The definition of irony

Many a writer has gone rounds with their geeky contemporaries about the word irony. Sure, it’s in the dictionary, but even that definition—“the use of words to express something other than and esp. the opposite of the literal meaning”—seems to leave room for debate. (Surely irony has to meet a higher standard than sarcasm, doesn’t it?) Ultimately, some writers just throw up their hands and say, much like how one judge defined porn, “I just know it when I see it.”

Well, here’s at least one solid example of the word: solar-powered oil extraction.

Chevron plans to use a solar steam plant to access oil at its oil field in Coalinga, Calif., according to an article on the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog. Built by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, the project uses 7,000 mirrors to focus sunlight onto a boiler to produce steam. In a typical power plant, that steam would be used to produce electricity. In this case, the steam is to be injected into oil wells to heat thick petroleum and allow it to flow more easily. The plant is expected to be ready for production by the end of 2010.