Entries Tagged as 'Energy'

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.

High Speed Rail might be de-railed

It’s very likely that one of the casualties of the mid-term elections will be the high-speed-rail grants.

Representative John Mica (R-FL) who is in line to be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has indicated he wants to re-examine all $10 billion worth of high-speed-rail grants that have already been awarded around the country.

High speed rail service would be an extremely cost effective competitor to increasing air transportation; it would be far more eco-friendly; use less energy; potentially use renewable energy; and unlike airports, high speed rail stations could be in the middle of busy metropolitan areas.

No question the US has to tighten it’s belt and bring it’s spending in line with it’s bank accounts — but investments in long term infrastructure improvements are likely what will allow the economy to rebound and gain a solid footing.

I’d say we need to look at all the spending and make sure we make cuts where it’s waste first — and then weigh the costs and benefits before making other cuts.

As I’ve posted before — we could cut down the salaries, retirement pensions, and health insurance costs for elected official… that’s a good start to savings — and elected officials should get the same “benefits” they approve for the American people.

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!

LED Lighting

You think those CF (Compact Florescent) bulbs you’ve been buying are green???

Well — think again!

CFs do use considerable less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb, but they (like all florescent bulbs) contain a number of hazardous materials that negatively impact the environment when disposed of improperly (no — you can’t just throw them in the garbage can).

What’s a better choice?

Easy… technology from the 60’s comes to the rescue — LED based bulbs.  They’re made now in a number of configuration and bases to replace virtually any bulb you might have in your house.

OUCH — they’re kinda expensive.

I knew you’d say that… yes they cost substantially more than CFs (especially if you’re in an area where the utility companies are subsidizing CFs); but the thing you need to keep in mind is they consume substantially less energy than a CF and they last much longer.

I would love to tell you that if you factor in the energy savings and the longer life that they’ll work out to be less expensive than a CF; but if you’re buying subsidized CFs that’s not going to be the case.  One question to ask is why are utility companies subsadizing CFs and not LEDs?

LEDs have a much lower impact on the environment; and if enough people start using them we’ll see the prices come down… but doing what’s “right” often has a slightly higher price tag than what’s in “vogue”.

You can purchase LED bulbs at Sam’s Club.  They are selling “Lights of America” (see the link below) and “GE” LED bulbs — it’s rumored that a new Sam’s Club located near Cape Kennedy will use LED lighting throughout the store!

For the best pricing, check your local retailers and wholesale clubs as well as do a search online (consider sales tax and shipping when you compare).

GE Lumination

Lights of America

And maybe we should not only bring pressure on our utilities to subsidize LEDs rather than CFs (or at least in addition to); but get them added to the energy tax credit.

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For background information on LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) you can checkout the article on Wikipedia or do a search.

NOTE: LEDs lower power consumption make them the ideal choice for a home solar lighting system.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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