December 3, 2008

Utah Could Be a Green Power Monster

Since I moved to Salt Lake about 7 months ago, I often get asked about the biggest surprise from people back home. WIthout a doubt, I've been most surprised by how sunny it is here. The summer was insane - it was always blue skies & blazing sun.

Being a solar energy nerd, I couldn't help but wonder why there wasn't more solar out here. Turns out the state isn't even remotely behind solar & without some sort of subsidy, solar energy just isn't cost-competitive.

But it turns out that Utah isn't only a great spot for solar. As this article states, Utah has very promising wind resources. And there is geothermal out there as well.

This state is poised very well once the government begins pouring money into renewable energy & creating long-term incentives for renewable energy investment. Just watch, Utah might be behind the curve today ... but as soon as the tide turns, it will be a great spot for all types of renewable energy projects, investments & jobs.

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November 6, 2008

California Votes for High Speed Rail

My post-election hangover is running pretty strong 2 days later ... I am absolutely thrilled by the Obama victory & even more amazed at the reaction to the win. People seem genuinely pumped to turn the page on the 8 year national nightmare that has been the Bush administration. It's wonderful to see ...

It's also wonderful to see that Prop 1a in California passed on Tuesday. That's a major victory for those of us who feel we need systemic change in how we move people around this country.

It will be interesting to see how Obama plans to inject life into the economy. My hunch tells me he will take the lead from California & throw support in back of high speed rail. It makes perfect sense given the jobs situation, the energy situation & his clear, powerful mandate for change.

Exciting times!

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October 28, 2008

Will Californians Support High-speed Rail?

In addition to pulling for an Obama win next Tuesday & perhaps even 60 D-seats in the Senate, I'm most interested in the outcome of California's Proposition 1a, the high-speed rail act.

Voters are being asked to approve the issuance of $10 billion worth of bonds to finance this ambitious project, which would provide a high-speed rail service from San Francisco & Sacramento to San Diego. Passage of the proposition is by no means a sure thing & the debate is running pretty hot.

So Californians have the chance to step up on a major issue & show some leadership & some guts. Yes, they have a major structural budget deficit ... but this is a transcendent issue. This is a rethinking of how we get from point A to B in this country. This would be taking action to rearrange our lifestyles to address the energy crisis. This would open people's eyes to new forms of transportation. This would get people off the road, out of their cars. This would be real change & a new direction.

This is when we have to start projects like these. Right now. Not in 5 years. This couldn't be more important & I hope Californians do the right thing.

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October 21, 2008

Why Don't We Just Lower Speed Limits?

I've been waiting to see stories like this pop up in the news media for a long time ... strange that they have been few & far between. So why don't we consider lowering speed limits? Why don't we go back to 55 mph?

As the article points out, there are many benefits:

  • It would save the country millions of gallons of gas
  • It would reduce wear & tear on your car
  • It would reduce the number of accidents
  • It would lower insurance premiums

On a similar note, why is it that cars are capable of moving at speeds north of 100 mph? I mean, if it's never legal to drive that fast, why is it even an option? I understand the need for a car to have power, but have you ever really sat back & wondered why cars can drive triple digit speeds?

It doesn't make a lot of sense. Not nearly as much sense as a 55 mph speed limit. Anyway, go check out the article & the comment thread. It's a pretty interesting read ...

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October 8, 2008

A Silver Lining in the Bailout Bill

Renewable energy might be the only clear winner in the recent bailout package signed last Friday, October 3. Someone had the bright idea to extend the tax credits for renewables in that otherwise silly bill.

Renewable Energy World has the details, but here's a quick synopsis:

  • An 8-year extension of the residential and business ITC (Investment Tax Credit) for solar, small-wind and geothermal systems
  • An elimination of the US $2,000 cap on the residential ITC
  • Elimination of the prohibition on utilities from obtaining the ITC
  • Authorization of US $800 million for clean energy bonds for renewable energy generating facilities
  • A 1-year extension of the PTC (Production Tax Credit) for wind projects
  • A 2-year extension of the PTC for geothermal facilities
  • Creates a 2 year ITC for marine energy technologies (tidal, wave, current, ocean thermal)

I believe this means a homeowner can get a 30% tax break on the renewable investment installed between 2009 & 2017. This means if a solar PV system costs $25,000 (not an unusual sum of money for these systems), the homeowner will receive a $7,500 federal tax break. Formerly, the tax break would have been capped at $2,000. And, without Congress getting this added to the bailout, that $2,000 tax break was in serious risk of vanishing. So this is huge from a consumer perspective.

Welcome news in the current economic environment to say the least.

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October 6, 2008

Or Too Many Americans

Part 2, Section 3 of Thomas Friedman's new book Hot, Flat and Crowded should be required reading for every single American. Titled "Our Carbon Copies (or, Too Many Americans)", Friedman graphically describes the trouble we are in if the emerging middle classes of China, India & others scale up to live exactly like Americans do (which is a scary thought in its own right).

The result would be troubling to say the least & most likely game over for the climate. The world just can't take another several Americas worth of consumption & trash.

Here are a couple of choice nuggets from that chapter, but honestly you should read it yourself. It makes the case for the need to change how & what we are doing better than anything I could ever write ...

In the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, a single Sam's Club sold roughly 1,100 air conditioners in one hot weekend in 2006. I would bet that is more than some Sears stores in the US sell during a whole summer.

Chinese developers are laying more than 52,700 miles of new highways throughout the country. Some 14,000 new cars hit China's roads each day.

By 2020, China is expected to have 130 million cars, and by 2050 - or perhaps as early as 2040 - it is expected to have even more cars than the US.

In 2006, more than 34 million Chinese traveled abroad, a 300 percent increase from the year 2000.

The Indian economy had lifted 94 million people out of absolute poverty during that period (the past decade) - that's 12 million more people than the entire population of Germany, the most populous state in the EU.

And it goes on & on like that. We better awaken to the dire straits the world is really in relative to energy & climate ASAP. The very foundation of our existence is at stake.

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September 29, 2008

Increasing Energy Awareness Helps

I'm sure a lot of Prius owners feel a lot like this owner:

One of the most fascinating parts of owning a Prius has been the ability to monitor how energy is used and distributed while it is in motion. It also displays the car's current fuel economy as well as the outside temperature. Touching the pad labeled "consumption" brings up a bar chart depicting gasoline mileage. It also shows how much energy has been delivered to the battery. The screens are endlessly informative. And as a new owner, I found my emotions rising and falling by how well I was doing on fuel economy. I felt victorious when the bar would zoom to 100 mpg, deflated to see it drop below 20 mpg.

That seems insightful. As soon as someone becomes aware of their behavior with respect to energy consumption, they want to optimize it (read: save energy). I think there is a market for home energy monitors, as well as monitors for the car too. But I really think it could help in the home. You can imagine programming a monitor to alert you when your consumption hits a certain level. That would be a really great way to keep your consumption capped & your costs down.

I have heard that owners who have a battery-backup solar system tend to watch their battery charge level like a hawk. I'm sure it's the same with grid-tied systems that employ net metering.

The notion to "do better" seems to be hard-wired in humans. I'm sure if we had more energy monitors showing us how much we are using, we'd use less.

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September 24, 2008

Failing the Vision Test

Realize that the energy crisis is fueled by a complete lack of long-term vision.

The average fuel economy of the automobile fleet in the US in 2008 has risen to 20.8 miles per gallon. In 1987, the average was 22.0 miles per gallon. source

Pretty much says it all ... grade: F

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September 19, 2008

Numbers Don't Lie Republicans Do

It's been pretty sickening watching the McCain - Palin ticket "go Rove" on us over the past few weeks. I mean, it's one thing to spread lies about your opponent (see Kerry in 2004), but it seems even worse to lie about your own record. I mean, come on! It's YOUR record & we can check it pretty easily.

The "Palin is the most knowledgeable person on energy" meme is particularly irksome, given that she can't even get the basic facts about how much energy Alaska produces relative to the entire US correct. Check out this post for the whole story, but suffice to say Palin is going around saying that Alaska produces almost 20% of the energy in the US. She is inflating this number rather dramatically. According to the Energy Information Administration, the actual number is more like 3.5%. Then she modified the claim, saying Alaska is producing 20% of the oil & natural gas in the US. Unfortunately, she is still way off. The actual number is 13%.

These seem like the type of mistakes "the most knowledgeable person on energy" in the US wouldn't make. Since Palin is largely basing her foreign policy credentials on the fact that Alaska is an important energy state, shouldn't the public be aware she is inflating Alaska's importance? Yet we hear nothing about this in the mainstream media.

Instead, we get the talk shows & the pundits. Usually there is one from each party & they argue & talk over one another for the entire "bit". Then the host thanks them for the enlightening discussion & the viewer has learned nothing. We really need to get a handle on the news media. It is not helping anyone figure out the truth. Since news should really be about facts, this seems perverse.

I'm not surprised that someone with some energy experience is on the national scene in this election. As I've written before, energy is probably one of the top 2 or 3 issues in this election ... for good reason. But it is surprising that someone can completely misrepresent the facts ... & not get called on it outside of the blogosphere.

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August 27, 2008

Schweitzer on Energy Policy at the DNC

Here's the speech everyone in the media should be talking up:

It's interesting to note that the speech on energy got the crowd more fired up than anything else last night. Granted, Schweitzer (Governor of Montana) worked the crowd pretty hard, but people are really concerned & interested in energy. As I said before, the Obama campaign should make energy a top priority in this last 60ish days. There is hay to be made here ...

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August 22, 2008

AltaRock Taking Geothermal Energy to the Next Level

I haven't done much research on geothermal energy, although I did a post about geothermal heat pumps a while back. But I stumbled upon a company named AltaRock Energy who believes they have a scalable geothermal solution. It looks very interesting.

As AltaRock points out on this page, the nice thing about geothermal energy is its 24x7 availability. I love wind power, but wind has a major achilles heel: the wind doesn't always blow & might not be blowing at the most critical, high demand periods. How can you rely on that? Without major improvements in battery technology (which is very expensive by the way), you can't. The same thing holds true for solar since they sun doesn't help much at night.

Geothermal's problem has been the fact that there aren't that many places that fit the conventional geothermal hot spot description. These are spots that have natural reservoirs of super-hot water deep in the ground. Think Iceland & Yellowstone National Park. We've long known we can tap into those hot water reservoirs, pump the liquid up & use the steam to spin turbines & create electricity. The issue is that there aren't enough of these naturally occurring hot spots to exploit (plus they often reside far away from populated areas).

AltaRock has a solution. They inject cold water at high pressure deep into the earth ("hot basement rock"). The water fractures the rock & essentially creates pathways & areas where the water can pool up. As the water flows through the hot basement rock, it heats up. Hot water is then pulled up to the surface via wells. This diagram below shows how the entire system works:

Underwriting this company's development are major VC firms like Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, and Google.org. AltaRock just closed a $26 million second round of financing [PDF requires Adobe Acrobat].

I couldn't find any information on costs associated with the AltaRock geothermal system, but the idea seems really interesting on the surface. Who knows? Maybe it's incredibly expensive, or maybe it's an EROEI dog ... but certainly one to watch.

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August 13, 2008

The Velorution Hits DC

Washington DC begins a bike sharing program today in a first for the US. Similar to successful programs in Europe (especially Paris), bikes will be available at kiosks placed around the city. The bikes can replace a longer walk or a cab ride for people on the move.

Read the article for all the details, but kudos to DC for making a progressive idea a reality. Not easy to do these days! Some day I'm sure bike sharing will be a standard part of urban life. It makes a ton of sense & should inspire many people to do more riding. A virtuous cycle, no doubt.

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