Archive for the ‘energy’ Category


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!


Social Scarcity? “City of Ember” book intrigues

August 24, 2008

My son whispered that we had a (paper) copy of J Duprau’s City of Ember when we saw the movie preview last week.  It’s impossible for me to resist a post-apocalyptic novel about people completely dependent on machines they don’t understand.  It’s a youth book, but I was not disappointed – this was a fast read with a decently suspenseful plot.

Normally, that would not be worth a post here; however, I was intrigued by Duprau’s picture of a community coping with limited & diminishing resources.  Her community was simultaneously aware of their impending doom and completely unwilling challenge the status quo.  Throw in a corrupt and self-indulging government and you’ve got a mirror.

In Ember, they adapted remarkably well to ever more limited supplies, but they shut down all innovation.  Their inhabitants were always waiting for someone else to solve the problem for them.

City of Ember by J Duprau

City of Ember by J Duprau


1960 NASA = Engineers? Do we need another Moon Shot?

August 19, 2008

I had an interesting green tech conversation germinated by the statement “my liberal NASA engineer sister says that she can’t vote for Obama.”  This is based on the expectation that Obama lacks support for the current administration’s doomed manned Mars mission.

I’m skipping over the politics to jump into a different issue: solving our energy problems requires a new generation of kick-ass engineers.  Unfortunately, we have not been cultivating a large crop of our best and brightest to become engineers and scientists.

Oil on the Moon!

Oil on the Moon!

Many kids were inspired to become scientists and engineers when the Nation had a clear Space Race objective in the 60s.  I was part of this generation that grew up *knowing* it was cool and fun to build things.  At every level, our schools invested in feeding intellectual curiosity and funding science education.  While few became actual “rocket scientists” many were inspired and America build a huge technological lead.

In my conversation we generally agreed that 1) science/engineering is not inspiring (or profitable) right now and 2) current “energy independence” and “green environmentalism” initiatives are not sufficiently motivating.

These are very solvable problems!  The solution is LEADERSHIP and COMMITMENT to make this a national priority.  People will follow career opportunities and fame.  The X-Prize and DARPA grand challenge models have proven that we can create programs that inspire and reward people to become scientists and engineers.  Let’s put the sexy back in sextant!


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!


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!


Solar update…12 volt A/C?!

August 10, 2008

I thought it was worth amending my disparging comment about residential solar based on new information.

The AustinEV thread continues (and grows) about residential solar and 12 volt DC air conditioning.  DC A/C powered by solar would match peak generation (hot days) with the primary consumption (hot days).  Very interesting – why aren’t new home using this?!?

I think that residential solar is a bad fit for home given our current power loads, but would be excellent if we were more sustainable in our consumption (read: efficient).

I’ll go farther – I believe that houses should be switching to DC power instead of AC.  Most items in my house are DC and require converter bricks that waste power.  If we can have DC options for primary big consumers (A/C, refrigerator, water heater, dryer) than we could actually store power locally!


Solar so far so so

August 9, 2008

An interesting quote from the AustinEV (off topic) discussion on solar. Bruce J from Madison WI has an array that cost $13k to install. Like my EV, it’s not a profit center. His says he did it “because it is SOMETHING. And if *everybody* does *something* then great things will happen.”

Solar is Austin is subsidized by the local power company, but still have very long pay back. California has demand (time-of-day) billing so their solar arrays produce power at peak (3 x $). Since home use is mainly off-peak, the California arrays can reduce utility bills dramatically.

The big problem with solar for US homes is that WE USE TOO MUCH POWER to make an array practical.  An off-the-grid array is either really expensive, requires a life style change, or uninvented technology.  I don’t think that it makes sense to turn roof-tops into solar farms because most individuals are not equipped to maintain them.   Parking lots, however, could be excellent solar sites!

Developing countries like Africa are a stark contrast to the US.  Their current power demand is near zero.  A tiny solar array can make a life changing difference.  For example, the BOGO light initiative sends solar LED flashlights to Africa and allows people there to have lights on a night.  THEY ARE SO POOR – THEY DON”T HAVE LIGHTS AT NIGHT.   They don’t care about air conditioning, dryers, or plasma TVs.  In these places, solar is a huge wind fall.

Buy One, Give On (BoGo) Light

Buy One, Give On (BoGo) Light