Monday, December 31, 2007

AXP - More Fun with Numbers in 2008

A nice article in this month's Wired magazine outlines how 2008 will see the real launch of the Automotive X Prize, with dozens of competitors going for broke (with some going broke) to reach the objectives:
  • Efficiency: at least 100 MPG
  • Emissions: while producing less than 200 grams of greenhouse gases per mile
  • Economic Viability: with solid plans for safety, mass production and affordability
Contestants range from the well heeled (with millions in VC funding) to the non-heeled (sandal clad long haired California types). One point of interest - none of the big auto makers are participating. Just as Clayton Christiansen, Mr. Innovator's Dilemma, would have predicted, the large entrenched players cannot see past their current plans and their perceptions of what their best customers have always wanted. I think that guarantees we're going to see some great results.

Friday, December 28, 2007

207 Reasons Revisited

The 2003 book Small is Profitable offers 207 reasons for decentralizing electricity production. In the few short years since its publication, conditions favoring the book's premise have improved markedly: building-integrated wind turbines on the drawing board, rapidly improving photovoltaic technology, a flood of venture capital, growing public awareness of the need for energy security and energy independence, among other things.

Here's a sampling of the 207:

24 Small units with short lead times reduce the risk of buying a technology that is or becomes obsolete even before it's installed, or soon thereafter.

49 Volatile fuel prices set by fluctuating market conditions represent a financial risk. Many distributed resources do not use fuels and thus avoid that costly risk.

60 Distributed resources matched to customer loads can displace the least utilized grid assets.

82 Distributed resources have an exceptionally high grid reliability value if they can be sited at or near the customer's premises, thus risking less "electron haul length" where supply could be interrupted.

89 Multiple small units are far less likely to fail simultaneously than a single large unit.

123 Distributed resources defer or avoid adding grid capacity.

178 Distributed resources can often be locally made, creating a concentration of new skills, industrial capabilities, and potential to exploit markets elsewhere.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Power 2030

The American Institute of Architects intends carbon neutral buildings by 2030. Why not look at every building, the vast acreage and surface area this entails, as the opportunity to produce power (not just be "carbon neutral")? Every new building a Power Plant by 2030. Produce clean power in abundance at the point of consumption. Be carbon negative.

The goal of creating power is ambitious and captures the imagination, as compared to the more middling objective of neutralizing carbon emissions.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

PowerSheet My Plug In

Gizmodo's report of the already-on-the-market, cost competitive, put-it-anywhere Nanosolar Powersheet pictured above conjures visions of hundreds of PowerSheet skinned cars soaking up a little sunshine during peak power so they can send some back to the building from their plugged in parking spots.
Pimp my building.



Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Oil for Wind Program

If the energy bill passed by the House (but not the Senate) would have drawn down $13.5B over ten years in oil industry subsidies, and assuming you could frictionlessly redeploy this money, what could you buy? Follow this simple, klunky math to gauge the magnitude of $13.5B:

Subsidies forgone by the oil industry in the failed energy bill: $13,500,000,000 over ten years

If it cost $1M to build a 1 MW wind turbine,

You could buy 13,500 wind turbines outright, or,

If you subsidized 25% of wind turbines' construction cost

Then 13,500 turbines x 4 (representing the 25% subsidy): 54,000 turbines

Since 1 GW = 1,000 MW

New wind power created: 54 GW

Current US Renewable Nameplate Capacity: 26.5 GW

So you could more than double US renewable energy capacity by 2018. Since wind competes on cost with other power sources on occasion now, a 25 percent subsidy ought to make wind consistently, broadly competitive.

Sure, these calcs might be simplistic and hurried, but they're intended to serve as a ten minute assessment of the opportunity to buy the future instead of simply continuing to dole out for what the future used to be. Transform the oil subsidy into the wind subsidy. The Oil for Wind Program.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

“One of the top 10 pleasures in life is watching your electrical meter go backward."

-- Marc Schambers, California residential wind turbine owner/operator

Wind turbines for homes becoming increasingly affordable in many US states. From article today in the gardening section of the NYT.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Out of Africa - Winds of Change

The Wall Street Journal featured this story on page one today about a young man in Malawi named William Kamkwamba showing some incredible imagination and initiative. He's building windmills (and changing lives) out of local materials and old bicycle parts based on pictures he saw in textbooks. William's blog here reprints the WSJ article and provides more background on this great success story. So, individuals can do it. Countries can do it (see recent post on Great Britain's 20 Gigawatt plan for offshore turbines). So what's keeping the mighty US from taking a giant step forward? What do you think it could be?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Britain Winding up a Wind Power Whopper

Britain's decision to built 20 Gigawatts of offshore wind isn't going to change Bush's behavior ... or the current US Congress's either. But it may embolden the next president, GuliRomClintama. Current administration seems more likely to seek permits to drill for more oil. In reality, we need to pull out all the stops, find more oil but ensure we have the pedal to the metal on all forms of alt energy research. And implementation of what we already know works ... like offshore wind farms. Here's the link.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Far Out Energy Storage

Storage of energy, like storage of data in the computer world, isn't the sexiest topic on the planet. Re: a recent PowrTalk article on using gajillions of plugged-in Car batteries to to smooth out capacity, this C|Net article raises the specter of some way out-of-box approaches. Think: super batteries, compressed air (titillating image to the right is one of these new compressors ... try to contain yourself !!!). But wait there's more: putting the compressed air in natural underground structures - aka caves. And mega flywheels. Energy created when wind is blowing and the sun is shining that's not used immediately, needs to be stored for use at night and when the winds die down. As solar, wind and wave tech gets better and better, and especially when they start to put coal and oil out of business, this is going to be an increasingly important function. In fact, a la chicken and the egg, the storage issue needs to be solved long before alt-e will be able to go mainstream.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ford Plugs In

Highlights from Ford's delivery of 20 Escape Plug Ins to electric utility Southern California Edison:
  • the Escape Plug In can get 120 mpg

  • Ford and So Cal are looking at business models to exploit the Plug In's connection to the home and, in time, the electrical grid

  • they're also looking at ways to make Plug Ins more affordable

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Buffer Cars

Okay, to the Car+ Building posts below, add the thought that plug in hybrids (or electric cars), could act as a buffers to the electrical grid, giving it a place to store surplus power, and then to draw that power to respond to surges or increases in demand. This buffering service could reduce our need for the most expensive, and dirtiest "peaker" power plants, and make the intermittency of wind and solar less of an issue. What's more, vehicle owners might be paid for the buffering service (in addition to the deep discount on their motoring energy costs). See this NewScientistTech article or some thoughts on V2G (vehicle to grid) from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

A little dowry for the building/car marriage.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Oil Drops Below $88 a Barrel Today

This is good news ... and bad news ... depending on which game you're playing.

Using Vision to Push Reality Around

Ponder this powerful vision of clean skies and home grown American energy: buildings that draw power from the wind and sun to power themselves and the cars that visit them . But that vision can be thwarted by the realities of how we cost things and how we allocate resources in our political system. Our laissez-faire market isn't as frictionless as we might want. Some of the things that thwart:
  • Transmission. If a building's power is made and used in the same place there is little to no transmission cost. But transmission (high voltage lines, substations, and so on, maybe $1M per mile to install) is costed separately from power production. So building power doesn't get credit for this advantage.

  • Power loss. More of the power generated on-site gets to the end user, it isn't lost in transmission. No credit here, either.

  • Peak Shaving. If solar panels are deployed incrementally to handle peak power needs to avoid building new power plants, the avoided cost is much more than the otherwise too expensive solar panel.

  • Oil subsidies. Oil is subsidized more generously than emerging renewable energy sources. The subsidies made sense given oil's national strategic significance during and after World War II . It now makes sense to transition to (that is, to subsidize) alternatives, given that they can now be used instead of oil, and offer significant advantages over oil. (With the building powered car electricity becomes an alternative to oil.)

  • Start Up. Given new energy's national strategic signficance, and that it faces the traditional hurdles of the start up, it deserves national subsidization (just as oil and other undertakings did in previous situations).

  • Reduced Health Care Costs. Improving air quality probably means less people visiting the doctor for asthma, allergies, lung and heart disease, and so on. So, we can expect, but probably can't price well, lower health care costs and higher productivity.

What is asked is a visionary leader (visionary like FDR or Ronald Reagan or Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy) to gloss over these pesky realities, and draw us to this place. Why should such a grand vision not materialize because of a dozen or so worth less realities?

Monday, December 3, 2007

What's in a Word: Makani

Does Google know something you don't? Duh. I'm pretty sure they know hundreds of billions of things I don't. And here's one of them: one of their alternative energy partners, with a very minimal site is Makani. What is this? Their own explanation: mah kah' nee [Hawaiian] n. Wind, breeze.

Makani's stated space is high altitude wind power, where the breezes are reliable and super strong. Makes me think of Magenn or Skywindpower but with much less detail exposed on the web. Keep you eyes/ears open on this one. Having GOOG in their camp may make all the difference.

Straight Thinking Chevron Rebuttle

Sometimes a comment is so strong and so thorough, there's nothing to do but put the spotlight right on it. Take this, Mr. O'Reilly (from "Tracy"):

With an attitude like that, of course we won't achieve any great energy milestones in 25 years. Why not take a hint from the folks in the UK? The gov there has already committed to reducing greenhouse gases 26% by 2020 and earlier this month, PM Brown said they could achieve a reduction of 60% by 2050. See the BBC news story here. With that kind of drive and presumably research $$$ coming from the top, it's hard to believe that no new smart techs will be developed to supplant oil.

Furthermore, Mr. Chevron may not be taking into account that the fundamental way research happens in this country is changing. Although the lion's share still occurs at the university and government-funded level, where bureaucracy and special interests can weigh down innovation, some of it is getting underway at private sources. Look at Google. It behooves them to find a cheaper, alternative source for energy because computer servers suck up electricity. Why just today (Dec 3), the Global Action Plan released a report called An Inefficient Truth, which states that the computer sector has a carbon footprint similar to the aviation industry. To really hit the point home, they said that the average server, for example, has roughly the same annual carbon footprint as an SUV doing 15 miles-per-gallon!

Chevron's business plan might benefit from little to no innovation in alternative energy, but for others, finding a solution may be the key to their business's ultimate survival, and as an added benefit, our world's.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chevron CEO Says Oil to Remain Dominant for Decades

Chevron CEO O'Reilly says, love it or hate it - the world is going to keep running on oil for a long, long time. I think he's old school and may be like a one of those guys in the early 1900s, perhaps a CEO of a company that made horse drawn buggies, who couldn't foresee the enormous changes coming in that century, as early as the 20s and 30s. You know ... cars, planes, etc.

Still, you have to admit he's got a great vantage from which to view the global economy and energy markets, even if his big oil CEO cap is screwed on a little too tight. And it bothers me to hear him say this about the mega-freaking-enormous size of current and ever-expanding energy demand. In an interview last week, when asked "Will oil become less important in the future?" Reilly said:

The scale of the energy system is enormous. Forty thousand gallons of oil are consumed every second, and that represents only one-third of the total global energy system. To significantly change the energy mix is a big challenge, and I don't think it's likely to occur anytime soon. Very long term, a century out, maybe 50 years out, with new technology and changes in the capital structure - maybe some changes will occur. But in the next 25 years, it's unlikely there will be significant change.

Here's his full interview from the November 28, 2007 edition of Fortune magazine. I think he's correct for this moment. And maybe for the rest of this decade. But he's not allowing for innovation and the tremendous breakthroughs we're going to see with so many good minds (backed by increasingly large sums of funding) trained on this problem. I really hope he's not right for much longer.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What's Up With Wal Mart

This is not your father's Wal Mart.

The company is emerging as a leader in resource husbandry, to wit:
  • Green store test platforms. Wal Mart built two stores with an array of environmental features to study which could be implemented across the company. Maybe wind turbines like this one at the McKinney store will make sense at windier Wal Marts.

  • Truck Fleet Efficiency. Wal Mart engaged environmental consultant Rocky Mountain Institute to wring fuel out of its trucking operation, promising to cut fuel use in half by 2015.

  • Clinton Climate Initiative. Most recently, Wal Mart announced it will help "cities to buy green by using its purchasing resources to help drive down the cost of green technologies...the retail giant is working with the CCI [Clinton Climate Initiative] to create high-performance LED light fixtures designed for parking lots and street lamps."

Getting a little help from Wal Mart is exciting because:

1) the impacts of the world's largest retailer can in turn be large.

2) Wal Mart excels at rooting out efficient, market-worthy ways of doing business--showcasing sustainability's profit potential.

For those who have issues with the company's track record on corporate citizenship, Wal Mart deserves another look. It might not be your father's Wal Mart, but it's my Wal Mart.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hot New Energy Car Action

There's a freaking mother load of innovation going on out there, especially in the Golden State. Check out this round-up and then check out Aptera and Tesla in depth. The auto times will soon be a-change-n my friends.

Cars and Buildings to Marry

Picture if you can cars running on the excess power produced by buildings. The dots that would frame this picture are beginning to pop up, and they're begging to be connected. One dot is Dynamic Architecture's wind powered skyscraper planned for Dubai.

Another is Ferreira Construction's 45,000 SF solar powered warehouse that might be the first U.S. net zero commercial building (net zero: producing more power than used). Pair these buildings with the Plug In Hybrid movement, put outlets in their parking spaces, and you start to get a picture of the marriage that might be made between cars and buildings.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Wind Coalition

In response to a comment I made about the tens of Gigawatts of wind power installed in Germany and Spain, a blustery Texan noted that 4 Gigs up already, and lots more coming, his state alone eclipses both Britain and Greece. He commented that once Texans see themselves in a competition (see: Football, Rodeo, pride), they won't rest till they win it. The Wind Coalition site is a good place for tracking progress in South Central US, including the mighty TX.

World Gone Schitzo on Wind Power

WTF alert: what do you want? Do you want a world of landscapes free of windmills but with oceans rising, higher temps and more powerful storms and blackouts galore? Or do you want the same bad scene world but with power to get you through all those dark and stormy nights. Seems like our race is split about 50/50 on this. IMHO we're not going to stop climate change through half hearted actions over the next 20 years. It's coming no matter what we do and don't do. But we can keep energy flowing and maybe even crank a few more hundred more Gigawatts out of all that stormy weather if we choose right. See here.

News Just in: Google to Save World with New Energy

This comes as quite a relief as it didn't look like any one organization was willing to save the entire world. Google says its going to power San Francisco first with one Gigawatt's worth of solar and wind power and then see what it can do from there. Some folks will see this as idealism and a waste of Googlebucks that could be put to better use taking over all the online advertising in the galaxy. Me, I applaud each and every step towards new energy implementation. Go Google Go !!!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hard Decisions: Make 'em Now

I'd like to have all oil and coal plants immediately replaced by levitating maglev solar windfarms powering the grid and fueling our all-hydrogen fleet of cars and trucks. But you know what, we don't get to have that yet. We may not get that for a long time. What we need now is time to stay afloat while the new tech is being developed. And some increased energy production that don't exacerbate the human component to climate change ... to the extent we understand it. See this article on a Colorado community grappling with solar and nuclear energy.

Using current technology, we can't build nearly enough renewable technology to replace coal and oil. That's true for us, and it's true for China and India. So in most cases, either/or choices don't exist. We've got to build both sustainable new sources to push those capabilities to the next level, even if we don't get much from it yet. But we've got to build real capacity too, and since there's a choice, we shouldn't make the worst one, i.e., traditional coal or oil fired power. New nukes keep us in the game long enough to discover, design and build what we're all looking forward to: what comes next.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good Day Sunshine

I was just pawing through the current version of Popular Science and noticed their first Best of What's New (BOWN) Green Tech category. The winner of which this year is Silicon Valley based NanoSolar. Ironic, perhaps, in that there ain't no silicon required in their design, and that's the beauty of their creation. Far cheaper to make and move and install, this stuff is a true green energy game changer. Check out the PopSci article here, and here's NanoSolar's site.

Watts up with the Volt?

Autovaporware or really in the production pipeline ... is the GM / Chevy Volt still on track for 2010? You be the judge. Nice piece here at Autoblog. CEO says yes. Good God they're going to HAVE TO BUILD IT.

I'll Take Climate Change Linkage for 50, Alex

Here's a nice write-up on the recent Presidential Forum on Global Warming at the group blogging site, Celsias. Personally, I'm in the better-safe-than-sorry mode on the human contribution to global warming. We not be able to change a thing through our actions. Or we make it worse if we don't change our ways soon ... or soonish. We are working with lots of partial information on this problem, and we may never understand all the mechanisms that are playing a part. But if the draft solution to the perceived problem involves getting us out of oil and into better means of energy production fast, I'm all for it. Seems like each of candidates know how to articulate bold visions for bringing new energy online with urgency. Got to keep an eye on this, and that that connection alive.

Oil Hit $99 a Barrel Today

With oil this expensive and going higher, so much is possible.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The End of not talking about the End of Oil

I mentioned to my PT blog buddy the other day how we wouldn't need or want to talk about the why's that are the catalysts for talking about new and better forms of power. Said that would all be obvious to anyone thinking about this stuff so by the time they got to this address there'd be no need for persuasion, on that topic of the need at least. So, I'm sorry, but a recent series of articles in the WSJ and Wired have caused me to reverse and link to More Evidence We've Entered the End of Oil here. The point I took away isn't about the fundamental drivers involving rising demand and stagnating if not declining supply. It's about urgency. About how little time may be left to grow up some of these new technologies. You think solar can go large scale in 10 years? How fast can we double or quadruple nuclear capacity? Wind/water ... what else is there that's going to be ready to stand in when oil just isn't dependable any more.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Beyond Bush"

The 15 November 2007 edition of the journal Nature raises a question almost too tantalizing to bear: what happens with climate and energy policy once GWB's administration is outta here?

I wonder which way this will play out. While Bush might have revived his image and salvaged his historical reputation by crafting aggressive policies to deal with climate and energy in his second term, and while he did appear to be moving in this direction if the last two State of the Union addresses, and made moves towards investment in hydrogen tech and biofuels, he still seems to be largely tied to the status quo mast. That means that US inaction to date is all his fault. So what happens when he's gone? What if we learn that a President Giuliani or Clinton or Obama can accomplish little more than their tongue tied, oil industry predecessor?

A charismatic leader can sometimes unite a nation into swift and unified action (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse), and we may get such a leader. But the scope of the challenges is so enormous ... this is such a very large ship to turn ... that it may take more than one or two 4-year terms before progressive thinking get implemented as tangible action. How much time, from a climate change perspective, from an energy security perspective, from an economic perspective, do you think we really have? Do you know which candidate would do the most? Do you know which candidate could to the most? The clock is ticking ... and it's twelve months till November ...

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Changing Tech vs. Changing Humans

I feel a Siskel (RIP) and Ebert moment coming on. Thesis post sounds right, but I have a lot more confidence in science paving the way for new modes of energy generation than in somehow coaxing/ prodding/ convincing/ persuading/ beating humans into doing the right thing in time to save themselves, a majority of the remaining species, and a good chunk of the habitats and systems everything needs to survive. Transitional, incremental technologies like hybrid cars are being purchased by the small percentage of the US population that: a) can afford them, and b) understands their benefits. The rest of the driving population either can't play along or doesn't even get it. It's going to take extraordinary technical advances so game-changing that for 95% of the population adoption is a no brainer. Until then the benefits will be so marginal, that as the Thesis thesis goes, we won't get out of the woods in time. I give 100+ mpg (equivalent) electric cars available at a good price in the next couple of years two thumbs way up.

New Energy Thesis

Thesis: What is needed most in transitioning to a new energy order, is not so much a search for new technological solutions, but rather the will to quickly and broadly adapt what is here now to secure energy independence and, in fact, our way of life.

We have adequate resources to make the transition. It is as if we are trapped in the wilderness with enough food to get out, but only if we grasp that we are trapped and without infinite supplies, and therefore act decisively to get out.

The carbon energy economy offered a wonderful stepping stone to a better place. We need to step. The viable technologies of wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power and others need to be evaulated in a broader financial model than the marketplace, considering the significant external costs related to health, energy dependence, climate change, and other issues, and the exacerbation of the impacts of these issues with the passage of time. If we do, it will be easy to develop the will to use the extraordinary discretionary wealth we now have (but do not have indefinitely) to use the stepping stone and avoid being trapped to wither and die.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hello World

Future Site of the PowrTalk Blog