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When it comes to Virginia, being concerned about environment/climate demands vote for Northam

October 12th, 2017 · No Comments

Yesterday, Ralph Northam released a new advertisement in the Virginia governor’s race simply entitled Environment.

The advertisement opens:

Protecting our environment is one of the most important things we can do for our kids. And as a doctor, I trust the science on climate change.

While perhaps tired of “doctor” as seemingly lead for everything (when Northam’s life of service includes: Major Doctor Senator Lt.Gov. Volunteer), perhaps it makes sense because a medical doctor has a lot of scientific education which helps set the stage for “I trust the science”.  Quite honestly, Ralph Northam (including, perhaps, his staff who helped on the phrasing) earns some points for “trust the science” rather than using the often-used faulty “I believe”.

While I like that line, the next caught my attention:

But Ed Gillespie worked for a think tank that rejects climate science and fought to pull out of the global climate agreement.

Okay, knew a lot about Gillespie’s sordid client history but this was new — even as this is right in my core focus. As per the Richmond Times,  along with DCI Group, 2016 Gillespie clients included the (misleadingly named) Institute for Energy Research (IER) and its advocacy arm, the (astroturf) American Energy Alliance.  To quickly summarize, these are key players in framing political discussion in the promotion of fossil fuels, undermining of clean energy (e.g., solar and wind), denial of climate science, and damaging the Federal government’s (and state) programs to help move the United States toward a prosperous and climate-friendly modern energy system. A simple shorthand path to understanding this:

Both the American Energy Alliance and its parent organization, the Institute for Energy Research (IER), are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries.

With Trump’s inexplicable (thank you Russia?) election, the door was wide open and IER flooded through it — providing much of the ‘intellectual’ (fraudulent thinking) feeding into Team Trump’s horrific energy and climate concepts, actions, and policies.

From Northam’s ad, the next line:

Now Ed’s going right along with Donald Trump as he tries to roll back our clean air and water protections.

Gillespie’s close ties to those behind Trump’s actions certainly give credence to Northam’s words.

Of course, it isn’t just IER and AEA that make Enron Ed’s dirty energy pedigree. In addition to helping Enron amid what was one of the greatest frauds in US business history, Gillespie worked for the American Petroleum Institute to fight against improved fuel efficiency. He … well … that list is long.

As Republican George Allen put it, ‘you can tell a lot about people from the folks they stand with’ (or, for Gillespie, who they profit from/help profit off others).

Gillespie’s ‘folks’ include those working diligently to undermine American prosperity and competitiveness while putting American (and, well, others’) lives and futures at (much greater) risk.

Virginia’s future cannot be given to someone so willing to put the future at risk in order to put a buck in the wallet today.

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Journalism entails more than stenography: PBS Newshour malfeasance re Clean Power Plan

October 11th, 2017 · 1 Comment

The Trump Administration’s decision to undermine America’s economy and future prospects by its announced intent to reverse the Clean Power Plan and expand its denial of that Chinese Hoax, climate change made headlines and created an imperative for serious news coverage.  Last evening, the PBS News Hour — often the gold standard when it comes to broadcast news coverage — had a segment examining this. The News Hour team decided to adhere to classic ‘he says, she says’ reporting: first having a serious discussion with the former EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, and then turning to coal mining executive Robert Murray. Simply put, as will be shown below, the ‘interview’ with Murray was essentially stenography — asking questions to which Murray responded with specious talking points and deception with the journalist then asking the next question without ever questioning or challenging Murray’s skewed (or, more accurately, baseless) #AlternativeFacts.

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→ 1 CommentTags: climate change · climate delayers · climate zombies · Energy · environmental · Global Warming · global warming deniers · journalism · SciComm · science · Science Communication · science denial

To help Puerto Rico, US gov should visit DC Convention Center with a checkbook

October 10th, 2017 · No Comments

The U.S. military is designed to operate amid the worst disaster(s) imaginable: modern warfare of all types. The vast military-industrial machine supports this — providing multiple options of weapons (that creates disaster?) to housing for difficult environments (tents) to mobile power generation (diesel generators, solar panels, …) to communications systems to water purification to .. The annual Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) meeting has a massive trade show space with a chance to touch, feel, discuss virtually every aspect of systems and services to enable the U.S. military (Army) to function: from home base to the front line. Within the vast array, option after option that could play to help Puerto Ricans (almost literally) tomorrow address the array of post-Maria challenges.

Teva Environmental solar powered water purification system

Here are four brief examples:


Tova Environmental‘s WS25 is a solar-powered water purification system that delivers 20,000 gallons of potable water a day with, of course, no requirement for grid connection or diesel fuel for electricity. Easy to deploy and maintain/operate, the WS25 could support basic drinking requirements for 5,000 Puerto Ricans starting virtually immediately on arrival on scene. Tova is a start-up: the first system is operating in Burkina Faso with the potential for additional units to provide a distributed potable water supply there. The other unit is at the DC Convention Center … but should be en route to Puerto Rico at the end of the AUSA trade show rather than returning to Tova’s New Jersey offices.

Blue Sky Mast offers a path for quick restoration of telecommunications: with a suite of tactical solar systems (taking minutes to put up) and easily mounted antennas, cell phone communications could be put back into action and the equipment taken down/redeployed elsewhere when more permanent equipment is up and operating.


Rungu‘s “Electric Juggernaut LE” could enable cargo movement in difficult spaces, enabling humans to efficiently move around 200 pound loads even with road damage. A 20 mile range on electricity alone or perhaps 40-60 miles with combined pedaling & electric assist, the Juggernaut could help address mobility amid disaster relief and recovery operations.

Merrill Mobile LIfe System: Handling serious weight can be a challenge in a disaster situation like Puerto Rico. Merrill Technologies offers a system that can be moved in a standard container, mounted on two containers, to provide a quickly mounted powerful crane on a stable base. Having a moveable  6 ton crane, read to lift large loads off truck and move cargo, might just have utility in Puerto Rico. In this case, just one prototype exists and it is at the DC Convention. As with the Teva water purification system, at the end of AUSA, Merrill’s Mobile Lift System should be en route Puerto Rico (or, well, another Caribbean island) rather than back to the war house.

A conception … there is no perhaps no better environment for testing and developing early stage equipment that using it to help people in need. Amid disaster operations, the US government should be ready — no, eager — to deploy equipment like these firms’ systems along with evaluation teams to help identify lessons as to how to improve them (if that is even necessary) and how/whether/where/when such systems would be of value into the future.

Just a taste … it has been a long day … these three are far from all viable options at AUSA (or from other US military event … for more options see, for example, STAR-TIDES) … the point is that there are a myriad of options available to help Puerto Ricans today while help advancing the options to help others in the years ahead.

NOTE:  Related posts include:


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What might a ‘solar’ Disaster 4R package cost/look like for Puerto Rico?

October 4th, 2017 · 1 Comment

Post Maria, Puerto Rico’s electricity system is in tatters.

Puerto Rico’s electricity system, prior to Maria, heavily relied on centralized diesel power generation with above-ground power transmission: very high cost electricity, dependent on continued fossil-fuel imports, with great vulnerability to disruption.

Post disaster, thoughtful policy and efforts would seek to maximize value in the Disaster 4R chain: relief, recovery, reconstruction, and resiliency against future impacts.

Rapid deployment/installation of solar-power centered micro-grids to Puerto Rico is a clear example of a Disaster 4R.

Here are some rapid thoughts as to such a Solar Disaster 4R package.

  • Upfront, roughly $100M should be able to deploy about 20-30 megawatts of distributed solar resources in six months while setting the stage for lower cost increased deployment of solar power in years to come.
  • While the $100M should be, in essence, done without cost to Puerto Ricans, a follow-on $100M might be at a 50% matching fund (e.g., lead to $200M of total investment) and successfully install another 60+ megawatts of solar+storage within a year. And, a third tranche would have $100M as a 33% match (e.g., leading to $300M of total investment) with perhaps another 80-100 megawatts of solar-based micro-grids deployed.
  • Very roughly, consider in the ballpark of 150-200MW of deployed solar into Puerto Rico within 18 months. This is a decent size, even if moderate, program for Disaster 4R Solar post Maria.

This project would roughly double Puerto Rico’s existing solar electricity production capacity (and triple rooftop/distributed generation), drive down the costs/ease future deployments due to learning and economies of scale, help lower Puerto Rico’s electricity prices (with reduced fossil fuel imports), create economic activity that will aid in the overall recovery, and boost the territory’s resiliency against future hurricanes.

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→ 1 CommentTags: solar

The power of STEM engagement can bring a smile to your face

October 4th, 2017 · No Comments

As a rare diversion from ‘energy’ focus, here is a story that should bring a smile to anyone concerned about science, science education (STEM), empowering women in science, entomology, how social-networking is changing the world, and, well, good human-interest stories.  In other words, well, likely most of us.

Short and sweet:

  • an 8-year old girl and PhD student just published together.
  • The 8-year old was impassioned by bugs — studying insects — but faced peer teasing/attacks for that passion.
  • Her mother reached out: is there entymologist willing to speak with my daughter.
  • That appeal went (sort of) viral and many scientists reached out to engage with her — enthusiastic about the chance to foster youth interest in and engagement with science.
  • That engagement reinvigorated the girl’s passion for studying bugs.
  • Gave power to the hashtag #Bugs4Girls.
  • And, an 8-year old girl and PhD student just published together about the power of social media and youth science engagement.
 If you only have a moment, photo at this tweet as symbol of the power of youth engagement/science promotion is, well, priceless: 

Thread for above tweet starts:


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Balancing budget key path to #ActOnClimate?

October 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

Writ large, there is relatively small overlap between “budget hawks” and “climate hawks”.  Yet, as highlighted in a just released Oil Change International (OCI) report, there is reason for the two to find common ground (beyond a carbon fee/tax). OCI identified $20B in

Subsidies … where the government gives financial incentives to artificially lower the cost of production or consumption of fossil fuels to encourage more drilling or oil, gas, or coal use.

The $20B/year in direct financial subsidies to the fossil fuel industries

is equivalent to the projected 2018 budget cuts from Trump’s proposals to slash 10 public programs and services, including supports for America’s most vulnerable children and families.

Tackling fossil fuel (fossil foolish) subsidies could cover the planned cuts to food stamps, (the GOP just allowed to lapse) Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Amtrak, weatherization programs, and more …

Campaign contributions do pay off …

No kidding folks, that is a lot of money and a lot of good things that could be done/protected with it.

While Exxon Mobil executives are happier with larger bonuses on the back of the taxpayer, a simple expectation: most American voters would be happier without subsidizing fossil fuel profits and continuing these programs that help strengthen American society.

While that $20B is a lot of money, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The report, Dirty Energy Dominance: Dependent on Denial, headlines the $20B in subsidies, the most telling points come on pages 21-22 (though not in OCIs promotional material nor public discussions seen to date). Pages 21-22 cover “additional U.S. support for fossil fuels”. OCI discusses four arenas:

  • Financing for fossil fuel projects overseas: $2.3B/year
  • Military expenditure to due to oil: Uncertain, likely $10Bs & maybe $100Bs/year
  • Externalities: Health impacts (asthma, cancer, deaths); lower production; water pollution; climate impacts: $186B to $686B/year^
  • Consumption subsidies: $14.5B/year

Okay, look at those numbers. OCI’s included consumption subsidies^^ plus that financing essentially doubles the direct financial number (that is real money), put the total in the range of $38B/year.  The military easily would double that.  And, well, if there is any accountability for externalities (fossil fuel profits are privatized (making Rex Tillerson wealthy) and their costs socialized (creating costs for everyone else)), there is an order of magnitude increase.

While OCI’s headline $20.5B figure gets play and seems so large, it is at best a fraction of the actual U.S. subsidizing of the fossil fuel industry.  That larger figure merits more attention and discussion — in other words, American society and citizens are being ‘taxed’ at least about 1-2% of total gross domestic product (GDP) (and serious risk to the future) to subsidize the fossil fuel industry’s fossil foolish endangerment of our common future.

To be clear, Oil Change International has made a real contribution with this serious and well documented report. While there is value in constraining discussion to that direct $20.5B in subsidy for fossil fuel production, the larger (truer) impact merits understanding and discussion.

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→ No CommentsTags: economics · Energy

Energy COOL-ing the Dandelion way

September 29th, 2017 · No Comments

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL.

Geothermal heating and cooling has long interested me.

  • Seriously energy efficient — perhaps half the energy demand of a top-notch air cooled HVAC system.
  • Quieter — no external fan unit buzzing away while dining outside.
  • Less space — no external fan means perhaps 40 square feet of land not required.
  • Lower maintenance requirements — again, no external system/unit.
  • Longer lifecycle — again, primarily to no external unit.
  • Operational (and potential lifecycle) savings due to energy and maintenance savings & longer life.

What’s there not to like? Well …

Decades ago, when looking for a home, that brand-new four home development with a share geothermal system truly appealed. Sadly, right by a highway (and thus off the list). Of course, that isn’t the geothermal system’s fault.

A decade ago, when the air conditioner died and deciding to upgrade from a 20 year old heating system, I brought in a top-notch geothermal installer for advice and an estimate. Sigh, due to the need to bring a drilling crew from a hundred miles away and a pretty difficult yard for drilling, drilling alone would have topped $25,000. Truly a great guy: “Look, you wan the system, I can get it done. But I wouldn’t do it myself and I don’t recommend it because of that extra drilling cost.” So, instead, went with a fossil-fuel system (combo high-end HVAC and a good natural gas system with a controller that shifts which is running based on temperature).  The roughly $25k difference in price would likely have taken more than 30 years to ‘pay back’ in savings (assuming zero-cost of money — e.g., financially, that just wasn’t a smart deal).

While my case was extreme, geothermal’s challenge has been like that of other renewables: high upfront cost with (much) lower operating and life-cycle costs. America, sadly, is very much a 99 cent culture: see that upfront sticker price and discount the longer term. Thus, even though life-cycle analysis would show the benefits, solar and geothermal and energy efficiency (insulation, better lighting, more fuel efficient cars) often fell by the wayside.

With that in mind, the geothermal Energy COOL-ing item that comes out of Google/Alphabet’s ‘Moonshot’ X team and is now its own spin-off firm: Dandelion.  With a combination of new technology, cost-efficient financing, and business model, Dandelion is turning the geothermal equation upside down. Rather than requiring the patient and thoughtful ‘investor’ ready to plunk down for a high upfront cost with their eyes on a decades-long return on that investment, Dandelion targets “Zero Down, Savings Today” in upgrading from old, decrepit heating systems to geothermal.

What’s going on here?

Think back to my drill comment. Traditionally, geothermal systems have relied on large drills that are used for wells and other major systems.  Google/Alphabet X developed a smaller system (think back of pick-up truck rather than large towed system) that costs significant less to buy, move around, and operate.  Knock that $25k, perhaps, down to $5-$10k and all of sudden my contemplation of a geothermal system would have been far more reasonable (and I might have a far less complicated home heating situation).

As to the business model, Dandelion is more or less leveraging what has happened with the solar industry over the past decade: giving homeowners the option of (in essence) leasing the system (not having to pay upfront) leveraging their financing backing.  What Dandelion is offering customers: go with our system, pay nothing upfront, and your bill combination for paying for our system PLUS paying your (relevant) utilities will be lower than your utility costs today. (In the initial market, for an ‘average home’, Dandelion projects nearly $100/month in savings (plus less noise and fewer GHGs) for $0 down.)

Comparing heating costs: financial and environmental (courtesy of Dandelion)

The benefits aren’t only financial, they are also environmental — local (noise pollution) to global (greenhouse gases).

Now, before you go rushing out to call Dandelion, some caveats.

  • They are a start-up, working through the kinks of getting the business going.
    • This means a limited territorial coverage for now: the Hudson Valley in New York.
  • The initial focus is where that ROI is most powerful.
    • Tackling conversion of propane and fuel oil heating systems to electric-based geothermal.

The two, by the way, are a combination. I asked Dandelion ‘why New York’:

We started by looking state by state at homeowners on oil & propane, since these are the homeowner that would save the most money (see two graphs below). New York state has the most homeowners on oil and propane.

Our drill can go through almost anything, so the ground would have been fine anywhere in state, but we chose the Hudson Valley & Capitol Regions because we found a great installation partner, Aztech Geothermal up here. We also were going to do Astor Courts, a mansion owned by Erich Schmidt, Chairman of Google (also where Chelsea Clinton got married), so we were going to have the equipment in Rhinebeck anyway for that.

Okay, really can’t argue with that logic as to ‘why there’.

“Business model” isn’t just looking to competition (propane/fuel oil) and the financing model.  As explained to me,

Geothermal heating and cooling has always been the most efficient way to heat and cool a home, but the industry has not figure out how to standardize the process and therefore has not figured out how to scale the process yet.

Failure to scale means higher costs per installation — in no small part due to higher soft-costs because of house calls like mine which lead to no sale.

Dandelion says no to about half the people we speak to that want geothermal because we’re currently only offering a system for homes with forced air/duct work. However, by limiting ourselves to homes with forced air, having a concerted marketing effort, having a standardized installation process, and not taking a big cut for our services, we can say yes and install more quickly than any geothermal heat pump company has been able to do to date.

Energy COOL-ing Dandelion geothermal has moved from Alphabet X into the commercial market. Here is a just posted testimonial from Dandelion’s first retail customer.

Dandelion’s First Customers – Becky and Bob from Katie Ullmann on Vimeo.


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→ No CommentsTags: Energy · energy cool · energy efficiency

A minute of changed #climate

September 29th, 2017 · No Comments

This graphical representation of our changed climate is tremendous, perhaps even meriting a visualization award …


Yet, …

On watching and considering this, I had a dual reaction:

  • Amazing, with lots of information packed …
  • Which audience(s) would appreciate/be able to absorb this?

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change · SciComm · science · Science Communication

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Trump Cabinet member slanders 20,000 civil servants

September 26th, 2017 · No Comments

In American politics, one of the most powerful and memorable lines from a US Civil Servant must be when the U.S. Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Nye Welch, challenged Senator Joe McCarthy at a hearing (a McCarthyite inquisition).

Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

And, with Welch’s direct challenge to McCarthy, “those watching the proceedings broke into applause”.

This moment in history jumped to mind on learning of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s slandering of some 20,000 Federal employees:

I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag.

Yes, Secretary Zinke said that 30 percent of the 70,000 Federal employees in the Department of Interior are in violation of their Oath: in essence, asserting that they merit prosecution of disloyalty to the nation.

This sort of ’30 percent’ attack is eerily reminiscent of McCarthy’s anonymous ‘lists of commies’ and other attacks that created questions about whole blocks of civil servants, dedicated federal employees, with that slandering typically not directed at individuals (though that occurred too often as well) and without any real basis.

I wonder when and where America’s civil servants will have their chances to emulate Joseph Nye Welch in challenging such slanderous attacks on those who have dedicated their lives to serving the American people.

Zinke made these comments to an oil industry conference. As with EPA Administrator Pruitt, Team Trump is spending its time with those seeking to privatize profit while socializing costs, socializing with those seeking to ravage public lands with minimal attention to those who seek to protect them.

Truly, that ’30 percent’ comment isn’t about loyalty to the Constitution (“to the flag”) but that Zinke fears that some portion of Interior’s  civil servants (hopefully far more than 30 percent) take their Oath seriously and are loyal to the Constitution and American people, not to those occupying the Oval Office and the political appointments around the government.


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Imagine: Wyoming + Vermont + Alaska + North Dakota + South Dakota w/out power for 3-6 months

September 22nd, 2017 · Comments Off on Imagine: Wyoming + Vermont + Alaska + North Dakota + South Dakota w/out power for 3-6 months

Imagine what America discourse might look like if five states faced a climate catastrophe with a projection for weeks — even months — without electricity.

What would their Senators and Representatives be doing?

Would this be top of the news cycle? Would cable news and newspapers filled with stories

  • showing elderly sitting the dark;
  • discussing the difficulty for the high school football team to train;
  • local businessmen talking about how their stores are struggling;

Consider these five states with 10 Senators and 5 Representatives in the House of Representatives.

Wyoming 582,658
Vermont 626,630
North Dakota 723,393
Alaska 735,132
South Dakota 844,877
total 3,512,690

If Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska were as dark at night as North Korea and being told that they might not have electricity to put up Christmas lights, would their Senators accept Mitch McConnell focusing on paths to devastate Americans health care rather than funding to mobilize resources to light up their communities back home?

Consider …

Three and a half million American citizens, post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, are in this circumstance.  Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are without power … and projected to be without power for weeks or months to come.


As Brad Johnson has highlighted, these American citizens truly are second-class citizens — these 3.5 American citizens don’t have 10 Senators and 5 Representatives able to cause a storm in Washington on their behalf.


Assistance is going to the USVI Virgin Islands National Guardand Puerto Rico: military forces, FEMA, charities are working night-and-day to help our endangered fellow citizens.  We should recognize and value these efforts — this is a great example of how a great nation works to secure the ‘common good’ as the government, acting on behalf of citizens, should help those in time of need.  These efforts, while so many involved merit praise for their efforts, simply are not as central in US government leadership and media discussion nor effort as would be the case if these 3.5 million Americans had representation in Congress.

NOTE:  When it comes to Energy, we need to get disaster’s 3Rs (Relief, Recovery, Reconstruction) right.  Rather than small generators seen being airlifted in, solar installers and equipment from around the nation should be flowing into the islands with a massive effort to put in distributed micro-grids with power storage and energy efficient devices. On public buildings (SCHOOLS!), commercial structures, and homes in good shape — get solar on their roofs and lights in the rooms ASAP with power systems that can be integrated into a reestablished grid. And, by acting in an integrated Energy Smart fashion across disaster’s 3Rs we foster a fourth R: resiliency against future catastrophes. (For discussion, see Energy Smart & Secure Communities: Key to smart Harvey/Irma/Maria relief/recovery/reconstruction).

UPDATE:  Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands also do not have a voice in the Electoral College — while they are part of the primaries, they have no voice in the general election.



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