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In my WIP (webcomic in progress) mentioned in my other posts, there is an earth-originated colony based on an alien planet in a semi-post-apocalyptic society with limited technology and resources. because of this, even the mining villages will not notice the underground civilization of the native sentient beings until late in the comic. I have contemplated many aspects of the civilization and I ran into the problem of power. Of course thermal energy is an easy solution but I don't think its enough.

What I'm looking for is a way to move solar energy from the surface to the underground settlement without things like giant solar panel fields giving away the their presence. (edit: the idea of power 'plants', pun intended, is good and elaboration/variations on that are great, but if there are any other ideas id love to hear them.)

(more detail: these natives' civilization is very old, and they have extremely complex and advanced bio-technology and engineering as well as bionic machinery. the reason they're underground is to relieve the surface and life of their impact and pollution, hence why fossil-fuels are a no-no).

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Make a solar tree forest.

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Similar to efforts of humans to disguise cell phone towers as trees, you can bioengineer trees to grow and supply energy through electrically conductive taproots. Depending on the local climate conditions, wind power harvesting trees might be a better option:

enter image description here

In either case the forest would appear to be natural flora of the planet. The conductive taproots might be discovered, but falsely assumed to be a part of the tree's ion transfer system, because they'd never dig all the way down to extract them.

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  • $\begingroup$ The trees don't have to be electric, but might produce energetic chemicals like plants normally do. Again, they may be harvested from below, using engineered pipes that are taken as natural roots or rhizomes. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 23 '15 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Good point, for most readers the fewer middlemen the better, but in more practical terms electricity likely wouldn't be how the energy was transferred. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Nov 23 '15 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ Readers understand that we turn solar energy into power via soybeans whether consumed by trucks (bio-deisel) or animals. A technology based on bioengineering might use concentrated sugars from tree sap as a fuel for other living machines which might also be thought of as draft animals. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 23 '15 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ i had thought of this, granted not to quite as much detail, but i think i want to try for some more unique answers before i accept this. the taproot system is quite intriguing, as well as the sugar collection. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 23 '15 at 12:39
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  • Far out in the oceans, there are fields of algae and fast-growing seaweeds surrounding a massive maelstrom that pulls them down to the bottom of the ocean, where the plants are collected and processed for their energy contents in bacterial tanks. The waste is then recycled into the ocean as fertilizer for the algae.

  • In a more undetectable but sinister twist: Massive fields of plankton being eaten by whales that store up blubber reserves and at a certain size instinctually (or programmatically) dive way down into the depths into the waiting shredders.

  • Black Lightning Trees are a variation on the solar trees in Samuel's answer. They're also tall and conduct electricity into their very deep taproots. The difference is that they ionize the air around their tips, attracting lightning strikes. That power is stored in capacitors and transmitted down.

  • In the large forests, there are dog-sized squirrels that continually collect nuts, fruits, etc and take them to their nests, where they drop them down very deep tubes. This feeds a legion of mammoth hamsters running in wheels, generating electricity. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist...)

  • One last option, though it's not solar-based: If the core of the planet is hot like Earth's, the aliens would need to cool their underground habitat. They could be doing this and getting energy by pumping water from aquifers or ocean floors through a heat exchanger. That's what those hydrothermal vents on earth actually are: the waste heat exhaust of our own ancient aliens ;-)

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  • $\begingroup$ love the mammoth hamsters and am now tempted to draw them. The maelstrom sounds pretty epic, I always enjoy a gargantuan whirlpool. The only problem is that, as mentioned, the natives goal is to leave the surface as untouched as possible, so maelstrom and whale shredders don't quite fit. I love the creativity though. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 23 '15 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ I was going for some things with dramatic visuals and potentially a discovery, as well as making sense for a bio-engineering focused species. Samuel's solar forests are probably the better choice though. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Nov 23 '15 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ definitely +1 for the mammoth hamsters! :-) $\endgroup$ – Burki Nov 23 '15 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ i appreciate the consideration of visuals, most would gloss over that. The natives will 'pop-up' in the midst of civil war between the humans though so a big reveal isn't incredibly necessary. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 23 '15 at 13:47
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@Samuel's solar forest is great, but if you need even more solar energy, you can line the river bottoms and the shallows of lakes and oceans, with solar panels or a solar algae based on the same bio-tech as those solar forests.

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  • $\begingroup$ i love this algae idea i hadnt thought of that. though theres the problem of moving the energy from the algae to the underground $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 23 '15 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ The algae releases its energetic chemicals (sugary product of photosynthesis) into the river which flows over it. Likewise, the forest of solar trees which line each bank of the river pour their energetic chemicals into the flowing river water. (Human settlers will note that the water tastes sweet, but won't immediately realize that it is an energy transfer mechanism.) Meanwhile, after flowing through hundreds of miles of forest, over hundreds of miles of algae, the river will plunge underground into natural caverns which lead to a processing plant that extracts the energy for your natives. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Nov 23 '15 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ interesting idea $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 25 '15 at 15:19

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