Tag Archives: Energy

Harvesting clean energy in cities

There is a new technology that can convert both solar and wind energy into electricity in such a way that it is suitable for use on urban rooftops.

Here’s the abstract from the paper describing this work:

To realize the sustainable energy supply in a smart city, it is essential to maximize energy scavenging from the city environments for achieving the self-powered functions of some intelligent devices and sensors. Although the solar energy can be well harvested by using existing technologies, the large amounts of wasted wind energy in the city cannot be effectively utilized since conventional wind turbine generators can only be installed in remote areas due to their large volumes and safety issues. Here, we rationally design a hybridized nanogenerator, including a solar cell (SC) and a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), that can individually/simultaneously scavenge solar and wind energies, which can be extensively installed on the roofs of the city buildings. Under the same device area of about 120 mm × 22 mm, the SC can deliver a largest output power of about 8 mW, while the output power of the TENG can be up to 26 mW. Impedance matching between the SC and TENG has been achieved by using a transformer to decrease the impedance of the TENG. The hybridized nanogenerator has a larger output current and a better charging performance than that of the individual SC or TENG. This research presents a feasible approach to maximize solar and wind energies scavenging from the city environments with the aim to realize some self-powered functions in smart city.

The paper is “Efficient Scavenging of Solar and Wind Energies in a Smart City” by Wang, Wang, Wang and Yang. You can see the abstract and download a PDF file here.

Giant Solar Power Plants Don’t Need To Vaporize Birds

We often hope, even assume, that technology will fix our problems. We also know that sometimes technology creates a problem. In this case, technology can help us fix the problem of needing to keep the fossil carbon in the ground by making use of the sun, but created the problem of vaporizing birds with intensely focused solar energy. But then, the engineers applied adjustment to the technology to save the birds!

I wrote it up here on 10,000 Birds, where I write a monthly installment on birds and stuff: Solar Plant Stopped Killing Birds: One Weird Trick!

Patriot Panels and Freedom Volts: Don’t Tread On Me!

The Nevada state government has just ruined solar energy in their state. From here,

Although Nevada is one of the sunniest places in the world, there has recently been a dark cloud hovering over the rooftop solar industry in the state. Just before Christmas, Nevada’s public utility commission (PUC) gave the state’s only power company, NV Energy, permission to charge higher rates and fees to solar panel users – a move that immediately shattered the rooftop solar industry’s business model.

In addition to the new monthly fee, … customers … will get less back from the utility for energy their solar panels capture and feed into the main power grid. Whereas previously they received full retail value for their surplus electricity, soon NV Energy will only pay a third of that price for exported electricity.

Now, if you live in one of the sunniest states in the US, it is no longer worth it to put solar panels on your roof.

This is part of a national fight over solar energy. In some states, nefarious forces are working toward making it a bad idea to put solar panels on your home or business. In other states, forces for the good are working to make home or business rooftop solar a good idea.

There is a larger scale political divide in this country, with Republicans, Libertarians, and Tea Partiers (overlapping groups) on one side and Democrats and environmentalists on the other. The former is against shifting to clean energy and addressing global climate disruption. The latter is working towards shifting away from fossil fuels and addressing climate disruption.

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Current and recommended books on climate change.
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But a big part of this makes no sense. Those solar panels you may choose, as in individual or small business owner, to put on your roof constitute your way of utilizing your sun. Yes, that sun that falls on your house is not the property of the government, or big corporations, or politicians bought and paid for by big corporations. That is your sunlight, and THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR USE OF IT TO POWER YOUR OWN HOME.

Public utilities are there to serve the public, and you are part of the public. Those entities, and the state government agencies that regulate them, should not be conspiring to take away your volts. Your Freedom Volts. They should not be stopping you from installing your solar panels … your Patriot Panels … on your own roof.

So why have the Libertarians and their kin not been fighting this? Why have self described “Patriots” not taken up arms, figuratively one would hope, against the nefarious forces that seek to control YOUR access to your OWN ENERGY?

I suspect that eventually they will. Among those who do put up solar panels there must be some who do so to for their own sensible financial reasons. There must be some people who benefit from rooftop solar who are not Democrats or environmentalists, but rather, sensible Republicans or Libertarians who are in it for the FREEDOM, the financial savings, and also, just because it is cool to make your own energy. Perhaps we will see the KINDLING OF FREEDOM among these self sufficient patriots. Perhaps we will see a demand from the right, not just the left, to LEAVE OUR FREEDOM VOLTS ALONE!

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Incredibly important finding on renewable energy

The big complaint people have about renewable energy, or at least, the big complaint that has some merit, is that renewables, such as wind and solar, are intermittent and to varying degrees, unpredictably intermittent. This makes it hard to match demand for electricity to supply. Some aspects of this argument are overstated. For example, a steady supply (the same potential power all the time, every minute of the day) can be a bug as well as a feature. If every electron of electricity we used came from nuclear power plants, there would be a problem because our demand fluctuates and you can’t vary the output of a nuclear plant. Some of the arguments are inaccurate. For example, it is not true that a nuclear power plant produces the same exact amount of electricity all the time. Nuke plants often reduce production unexpectedly. If there is some sort of problem, they partly shut down. And, of course, the shut down for refueling. So they are not perfect.

The problem if intermittent and less than ideally predictable supply can be addressed a number of ways. One is big huge batteries, which are costly and otherwise problematic. There are various other storage methods using water and air and things that can hold heat or “hold cold.” And so on. Then, of course, there is the grid. If it is sunny one place and cloudy a different place, electricity can be shunted between.

Still, we often see arguments suggesting that these methods of matching supply and demand of electricity are problematic in one way or another.

A new research project, just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses these issues and gives great hope to the use of 100% non-nuclear renewables to meet energy demands. The paper is by Mark Jacobson, Mark Delucchi, Mary Cameron, and Bethany Frew, and is titled “Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes.”

Here is the abstract and the statement of significance from the paper:

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This study addresses the greatest concern facing the large-scale integration of wind, water, and solar (WWS) into a power grid: the high cost of avoiding load loss caused by WWS variability and uncertainty. It uses a new grid integration model and finds low-cost, no-load-loss, nonunique solutions to this problem on electrification of all US energy sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) while accounting for wind and solar time series data from a 3D global weather model that simulates extreme events and competition among wind turbines for available kinetic energy. So- lutions are obtained by prioritizing storage for heat (in soil and water); cold (in ice and water); and electricity (in phase-change materials, pumped hydro, hydropower, and hydrogen), and using demand response. No natural gas, biofuels, nuclear power, or sta- tionary batteries are needed. The resulting 2050–2055 US electricity social cost for a full system is much less than for fossil fuels. These results hold for many conditions, suggesting that low-cost, reliable 100% WWS systems should work many places worldwide.

The large-scale conversion to 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS) power for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) is currently inhibited by a fear of grid instability and high cost due to the variability and un- certainty of wind and solar. This paper couples numerical simu- lation of time- and space-dependent weather with simulation of time-dependent power demand, storage, and demand response to provide low-cost solutions to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of WWS across all energy sectors in the con- tinental United States between 2050 and 2055. Solutions are obtained without higher-cost stationary battery storage by pri- oritizing storage of heat in soil and water; cold in water and ice; and electricity in phase-change materials, pumped hydro, hy- dropower, and hydrogen.

I’m still absorbing the paper. I’m informed that the authors of this paper know what they are talking about. People I know in the clean energy biz have been saying for some time that they are pretty sure we can do this, and this study seems to support the idea. Even if this is not perfect, it seems that we can be close to using primarily renewables with some contribution from nuclear, and some adjustments in how we use energy. The key message of this work: It is not hopeless, we can save the world! Will we?

Low Hanging Fruit: A Very Healthy Diet for The Planet Earth

Michael Mann has an editorial on Scientific American’s site putting the well known 2.0C limit in perspective for the upcoming climate talks in Paris.

Mann makes a number of important points in his essay (read it here: Meeting a Global Carbon Limit Is Cheaper Than Avoiding One) but there is one point that I want to underscore.

The key factor is that there are technological innovations and economies of scale that emerge only in the course of actually doing something.

Here’s the thing. Let’s say you were suddenly in charge of one trillion dollars of money that could be used to address climate change. What would you spend the money on? Here are some suggestions.

1) Build machines that take CO2 out of the air.

2) Invest in the “next generation” of nuclear reactors.

3) Purchase a huge amount of deforested land and re-forest it.

4) Divide the money up among numerous research groups to develop as yet unknown clean energy technologies that may save us.

All those things are potentially good ideas, and we should probably think about doing all of them at some level. But that is not how you should spend your trillion dollars. The way you should spend your trillion dollars is to underwrite the cost of converting as many homes and businesses as you can to using passive geothermal heating and cooling, and to install photovoltaic on the roofs. Some of the money could also be used to switch internal combustion engines over to electric. Why do these things first? Because they are low hanging fruit. The results would be immediate. A home that uses passive geothermal will use about half, or less, of the fossil carbon for that purpose. A home that has fully deployed PV panels on the roof can cover the electricity for all of that home’s commuting costs and run the heating and cooling system, and a few other things, for much of the year. And so on. As long as our landscape is characterized by buildings with roofs that serve mainly to convert sunlight into heat, we can buy out that sunlight, harness it, and move towards a greater percentage of clean energy very very quickly.

At the same time, of course, we do want to do research on new technologies, perhaps even carbon capture (though I think that should be way down on the list). But there is so much we can do with existing technologies addressing existing needs. As Mann put it, “The obstacle is not a physical one—it is one of political and societal will.”

Keystone XL Will Become ExKeystone, ‘ell yeah.

According to sources, like this one, President Obama is about to nix the Keystone XL deal.

One of those “hastily called” press conference is set for just before noon Eastern.

Sorry about your stock values and stuff, TransCanada.

Better Biofuels

This just in:

Biofuels produced from switchgrass and post-harvest corn waste could significantly reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change, according to an analysis by EWG and University of California biofuels experts.

EWG’s analysis found that the life cycle carbon intensity of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass was 47 percent lower than that of gasoline. Ethanol made from corn stover – the leaves and stalks that remain in the field after the grain is harvested – has a life-cycle carbon intensity 96 percent lower than gasoline’s.[1]

By contrast, studies have found that the life cycle carbon intensity of corn ethanol is greater than that of gasoline (Mullins et al. 2010, EPA, 2010a). Yet current federal policies strongly favor the production of conventional biofuels such as corn ethanol at the expense of lower-carbon alternatives.

Congress should reform the federal Renewable Fuel Standard to eliminate the mandate to add corn ethanol to gasoline and should further reform the standard to accelerate development of biofuels from lower-carbon feedstocks. At the same time, Congress should adopt new protections to ensure that fuels from grasses and crop waste also meet soil and water quality goals.

If Congress fails to act, EPA should employ the “reset” provisions of the Renewable Fuel Standard to gradually reduce the mandate for corn ethanol and encourage development of lower-carbon second-generation fuels.

Read the rest here.

Clean Energy: The State of the States

One of the problems we have in making a quick transition to clean energy in the US is the fact that energy production and distribution is typically regulated by states, and some states are not as smart as other states. Or, if they are smart, they are controlled by political forces intent on maintaining fossil carbon based fuels as our primary energy source, which of course, is a totally bone-headed policy.

When it comes to the transition to clean energy, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. The easy way is to encourage the picking of low hanging fruit, such as solar panels on flat spots, at the same time we work towards tackling some of the more expensive projects that require more up front investment but that will eventually pay off. The hard way, of course, is the total collapse of civilization. Most imaginable post apocalyptic worlds don’t use to much fossil fuel!

And, whether the hard way or the easy way is the most likely path at any moment in time is often a matter of what is happening on the state level. Here are a few examples of what is going on right now around the US.

In Maryland, a state commission is calling for the state to pledge slashing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. That sounds like a large amount, but it is actually a modest and easily attainable goal. They should probably be going for more.

The goal — which if passed into law would be one of the most ambitious set so far by a state — drew unanimous support of the 26-member panel, which includes lawmakers, environmentalists, representatives of business and labor, and top officials in the Hogan administration.

The recommendation is likely to lead to legislation in the General Assembly, which must decide next year whether to stick with the goal it set in 2009 of reducing climate-warming emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Meanwhile, Texas and California are leading the nation in carbon emissions. The overall pattern of carbon emissions by state (using two year old data because for some reason those who keep track of these things haven’t discovered twitter and spreadsheets) is largely a matter of population size and similar factors.

But while we might expect California to be high on the list, Texas is way way higher, to the point one wonders what they are up to down in the Lone Star State.

Data released this week by the administration shows each state’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2013. Texas doesn’t just top the list, its emissions — 641 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — are almost double those of California, the nation’s second largest carbon emitter, which spewed 353 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

On a per-capita basis, Wyoming leads all the other states in greenhouse gas pollution.

In New Mexico, Santa Fe has an interesting program in mind. There, The Heath Foundation, a private 501c(3) representing the community interests of Jim Heath, has a plan. Here’s part of it:

  • HeathSUN will provide a complete rooftop photovoltaic solar system for homeowners in Santa Fe County at no charge to the customer. HeathSUN owns and maintains each rooftop solar system, and the ancillary metering and control equipment, and there’s no lien on the house.
  • Under HeathSUN’s set-up, customers will continue to have access to electricity from PNM when needed. For solar energy from the rooftop system, the customer pays HeathSUN 80 percent of the going PNM rate, so the solar power’s cost would rise and fall with how much PNM is charging. The customer gets separate bills from HeathSUN and PNM.
  • In a new twist, HeathSUN says there will be no “net metering” in this model, meaning no HeathSUN solar power would flow through a PNM meter, the standard way to provide a seamless household electrical system. When someone turns on an appliance in a HeathSUN house, technology in the home’s own electrical control box decides whether to pull from the rooftop solar system or from PNM…
  • In Hawaii, there is a plan to charge up some big batteries with a big solar array, for use to meet evening/nighttime demands.

    The nation’s leading residential installer is building the project near Lihu’e on Kaua’i’s southeast corner. The project includes a 13 MW photovoltaic solar array, but is unique in that it includes its own solution to the intermittency problem that solar power faces.

    The power generated by the PV cells will be used solely to charge a 13 MW battery array capable of providing 52 MWh to customers of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), the island’s sole electricity provider. That means the solar cells will charge the batteries during the height of the day, and the batteries will discharge the stored power to customers during the evening peak between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.

    “Anyone that’s been out to Kauai will notice that they have a lot of solar on the island and really don’t have any appetite at all for solar at midday,” Rudd said. “If anything, they were already in a bit of a curtailment state during certain days. So, they love solar, they want more because it’s cheaper than what they otherwise would realize, but they don’t need it during the day.”

    New York State is working out the details of how to deploy meters to allow the grid to become smart.

    There is a big waste-to-energy project in the works in Oregon.

    And that is a sampling of the news that came across my desk just today.

    What do you think about Hillary Clinton’s climate plan?

    Hillary Clinton just came out with her climate change plan. Here it is.

    Hillary Clinton’s Vision for Modernizing North American Energy Infrastructure

    Flipping a light switch, adjusting the thermostat, or turning a car key in the ignition brings predictable results—the light goes on, the temperature changes, the car starts. But where the energy for those everyday tasks comes from has changed dramatically in recent years, due to massive gains in renewable energy and a boom in domestic oil and gas production. And the amount of energy required to perform those tasks has fallen thanks to historic advances in efficiency.

    Our policies and infrastructure have not kept pace with recent changes to the American energy system. American communities have endured toxic pipeline spills and deadly rail explosions as the amount of oil produced and transported across the country has expanded. Our existing natural gas distribution network is increasingly antiquated and in need of repair, while new networks must be built to serve parts of the country still dependent on more polluting propane and fuel oil for heating and cooking.

    Our electrical grid needs upgrading to harness new technology that reduces energy costs and increases consumer choice, and to address the growing threat of cyberattack. And we must invest in the new infrastructure that will make the transition to a clean energy economy possible, keep energy affordable and reliable, meet both base load and peak demand, protect the health of our families and our climate, and drive job creation and innovation.

    This work starts at home, but we can’t do it alone. The United States is part of a deeply integrated North American energy market, with interconnected pipeline and electricity systems and a shared market for vehicles and clean energy technologies. We trade as much energy with Canada and Mexico each year as with the rest of the world combined. As we invest in modernizing the United States’ energy infrastructure, we need to do so as part of a continent-wide strategy that ensures safe, reliable and affordable energy delivery, unlocks economic opportunity for American businesses and workers, and accelerates the transition to a clean energy economy across the North American continent.

    Hillary Clinton’s North American energy infrastructure plan will do this in several key ways.

    MAKE EXISTING ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE SAFER AND CLEANER

    The United States has more than two million miles of oil and gas pipelines, many of which are outdated and in need of repair or replacement. This increases the risk of oil spills, methane leaks that help drive climate change, and dangerous explosions. A 20-fold increase in the amount of oil shipped by rail over the past five years has led to devastating accidents. Our electric grid too often fails during extreme weather events – and is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack. These challenges extend beyond our borders to Canada and Mexico, and will be most effectively tackled if all three countries work together.

    To address these issues Hillary Clinton will:

    Modernize our Pipeline System

    • Repair or replace thousands of miles of outdated pipelines to improve safety and reduce methane leaks by the end of her first term in office.
    • Improve pipeline regulations, including instituting automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves and leak detection standards that have been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
    • Work to close the loophole that allows companies to ship oil sands crude without paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

    Increase Rail Safety

    • Accelerate the phase-out of outdated tank cars that create the greatest safety risk and make information on companies’ progress available to the general public. Ensure rail regulations are strengthened and enforced within the United States and across the U.S.-Canada border.
    • Instruct the Department of Transportation to guarantee that first responders and the public have better information on oil and hazardous materials passing through their communities.
    • Partner with rail companies in aggressively repairing track defects that cause derailments and evaluate whether shale oil presents unique explosion risks.

    Enhance Grid Security

    • Create a Presidential Threat Assessment and Response Team to improve coordination across federal agencies and strengthen collaboration with state and local officials and the electric power industry in assessing and addressing cybersecurity threats.
    • Implement a cybersecurity strategy that integrates and protects the expanded use of distributed energy resources and other cutting-edge clean energy technologies.
    • Provide new tools and resources to states, cities and rural communities to make the investments necessary to improve grid resilience to both cyber-attack and extreme weather events.

    UNLOCK NEW INVESTMENT RESOURCES

    From the Tennessee Valley Authority to the Hoover Dam to the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, when the United States invests in building, upgrading, and improving our national infrastructure, we create good jobs and careers, boost economic competitiveness, and give rise to entirely new industries. Clinton will galvanize the investment needed to help cities, states, and rural communities upgrade and repair existing energy infrastructure and build the new infrastructure we will need for a clean energy future through:

    • A National Infrastructure Bank: Establish a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage public and private capital to invest in critically important infrastructure projects, including energy infrastructure projects.
    • Challenge Grants: Award competitive grants through Clinton’s Clean Energy Challenge to states, cities and rural communities that take the lead in reducing carbon pollution by investing in renewable energy, nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration, and reducing energy costs by investing in efficiency in both new and existing buildings.
    • Accelerating Investment: Ensure the federal government is a partner in getting clean and affordable energy to market by making the infrastructure review and permitting process more efficient and effective.
    • Expanding Consumer Choice: Offer financing tools for grid investments that support the integration of distributed energy resources and for gas pipeline investments that enable households and businesses to switch away from heating oil and other petroleum products.
    • A New “Pipeline Partnership”: Help cities, states, and rural communities repair and replace thousands of miles of pipelines by leveraging big data, predictive analytics and innovative testing procedures to more quickly and effectively find and fix pipeline leaks through a public-private partnership between federal regulators, pipeline companies, local utility commissions and leading technology providers and research institutions.
    • Transportation Funding: Work with Congress to close corporate tax loopholes and increase investment in transportation solutions that expand transit access and reduce commute times, oil consumption, and pollution.
    • Innovation: Increase public investment in clean energy R&D, including in storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. Expand successful innovation initiatives, like ARPA-e, and cut those that fail to deliver results.

    FORGE A NORTH AMERICAN CLIMATE COMPACT

    The United States isn’t in this alone. The entire North American continent must accelerate the clean energy transition and develop more comprehensive approaches to cutting carbon pollution. As President, Clinton will immediately launch negotiations with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to secure a North American Climate Compact that includes ambitious national targets, coordinated policy approaches, and strong accountability measures to catalyze clean energy deployment, reduce energy costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions, guide infrastructure investment, and make our integrated energy and vehicle markets cleaner and more efficient. This will include:

    • Ambitious Targets: Drive greater ambition in the global fight against climate change through coordinated targets for clean energy and cutting carbon pollution, internationally recognized reporting mechanisms, and a binding review process.
    • Clean Power Markets: Build on the momentum created by the Clean Power Plan, which sets the first national limits on carbon pollution from the energy sector, and regional emissions trading schemes in Canada, Mexico, and the United States to drive low carbon power generation across the continent, modernize our interconnected electrical grid, and ensure that national carbon policies take advantage of integrated markets.
    • Clean Transportation: Work to harmonize vehicle efficiency, emissions and fuel standards, strategies for electric vehicle deployment, clean freight and logistics, and other low-carbon transportation solutions.
    • Methane Management: Establish continent-wide methane emissions reduction targets and coordinated strategies for reducing leaks from both new and existing sources.
      Infrastructure Standards: Develop common, world-class standards for North American infrastructure that create good jobs and careers, support prevailing wage and project labor agreements, and ensure energy transportation across the continent is clean, safe, reliable and affordable.

    Clinton’s vision for modernizing North American energy infrastructure is one pillar of her comprehensive energy and climate agenda, which includes major initiatives in the following areas:

    • Clean Energy Challenge: Develop, defend and implement smart federal energy and climate standards. Provide states, cities and rural communities ready to lead on clean energy and exceed these standards with the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.
    • Energy and Climate Security: Reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States and around the world, guard against energy supply disruptions, and make our communities, our infrastructure, and our financial markets more resilient to risks posed by climate change.
    • Safe and Responsible Production: Ensure that fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible, that taxpayers get a fair deal for development on public lands, and that areas that are too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
    • Revitalizing Coal Communities: Protect the health and retirement security of coalfield workers and their families and provide economic opportunities for those that kept the lights on and factories running for more than a century.
    • Collaborative Stewardship: Renew our shared commitment to the conservation of our disappearing lands, waters, and wildlife, to the preservation of our history and culture, and to expanding access to the outdoors for all Americans.

    source

    Making Liquid Fuels From Sun And Air

    Liquid fuel powering internal combustion engines is inherently inefficient. This is because innumerable explosions causing kinetic work to be done also makes piles of heat, and for other reasons. The same amount of energy put into an electric motor and an internal combustion motor produce more usable work for the former than the latter. Also, electric motors can operate at similar efficiencies across a range of speeds, while internal combustion motors require more messing around to change speeds. And then there is torque. Torque is apparently at the center of coolness for many vehicle aficionados. If you can get your hot car or motorcycle to go from zero to fast in a second or two, that is considered cool, even if it has almost no day to day applications. An electric motor has that ability out of the box, an internal combustion motor has to be a super motor to do that well.

    Also, liquid fuels spill and smell bad and can explode, and all that. On the other hand, electricity has its limitation too. In the long run, we probably need to change most of our moving things, vehicles, planes, etc. over to mostly electric (with energy recovery from brakes, etc.). But liquid fuel will still be important in certain applications. Mission critical backup generators that you hardly ever need but are life or death are probably best run on liquid fuels stored long term, like at the South Pole research station or in any hospital. We probably will eventually see electric airplanes, but for long time we are probably going to have to put liquid fuel in flying machines. So, in order to not destroy the essential yet merely good enough in pursuit of an unrealistic simplistic perfection of some sort, we need to keep liquid fuels on the table. But, having said that, we need to entirely stop using fossil petroleum based liquid fuels and switch entirely to non-fossil molecules.

    One way to do that is to simulate the production of burnable liquids (as nature does) in machines, using non fossil based raw materials. Obviously biodiesel and ethanol are example of this, but these fuel sources have a serious limitation. They take up agricultural resources, and over the next few decades we are likely to hit a ceiling in our agricultural productivity. There are a lot of ways to address that problem, and one of the key ways on the table right now is to not convert much more agricultural land to ethanol or diesel production.

    So what about a machine that takes sunlight, CO2 from the atmosphere, and some water and produces a burnable liquid?

    The current issue of Science has a writeup on recent research in this area. I’m fairly certain it is not behind a paywall, and can read it yourself: Tailpipe to tank by Robert F. Service.

    The writeup talks about multiple alternative research projects that are approaching this problem with various difficulties and various levels of success. This is all very early research but it is all very promising.

    The task essentially boils down to running combustion in reverse, injecting energy from the sun or other renewables into chemical bonds. “It’s a very challenging problem, because it’s always an uphill battle,” says John Keith, a chemist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. It’s what plants do, of course, to make the sugars they need to grow. But plants convert only about 1% of the energy that hits them into chemical energy. To power our industrial society, researchers need to do far better. Keith likens the challenge to putting a man on the moon.

    The basic method seems to be about the same in all cases. You take a CO2 molecule and convert it to CO by knocking off one Oxygen atom, then combine the CO with H2) to produce “syngas” which can be converted to methanol (a kind of alcohol) which can then be converted into a variety of products. A similar process in widespread use uses fossil methane as a base molecule instead of atmospheric CO2.

    A paper about to be published in Advanced Science details a process that uses CO and H2 and photovoltaic generated electricity.

    It focuses a broad swath of sunlight onto a semiconductor panel that converts 38% of the incoming energy into electricity at a high voltage. The electricity is shunted to electrodes in two electrochemical cells: one that splits water molecules and another that splits CO2. Meanwhile, much of the remaining energy in the sunlight is captured as heat and used to preheat the two cells to hundreds of degrees, a step that lowers the amount of electricity needed to split water and CO2 molecules by roughly 25%. In the end, Licht says, as much as 50% of the incoming solar energy can be converted into chemical bonds.

    This and other methods of making a sun, water, and air based liquid fuel would at least initially be expensive. But who cares? If we convert most of our energy to motion machinery to electric, we won’t need that much, and the remaining uses will be relatively specialized. So what if a hospital has to pay $10.00 a gallon to have a thousand gallons of fuel for use as a backup source of energy to run generators during emergencies? That would be a tiny fraction of the cost of running a hospital. A tiny fraction of a fraction.

    And, it need not be super expensive. There is not a rare substance that must be mined from third world war torn client states, or taken away from some other critical use, involved. Go read the original writ-up for a lot more detail on various processes and their potential (and potential costs).

    I want to make this point: This is not a way of forestalling climate change by removing CO2 from the air. It would remove CO2, but the amount of CO2 humans have added is huge, and the use of sun/air/water liquid fuels would be small, and their use would return the CO2 to the air. So this is not carbon capture.

    Also, this. An industry that produces a synthetic liquid fuel can preferentially use a peak energy. I think we need to explore this idea more. For example, imagine collecting piles of recycled aluminum at a plant that uses great amounts of electricity to melt it down and turn it into ingots for industrial use. The entire plant could be designed to operate on demand and only now and then, when there happens to be piles of extra electricity in a clean-energy rich energy ecosystem, perhaps because it is sunny and windy and other demands happen to be low. The employment structure of the plant would also be designed to do this, drawing on-call workers off of other activities to run the plant. This would essentially amount to carrying out a high energy demand industrial task with free energy. Well, a sun/air/water liquid fuel system could work this way as well. This idea has not gone un-thought:

    …Paul Kenis, a solar fuels researcher at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, argues that the broad penetration of solar and wind power offers hope. Denmark, for example, already produces some 30% of its electricity from wind farms and is on pace to reach 50% by 2020. On a particularly blustery day in July, the nation’s wind turbines generated as much as 140% of the country’s electrical requirements. The excess was sent to its neighbors, Germany, Norway, and Sweden. But the oversupply added to utilities’ fears that in times of peak renewable power production, the value of electricity could fall to zero or even below, as producers would have to pay others to take it so as not to damage their grid.

    That’s where solar fuel producers could stand to benefit, Kenis says: By absorbing that power and using it to make fuels and other commodities, they could essentially act as energy banks and perhaps earn some cash as well. For now, Kanan argues, it still makes the most economic sense simply to shunt excess renewable power into the grid, displacing fossil energy. But someday, if renewable power becomes widespread enough and the technology for making renewable fuels improves, we may be able to guzzle gas without guilt, knowing we are just burning sunlight.


    This story on Slashdot

    Service Robert F. Feature Article. Tailpipe to Tank. 2015. Vol. 349 no. 6253 pp. 1158-1160. DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6253.1158

    A less sexist approach to addressing climate change

    Men and women are different, on average, in a number of ways. It all probably starts with who has the physiology to have babies and who doesn’t, and the differences spread out from there, affecting both the body and the mind. Decades of research show us that many of the body differences (but not all) are determined by developmental processes while many of the mind differences (but maybe not all) are determined by culture, but culture still has men and women as being different, so those differences tend to be persistent and predictable, on average.

    One of the differences which seems to meld body and mind, in the West anyway, is the tendency for women to be cold while men are comfortable across a certain range of temperature. It turns out that many decades ago a study was done that developed standards for installing and running air conditioning systems that, typically, set ambient in-room temperature levels to accommodate men. Damn the patriarchy, one more time. Since men are more comfortable on average at lower temperatures, this means a) air conditioners are set relatively low (which means high, in terms of energy use) and, b0 on average, women are doomed to wear sweaters or carry around blanket like objects while at work, at movies, at the mall, or anywhere where sexist air conditioning is operating.

    This is important not only for comfort of half the population, but also for climate change. A large amount (about 30%) of the CO2 emmissions in the West are the result of energy use in the buildings we live and work in, and a good part of that is heating and cooling. A new study, just out in Nature Climate Change, addresses this issue. The study is by Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, and is called “Energy consumption in buildings and female thermal demand.” The authors point out that not only is a large amount of our energy used to heat and cool buildings, but that about 80% of the variation in that energy use is account for by variation in the behavior of the humans that live and work in those buildings.

    The standard for setting ambient building temperatures is set by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers).

    ASHRAE founded in 1894, is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. The Society and its members focus on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability within the industry. Through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education, ASHRAE shapes tomorrow’s built environment today. ASHRAE was formed as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers by the merger in 1959 of American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHAE) founded in 1894 and The American Society of Refrigerating Engineers (ASRE) founded in 1904.

    And, according to Wikipedia,

    ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 55 (Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy) is a standard that provides minimum requirements for acceptable thermal indoor environments. It establishes the ranges of indoor environmental conditions that are acceptable to achieve thermal comfort for occupants. It was first published in 1966, and since 2004 has been updated periodically by an ASHRAE technical committee composed of industry experts. The most recent version of the standard was published in 2013.

    According to the new study, the standard overestimates the “female metabolic rate by up to 35%” which “may cause buildings to be intrinsically non-energy-efficient in providing comfort to females.” The study suggests using actual metabolic rates to set the standard, and provides information on how to approach this. “Ultimately, an accurate representation of thermal demand of all occupants leads to actual energy consumption predictions and real energy savings of buildings that are designed and operated by the buildings service community.”

    So, let’s turn the air conditioners up. Meaning down. Depending on what you mean when you say that.

    Bakken Oil Train Hits Semi At Unsafe Crossing

    There is a poorly secured railroad crossing in Saint Paul Park (south of Saint Paul, Minnesota) where a small industrial road crosses a BNSF track. The crossing has warning lights but no barriers. Yesterday (June 7, 2015) a semi crossing the tracks was hit by a Bakken oil train coming down the BNSF line.

    The Bakken oil trains on this BNSF line has been an increasing matter of concern. As Bakken oil trains derail and in some cases catch fire en route from the Dakotas to the east coast, folks who see these trains run by their homes, through their small towns, and across their travel routes have been asking questions about safety. Minnesota Governor Dayton recently noted that this particular crossing is a dangerous one, and he has been trying to get it closed. Too late for this incident, though.

    The incident was fairly benign. No one was injured. The truck was destroyed and the flour it contained is all over the place. The BNSF track, and other tracks, have a lot of curves in this area, where the trains snake among various bodies of water (including the Mississippi) and urban zones, and at the site of this accident, refinery complexes. For this reason the trains are usually going rather slow, I assume.

    Fox 9 quotes Saint Paul Park Mayor Keith Frank as saying “We’ve definitely had concerns about this crossing for some time.” He also noted “I think part of the problem is who’s going to pay for it. The city doesn’t have the money to take on that expense, how much the state should pay versus how much people think the railroads should pay.”

    Safety improvements at this and other intersections are not being planned, as a dysfunctional (due to contamination by Republicans, mainly) legislature has been unable to manage the state’s budget this year.

    Close Call: Amtrak Train May Have Nearly Hit Oil Train

    Oil train derailments are becoming more common, mainly because of the very large number of oil trains, often with over 100 tank cars, taking oil out of the Bakken fields and bringing it to coastal refineries or storage facilities.

    You are certainly aware of the recent Amtrak derailment in Pennsylvania. From Reuters:

    An Amtrak train in Philadelphia was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour, over twice the speed limit, when it entered a curve in the tracks and derailed, killing seven people and injuring more than 200, federal investigators said on Wednesday.

    Now, Patrick Kerkstra at Philadelphia Magazine (Citified) is reporting that the train may have come dangerously close to colliding with an oil train.

    There’s a terrifying sight in the background of some photos from Tuesday night’s horrific Amtrak derailment: a series of black rail cars, the color and shape of Tootsie Rolls.

    They look like standard rail tanker cars, and while we don’t yet know for certain what was in them, it probably wasn’t corn syrup. In fact, there’s a good chance those tankers were filled with crude oil.

    (The image is at the top of the post.)

    Kerkstra notes that between 45 and 80 of these trains pass through Philadelphia weekly.

    Another photograph at Philidelphia Magazine shows the derailed Amtrak trains crossing a track with at least one oil car on it, but a few hundred feet up track, and other oil trais on adjoining tracks that were not overrun by the Amtrak train. Looking at that photo, it appears to be dumb luck that there didn’t happen to be any oil train cars right where the Amtrak train cars eventually came to rest.

    Another photograph, tweeted, shows what looks like the lead Amtrak car, which travelled much farther from the tracks, just a few feet from an oil train.

    This is Conrail’s train yard. When asked what was in the tanker cars, Conrail is reported to have claimed that this information is confidential. The Philadelphia Magazine report indicates that an unattributed NTSB person was told that the oil cars were empty. Empty oil cars are, of course, not necessarily empty of explosive fumes and residue, and this report is not confirmed.

    The fact is, it didn’t happen. But another fact is, apparently, that it could have.

    Bjorn Lomborg’s WSJ Response to Nixing of Australian Project

    Bjorn Lomborg has written an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the decision of the University of Western Australia (UWA) to nix previously developed plans to accept a $4 million dollar payment from the conservative Australian government, to be matched by university money, to implement a version of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Institute there, to be known as Australia Consensus.

    See: Bjorn Lomborg Is Wrong About Bangladesh And Sea Level Rise

    See: Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

    See: Are electric cars any good? Lomborg says no, but he’s wrong.

    Lomborg’s scholarship in the area of climate and energy related policy has been repeatedly criticized and often described as far less than adequate. A typical Bjorn Lomborg missive on climate or energy policy seems to include instance after instance of inaccuracies, often taking the form of a statement of fact with a citation, where that fact or assertion is not to be found in the citation. Many regard his policies as “luke warm.” From the highly regarded Sketpical Science web site:

    …examples of Luckwarmers include Matt Ridley, Nic Lewis, and Bjorn Lomborg. The University of Western Australia has been caught up in a major Luckwarmer controversy, having taken federal funds to set up a center from which Lomborg was expected to argue that the government’s money would be better spent on issues other than curbing global warming. In a sign that even Stage 3 climate denial is starting to become untenable, the resulting uproar forced the university to cancel plans for the center.

    The UWA project received a great deal of critisim, and was seen by many as a move by Big Fossil to water down academic and government response to the critical issue of climate change. Graham Readfearn, writing for The Guardian, notes:

    Danish political scientist and climate change contrarian Bjørn Lomborg says the poorest countries in the world need coal and climate change just isn’t as big a problem as some people make out.

    Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott says “coal is good for humanity” and there are more pressing problems in the world than climate change, which he once described as “crap” but now says he accepts.

    So it’s not surprising then that the latter should furnish the former with $4 million of taxpayer funds to start an Australian arm of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC) at the University of Western Australia’s business school.

    The Australian project was shut down after severe criticism from the global academic community as well as students and faculty within UWA. Predictably, Lombog had characterized this as an attack on free debate. From the Op Ed, “Opponents of free debate are celebrating. Last week…the University of Western Australia canceled its contract to host a planned research center, Australia Consensus, intended to apply economic cost-benefit analysis to development projects—giving policy makers a tool to ensure their aid budgets are spent wisely.

    While Lomborg blames “activists” for shutting down the center, it is more widely believed that the project was criticized because, based on prior work done by Lomborg, any ensuing “cost-benefit analyses” would be academically weak and policy-irrelevant.

    Central to the difference in overall approach (aside from allegations of poor scholarship) between Lomborg and many others is how poor or developing nations should proceed over coming decades. Lomborg seems to advocate that these nations go through the same economic and technological evolution as developed nations, building an energy infrastructure based mainly on fossil fuels, in order to industrialize and reach the standard of living presumed desired by those who live in those nations. The alternative, of course, is that development in these regions be done with lessons learned from the industrialized and developed world. We don’t ask rural Kenyans to install a wire-based analog phone system before using modern digital cell phone systems. With respect to energy, developing regions should implement clean energy with smart distribution rather than building hulking coal plants and committing for centuries to come to expensive and extensive electric grid systems that are now generally regarded as outdated.

    Lomborg says enough about mitigating climate change effects, and developing green energy technologies, to be able to suggest that he supports these ideas when he is pushed up against the wall, as with the nixing of the Australian project. But his regular statements on specific policy points, frequent and well documented, tell a different story.

    Lomborg claims that much of the policy development of the Copenhagen Institute is not even about climate change. To the extent that this is true, it may be part of the problem. As development occurs, energy is key. With development of energy technologies, climate change is key. Lomborg’s approach that the Copenhagen projects are mostly not about climate change is not an argument that he is doing something right. It is evidence that he is doing something wrong, and at the same time, is apparently unaware of this.

    It is very important to remember, as this conversation unfolds, that the objections to Lomborg’s work, and to spending vast sums of money to support it, are only partly because of differences in approach. These objections also come from two other things. One is a sense that Lomborg is detached from scholarship and good analysis.

    Graham Readfearn has documented academic response to Lomborg’s work. Here is one example:

    Dr Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Ecnomics and Policy at the Australian National University, was once invited to write a paper for Lomborg’s centre in 2008, which was sharply critical of how the cost of the impacts of climate change were treated.

    He told me:

    Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjorn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.

    And, regarding energy policy vis-a-vis the Big Fossil,

    …we had a look at Lomborg’s claims that the world’s poorest were crying out for more fossil fuels which, Lomborg argued, were the only real way they could drag themselves out of poverty…the positions Lomborg takes on these issues are underpinned by a nasty habit of picking the lowest available estimates of the costs of climate change impacts.

    Last year, when Lomborg spoke to a coal company-sponsored event in Brisbane in the shadow of the G20 talks, Lomborg suggested that because the International Energy Agency (IEA) had developed one future scenario that saw growth in the burning of coal in poor countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, that this somehow meant that fossil fuels were just what they needed.

    Yet Lomborg ignored an important rejoinder to that assessment, which had come from the IEA itself, and which I pointed out at the time.

    The IEA said its assessment for Africa was consistent with global warming of between 3C and 6C for the continent by the end of this century.

    Lomborg’s prior written works could be, and actually have been (I am told), used in coursework on analytical approaches to policy as bad, not good, examples. And, although Lomborg often associates himself with Nobel Prize Winners (and rarely fails to note that) he is not known as a high powered, influential scholar in his area. A recent citation analysis of Lomborg’s work backs up that concern:

    …I combed through his Google Scholar entries and dumped all the duplicates, I ignored all the magazine and newspaper articles (e.g., you can’t count opinion editorials in The Wall Street Journal as evidence of an academic track record), I cut out all non-articles (things Lomborg hadn’t actually written), omitted any website diatribes (e.g., blog posts and the like) and calculated his citation profile.

    Based on my analysis, Lomborg’s Google Scholar h-index is 4 for his peer-reviewed articles. If I was being particularly generous and included all of Lomborg’s books, which have by far the most citations, then his h-index climbs to 9. However, none of his books is peer-reviewed, and in the case of his most infamous book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, it has been entirely discredited. As such, any reasonable academic selection committee would omit any metrics based on opinion-based books.

    So, the best-case scenario is that Lomborg’s h-index is no more than 4. Given his appointment to Level D (Associate Professor) at a world-class university, the suggestion that he earned it on academic merit is not only laughable, it’s completely fraudulent. There is no way that his academic credentials had anything to do with the appointment.

    Even a fresh-out-of-the-PhD postdoc with an h-index of only 3 or 4 would have trouble finding a job. As a rule of thumb, the h-index of a Level D appointment should be in the 20–30 range (this would vary among disciplines). Despite this variation, Lomborg’s h-index is so far off the mark that even accounting for uncertainty and difference of opinion, it’s nowhere near a senior academic appointment.

    The other problem people see with Lomborg’s efforts is the sense that the Copenhagen Institute is a bit of a sham, and that Lomborg is not selling informed expertise, but rather, snake oil. From a recent analysis of the status of the Copenhagen Consensus Center:

    Copenhagen Consensus Center is a textbook example of what the IRS calls a “foreign conduit” and it frowns strongly on such things. It may also frown on governance and money flows like this…

    CCCMoney2

    …more than 60% went directly to Lomborg, travel and $853K promotion of his movie. According to Wikipedia it grossed $63K…

    Even in a simple US charity, poor governance and obvious conflicts of interest are troublesome, but the foreign element invokes stringent extra rules. Legitimate US charities can send money to foreign charities, but from personal experience, even clearly reasonable cases like foreign universities require careful handling. It is unclear that Lomborg himself is a legitimate charity anywhere, but most of the money seems under his control. One might also wonder where income taxes are paid.

    CCC seems to break many rules. Foreign citizen Lomborg is simultaneously CCC founder, president, and highest-paid employee. Most people are a little more subtle when trying to create conduits…

    This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
    This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
    Both the flow of money and sources matter when thinking about a non profit research or policy institution. From DeSmog Blog:

    A billionaire “vulture capitalist” and major backer of the US Republican Party is a major funder of the think tank of Danish climate science contrarian and fossil fuels advocate Bjørn Lomborg, DeSmogBlog has found.

    New York-based hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s charitable foundation gave $200,000 to Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) in 2013, latest US tax disclosures reveal.

    That was about a third of the CCC’s donations for the year 2013.

    Lomborg, who claims to not be a climate skeptic, is the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and the book and movie “Cool It

    Should I Wash My Dishes Before Putting Them In The Dishwasher?

    As an anthropologist, I find the interface between technology and the larger culture in which it is embedded fascinating. You all know the old story of the family cook who habitually cuts the ends off the roast before slipping it in the oven. One day her child, hoping some day to be the family cook, asks why this is done. It turns out that nobody can remember, and the matter is dropped. But the question comes up again, at a later family dinner, this one attended by great grandma, who was the family cook a generation ago, and of course, she knows the answer.

    “Back in the day,” she says, “It was the depression. We weren’t able to just go to the store and buy whatever we wanted, like people these days.”

    Grandma always managed to work in a mention of how poor they were back in the depression. But this time it was relevant. “We had only one roasting pan,” she continued. “It was only 14 inches long and the roast was always a few inches longer. So I’d cut the ends off.”

    And of course, ever since then, subsequent generations had learned to cut off the ends of the roast because that is how grandma did it, and there must have been some reason, though nobody knew what it was. And now, the roast, be-ended, sits small in the large stainless steel double handed Williams Sonoma roasting pan.

    I think that is how some people load their dishwashers. Back in the day, dishwashers weren’t very good at washing dishes. They were really status symbols that did little more than rinse off the dishes that you’d already scraped and run under the faucet. You put dishes in the dishwasher that already looked pretty clean. The role of the dishwasher was to remove the few remaining cooties (or dog saliva for some households) and, if you kept up the supply of anti-spotting juice, to make sure that the glassware was shiny-clean.

    Dishwashers have changed. A reasonably good dishwasher, not even the most expensive or fancy, does a much better job at washing dishes. Even cheap ones, probably. The difference in price between dishwashers is mostly a matter of bells and whistles and whether or not it has a stainless steel front, that sort of thing. Inside, the engineering of how to spray water on dishes from various angles for a very long period of time has been worked out. These days, you only need to remove the large parts, the parts that remain because people these days, unlike back in the depression when there was not enough food, have forgotten that they should finish the food on their plate. Even the chicken bones. Back in the depression, people ate the chicken bones.

    When you wash dishes in the sink, you use water and energy. The energy is to heat the water, but also, the water itself requires energy to process and pump. When you wash dishes in the dishwasher, you use energy. Again, heating and getting water are factors, but also, the dishwasher has a pump and may have a water heating element, and of course, a drying element. More on the drying element later.

    If you did a complete hand washing job on your dishes, then ran your dishes on a full cycle in the dishwasher, you would be using way more energy and water than required to actually get the dishes clean. But if you only hand wash the dishes a little — scrape the plates than run them under the water — maybe you are using less energy and water. But the fact remains, if you just scraped the dishes minimally and the put them in the dishwasher straight away, with absolutely no rinsing, you will use a minimal amount of energy.

    Some people claim that they do hand washing so efficiently that they are using less energy than a dishwasher would ever use. Such folk eschew the dishwashing machine entirely. However, dishwasher experts claim that this is only rarely the case. The dishwasher uses a small percentage of the water and energy you use in hand washing.

    Chis Mooney has written up the current research on dishwashing efficiency. His Washington Post article cites research from the EPA, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. The bottom line: Don’t pre-rinse the dishes. Just put the damn dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, and you think your hand washing is efficient, do consider the possibility that you don’t really know that. You just think that because you want to. It is almost certainly the case that you can’t really prove that and it is likely (but not impossible) that it simply isn’t true. From Moony’s Washington Post article:

    … dishwashers just keep needing less and less water (and energy) because of improving appliance standards, even as they get better and better at using it.

    “While it may be possible to use less water/energy by washing dishes by hand, it is extremely unlikely,” Jonah Schein, technical coordinator for homes and buildings in the EPA’s WaterSense program, said…

    “In order to wash the same amount of dishes that can fit in a single load of a full size dishwasher and use less water, you would need to be able to wash eight full place settings and still limit the total amount of time that the faucet was running to less than two minutes,” he said.

    “…modern dishwashers can outperform all but the most frugal hand washers,” adds the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

    This applies to modern Energy-Star rated dishwashers. Which, if your dishwasher is reasonably new, is probably your dishwasher. And by new, we mean up to several years old because this has been true for a long time. Moony’s story has further details on exactly what makes dishwashers more efficient.

    So, this is like cutting the ends off the roast. In the old days, you needed to wash your dishes before you washed your dishes. Now, you can just wash your dishes. But do you? Or are you still cutting the ends off the roast?

    (It is unfortunate for the dogs that they lose in both cases.)

    Moony also talks about the drying element in dishwashers, and I have a word or two to say about that as well.

    Consider the term “dishwasher safe.” In my household, everything is “dishwasher safe.” This is because I put everything in the dishwasher. If something is not dishwasher safe, it gets weeded out. Most things that are not dishwasher safe are subject to heat damage when the drying element comes on. I installed our present dishwasher about five years ago. The heating element has yet to come on. Well, it did by accident once and boy, did that smell bad. (If you don’t use the heating element, it tends to accumulate a layer of stuff that smells bad once you do turn it on). This is not to say that the only unsafe thing in a dishwasher, if you are a plate or a bowl or something, is the heating element. The water in a dishwasher is hot, and the chemicals are caustic. We have a number of coffee mugs that no longer say what they formerly said because the cheap printing process used to make them did not stand up to the slings and arrows of outrageous technology. Those coffee mugs that change on the outside when you put hot coffee in them? That works because of a layer of cheap plastic on the outside of the cup. My Doctor Who mug (where the Tardis disappears and reappears) lasted one day. I still have it but it is a simple black mug with no evidence that the Doctor ever existed. And, when I pop in “clean recyclables” like a peanut butter jar made of plastic, that stuff comes out distorted and half melted, but not really melted and it isn’t a problem; It was on the way to the recycling bin anyway.

    If you never turn on your heating element you will use a lot less electricity and many non-dishwasher safe items survive the dishwasher. I’m not making any promises, I’m just telling you what I do. Don’t worry, the dishes get dry. Modern dishwashers run some air through after the washing is finished on a full cycle, and if you open the door, physics, in the form of evaporation, will work very well.

    This, of course, is a metaphor for many other things. Consider the culture of your use of technology. Do you let your car warm up for a long time on a cold winter morning? To you leave it running when not actually driving because you heard it takes more energy to start it than to run it for a while? Do you leave florescent lights on in the office all day even when the rooms are empty because you heard that was more efficient? As usual, you are probably doing it all wrong. Not your fault, it is just how our brains, and our cultures, work. But you can change and help make a difference.