Entries Tagged as 'Energy'

Hydroelectric Power

On this day in 1882 the world’s first commercial hydroelectric plant (later to be known as Appleton Edison Light Company) began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin, US.

Clean power was born in a time of dark and dingy coal powered factories and generation facilities… a small reprieve back to the days that spawned the industrial revolution where mechanical power was harnessed from flowing water just as it had been for many years before.

Today we have many hydroelectric power plants and a moderate amount of power in the US is produced from the flow of water (much more than from other renewable resources), yet by far most of the power produced in the US is from fossil fuels.  Fossil fuel imports accounts for a sizable portion of our trade deficit.

America has had several wake-up calls, and for well over thirty years has chosen to ignore the inevitable — we must use our resources more wisely, we must conserve, we must reduce, we must increase efficiency, and we must find alternatives.

Originally posted 2010-09-30 02:00:18.

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.

Hybrid Vehicles

There’s been a great deal of “buzz” over hybrid vehicles being green… but for a very long time I’ve had some serious questions about just how green they are.

Yes, there’s no question that their carbon emissions are substantially lower than gasoline powered vehicles (but remember, hybrids do use gasoline).

Yes, hybrids are a significant step forward (though the modifications to hybrids that allow them to be recharged and ran totally from electricity certainly makes them far more green; and really shouldn’t cost any more in a production model).

But the reality is green isn’t just about the emission in the every day use of the vehicle — green also has to do with the environmental impact of the production of the batteries and their disposal.

Most hybrids use lead acid, a few newer ones use Lithium Ion / Lithium Polymer… neither of which is exactly eco-friendly (I’d prefer them not to be buried in my back yard, or any where near where my water comes from).

Lead acid batteries have a limit life; how long they last depends on a number of variables, and some of the materials can be recycled and reused – but you need to make sure that your community has setup to deal with those issues before you buy your hybrid.  My reading indicates that only California has implement stringent rules for the warranty and handling of lead acid batteries in hybrid (hopefully more states will follow suit).

Lithium cells appear to be a great solution.  They’re small and dense; but the downside is they have a three year life span from the time they were manufactured.  And Lithium is an extremely dangerous substance to release into the environment.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a hybrid; they are good choices for many drivers (particularly commuters who can’t use all electric), but consider the impact of the improperly disposed of batteries, and even the properly disposed of batteries resulting from normal wear and tear as well as accidents.

Green isn’t something you should try and see under a microscope — it’s an end-to-end game.

Originally posted 2010-01-17 01:00:52.

Off Shore Drilling

For years the oil and gas companies have been telling us (the American public) how safe off shore drilling is, and they’ve been trying to convince us that they have contingencies for anything that might happen, and that there’s no substantial risk to our environment.

Well, take a look at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the relatively tame Gulf of Mexico and the inability of the world’s largest oil company to stop (or even really slow) a huge oil leak and consider who ill prepared the oil companies would be to handle a spill anything like this is the Gulf of Alaska (or any place near the Artic) in the middle of the Winter — or what could happen in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic seaboard during hurricane season.

Yes, I think it’s a travesty that the Federal Government didn’t have any contingency plans for oil spills of this magnitude — but don’t point a finger at the current administration; you’ll find that’s been years and years in the making (and least you forget, we just had an “oil and gas man” in the Whitehouse for eight years), but in the end, it is the industry itself that is ultimately responsible for the impact of their decisions to use such a small amount of their profits to insure the safety of their endeavors — and it is the companies that should be made to pay for the damages they’ve caused.

Damages to the coastal ecosystem of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are increasing hourly as BP does little to stem the disaster — except possibly try and contain the public relations damage.  While BP stock is down 40%, first quarter 2010 saw record profits — and in the end, I suspect BP will find a way to pass all the costs and loses onto consumers and reward their investors.  BP CEO Tony Hayward has already assured investors that the company has “considerable firepower” to cope wit the severe costs… but missing are statements to the world that they’ll commit the “firepower” it’ll take resolve this disaster.

Bottom line, perhaps rather than increasing the leases for off-shore drilling it’s time to pull back all the currently unused leases and start heavily fining the oil and gas industry for any and all violations.

NASA Satellites’ View of Gulf Oil Spill

Originally posted 2010-06-07 02:00:25.

The Anti-Green – Junk Mail

Why does the United States Postal Service encourage companies to send “Junk Mail” by substantially reducing the costs of distributing it?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, I understand that it may actually cost the post office a little less to distribute junk mail than it does to distribute first class letters and such — but take a look at how little junk mail you even look at… and how much ends up in your recycle bin (and I’m not even going to bring up the large number of people who probably don’t recycle since they don’t have curb-side recycling programs).

America needs to take action to reduce it’s carbon footprint — and as I have pointed out for the last few days it would be extremely easy to make a fairly substantial improvement without sacrificing anything most consumers care about — and in fact, it would probably improve the quality of life for most Americans not having a mailbox full of junk mail they have to sort through so as not to miss something that might be important.

Sure, the post office would probably have to raise the cost of postage, and possibly reduce the service level (hey — I have no problem with mail not being delivered on Saturday — of maybe being delivered only on alternate days or only a few days per week).  The overall effect would be a decrease in the waste (of natural resources and energy).

Originally posted 2010-05-10 02:00:50.

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.

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.

Solar Panels

I just did a little exercise in trying to figure out if solar panels would be cost effective for me.

Using my latitude and longitude; NREL and NASA data; along with the ratings from a couple of the manufacturers of the most cost effective panels currently produced it appears that for about $750 I can produce enough electricity to run two [small] compact florescent lights — or a little less than $30 in electricity per year (at today’s rate).

So considering the energy and tax savings the panel couldn’t pay for itself in ten years (and that’s just the panel, that doesn’t include the batteries, inverter, installation, etc).  Plus, I suspect it’s unlikely that a solar panel would last ten years here.

I’d say that solar panels have to increase in cost/performance by a factor of roughly 2x before they’d be feasible here (and we get quite a bit of sun).

I’m always on the lookout for ways to be a little more “green”; but I also believe that any solution needs to be sustainable; and I’m sure if I consider the impact of the production of the panels into this “equation” I’m going to find [here] that solar panels really aren’t that “green”.

I’ll have to keep looking for other options that might be more effective.

Originally posted 2009-08-13 01:00:36.

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.

Scientists Find Thick Layer Of Oil On Seafloor

by Richard Harris, 10-September-2010, NPR

Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.

The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.

“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.

Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.

“It’s very fluffy and porous. And there are little tar balls in there you can see that look like microscopic cauliflower heads,” she says.

It’s very clearly a fresh layer. Right below it she finds much more typical seafloor mud. And in that layer, she finds recently dead shrimp, worms and other invertebrates.

‘A Slime Highway’

How did the oily sediment get there? Joye says it’s possible that chemical dispersants might have sunk some oil, but it’s also likely that natural systems are playing an important role.

“The organisms that break down oil excrete mucus — copious amounts of mucus,” Joye says. “So it’s kind of like a slime highway from the surface to the bottom. Because eventually the slime gets heavy and it sinks.”

That sticky material can pick up oil particles as it sinks. Joye can’t yet say with certainty that the oily layer is from BP’s blown-out well.

“We have to [chemically] fingerprint it and link it to the Deepwater Horizon,” she says. “But the sheer coverage here is leading us all to come to the conclusion that it has to be sedimented oil from the oil spill, because it’s all over the place.”

So far, the research vessel has traveled in a large “X” across the Gulf within a few dozen miles of the well. Scientists have taken eight sets of samples, and Joye says they all contain this layer. It’s thin in some places, inches thick in others. Eventually, scientists hope to collect enough samples to figure out how much oil is now settling to the seafloor.

“It’s starting to sound like a tremendous amount of oil. And we haven’t even sampled close to the wellhead yet,” she says.

A Blizzard Of Oil

Last month, another research group also reported finding oil on the seafloor. Researchers at the University of South Florida say they saw oil particles sprinkled on top of the mud. These new findings strongly suggest that it didn’t just drizzle oil — in some places it was a blizzard.

David Hollander, from the University of South Florida, says the government’s original attempt to figure out what happened to the oil toted up how much washed ashore, how much evaporated and how much might have stayed under the waves. But it didn’t consider that oil could also end up on the seafloor.

“And so now the bottom really is turning out to be an important sink for the oil,” Hollander says.

But the ecological impacts of oil on the seafloor depend on the depth of the ocean where it lies. Joye’s findings so far have found oil in depths ranging from 300 to 4,000 feet. Shallower waters, in particular, are potentially important not just for life on the bottom but for the entire marine ecosystem.

“A lot of fish go down to the bottom and eat and then come back up,” Hollander says. “And if all their food sources are derived from the bottom, then indeed you could have this impact.”

Figuring all that out though, will probably take many years.

Courtesy of Samantha Joye

A core sample from the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico shows a 2-inch layer of oily material. Researchers are finding oil on the seafloor miles away from the blown-out BP well. Though researchers have yet to chemically link the oil deposits to the BP well, “the sheer coverage here is leading us all to come to the conclusion that it has to be sedimented oil from the oil spill because it’s all over the place,” says one scientist.

Courtesy of Samantha Joye

This control core, by comparison, shows no oil sediment.

original article on NPR.org

Originally posted 2010-09-14 02:00:04.