It takes a while to get these things going. For a look back:
We also have a Therms & Barrels Calculator that lets you compare equivalents related to the energy in a barrel of oil.
When thinking of energy use and potential waste and savings, keep in mind the concept of "pure" energy, no matter how it's expressed or what source it comes from. The important thing is how much energy is needed to do a specific amount of work. Energy consciousness means thinking about how efficiently you can apply the energy to the work, ranging from how you manage your water heater to how you approach and leave a stoplight in your car.
No one can be entirely energy efficient, and we all have thresholds of patience, comfort, and enthusiasm. But energy consciousness itself, and the formation of at least some good personal energy habits, will make a big difference when we put all our habits together. Other good calculators:
It takes a while to get these things going. For a look back:
Pandora's Promise is a documentary about the need for nuclear power (better, safer nuclear power, and yes, there is such a thing) to support our collapsing climate. If you're anti-nuke out of habit, just take a deep breath and watch the film.
The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally.
There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.
The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”
James Woolsey, Robert McFarlane, George Schultz, and other members of the newly announced United States Energy Security Council are wisely promoting alternative fuels and flex-fuel vehicles as national security urgencies. Here's a summary of the group's views from the New York Times editorial page:
Listed below are a few of the posts on New Energy Watch that have discussed the importance of a national effort to move away from a dependence on OPEC oil for a variety of reasons: to stimulate new industry and the economy, to help mitigate climate change, and as a national security matter:
- Doug Logan
The renewable energy business has done a remarkable job at positioning itself in the public psyche as the ‘it girl’ of our era. Just about everyone – politicians, celebrities, major industries – likes to be seen as pro-renewable.
When efficiency and conservation become as exciting as alternative energy equipment, we'll begin to make serious headway.
Despite the misleading deck on Nansen Saleri's "Our Man-Made Energy Crisis" in the Wall Street Journal, the article correctly notes the disproportionate reaction of the oil markets to Middle East strife. Whether that reaction is truly panicky, or cynically exploitative, or some combination of the two, it's out of line with realities. Nansen goes on to to cite the huge percentage of fuel sacrificed in the U.S. by waste, poor industrial practices and designs, inefficient processes, and needless use. Here's a response to the article from NewEnergyWatch.com, published in the WSJ comments section:
Mr. Saleri’s article is well-reasoned and informed. I don’t believe, however, that he wrote his own headline and deck. Whoever wrote the deck was more interested in saying that the Obama administration is demonizing oil companies (which is partly true but a red herring), than in highlighting the point of the article, which had to do with the importance of promoting and rewarding energy efficiency and conservation. The Obama administration, as the author points out, has simply waffled (and been buffeted by powerful interest groups, including oil interests), without getting anything meaningful done.
As a national security matter, we do indeed need to reduce energy waste drastically, and we do need to be more efficient in almost all of our energy-driven processes, including the ways we extract fossil fuel from the planet. As a nation, we should have an adult discussion about nuclear power, with rational voices -- not zealots -- explaining both sides of the matter. Most of all, we should, as a nation, strive mightily to eliminate petroleum imports from OPEC nations -- 6,350,000 barrels of crude oil and petroleum products of the 18,771,000 barrels consumed in the U.S. every day, or about a third. (Source: eia.doe.gov.), Considering that, as Mr. Saleri points out, only about 13% of all that oil is converted to usable form, with over two-thirds literally being wasted by inefficiency, poor design, and profilgate use, it’s shocking and maddening that no politician of any stripe since 9/11 has made any request of the American people or American business to help, by moderate sacrifice, to make the OPEC nations irrelevant when it comes to U.S. energy needs.
Finally, although we will need to extract and burn fossil fuels for some time to come, we should also vigorously pursue the development of biofuels, electric vehicles, high-efficiency energy processes and design, and 21st-century jobs in new energy and grid-building. Some of the biggest oil companies -- ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhilips, to name a few, are already pursuing these matters, because they’re well-positioned in terms of infrastructure and delivery to profit from some of these fundamental shifts in the future.
-- Doug Logan
Biofuel made from animal fat is high-quality energy, with an outstanding cetane value -- high enough to be refined into the aviation fuel mentioned in Tom Friedman's U.S.S. Prius column. Producing fuel from millions of pounds of animal fat and grease that would otherwise go to waste is sensible and responsible.
Here's a YouTube clip of the Dynamic Fuels/Tyson Foods Fat-to-Fuel Process.
And to go way back to 2007, here's a post describing the reaction of the National Biodiesel Board to Tyson's partnership with Conoco-Philips for the processing and delivery of animal-fat biofuel.
This article by Michael Butler of Cascadia Capital in RenewableEnergyWorld is a very good encapsulation of what has happened to the clean energy industry in the past few years -- feverish optimism and activity, followed by dashed hopes, malaise, and dejection linked to the economy, Republican obstructionism, and the inability of the Obama administration to get off the mark in the clean energy development race. But in the middle of all this, American business, big business in particular, has figured out how to tap into the essential enthusiasm of the movement, bring in the discipline of real business plans and real business development, and get cleats in the ground for the real, sustained push. This is a story that is likely to have a happy ending, even if some of the heroes who get the job done were not among the heroes who took to the field early.
Clean-Energy Rebirth Parallels to the Internet | Renewable Energy World.
-- Doug Logan
Here's a good article emphasizing the importance of efficiency, conservation, better thinking, better habits, better engineering. The emphasis is on top-down encouragement and decisiveness, which is what has to happen if things are to work on the necessary grand scale.
The quickest, most powerful, most cost-effective, and easiest-to-implement solutions to oil dependence are increased efficiency and increased conservation. Period. Absolutely bring on the alternative energy projects, but let's also run with what will work right now. It's up to the government to make these simple and effective solutions mandatory, and up to the rest of us to make them a positive part of the culture.
The Biodegradable Products Institute is a not-for-profit group whose members include "leading resin suppliers (such as BASF, Cargill Dow Polymers, DuPont and Novamont); biodegradable product manufacturers and distributors (such as BioBag Canada, BioGroup US, BIOTA Spring Water, BioSphere Industries, Farnell Packaging, NAT-UR Inc & Polargruppen A/S); governmental officials (Mass. Dept of Environmental Protection) and the scientific community (Ramani Narayan-Chairman of ASTM Subcommittee D20.96 on Environmentally Degradable Plastics)."
BPI has been leading the efforts to clarify use of the word "biodegradable," which has been abused by a multitude of companies in PR greenwashing campaigns. Often these companies just slap on a label with the word "biodegradable" with little or no research, and no adherence to any standard. But good scientific standards such as ASTM 6400 and ASTM 6868, do exist, and BPI leads the way in steering companies to these standards.
Even though biodegradability and composting are key concepts, BPI extols the even greater importance of recycling, reusing, and not overburdening landfills in the first place.
Slowing the transport speed of an 800-foot container ship from, say, 16 knots to 12 knots, serves two purposes. It saves money for the shipping company and the client, and it reduces carbon pollution by a significant amount. Here are two sources of information on the topic:
Slow Trip Across Sea Aids Profit and Environment (New York Times)
The same is true for vehicles on the highway. If we want to get serious about reducing demand for OPEC oil, the impact on the environment, and the impact on our wallets, we should consider slowing down a bit. It won't hurt anyone, and the benefits are immediate, tangible, and uncomplicated.
If enacted, cap and trade proposals to reduce carbon emissions will be, at best, difficult to regulate and enforce, and slow to take effect. At worst they are decent ideas that have been cynically co-opted and cleverly filled with loopholes and boondoggles by lobbyists to benefit their high-polluting clients and the financial giants behind them.
Even if cap and trade were legislated perfectly and followed honestly, it's a complicated a way to reduce demand for fossil fuels quickly. A simpler, better way would be the "fee and dividend" alternative explained by James Hansen in the New York Times. Hansen is head of the NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a controversial figure. As a climate scientist he first raised the alarm about global warming more than 20 years ago; as an activist he has been outspoken in his opposition to the vested industrial, financial, and political interests resisting calls for climate-change mitigation. He has been arrested for his efforts to disrupt coal mining, and has to some extent alienated himself from entrenched interests across the board -- both political parties, some environmental organizations who don't like a bull in their china shops, and of course the fossil-fuel industries and their backers.
But if we can't decide between cap-and-trade and a carbon tax, which even Lindsey Graham thinks is the solution, here's an idea -- let's do both.
About 10 percent of America's electricity now comes from recycled nuclear warheads, many of them from the former Soviet Union. In fact about 45 percent of the fuel used in American reactors comes from Soviet warheads, as opposed to about 6 percent from American weapons. The New York Times says that utility companies haven't said much about this Megatons to Megawatts program, which has been in existence for years, because they fear upsetting their customers.
Why would this upset people at even a fraction of the level they were, or should have been, when the warheads were warheads, pointed at them in earnest? This is a brilliant use of dangerous materials, a true swords-to-plowshares operation.
According to USEC, the company that does the processing, "The Megatons to Megawatts™ Program is a unique, commercially financed government-industry partnership in which bomb-grade uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads is being recycled into low enriched uranium (LEU) used to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants. USEC, as executive agent for the U.S. government, and Techsnabexport (TENEX), acting for the Russian government, implement this 20-year, $8 billion program at no cost to taxpayers."
So far, the program has processed and recycled fuel from the equivalent of 15,000 nuclear warheads.
The current US effort to dilute and recycle weapons-grade uranium into reactor fuel is small compared to Megatons to Megawatts, but there will soon be a plutonium recycling plant in South Carolina that, according to the Times, will produce enough reactor fuel to power a million homes for 50 years.
How will people in developing lands view the United States, and what will they do, or want to do, when famine spreads right across Africa, when farmlands are flooded, when tens or hundreds of thousands are displaced and become refugees? What threats will the spread of disease create? How will desperate people be co-opted into dangerous movements?
There are plenty of people who discuss and write about these topics for a living, but they tend to exist in think-tanks, occasionally producing papers and reports that are read by other people in think tanks and institutions that just don't seem to have any trumpets when it comes to sounding a real alarm. Here's an article posted in New Energy Watch almost two years ago outlining the position paper written by 11 retired admirals and generals, and put out by the CNA Corporation. Their bottom line: climate change is a serious threat multiplier.
The issue has finally made it to the front page of the New York Times.
Retired Marine general Anthony Zinni makes a simple assertion: We'll either pay now, economically, to deal with climate change, or we'll pay later with human lives.
If you're thinking of making structural changes in your home, or of building a new home, consider the concept of "embodied energy," meaning the total amount of energy required to finish the project and maintain it thereafter, including the energy that has gone into the fabrication of building materials, the energy required by the equipment to transport and install the materials, and of course the energy required to heat and cool the living spaces.
Embodied energy is expressed in Btu per pound, and provides a basis for comparison of all the various bits and pieces that make up dwellings and their contents.
Here's the Wikipedia entry on Embodied Energy.
As valuable as the concept of embodied energy is, it can also cause trouble and confusion, because it's not well standardized -- there are different ideas of which numbers can be used in a given situation. As a result, people on both sides of an energy issue can conjure up figures to support diametrically
opposed arguments and beliefs. For example, while you might include diesel tractor fuel as part of the embodied energy in a gallon of ethanol, would you also include the fuel in the farmworkers' cars when they drive to work? What about the food energy it takes to sustain the workers? The fight in and around the biofuels industry over ethanol and soy-diesel production has been bitter in this regard.
But don't let the confusion of self-interested feuds sour you on the concept of embodied energy. Maybe it's hard to take it into account when you go to the local building supply store to buy a few sheets of plywood or a can of paint, but if you're building a whole house, or adding a kitchen, or putting on a new roof, then it definitely pays to consider energy-efficient alternatives.
For more information, visit the U.S. Green Building Council.
~ Doug Logan, NewEnergyWatch
The energy in one gallon of gasoline equals:
Put in a value for any one element, and all the others will fall in line. Don't use commas.
(Thanks to www.unitconversion.org.)
Examples of Moves You Can Make:
1. I just put an insulation blanket around my electric hot-water heater. Estimated electrical savings are 5 percent. At 4700 kWh per year, savings would be about 235 kWh. 235 kWh = 6.47 gallons of gasoline.
2. I'm carpooling to work with my neighbor two days a week. This saves me about three gallons of gas a week (and completely eliminates two person/days of pollution). Three gallons of gas per week - 3.72 therms (1.24 x 3). That would be 182 therms per year (49 weeks x 3.72) or 3 barrels of oil. Wouldn't it be helpful if a few million more people did that every day?
3. I walk to my friend's house now instead of driving. It's about a mile each way. If I do that twice a week for a year, it's 4 miles x 50 weeks = 200 miles / 25 miles per gallon = 8 gallons of gasoline, or 992,000 Btu, or 9.92 therms.
4. In the example above, those walks to the friend's house also burn about 120 kilocalories per round-trip (that's for a 150-lb person; see the Soltrex Interactive Energy Calculator for kilowatt-hours, which you can then convert onward). So 120 kilocalories x 2 trips per week x 50 per year = 12,000 kilocalories. That's less than half a gallon of gasoline -- no wonder we're so addicted to petrofuel. On the other hand, 12,000 calories is about 4 pounds of fat.
5. Here's a combination example. Instead of using a leaf blower to clean up my yard this year, I used a rake. I saved a quart of gas and oil, or 31,000 Btu (124,000 Btu / 4), and I burned about 700 calories in two hours.
We recently received a letter from inventor Paul Lieb of Norton, Ohio, excerpted below. Readers familiar with the technical niceties of vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) design are invited to comment here or contact Paul directly at his website.
I would like opinions on the difficulties and the potential of my designs. I have not built any prototypes but I filed a provisional patent for a VAWT with 4 blades linked in pairs.
The first design example (below, top) will begin producing power at lower winds speeds by using the direct force (drag) of the wind hitting a large blade. The RPM will need to be controlled by a variable-draw generator so it can produce more power at high wind speeds, because if the wind speed is faster than the blade tip speed it is not efficient. These would be extremely efficient for their size. I hope these drawings provide the detail needed to understand its workings.
My second design (below, bottom) is one that will change automatically from the Savonius style above to the Darrieus style that is efficient at wind speeds that exceed the blade tip speed. It combines the functions of both high- and low-speed wind turbine designs.
Here are some options worthy of note:
Considering that prototyping and commercializing are expensive beyond my reach, I would be most pleased to work with a company or discuss licensing or sale of patent pending.
Here's a fine video about the risks of action or inaction on global warming, by a high-school science teacher named Craven. Message: It's not worth debating whether global warming exists or doesn't exist, or whether mankind has caused it or not caused it. It's only worth figuring out whether to take action. Craven's arguments and logic grid should allow everyone on both sides of the aisle to agree on the wisest course.
This is the kind of high-school science teacher we all need. And lest you think he's all ego, be aware that he put a strong first draft of this video online, knowing he would take his lumps in critiques, and soliciting those lumps so that he could refine his arguments. That's science, and logic, and passion. Spread the word. Here's the url:
Google and Specialized Bicycle Components are teaming up with a great contest called Innovate or Die. The idea is to promote and reward clever pedal-powered machines, both to spur technical innovation and to help take a bit of pressure off the fossil energy load. They're looking for "zero-emission inventions that transform human energy into unprecedented results and can help save our planet, one pedal stroke at a time."
The results will be shown on YouTube. Good on 'em.
We did a 12-volt pedal-power project a few years ago. The picture above shows the contraption we made, and here's an article from Practical Sailor called Seat of Power (PDF) that describes the whole deal. It worked just fine, but we can tell you that the most valuable thing this Google/Specialized contest can do will be to show people just how much energy it takes to get serious work done.
Humans are basically "geared low." At hard levels of exertion we can produce enough energy to light one or two light bulbs, but not for long. Even when we exert moderate energy for hours, we don't get much done compared to fossil fuel. If you're not pulling energy out of a wall socket or out of a combustion chamber, but pedaling your legs off to generate 100 watts or so for half an hour, you really begin to understand how valuable fossil fuels are, and suspect that maybe we shouldn't waste them. Even better, you can marvel at a wind turbine that produces 2.5 megawatts.
So, while this contest is entirely cool and worthy, it should be noted that the best thing you can use a bicycle for is transportation. Here it can make a really tremendous difference, because it amplifies the results of your caloric expenditure. Think of it this way: If you ride your bike 5 miles to work and 5 miles home, you burn maybe 400 calories on your commute, and get great exercise. If you take your 30-mpg Subaru, you do save some time, but you burn at least a third of a gallon of gasoline, which equals 41,334 Btu, or 10,416 calories -- a 26-fold increase in energy expended to get you to work and back.
To figure out useful energy conversions like this, see NEW's Gasoline Energy Equivalents and Conversion Calculator.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
This is a re-post of an essay put online here over two years ago, when the Bush administration was lame-duck and the Obama administration was a long-shot. Nothing much has changed.
A lot of the environmental "movement" is froth -- without form, and void. Information abounds, but individual activity does not. Preachers exhort the choir, and every day there are more non-profits, more media outlets, more bureaucracies spreading more information to those who already know enough to take action themselves, but would prefer to donate money to those who would take action for them. People who are inclined to lift a finger are already doing it.
Some education is always needed, but really, we've been inundated in recent years with greening and conservation tips. They're everywhere. Taking action doesn't require much deep understanding. It just takes getting up and doing something, whether it's changing a lightbulb, caulking a window, or correcting tire pressure. After initial action comes momentum. With momentum comes change.
It seems as if there are a fair number of people who get the picture and are active, and a somewhat larger number of people who just don't get it, or who actively thumb their noses at environmental responsibility. Then there's a really big middle group who sort of care, but don't get around to doing anything.
This big group in the middle is not going to move without a push. The time will never come when they'll get off their collective couch of ease merely to do the right thing, no matter how much education you throw at them. If they are to budge, it will take one or more of three things:
While it's impossible to be exact in predictions of hurricanes and wars, it's easy enough to predict the progress of politicians hammering out big, decisive laws at the risk of losing their jobs. It's rare, and it's slow. That's why the only real progress is being made through individual effort and private interest. There's no point in waiting for this government -- or, probably, the next -- to lead in the way FDR did with the New Deal, or Eisenhower with the interstate highways, or Kennedy with the space program. This bunch in Washington isn't up to the task.
Is there irony in the fact that some of the strongest leadership in conservation and alternative energy today is coming from big American corporations like Pepsico and Conoco Philips? Sure, but the people who run these companies can read the economic writing on the wall. There's profit to be made by an alignment with the environmental movement, and it's corporations that have the money, the technology, and the expertise to get things done on a large scale. Here's a huge list of the EPA's Green Power partners.
The environmental track record of big business is sketchy at best. When a big company turns around and does the right thing, it makes long-time, knee-jerk environmentalists cynical and skeptical. But, with exceptions, this is old-fashioned thinking. While some of the big corporate moves may be disingenuous, many are obviously not. Sheer altruism is hardly possible when money must be made, Wall Street convinced, and shareholders satisfied. But if the prospect of new technologies, new partnerships, new facilities, new jobs, and rapid growth are incentives for business to climb into a bed of green, the covers should be thrown back and the pillows fluffed.
~ Doug Logan, newenergywatch.com
Mies van der Rohe's architectural aesthetic was expressed by “Less is More.” Today's phrase, in light of the MacMansioning of America, should probably be “Enough is Enough.” But lest the concept suggest some sort of diminution or restriction or impoverishment, we need someone like Sarah Nettleton, an award-winning AIA architect, certified in the practices of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), to adjust the perspective. Her book is called The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough. What a great title.
For two decades or so, even in the face of post-9/11 oil urgencies and the acceleration of global warming, developers have overwhelmed the landscape with bloated starter-castles (much as Detroit has encouraged the blistering of our roads with Hummers and Escalades). Young couples and families have been brainwashed into buying these houses, often at sub-prime interest rates, and now look -- environmental and fiscal disaster. There's been an obvious disconnect, brought on by hyper-consumerism in America, between what people think they want, and what they might actually want if given half a chance to consider their priorities. The disconnect seems to cause a tremendous yawing, back and forth, between the urgent desire for more and the urgent need to hassle with less.
This is our rant, not Nettleton's. She's more graceful in trying to make the connection again, with chapters covering what she calls the Six Paths to Simplicity:
Of these, the first is paramount. Why do we allow clutter to overwhelm us? Why would we have a 5000-square-foot home when we rarely if ever use 3000 square feet of it? Why would we feel compelled to heat, light, clean, and insure so much unused space? It’s tough on the environment, tough on the bank account, and, inevitably, tough on the psyche. How can we get to a point, in architecture and in our own perceptions, where we can find luxury in what we need and can arrange properly, separate from what someone else might have?
Flexible, Thrifty, and Timeless tie into this. In a typical American house, for example, the kitchen serves as nerve center, sitting room, homework room -– you name it. If you were freed from the strictures of thinking you also needed a separate family room, study, living room, and dining room, you might be able to conceive a space flexible enough to serve your needs more efficiently and more pleasingly.
While there are plenty of books on the topics of simpler living and smaller homes, Nettleton's is distinguished by superior photographs, typical of the Taunton Press, that illuminate a refined and responsible architectural philosophy.
Here are excerpts from the book, published on Taunton's Fine Homebuilding site.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
In 1972, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth, a book that gave a tremendous boost to the environmental movement that had taken root in the '60s. It also shocked the business and political worlds, and caused an uproar in the scientific community with its computer modeling, its discussion of exponential versus geometric trends, and its positive and negative “feedback loops.”
Some of the assumptions of the computer modeling were mushy, some of the conclusions of the scientists were wrong (or at least not properly hedged), and some of the notions in the book have been either misunderstood or misstated by critics. But the basic structure of the computer model (called World3) and the premises of the book are as valuable today as they were 35 years ago: If we don’t curb our population, our industrial growth, our pollution, our demand for food production, and our assault on natural resources, we will reach a point where Earth can no longer support us. Well before then, the planet will cease to be a decent place to live.
This is all by way of posting an ad from the January 1978 issue of National Geographic. The ad is from ARCO (Atlantic Richfield) which is now owned by BP. The text says this:
Last night we got the bad news. I had this class assignment to monitor my family’s use of energy at home for a week. We got an F.
Tuesday night my brother watched the same two-hour movie on his TV set that we were watching in the living room. Not too smart. Thursday Mom ran an entire dishwashing cycle for three cups, two plates, a knife, and three little spoons. That’s a lot of electricity and hot water down the drain.
Dad drives twenty eight miles back and forth to work. Alone. When two men he works with live right nearby. They could carpool and save about a thousand gallons of gas a year. And me. I’m guilty too. I went out and left the radio blaring in my room all Saturday morning. Dummy. So last night at the dinner table we all agreed to do everything we could to conserve energy. Faster showers. Lower thermostats. Fuller cars. It’s a fact that this country’s using up energy faster than we produce it. I read where we may run out of oil – forever – in 30 years. Pretty scary. Unless every person in every house on every block does his part, the future looks pretty dim.
I’m getting more and more concerned about the future. Because that’s where I’m going to be.
What have we learned in 30 years, now with the putridly huge SUVs on the road, the MacMansions, the frantic habits of consumption, the corporate sleaze to cook the books to fake the worth to feed the greed, the mugging of the land, the straining of the sea, and the perfect plastic packaging?
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
In 2006, Texas became the leading wind power state in the country, just edging out California. According to the American Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2006 there was enough wind energy coming out of the Lone Star state (2370 megawatts) to power 600,000 American homes.
The people who ranch and farm and live in the plains of Texas north of Amarillo and south of the Oklahoma panhandle want wind turbines on their land so as to thwart the terrorists, do right by the environment, and make money -- all valid reasons in whatever order they come on a given day.
In 2007 we helped set up two meteorological towers in Texas. Here are a few photos. One shows a 60-meter (200') tower in the early stages of assembly; the next shows the tower rigged and almost ready for hoisting; the last shows the tower upright, before the guy wires are fully tuned.
Meteorological (MET) towers gather and log wind data at several levels, and are typically left in place for months, or even years, so that wind-power companies and investors can determine whether an area or a specific site will be good for wind energy. As someone on the crew said, working on these plains at the height of summer is like standing in front of a giant blow dryer.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Here's a resolution gradually adopted: No more buying battery-driven personal electronics -- digital cameras, tape recorders, Bluetooth headsets, radios, MP3 players, GPS receivers, whatever -- that won't run on rechargeable NiMH batteries, preferably AA, AAA, or 9-volt.
We made an initial commitment to rechargeable batteries about 15 years ago, but that phase only lasted a couple of years. They were lousy. Now they're improved enough to commit again. The good ones will run just as long as their alkaline cousins, and last for hundreds of charges. Unlike alkalines, which gradually fade to black, NiMH rechargeables seem to provide a steady current for a long time before falling into a hole. On the downside, they still lose their charge faster than disposable alkalines or lithiums, and you do have to top them up them every couple of months to make sure they're ready for action. Also, the quality of both batteries and chargers is inconsistent. We've had good and bad luck even with the same brand. We still keep some alkaline disposables around because it's good to be able to stick them into a camera for an important event without wondering about their state of charge, and also because there are still devices around that absolutely need the 1.5 volts of power that is the alkaline standard. NiMH batteries run at about 1.25 volts, but this is well within the operating range of most electronics.
There are two good reasons for making the switch to to rechargeables and putting up with the slight amount of bother it takes to keep track of their charge state. First, it will help eliminate a vast amount of heavy, relatively nasty waste. Second, it'll save you a ton of money. Here's the math:
1. Buy a 4-pack of Energizer e2 rechargeable NiMH batteries and their accompanying charger for, say $30. These batteries are rated at 2500 mAh (that's 2.5 Ah -- for a discussion of these things, see 12-Volt DC Basics). Without the charger, four of them cost about $13. Figure on being able to discharge and recharge those batteries about 500 times. So that's 1250 amp-hours for about $40 -- $30 for the charger and batteries, plus maybe $10 for the electricity used to recharge them.
2. We're not sure there are disposable alkaline batteries rated at 2500 mAh, but for current purposes let's say you went to batterymart.com and ordered 1250 amp-hours' worth of UltraLast disposable alkalines at 2000 mAh each. You'd have to buy 16 packs of 40 batteries at the extremely good price of $9.95 each to get those amp-hours. That's $160, not including shipping -- four times the cost of rechargeables.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
According to a New York Times article, there are about 90 farmers' markets across Connecticut, and a burgeoning of these markets all over the region and the country. In case you haven't been to one, the idea is simple: Farmers from around the locale or the region gather in pre-arranged places like fields or parking lots or town squares to sell their produce directly to the consumer. In Connecticut, quite a few of the farmers' markets are organized by a great outfit called CitySeed.
These photos were taken this summer at the market off Wooster Street in New Haven, where we usually shop for local produce and bread on Saturday mornings. We go for the food, and because we like the people. A case in point: The day these pictures were taken, someone dropped a glass bottle of farm-made chocolate milk on the sidewalk. Big bang. Within a few seconds there were a half-dozen passers-by stooped over to pick up the shards.
It's a great move to buy as much food as you can from a farmers' market. Here are four top reasons:
People who live in four-season climates often think that farmers' markets disappear after the pumpkins of Halloween are carved. Not so. You can still buy local apples, potatoes, turnips, winter squash, and other foods well into late fall. See this Crop Calendar from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture for a quick guide to what's growing when.
To find a farmers' market near you, check the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers' Market Map.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
We recently set up a clothesline again to dry the laundry. The components in our system are 150 feet of clothesline, a couple of spreaders, and some clothespins. Instead of the large aluminum or plastic gin pulleys normally used with "long-distance" lines, we substituted a couple of old Harken blocks with ball bearings from our trove of sailing gear. In that spirit we also use a rolling hitch to tighten the system. But there are ready-made line-tighteners that work fine, too.
An electric clothes dryer typically uses about 5000 watts. If you run the dryer for, say, three hours a week, that's 15 kilowatt-hours. Where we live, 15 kWh costs about $3.30. Multiplied by 52 weeks, it's over $170 a year just to dry the clothes. Better to do it for free and have the clothes fresher.
Of course, there are plenty of variations on the theme. You can dry on a shorter, multiple-line system, or an umbrella-style frame. You can dry indoors on a retractable line or rack. Et cetera. Here's a link to The Clothesline Shop. They seem to have just about anything you might need.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome recently followed his ban of plastic grocery bags with a ban on plastic-bottled water. No city funds can be spent on it, and no bottled water can be sold on city-owned property. City residents who sign an online pledge not to buy plastic-bottled water at stores can get a free stainless steel container from the city. Great move. Of course, Newsome has the support of a generally conscientious city. Elsewhere, it’s not always so easy. If you read outside the environmental choir loft, you'll always find people outraged about the interference of local governments and school boards in the public right to be provided at all times with the full free-market smorgasbord of consumer products, including the wasteful, cruddy, and unhealthy. Next, they may fear, San Francisco will levy a tax on cars sold inside city limits that don’t achieve a certain MPG. Then the city might enforce, say, litter laws with the same vigor seen in northern Virginia when it comes to speeders. Well, this is what laws are all about. If enough people and representatives vote for them, they get passed. The San Francisco ban on heinous, wasteful, idiotic plastics is both practical and symbolic, and it will cause no real discomfort.
Keep reusable bags in your car and take them into stores when you shop. Just get in the habit. If you forget, choose a paper bag, or maybe just carry the items out in your bare hands. If you run a store, how about banning plastic bags yourself? Just offer paper.
As for plastic water bottles, here’s part of what Newsome said in Newsweek:
Newsome: The transportation and distribution, developing the plastic for the water bottles, the cost of the water, has a huge environmental and economic impact. As a consequence of the prolific growth in bottled waters, we in the city feel we have a responsibility to address its cost and its environmental impact. We are looking to eliminate completely all of bottled water consumption supported by city money but also to begin an educational campaign to convey the real cost of bottled water, transported half way around the world. We are looking at a marketing campaign showing bottled water compared to a barrel of oil, that shows it takes far more energy to transport the water than the oil.
Newsweek: Representatives from the bottled-water industry say it’s unfair to single out their product. Thousands of food and beverage items come in plastic packaging, they point out—and consumers like having a healthy choice of water, instead of buying drinks containing sugar and calories.
Newsome: Yes, but the difference between bottled water and Diet Coke is that you can’t get Diet Coke from the tap. It’s not like any other bottled liquids. These people are making huge amounts of money selling God’s natural resources. Sorry, we’re not going to be part of it. Our water in San Francisco comes from the Hetch Hetchy [reservoir] and is some of the most pristine water on the planet. Our water is arguably cleaner than a vast majority of the bottled water sold as "pure."
Most of us in this country can get good drinking water from the tap. Those whose water is marginal can filter it, and those who absolutely have to buy it, can at least buy it in large, refillable containers. Newsweek also touched on another part of the problem -- the hundreds of brands of soft drinks, “sport” drinks, and juices sold in plastic bottles. No, you can’t get a Diet Coke or Pepsi out of the tap, so it becomes the responsibility of Coke and Pepsi to find less damaging ways to package their products, maybe someday in biodegradable plastic substitutes like those made by Novamont and Metabolix. Large-scale use of these materials by the soda giants would have a huge positive impact.
Better in the long run, though, is the one-person-one-bottle model. Find a reusable container that you like, and keep it by your side. Stainless steel, plastic, Styrofoam, whatever. Sure, you still might have to buy something in a disposable cup or bottle once in a while, but think what would happen if millions of people cut their disposable container purchases by, say, 80 percent.
Shown here is an assortment of drink powders surrounding a Rubbermaid "chug-mug" with a 20-oz. (600 ml.) capacity. Some of these flavors are pretty good (no worse than Coke or Pepsi or Gatorade or any of the various things we swill all the time; in fact Propel is basically powdered Gatorade), but more to the point, the waste-per-drink is limited to a tiny foil packet.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose in the environment. Where we live, these things litter the streets, overflow public trash cans, and clog the storm drains. When it rains, they get flushed out the drains to Long Island Sound, along with all manner of other plastic litter. Same thing when the wind blows -- someone’s lazy about stuffing a plastic shopping bag into a garbage can and pretty soon the bag is sailing out over the water.
Listed below are a bunch of items commonly found in the world’s waterways and oceans. The list comes from the Pocket Guide to Marine Debris, a booklet originally published back in 1993 by The Ocean Conservancy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The top two debris items collected worldwide from 1996 to 2000 were cigarette butts (6,373,283), and food bags and wrappers (3,053,561).
In Long Island Sound these days, bags and butts are accompanied big-time by plastic bottles and balloons, particularly the hateful shiny Mylar kind. When we go out in the boat, we don’t fish for fish, we fish for trash. The Mylar balloons are a good challenge, because they skim along the surface. We net ‘em or harpoon ‘em with a boathook.
Time it takes garbage to decompose in the environment:
The other day we were coming down the Branford River and saw a white plastic shopping bag floating in the middle of the channel. We swung by and my daughter scooped it up in a net. Inside were two good-looking harbor bluefish. Someone had caught them, put them in the bag, and then lost the bag overboard. A shame, inside and out. We returned the fish to the river for the gulls and crabs to eat, and put the bag in the big trash barrel we keep in the boat for our catches.
There are plenty of good non-profit, volunteer organizations that try their best to monitor and maintain the country’s waterways and coastlines. In our area, one of the best is soundkeeper.org. If you look at their links page, you can probably find a like-minded group to support in your area. But the most important thing we can all do is just stop and pick up the trash when we see it, especially when it collects in storm drain grates.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
If you want to save the world from global warming and help your own bank account in the process, there’s no better way to do it than through conservation. It doesn't matter how many MPG your car gets -- you can’t do better than leaving it parked and taking public transportation or riding a bike. It’s good if you’ve switched to compact fluorescent lamps for half of your lighting, but it’s better if you just leave off every light that you’re not using (giving yourself a bit of leeway for cheeriness).
Until you get used to the habits of conservation, the practice isn't very exciting. Even then a lot of us feel the need to quantify what we’re doing and see the tangible results of our efforts. Thus, gadgets like the Blueline PowerMonitor come in handy.
It can also be fun to take a hands-on approach, tapping into wind power, solar energy, water power, and so on. One of the best reasons to get involved is that it gives you direct understanding of how much energy it takes to accomplish things, and one of the most direct paths to that understanding is through 12-volt power systems. Yes, the 12-volt world can get technical and complicated, but the basics of DC volts, amps, watts, and ohms are fairly simple. Once you get a grip on these things, you'll view the uses and misuses of energy in a different light.
Can you get involved with 12-volt power enough to make a positive difference, have fun, and see the results of your efforts, without incurring much expense? Absolutely, and you’ll be following the well-traveled path of thousands of boaters and RVers who rely on 12-volt DC electrical systems to do much more than manage engines and instruments. Check out the other posts on 12-volt power here, and make this a conversation by posting your comments and ideas.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
There are some great statistics about the amount of energy we could harvest from the sun if we were able to harness solar power efficiently and on a wide-scale basis. As the National Renewable Energy Lab reports, “Every day, more energy falls on the
Solar power is clean, quiet, and surprisingly inexpensive after clean-energy rebates have been reaped and the remaining cost of equipment has been amortized. A lot of us aren’t in a position, either physically or financially, where we can do much with solar power. On the other hand, a lot of us are perfectly solar-capable, but the notion of “going solar” is daunting in terms of research, paperwork, initial investment, construction hassles, and so on. So we do nothing.
Well, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can get involved in solar energy in a meaningful way for about $300. In other posts we describe deep-cycle batteries that store energy derived from the sun, and inverters that turn 12-volt DC power into AC.
The heart of the system is the solar panel. For less than $150 you can get a small, plug-and-play panel with an output of 15-18 watts, giving a current flow of a bit over one ampere (at 12 volts). With a decent amount of sunlight, that’s enough to keep a 12-volt deep-cycle battery topped up between regular discharges of, say, 8 to 10 amp-hours. At least that’s been our experience over about eight years of experimentation with just such a system. See our 12-Volt Basics post for more information on watts, volts, and amps.
With that amount of replenishment available, you can do a host of small electrical chores, including running lights, making your morning coffee, and recharging power tools and hand-held vacuum cleaners. This accomplishes two things. First, it gets you familiar with solar energy combined with 12-volt DC power. Second, it takes a fraction of the load off the power grid. When millions of people contribute a bit, day after day, big things happen.
For solid information on how photovoltaics work, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Photovoltaics Basics page.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
For a review of a small panel we can recommend, see Product Review: ICP Sunsei Solarcharger 1200.
With a few bits and pieces -- a battery, a solar panel and charge controller, and either a 12-volt socket (cigarette lighter adaptor) or an inverter to change DC power into AC -- you can get involved with solar energy in a basic, inexpensive way, and gather enough energy from the sun to power quite a few small appliances, as well as recharge batteries that run everything from vacuum cleaners to power drills and flashlights.
Every watt of energy saved helps break our disgraceful dependence on OPEC (for a quarter to a fifth of our daily oil needs). What helps the most is developing the habit of looking for ways to conserve, and using alternative sources of power whenever possible. Running most of your handheld power tools on energy gathered from the sun is a great way to start. And it’s fun.
Most of us who run boats and RVs, and who tinker a bit under the hoods of our cars, are familiar with 12-volt batteries, at least the type used to start engines, as opposed to deep-cycle 12-volt batteries, which are designed and built somewhat differently, and for different purposes. If you’re new to 12-volt systems, read 12-Volt DC Basics, then 12-Volt Safety Issues. After that, if you’re interested in getting involved, read more fundamentals in the other posts in our 12-Volt Power category. If you're not a tinkerer, and would prefer to jump into solar power with both feet, consult www.findsolar.com for professional installers in your area.
Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
DC means Direct Current. It's the kind of electrical current produced by batteries. 12-volt DC batteries are the kind found in cars, trucks, RVs, and boats.
AC means Alternating Current, the kind of electrical current found in wall sockets in buildings.
In buildings, we can replace any amount of AC electricity, from a small fraction to 100 percent, with energy collected by solar panels and stored in 12-volt DC batteries. Direct current from the batteries can be changed to AC by means of an inverter, or it can be used directly to run equipment designed for DC; for example, a car vacuum that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket.
On this website we talk about very basic 12-volt concepts and systems. If you would like to replace a bit of your AC requirement with energy derived from the sun -- get your toe in the water for a minimal investment -- this will be a good place to start. If you'd like to get involved with solar energy in a serious way, try www.findsolar.com.
Now, on to more basics. Note that these are utterly rudimentary definitions. There's much more to know, but you don't need to know much more in order to get involved.
Voltage/Volts = the amount of potential energy available to push electrical current. Think of it as pressure in a water system. For a battery-powered system, think of a water tower with a big tank on top. It's drained by gravity, and the way water flows out of it depends on the diameter of the pipe, the length of the pipe, and the weight of the water in the tank at any given time.
Amperage/Amps = the flow of electrical current through conductors like wires. Think of it as the amount of water current flowing through a pipe.
Wattage/Watts = the amount of energy expended, or used. Think of it as the water that fills a glass (a few watts) or a swimming pool (lots of watts).
Ampere-hours (Ah) = the current in amperes multiplied by the amount of time it flows. Deep-cycle batteries, the kind used for solar-power storage, have ampere-hour capacity ratings that give a general idea of how many amps can be drawn from the battery for how long. In a perfect world, a battery rated for 90 amp-hours would be able to give you 90 amps for one hour, 45 amps for two hours, one amp for 90 hours, and so on. In reality, you can and would use only a portion of those amp-hours before the battery should be charged again.
Ohm = a measure of resistance in a wire or other conductor. Resistance is determined both by the wire's length and its thickness, or gauge. The thicker the wire, the more easily current will flow through it. In a
simple 12-volt solar panel arrangement, resistance can exist between the solar panel and the battery, and between the battery and whatever it's supplying power to. Resistance always creates heat, and the greater the resistance, the more heat. Try to put too much current through too small a wire, and you can create enough resistance to start melting things and causing fires. This can happen even in a simple 12-volt system, so always use common sense and generous wire gauges. See 12-Volt Safety for more.
Now, here are some of the easiest equations you'll ever have to use:
If you read the owner's manual for any electrical appliance, or the stamped electrical infomation on the appliance itself, you can usually discover what it needs for energy input and how much energy it uses. Then it's a matter of arithmetic to find out if your 12-volt system can handle the task. Bear in mind, though, that sometimes there's more to the story than simple volts, amps, watts, and ohms. For example, an inexpensive automotive-grade DC-to-AC inverter can be used for a myriad of tasks that are electrically simple, like running an incandescent light bulb, but some appliances that are sensitive to interference, like TVs, often need to be run through a better, more expensive inverter.
For starters, we'd recommend one of the simpler inverters. A 400-watt model from an auto-parts store or online retailer will cost about $35. If you find that you need a more sophisticated inverter later, you won't have too much of an investment in the simpler ones. See our Inverters section for more detailed information.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Working with 12-volt systems is easy, and relatively safe, compared to 120-volt AC. You can create 12-volt potential by linking together just eight 1.5-volt flashlight batteries – AA, C, or D (1.5 x 8 = 12). The danger of shock is minimal. But 12-volt systems are far from benign, for several reasons.
First, even if a 12-volt battery can’t give you a significant direct shock, it can deliver a whopping big discharge of current. That’s how a 12-volt battery can run a starter motor to get cars and trucks running. That discharge of current can be violent, as you’ve noticed if you’ve managed to bridge the the terminals with a wrench or a wire. If you have a metal watch strap or a ring on, and that metal becomes part of the short circuit, you can get hurt. If you’ve used jumper cables, you’ve probably seen a good-sized spark as a clamp comes in contact with a terminal. So be alert to the danger of short circuits and sparking.
Second, when you produce a spark in the wrong environment, you can cause an explosion. Batteries produce hydrogen and oxygen when they’re charging -- no problem if the battery is well-ventilated, but a potentially explosive mixture if the battery is in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space or container.
Third, inadequate wiring, unfused wires, poor connections, and corrosion can cause electrical fires, which in turn can catch other flammable material like cloth or paper on fire. If you get involved in a simple solar project with a 12-volt battery, follow the instructions, use big enough wire with short enough wiring runs; use fuses where necessary, and never run wiring under a rug or through any flammable material.
Fourth, the liquid electrolyte in flooded-cell batteries is mostly sulfuric acid, which will eat your clothes and burn your skin, and can blind you if you get it in your eyes. When inspecting and testing the flooded cells in your battery, wear glasses or other eye protection. Wear rubber gloves. When you pry off the cell covers with a flat-bladed screwdriver, do it gently and carefully, and make sure the battery is on a stable surface. If you do get electrolyte on you, rinse thoroughly with fresh water.
These warnings aren't meant to scare you off -- far from it. As we said at the top, working with 12-volt batteries is relatively safe, but you must read the directions, use common sense, and be alert. That's a pretty good combination of habits for any project.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
We're all familiar with the kind of 12-volt batteries that start vehicles and are then charged by the alternator when the vehicle is running. These starting batteries are designed to deliver a lot of amps -- a very powerful current -- in a short time. Deep-cycle batteries can perform starting duties, too, but they're built with thicker plates that are designed to withstand numerous cycles of deep discharging and charging. They're more expensive than starting batteries, but, properly cared for, last for years of service.
Deep-cycle batteries like the one pictured here are available in three basic types -- flooded, gel-cell, and absorbed glass mat (AGM). Each type has its advantages, but for the simple purposes we're discussing here, we'd recommend plain old flooded-cell batteries. These are less expensive and more forgiving of charging foibles than the others kinds, and they work just as well -- again, given periodic inspection and maintenance. See 12-Volt DC Basics for a bit more information on amps and amp-hour ratings.
We hesitate to recommend an online purchase of deep-cycle 12-volt batteries, for a few reasons. First, they do have a shelf life. All else being equal, a battery that was manufactured six months ago will be healthier and last longer than one made 18 months ago. Second, shippers and handers have been known to leave shipments in freezing or very hot conditions for long periods before before delivery to the store. Third, the suckers are heavy and expensive to ship. Save the UPS guy's back and make sure you get a good battery by going to the store yourself.
Check the date of manufacture, check the battery's standing voltage, and if possible have the storekeeper apply a load test to it. If it passes with flying colors, as is likely, then all you have to do is check the condition of the cells once in a while (wearing eye protection), and add a bit of distilled water if necessary.
Deep-cycle batteries are available at all sorts of hardware and department stores, as well as places that supply RV-ers and boaters.
Inverters change DC current from a battery into AC current that can be used to power any light or appliance that demands no more than the rated wattage of the inverter. Small inverters have one or two grounded receptacles and can plug into a cigarette lighter socket. Larger ones have two or more receptacles and need to be clamped directly to the battery terminals. Inverters almost always have cooling fans, and demand a portion of the battery’s power for their own operations. This is why it’s always more efficient to use 12-volt appliances, or take DC power directly from the battery. Nevertheless, inverters let us run all sorts of gear and gizmos.
There are three levels of sophistication in inverters, according to the shape of the electrical wave form they deliver. The highest level is the true sine wave inverter, which will power pretty much anything that runs on AC without interference, interruption, or trouble. These are the most expensive inverters. At the other end of the scale are inverters that put out a “square” wave form. These can cause interference in some sensitive appliances like TVs and other receivers, and devices with rheostats/dimmers, but are fine for incandescent lights, pumps, and other “dumb” equipment. In the middle are “modified sine wave” inverters, which can often bridge the gap in wave form performance. Most inverters on the market today are modified sine wave models, and true sine wave models are coming down in price.
An inverter’s rated wattage should probably be matched to a battery’s amp-hour rating. Some experts say that a ratio of about 5:1 is best – so for a battery rated at 100 amp-hours, don’t use an inverter rated above 500 watts. A good combination of common elements would be a 90-Ah deep-cycle battery and a 400-watt inverter.
For the projects we’re covering here, we'd recommend a simple, modified sine-wave or square wave inverter. A 400-watt model from an auto-parts store or online retailer will cost about $35, and in most cases will run everything from a light to a TV. If it turns out later that you need a more sophisticated inverter, you won't have too much invested already.
Finally, the top brass are coming together to point out the relationship of the environment and terrorism: Increasingly, the effects of global warming will be droughts, floods, famine, and disease. The hardest-hit areas will be poor and unprepared. Meanwhile, the United States is, at least for now, the biggest single contributor to global warming. It doesn't take much of an intellectual leap to know where the blame will lie. Global warming, pollution, water crises, and the perception of an unfair balance of resources will promote even more desperate behavior in the countries and areas now spawning religious desperados. A paper co-authored by a group of 11 retired generals and admirals was recently put out by the CNA Corportation, a think-tank in Alexandria, VA. It's called National Security and the Threat of Climate Change" and is vital reading. Here's a take-away sentence:
"Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world."
All of us have to keep hammering this point: Global warming and energy independence are national security issues. See the following links on this site for more:
RE:NEW (why this site is here, and what we're trying to do)
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
As a follow-up to the post below, here's a link to a valuable paper called Nexus: Oil and Al Qaeda by Frank H. Denton, PhD., hosted at www.americanenergyindependence.com. The people who run this site are well-informed and committed in an ideologically hard-nosed way to the right causes. Take an hour and dig into some of the extensive material on this site supporting the stone-hard fact that energy independence is a national security matter of the highest priority.
The purpose of NewEnergyWatch.com is to get to the practical matters of environmental responsibility, conservation, and green energy products. We do that by making connections, soliciting ideas and comments that can be shared, and helping people relate their power-consumption habits to real quantities of fuel used and money spent. However, it's really impossible to divorce the topic of national energy use from the policies and politics that determine what Americans can or can't do, or will or won't do about energy.
I have never believed that the U.S. went into Iraq for oil. But the Bush administration's blind allegiance to "natural market forces," hands-off government, and outsourcing has inevitably opened the door for corporate exploitation of Iraq's oil resources, while doing nothing to curb domestic gluttony and encourage a bit of discipline. The result, once again, is that the U.S. looks corrupt and malevolent, where there was, I think, no original evil intent. Just old-fashioned ignorance, and ineptitude.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
This is a great tip from the Greening Committee of St. Thomas's Day School in New Haven, CT:
By not using the dry cycle in your dishwasher, you save both energy and cash. Save 15-50% of dishwasher energy usage and as much as $25 per year on your electricity bill.
If you run your dishwasher in the evening, the dishes will air-dry by the morning. Ditto if you run the
dishwasher in the morning and empty it in the afternoon.
If you find they are still unacceptably wet, open the dishwasher door slightly after the cycle is finished or prop the door ajar by pulling the top rack out just a tad.
If you have to empty the dishwasher immediately after running it, put a dish towel on your countertop adjacent to the dishwasher. Place wet items on the towel to sop up any remaining water before putting dishes away.
If 10,000 people do not use their dishwashers' drying cycle, in one year the CO2 averted will have the effect of planting 3,343 trees. Think about that!
To add one more item to that, a folding wooden dish rack sitting atop that towel or on drain sheet is hard to beat as a drying tool for a few dishes at a time. It seems almost absurd to have to point that out. People have been using such dish racks for centuries, and many of us still do. But there are also plenty of people who think nothing of running a full dishwasher cycle to deal with a few items from the breakfast table. Those items could be cleaned easily with a drop of dish soap and a quart or two of water, and left in the rack to dry.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
This week's question over at Chevron's willyoujoinus.com is "Can biofuels play a more significant role in the world's portfolio of energy resources?" It's a bit too broad a question, and of course the quick answer is yes. Attached to that simple answer are all sorts of caveats and provisos, and this would be true for all alternative energy sources -- none can be the only source, or even the main source, and all have pros and cons. What's a bit disappointing is that when any alternative source is discussed on its own, a lot of people who prefer other sources, or maybe have vested interests in them, jump on the singled-out source and play up its disadvantages, as if, because it has a downside, it should be dismissed. There ain't no magic bullet here. As long as an alternative source is energy-positive and not economically foolish (as some could be if they were, say, subsidized by the government to exclusion of others) then it should be welcomed. Enough with the gloomy choruses.
Here's what newenergywatch sent to willyoujoinus:
Biofuels can and will play a more significant role, but it's probably not good policy to assume they can do more than a modest fraction of the job. Unless we come up with some sort of agrarian breakthrough, we simply can't grow enough corn, soy, rapeseed/canola, sawgrass, algae, or anything else to make up for more than a small portion of the massive volumes of fossil fuels we consume. That's not to say we shouldn't be solidly behind biofuel development and promotion, whether it contributes two percent or twenty percent to our energy supply. That biofuel percentage must be combined with contributions from solar, wind, and hydro power, and, most importantly, reductions of demand through conservation. In my opinion, the magic number will be when, with a combination of alternative energy sources and conservation, we eclipse the need to import oil, particularly OPEC oil, which accounts for about 5.6 million barrels of the almost 21 million barrels we burn every day. The present need to buy oil from people who can and do use the proceeds to wage war against us is infuriating and unacceptable.
I'm a firm believer in biodiesel. I have no hands-on experience with the home-brew kind (used vegetable oil from fast-food restaurants, rendered animal fats, etc.), but I buy certified 100-percent soy diesel (B100) from a local distributor and hand-blend it in a 20-percent mixture (B20) for my wife's VW and a 50- to 70-percent mixture for a small diesel powerboat we use for pleasure and to test boat gear in the summertime. (By the way, there should, for now, be a steep tax on pleasureboat fuel, with proceeds used for alternative fuel development -- and I speak as one who has made most of his living in the boat industry.)
One promising bit of biofuel news I've seen recently has been the development of a working system to draw CO2 emissions from powerplant stacks, then use the CO2 to feed a fast-growing breed of algae whose oil and starch compositions can then be broken down into biodiesel and ethanol (GreenFuel Technologies). Whether this process will be the breakthrough needed to produce large amounts of fuel, who knows? Algae has been a promising feedstock for biofuels because it grows so quickly and so much of its composition can be put to use. The same applies to cellulosic ethanol: It's good to be able to use the cellulose biomass -- the husks and stalks and cobs of the corn -- along with the starch from the kernels, to make fuel.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
This is a recent e-mail from "ECVL":
"Here is my high tech energy saving device: wooden drying racks. I put them in the basement next to the furnace. I still put towels and underwear in the dryer, but the dark wash gets hung up.
We've lived in this house for 10 years. I do wash every day, but alternate dark and white wash each day. Ain't it exciting! At 40 cents per load, that is .40 x 182.5 days, or $73. After all these years, the savings equal the cost of our new energy- efficient front-loading washer, which uses very little water. Less water to heat if I wash on warm, so more savings!
Newer houses have laundry rooms upstairs where there's no place to hang clothes to dry. Everything has to go into the dryer. Boo, Hiss.Put the washer next to the furnace! You can exercise by taking
clothes up and down the stairs. Then you don't need a stair master or to drive to the gym! More savings!"
Editor's note: You can expect an electric clothes dryer to run at about 5000 watts. If a cycle is about 45 minutes, that's 0.75 hours. So the arithmetic would go like this: 5000 x .75 x 182.5 (days) = 684,375 watt-hours, or 684.375 kilowatt-hours, or 23.35 therms. Excellent!
Robert Webb, CEO of XCO2, kindly responded to some of the earlier discussion about his company's wind turbine, the Quietrevolution. His response to Henry duPont's comment that vertical-axis turbines are less efficient than horizontal-axis machines:
"It is not true that HAWTs are inherently more efficient than VAWTs. There are good aerodynamic studies showing the efficiency is similar in theory. The issue is simply that to date vastly more has been spent on developing HAWTs.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Karen Joslin, a friend and realtor in Philadelphia, just sent information about a company in her fair city called Roofscapes, Inc. They have a product, or maybe it's a concept and a devotion that ends up as a product, called the Roofmeadow.
This goes way beyond the roof gardens that a lot of city dwellers plant to remind themselves of the outdoors. It's a serious commitment for urban roofs, with positive effects that go beyond the building. A Roofmeadow is just about what it sounds like.
Here are some key points about the Roofmeadow, from the FAQ file on the Roofscapes website:
Green roofs provide many ecological and aesthetic benefits, including:
• Controlling stormwater runoff, erosion and pollution,
• Improving water quality,
• Mitigating urban heat-island effects, cooling and cleaning the air,
• More than doubling the service life of the roof,
• Conserving energy,
• Reducing sound reflection and transmission,
• Creating wildlife habitat, and
• Improving the aesthetic environment in both work and home settings.
Thanks, Karen, and keep 'em coming.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Henry duPont of Lorax Energy Systems in Block Island, Rhode Island, dropped by electronically to enlighten us on the matter of vertical versus horizontal axis wind turbines (VAWT versus HAWT).
Henry says the advantages of the VAWT configuration (like the Quietrevolution elsewhere in the Wind Power section ) are that the generator and gearbox can be housed on the ground, and even some distance away from that turbine; and that a VAWT is omnidirectional and requires no yaw mechanism.
Henry says the advantages of the VAWT configuration (like the Quietrevolution elsewhere in the Wind Power section ) are that the generator and gearbox can be housed on the ground, and even some distance away from that turbine; and that a VAWT is omnidirectional and requires no yaw mechanism.
The disadvantages of typical VAWT systems are that they usually operate near the ground where there's not much wind; they produce wavy (sinusoidal) power pulses to drive mechanism; they don't start themselves in a breeze; and repair of the main bearing usually means having to take the whole machine apart. (The Quietrevolution appears to solve at least the first problem by being mount ed on a tower.) Most importantly, the VAWT is typically about 40% less efficient than the HAWT in energy production. According to Henry, you would need a VAWT almost twice the size of a HAWT to get the same amount of juice.
The main advantage of the HAWT is the increased efficiency in power production, and the smooth transfer of that power from the rotor to the gearbox. HAWTs are also generally mounted on taller towers, where they have exposure to higher wind velocities and present smaller footprints on the ground. However, they require tall cranes for set-up; they require a yaw system; and any maintenance required has to be done at the top of a tower. The photo here shows Henry duPont's colleague Kim Granbery at altitude during the installation of a new HAWT above the Western desert.
Hot and cold running water is a relatively new luxury, and of course it's still available only to those living in 'civilized' places. In the United States most of us can simply turn a tap and have cold fresh water instantly, and hot fresh water in a matter of moments. No walking out to the river or pond or well with jugs to carry back on head or shoulders, and no frequent worries about supplies or basic purity.
In most locales, water is cheap -- really cheap. Where we are in Connecticut, the basic rate as of summer 2010 is $2.78 for 100 cubic feet of water. That's 748 gallons of water at less than half a penny per gallon. (Makes you think twice about buying a gallon of water in a plastic jug for $1.00 at the grocery store. That's quite a mark-up, and a plastic jug to recycle, too. For designer-brand water you can pay a 1000% mark-up.)
What if tap water were, say, 25 cents a gallon? Filling a kettle would cost about 20 cents. A good shower would cost about $1.50. You'd think twice about watering your lawn if it didn't actually need it. You might even decide you didn't need a chemically fertilized, perfectly green, maniacally tended yard.
But water is very, very cheap. So what do we do? We let it run down the drain. We take long, luxurious showers. We use two and a half gallons of water to flush away half a pint of pee. We let leaky faucets and valves drip for days, weeks, months. We water lawns that need no watering. We wash cars that need no washing.
The fresh-water issue can't be considered separately from other conservation and environmental concerns. Already, water is in critically short supply in some areas of the world, and in parts of the United States.
We have a morning ritual in our house that might seem strange or inconvenient. It is, in fact, a little of both if you've never lived on a boat or in a camper or in any place where fresh water isn't a given. We keep a quart container by the bathroom sink. When we open the hot-water tap in the morning, the first gallon of water runs cold. So we catch that cold water in the container. The first quart is for tooth-brushing and sink-rinsing. The last three go into the toilet tank as it refills after the morning flush, taking the place of water that would have to be piped in.
We save 300 gallons a year in that one bathroom. That's about 40 cubic feet -- just a little over a dollar's worth of water where we live, but quite a lot of water in reality -- enough to supply a family of four for drinking and basic washing for two weeks. Multiply those savings by a few thousand families, and it can make a difference in the local water supply overall.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
I recently went to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, with some biodiesel experts, including Gus Kellogg of Greenleaf Biofuels, to meet with Andy Foley, an engineering professor at the academy who is running several renewable-resource projects with cadets. We went for a ride on an out-of-service Coast Guard 41-foot patrol boat (the original 41, according to Foley). The port engine was running a mixture of 20-percent biodiesel (B20), and the starboard engine was running straight diesel. This photo, taken after the engines had warmed up for about five minutes, tells the story. And that's only a B20 ratio.
An interesting sidelight was that the B20 had been stored in an outside tank at the academy for over a year, and analysis of the B20 compared with straight petrodiesel stored for a similar time showed no degradation compared to straight petrodiesel. Because straight biodiesel (B100) is known to have a shelf life of about six months in temperate climates, Foley's research suggests that cutting biodiesel by 20 percent with petrodiesel effectively preserves it and maintains its "potency."~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Big wind turbines are sprouting up and tying into utility grids all over the country. More power to 'em. As for small wind turbines that are used to charge DC battery banks, we've seen a lot of them at work on sailboats, but only a few used on home sites or jury-rigged on parked RVs.
Success of a small turbine for home use depends on how hard the wind blows in your area year-round, whether you're sited well enough to take advantage of the wind, whether you can mount the thing in a place where the noise won't bother you and the neighbors, and how interested you are in making batteries and DC power part of your life.
Here's the U.S. Department of Energy's page on wind power: Wind Energy Technologies.
One of the most common small turbines is the 400-watt Air-X, made by Southwest Windpower. In fact, the company says it's "by far the world's number one selling small wind turbine." The Air-X starts producing current at 8 mph. of windspeed. It's a bit hard to read the power curve on the PDF spec sheet, but it looks like it produces 5-6 amps at about 15 mph.
Small, fast-turning turbines like this are, to my ear, pretty noisy when the wind pipes up. But noise is a subjective thing, and much depends on where the thing is located.
There are plenty of competitors. If the expertise of the dealer is an indication of a good product, then the KISS High Output Wind Generator deserves a look. It's made in Trinidad and and distributed in North America by John Gambill of Hotwire Enterprises. The KISS is engineered to work well at relatively low windspeeds. For example, it kicks in at at about 6 mph. and produces about 4.5 amps of current in 10 knots (11.5 mph) of wind, and 10 amps at 15 knots (17.3 mph.)
If you're more serious and you have some elbow room, you can take advantage of the larger stand-alone wind turbines, like those made by Bergey Windpower Company.
If you have experience with stand-alone wind turbines, click the "Comments" link below and fan the knowledge.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Here's a nice program that we should encourage in all of our schools:
According to that site, "It has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school."
The idea is to send food in reusable plastic containers, send stainless steel utensils that need to be returned home, don't used pre-packaged food bars, yogurt, drinks, and so on.
This is a tough one to implement every day. We've tried it in our house many times over the years with our kids, and the press of life has often made us resort to throw-away sandwich bags (usually waxed paper), boxed milk and juice, and even plastic utensils once in a while. Juice boxes are brought home for recycling, but far as this program is concerned, we have an "adherence" rate of maybe 70 percent.
Two points: First, reducing waste doesn't have to be all or nothing. Maybe we can't save 67 pounds comfortably, but saving 47 pounds per kid isn't so bad. Second, conservation almost always beats technological innovation. You can have the smartest, most efficient light bulb in the world, but it can't do better than being off.
Let us know some of your favorite conservation and recycling tips.~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch
Incandescent lights are notorious energy hogs, especially when they're left running unnecessarily. They use a lot of power to produce relatively little light, and make heat in the bargain. We should replace as many of them as we can with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) , which use 75-80 percent less power and last up to 13 times longer (according to Westinghouse), create very little heat, and provide a warm light -- not as warm as incandescents, but better than LEDs.
We have a small house that doesn't get much direct sunlight any time of year. We run CFLs in places that are used constantly -- over the kitchen sink, over the dining room / homework / project / sit-around table, and at the bottom of the stairwell. We've found that they don't work as well in places where you need a bright light right away, for instance in the entryway, where we need to be able to see into the coat closet as we're rushing out, and don't have time to wait for a CFL to warm up. In this case we use a regular 100-watt incandescent, but only run it for 30 seconds or so.
So, is it bad to run a light for only a short period?
Common wisdom says that you shouldn't turn incandescent lights on and off all the time, because the thermal cycling weakens their filaments prematurely. While this is inevitably true, the damage is not very significant in the context of the cost and normal lifespan of the bulb. The reduced energy cost when the bulb is off trumps the cost of any small percentage of bulb longevity lost.
What about CFLs -- do we shorten their lives by turning them an and off too often? The answer is yes, they do need to be allowed to warm up. If you turn them off and on repeatedly before they can warm up properly, they're going to expire faster than they normally would. If you won't need a CFL for more than 15-20 minutes, turn it off. If you'll be back sooner, leave it on.
Here's what looks to me like the absolutely skinny on this mythology from Lighting Design Lab.
GE Consumer and Industrial Lighting, also has a good FAQ file on compact fluorescent (CFL) technology.
What's your experience, pro and con, with CFLs versus incandescents and other types of lighting?~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch