“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Pavegen, up close and personal

Photo credit: Pavegen
I was again in Washington, DC (actually, National Harbor, Maryland, just down the Potomac) last week for the annual (and perhaps last?) arpa-e Energy Innovation Summit (about which, more later). But I had learned that one of my targets of opportunity for debunking vacuous green claims, Pavegen, has an installation in Washington, DC. I couldn't feature being so close to an installation and not paying a visit to experience the Pavegen pavers first hand.

After Lyfting from the summit site at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort and Convention Center to Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, I had my first chance to observe and experience the Pavegen pavers (or tiles). To the right, you'll see the triangular tiles arranged as hexagons in the Pavegen sytem. Those are my feet and my Cross pen (inscribed with a wonderful message from my beautiful wife, Zandra) for scale.

I walked on the pavers, jumped on them, stood on them, and watched the DC pedestrian crowd interact with them. I'll describe my experience "down post" but first I'll describe the reactions from the pedestrians. I'll note that there were no signs or other indicators that the pedestrians and bicyclists were contributing to green energy generation (albeit at a negligibly small scale) with their efforts. No advertising was there and, frankly, the pavers don't look bad.


The video is slow motion of folks walking on the pavers. I didn't survey, or even count, but I'd estimate that somewhere around 5% of the pedestrians noted that there was something different in the small areas where the pavers were installed. And, on three occasions, someone mentioned to their fellow walker that electricity or energy was being generated by the pavers. One said that "I think it runs the lights or something." None seemed troubled either by the extra effort entailed in walking on the tiles, and the company of whomever mentioned the energy typically said "cool" or similar.

My reaction was fairly similar. It wasn't particularly troubling to climb out of the estimated 5mm depression caused by my weight acting on the Pavegen generators. But, as to electricity generation, I'll just say that my opinion is unchanged. To the left is one of several little installations of lit LEDs, again with my pen indicating scale. Based on Pavegen's site, there are also lights for some of the hardscape features. You can barely tell that the three LEDs are lit.

In any case, now that I've actually walked on the pavers, seen pedestrian reaction to them, and analyzed them (to death), I think I can finally put my Pavegen focus to rest.

From the "duh" department...

In my day job, I am an executive in a firm that provides consulting services, materials testing, and construction inspection. We don't work in the area of single family housing but, other than that, if it's being built, we want to be involved. And we're located in Southern California.

As such, we're very interested in the economics of the State and of its various regions. I was reviewing the 2017 "California Economic Summit Roadmap." On the first content page of that 12 page document, I read the following:

 "An additional 6.8 million people are considered “economically fragile,” living in households earning below their area’s median income (which varies by region, from $43,000 a year in the San Joaquin Valley to $64,000 in the Bay Area)."
Indeed. I must point out here that this statement is statistically confusing or, at the least, is poorly phrased. Exactly half of the households in California, or any County, or any State, or the U.S., or any Country earn below their area's median income. And, no matter how hard anyone in government tries, they simply can't fix this problem. Because, well, that's the definition of median! So, clearly, the issue isn't that half the households are below their area's median income but, rather that their area's median income is below the level that would represent not being classified as "economically fragile."

The definition of an "economically fragile" household isn't clearly stated, but surely it can't be "any household below its area's median household income" because, by that definition, one half of households everywhere are economically fragile and will be for all eternity or until Armageddon, whichever comes sooner.

I'm sure that my sophisticated readers were able to infer the intended meaning of this paragraph but, given the level of innumeracy out there, I'm absolutely sure that there are many readers who think My God, half the households in California are below the median household income! Make the rich pay their fare share, that will fix this!" And, of course, if such persons were asked "what fraction of the households in California would you estimate had below the mean household income?" they'd answer "Why, one half, of course! What a stupid question! "

The fact is that, barring an anomaly, significantly more than half are below the mean. For example, in 2014 the median household income in the U.S., per the Census Bureau, was $53,713. The mean household income was $72,641. Clearly, fewer households earned $72,641 and above than earned $53,713 and above. And yet, the mean is what people think of when the word "average" is used. But you knew that, didn't you?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Once again with Pavegen

Image credit: imagine business development
(Note: the zombie image applies both to my blog and to the subject of this post.)

Pavegen, a Company that I've looked at before (see here and here) is still around and, apparently, thriving. Pavegen designs, manufactures, and installs tile systems that generate electricity via footfalls as pedestrians walk over them. Despite my lack of posting, I've not lost interest in all aspects of energy and, in perusing the web, I happened upon their new site. They've developed a new tile design and quite a presentation. The link is to a 49 minute video!

I thought I'd keep an open mind and evaluate it, despite my expressed disdain in the previous posts. Getting started, I found a couple of troubling things. At the 19:15 timestamp in the video, CEO and Pavegen inventor Lawrence Kemball-Cook states that the new Pavegen tiles are "200 times as efficient." Later, at the 28:10 timestamp, CTO Craig Webster states that Pavegen is capturing "about 20 times more energy per footstep" than the previous version of the Pavegen tiles.
Image credit: Pavegen

Well! First, an order of magnitude discrepancy in the claims is hardly something to ignore. But let's use Webster's claim of 20 times, since he's the CTO. Kemball-Cook walks across the tiles to demonstrate the data gathering capabilities of the tiles and the screen shows steps and energy generated (see the graphic at right, click to enlarge). It shows that Kemball-Cook has generated 65 Joules in 14 steps, or about 4.6 Joules/step. As an aside, some quick and dirty calculations with appropriate estimates leads me to conclude that he's generating at something like 8 watts.

In my second Pavegen post (this current one is my third) I estimated that the previous generation of Pavegen tiles generated somewhere between 3.5 and 7.2 joules per footfall (the lower from my estimates, the higher from data generated by a Pavegen installation). I'm hard pressed to see an increase of 20 (let alone the ridiculous 200) times in efficiency of energy conversion. Kemball-Cook and Webster both tout the efficiency of the new triangular shape and its ability to capture energy over 100% of the area of the tiles vs. the previous square tiles but that is, in no way, sufficient to justify their claim.
Image credit: Pavegen

I assumed from previous information that the mode of energy conversion was piezoelectricity. but it's clear from the Pavegen video that this is not the case, at least in this incarnation. Rather, it appears that a footstep spins a small flywheel that operates as a generator. Each vertex intersection of the triangular tiles rests above such a generator. I will concede that it's a very clever design.

Kemball-Cook and his team have big plans for the Pavegen system. Jeff Martin, CEO and founder of Tribal Planet, apparently has formed a partnership with Pavegen and, through the use of smart phones, anticipates that malls, stores, stadiums, etc. could track the energy delivered through the footsteps of a customer and then provide discounts, loyalty awards, etc. to the customer. Or, one could "donate the energy" to some developing world person who needs it. The mechanism for such a transfer isn't described.

But, as I stated in the previous post, I take about 5,000 steps on an average day. If each step were captured, I'd generate (if I weigh the same and walk similarly to Kemball-Cook) 4.6*5,000= 23,000 joules, or 0.0064 kilowatt hours. In my city of Anaheim, CA, that would be worth a little under eight hundredths of a penny. And, to reiterate, that's not my trip to Target, that's my walking for an entire day. The cost of a Pavegen tile isn't stated, but Kemball-Cook does state that Pavegen's goal is to bring the price close to that of a standard tile through mass production.

There's no doubt that the tiles do generate electricity, probably at the rate of around 8 watts for each walking adult. And there's no doubt that that level of generation can be used for area lighting or similar. But the energy isn't free, it's energy added to that of walking without the tiles. Now, it may be the case that in the generally overweight United States (I can't say about England, the home of Pavegen), having people spend more energy to walk might be desirable.

In any event, at the outset of the video, Kemball-Cook mentions that lighting accounts for nearly 20% of all electricity generated world wide and, after saying that he didn't know that, doesn't say anything further about it. He leaves the impression that he'll show that Pavegen tiles can alleviate the need for mains power for that use. Umm... no.

In my office, there are about 32 people. Most don't walk around as much as I do but let's assume that they do. Most of my walking is at work, say 4000 steps over nine hours. This rate, at 4.6 joules/step, equates to 0.6 watts or so. If all 32 people in my office did the same, it would be 19.2 watts. That wouldn't light one of the four fluorescent tubes in my office, let alone the entire 12,800 square feet of the floor we occupy. It's true that LEDs would do better but there's no chance that 19 watts would come close. And that generation, in a work day, would be about 0.017 kilowatt hours, worth less than two cents.

Pavegen has a fascinating gimmick and a clever design, but it won't put a dent in electricity use. And the electricity comes, ultimately, from the sun. We eat the plants and animals, and fertilize them with products of sunshine from millions of years ago to give us the energy to 
pump the Pavegen tiles.

Update: There's significant discussion at the website of the ability of the tiles to generate data and wirelessly transmit it. This could be used to determine traffic patterns in stores, malls, museums, etc. and to locate "hotspots" for patron activity. I strongly suspect that, after the "gee whiz" factor of the trivial energy output wears off, such data will be the real value (or, as my close friend and associate, Dr. Boris Stein, would say, "the dry residue"). Were I an officer at Pavegen, I'd offer a cheaper option of the tiles without the generators to be sold for the data gathering capability.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A Post Election Day Note to Conservatives | Coyote Blog

A Post Election Day Note to Conservatives | Coyote Blog:

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What Warren Meyer (a staunch "small l" libertarian) said. But, to make it easier, I'll paste it here:

"Dear Conservatives:  As you wallow around in your election-day schadenfreude, I offer you this note of caution:  Except perhaps on immigration and a few miscellaneous issues like climate, Trump is not a Conservative.  He has no apparent respect for the Constitution, or free speech, or any number of individual freedoms.  He is a serial abuser of eminent domain and has lived off of crony rents for decades.  We often compare government unfavorably to private individuals when it comes to budgeting, observing that most of us can only spend as much as we bring in, unlike a profligate Federal government -- but Trump can't control spending in his own private sphere and has run up huge amounts of debt he has had to disavow in various quests for self-aggrandizement.  Do you really think he won't do the same thing with public funds?I said this morning I would give up political prognostication, but I am fairly sure in less than 6 months we are going to see prominent Conservatives coming out publicly with buyer's remorse." By Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog

Monday, March 21, 2016

arpa-e 2016 notes part 1

Having spent six days traveling to, attending, and returning from arpa-e 2016, it's time to start chronicling some of my thoughts. At the broadest level, the summit was very well attended, much better than last year. As is typical, the demographic was predominately male, predominately Caucasian with a significant sprinkling of Indian (subcontinent type) as well as Asian attendees. There were extremely few African Americans and other "people of color" and a relatively small population of women.

It was stated by Katie Fehrenbacher, a senior writer at Fortune Magazine who focuses on energy and technology, that, at her first arpa-e summit attendance in 2010, there were many VCs (venture capitalists) whereas, in 2016, "not so much." The decline in funding for clean energy startup ventures that her comment implies has been well documented elsewhere.
Chart courtesy of: PwC.com

I'm not an expert investor but, as I implied in one of my posts on LightSail Energy and stated in my post regarding Bell Laboratories, today's investors' demands for quick returns on their investment are anathema to ventures that develop over periods of many years and require huge capital investments. Further there have been well-publicized failures of some large cleantech startups, e.g., Solyndra, Range Fuels, KiOR, A123, etc. Cleantech is HARD!

While at the opening session, I drew a little diagram on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4, a phone on which one can legitimately take handwritten notes and make such sketches. Here's the sketch I made: 

I'll concede that it's cryptic and hard to read but the idea is that the U.S. funds entrepreneurial innovations that lead to development in such a way that private equity of one sort or another sees the potential and ponies up sufficient funding to take the innovation to market. To date, arpa-e funded ventures have attracted $1.25B in private funding. To do so, it has provided $1.3B to some 475 projects. I'm unable, however, to find an arpa-e funded venture that has individually gone to market, though at least four have been purchased by large companies as of FY 2014.

I'll provide further input over the next few posts (perhaps interspersed with other topics) but I want to say that that $350M per year funding level for something as important as the goals of arpa-e is a pittance, especially in comparison to the scale of the problem. There are those who say government should stay out of such ventures and ask "what good has government investment ever done?" I'd point out Boulder (now Hoover) dam, Tennessee Valley Authority, Rural Electrification Administration, ARPANET, etc.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Off to arpe-a 2016

Image credit: arpe-e
I'm rather shocked to find that this is the sixth (!) arpa-e energy innovation summit that I've attended. I intend to blog about my adventures here and, in particular, about some of the energy storage sessions as it's my considered opinion that storage breakthroughs are key to a sustainable energy future.

But for this post, I'm going to discuss getting to Washington, DC. I used three modes of transportation: my (new) Jeep SRT Grand Cherokee (with apologies to commenters who had suggestions for my avoidance of such a joule hog) to KSNA, i.e., John Wayne Airport; two legs of air carrier transport (KORD, O'Hare Airport was a layover); and a SuperShuttle van from DCA, i.e., Reagan National Airport to the Gaylord National Harbor Resort.

The trip to KSNA was about 18 miles, the Jeep is currently displaying an average mileage of about 15.5 m.p.g. (as stated in my previous post, I'm not driving for economy) so I burned about 1.16 gallons of premium fuel, thereby converting something like 137,000,000 joules of chemical energy to thermal energy to turn the wheels, move air out of the way, heat the atmosphere, etc. Therefore, I my rate of energy use in "joules/(passenger*meter) was about 4,730.

The leg from KSNA to KORD was in a United Airlines Boeing 737-724 aircraft featuring two CFM International CFM56 turbofan engines (of the "dash 7B24" variety). These engines are rated at 24,200 pounds thrust each. It's not easy to estimate the fuel burn for airline flights, I wish that I'd remembered to ask the Captain or First Officer, they're very cooperative to sharing such data. But, as best I can estimate, we burned around 18,000 pounds or 8,165 kilograms of fuel (fuel calculations for airplanes are typically done in pounds since aircraft weight enters into literally every aspect of every maneuver and operation) to take 118 passengers 1,818 statute miles. A kilogram of jet A fuel releases 43.5 megajoules of energy upon oxidation, and so we converted 3.55*10^11 joules of thermal energy. The plane carried its full complement of 118 passengers, and so the energy use in "joules/(passenger*meter) was about 1,040. Of the 3.55*10^11 joules converted, I was responsible for about 3 billion of 'em.

I'll spare my patient readers the detail of the KORD to KDCA leg on an Embraer 175 regional jet. I estimate that we converted 1.14*10^11 joules traveling 650 miles. This works out to about 1430 (joules/passenger*meter) for the 76 passengers on board. My allocation was about 1.5 billion of those joules.

Finally, I rode a SuperShuttle van for the approximately eight miles to complete the journey. I estimate that it burned about 0.5 gallons and converted 42,800,000 joules of chemical energy to thermal over the eight miles. My rate of energy use was thus about 3,320 joules/(passenger*meter).

My grand total of turning the energy in chemical bonds to thermal energy in the atmosphere
Image credit: PowersaveSchools.org
(and a very small amount in ground) was 4.68 billion joules. Of these, 4.5 billion or about 96% were in aircraft (I can't say "in the air" because we did taxi). But note that, of the 2,495 miles traveled, 99% were in the air. Thus, purely in terms of energy conversion, the air travel was quite efficient in comparison to ground transport. Of course, I was the solo passenger in my vehicle as I was (surprisingly) in the van, and having several passengers would change the joules/(passenger*mile) metric significantly. And, as some will no doubt point out, so would staying home.

And, so I understand (not having read enough to know why), hydrocarbons oxidized in the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere are much more damaging than those oxidized on the ground.

I'll be responsible for more joules and a greater rate of conversion when I return to Southern California on Thursday, since we'll be flying against the prevailing winds. For a round number, I'll add 20% to the eastbound total for 10.3 billion joules. It is to be hoped that I'll learn enough here to be able to participate in saving many times that number, at least, that is, from the burning of fossil fuels.

Addendum: Perhaps 10.3 billion joules has little meaning for some. This is about 2,860 kilowatt hours. The average US home uses about 2,733 kilowatt hours of electrical energy in three months.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The end of an era

In September of 2005, gas prices rose abruptly enough that I stopped driving as I had as a teenager in my Plymouth Roadrunner Detroit muscle car and started to do my best to squeeze every possible foot out of each gallon of gas. That was in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which I followed up with a Land Rover and finally my current Lexus CT200h which I acquired in the summer of 2011. I've driven that vehicle in such a way that I've exceeded the EPA combined estimate of 42 m.p.g. by 8.5 m.p.g. I've done so using light touch on the pedals, attempting to maximize the vehicle's use of regenerative braking, maximizing time in traffic jams that the engine is off and motive power provided by the battery and electric motor, and a cruise controlled 55 m.p.h. maximum speed (except when converting potential energy to kinetic on long, steep downhill grades).

This blog started out as documentation of my efforts in that direction and has since grown to cover a variety of other energy related topics and even ventured into politics, economics, and philosophy at times.

But, notably, I've failed to save the world and I'm finished with this decade plus long experiment. I'll be going out this weekend to test drive and possibly drive away in a vehicle such as the Jeep SRT Grand Cherokee  or the Audi SQ5. And I have no intention of driving such a purchase so as to maximize fuel economy.

Now, was this change motivated by the steep decline in fuel prices? It was not. It's simply the case that I have had enough, the experiment has gone on long enough. I'm tired of having people run up on my rear bumper, honk, flash their high beams, etc. I'm tired of explaining to passengers why it takes me 27% longer to get anywhere. I'm tired of a car that, though it has a Lexus badge, is a Prius at heart (the passenger side seat has a pull bar to adjust position).


There you have it.

Now, does this mean that I'm also finished with blogging on energy and related topics? It most assuredly does not and I intend (though it has been said, in particular by my mother, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions) to post more regularly.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Marco Rubio and what money can buy

bribery_bill.jpgIt should come as no surprise that Presidential candidate Marco Rubio is at the forefront of an effort to stymie local municipalities' efforts to prevent complete monopolization of broadband by Charter Cable, AT&T, and their ilk. I'm all for private enterprise but with monopoly comes a necessity for regulation.

(edited for clarity) What Rubio, et al, want to prevent is States that are beholden to carriers that currently enjoy, at worst, a near monopoly, being constrained by the FCC from legally shielding those companies from competition from local municipalities who deploy broadband networks. This sentiment is proffered under the guise of "private, competitive broadband marketplace" which, for all intents and purposes, does not exist. And, to the extent that it does, the would-be monopolists are doing all in their power (including the purchase of politicians) to stomp it out.

A further contention is the "States' rights" plea. Unpacked, what this means is Rubio, et al's insistence that States have the sovereign right to accept money from broadband monopolists who pay them to squelch local efforts to provide reliable and affordable broadband access. I hardly think that that's what the Federalist Founding Fathers had in mind.

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