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 trulyEnergy COOL. One pleasure of attending energy-related conferences is the chance to wander the trade show and talk to (and learn from) a range of innovators and experts from a diversity of firms. Yesterday morning, with the government shutdown, I wondered whether a four-day demonstration at National Defense University (oops, website down with government shutdown) in Washington, DC, would actually be open … and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was.
For the seventh year in a row, the STAR-TIDES program is running a combination mini-conference and demonstration on NDU’s parade ground in southeast Washington, DC. On the conference agenda (note: that provides a free sign up, although that is not required to attend the sessions/see the demonstrations), today, for example is the following:
1200-1300: Lunchtime Speaker Series: Mr. Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment)- Lunch provided for first 200 people with Authentic Ethiopian dishes BY Babington Technology, Inc. at their Disaster Relief Mobile Kitchen Trailer.
1500-1545: Facilitated Discussion: Soft Power (Sheldon Himelfarb, Director, Center of Innovation: Science, Technology and Peacebuilding at United State Institute of Peace)
A bit late, of course, for most readers of this post to run over today but the TIDES demonstration will be open from 9 to 5 today and tomorrow, and for the morning Friday.
There are some quite interesting — Energy COOL — systems and companies on display. These include:
biolitestove which has a small wood (or dung?) burning stove that also generates limited electricity (enough for limited LED lighting and cell phone recharging). BioLite has a version for the developed world (camping) and another for the developing world. They claim that their stoves (for developing world) reduce biomass requirements by 50% and actual emissions by over 70% due to greater burn efficiency while then also providing that limited electricity for those off the grid — as they phrase it, “Bottom Up Power”. On that camping version, they offer a really cool grill option that, among other things, drains the fat from cooking back into the stove to be burnt for energy (both cooking/heat and recharging your cell phone or providing light).
HybridPetals is a firm specializing in electric bikes along with figuring out how to leverage solar pv advances to provide additional range and capability for these bikes. For example, an electric assist bike with a stretcher and another with a medical support trailer that is covered by solar panels that power up a small refrigerator element for medicines.
Rain Catchers with a system for rainwater harvesting and water sanitation for disaster relief and other expeditionary environments.
There are just a few of the several dozen firms at the TIDES demonstration.
And, this is just a taste of an Energy COOL opportunity amid a government shutdown as I am about to leave my computer to go visit it again today.
The recent Australian elections represent a significant set-back for climate sanity within Australia and represent a serious step backward when it comes to climate change issues in the Anglophone world. Now, two major Commonwealth nations (Canada, Australia) are governed by political parties that are lock-step with fossil fuel extraction industries and the Australian government seems well down a path toward censoring it scientists as is going on in Canada (and Canadian scientists fighting back …).
voters were probably not sending a message about carbon policy. Only 37 percent of Australians support eliminating the carbon tax and replacing it with the policies of Abbott and the Coalition. The tax didn’t even break voters’ top three concerns, with those spots going to concerns about the economy, asylum seekers, and health care. In fact, most Australians think the country’s climate policies should remain the same or stronger.
Instead, voter antipathy toward the center-left government may be rooted in an aversion to political hypocrisy and broken promises. Leaders of the Labor Party, including former PM Julia Gillard, previously promised there would be no carbon tax, then flipped on the issue and instated one any way. A reporter for The Guardian’s Australian edition noted that the Labor Party was thrown out of power because for voters, it “became an issue of her [former PM's] credibility really rather than carbon pricing.”
The Coalition’s complaint that everyone wants to get rid of the carbon tax is not backed up by the numbers.
The issue that seems to have resonated was the twisted path to the carbon pricing … not the existence of such a program. (E.g., ‘character’ rather than ‘policy’ swayed Australian voters …)
Yet, whether listening to the new Australian Prime Minister, the climate denialist/anti-clean energy world, and a huge share of the media world, carbon pricing was central to the election results. In a sense, they are right — the results of the election will have a detrimental impact on Australia’s climate policy even if the majority of Australians understand that climate change is a reality, a reality impacting Australia already, and a reality that will have ever more devastating impact on their nation.
Missed, for so many, in discussions about the Australian election is a simple reality: MMfA or Media Mattered for Australia.
Murdoch’s News Corp is the dominant voice in Australian media.
Denial … I’m in denial
When I see those eco-nazis, I raise my arm and shout Sieg Heil
I’m in denial … deep in denial
And as the waters rise around me I’ll just hold my breath and say
It isn’t so
Those fires are not raging, No floods deluge the land
Those hurricanes and tornadoes are just flashes in the pan
The animals are doing fine, No species dying out
And half the bloody climate isn’t choking in drought
The ice is not receding, from either polar cap
I’d go with Tony Abbott, It’s just a load of crap
This round-the-world disaster is an evil greedy trap
‘Cause everybody knows the world is flat
PS: Another Canada and Australia linkage: they are both nations being hit by significant climate impacts on a more accelerated pace than many other regions/nations of the world. The Canadian Arctic is melting and Australia has been (seemingly) oscillating between burning (and burning and burning and …) and flooding (and flooding and …).
As even the most casual student of history knows, yesterday’s friends can be tomorrow’s enemies and vice versa. Germany and Japan as America’s most mortal allies transformed, post World War II, into two close allies. It is worth keeping this in mind to consider the overheated rhetoric about a supposed “war on coal”.
Coal was critical for the industrial revolution and was a serious player for transforming the world over the past several centuries. However, somewhat like international relationships, technology and energy systems can evolve and change. And, our understanding of costs and benefits can shift as well.
While coal for a long period was an absolutely critical part of our energy scene, technological advances have changed that. For example, ships and railroads that once ran on coal now run more efficiently with petroleum fuels and electricity. And, the same thing is an ever-increasing reality in the electricity market. Once the ‘lowest price’ out there for new electricity, natural gas is beating coal down right now due to depressed gas prices. And, increasingly, renewable energy projects are beating coal on a price-point basis — even without considering ‘externalities’.
As to those externalities, we now know that there are very real, very serious, very significant costs that fall outside the price contact — are external to the financial relationship — that are costing us as individuals and adults.
We now know that the mining and burning of coal causes tremendous damage, creates costs from …
While fossil fuel promoters, uncaring about the havoc they create on others (living and unborn), scream that the Obama Administration is undertaking a “War on Coal” there is a quite different angle. They — the promoters of coal — long ago determined that their own profitability was more important than the pain and suffering that they cause others, that cash in their pocket was more important than the damage they cause for all of us. If there is such a thing as a “war”, they declared it a long time ago. It is well past time to recognize that and act accordingly.
While the Constitution of the United States enumerates responsibilities for the three branches of government, some of the most critical roles that have evolved through our centuries of democratic governance are implied rather than explicitly enumerated. One of the most important ‘implied’ roles is Congressional (Legislative) oversight of the Executive Branch. While the Judicial Branch provides paths for understanding Constitutionality and provides tools for aggrieved parties to force the Executive Branch to follow/execute the law, Congressional oversight provides a path to enable more effective governance. That is, of course, if that oversight is done with serious intent to improve governance and with concern about the well-being of American citizens and of the Republic.
In a rational political world, this would be a good thing. With the science settled that humanity is contributing to global warming and that climate change creates risks for the Republic (today and into the future), there is very legitimate space for discussing best paths forward for climate mitigation and adaptation:
What are the best roles for government?
What is balance between
Is regulation or direct funding a better path for
What should balance be between investment in basic research, technology / otherwise development, and deployment?
Knowledge about climate change — not just science but also what is going on within the government (and other nations) — is important to enable thoughtful debate and decision-making about which are the right paths forward.
Today’s hearing could discuss basic Climate Change truths with thoughtful interaction as to how the nation — and Congress — should act in the face of truth.
With the realm of legislative oversight, people who take seriously Congress’ role to understand what is going on within the Administration to help foster better governance would not find it hard to develop legitimate arenas of examination and discussion:
Are critical arenas (scientific, technological, fiscal, regulatory, etc …) slipping through the cracks due to the complex structure of the U.S. government?
Are there arenas of overlap, where better coordination could led to more effective use of taxpayer resources?
What areas of uncertainty merit Congressional focus?
Are there legislative and/or legal gaps requiring Congressional action to enable more effective governance?
Rational people concerned about leveraging legislative oversight in the striving to ‘create a more perfect Union’ could come up with a myriad of questions and arenas of discussion for dozens of days of hearings.
Take a look, for a moment, at the questions sent to the Administration from the subcommittee chair. Questions 3-6 all start “identify all”. Cabinet members oversee organizations with 1000s (or 10,000s or 100,000s or 1,000,000s) of people, with large and varied structures, with huge numbers of programs and responsibilities, and large budgets. Within a time period of ever-more constrained resources, the Administration officials either stopped all work to seek to identify “all” or determined that it was a fruitless endeavor. And, even if they sought to divert resources from critical activities to try to “identify all”, we can be sure that they failed to report something due to the breadth of the question. Thus, what is the likelihood that, at some point in today’s hearing, a climate-science denying Representative will attack an Administration for some failure to “identify all”? Hmmm …
For a functioning democracy, legitimate legislative oversight is a critical tool in the effort to ‘create a more perfect Union’. It is something that citizens shouldn’t just welcome but demand. And, it is vitally important for the most important issues for the Republic’s future prosperity and security.
Sadly, however, today’s hearing is almost certainly to be illegitimate …
Arev Yom Kippur … The eve of the Day of Atonement. After the period of reflection and engagement with others between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, this is a moment to turn to internal considerations and the relationship between the individual and G-d.
As part of the prayers for the Day of Atonement, the Vidui, the Al Cheyt or recital of sins, is perhaps the most important. (Modern Judaism being what it is, there are a myriad of translations and modern variations on the Vidui/Al Chet.) A key word: Ashamnu … “we have sinned” is a recognition of individual and communal failures. The Al Cheyt is a recognition and statement about sins by ourselves (and our community) against others, against oneself, against G-d through action … and inaction.
It is clear:
One can do wrong purposefully and explicitly … and one can do wrong inadvertently and indirectly.
One can do wrong through action and words … and one can do wrong through inaction and silence.
And, one can … one should … one must act to recognize the wrongs that we, all — as individuals and communities, have done, seek to redress them, and work to avoid them into the future.
In May 2006, the late environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai addressed 7,000 international educators who had gathered in Montreal for the 58th annual conference of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA). Here is the [story http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=389179173062&1&index=0] she shared with them.
One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest - a huge woodlands was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream they stopped to watch the fire and they were feeling very discouraged and powerless. They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird.
This particular hummingbird decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire.”
And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?” And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said:
“I am doing what I can.”
In this time of escalating climate change, this is our challenge.
To refuse to surrender to the apathy of denialism and fatalism.
To be fierce in our defense of the Earth.
To continue to fight in the face of overwhelming odds.
And always, always, to do what we can.
Because it is only by each of us doing what we can, every day, that we will save the Earth – for ourselves, and for the generations to come. Like the hummingbird.
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. While most of these are technology, some are more about process and structuring along with philosophy … Boston’s CERO provides a microcosm example of a movement seems ready to sweep the nation …
As to CERO’s philosophy, the headline on the website:
CERO is all about creating good green jobs and supporting local business in a solid neighborhood economy.
Our bottom line - People, Planet and Prosperity!
CERO is a startup disposal and recycling business in the Boston area. Organized as a bi-lingual and multi-cultural worker-owned cooperative, the members are local people with experience in hauling and recycling, and the business will serve local restaurants with a source-separation disposal system that will include composting and waste vegetable oil collection, in addition to recycling and trash removal.
That 1/2 lb per meal of organic waste will go into composting, to provide rich soil for the food for future meals, rather than going into landfills.
“Cero” is the Spanish word for “Zero”, and the idea is to help local restaurants and other businesses to achieve a target of Zero Waste, while providing good jobs in communities that need them.
CERO targets cutting total waste from partner restaurants by 70% in its first year.
Just like too many home owners, CERO is caught in the challenge where there are $billions for Wall Street while $0s for Main Street.
In a deal with potential investors, CERO has made a deal to show that it can raise money from a broader public before the bigger funders come to the table. Thus, this IndieGoGo effort to raise a symbolic $15,000. Success here and there is confidence that the funding will come in with the capital to purchase trucks and equipment.
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 trulyEnergy COOL. The fifth annual DC Renewable Technology conference provided multiple opportunities for learning and excitement.
Yesterday afternoon, a session entitled “Small Hydro Projects Present Big Opportunity” had me leaning forward with interest. Around the planet, micro and small hydropower represents a significant opportunity space toward clean energy production development masked by large hydropower projects. (Another reason todamn those dams?) While Molly Hill Patten’s articulate discussion of the challenges and triumphs toward making the Bowerstock Mills & Power Company’s small hydropower project a reality fascinated me and merits future discussion, two presentations truly represented Energy COOL opportunities in the small / micro hydro world that create value streams from water that is currently flowing unexploited:
Natel Energy opens the door to generating electricity from small gravity drops, from 5 to 20 feet.
Lucid Energy has targeted generating electricity leveraging waste energy within municipal water pipes.
These two firms, alone, offer paths for a 10-20 percent increase in hydropower production and conceivably open the door for doubling hydropower production in the United States.
It is all too easy for our lying eyes to deceive us as large-scale patterns, trends, and otherwise are difficult to recognize in the face of the immediate. And, individual memory can be such a difficult thing.
The Washington, DC, area has had an unusually cool past several months. As a ‘native’, I refer to the insufferable August weather as “90/90″ as so much of the time is above 90 degrees F and above 90 percent humidity. E.g., unbearably hot, muggy, sticky … A typical August and early September might have many Washington area residents spending just a few minutes a day as they rush from their air conditioned homes, to their air conditioned cars, to their air-conditioned offices, stores, restaurants, … Such weather has been the (rare) exception rather than the rule.
As we watched our sons play soccer, yesterday, in beautifully comfortable conditions, a fellow soccer dad said: “This really is beautiful weather … we haven’t had many hot days this year … When I grew up in the area, in Falls Church, Virginia, I remember that we had tens of days of 100 degree weather each year and this just isn’t happening.” I refrained from saying that I, too, remembered walking 12 miles to school with snow above my shoulders … I did comment that 2012 had set hot weather records and that there was a really ugly stretch of heat earlier this year, but really couldn’t do much more than that. Iit isn’t as if I had meteorological records at my finger tips on the sidelines.
This morning, I sent him a note:
Re 100 degree days, our memories perhaps can play tricks. … Here is a Washington Post graph on 100 degree days 1872 to 2012 :
Note that DC had 12 days 100 and above in all of the 1950s and 3 in the 1960s. We’ve already had more 100 degree days in 2011-2013 than occurred in either of those decades.
What we see, ourselves, can deceive us as to larger patterns and developments. What we see, what happens in our gardens, what we experience is ‘evidence’ and ‘data’ but it is far from all-encompassing and conclusive. And, well, our (dutifully) selective (faulty, even …) memories can make this problem far more serious.
Solar panels cover my rooftop and generate about 80% of my household’s electricity use. My house, of course, has numerous other energy cool elements (solar light tubes, high-efficiency fireplace insert, insulated whole-house fan, efficient appliances, etc …) but those solar panels generate 99% of the initial questioning about the house and my home’s energy issues. While frustrating, in a way, since solar pv is far less cost (and environmentally) effective than energy efficiency investments, there is a (legitimate) positive spin on this: the solar panels serve as a gateway to opening conversations about home energy use and enables education.
So too is the case for solar panels on and around educational facilities. If we care solely about EROEI (energy return on energy invested), there are many (MANY) things to do before putting up on solar panels. If, however, we care broadly about EROI (Educational Return On Investment), then the solar panels begin to make sense as part of an educational energy investment.
In the typical school system, the instructional and infrastructure staffs are barely on speaking terms short of communication about ‘the water fountain is broken and needs fixing’. These staffs interact but it is a very functional interaction — the infrastructure (facilities) staff is a service with the responsibility of making sure the building is working and hear (loudly and quickly) when there is a problem.
This gap misses a major opportunity space to improve the educational process and solar panels are a poster child of that opportunity.
There are drives for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. When working on STEM programs, educators look for “systems” to study. (FAR TOO) Rarely due these educators think about the very building they reside (work) in as what it is: a rather complex system-of-systems, with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, electricity, with a variety of building materials, that has complex interactions of impacts from the sound and air quality, temperature, lighting, pollution loads, and otherwise. When elementary school science teachers ask me for good ideas for field trips, my typical response: “Have you visited your own school?”
Solar panels provide a gateway opportunity for building and energy system integration into the classroom. And, that ‘gateway opportunity’ is what makes this a truly viable opportunity — not on ROI nor necessarily EROEI terms, but on EROI.
When it comes to financial return on investment (ROI), in many communities around the world, putting up solar panels has a direct financial return (putting aside tax benefits and otherwise) counted in a few decades. Solar power, without some external financial support, is gaining ground but it simply isn’t the winner in a straight financial shoot-out in most of the developed world’s electricity markets at this time. Yes, solar beats oil-based fuel and is tremendous for addressing peak urban air conditioning demand, but it doesn’t (yet) price out natural gas or hydropower or, sigh, coal.
And, as discussed above, when it comes to EROEI, much better to invest in insulation, energy control systems, more efficient HVAC systems, skylights, and a rash of other energy efficiency which will have a greater bang for the buck on EROEI.
However, when it comes to EROI, solar electricity might be the most stellar opportunity in the educational energy marketspace.
Solar panels are highly visible. Students, teachers, parents, the community will be aware of them.
The school lobby could have a visual display — constantly updated — as to electricity production (current, cumulative over various periods (day, month, year, lifetime) and this would also be available via the web.
The solar panels will spark discussion about energy issues … as it does with my home.
Ease of integration into the educational curriculum
The reporting systems make the data easily available to teachers and students for use in the educational system.
A solar electricity system is incredibly easy to integrate into the educational environment. For example …
Kindergarteners could learn seasons and whether there is more solar electricity / more sun in winter or summer.
Elementary school students could use it for learning arithmatic, how to do distribution plots, and other development of basic math scales.
Middle Schoolers could calculate the distribution curves of solar electricity generation across time of day and across seasons, with analysis about variability and predictability. This could include, for example, taking multiple weather reporting services predictions and analyzing which correlated best with predicting actual electricity output.
Advanced High School students could analyze life-cycle costs per solar kilowatt hour — in dollar, energy, and environmental impact terms — and do comparative analysis for other electricity generation and energy efficiency options.
Oh, by the way, remember that those solar panels are generating electricity — which has a value even if that value is a fraction of the educational value for the school system.
In my area, each watt of solar costs roughly $4 to put on a roof (down from $6 way back in 2010 … e.g., the price is rapidly falling). A $50,000 investment would, therefore, put a roughly 12.5 kilowatt solar pv system on the roof. That system would produce in the range of 16 megawatts per year of electricity. As the school system pays a discounted electricity price of about $80 per megawatt, that would mean $1280 of electricity value per year or just under 40 years of straight payoff for putting solar on the roof (assuming away any tax or other benefits from the equation). Hmmm, this doesn’t sound good in ROI or EROI terms.
However, as yourself: How much does a school system pay for textbooks? How much should the school system assess the educational value of those rooftop panels, which will be there 25 years or longer? A 1000 student elementary school might have over 4000 students over that time period. Will the average student — through addition classes and otherwise — gain $50 of value through those panels? If that number is anything close to reasonable, the EROI (educational return on investment) is something like 4 to 1 the system’s costs, even without considering the value of the electricity generation.
the Northern California animal sanctuary Animal Place will airlift—yes, you read that right: airlift—1,150 elderly laying hens from Hayward, California, to Elmira, New York, in an Embraer 120 turbo-prop.
The price? $50,000.
And, that is the “cost” focus from Mother Jones, with the authors noting that “obviously, this isn’t the most efficient way to spend your chicken-helping money” providing alternative “chicken-friendly” options for using the $50,000 such as “You could buy flocks of chicks for 2,500 farmers in the developing world through the charity Heifer International.”
How about a different impact as to “cost”? What is the societal cost from this “rescue”? Of course, there is the opportunity cost as to the alternative (better) uses for the money (such as those Heifer chicks …), but what about true costs? One shorthand, to capture a portion of those costs would be the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) from the movement of these chickens.
Thus, the question: how many gallons of fuel will be burnt by the aircraft carrying the 1150 hens?
With well to blade calculations, a gallon of fuel burnt by an aircraft produces roughly 25 pounds of CO2.
2121.2 divided by 0.94 = 2400.63 gallons of fuel
2400 gallons x 25 lbs of CO2 = 60,000 pounds or 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Thus, without considering all of the other energy uses (driving around to pick up / deliver the chickens; flying the empty aircraft to Hayward, etc …), this “rescue mission” will create 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions (along with other pollution).
While debate exists over the exact number, the SCC might range from $33 per ton to well over $1000. In an highly optimistic case, which truly discounts many climate costs, we are thus talking about this hen rescue creating a cost from about $1000 on society (including costs, through climate chaos, on animals — chickens and otherwise) to something on the north side of $30,000. If we take that second number, this tells us that not only is Animal Place willing to spend over $40 per hen just on the transport costs but is willing to impose costs of over $25 per hen on society — just from the fuel burned by the aircraft one way. Those are, well, simply unacceptable costs …