Whorled View

May 22, 2007

Will Energy Conservation Ever Make Any Difference?

Will energy conservation ever make any difference? I wish.

Leonardo DeCaprio’s “11th Hour” eco-doomsday docu-drama has just been unleashed. This is following Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, which I recently saw. Undoubtedly DeCaprio will propose that we solve a very real problem with the equivalent of stopping a fire hydrant with a stick of buble gum, ie: better light bulbs, less driving, more trees, more efficient appliances, and more efficient cars.

“…we are spending far too much energy and time on squeezing out energy efficiency … what we really need is more energy and it has to be clean and it has to be cheap.” – Dr Klaus Lackner

Instead of spending big bucks on those 2 movies why don’t you watch a video of Physicist Dr. Klaus Lackner from the “earth institute” at Columbia University for free (http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/crosscutting/energy.html). It’s over 1 1/2 hours, but is so worth it. He demonstrates how futile most “energy conservation measures” are while providing you with the truly viable solutions to the greenhouse gas problem. At a minimum, I can guarantee you that you will be far more empowered after watching Dr. Lackner than you will after watching any Hollywood produced film. Why? Because afterwards you’ll know what you need to do to really make a difference: Change the way we make electricity, not just the way we use it.

You’ll learn that (based on math) Americans will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 97% just to keep the current environmental levels of CO2 constant. That means driving your car only 1day/month. That means only using electricity 2 days / month. If you wanted to plant enough trees to compensate for existing levels using reforestation only then you’d have to quadruple the # of full grown trees currently in existence.

The math says that even if severe energy conservation efforts are legislated, doing so will only buy us an extra 5 years before it’s too late.

The math says that even if severe energy conservation efforts are legislated, doing so will only buy us an extra 5 years before it’s too late. What we need is practically ZERO emissions from both power plants and vehicles. What we need is massive energy generation restructuring for both grid power and vehicles. Within 50 years (preferably sooner) all power must be generated by renewable sources, and cars must use that power be it through hydrogen or electric.

If everyone could put solar panels on their roof they you’d have a solution, but that costs 40K per roof – completely nonviable for 99% of Americans (and the subsidies would bankrupt the government). Don’t get me wrong … solar is the answer, but it will be solar at $0.03/kWh from a power-plant (most likely thermal, not PV), as compared to the true cost of today’s rooftop solar panels (PV) that average $0.33 kWh over their lifetime.

Americans will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 97% just to keep the current environmental levels of CO2 constant

In the meantime, scrubbers can be added to existing power facilities to totally remove all carbon emissions, at a cost of about 0.03$/kWh. That’s a 30% increase in energy costs, but for clean energy that’s pretty good. Not as good as current solar thermal rates, but it is close. Nuclear is also a viable alternative in the meantime (though not my favorite choice, when existing solar thermal can produce similar rates to nuclear).

Vehicles are a much more challenging problem because the operating costs of zero-emmision cars will never be competitive with fossil fuel cars. Why because nearly half of the power of fossil fuel is lost in the process of converting to electricity or hydrogen, sending that medium to the point of consumption, and then discharging that power through a motor. The only way around the problem is that at some point most fossil-fuel based vehicles will have to be made illegal. Now we’re talking about 40-50 years down the road, but that’s not too far away.

So should you conserve electricity? Heck yes. It may only make a few years of difference, but from what I can see, we’re going to need every year possible. Just remember to spend more time writing your elected officials and telling your friends about real solutions. And watch Dr. Lackner’s presentation from the earth institute (see the video on the right of this page) if you haven’t done that yet. You’ll be glad you did.

May 9, 2007

An More Inconvenient Truth

Filed under: ecology,economics,energy,environment,Politics — lullabyman @ 12:58 pm

I watched Mr “used to be president” Al Gore (as he likes to call himself) last night, as he spent over 90 minutes proclaiming the woes of global warming.

Hear! Hear!

At least there is something he and I can agree on. Then again, I can say that for most politicians.

If you haven’t seen it, please do. At some points the documentary becomes too much about him (like when he wallows in sorrow over his lost presidential election – here’s an incovenient truth: we’re sick of him whining about that), but those moments only last a few minutes here and there, and are worth bearing through in order to get to the other stuff.

“… he did a diservice to himself by not
being more forthright with truths
which are inconvenient to the global
warming hypothesis.

Here’s some other warnings: far too often he throws up graphs without giving you the scale of the y-axis, and sometimes the x-axis does not appear to be linear. The validity of data sources are also often taken for granted. Also statistical noise and data ranges is only mentioned in one of the many graphs he gives. Then there were the projections that were based on what – linear interpolation of that last few data points (shudder)? Who knows, he didn’t say. Lastly his time frames are often way too short – but then this can be attributed to a lack of data – nevertheless the results should be considered in reference to the entire epoch of sapient life. In short if you know much about statistics you might find it painful.

That said, I think he did a diservice to himself by not being more forthright with truths which are inconvenient to the global warming hypothesis. He’s a politician and in politics it does well to overstate your case and conveniently ignore unsupporting data, assuming your opponent will cover those things. In science, however, that’s not a good practice – as it seems to indicate a bias in the mind of the scientist which makes the audience more skeptical. One of the last things you want to say is that you bought into a theory before there was even sufficient statistical data or before you were able to investigate it independently – but that is exactly what Gore said he did. Gore said he was an instant advocate the moment he saw just one graph covering just a handful of years that a professor showed a class. Lucky for Gore that the professors hypothesis was right, but it did Gore a diservice when he admitted he was sold on so little data, and it does little to endear the trust of his audience.

“The more inconvenient truth is that
alternative industry funds
are controlled by lobbyists.
That’s wrong, and it’s killing the planet.”

I’m a skeptic of everything though (which has been known to bug those around me to no end), and even being the skeptic that I am, and knowing the critics response, I have always felt that prudence is the best policy for the health of the planet.

And that’s where I think this film fails the audience: encouraging implementation of the best policies. Recently we’ve seen the scientific community plead with the world to curb greenhouse gases, and nothing good has resulted. On the contrary, we’ve seen every alternative energy enteprenuer / company vying for more and more money with little regard from the governments where the best, cheapest, and fastest implementations exist. I mentioned this in my last post, but I could go so much further. The alternative industry funds are controlled by lobbyists. That’s wrong, and it’s killing the world. The money is not going to the right places and merely implementing policies to force capitalism to fix the problem isn’t good enough or quick enough.

Gore also failed to tell people enough on how to conserve: Quit buying gas guzzlers. Carpool whever you can. Shop locally, or online. Take a vacation this summer closeby instead of far away. When you buy a house live close to work – I’m convinced that one thing could cut our emissions in half. If you’re driving an hour to work each way then you’re driving too far – carpool with 2-3 others, move, or get a different job.

“The most inconvenient truth though
is that massive restructuring of our
energy economy is needed to save
the environment.”

The most inconvenient truth though is that massive restructuring of our energy economy is needed to save the environment. And not just us, but all other nations must do the same (oh, they talk the talk, but UN talk is incredibly cheap). It means politicians making unpopular decisions while in office. It means serious and pain inflicting government mandates, not to just automakers, but to power companies, and that will disrupt the economy and will result in many lost jobs.

On the otherhand there will be lots of new jobs building efficient solar-thermal plants (not solar-PV) in Nevada and new jobs building windfarms across the country. Or we quite possibly experience hell on earth. Hmmmm … what will it be?

May 2, 2007

The most viable energy solution

Filed under: ecology,economics,energy,environment,Miscellaneous,Politics — lullabyman @ 3:13 pm

Apparently the Artic Water Ice is supposed to be gone in just over 10 years (see here). Pundits everywhere are screaming we need to spend more money on alternative energy solutions, with little regard to what’s viable. Even stupid articles popping up everywhere about “clean burning” bio-fuels and coal. Pure poppycock. Even the “clean burning” fuels are still heating up the atmosphere and producing green house gases. Nuclear produces tons of heat too.

“Most of the proposed solutions to global warming that get serious attention employ technologies that continue to warm the planet at an alarming rate. Politicians also talk about the Hydrogen economy as if it’s a solution! It takes enormous energy to create hydrogen fuel.”

Wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and tidal are the only potentially saving solutions – but they’re too expensive, too difficult, or too restrictive. Or are they? Depends on how they’re done. My biggest bets are on wind and solar thermal (not the more popular solar-PV). Solar thermal, done right, seems to be the most immediately scalable, the cheapest, and the least restrictive.

Get used to seeing this.  It's the future.
The Parabolic Trough – the future of electricity.

I used to work in the solar-PV (PV = photovoltaic – the kind that go on your roof) industry – and let me tell you … what a boondoggle. All the research money goes to PV solar cells (which I used to make), instead of going to solar-thermal. The problem is – PV costs so much to make and takes so much time and space to purify the needed silicon, and the energy required to do so comes at such a high price as to make a mass adoption of the technology absolutely impossible for the next 100 years.

Electricity generated from Solar-Thermal power however is cheap easy and can supply the worlds needs at a ridiculously faster and more economical rate than PV with no technological bottlenecks. It’s simple too:

1) Cheap way: A parabolic trough concentrates sunlight onto a black pipe with circulating oil. More expensive: Parabolic Dish to focus on a single point for sterling engine use or to generate H2 for the hydrogen economy.

2) Thermal fluid expansion converts the thermal energy into physical energy to spin an electric generator. You can incidentally also skip the electric portion and directly spin a rotor to pump water, grind wheat, etc, instead of spinning an electric generator.

How it generates electricity

The largest solar-PV plant in the world generates only 12MW but by comparison the largest solar-thermal plant in the world generates 354MW (SEGS in Mojave Desert – uses cheap parabolic trough design) and it was built 20 years ago! That 20 times more! And how many people even know about solar-thermal electricity? Squat (relatively speaking of course). There is at least 10 to 100 times more money spent on relatively worthless PV solar than what is spent on Thermal solar which is 10 to 100 times more promising for power plants.The current cost of electricity with solar-thermal is comparable to grid – about $0.10/KWh, but it is expected within the next 15-20 years that cost will drop to 1/2 if not 1/3 of regularly produced electricity ($0.035 /KWh)! How many plants are being built with this technology? Practically zippo (relatively speaking). See http://www.parc.xerox.com/research/publications/files/5706.pdf

So what do the cost numbers tell us? Scalability. Technologies can only be scaled up if they are very profitable. Solar Thermal is far more profitable than any other alternative energy candidate and will be for dozens of years . It doesn’t require exotic or highly refined or technologically advanced materials, and maintenance per MW is comparable to any coal powered plant. It seems a slam dunk, but instead solar-PV gets all the money despite that it’s only advantage is portability and distributed integration (solar thermal is largely a power-plant technology only).

“Solar Thermal Electricity is 10X more viable to fix our environment than Solar PV, but it gets less than 1/10th the grant and development money that solar PV gets. It’s an upside down pyramid.”

Now don’t get me wrong about solar PV. It isn’t a completely worthless technology, and eventually it will probably replace Solar-Thermal in terms of cost, maintenance, and expandability but none of the best experts see that happening for many many generations and we can’t wait that long.

Europe's Pnergy Plan

Europe is already sold on parabolic trough technology (see the CSP plants above, concentrated solar power = trough technology), expecting it to play largest role in their future. The US on the other-hand is far more ideal for the technology (see world map above) and despite amazing success from the 20 yr old Mohave Desert plant solar trough implementation has approached a relative standstill since then. Solar troughs plants however have the potential to supply our continents electricity all from Nevada, and ultimately cost less than what we’re paying right now per kWh.

May 1, 2007

No, that isn’t who we are either

Filed under: christianity,Mormonism,Politics,Religion,Sociology — lullabyman @ 10:08 pm

I just watched the 2nd installment (see my last blog), and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by what I saw. Let me just say that none of the LDS people I know would intentionally plan to have another baby when the mother was 42 years of age and had gestational diabetes. The man who did that, I’m terribly sorry for his loss, but “another spirit waiting to come to our family” concept is not fully justified solely in LDS doctrine. The program presented many other similar stories where the questionable (if not downright wrong) actions of a few Mormons were once again misrepresented as being reflective of the Mormon religion and people as a whole.

All I can say is please know that the PBS “Frontline” documentary called “The Mormons” represented at best a very non-representative cross section of the body of the church, except for one family (out of dozens interviewed). If you want to know the truth then please get to know your Mormon neighbors and find out for yourselves. Personally I’m only further disappointed with the sensationalized focus the documentary placed on fringe members to have the audacity to call the documentary “The Mormons” and suggest that what they described was a fair cross-section of this religion and people.

No No, that wasn’t who they were!

Filed under: Mormonism,Politics,Religion,Sociology — lullabyman @ 3:54 am

I said in an earlier blog this was going to happen. As Mitt Romney’s chances of winning increase we’re going to see an increase portrayal of the Mormon church which will border anywhere from somewhat misleading, to filled with innuendo, to downright wrong. It’s already beginning.

I saw the first half of the public television special tonight “The Mormons” and I was appalled. Those were not my ancestors that they discussed so one-sidedly. One hour of instruction – footnotes given fanfare as minuscule as the short lived action-less Mormon Militia (but not the laudable and much larger Mormon Battalion), inordinate attention to portrayals of Joseph Smith wielding a sword as if he thought he was Napoleon every where he went, calling Smith our “Alpha” and “Omega” (could they get any more offensive?), the 1842 burning of the expositor, but no coverage on vandalized LDS property, a quarter of the time on early Polygamy, another quarter of the time drawing up an elaborate case to blame Brigham for Mountain Meadows massacre despite a complete lack of evidence that he ordered such a treacherous act, and another quarter covering recent polygamy which is outlawed by the LDS church and only practiced by less than 0.01% of Mormons (if you can call apostates Mormons). That’s who my ancestors were? That’s who the Mormons are? This program is called “The Mormons”, right?

Wow, talk about picking and choosing history. Why not discuss the Mormon battalion where 500 Mormon men marched 2000 miles on foot to fight for this country during the Mexican war, immediately after the government allowed Missouri to issue an extermination order allowing LDS people to be shot on site. Why not tell about the tremendous sacrifices made by 10,000’s selling all they had to come from Europe to “the promised land”? What’s with this “promised land” terminology? Why not tell about the multiple 1000’s (1 out of every 10) who died on the trek westward, or the Martin and Willie Handcart company alone wherein 220 people died? How about the unprecedented worldwide growth rate? How about telling what happened from 1900 to 1960, and the amazing welfare system that abolished poverty among the LDS during the depression … they completely skipped that period (1/3 of our history) … perhaps they couldn’t dredge up any scandals. Any scandals did happen afterward was with splinter groups who make up less than 1% of the “Mormon” population – but they still covered those right up until the program ended.

They gave whatever dirt on Joseph Smith they could find, so why not the many good reports given by non-LDS of Joseph Smith’s character and his good nature? What about all the early 1st hand accounts from non-Mormons of the time that admitted the Mormons were peace-loving and tried to be considerate as possible. How about a more detailed account of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and others who were there and the false charges he was held under, and the murders and raping of LDS people before the trek west, or the draining of the Nauvoo swamp and the 1000’s that died there from malaria? How about the method of church succession (Brigham Young didn’t just “take over” as PBS seemed to suggest), or how about the actual extermination from Kirtland and then Nauvoo and the massive burning of Nauvoo that followed? How about the massive splintering after the martyrdom? How about the surprise that most people followed Brigham to Mexico despite that he chose the most difficult trek of all the splinters? Or why not tell how all other splinters died off except those who inherited Nauvoo who have since struggled just to maintain their numbers. How about the building of the early temples, and the other temples, and what those early temples represent not just to Mormons, but to Americans?

Lastly they never got into the minds of those early converts. Why did Joseph’s church attract so many more dedicated followers than all the other upstarts in the “burned-over district”? Was it the Book of Mormon – or the unique concept of a priesthood restoration – or the 100% lay ministry – or the level of dedication that’s expected – Joseph’s mere magnetism – or the unique “plan of salvation” that he taught? Perhaps these things will be discussed in the second part of the series.

No, they didn’t cover those histories nor those events, but THOSE things were the substance of my ancestors. Not Mountain Meadows. Still, the Mountain Meadows massacre was a harrowing part of mormon history where a secluded group of members disregarded everything they were taught in order to commit so great a crime, and so I and all my Mormon freinds were taught about Mountain Meadows in our youth, and like all Mormons I will always be horrified and disturbed by it. The act was just as contrary to the LDS faith as it is to any other faith – a most important fact that PBS neglected to mention. Even worse, one of the PBS historians for unknown reasons then accused Mormons of not accepting the reality of Mountain Meadows and not having learned from it.  Note the unjustified subversive scare tactic they use that those who don’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it – we will?!  Well, if you’re LDS then that may well be just what your neighbors now think of you.

I shudder to think that my non-member friends and neighbors saw that incredibly biased treatment of my heritage, and what they must think of my own ancestors now. What they must think of me that I might believe in that horrendous pick-n-choose history, and lastly that they might now consider something so hurtful and baffling as myself having a part of Mountain Meadows massacre in me. Way to go PBS … way to fuel the flames that one of your historians admitted were so unjustified.

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