously removed, so it never builds up in large quantities in the fuel. During a reactor crises, there's virtually no Xenon gas in the reactor to escape.

Finally, during an emergency shutdown, there is no active cooling required, and no water cooling - just air cooling. If the reactor loses power, there is something called a "freeze plug", which is just basically some of the fuel salt which has been actively cooled to freeze it, and the freeze plug is stopping a drain pipe. The freeze plug will melt very quickly if it's not being actively cooled, and the fuel will drain out of the reactor, into a drain tank which separates the fuel so that it no longer fissions (the fuel must be kept at a certain density to remain critical), and the tank is air cooled by natural convection - no fans or air pumps needed.

LFTR plus renewables could power us for hundreds of thousands of years.

Re:What a waste. (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333642)

* Pumped hydro energy storage (works with any type of power; already widespread in China for day/night demand averaging) (does not require a river or a large impounded area!)

Come again? A large reservoir is exactly what a pumped storage plant needs. You need 200 m^3 of water per second to generate 1 GW. In fact hydro and pumped storage have limited application because of the limited number of places where you find a large body of water and a sufficient altitude difference for the exhaust/lower storage pond.

* The natural correlation between solar intensity and power consumption (night is off-peak, sunny days have more AC load, etc - -it's not perfect, but it's a nice start)

That's only true for warm climates. Here in northern Europe (52deg N) AC is less of a factor, and power consumption peaks in the evening and in winter (electric heating).

Re:What a waste. (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334020)

You need 200 m^3 of water per second to generate 1 GW

That's a nonsensical statement. The amount of power produced relates to both volume *and* head.

Day/night buffers (like those used in China, like those to pair with solar) are several orders of magnitude smaller than those used on the large-head large-scale conventional hydro projects. Which is why conventional hydro projects take months or even years to fill.

You don't need *any* natural body of water with pumped hydro (although it's cheaper if there is one). You simply need an altitude differential.

That's only true for warm climates.

It's true in about 90% of the First World. And actually you've got it backwards; in most places, it's *warm* areas that use electric heat (since it's not used as often, and is more expensive/less efficient than gas heat)

Re:What a waste. (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332872)

You can't sail around the world. You'll fall off the edge. You can't break the sound barrier. It's impossible. You can't do it! You just can't.

Correct PERMA-LINKY thing (1)

iced_tea (588173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36332628)

HELIOSTAT CONTROL SCHEME USING CAMERAS : http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2011/0120448.html [freepatentsonline.com]
I suspect the submitter came in through the search USPTO system.... I had to click "Next" several times to get to this entry.

Re:Correct PERMA-LINKY thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332942)

Oh look, yet another bullshit patent that can't be used to put the patent into practice, but will almost certainly be applied against anyone that figures out how.

"comprising a controller configured to receive the image from the camera and calculate an error in the orientation" How do you calculate it? What if I come up with a better calculation than you? What's that? This patent covers every possible way of doing this, even ones they didn't think of?

"comprising a cooling system configured to cool the camera" How? What kind of cooling? Cooling a camera with the light of a thousand copies of the sun focused on it isn't something you just throw out there.

8. The heliostat control system of claim 1, wherein the camera is located in the receiver volume.

9. The heliostat control system of claim 1, wherein the camera is located outside of the receiver volume.

Oooh oooh, what if i put it riiiiiight on the edge of the receiver volume? No good?

It's not until you get to the very bottom that actual practicable techniques are discussed: "A method of heliostat control, comprising: receiving sunlight in a receiver, the sunlight reflected from a mirror of a heliostat; generating a first image from a camera located proximate to the receiver; oscillating the heliostat at a known frequency; and assigning a portion of the image to the heliostat by identifying the oscillation in the first image." I think I can manage that without using psychic power to figure out what they wanted to do here. "The method of claim 24, further comprising: generating a second image from the camera; locating in the second image the assigned portion; and determining an error in an orientation of the mirror based upon the assigned portion." So thats how you calculate an error, but then why Claim 4? Oh right, in case you figure out a better way then wiggling the mirror until your picture "looks right".

BTW, if you're going to come and scream at me for assailing your precious, precious government-backed monopoly system, telling me that it only covers using cameras to aim mirrors and that someone could come along and invent something else that wasn't a camera, google "after-invented technology" and "doctrine of equivalents". See, it turns out that it's "unfair" for inventors to have to keep up with inventing new stuff, so if you invented something that does more-or-less the same thing as the camera here (say, a device that can actually calculate the incidental angle of a light beam, which would make adjusting the mirrors absolutely trivial compared to examining before-and-after photos to figure out if your beams are converging better or worse), the courts have held that it's not fair to google that everyone can start using your invention instead of theirs, so since they couldn't have possibly foreseen someone inventing something better than a camera to do this, they get to include the use of your light-angle detector in their patent, since it does substantially the same thing as their camera did. And that's assuming they didn't just go straight for the doctrine of equivalents, and claim that your light-angle-detector is just a fancy camera.

Sure, they might not convince a judge, but you won't know that until a quarter million bucks in fees and lawyer time later.

Re:Correct PERMA-LINKY thing (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333110)

You've never worked with a patent attorney before, have you? One of the main goals is severability; you try to get both overly broad and highly specific claims in there at several levels so that if certain parts are deemed indefensible, other parts still remain.

This is pretty straightforward. Google went to patent attorney saying, "Here's what we're doing, in detail; we want it patented." Patent attorney did what patent attorneys do and made it into the above.

Bull crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332636)

>> the company is staffing a new R&D group 'to develop electricity from renewable energy sources at a cost less than coal' at 'utility scale.'"

Yeah, and I'm going to start a company that will develop electricity from renewable energy sources at a cost less than an ice cream cone at utility scale.

Saying you're going to do something don't mean it's gonna happen. And 99% of claims of future progress from those working in renewable energy turn out to be bull crap. Based on those odds, I'd say this is bull crap too.

Re:Bull crap (1)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333100)

If you trust the article, they aren't just saying they're going to try something. They are actually going to try something. There is a significant difference.

Funny... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332918)

Hopefully this project doesn't end up like Google PowerMeter, which the author mentions in the article.

It was announced that PowerMeter will be deprecated on May 26, 2011.

http://code.google.com/apis/powermeter/
 

Prior art... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332944)

We do this all the time (solar observatory), to within half an arcsecond, using cameras at times, quadrant photodiodes at times, and other means. At times, we use mirrors. At times, we directly image or sense. This is truly a stupid patent if it uses the identical boring optical target (sun,planet, or star) to simply point a heliostat. As a matter of fact, the quadrant photodiode is in fact a crude imaging camera, comprised of only a few pixels. These are found everywhere. Multiple mirror systems successfully use PLL to individually focus mirrors. If this becomes a patent, then patents have lost all meaning...

Re:Prior art... (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334064)

You don't patent your work, if you work at an observatory. I work in radio astronomy, so I'm familiar with the sort of stuff our crowd invents all the time that's not in the USPTO database.

That's the problem with the USPTO, in a nutshell.

Do you smell that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36332960)

Why does GoogleTM leave this horribly bad taste in me mouth. Oh because they are stealing tons of information and selling it to assholes, which in turn makes them assholes, which in turn makes anyone who thinks GoogleTM is cool assholes, which in turn does make me and asshole for even mentioning there name. See chuck you have your dicks, your pussies, and your assholes, If your dicks don't fuck the assholes you get shit all over your dicks and your pussies. So calling all dicks, fuck them assholes, or you too will get shit on your pussies, and you don't want that do you?

Does slashdot hump google (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333046)

Seems like slashdot and google are a couple of buddys, have fun being fed this shit.

Microsoft is hard on their heels it seems... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333068)

Microsoft has this week launched it's own solar power plants ( DSES - Delayed Solar Energy System),

"Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) has this week announced it's investment in two power plants based on the Delayed Solar Energy System (DSES) to power it's
Datacenters in Chicago and San Antonio. These systems burn a special fuel to generate electricity using a conventional steam turbine driving a generator to power their datacenters.

The innovative technology is called the Delayed Solar Energy System (DSES) and is based on an organic fuel which first absorbs sunlight, then is compressed and heated over a period of time. A process which turns it into a black compound which can then be easily transported using existing infrastructure. The company has hailed this as a carbon neutral technology which scrubs the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Critics though, have pointed out that the storage time required is excessive and that it's green credentials do not add up in the real world.

Executives at the Seattle based corporation have dismissed these claims saying that the technology is in it's infancy and that they hope to reduce the time required in storage from several millions of years to just a few decades. In the meantime they will continue to use the ready supply of fuel which can be found in abundance in the ground."

The REAL news... (1)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333072)

...to me anyway is that a publicly owned company is spending R&D money on something that doesn't include the word "social". I don't know how they beat a couple bucks out of their investors for something that's worthless next quarter but may be huge in 10-20 years but I'm sure glad they did. Our only other hope is that the government (the only real customer of technology as far I can see...prove me wrong!) doesn't decide to cut off all funding for science next election cycle.

google patents (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333082)

I'd forgotten how awful the USPTO's interface is for searching, viewing, and downloading patent and trademark materials (why the hell are tiffs the format of choice, and why the hell is it so difficult to get a decent tiff viewer?) I've been using Google Patents almost exclusively for quite a while now - much easier to search things out, patents are cross-referenced with hyperlinks, and it takes just one click to get a searchable PDF. But Google Patents doesn't handle patent applications, and so I can't use it here.

Why? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333114)

I'm surprised no one has yet commented to this effect, but why would you want to use this patent? As I read it, the patent is for a very simple feedback control system for positioning of heliostats (mirrors). You put a camera on the collector, pointed at the mirror, and the camera controls the alignment of the mirror to center the point of highest intensity (the sun). Seems simple enough.

The first problem, this only works for a single mirror. That means you would need one of these light intensity sensors for each individual mirror, of which there may number thousands. Each of these is going to be on the collector, potentially blocking a significant amount of light from those mirrors. Now you could put a single camera on a rotating boom, allowing it to move around and individually manage each mirror in sequence, but that's still an overly complicated system.

You know the layout of your plant, or at least you should. Why not just use a single camera, tracking the sun across the sky, and use that combined with a bit of geometry to determine the optimum placement of each mirror to follow it. The other system has the advantage of being able to track the source of highest intensity, but surely any other source of light will be inconsequential compared to the sun. The next closest object (the moon) at its brightest might only provide a few kW of power to a several hundred MW plant.

But wait! There's more! The sun is a celestial object, and celestial objects are nothing if not predictable. Why bother with cameras at all? A nominal amount of CPU power would be able to predict the sun's track across the sky with micro-arcsecond accuracy. There's absolutely no need for any sort of feedback system at all, besides the position sensors built into the servo motors themselves. This just seems like Google had some image processing expertise, and decided to throw science at the wall to see what would stick.

Re:Why? (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333196)

I just so happened to run across a discussion of intensity versus celestrial trackers the other day and the upshot was that on cloudy days the intensity trackers work much better. No one in the discussion spelled out why that was the case, but it was the result of empirical testing. My personal theory is that lots of water in the air can diffract the sun's rays enough so that the celestial position just doesn't line up with the effective position as seen from the ground.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333562)

Mod parent up!

Re:Why? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333766)

So it's the old trick where an object in a glass of water is not where it appears to be?

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334902)

The cloud cover causes multipath effects on solar radiation. In other words, the cloud cover can cause a point measurement on the earths surface to be higher than with clear sky conditions.

Re:Why? (1)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333494)

" The sun is a celestial object, and celestial objects are nothing if not predictable. Why bother with cameras at all?"

I've never heard of this and never thought of this, but holy crap.. "duh". You should've patented it. So much simpler than "tracking". All you would need is your long/lat info. Easily figured out with a cheap integrated GPS unit. Good thinking outside the box :-)

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333510)

I'm guessing this is related to cost.

Nowadays cameras are so cheap that you might as well put one in with your controller. Think a 128x128 camera or something like that of a light-mouse. That saves you the data cables required for a centralized tracker and also whatever circuitry you need to detect the mirrors current position in order to adjust to track a celestial object.

With a camera integrated into your circuit you simply run a small control program to move up/down the mirror and stop when light intensity is too low. You don't really care how high up or down you already are.

Of course, if you're laying power cables for your motors this isn't that big a deal, but maybe if you're using local solar cells, or using hydraulics, having separate modules might make sense.

Also, remember this is the company that uses off the shelf PCs rather than mainframes, making up in volume for reliability. Decentralized tracking fits in well with their philosophy.

Re:Why? (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334114)

Tracking is necessary if the heliostat isn't stiffly enough built to perform dead-reckoning pointing. In order to lower costs, the heliostat support structure must be cheap, therefore flimsy. We're not talking about building a million-dollar heliostat, but a $2,000 heliostat. This has to be as cheap as coal, right?

I talked with an astronomer in Tucson who's designing a solar system to be cheap as coal, and he's gone through all the steps to at least figure out how to get to that price point using a movable-mirror concentrator with high-efficiency cells at the focal point. It's quite something. Although he doesn't need a tracker, since he understands optics and how to make his system achieve high efficiency, even with several degrees of pointing error.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334118)

Exactly. The track the sun takes across the sky is predictable to fractions of a degree for thousands of years. The things could be driven by clockwork.

If you want some smarts to tweak it -- a few simple photocells and an asymmetric lens will do fine -- the kind of thing that's been built into servomechanisms for tape or optical disc libraries for years. Camera and computer is ridiculous overkill -- and prone to hackery.

Re:Why? (1)

raygundan (16760) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334122)

You know the layout of your plant, or at least you should. Why not just use a single camera, tracking the sun across the sky, and use that combined with a bit of geometry to determine the optimum placement of each mirror to follow it.

Because that requires, as you point out, precise knowledge of the initial and current position of all your mirrors. Doing this requires a really, really beefy support and foundation structure for each mirror, to the degree that it won't shift in wind or with ground subsidence or erosion or extra weight from rainwater or whatever combined with a positioning mechanism so accurate and slip-free that after continuous motion to different positions all day everyday that there's never any accumulated error in the position.

This lets you slap a cheap sensor on a cheap foundation with a cheap positioning motor, and get better results than the aforementionened "swiss watch attached to a fortress" even after the motor gear loses a tooth or slips half a turn and the pole's three degrees crooked in the ground.

Not new news (1)

Sniper98G (1078397) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333484)

The founders of Google are also the two principal investors in Nanosolar, a company that makes high efficiency low cost solar cells. They have been supporting solar development for year now so I don't know why this should be a surprise to anyone.

Re:Not new news (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335206)

They really don't.
They make very expensive solar cells at the moment - they haven't managed to scale production.

They have funding of over a billion dollars so far.
They hope to have production at 115MW/year in 'Fall 2011', with production of 20MW in 2011.
(this is on a background of them having announced capacities of around 1GW/year in 2008)

So - 100 dollars a watt or so for produced panels.

Current 'normal' solar panels are down to as low as about a dollar a watt, and falling, making nanosolars claims of $.6/W in 'just a few years' not really look very low cost any more.

Google solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333800)

Not only will Google panels track the sun, they will track your web history and recommend sponsors to fit your habits and send this all back to Google HQ for perpetual storage, And don't worry, only Google will know your identity.
This is very exciting.

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