C A N A D A'S N A T I O N A L N E W S P A P E R
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Toronto, Saturday, August 4, 1990
Buckminster Fuller's idea of a global energy system is back in favor
A light seen round the world
By Mary Gooderham, Applied Science Reporter
GREG Lyttle wants to read by light generated in Siberia. But rather than move to the remote river where hydroelectricity is produced, he plans to transport it from the Soviet Union to his Vancouver home.
He is head of the Canadian chapter of an organization called Global Energy Network Institute or GENI that has revived an idea first proposed by inventor R, Buckminster Fuller two decades ago.
Supporters claim their initiative could have benefits from ending hunger to eliminating global debt and cleaning up the environment. But they first have to construct a huge extension cord around the earth and convince a good number of skeptics. "The world is catching up with Bucky Fuller. It was only a matter of time," said Bonnie Goldstein, a researcher at the Los Angeles-based Buckminster Fuller Institute.
The resurgence or Mr. Fuller's ideas of synergy,
Mr. Fuller was a self-taught architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, futurist and philosopher, best remembered for the design of the geodesic dome.
He was called
His most important rule was to
The Fuller Dymaxion air-ocean projection, invented in 1946, places the North pole at the center of a map, lays out the continents to show their geological closeness and eliminates political boundaries and distortions of size and shape inherent in the familiar Mercator projection. It essentially tips the world on its ear.
The idea of linking the world's electricity grids came from the playing of World Game, a logistics exercise invented by Mr. Fuller in 1969, where players representing the population stand on a huge Dymaxion map and deal with food, resources, energy and war materials.
Mr. Fuller believed shortages affecting humanity
were not a problem of supply but distribution, and
called the energy network the
Proponents say the ability to instantaneously send power around the world into different time zones and climates would mean an abundance of electricity where it is needed. Ready availability of power would improve living standards. Only generators that are the most efficient and environmentally sound would be used constantly, and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar generation would be incorporated into the network.
In the proposal, grids already present in most areas would be linked by underwater cables across distances such as the Bering Strait, an expensive proposition but a fraction of the current cost of the military buildup in the United States and Soviet Union.
GENI members insist the technology is not the stuff
of Buck Rogers. The strategy of
Tipping the world on its ear
Technological advances over the past two decades have made a global grid more practicable, with new metallic alloys insulators and current converters that allow ultra-high voltage (UHV) transmission. Two decades ago, electricity could be transmitted only about 350 miles Economically, hut today it can travel more than 4,000 miles.
The idea of the global grid was taken off the shelf five years ago by GENI director Peter Meisen, a San Diego mechanical engineer. Affiliates have been established in places such as Australia, Alaska and Singapore.
The first step for GENI to propose an ambitious
A mailing list informs several thousand GENI members of the initiative, and they pass along information and a video tape explaining the proposal to friends and co-workers with an almost religious zeal.
However, while it was greeted with interest in 1969, when it was first proposed, the resurgence of the idea of a global grid has not so far been embraced by environmentalists and energy researchers.
Groups such as Mr. Rubin's favor conservation, local small-scale production or electricity such as cogeneration projects that combine electricity generation and heating in individual buildings, as well as an end to megaprojects and long-distance transmission.
Mr. Rubin said Mr. Fuller's premise that there is
a constant surplus of energy was wrong,
GENI supporters are aware of mounting concerns about the health effects of electromagnetic emissions from high-voltage lines, but they say studies about links to cancer are inconclusive and society is already irrevocably wired into electrical fields without GENI.
The proposal has some important people among its supporters. At Mr. Fuller's request, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau reportedly brought up the idea of energy network when he traveled to Moscow in the l97Os to meet with Soviet leaders. It has also been strongly endorsed by singer John Denver, who was a close friend of Mr. Fuller and whose Colorado-based Windstar Foundation was founded on his principles.
Medard Gabel, the executive-director of Philadelphia-based World Game Projects Inc., said Buckyisms such as World Game seem much more relevant now than 20 years ago. The game is being played with increasing frequency; there were 12 World Game presentations staged in the United States in 1986 and more than 175 are expected to be held this year.
The Buckminster Fuller institute, which Is run by Mr. Fuller's grandson, Jaime Snyder, has found a growing demand for the inventor's works, especially with the interest In events he helped organize, such as Earth Day, and the teaching of his version of the world map in many schools.
Now housed in a concrete building, the institute hopes to construct a geodesic design science center to display Mr. Fuller's works and archives, which include everything from models of inventions such as the fly's eye dome to original itineraries recording his worldwide lecture tours,
Meanwhile, followers say they are not concerned that Mr. Fuller's ideas are not readily implemented.
Michael Healey, a partner In Synergetic Solutions,
a Toronto-based company that teaches a workshop for
business people based on Mr. Fuller's works, said
For example, Mr. Fuller predicts that the geodesic dome, which he conceived in 1927, would have a gestation of 50 years. By 1977 there were more than 200,000 such domes in the world, though they have not grown much in numbers since and have not caught on where he felt they would be most useful, as emergency housing.
William Perk, a lecturer at Southern Illinois University
where Mr. Fuller once taught, said the inventor believed