Tag Archives: Green Energy

Climate and energy are becoming focal points in state political races

Just a pointer to my colleague John Abraham’s current post in The Guardian:

The latest example, Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto has a strong clean energy proposal

As soon as Donald Trump won the presidential election, people in the US and around the world knew it was terrible news for the environment. Not wanting to believe that he would try to follow through on our worst fears, we held out hope.

Those hopes for a sane US federal government were misplaced. But they are replaced by a new hope – an emerging climate leadership at the state level and a continuation of economic forces that favor clean/renewable energy over dirty fossil fuels. In fact, it appears that some states are relishing the national and international leadership roles that they have undertaken. Support for sensible climate and energy policies is now a topic to run on in elections.

This change has manifested itself in American politics. One such plan stems from my home state, but it exemplifies work in other regions. I live in the state of Minnesota where we are gearing up for a gubernatorial election, which is where this plan comes from.

My state is well known as somewhat progressive, both socially and economically. The progressive policies resulted in a very strong 2007 renewable energy standard, which helped to reduce carbon pollution and create 15,000 jobs.

As an aside, it is really painful for me to…

Click here to find out about John’s pain!

Should you buy an electric car if you live in a coal state?

If most of the electricity used to charge your electric car is made by burning coal, is it still worth it, in terms of CO2 release, to buy an electric car?

Yes. And you will also save money on fuel.

Don’t believe me? Want me to show you? What, are you from Missouri or something? Fine. I’ll show you.

A few years ago, when there were no affordable electric cars that were real cars, we decided to look into buying the next best thing, a hybrid. We wanted to get the Toyota Prius because it looked like a good car, had long proven technology, and all the people we knew who had one were happy with theirs.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance, also noting that I expected that we would save money on fuel. His response was that we would never save as much money on reduced fuel use to justify the extra cost of this expensive car. Just look in any car magazine, he said. They all make this comparison in one issue or another, he said. You are crazy to do this, he said.

I disagreed with him about the crazy part. Failing to do something that you can afford to do that would decrease fossil CO2 emissions was the crazy decision. You know, given the end of civilization because of climate change, and all. But, I was concerned that we would simply not be able to afford to do it, so I resolved to look more closely into the costs and benefits.

Sure enough, it was easy to find an article in a car magazine that analyzed the difference between buying a new internal combustion engine car vs. a Prius, and that analysis clearly showed that there wouldn’t be much of a savings, and that we could lose as much as $500 a year. Yes, each year, the Prius would save gas money, but over a period of several years, the number would never add up to the thousands of dollars extra one had to spend to get the more expensive car. Buy the internal combustion care, they said.

But the article said something else about “green energy” cars that set off an alarm. It said that cars like electric cars would never catch on because they were quiet. Everybody likes the sound of the engine, especially when accelerating past some jerk on the highway, even in a relatively quiet and sedate car like a Camry.

Aha, I thought. This article is not about making rational decisions, or decisions that might be good for the environment. It is about something else entirely.

Hippie punching.

Then I thought about my acquaintance who had suggested that the Prius was a bad idea. And the hippie punching theory fell neatly into place.

So, I continued my quest for information and wisdom. I learned years ago that when you want to buy something expensive, contact a seller that you are unlikely to buy from to ask a few questions. Don’t take up too much of their time, but start your inquiry with a business that sells the product you want, but that you will walk away from in a few minutes. That lets you discover what the patter in that industry is like, what the game is, how they talk to you and what you don’t necessarily know, without it costing you dumb-points along the way. This way, when you talk to the more likely seller (in this case, the Toyota dealership on my side of town, instead of the other side of town) you are one up on the other noobs making a similar inquiry.

So I made the call, and said, “I’m really just interested in trying to decide if the Prius is worth it, given the extra cost, in terms of money saved on fuel.”

“OK, well, it often isn’t, to be honest. And I won’t lie to you. I sell the Prius and I sell non-hybrids, and I’ll be happy to sell you either one.”

Good point, I thought. He doesn’t care. Or, maybe, he just tricked me into thinking he doesn’t care! No matter, though, because I’ve already out smarted this car dealer with my “call across town first” strategy.

As these thoughts were percolating in my head, he said, “So, it really depends on the numbers. So let’s make a comparison. What car would you be buying if you didn’t get the Prius?”

“Um… actually, it would definitely be a Subaru Forester. That’s the car we are replacing, and we love the Forester. No offense to Toyota, of course…”

“Well,” he interrupted. “Everybody loves the Forester. But, it does cost several thousand dollars more than the Prius. So, I’d say, you’d save money with the Prius.”


We bought the Prius. From him.

And now the Prius is getting older. It is still like totally new, and it will be Car # 1 for a couple of more years, I’m sure. But as the driver of Car #2 (an aging Forester) I am looking forward to my wife getting a new car at some point so we can further reduce CO2 emissions, and I don’t have to have a car, for my rare jaunt, that is likely to need a towing.

And, when I look around me, and ask around, and predict the future a little, I realize that by the time we are in the market for a new car, there will be electric cars in the same price range of that Prius, if not cheaper. So, suddenly, buying an electric car is a possibility.

And, of course, the hippie-punching argument that we will have to deal with is this: Coal is worse than gasoline, and all your electricity for your hippie-car is made by burning coal, so you are actually destroying the environment, not saving it, you dirty dumb hippie!

There are several reasons that this argument is wrong. They are listed below, and do read them all, but the last one is the one I want you to pay attention to because it is the coolest, and I’ve got a link to where you can go to find the details that prove it.

1) Even if we live in a state that uses a lot of coal to make electricity, eventually that will change. Of course, my car might be old and in the junk yard by then, so maybe it is still better to wait to by the electric car. But in a state like Minnesota, we are quickly transitioning away from coal, and in fact, the big coal plant up Route 10 a ways, that makes the electricity for my car (if I had an electric car), is being shut down as we speak.

2) Even if the electric car is a break even, or a small net negative on carbon release, it is still good, all else being nearly equal, to support the energy transition by buying an electric car and supporting that segment of the industry.

3) It is more efficient, measured in terms of fossil CO2 release, to burn a little coal to transmit electricity to an electric car than it is to ship the gasoline to the car and burn the gasoline in the car. This sound opposite from reality, and many make the argument that making the burning happen in your car is more efficient than in a distant plant, but that is not ture. While this will depend on various factors, and burning gas may be better sometimes, it often is not because the basic technology of using electricity driven magnetic energy is so vastly more efficient than the technology of using countless small controlled explosions to mechanically drive the wheels. Electric motors are so much more efficient than exploding liquid motors that trains, which are super efficient, actually use their diesel fuel to generate electricity to run their electric motors, rather than to run the wheels of the train.

4) Reason 3 assumes an efficiency difference between internal combustion and magnetics that overwhelms all the other factors, but it is hard to believe this would work in a mostly coal-to-electricity setting. But there is empirical evidence, which probably reveals the logic of reason number 3, but that I list as reason number 4 because it is based on observation rather than assumption. If you measure the difference between an internal combustion engine and an electric engine in a coal-heavy state, you a) save money and b) release less CO2.

And to get that argument, the details, the proof, GO HERE to see How Green is My EV?, a tour de force of logic and math, and empirical measurement, by David Kirtley, in which David measures the cost and CO2 savings of his Nissan Leaf, in the coal-happy state of Missouri.

I’ll put this another way. The best way to be convinced that an electric car is a good idea in a state where most electricity is generated by burning coal is if someone shows you the evidence. Where better to examine this evidence than in the Shoe Me State of Missouri???

So go and look.

A New North American Clean Energy Plan

Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto, have made a joint announcement. As reported by NPR:

President Obama and his counterparts from Canada and Mexico are preparing to unveil an ambitious new goal for generating carbon-free power when they meet this week in Ottawa.

The three leaders are expected to set a target for North America to get 50 percent of its electricity from nonpolluting sources by 2025. That’s up from about 37 percent last year.

Aides acknowledge that’s a “stretch goal,” requiring commitments over and above what the three countries agreed to as part of the Paris climate agreement.

The news reports and press information about this event note that the US currently produces about a third of its energy from non fossil fuel sources. Mexico produces less than 20% of its power this way, and Canada is at about 81%. A big part of this shift will involve shutting down coal plants and expanding wind and solar. However, this mix, as well as the proposed 50% of “clean energy,” may include biofuels, which are very limited in their effectiveness in combating climate change, Nuclear, which is diminishing in its importance, and possibly “carbon capture” which is not an energy source and not likely to have much impact because it essentially doesn’t work at any meaningful scale because of physics.

So, we will need to see some clarification in this area.

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.”

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.

    Saint Paul Saints Building With Solar Power

    You all know about the Saint Paul Aints. No, wait, I mean Saint Paul Saints. This is a local baseball team here in the Twin Cities. They are building a new stadium (much needed) right in the middle of Saint Paul to replace their old stadium out by the railroad tracks.

    What you may not know is that the Saints Stadium is going to be one of the greener sports stadiums built. Other people building stadiums should take note. From MPR News:

    St. Paul Saints stadium builders aim to make it a ‘green’ field

    … When the $62 million stadium opens in May, the home of the city’s minor league baseball team will take a major step forward as an environmentally friendly sports facility.

    A canopy of photovoltaic solar panels next to the baseball field will generate 103 kilowatts of power for Minnesota’s newest sports complex, a 7,000-seat facility owned by the city of St. Paul.

    “We think it’s going to be the third largest solar array at a sports facility in the U.S,” project manager Paul Johnson said.

    That’s only about a tenth of the power needed to run the lights and meet the energy needs for the rest of the stadium. But it will be a high-profile alternative to conventional electric power. The baseball scoreboard is expected to tout the solar power generated along with the score. Its panels also will shade a group dining area.

    Other features will include a storm water filtration system that will take drainage from the nearby Metro Transit maintenance facility roof and use it to irrigate the turf at CHS Field. Rain water also will be diverted to flush 10 percent of the toilets in the restrooms.

    Making the stadium environmentally friendly came with a cost. The solar project added an additional $600,000 to the project, and the storm water system added an estimated $450,000. But grants are covering the extra cost.

    Still, the price tag on the solar project has drawn skepticism even from some environmentalists.

    Eric Jensen, senior energy associate for the Izaak Walton League of the Midwest, is encouraged that solar energy will receive such a high-profile installation and that more people will see a practical use for it. But he said the funding from Xcel Energy would have gone further on other projects.

    “This is the highest dollar per watt,” Jensen said. “It’s the most expensive dollar per watt project.”

    But Gerken, the project architect, thinks even seasonal use of environmentally-friendly facilities can inspire the public to think differently. He cites light rail service at Target Field.

    “Many people’s first experience with Metro Transit and the light rail was ‘hey, let’s go to a Twins Game,'” he said. “And now they’re used to it, they know about it. … It’s an option to go to the airport; it’s an option to go to the Mall of America.”

    Ann Hunt, environmental policy director for the city of St. Paul, said the innovative stadium features aren’t just demonstration projects but part of a larger effort across the city’s public sector. Another example of the city’s environmental focus, she said, is the solar hot water system for the RiverCentre convention center. Hunt said it’s one of the biggest in the Midwest.

    “This installation heats hot water to help heat the RiverCentre complex and the Xcel Energy complex and provide domestic hot water for that facility,” she said.

    Small town getting a good way off the carbon-based grid

    Geneseo, Illinois is a small town with fewer than 7,000 people. They plan to meet about half their electricity needs, on a good day (windy, sunny) with clean energy, after the installation of some new cool technology.

    From the Dispatch Argus:

    City officials have been notified of a $1 million grant for a one-megawatt solar energy array from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation.

    Total cost of the project is expected to be $2 to $2.5 million. Under the project, renewable energy would provide about half the city’s daily nine-megawatt appetite for power — enough for about 220 homes — between the one-megawatt solar system and the three megawatts from the city’s two wind turbines on an ideal day.

    The council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize Mayor Nadine Palmgren to sign an agreement with the foundation for the grant. Ald. Howard Beck, 3rd Ward, was absent.

    Council approval also will be needed for funding, seeking bids and awarding the project, according to electric superintendent Lewis Opsal.

    Geneseo’s solar array would be located on five acres now a soybean field at the foot of the city’s wind turbines, where it would connect to an existing substation.

    “It would be great for reducing our transmission costs,” said Mr. Opsal. “There is a long line of people very interested in that grant. It’s a perfect project for Geneseo.”

    Kathy Allen, of Geneseo, questioned if the project would lower power bills in the city. Mr. Opsal said, hopefully, the city would be able to hold costs steady. He noted a large utility recently raised rates 23 percent and U.S. power rates could double in the future because of the closure of high-emission plants.

    Build a solar power plant to help run a water treatment plant!

    RMU Announces Solar Plant Completion

    Rochelle Municipal Utilities, in Rochelle, Illinois, has. started operation of a large Photovoltaic Solar Plant providing power to their water treatment facility. This is a great example of a project that should be done in more places.

    In the Spring of 2014, RMU was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to fund construction of the Solar Plant. ICECF provides grants for up to $2/watt or 60% of the system and its installation costs, whichever is less. As a result of the competitive bidding process, Eagle Point Solar was awarded the project.

    “Rochelle’s 312 kW Solar Photovoltaic plant is one of the larger Public Power Utility owned plants in Illinois. This plant will provide renewable energy to the water treatment plant” stated Business & Financial Analyst Dan Westin. “Treatment plants require a lot of energy to make clean water. Rochelle will continue to explore financially sound projects in the area of renewable energy.”

    As a result of this project, Rochelle Municipal Utilities has been selected as a recipient of this year’s Northern Illinois Renewable Energy Summit & Expo’s “Leadership by Example” award.

    You can view the plant’s output real time here.

    The water treatment plant has a peak energy demand of about 420 kW and the PV system can cover over half of that. During summer months, when the Sun’s energy is maximally available, the sun will provide about 45% of the plant’s energy requirements. It helps that the plant operates mainly during daylight hours, so this is a good fit for a solar installation.

    According to Dan Westin, of Rochelle Municipal Utilities, “the unique part of Rochelle is that as a Muni owned utility it can include the grid capacity cost savings in the business case as well the solar energy credits marketed in the Pennsylvania market. The payback is less than five years that way. So 15 years of free solar energy. The cost of producing clean water goes down.”

    Dan also told me that there are similar projects in Galena and Rockford Illinois.

    Thinking Big About Clean Energy

    I want to put a solar panel on my roof so that I am releasing less greenhouse gas into the environment. But then I hear that manufacturing solar panels causes the release of greenhouse gasses, so I have to subtract that from the good I think I’m doing. But then I realize that the people who are making the solar panels have to change their method so they release less greenhouse gas into the environment.

    We hear this argument all the time (for example, here). You think you are doing something “green” but it really isn’t green because yadayadayada. I am suspicious of these arguments because they often (though not always) come from people who want us all to keep using fossil Carbon based fuels, for some (unsupportable) reason or another. One might think that these arguments have to be addressed in order to do a rational and well thought out analysis of the decisions you make.

    But that is simply not true for three reasons.

    Reason One: So what? Nobody tells me I have to make a rational decision about buying the 72 inch wide TV to replace my 64 inch wide TV, but suddenly I’m a bad person if I don’t do a detailed Carbon-based cost benefit analysis when I want to do something EVEN COOLER than having a bigger TV, like putting a freakin’ cool solar panel on my roof? Excuse me, but STFU with our rational argument yammering.

    Reason Two: You can’t count. If I put a solar panel on my roof, almost no one is going to discount the value of my house because it gets some free electricity, but a significant number of people are going to pay more for it when I sell it because it is cool. See reason one.

    So when I put these together, my personal cost benefit analysis leans towards doing it more than the nay sayers might say. But still, if putting up a solar panel kills more polar bears than not putting up a solar panel, because the manufacturers of solar panels use thousand of tons of coal per square inch of solar panel, I’ve got to consider not doing it. Except for reason three.

    Reason Three: If we all refuse to act until everyone else acts than we will not act. I will buy whatever solar panel I want, and the people who make solar panels can compete for my business by getting the energy to make their solar panels from … solar panels! Or not. Eventually they will because we ALL have to stop using ALL of the Carbon. Driving an electric car in a region where more coal is used to make electricity, would have to be MUCH less efficient than not driving the electric car (in terms of carbon release) to make me think twice about it. I’ll drive my electric car and at the same time we’ll watch the electricity companies make more and more of their electricity from wind and solar, and they will have a bigger market to sell that in because we are locally replacing gas with electricity. Of course, I will need the electric car to get cheaper before I can get one, but if I had one, that is what I would be thinking.

    I’ve had conversations about this issue with a lot of people and these conversations have made me realize that the structural argument against clean energy is wrong for the reasons stated above. It turns out that A. Siegel has had similar arguments and he has had similar thought. It is possible that he and I have even talked about this and are pretty much on the same page. Go read To solar carport or not to carport, that is the (or at least a) question … and see what you think!

    The naysayers want you to think small, but they make it look like thinking big. Instead of just calculating the immediate costs, consider also the distant polar bears crushed by the wheels of industry because you want a solar panel, they advise! But no, think even bigger. Think not only along dimensions of production and supply, but also, time and socioeconomic change. In order to address the climate crisis, we have to keep the Carbon in the ground. In order to keep the Carbon in the ground, everybody has to do everything they can do all the time, and not sit on their hands waiting for some other guy to change a value in our spreadsheet. Think big.

    I want my flying electric car! Forget the jet pack.

    If we, Western Civilization, had started out with electric cars, and a century later someone came along with the idea of exploding little dollops of gasoline mixed with air to propel them, that person would be thought insane.

    Depending on price, the cost of energy to propel an electric car a given distance can be about 5% of the cost to propel a gas-explosion style car. The electricity to power the electric car can be produced in any number of ways, some icky some cleaner, but much more efficiently. Some of that energy can be generated where the car is parked, at home or work, under a Photoage, a structure with photo cells that serves as a garage. Since most cars just sit there for much of the day, this can be a significant amount. Meanwhile, the car’s batteries can be part of the smart grid, the top 15% or so being used by the grid to store/use electricity keeping supply and demand closer.

    I used to think the inefficiency of making all the volts in big giant plants and sending it out over wires obviated all of this but experts tell me this is not true. Also, as the grid becomes more and more localized, and it becomes more and more normal to fit homes or other buildings with solar and use batteries, etc., the source becomes closer to supply. But really, it may be the difference between generating a magnetic field from available electric potential vs. causing a series of explosions inside a big heavy metal thing that matters most.

    (This brief comment was prompted by Don Prothero‘s post of the image at the top of the post on Facebook.)

    The Electric Car/Hybrid Car Lottery

    I would like to propose a lottery.

    Cost of ticket: $10.00

    Prize: The winner’s choice of an American-made electric car or hybrid car off of an approved list.

    The cars would be provided at discount from them manufacturer. The manufacturer benefits from the publicity (free-ish advertising) and from having more of their cars on the road in communities where they might otherwise be very rare.

    This would act like a Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA). A ROSCA is a way that a group of people can obtain a costly item with little available cash and low or zero interest loan. Every member of the ROSCA puts a set amount of money into the fund on a periodic basis, and one at a time each ROSCA member gets access to the entire pool, usually in random order.

    The lottery would be run as a government project attached to an existing agency that covers the cost of operation so that all of the money acquired through lottery ticket sales goes into the car purchase. The ticket purchasers benefit from the excitement of a lottery produced by the thrill of possibly winning, and occasionally, by actually winning a new car.

    The most expensive car out there that fits the criteria for inclusion on the approved list is probably a Tesla, but not everyone will want a Tesla; some people will want a much less expensive hybrid because the hybrid will not be tethered to charging between uses. So, each winner gets to chose the car they prefer, and if less expensive cars are chosen, then more individuals win on each drawing. It would be required that the winner keep possession of the car for one year or more in order for it to be free, which would discourage people from simply re-selling the car. However, if winners do manage to simply pass the car they’ve won on (in order to get the cash) the objective of the lottery is still met. There will be more cars of this type on the road either way.

    I suppose this could be done by a state or a collection of states, but also, why not by a commission set up by the Federal Government?

    Waste to Energy Plants Are Good

    When I was a kid, there was a strange looking garbage can in the back yard. It looked like a regular metal garbage cans (garbage cans were metal back in those days, before plastic was invented) but it was covered with round holes about one inch in diameter. It was also heavily corroded and lived behind the large brick fireplace that was also in the back yard. No one used it for anything but I remember that it had an interesting story that went along with it.

    This can was used back in the day, before I was born, by my grandfather (who lived upstairs) to burn garbage. The story was about a can of shaving cream. Apparently, one day my grandfather was burning garbage and there was a discarded shaving cream can in there, which should not have been included in the garbage to burn because such a thing could explode. And it did. A piece of shrapnel from the exploding shaving cream can blew a new hole in the side of the burning garbage can, whizzed past my grandfather but missed him, passed through a hole in a nearby chain link fence and took a chip out of a brick in the apartment building next door. As evidence of this event there was an extra, ragged hole in the garbage can and a piece of brick missing visible on the side of the apartment building.

    Yeah, I don’t believe it either. I was the youngest of four siblings and telling me tall tales was a family amusement, since the television had not been invented yet.

    Anyway, the idea that burning garbage is good for the environment should strike you as wrong, because garbage is … well, it is garbage … and burning it releases all sorts of horrid toxins into the environment. So, burning garbage to produce energy would also be a bad thing. Better to burn something nice and clean. Like coal. Or uranium. Right?

    Well, wrong, actually.

    Author and science communicator Shawn Otto (Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America) has written an interesting piece on burning garbage to make electricity. It turns out that opposition to waste-to-energy technology is an example of science denialism on the left. Modern waste to energy plants are clean, and may be cleaner than many other forms of power plant. Also, when we burn garbage, we are getting “free” energy, to at least some extent, in relation to the problem of burning fossil fuels. While some of the Carbon released into the atmosphere in burning garbage may be Carbon from fossil fuel sources, much of it is carbon from non-fossil fuel sources (like trees).

    Today’s waste-to-energy plants are not your granddaddy’s trash burners, and some liberal groups, like the Center for American Progress, are starting to look at the actual science and reevaluate long-held assumptions in light of new information and increasing concern over climate change. When they do, they are finding that today’s WTEs look surprisingly good for the environment and for fighting climate change.

    Shawn’s article is detailed and has numerous helpful graphics. Go read it and become much better informed about the science of waste-to-energy production.

    I think that one of the plants Shawn visited during his review of this problem may be the power plant not far from my house in Elk River. That power plant is built on the site of one of the earliest commercial nuclear power plants. That little fact has nothing to do with the topic at hand but I find it interesting nonetheless.

    City of Angels Will Dump Coal by 2025

    Last February 17th, there was a big rally at the Los Angeles City Hall where people demanded action on climate change and an end to our reliance on fossil fuel. The city of Los Angeles gets 39% of its electricity from coal fired plants, so that would be hard.

    But today, we’ve learned that “…Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be “signing papers” in the coming weeks that will wean L.A. from coal-fired power within 12 years.”

    Apparently, the mayor made this announcement at a UCLA event discussing related issues, and it was a real jaw dropper, truly unexpected. This will require shutting down two coal plants.

    Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos via Compfight cc

    How the US Navy is Leading the Charge on Clean Energy and Climate Change

    There will be a discussion on Climate Desk Live about this topic tomorrow, Feb 27th. Details and access to the event are HERE.

    Increasingly, the US Navy is leading the charge towards clean energy, which can in turn impact national security an even climate change. Through investments in biofuels, construction of a more energy-efficient fleet, forward thinking about issues like rising sea levels and a melting Arctic, and commitments to reduce consumption and reliance on foreign oil, the Navy is leading the charge of a vast energy reform effort to “change the way the US military sails, flies, marches, and thinks.”

    And here’s a fun, related video:


    Graphene: Big promise for new solar technologies

    A big step in improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells in on the horizon. A paper published over the weekend in Nature Physics describes the ability of a substance called Graphene to convert a high percentage of the energy from sunlight into electricity. Graphene uses more of each photon’s energy, and a wider range of photons of different energy levels (using a broad spectrum of the Sun’s energy), compared to existing solar cells. From the abstract of the paper:

    The conversion of light into free electron–hole pairs constitutes the key process in the fields of photodetection and photovoltaics. The efficiency of this process depends on the competition of different relaxation pathways and can be greatly enhanced when photoexcited carriers do not lose energy as heat, but instead transfer their excess energy into the production of additional electron–hole pairs through carrier–carrier scattering processes. Here we use optical pump–terahertz probe measurements to probe different pathways contributing to the ultrafast energy relaxation of photoexcited carriers. Our results indicate that carrier–carrier scattering is highly efficient, prevailing over optical-phonon emission in a wide range of photon wavelengths and leading to the production of secondary hot electrons originating from the conduction band. As hot electrons in graphene can drive currents, multiple hot-carrier generation makes graphene a promising material for highly efficient broadband extraction of light energy into electronic degrees of freedom, enabling high-efficiency optoelectronic applications.

    Peter Sinclair has summarized the info on Graphene and has links to various sources here.

    K. J. Tielrooij,J. C. W. Song, S. A. Jensen, A. Centeno, A. Pesquera, A. Zurutuza Elorza, M. Bonn, L. S. Levitov & F. H. L. Koppens. Photoexcitation cascade and multiple hot-carrier generation in graphene. Nature Physics (2013) doi:10.1038/nphys2564. Source

    Photo of solar cells credit: bkusler via Compfight cc