Tag: Energy

Clean Energy 101

October 5, 2011 | By | Reply More
Clean Energy 101

If you want a good starting point for learning the facts about clean energy, The Union of Concerned Scientists is offering an excellent resource, “Clean Energy 101.” If you’d like to learn about the pollution caused by coal plants, and how sustainable energy would cut this pollution, check the article called “Benefits of Renewable Energy.”

A Typical Coal PlantA typical 500-megawatt coal plant produces 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year — enough to power a city of about 140,000 people.
It burns 1.4 million tons of coal (the equivalent of 40 train cars of coal each day) and uses 2.2 billion gallons of water each year. In an average year, this one plant also generates the following:

10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide
10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide, equivalent to half a million late-model cars
3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to cutting down 100 million trees
500 tons of small particles
220 tons of hydrocarbons
720 tons of carbon monoxide
125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber
170 pounds of mercury, 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals
Trace amounts of uranium

Here are each of the main topics covered:

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How to get from here to there regarding renewable energy

August 26, 2010 | By | Reply More
How to get from here to there regarding renewable energy

According to a recent article by Richard Kerr in the August 13, 2010 issue of Science (“Do We Have the Energy for the Next Transition?”) it’s going to be extremely difficult to move the world away from power-packed fossil fuels to more diffuse and less useful renewable energy:

Never has the world so self-consciously tried to move toward new sources of energy. But the history of past major energy transitions-from wood to coal, and from coal to oil and gas-suggests that it will be a long, tough road to scaling up alternatives to fossil fuels that don’t stoke greenhouse warming. The big problem is that, for the first time, the world is moving to tap new energy sources that are, in many ways, less useful and convenient than the currently dominant sources: fossil fuels.

[For instance] oil is densely packed with energy, easily transported and stored, and efficient at releasing its energy in modern engines. Renewables are another matter.

[caption id="attachment_14020" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image by Erich Vieth (using creative commons images)"][/caption]

How much energy do we need to replace? The number is staggering. “Replacing even half of the coal, oil, and gas consumed today would require 6 terawatts of renewable energy . . . In contrast, renewables today produce just 0.5 terawatts.”

Kerr suggests that oil production might peak at around 2030 and natural gas section might keep pace with demand only until 2050. What then? He suggests the the “sobering reality” that only one renewable, solar energy, could meet future energy demands by itself (although wind power could make significant contributions). All of the other types of renewables “would provide just 1/10 to 1/10000 of today’s energy output from fossil fuels.”

How should we attempt such a daunting transition to cleaner fuels that are otherwise much less desirable? Kerr argues that the best way to approach this transition is to “reduce consumption,” and, fortunately, we have the technology for reducing consumption drastically. I previously posted that modest conservation measures with regard to transportation could save enough oil to retire all of the 4000 oil drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on our long and unimpressive track record, Americans will readily express interest in reducing consumption but they lack the political will to actually do so. One huge approach to saving energy would be to immediately implement strict requirements for building highly energy-efficient residences and office buildings. There are many substantial things we could be doing to save energy, if only we cared enough about our future to do so.

Kerr closes his article with this less than cheerful conclusion: “Conservation would buy time for meagerly attractive renewables to make some inroads before fossil fuels begin to bow out.”

(Note: Kerr’s article is available online only to subscribers)

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Fool me once…

June 17, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Fool me once…

The events since the BP well exploded and began spewing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico have forced President Obama’s hand. No politician wants to be the one to catch the Peak Oil hot potato, but it looks like it’s landed right in Obama’s lap. In his Oval Office speech the other night, he came the closest any president has yet to frankly discussing the challenges we face (emphasis mine):

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight.

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Serious about the environment? If so, build an earthship

April 22, 2010 | By | Reply More
Serious about the environment?  If so, build an earthship

If you’re really serious about preserving the earth’s resources, you can build and live in an “earthship.” Each type of earthship is defined by the following set of principles:

* Thermal/Solar Heating & Cooling
* Solar & Wind Electricity
* Contained Sewage Treatment
* Building with Natural & Recycled Materials
* Water Harvesting
* Food Production

For instance, with regard to electricity,

Earthships produce their own electricity with a prepackaged photovoltaic / wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to your electrical outlets. Earthships can have multiple sources of power, all automated, including grid-intertie.

Lots of photos and details regarding earthships can be viewed at this website. There are many varieties, including retrofitted pre-existing housing, described here, this section serving as another review of the basic principles. Here is a video introduction:

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Buffett’s bet on peak oil

November 15, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Buffett’s bet on peak oil

Warren Buffett is lauded as one of the greatest investors of all time, if not the greatest. He’s the second-richest person in the world, and known as the “Oracle of Omaha” for his seemingly prescient investments. For example, in the wake of the collapse of Bear Stearns and during the height of the market panic that followed it, Buffett stepped in and negotiated a deal with Goldman Sachs. He acquired $5 billion worth of preferred shares, which would pay him a 10% dividend, as well as warrants with the rights to sell those shares at any time within 5 years from the time of the transaction. As of September this year, those warrants were “in the money” to the tune of $3.1 billion, and that doesn’t include the $500 million in premium payments that Goldman pays every year. Those lucrative terms (punitive for Goldman Sachs) left others wondering why the Treasury Department could only negotiate a 5% dividend, but that only added to the mystique and legend of Warren Buffett. At the time, Buffett was quoted as saying “If I didn’t think the government was going to act, I would not be doing anything this week,” referring to the massive bailout bill which was indeed enacted by the government.

It’s deals like that that enable one to become one of the richest people in the world. But it’s also that background that has some on Wall Street scratching their heads at the news that he was purchasing Burlington Northern railroad. The Wall Street Journal discussed how the acquisition seemingly broke two of Buffett’s cardinal rules on investments: 1) buy undervalued stocks or companies, for obvious reasons and 2) don’t split your own stocks, as it dilutes the equity of the existing shareholders. Bloomberg quoted a hedge fund principal as saying, “It could be five years before the logic of [Buffett’s purchase of] Burlington Northern becomes clear.” Even Buffett admits that the purchase was “not cheap” and that it represents an “all-in wager”on the future of the American economy. And there can be no doubt that it is a significant investment– he’s liquidating other rail investments totaling $691.3 million while the Burlington Northern purchase will cost some $26 billion– an increase in his railroad holdings of some 3,600%. And this bears repeating, he’s splitting stock to get it done. This is the first time ever that Berkshire Hathaway (Buffett’s investment company) has split shares. He’s so reluctant to split shares, the class A shares regularly trade over $100,000 per share, an unheard-of valuation.

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500 ways to save energy around the house

August 29, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More
500 ways to save energy around the house

Would you like to save energy around your house. This is the most comprehensive list I’ve seen. I found this link on the site of Rocky Mountain Institute, and the list is cross-categorized in several helpful ways.

BTW, have you seen a gradual shift in the media coverage regarding “peak oil“? Though this term (“peak oil”) is still avoided, I’ve seen many articles and many sources that are now acknowledging that we are in the twilight of the age of oil. Yet go back 5 years, and the thought that we were running out of reasonably priced oil in our lifetimes was mostly scoffed at. I think we have entered the age of resignation, without any official announcement.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win” — Mahatma Ghandi.

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A dude, a camcorder and Earth Day in St. Louis

April 28, 2009 | By | Reply More
A dude, a camcorder and Earth Day in St. Louis

I wandered around at this year’s St. Louis Earth Day celebration with a camcorder to capture some of the many images and sounds. I boiled my raw video down into two short videos, each of them lasting about five minutes.

The first one is the “fun” video–you’ll see what I mean. I’m assuming that some of the scenes at Forest Park will give you a smile or leave you shaking your head. Free hugs, anyone? Or how about some sound therapy? And do consider the computerized body analysis administered to me by a chiropractic group working really (really) hard to sell me their long-term services. BTW, I took their test assuming that any legit test would pick up on a rather serious condition I’m dealing with–half of my left hand has gone numb and my left arm is at 1/2 strength due to a pinched nerve; it’s so bad that I’m almost certain to have neck surgery in a few weeks. But the elaborate computerized scan didn’t pick up on that major issue. I did learn that my gall bladder is in great shape, however.

Editing down these videos, I was surprised at how much music one can hear at the festival. Musician Leslie Sanazaro, who has often promoted “green” issues, is featured at the end of this first video (a few months ago, I produced a three-part interview with Leslie). Enjoy!

Now for the “serious” interview. Among all the people attending the fair were a few contractors who sell products and services that can really make a dent in the amount of energy used by your home. The first half of this short video features a firm (Home Green Home) that does elaborate energy audits for about $400. According to Marc Bluestone, up-front cost would be a bargain based on the amount of energy you can save (more than 20% of your energy bills). The second firm, Missouri Solar Living, installs solar equipment for water heating and electricity. You’ll hear some compelling facts and figures, especially about solar hot water. Note: I don’t know any more about these two firms than you’ll see on this videotape, but I did enjoy meeting these guys at Earth Day and I appreciated hearing energy-saving information from two companies who are actually doing substantial work out in the field.

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The Kennedy family will need to put up with looking at new offshore wind turbines

April 23, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
The Kennedy family will need to put up with looking at new offshore wind turbines

The hypocritical and short-sighted Kennedy family will just need to get used to the view, for the common good. As reported by Discover Magazine.

The U.S. Interior Department announced new rules today that will allow the first offshore wind turbines to go up along the Atlantic Coast, including the site near Cape Cod that the Kennedy family famously opposed.

This was a chance for the Kennedys to step up and do the right thing, but they blew it for years and years. Now the federal government is forcing it on them and I’m glad.

Consider what a tiny burden this was on them to look at those admittedly huge turbines in the distance. It’s no worse a burden than for any of us to have to look at the gaudy Kennedy compound from a distance. The turbines will be about 8 miles from Kennedy’s trophy house in Hyannis Port. In clear conditions, the wind turbines will appear one half-inch above the horizon. They will look like this from the Kennedy compound.

We’re going to all have to make some sacrifices for the common good if we want to maintain some semblance of our lifestyle. It has continually amazed me that the wealthy Kennedys couldn’t have made a good example of themselves by advocating, not stifling, this worthy wind project.

How much energy will it produce? Cape Wind’s website provides the answer:

Cape Wind will be rated to produce up to 468 megawatts of wind power as each wind turbine will produce up to 3.6 megawatts. Maximum expected production will be 454 megawatts. Average expected production will be 170 megawatts which is almost 75% of the 230 megawatt average electricity demand for Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Where do the Kennedys think they will get their energy if they don’t get it from clean wind? In my mind this is a classic case of compartmentalized thinking all bound up in status-seeking power.

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What’s driving George Will’s warped views on environmental issues, including his criticism of compact fluorescent light bulbs?

April 5, 2009 | By | 10 Replies More
What’s driving George Will’s warped views on environmental issues, including his criticism of compact fluorescent light bulbs?

On issues relating to the environment, George Will’s strategy has been to draw his curve, then plot his data. As of late, he’s been denying far more than climate change; he’s denying the data relating to climate change. It has gotten so bad that he’s been pointing to changes in the weather to attempt to rebut evidence that there are changes in climate, an unfair tactic that even fourth-graders know enough to criticize. Throughout his arguments, Will delights in sprinkling in pointy little reminders that the government is always misguided, as though we should trust in the “free market.”

This week, in an article published by the Washington Post, Will has employed all of his favorite forms of paltering in a full-scale attack on compact fluorescent light bulbs. He doesn’t like compact fluorescent bulbs for a variety of reasons that he enunciates. Without citing any statistics, he claims that some of those bulbs might not last as long as the bulb life indicated on the package. Because of the existence of mercury in the bulbs, he gripes that we can’t just toss them away in the general trash when they break or cease working. Will also complains that CFL’s are not all-purpose bulbs—they don’t work in hot places with limited airflow. And they take a bit to get to their full brightness. Down with CFL’s!

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