Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category

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What would it take to eliminate imported oil?

November 8, 2008

I was talking with my neighbor about potential increases in gas tax and her initial reaction was a strong “oh no!  That would be horrible for the economy.”  I pointed out that we’re importing 70% of our oil (ref: T. Boone Pickens & Hot, Flat & Crowded) and that means huge amounts of our currency is leaving the US and going to hostile countries.  I was impressed with how much that single point resonated with her.  Just that one item and her attitude completely changed into maybe gas taxes that discouraged use and kept $$ in the US would be a good thing for the economy.

So I started thinking about what life with 80% less* gas would look like for typical American consumers.  We would have to:

  • Work from home 4 days a week (1 vs 5 = 80% saved)
  • Carpool with 4 other people (1 vs 5 = 80% saved)
  • Go shopping twice a month instead of twice a week (2 vs 8 = 75% saved)
  • Car pool 5 kids per car to soccer games / scout trips / etc (3 cars instead of 15 = 66% saved)
  • Kids ride the school bus (fuzzier math, 1 bus = 30 cars but 20% efficient is 1/30/20% = 1/6 = 83% saved)
  • Bike or walk to coffee shop
  • Combine 10 shopping trips into a single trip
  • Drive or train for vacation instead of fly
  • Take a train instead of fly for next business trip
  • Use public transit to attend sports events

So of these changes could be made pretty easy if we slowed down our lifestyle, but telecommuting 80% would be a major change!  One benefit, less traffic!

* I picked 80% gas because some users cannot reduce this radically (like farming) so everyone else has to make up the difference!  80% or a 1/5 is also handy for math.

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T. Boone Pickins makes point, but disappoints

November 3, 2008

Yesterday, I dragged my unwilling kids out to see T. Boone Pickins speak about his energy plan.  I felt like it would be something of a watershed event where they’d look back and say, “wow, that’s when…”  Unfortunately, Boone was not an especially dynamic (or even intelligible) speaker and they did not get much from it.

Here’s what I got from it:

  1. Boone believes our #1 issue is dependence on foreign oil (70% of our oil is imported).
  2. We need to aggressively switch to natural gas as a transportation fuel to replace diesel from imported crude.

That’s it and I’m disappointed.  Boone is correct in both points, but I don’t think that is even close to a complete plan.  Here’s my 10 point energy plan:

  1. Implement an increasing carbon based tax to create incentives to move away from carbon based fuels.  Reducing the total oil used will dramatically impact the import issue.  If natural gas is more efficient, then we’ll use that instead to reduce the carbon tax impact.  Potentially, imported carbon could have additional tariffs.
  2. Require (fund) a standard platform for nuclear plants so that we can have common practices and economies of scale.
  3. Immediately start increasing the efficiency standards for everything (appliances, computers, HVAC, cars) that are sold.  Provide substantial tax incentives for people who replace these items if they also recycle the replaced unit.
  4. Establish a Sustainable Corps to help implement efficiency & green power projects nationwide.
  5. Fund Power Up Our Schools program to make all school districts energy independent in 5 years.
  6. Impose a disposal surcharge on items that cannot be broken down into recyclable components.
  7. Stop all subsidies for production of corn ethanol.
  8. Take away tax breaks for energy companies – they get to keep the money if they were re-investing it into R&D.  If they won’t fund research then the government gets to use the windfall.
  9. Grant right of way for high-speed passenger trains along existing interstate routes.
  10. 55 mile per hour national speed limit and add pay for access inner-city driving – this alone would eliminate the amount of crude that we import from Saudi Arabia.

These 10 items would make an immediate and signficant different.  They leverage people making economic choices and do not restrict personal freedoms.

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You must read Hot, Flat, & Crowded

October 29, 2008

by Thomas Friedman (Amazon).  It’s an excellent discussion about our current challenges with concrete solutions.  I’ll post more about it, but I recommend just reading the source.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

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Now I’m really scared…Financial meltdown foreshadows sustainability crisis

September 20, 2008

I’d been a disappointed proponent of allowing capital markets to place a value on sustainability.  I naively believed that anticipation of rising energy costs and emissions controls would drive investment in alternatives.

Today, it’s obvious that our market system is so greed driven that it can’t plan a quarter ahead let alone build something with returns over several years.  To compond problems, our government is handing out “get of out jail free” cards to Wall Street that further absolve of fatal lacks of strategic sustainable  thinking.

I mostly agree with the Government’s actions but think that we’re entering a era of required external oversight to ensure sustainable business practices. 

If you carry this thinking just a little farther, it’s obvious that the markets are never going to be able to foster sustainable technologies and practices without similar external (governmental) pressure.  I still think that economic incentives are the right approach for changing individual behavior, but short-term profit and entrenched interestes (oil & gas, etc) create too much pressure for the market figure this out alone.

While I would like to see less government involvement, we have to demand legislation that creates “artificial” incentives for sustainablity (alternative energy, recycling, and conservation).   This is our wake up call: the mortgage meltdown is a paper loss because the homes still exist – sustainablity is about real assets being lost forever.

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Schools are ideal location for national solar push

August 31, 2008

I’m mixed on residential solar: I love to see grassroots movement to expand solar but I’m skeptical about the ROI for widespread adoption.  I’m a believer in local solar as a way to regionalize generation.  Municipal solar sites (including commercial and manufacturing) would have scale and facilities maintenance that can generate a meaningful ROI.

If the Federal Government is serious about energy independence, then our schools are the ideal place to start.   The US should pay 100% of the cost to install arrays at every school in the country and allow the individual schools to use the energy savings/revenue to offset their facilities costs.  Just supplying this one initiative would consume the output of multiple PV factories!  The demand created would be enough for a VC feeding frenzy in PV speculation.

Schools are tightly integrated into our communities, high visible, and mandated to educate.  Solar schools would have tremendous and immediate community impacts with both economic and the social activism benefits.

Let’s set a goal for our schools to become energy neutral (or better) in 3 years.  It would be a bold statement to a huge audience that we’re serious about energy independence.  Now that’s something that students everywhere could sing and dance about!

Solar powered high school?  Now that's something to dance and sing about!

Solar powered high school? Now that is something to dance and sing about!

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Green Office meets Dilbert (+ interesting tidbits on HVAC design)

August 16, 2008

The fact that Scott Adam’s Dilbert is making fun of office greening is a major milestone!  It signal that business are starting to adjust (see note below).  It’s interesting that the justification is business legitimate sounding “to reduce expenses” instead of Pointy Haired green washing.

Personally, my office has both a causal dress code (engineers can/do wear shorts, black socks optional) and very cold air conditioning.

Note: My experience with office HVAC is that most systems are simply NOT setup to save energy by raising the temperature because they have to run a single massive chiller anyway.  My building is only 3 years old, but these “pre-energy cost spike” design dinosaurs are ubiquitous.  Adding a small “pony” chiller to handle most of the load could make a HUGE (really, HUGE) savings.

Building owners generally do not care about energy waste in their properties because the costs are PASSED THROUGH to the tenants.  The tenants could object, but they have very little awareness of their choice or influence.  This is exactly the type of broken anti-virtuous cycle that requires government / utility company intervention to fix!

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Dead horse or just proving the point? alt energy = cheap oil

August 15, 2008

Several people have sited this New York Times article by Thomas Friedman about Dutch energy independence recently.  The basic theme is that their response to the 70s embargo was to purse energy independence as a national strategy.  Their methods are not 21th century sunshine and light green tech – they are a mix of innovation, stewardship, and smart efficiency improvements.

We can’t just hope that radical innovations solve the energy problem, we need a multifaceted approach with a sound economic model.  Dutch Treat?

Added Note: Another dead horse?  Read Friedman’s call for a national energy independence plan.  He compares our President’s mistaken push to drill more oil to his post-9/11 “go shopping” directive.  Now that was a moment of shining leadership!