Entries Tagged as 'Energy'

Better Fuel-Economy Than a Prius?

In 2008 Popular Mechanics ran a marathon driving test between the 2009 Toyota Prius and 2009 Volskwagen Jetta TDi diesel.

While the Prius easily beat out the Jetta in city driving, you might be surprised to learn that the Jetta edged out the Prius on the highway.

Most urban drivers would definitely find that the Prius provided them with a lower cost of ownership; but if you drive a great deal on the highway, you may have other options.  So when you go looking for a “green” vehicle, consider your driving pattern along with the operating costs and environmental impact.

Originally posted 2010-01-11 02:00:47.

Better late…

It’s been a quarter century after the automotive industry received a wake-up call and they seem to finally get it.

A few auto makers toyed with all electric vehicles in the early 90’s; but Honda introduced us to the hybrid vehicle, and Toyota catapulted it into a business success.

Both Honda and Toyota had hoped to introduce fuel cell technology vehicles, but with the world’s economy in shambles building out the infrastructure for that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Now we have virtually every auto maker introducing electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid; many are also introducing high efficiency (bio) diesel vehicles.

Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Ford, GM, Volkswagen — just to name a few — have made a serious commitment to increasing the fuel efficiency of their fleet (and thus decreasing their carbon foot print).

GM announced a 100,000 mile, 8-year warranty on their new Volt — displaying to consumers that they have a great deal of confidence in their offering.  Other companies like Tesla have offered a pre-purchased battery replacement.

I haven’t done exhaustive research on all the offerings; the Prius is likely to continue to be a near term winner, it get’s a plug-in option next year; and the Insight get’s that the following year.  However the Volt goes the other route and is an electric car with a backup generator (giving it over 300 miles range, and a somewhat simpler design since it doesn’t require the complex drive system found in most hybrids).

I’m still driving my 1997 Toyota 4Runner, it’s got 350,000 miles on it and going strong.  I’d considered replacing it during the “cash-for-clunkers” program, but it just didn’t seem to make sense to me since I couldn’t find any suitable replacement vehicle that got better than 30 miles to the gallon — and the math just didn’t work out financially, nor did the impact on the environment for disposing of a perfectly functional vehicle seem right.

It might not be until 2014 or so that we really have a number of good options for vehicles that provide the features and economy we’re looking for… but finally we’re on a path that should reduce the environmental impact of the continuing car culture.

Originally posted 2010-07-27 02:00:24.

Gulf Oil Spill

President Barrack Obama toured the Red-Neck Rivera this past Monday… seeing for himself the damage the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform disaster was wreaking on the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coastline.

I appreciate that he used this as a king pin to push (again) for an American commitment to clean and renewable energy… but maybe for the moment we need to focus more on cleaning this mess up, and preventing future mishaps.

Sure, there’s plenty of people in Washington to work on all three agendas (though that in itself is part of the problem — there’s too many people in Washington — and no one seems to be responsible for much of anything)… but let’s put the best public face on dealing with the crisis du jour — and not forget de jure or de facto!

Oil and gas companies (like BP) have been making record profits over the past several years.  They’ve heavily lobbied Congress to get more and more access to public lands for drilling and exploration — all under the moniker that off shore drilling is perfectly safe, and with that they created a public perception that they had contingency plans to handle everything.

Surprise…

Not only is off shore drilling not safe; but oil and gas companies haven’t a clue about how to handle most crisis — and those record profits they make are at the expense of safely maintaining their equipment and staff.

When you look for where to point a finger — point it first at the oil and gas companies (BP would be the right place for the Deepwater Horizon disaster)… then point it at your elected official who accept major campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry — and they are the ones who control the regulations and the regulators (yeah — the regulators are to blame as well, but first vote out the idiot who created the system).

Lot of people are saying that very little (or nothing) is really being done to manage this crisis… but they’re dead wrong.  That might be their perception — but lots is being done — just maybe not the right things, and certainly BP didn’t do enough in the very early days… part of that was because they didn’t have a plan and they didn’t invest time, energy, and money into planning.

Let’s be realistic about this — the oil spill is going to get much worse before it get’s better.

Oil is still leaking from the Deepwater Horizon.

The spill is now large enough that the currents will almost assuredly take it out of the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic — where the Gulf Stream will push it North along the Eastern seaboard.

It’s hurricane season; and it’s not a matter of if but rather when a storm will enter hurricane alley (remember — if the oil hits the Gulf Stream almost any storm that comes toward North America will disperse the oil even more).

BP is still clueless as to how to arrest the oil (and still short-sighted I’m sure).

All we can do is move forward and be prepared… and hopefully now the mult-member task-force will be able to do a better job managing all the facets of containment and cleanup.

Originally posted 2010-06-19 02:00:10.

Limited liability resulting from the Deepwater Horizon incident?

Right away after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Swiss company Transocean Ltd moved to have their liability for damages limited to the cost of the “sunken ship” ($27 million) citing an 1851 law that says the owner of a sunken vessel is liable only for its value after the accident.

Transocean expects to receive $560 million in insurance, so subtracting what they consider their maximum liability they’d just about meet their three year revenue projection under the BP contract.

Hmm…

Many of the judges are recusing themselves from hearing cases involving the oil spill; but I’d say if a federal judge in Houston makes a ruling we’ve certainly found a judge that can no longer recuse himeself (though he might be a candidate for impeachment)… my guess is Transocean will not get their ruling quickly, and likely will not get a ruling they like ever.

Transocean CEO Steven Newman told investors in addition that its contract with BP holds BP entirely responsible for all damages and liability from the spill.

I guess Newman isn’t totally confident of the petition filed in federal court, or his contractual liability limits so he’s working both ends… and is probably worried that a review will show negligence on his company’s part — which could cause a judge to throw out any and all liability limits.

BP, Halliburton, and Transocean are each responsible, and each of them should (and hopefully will) be held accountable for this mess — and their massive profits will be used to undo the damage their greed has caused.

As I’ve said before — make the problem expensive enough for them to allow to continue; and any future problem much more expensive for them to clean up — and we won’t have to worry much about the spill continuing… or ever happening again (just take highest quarter’s profits from the last year, divide by 90 — and that’s the daily fine).

Originally posted 2010-06-16 02:00:17.

The Anti-Green – Architectural Lighting

It’s estimated that US electrical plants burn six million tons of coal daily to power unnecessary outdoor lighting — this estimate doesn’t include the wasted hydroelectric in areas like Las Vegas used to power unnecessary outdoor lighting.  Another estimate puts the waste at three-hundred twenty thousand kilowatt hours per minute!

Often called “light pollution” this unnecessary outdoor lighting could be produced by individuals or businesses and both need to take responsibility for adopting more sustainable lighting policies.

Earth Day this year illustrated just how much “needless” light we humans produce… and just what the potential savings and reductions could be.

Consider that electricity isn’t free; it has the initial cost of purchasing the kilo-watt hour of power and the negative impact it’s generation had on the environment (even in areas where wind or hydroelectric are used there are negative impacts to the environment — and power saved there could be routed to areas using coal or natural gas for power further reducing the carbon footprint).

This is an excellent area where it doesn’t take much to save a great deal.

First, think — if the light doesn’t serve a useful purpose, turn it off; or use it sparingly.  Put it on a timer or a motion sensor if you’re forgetful.

Second, consider the lighting technology.  Lights that need to be on quite a bit should use technology that’s efficient, like LED lighting.  Lights that are on occasionally could use (and recycle your existing CF bulbs — remember production and disposal of those lighting elements have an adverse effect on the environment).  For lights that are rarely on, and heat does not pose a problem re-using your existing incandescent bulbs might make sense.

Third, consider using solar powered LED lighting completely for outdoor lighting.  While the rechargeable batteries in those devices do impose potential environmental impact, properly recycled their impact is greatly mitigated by their years of service lighting without drawing power from the grid.

In commercial applications it’s probably a no win situation unless the business takes directed action to improve their lighting; and that might require local, state, and federal government taking action to make it fiscally desirable — a combination of taxes and tax credits.  Here we as individuals might want to take the initiatives to make heavy consumers of electricity pay a “waste” tax (users who actually produce real goods and services would have a threshold for the tax than those who simply consume it for eye candy effect).

I certainly believe that an individual or company should be able to purchase and use electricity for whatever purpose they desire; however, I also believe that individuals and companies that waste that electricity without providing benefit to society as a whole should shoulder the costs of the impact on the environment more than those who attempt to use resources responsibly.

Originally posted 2010-05-24 02:00:04.

Solar Lighting

I’ve been looking at several solar lighting products to potentially light my driveway, my walkway, and areas.

The first thing you notice is that prices are all over the map — for products that have very similar specifications.

You will find that some of the products have plastic housing, and some have aluminum (or even stainless steel) — but interestingly enough, that doesn’t seem to track their prices.  In fact one of the least expensive models for driveway/walkway lighting I’ve found is in a stainless steel case (now you do have to buy a six pack, but that’s actually about the right number even for short driveways).

For area lighting there’s a huge different in styles; and these are much harder to compare.  The biggest disappointment thus far with the area lights is the amount of light (Lumens) that they produce — they’re so low, in fact, that they seem like they’d be fairly useless without a backup light (run from AC).  In fact since I can run AC to all the locations I want area lights I’m considering just putting in motion/photo sensors and using outdoor LED lamps (that will use electricity, but it’s fairly energy efficient, and produces much more light).  One thing’s for sure, if you like the light your HID (like the sodium lamps I have) gives off, you’re not going to be happy with what you can get from a solar lighting system (or even an LED lamp).

I’ll do a little more “testing” and provide some brands (and where I found them) that you might want to consider; but keep in mind that everyone will have a slightly different set of requirements and there’s likely not going to be one model that’s right for every need.

If you want to buy something right away; make sure that you shop several different vendors before you decide — it’ll surprise you how much essentially the same item varies in price; and the “discount” stores don’t always have the best price!

Originally posted 2009-08-20 01:00:15.

Alternative Fuel

Alternative fuel is often a moniker attached to renewable energy sources, but technically it refers to any fuel that is not one of the conventional sources for energy employed since the industrial revolution (fossil fuels — petroleum, coal, propane, and natural gas; nuclear materials — uranium).

Clean alternative fuel sources that are renewable or plentiful will be an important source of energy for the decades to come, but we need to all keep in mind that all resources are limited; and without improving energy efficiency nothing can keep up with growing demand.

Alternative Fuel on Wikipedia

Originally posted 2010-01-17 02:00:05.

PHEV

PHEV that’s the acronym for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle… and the Toyota Prius may well be the first production car in that class.

Yes, there have been conversions for a number of hybrids in the past, but the 2011 Toyota Prius will be available as a PHEV (it may only be available as a PHEV — there has not been any official announcements from Toyota yet).

Currently Toyota is still using the nickel-metal hydride (NiMh) battery cells like used in the current Prius in the PHEV prototypes, but it is still a possibility that the 2011 will go production with Lithium Ion (Li-ion) or be switch to use the denser Li-ion technology in the near future.

A PHEV would allow most urban commuters to use electric for the vast majority of their driving (provided charging stations become more wide spread), and since it does have a gasoline engine there never need be a concern with exceeding the range of the battery.

Originally posted 2010-01-14 02:00:37.

100 miles to the gallon

That’s right.  The Edison2 (Lynchburg, VA, US) won half of the $10 million US  Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize for a gasoline powered vehicle capable of seating four adults that cruises city streets at over 100 mpg dubbed the Very Light Car.

Most of the high efficiency vehicles in the competition are electric powered.

X-Tracer (Winterthur,  CH [Switzerland]) with their two passenger E-Tracer; and Li-ion Motors (Charlotte, NC, US) with their two passenger Wave2 each won a quarter of the prize.

Originally posted 2010-09-18 02:00:20.

Carbon

Several years ago NPR and PBS put together an animated short series (five episodes) on carbon to help explain why global climate change occurs.

It’s fun to watch — and informative if you don’t have a solid background in chemistry.

Episode 1: It’s All About Carbon
Episode 2: Carbon’s Special Knack for Bonding
Episode 3: Break a Carbon Bond and — Presto! — Civilization
Episode 4: When Carbon Falls in Love, the World Heats Up
Episode 5: What We Can Do About Global Warming

Originally posted 2010-07-18 02:00:46.