“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)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Is California getting a raw deal?

OK, it's clear that California is a financial basket case. It's also true that, with a disfunctional legislature pandering to a bunch of vested interests, much of the pain is self-inflicted. That said, everyone should take a look at this graphic:

This is the amount of dollars received from the Federal Government for each tax dollar sent Washington D.C.'s way from 1981 through 2005. The source of the data is The Tax Foundation. Does anyone notice a trend here?

I totalled the defict for those years (and from all I've seen it's as bad or worse since 2005) and the cumulative deficit (including the early years when it was a surplus) is $489B (that's right, half a trillion dollars). Now, the incoming governor (meet the new boss, same as the old boss - will we get fooled again?) Jerry Brown met with the legislature to discuss how to handle the estimated $26B deficit CA is currently running.

The Tax Foundation figures are disputed, particularly with respect to their treatment of deficit spending. That said, recovery of 10% of the Tax Foundation's calculated deficit would go a long way toward curing California's budget ills. Unfortunately, even if the Feds said "OK, you're right, here's $48.9B" the ills that got us here would remain.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wikileaks and the reaction

It's difficult to know exactly what to say about the Wikileaks saga and it's well outside my typical topic space. But its importance is hard to overstate and I feel like I must commit my thoughts to my virtual soapbox.

I am not in agreement with Julian Assange's expressed goals and I don't think that I have a right to know every syllable of every email, cable, and phone conversation of anyone who receives a check from a Government agency of any type. Diplomats must have the ability to speak in confidence and those in the military must be able to operate in secrecy. There truly are bad people out there who want to kill them and to kill us and our allies. That said, I do think that the reaction of the U.S. Department of Justice, of various members of the legislature, and a number of commercial enterprises is contemptible. And, of course, the those venal and cynical morons who are continually seeking to cause me to disavow conservatism wasted no time in accusing the Obama administration of not acting harshly enough.

We criticize the Chinese when they censor the internet or crack down bluntly on free speech of any kind, and yet our government is attempting to block (by, among other things, coercion of  the sites hosting Wikileaks) any access to the site of an organization that has not been indicted, let alone convicted of any violation of law. The indivdual who founded the AA group in which I got sober says "if you'd be embarrassed if someone found out about what you're doing, you should stop doing it."

Through Michael Tobis' Only In It For The Gold Post I followed a link that, I believe, captures my position fairly accurately. The post is well worth reading in its entirety and is not very long but a key quote is:


The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.
There are many things that have been done in my name that lead me to believe that Bin Laden, et al, have achieved a huge victory. The USA Patriot Act allows prosecution without the right to confront witnesses, criminalizes telling anyone that one is under investigation under its provisions, criminalizes contributing money even for peaceful purposes to arbitrarily (e.g. Wikileaks) designated "terrorist organizations," and facilitates surveillance of U.S. citizens (not to mention anyone outside the U.S.) that is, for all practical purposes, unlimited.


Have I added anything to the debate here? No, but I do feel better having gotten it published.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When ignorance becomes a movement: The rise of Snookiism - By David Rothkopf | David Rothkopf

When ignorance becomes a movement: The rise of Snookiism - By David Rothkopf | David Rothkopf


The "embarrassed to be conservative" meme of my blog is, I'm afraid, becoming more and more prevalent. Why is it necessary to celebrate ignorance in order to be "conservative?"


C: Did a scientist say it?
S: Yes
C: Did he/she go to a college or university?
S: Yes, of course
C: Then I don't believe a word her or she says. All colleges and universities are nothing more than institutions for brainwashing attendees into believing in one-world government and the socialist agenda.
S: But we're talking about (climate, public health, evolution), not politics.
C: You weren't paying attention, were you? It's all part of the conspiracy for one-world government and the socialist agenda.


I really don't want this blog to become a platform for political commentary, and my belief in preserving the environment, fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility, minimal government intrusion, and the brilliance and timelessness of our Constitution is unshaken. But the TMZ/MTV/"I don't really like reading books"/Jersey Shores/Rush Limbaugh/Marc Morano/Glenn Beck absorption of the American dialogue is filling me with grief for the disappearance of thinking, moral conservatism.


Hello? Is there anybody out there?


Update: I tried my first xtranormal movie to illustrate my point.







Friday, November 19, 2010

What can the wind do?

After my post regarding the wind turbines atop Houston's Hess tower, I thought a very brief and very elementary primer on wind power might be in order. Moving air posesses kinetic energy in accordance with E=1/2*m*v^2. This energy can be harnessed to generate electricity. So how much energy is this?

Let's look at the turbines from the Hess Tower that I discussed in the post.  Here, each turbine intercepts an area of 8.25 m^2. Let's let s be the wind speed (since the turbines have a vertical axis the wind direction doesn't matter, so we don't need the vector quantity) in m/s (meters per second). Then, in one second, each turbine will intercept a volume V of 8.25*s m^3 (meters cubed). Assuming air has a density, d, of 1.16 kg/m^3, the mass,m, of air intercepted in a second is V*d=8.25*s*1.16 kg. This mass, moving at a speed of s m/s has a kinetic energy, E, of 0.5*m^s^2 or 0.5*8.25*s*1.16*s^2.



One thing to note before moving on is that s is present twice - once to the first power and once squared - meaning that the available energy PER SECOND (remember, we are talking about the amount of energy available in one second's worth of wind) is proportional to the cube of the wind velocity. Now, the total available energy per second in the wind is otherwise known as power. In other words, this number is the power that would be produced at a given wind speed, s, if 100% of it could be converted to electrical energy. Of course it can't, and we'll get to that later.

So, where are we? For a speed, s, the kinetic energy, E, per second, or power, P, in watts passing through one of the Hess turbines is 0.5*8.25*1.16*s^3 or, P=4.785*s^3 watts. Like a good physicist, let's check the units: 0.5 is dimensionless; 8.25 is m^2; 1.16 is kg*m^(-3); s is m*s^(-1) but it's cubed so that factor has units m^3*s^(-3). Thus, we have: for m, m^2*m^(-3)*m^3 or m^2; kg is merely kg^1; for s we have  s^(-3). The total is kg*m^2*s^(-3). Now, power is energy per second, or force * distance/second, or (mass*distance/time^2)*distance/second. This is kg^1*m*s^(-2)*m*s^(-1) or kg*m^2*s(-3). The units check. For ANY equation relating physical quantities, the units on each side MUST match, this is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the equation to be valid.


Let's stick a number in and see what we get. A 15 m.p.h. wind is fairly robust, how much power is available for the turbine's conversion to electricity? 15 m.p.h. is 6.71 m/s, the total power (through an area the size of a single Hess turbine) is 4.785*6.71^3 or 1,443 watts. If it all could be converted to electricity, it would light a little more than 14 100 watt light bulbs.



Of course it can't all be converted. One excellent intuitive way of understanding this is that the kinetic energy comes from the speed, to extract it all we would need to bring the wind to a complete stop, requiring a solid wall at the "turbine" location, something that obviously cannot work. Albert Betz was the first to calculate the absolute theoretical maximum energy that could ideally be extracted from wind. This is called, appropriately enough, the Betz Limit, and it's 59.3%.

Now a real turbine will not approach this limit, and horizontal axis wind turbines, at least in steady wind, are more efficient than vertical axis wind turbines like those at Hess Tower. From the data available at the
Cleanfield Energy site (the manufacturer of the Hess turbines) I estimate that the claim is that the turbines are about 37% efficient.



I've included a chart showing the total power in wind, as well as the Betz Limit and the power at 37% efficiency for wind from 0 to 30 m.p.h. The actual numbers apply specifically to a single Cleanfield turbine like the ones on the Hess Tower, but the shapes apply to all wind turbines, and keep in mind that the turbines typically don't turn at all until the wind speed reaches somewhere around 8 or 10 m.p.h. (Click to enbiggen).


Here's a graph showing the Betz Limit power in wind for speeds from 2.5 m/s to 20 m/s (about 5.6 m.p.h. to 44.7 m.p.h.) and turbine area of 5 m^2 to 25 m^2. Note the extreme dependence on turbine size and, especially, wind speed.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Could the boys and girls at the Wall Street Journal please buy Keith Johnson a calculator?

As I read some of the news of the day, concentrating on some of my RSS feeds for wind related stories, I was drawn to this article in the (formerly) esteemed Fox Financial News Wall Street Journal. The thrust of the article is that offshore wind power is expensive to install. I have no reason to think that that's not true, it looks like South Korea expects to pay about $3.32M per megawatt, a lot of money in anyone's book.

But in the linked article we find:


"Take the new proposal for the world’s biggest wind farm by another Texas oil man, peak oil prophet Matt Simmons. His Ocean Energy Institute proposes building a 5,000 megawatt deepwater wind farm in the Gulf of Maine, blessed with some of the world’s strongest sustained winds.
The problem is that, as envisioned, the Maine offshore wind farm would be very expensive—and that vision includes some very optimistic assumptions.
Ocean Energy figures capital costs for the project could go as high as $4.5 billion a megawatt, a lot more than Mr. Pickens projects for his massive Texas wind farm. All in, the costs for the Maine project could come to $25 billion, or $5 billion a megawatt, the Ocean Energy folks told Earth2Tech. That compares to upfront costs of about $600 million per megawatt for old-fashioned coal-fired plants."
Woah. Let's see here. $5B/megawatt for 5,000 megawatts. That's $25T (trillion). But didn't he say that it would cost $25B? Yes, he did. So, which is it? I can assure my panic stricken windpower fans that $25B is correct for an installed cost of $5M/megawatt.
Keith Johnson is the lead writer of the Environmental Capital section of the Wall Street Journal which "provides daily news and analysis of the shifting energy and environmental landscape." It's led by Journal energy reporter Russell Gold.
The first commenter pointed out the three order of magnitude error, saving me the trouble.


I don't have a barometer but I have an iPhone

There's an old apocryphal tale of a high school physics student taking a test who's asked "how would you use a barometer to measure the height of a building?" The expected answer is "measure the barometric pressure at the bottom and the top, use the pressure lapse rate with altitude to determine the height." This was not the answer given by the student. When his teacher marked the answer as incorrect, the student protested, telling the teacher that there are many ways to use a barometer to find the height of a building. The teacher was curious and asked the student to name a few. The student came up with (in addition to the obvious answer above):
  • On a sunny day, set the barometer on a sidewalk and measure the height of the barometer and its shadow. Measure the building's shadow, apply the ratio.
  • Drop the barometer from the roof, time its descent to the street and use s=.5*g*t^2.
  • From the roof, tie the barometer to a string, lower it until it almost touches the street. Set it swinging and measure the period, and apply t=2*Pi*(L/g)^0.5
  • Measure the height of the barometer, use the core stair to count barometer heights to the top of the building, multiply.
  • The easiest? Take the barometer to the building manager and say "I have a fine barometer here, and if you'll tell me the height of your building, I'll give it to you."
Not having a barometer handy, I didn't do any of those, but I used the Pasco SPARKvue program on my iPhone to measure and record the acceleration during an elevator trip from the third floor to the 11th of the Hilton Americas-Houston where I'm staying. The program will email the data in CSV format. I then used Excel to numerically integrate the acceleration and the velocity to find displacement. The distance worked out to  be 100' 1 1/2" for the eight floors, a floor height of about 12.5'. This is a little more than I'd have estimated. The hotel has 19 floors and, I assume, a mechanical penthouse, so I'm going with 19*12.5 + 10 (the mechanical penthouse will be shorter) for a total of 247.5'.

The top (and steady) speed reached by the elevator (a Schindler) was 7.9 m.p.h. The peak acceleration was about 0.8 m/s^2, less than 0.1 "g". And if my iPhone were as smart as it (and Steve Jobs) thinks it is, it could distinguish acceleration from gravity in a closed elevator cab. Oh, wait...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A wind blows in Houston

I'm at the ASNT (American Society for Nondestructive Testing) Fall Conference and Quality Testing Show in downtown Houston, TX. I'm staying at the Hilton Houston Americas, with a northward view across Disovery Green Park. I was here in May of 2009 for the Clean Technology Conference and Expo and saw an office building under construction. It's now completed, it had been called Discovery Tower but has now been renamed Hess Tower since the Hess Corporation (formerly Amerada Hess) leased all 872,000 square feet of space in the building.

As I looked out my 11th floor window at the 30 story tower, a spinning motion caught my eye. I looked up at the tower and, sure enough, there appeared to be a series of vertical axis wind turbines adorning the top of the tower. They are certainly eye-catching and, to my uneducated eye, add to the visual appeal of the building. But do they provide enough energy to justify their cost to manufacture, install, and maintain?

Information as to the cost and expected energy output is sparse in the google-verse though I did see that Cynthia Cisneros of KTRK did a brief television piece about it. She exhibited her and her editor's cluelessness by stating that each of the 10 turbines is "designed to generate approximately 3.5 kilowatts per hour." She does state (and I've read at a couple of other sites) that the turbines should generate sufficient energy to light the building at night or to power two office floors.

I was able to finally determine that the turbines are manufactured by Cleanfield Energy, headquartered in Ontario, Canada and that they are Cleanfield's Model V3.5. They're "designed to harness urban wind efficiently and effectively." On their web site Cleanfield provides a specification sheet for the turbine which I would copy here if it weren't for fear of a lawsuit.

But using the "Estimated Energy per Year" chart and an average wind velocity of 4.5 meters/second (downgraded for the urban setting from an 80 meter wind average wind velocity chart here) I'll estimate that each turbine will provide about 1,500 kilowatt hours/year for a total of 15,000 kilowatt hours/year, or 15 megawatt hours/year. Note that this is a capacity factor (assuming 3.5 kilowatts rated power) of 1,500/(3.5*24*365) * 100% or about 4.9%.

Now, I suppose that Hess Corporation gets a better deal on energy than I do, but it's probably not too far off to figure they pay about $0.10/kilowatt hour. So, by avoiding the purchase of 15,000 kilowatt hours they'll save something like $1,500. I don't know what the generators cost but I suspect that the net present value of the investment is negative no matter how small Hess' cost of capital.

I've foundcouple of estimates for electricity use in office buildings on a "per square foot" basis, at 18.9 and 17 kWh/year. If I assume that the Hess building is MUCH more efficient at, say, 15 kWh/year/ft^2, then at 872,000ft^2/30 floors there are about 29,000 ft^2/floor. Two such floors would use 870,000 kilowatt hours/year. Use of a median rather than an average electrical energy usage might cut this number by about a third (very optimistically) so let's say 580,000 kilowatt hours/year might be a reasonable lower bound. I don't think the turbines will do it. They'd supply about 1,250 ft^2, a small office.

A video is here:

Friday, November 05, 2010

$200M/day, 34 naval vessels, raining kittens and puppies

I'm going to have to come up with a new name for my personal political viewpoint, I can't continue to be associated with what are commonly referred to now as "conservatives."

I've mentioned on a couple of occasions that I make it my habit to listen to and read from sources of editorial opinion that span the political spectrum, e.g., I listen to both KPFK, the local Pacifica network outlet where National Public Radio is regarded as a bunch of right wing reactionaries and tools of the bourgouisie, and to KRLA, the Salem Radio Network outlet where Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, Dennis Miller, Bill Bennett, and Glenn Beck (!) hold forth.

I was listening to Mike Gallagher Wednesday evening to sample the conservative talk radio reaction to Tuesday's election. I was hearing generally what I expected when my ears pricked up as Gallagher started going on about Obama's visit to India. He said he'd read that $200M per day would be spent on the trip, including hotels, security, air transport, 34 naval vessels, etc. He didn't buy into this figure with complete abandon, saying that it was from an Indian newspaper, and prefacing some of his remarks with "if this is true..." But in speaking with subsequent callers he did rail against Obama using that figure.

Now, as it turns out, even the hardcore conservatives have distanced themselves from the story, but just how clueless do you have to be to hear such a thing and not immediately reject it out of hand? What mental processes must have broken down to make a person WITH A NATIONALLY SYNDICATED TALK SHOW so credulous that he even momentarily took such a thing seriously?

Does being a conservative mean that if someone tells you it's raining kittens and puppies you worry about taxes being raised to clean up the poop?




Friday, October 29, 2010

Embarrassed to be a conservative yet again

As regular readers will know, I don't only frequent the sites of those who accept the idea that mankind's emissions of greenhouse gasses are an imminent threat. I have discussed my sojurns to Climate DepotWatts Up With ThatJoanne Nova, etc. While I frequently find the posts themselves to be frustrating, the comments are often infuriating and the links to the blog sites hosted by the commenters can be downright frightening.


Such was the case when I looked at a comment on Anthony Watts' post entitled "Global air and sea temperatures starting to drop rapidly." One Alec Rawls has a site called Error Theory. Mr. Rawls says that he was in a Ph.D. program in Economics at Stanford but that his research led him to "moral theory and constitutional law" at which point he dropped the program and went out on his own. The Error Theory blog has as its summary, quoted in its entirety, "Moral science has two halves. There are the implications of thinking straight about fact and value (ideal theory) and there are the implications of not thinking straight. Ideal theory is the foundation, error theory the daily battle."

Reading his most recent post of October 28, I agreed with a fair amount of his material. It consists of some takedowns of camaign ads of the despicable, loathsome (I don't like her) Barbara Boxer. So far so good. But when I saw a picture of Alan Keyes and a description of him as a hero, alarm bells went off. It turns out that Rawls' passion is detailed at his web site entitled Crescent of Betrayal.

That site is dedicated to stopping the construction of the Flight 93 National Memorial by Architect Paul Murdoch. Readers will recall that United Airlines Flight 93 was the Boeing 757 that was brought down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania by passengers to prevent radical Islamic hijackers from using the airplane as a guided missile. So, what's the problem with the memorial? It's at the site of the crash and the actual location of the crash is surrounded by a broken circle. Rawls believes that this is an Islamic Crescent.


There's a tower with 40 wind chimes symbolizing those who died. The chimes hang in the concave portion of a semi-circular tower. If you stand on the ground and gaze up, Rawls believes you are looking at the Flight 93 victims hanging in hell below the Heavenly crescent at the top of the tower.


As is usually the case with conspiracy theorists, Rawls has a whole series of arcane facts and figures to back up his contention. For example, if you stand in the center of the open part of the circle and look toward the center of the enclosed area, it's the proper direction to face Mecca. And when the shadow of the tower touches the trees, forming part of the closure of the circle, it's time for afternoon prayers.

It's difficult to criticize this - Tom Burnett, Sr., father of Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett, Jr. is a part of the campaign to stop the Memorial. I'm sensitive to the feelings of the friends and families of those who lost their lives in Pennsylvania, in New York, and at the Pentagon. But this kind of fear and hatred mongering does no one any good. What evidence is there that Paul Murdoch secretly (or not so secretly) venerates the terrorists and wants to shame the victims?


As it turns out, the design has been controversial and its abandonment has been a cause celeb for such intellectual luminaries of the conservative movement as the above-mentioned Keyes and ex Colorado Representative, erstwhile Republican Presidential candidate, and current Colorado Gubernatorial candidate in the Constitution Party, Tom Tancredo. Yes, it's hard to hold my head high as a conservative these days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The art of disinformation

Marc Morano, over at the climate disinformation aggregator site Climate Depot, summarizes a sequence of email exchanges and episodes involving TV Weatherman Anthony Watts of the Watts Up With That (WUWT) climate change skeptic site and centered on an invitation Watts received to participate in a debate at California State University Chico (CSUC) as follows:
Anthony Watts 'disinvited' to debate: University claims it can't handle a slideshow
For his part, in his post about the episode, Watts characterizes it similarly:
 The season of disinvitation continues: Chico State University can’t handle a slideshow

So, from this I infer that CSUC invited Watts to make a presentation of some sort and that, upon hearing that Watts intended to utilize a powerpoint presentation, said that "I'm sorry, we don't have the facilities for that, we retract our invitation." The truth is that Watts was invited to be one of three representatives of the "pro" side of a debate about passing California's Proposition 23.


Prop 23 is intended to suspend the implementation of California Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), called the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This bill has a variety of provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state and is strongly opposed by various energy companies, natural resource extraction companies, and warming skeptics, etc. who have invested huge sums of money in support of Prop 23. The purpose of this post is not to delve into whether or not Prop 23 should be passed. Rather, it's about Watts' and Morano's characterization of the events surrounding Watts' invitation to this debate.

Upon receipt of the invitation, Watts asked if he could utilize a PowerPoint presentation. He gave a variety of reasons for his desire to do so, including his disadvantage in a debate involving statements and rebuttals due to a partial hearing loss, his position as a television personality and familiarity with the visual medium, and his desire to make the debate an educational experience for his audience.


The organizers turned him down on this, stating that the debate was to utilize the traditions of oral argument. Several emails were exchanged, but CSUC was adamant that visual aids weren't to be allowed. They were willing to provide accommodation for his hearing disability but not to change the debate format. The key email from Watts is:

From: “Anthony Watts”
Date: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 11:13 AM
To: “Wolf, Thia”
Cc: “Peterson, Sue” ; “John Rucker” ; “Justus, Zachary”
Subject: Re: Invitation to the Great Debate
Hello Ms. Wolf,

Thank you for your reply.


{Snip by King of the Road}


To deny visuals in a public debate is in my opinion, a sad commentary on  CSUC’s program. Even in a court of law the prosecution and the defense are allowed visuals. How else would they explain forensic science to a jury?  Get with the times!


Given the disadvantages I will face, and unless there is some sort of  accommodation for me to present at least some visuals, I see no other option  but to decline your invitation.


I await your reconsideration,

Best Regards, Anthony Watts

(Emphasis mine)

In other words, when CSUC wouldn't change the debate format to meet Watts' conditions, he declined. He made a bunch of noise about going into hostile conditions at a disadvantage in the snipped portion but the bottom line is that CSUC wouldn't meet his demands and so he declined. Both in the headline and later in the post, Watts disingenuously characterizes this chain of events as himself being disinvited.


Further, nowhere does CSUC say they can't handle slides. They make it quite clear that the format was determined in advance to be oral argument only and that they would not change because of Watts' demand.


This is the nature of the disinformation promulgated by the denizens of the seething so-called skeptical swamp. As to Watts' and Morano's specific complaint here, I offer the following:


Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to conduct a poll


Current Poll
» Will humans continue to be responsible with the resources of the Earth when the AGW Climate Change theory has been disproved?

 I will continue to be responsible with the resources of the Earth.
 It would make no difference to the Earths resources if we did not recycle household waste.
 I'm confused and only recycle to save the world from "Man Made Climate Change."

I am FAR from an expert on climate or on climate change, anthropogenic global warming, human caused climate disruption, etc. I read frequently about it at a dilettante level and have several climate related blogs in my blog roll. I read a fair amount of "skeptical" material as well as that of those who support the mainstream consensus of the scientific community at large that CO2 emissions are causing climate disruption and will continue to do so with increasingly negative consequences without dramatic societal changes.


In the former (skeptical) category I was reading a blog called Climate Realists  which seems to represent itself as both a clearinghouse of skeptical climate information as well as a venue for semi-scholarly discussion. I won't express an opinion on the level of scholarship, but in the sidebar, I found the so-called "poll" copied above. In terms of the concentration of hidden assumptions and logical fallacies, it seems to be nearly unique. In fact, it can only be intentionally so.


  • "Will humans continue to be responsible with the resources of the Earth..." This ludicrously implies that humans are doing so now.
  • "When AGW Climate Change Theory has been disproved." Really?
  • The first two selections are not mutually exclusive and, together, seem to imply that being responsible with the resources of the Earth consists of recycling 
  • The third selection makes at least two gratuitously insulting implications: that accepting the consensus position of mainstream science on the effects of CO2 emissions indicates confusion and that people who take this position believe that recycling will "save the world."
Now I'm sure that the owner of the blog is aware of these things and I imagine he or she would say "it's meant to be tongue in cheek" but is this really a good way to advance the dialog? But then, I suppose that isn't their aim.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

What to make of quotes by smart folks

I was reading an article on Vernier's (a maker of physics and chemistry laboratory instruments and software primarily for high school physics students) web site about an experiment in which their Labquest unit and some of their temperature probes were used in an project to determine the effect of roof color on the temperature of a dwelling.

In the article, I read thaEnergy Secretary and Nobel Prize laureate, Dr. Steven Chu had stated that "Giving roads and roofs a paler color would have the same effect of removing every car in the world off the roads for 11 years." My eyebrows went up for a couple of reasons. First, I have a hard time understanding what is even being claimed. Second, any interpretation I was able to make seemed implausible.


I used that quote as a Google search phrase and found quite a few places repeating the quote but the best I could do for an original source was in the Telegraph, a British newspaper. There, the amplified quotation was "If you look at all the buildings and if you make the roofs white and if you make the pavement more of a concrete type of colour rather than a black type of colour and if you do that uniformally (sic), that would be the equivalent of... reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years – just taking them off the road for 11 years,"


I'm sorry, but that is just a very confusing statement. Is the implication that making this change immediately and for all time would cumulatively equal the amount of carbon emissions due to the world's cars for 11 years? The confusion stems from having a time frame for the cars but not for the houses and buildings. This is, in my opinion, more unit ambiguity, and Dr. Chu has a Nobel Prize! Further, is that all the cars on the road today, or the cumulative emissions of those cars plus the cars to be added over the next 11 years?


I suspect that rough numbers will suffice to see what Dr. Chu might be talking about and whether it makes any sense. So just how much carbon is emitted by all the world's cars today? Here I find the following:
"The authors present the image of a coal train that stretches 55,000 miles, long enough to circle the globe twice, carrying 314 million metric tons (314*10^6 tonnes) of carbon - the amount of CO2 emitted by U.S. cars and trucks in the year 2004."
Argh. "314 million metric tons of carbon" and the amount of "CO2 emitted." CO2 is 72.7% oxygen and 27.3% carbon by weight. So are they referring to 314/.273 or 1150 million tonnes of CO2 containing 314 million tonnes of carbon or is it 314 million tonnes of CO2 containing 85.7 million tonnes of carbon? Sneaking in the back door by looking at annual gasoline consumption, assuming gasoline is more or less n-heptane which is 84% carbon by weight approximated the carbon to 316 million metric tons and that's closer than I deserve so I'm going with 314*10^6 tonnes of carbon from 1150*10^6 tonnes of CO2. The article cited states that the U.S. contributes 45% of the world's automotive CO2 emissions so the world's total is estimated at 2555*10^6 tonnes of CO2. This is for 2004, so we multiply by 11 to see what Dr. Chu was talking about. This yields 28.10*10^9 tonnes of carbon.


Now, what about roofs and pavements? This is a dramatically more difficult estimate and I'm going to rely on the scholars. Here is the best article I could find without paying. An abstract of an original paper (the earlier of the two cited in the article above) is at Springerlink and for $34 you can have the whole paper. I'll quote the abstract here:
Increasing urban albedo can reduce summertime temperatures, resulting in better air quality and savings from reduced air-conditioning costs. In addition, increasing urban albedo can result in less absorption of incoming solar radiation by the surface-troposphere system, countering to some extent the global scale effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Pavements and roofs typically constitute over 60% of urban surfaces (roof 20–25%, pavements about 40%). Using reflective materials, both roof and pavement albedos can be increased by about 0.25 and 0.15, respectively, resulting in a net albedo increase for urban areas of about 0.1. On a global basis, we estimate that increasing the world-wide albedos of urban roofs and paved surfaces will induce a negative radiative forcing on the earth equivalent to offsetting about 44 Gt of CO2 emissions. At ∼25/tonne of CO2, a 44 Gt CO2 emission offset from changing the albedo of roofs and paved surfaces is worth about 1,100 billion. Furthermore, many studies have demonstrated reductions of more than 20% in cooling costs for buildings whose rooftop albedo has been increased from 10–20% to about 60% (in the US, potential savings exceed $1 billion per year). Our estimated CO2 offsets from albedo modifications are dependent on assumptions used in this study, but nevertheless demonstrate remarkable global cooling potentials that may be obtained from cooler roofs and pavements.
Note that the abstract doesn't mention a time period over which the 44 Gt (gigatonne, or billion metric tons) offset occurs. The article linked above seems to clarify it as the total offset, and splits the offsets into 24 Gt for roofs and 20 Gt for pavements, along with the assumptions as to the increases in albedo necessary. And the abstract is very clear that they are discussing tonnes of CO2, not carbon, so we have to to take 27.3% of the 44 Gt for a total reduction of carbon of 12 Gt. This is less than half of the 28.1 Gt I found for worldwide automotive carbon emissions for 11 years. Still, it's a surprisingly large number, much more than I'd have estimated off the top of my head (like Mr. Spock Sherlock Holmes, I never guess).

Monday, October 04, 2010

Am I a Malthusian?

I was struck with another case of SIWOTI syndrome in a link I followed from Michael Tobis' Only In It For The Gold blog. He linked to a post called "Walking Back to Happiness" at the blog site Hot Topic from New Zealand. There, one Tom Bennion, who hosts a site called stopflying.org/, gave a very thorough exposition of the rationale behind his decision to stop travelling by air and his rebuttals of the counterarguments he's encountered when explaining his position to others.

In his brief autobiographical introduction he explained that he's a married, 46 year old lawyer (don't get me started, perhaps the legal profession is different in New Zealand) with three small children. He spends some bytes implying but not stating that many climate scientists who undoubtedly should know better exhibit hypocrisy by flying, especially for vacations.

Well, be that as it may, I commented that no single act (at least not one ordinarily carried out by a "typical" westerner) is as damaging to the environment in terms of carbon footprint and other environmental degradation as bringing a child into the world. So "pot-kettle-black" and all that. I was accused of being "another Malthusian." I did mention resources but my comment was meant to home in primarily to carbon footprint. Now I concede that having a child is more meaningful than flying to Copenhagen, even if it's for a conference on climate change. But it's still a decision to take an action much more likely to damage the Earth for future generations.

Or so I think. But I haven't run the numbers to get an estimate, so I'd best do so. Should it turn out that I'm incorrect, I'll apologize on the site. As usual, this will involve much estimating. I'll use estimates that make the best case that the child is likely to be less harmful, so I'll use a relatively high number of flights over very long distances and use New Zealand rather than U.S. primary energy consumption.

I'll start with a comparison of the lifetime primary energy use of a New Zealand resident which should be a  reasonable proxy for the carbon emissions consequent to supplying that energy. Starting with the Energy Information Agency website I find that New Zealand converted primary energy at a per capita rate of 211.2*10^6 btu/year in 2006 (a rate of a bit over 7000 watts as compared to about 11,000 in the U.S.). And at this post at the Litebucket site it's stated that New Zealand derived 71% of it's primary energy from fossil fuels in 2008. As an aside, the other 29% was derived from renewables, a very laudable figure. So, the average New Zealander converts about 0.71*211.2*10^6 or 150.0*10^6 btu/year of fossil fuel energy (regular readers know I hate saying "consumes energy"). Now, I'll assume that a child lives to be 70, so he or she will consume 70*150*10^6 btu or 10.5*10^9 btu in his or her lifetime.

Now let's look at flying. I'll assume that a heavy user flies a round trip of 3000 miles (6000 miles out and back) twice per month, so this heavy airline commuter logs 144,000 miles per year. Let's suppose he or she does this over a 40 year period and hence totals 5.76*10^6 miles. This sad person will be assumed to be on a plane that's 80% full. This site shows that the worst airline gets a trifle over 60 seat miles per gallon of jet fuel, I'll use that. The assumption of 80% full reduces this to 48 miles per gallon for the individual, and 1/48=.0208 gallons/mile. Multiplying this by 5.76*10^6 miles, we find that this heavy airline user will be responsible for the burning of 120,000 gallons of jet A fuel. Here we find that Jet A releases 123,608 btu/gallon so our traveler will convert (123,608 btu/gallon)*(120,000 gallons)=14.83*10^9 btu during his or her flying career. This is about 1.4 times the energy converted by the average New Zealander during his or her lifetime.

Now, it may be objected that there are many variables not considered (type of flying, increasing efficiency of the New Zealander lifestyle, and many, many more) but the two scenarios, child and extreme air traveler are of the same order of magnitude. The writer of the post in question has three children. If we consider that it's not unreasonable for a person to replace him or herself and his or her spouse, the writer has added one beyond that. So the one child beyond the replacement number is on the order of 2/3 as intensive an emitter of CO2 as what is by any reasonable judgement an extreme user of airline travel. Look for my tepid mea culpa at the site.

Monday, September 27, 2010

CA ISO system status

It's been a VERY hot day, with all-time temperature records broken in Southern California. How is the California Independent System Operator (CA ISO who manages our grid) handling it?

Not really so bad (click on graphic for a larger view).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Airbus A319 saga - epilogue

Herehere, and here I've posted about various data-gathering exercises and calculations regarding the Airbus A319. The data was gathered on two flights, one on takeoff from Laguardia in New York to O'hare in Chicago, and the other on landing from Chicago at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. I mentioned that the calculated landing speed seemed too low and that the landing roll seemed too short.

As it happens, my office window overlooks Long Beach Airport where Jet Blue provides service using the very similar Airbus A320. Rhett Alain over at his Dot Physics blog posted an article on an iPhone 4 app from Vernier Software and Technology called Video Physics. It allows the use of iPhone videos to do rudimentary analysis of the physics (position, velocity in the x and y axes) involved and to email the data files to a "real" computer for further analysis in Vernier's Logger Pro software.

I took video of a couple of Jet Blue's A320s on takeoff and landing and used the Vernier products to determine the speeds. As I suspected, my estimate of 152 knots for the A319 takeoff speed at Laguardia compared fairly well with the measured speed of 167 knots for the A320. The landing speed was another story. My accelerometer measurements and numerical integration with a taxi speed assumption let to a calculated landing speed for the A319 of 99 knots. My measurement for the A320 was 129 knots. This comports much more favorably with my knowledge of aircraft operations and what I've seen on the web.

I'll be travelling to Houston in November; I suppose it's possible that my iPhone will accidentally be measuring acceleration on takeoff and landing on that trip as well.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Will ingenuity save us?

As is my wont, I entered a conversation on Joanne Nova's global warming skeptic blog site. The nature of my comments revolved around my contention that we won't be able to bring the underdeveloped world to the standard of living of the developed world since that would require increasing our primary energy consumption by about a factor of four, even without an increase in population.

The sentiment on that site is that progress is non-linear and unpredictable and that human ingenuity will result in breakthroughs that can make it possible for all seven or even nine billion people to live on Earth at western standards of living. People opine that gains in efficiency will enable more to be done with less - one person said that "a worker lying naked on a beach with an iPhone can be more productive than a whole office with several tons of gear in 1978." Really? Let's take a look.


I pulled statistics from an Energy Information Agency web site and Angus Maddison's web site and combined them into a spreadsheet. I was able to compile data from 1980 through 2006, surely a time when the efficiencies cited above would be in play. A couple of interesting charts emerged, the first shows per capita gdp as function of per capita energy use.
It looks an awful lot to me as if per capita gdp is purchased primarily with per capita primary energy use. Next, I looked at the ratio of per capita gdp to per capita energy use from 1980 to 2006.
Hmm. This is the the amount of gdp produced by a quantity of energy expended each year. The fact that it is increasing definitely shows a trend in favor of a more efficient use of energy to produce economic output but I see no indication of a breakaway trend; certainly nothing that will enable us to bring a western standard of living or anything close to the developing world at rates of primary energy use that are remotely feasible.


I'm hugely in favor of nuclear energy, solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and other ways of extracting energy from the environment and I do believe that a standard of living that a Westerner such as myself could accept can be achieved for the world. Such things require focused effort, long-term planning, and massive investment.  I'd like to think the free market and ingenuity would find the solution, but I see little sign of it.

*Extensively edited to fix typos. I have GOT to be more careful about proofreading before hitting the PUBLISH POST button.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More on Moller International and the "Skycar"

Back in March of 2009, I made a couple of posts (here and here) about the Moller Skycar. I questioned some of the claims made for the vehicle with respect to fuel economy and speed. The other day, a comment on the second of my posts related to Moller mentioned that my posts had been discussed on the Moller blog site. I'll quote the comment by a blog visitor and the answer by Bruce Calkins, Moller International's General Manager, in full:





A long time skeptic  - Query re: concerns about range and fuel efficiency
I was curious to know what Moller International thinks of the speculations by this blogger here: http://hamiltonianfunction.blogspot.com/2009/03/moller-sky-car.html and here: http://hamiltonianfunction.blogspot.com/2009/03/horsepower-fuel-efficiency-and_31.html I'm not sure I agree with all his assumptions, but he makes a pretty damning case. I would be interested to here the company's reaction.




Bruce Calkins  - Skeptics talk about fuel economy of the Skycar
There is a saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The blog entries seem to fit into this category. While the maximum hp and burn rate are correct, the assumption that we remain at that rate for anything more than the few short seconds while we are operating in VTOL mode is not. Our hp requirement in cruise is about 120 hp, with the corresponding fuel burn rate. Range projections are based on the reduced fuel burn rate. We are currently evaluating a hybrid fuel-electric propulsion system that might reduce the total installed power requirement replacing it with a temporary electrical "boost" system for the VTOL-mode operations. If you would like a more detailed paper on the subject, email me.
 Before I comment on this I want to state that Dr. Moller is, without a doubt, a brilliant man and an extraordinary aerodynamic engineer. Certainly, he's far beyond my expertise. That said, he and those with whom he works have a long history of making claims that are never fulfilled. A good place to start reading about this aspect is at Wikipedia's Skycar page.

Now, Mr. Calkins is stating that the Skycar will cruise using 120 horsepower. The Skycar specifications page states that the cruise speed at 25,000 feet is 305 m.p.h. and that "max mileage" is greater than 20 m.p.g. It's not stated what airspeed is utilized to achieve this mileage. It may be very much lower than 305 m.p.h. In my airplane, the maximum range airspeed (that is, the airspeed at which I can achieve the greatest number of miles per gallon) is about 24% lower than normal cruise speed. Interestingly, on another page the claim is that "M400 Skycar can cruise comfortably at 275 MPH (maximum speed of 375 MPH) and achieve up to 20 miles per gallon on clean burning, ethanol fuel." I'll use this and supplement it with information in a paper hosted on Moller's web site. However, one thing I note is that none of the referenced pages give a categorical statement that the Skycar can achieve a cruise speed of, say, 275 miles per hour while it's getting 20 m.p.g. Instead, statements such as that quoted above can be backed away from by saying "well, yes, it can get 20 m.p.g. at the minimum point on the thrust required as function of airspeed curve," typically not far above the maximum L/D (lift/drag) ratio airspeed.

But let's proceed. We'll start with the assumption of steady flight in cruise. The conservative claim above is that the Skycar will do 275 m.p.h. in cruise and Calkins states that it uses "about 120 horsepower." OK, as I've mentioned any number of times, power is equal to force times speed, so force is equal to power divided by speed. The Google calculator makes this division and  handily converts the units to newtons, yielding a thrust of 728 newtons.

Now, as we learn in high school physics or in airman ground school, for an airplane in unaccelerated flight (as the Skycar would be under the cruise condition assumed here) thrust=drag, and lift=weight. Hence, we're considering a total (lift induced plus parasitic) drag of 728 newtons for an aircraft travelling at 275 miles per hour. We need to determine if this is plausible. Without a lot of mathematical derivation, it's pretty easy to show that, in unaccelerated cruise flight, Thrust=Weight/(Lift/Drag). That means that Lift/Drag=Weight/thrust. Here we have (using 2400 pounds or 10,676 newtons as the "gross weight") that Lift/Drag=10,676/728=14.66. But the specifications page referenced above has the so-called maximum L/D (the maximum ratio of lift to drag) as 12.5. Now, this maximum ratio is at a specific airspeed, any other speed will produce a lower L/D ratio. 14.7 cannot be achieved.

The Moller International web site does not give sufficient data to go much further (wing span, wing area, flate plate area, etc.) so I can't really do much more than this. I will say that the figures claimed by Moller International are likely not outlandish but, in my opinion, they are very significantly exaggerated.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Unit ambiguity in the New York Times?

I've made several posts (here for example) decrying people's cluelessness with respect to scientific concepts and, in particular, with respect to units. But do we have an example in the New York Times? I follow the New York Times Twitter feed (nytimesscience) and read the following: When It Comes to Car Batteries, Moore's Law Does Not Compute http://bit.ly/bSuX3e. Naturally, I clicked on the link and it took me to an an article on the rate of advance in battery technologies, both with respect to energy density and charging rates. All very interesting, and the interview subjects were from IBM and Better Place.

But about midway through the article, I read the following:
He illustrated the challenge of building a battery with the energy density of gasoline by recounting that it took 47 seconds to put 13.6 gallons of gas in his car when he stopped to fill up on the way to San Francisco. That’s the equivalent of 36,000 kilowatts of electricity. An electric car would need to pump 6,000 kilowatts to charge its battery.
Does this make sense? Let's parse it.13.6 gallons of gasoline contains (at 125*10^6 joules/gallon) 1.7*10^9 joules. Putting this in the vehicle in 47 seconds yields a "rate of energy transfer" of 1.7*10^9 joules/47 seconds, or 36.2*10^6 joules/second or just over 36,000 kilowatts. OK, so far so good.

But where does the 6,000 kilowatts come in? Well, the internal combustion engine (ICE) in the gas powered car might use energy at something like 22% efficiency, so the 1.7*10^9 joules might translate to 3.74*10^8 joules of useful work. OK, an electric motor with the power to drive a car will typically have a minimum efficiency of 92%, so that means that we'll need 3.74*10^8/.92 = 4.07^10^8 joules of electrical energy put into the battery. Doing this in 47 seconds yields a charging rate of 8.6*10^6 watts or 8,600 kilowatts. Not really so far off, and I guess that that's where the figure came from.

Stepping back, it's a very good illustration of why we love fossil fuels. Suppose IBM and Better Place succeed in creating a lithium air battery with the required energy density and ability to accept a charge at the rate described above. Now, imagine a "charging station" with, say, 4 cars charging their batteries at the rate of 6 megawatts, and imagine that you're at a corner with another station across the street doing the same. As I drive around, this is not at all an unusual circumstance at some times of day. So, at this corner, we'll need to be able to supply at least 48 megawatts of electrical power. That's about 5% of the power from a gigawatt generating station (this is a big facility). Getting energy from a power plant to a charging station at this rate, with the ubiquity of today's gas stations, is an incredibly difficult transmission problem

As I've demonstrated in a previous post, I believe it will be possible to install sufficient capacity to supply electrical energy to a fleet of electric cars. But the ability to deliver it at an acceptable rate to batteries that can store it is definitely the sine qua non of the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.