“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, June 19, 2011

Daily Kos makes sense - say WHAT??

It's true. There's a long article in Daily Kos (I was sent there by clicking on a link in a Tweet by @mtobis) by Mark Sumner that addresses steps to be taken in the two major areas of energy use in the U.S. - transportation and electricity. It has none of the insane leftist tripe typically characteristic of Daily Kos. And, I have to say, Daily Kos is not as wacky as it was a couple of years back. Yes, back in the waning days of the Bush administration and the 2008 Presidential election I wandered over there a bit. As I've repeatedly stated I try very hard, in electronic, print, and broadcast media, to listen carefully and critically to both "left" and "right" wing outlets.

In any event, it's well worth 20 minutes of your time to read. I have a few relatively minor criticisms:

  • Sumner states that "Nearly all the energy numbers in this article came from the bounty of data made available at the U.S. Energy Information Administration site." All well and good but I'd sure like specific footnoting for many of the statements.
  • Wind energy suffers from significantly more obstacles than Sumner indicates. Many who live near them hate them. Sumner suggests placing wind farms atop Appalachian peaks that may otherwise be removed in "mountain top removal" type coal mining. Maybe so, but many would find that to be (almost as) equally revolting.
  • Sumner proposes a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel that starts at $0.01/gallon and increases by that amount each month for 10 years. I think a larger tax more quickly is crucial.
  • Sumner makes almost no mention of distribution other than advocating the speeding up of "smart grid" technology.
But one key point explored by Sumner but often overlooked in dissertations about our electricity generating needs is that many, if not most, of the installations that currently provide our baseload power are at or beyond their expected service life and will need to be replaced in any event. Thus, the choice is not between spending money on replacing many of our current energy resources or not; it's between replacing many of our current energy resources in a systematic method geared toward reliability and independence from fossil fuel imports and spending much more money on ad hoc, sub-optimal "tourniquet" solutions as price fluctuations and equipment breakdowns force immediate action.

It's by no means a scholarly article with references, etc. but I highly recommend reading it. By the way, Dr. Tobis' Bruce Sterling's comment in Dr. Tobis' re-Tweet that sent me to the article was "Great Program. Now do it while broke with planet on fire." So I guess despair is the solution.

Update: Corrected attribution of despair quote.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Central Air for sale - cheap!

I'm attending the Clean Technology Conference and Expo 2011 in Boston, MA. One of the featured programs is the CTSI Utility Challenge, where early stage firms in the Clean Tech "space" vie for recognition of their technology by a panel of judges from the Utility and Municipal sectors.

One of the 15 finalists was 7AC Technologies, a firm whose technology uses a "Liquid Desiccant Chiller" for cooling buildings. The Company's representative caught my attention when he stated that "a typical residential central air conditioning unit costs as much annually to operate as its initial purchase price." Really?

I looked into the A/C unit at our house in Anaheim Hills (not known for a Mediterranean climate, and I like it very cool) in a post in 2009. I determined at that time that the 1995 Goodman Manufacturing unit draws about 5,890 watts when cooling. I'd measured it at about 5,000 watts but I'll go with the higher number to make my point.

I will estimate on the high side that the A/C unit is on about 12 hours per day for 150 days per year. This certainly does not underestimate its usage. Thus, I'd use 12*150*5.89, or 10,600 kilowatt hours. I'm paying $0.14/kilowatt hour so this usage will cost me slightly under $1,500. And I'm in a hot area, with an old and inefficient A/C unit with our thermostat set at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

I want my new central A/C unit for $1,500! I wonder why the speaker felt it necessary to MSU (make s _ _ t up)?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shall I become an expert on Anthropogenic Global Warming?

Apparently, I must. In the past, I've concluded that I can comfortably decide how to vote, purchase, act, etc. with respect to the possibility of mankind-caused climate disruption due to the burning of fossil fuels and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions (hereafter abbreviated by "AGW" - anthropogenic global warming) by determining whom to trust as "experts." I've linked several blogs that clearly support the notion that we are dangerously destabilizing the atmosphere/ocean system by our prodigious carbon dioxide emissions.

But, while such as "Watching the Deniers," "Eli Rabett," and others discount many, if not most, who are skeptical of the AGW claim as lacking in intelligence, being in the pay of fossil fuel interests, the Chamber of Commerce, or other less than savory motivations, there is a sizeable contingent of folks who seem to have intelligence and integrity and yet who argue against AGW.  Some aren't even listed in Sourcewatch. The one who's caused me to ask the question in the title of this post is Warren Meyer of the Coyote Blog.

Meyer is (apparently) a small business owner and avowedly a political and philosophical libertarian. I'm a medium sized business partner and inclined toward a libertarian philosophy. I'm inclined to think that libertarianism will meet its downfall in the excessive discounting of the long term so that when people acting in their individual interest recognize the phenomenon of energy descent it will be (if it isn't already) too late. I would be interested in Meyer's opinion of the societal goal directed behavior that was necessary to enable the U.S. to fight and win the Second World War.

And while Meyer acknowledges that his credentials to speak as an expert on climate change do not come from peer reviewed papers, a professorship in the Earth Sciences Department of a University, or a Doctorate in a Climate Science related field, the arguments in the paper linked above are compelling and, were it not for a couple of years of absorbing the information in the "pro AGW" (exceptionally stupid phrase) blogosphere I would have found them dispositive. He states that he thinks his paper should be read as journalism rather than a scientific paper.

So what am I to make of this? If I rely on the experts mentioned above, Meyer is to be ignored. And yet I find that to be problematic. Dr. Tobis, Eli Rabbet, Steve Carson, etc. are not going to take the time to absorb Meyer's paper, dissect it, and summarize its errors and misconceptions. My choices are thus to ignore it or to learn enough to evaluate it on its merits myself.

Specifically, Meyer argues that:
There is no doubt that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and it is pretty clear that CO2 produced by man has an incremental impact on warming the Earth’s surface.  However, recent warming is the result of many natural and man-made factors, and it is extraordinarily difficult to assign all the blame for current warming to man.  In turn, there are very good reasons to suspect that climate modelers may be greatly exaggerating future warming due to man.  Poor economic forecasting, faulty assumptions about past and current conditions, and a belief that climate is driven by runaway positive feedback effects all contribute to this exaggeration.  As a result, warming due to man’s impacts over the next 100 years may well be closer to one degree C than the forecasted eight.  In either case, since AGW supporters tend to grossly underestimate the cost of CO2 abatement, particularly in lost wealth creation in poorer nations, there are good arguments that a warmer but richer world, where aggressive CO2 abatement is not pursued, may be the better end state than a poor but cooler world.
This is far different than Dr. Tobis, Grinzo, Rabbet, et al would contend. But I need more than simply "Meyer is wrong, we know, trust us." I guess I will have to build my edifice of knowledge from the ground up.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Split personality

Yes, I'm talking about me. I'm currently reading some of the posts of John Michael Greer, the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America. Don't laugh, this is one extraordinarily intelligent, thoughtful, and perceptive man. His posts cover the topic of the inevitable end of our era of profligate energy waste based on plentiful fossil fuels. He has many innovative ideas and, as I read, I think "I could do that" and that it would actually be productive and enjoyable.

But, as I sit in front of my iMac 11.3 with its 27" display and quad core i7 Sandy Bridge processor on the second floor of our 2,500 ft^2 house in suburbia, contemplating my work week in our Engineering Consulting firm in the construction sector and whether or not my airplane's annual inspection will be completed this week, planning my trip to Boston next weekend for the Clean Technology Conference and Expo, planning to meet with some people for the purpose of developing new business opportunities with the hope of being able sell the Piper Saratoga and purchase a Piper Meridian turboprop aircraft and build a custom home on a hillside in the desert exurbs - let's just say I'm a bit conflicted.

On the one hand, it could be a case of "hope for the best, plan for the worst." On the other, it could be that I'm simply full of BS. But I do intend to rekindle the steps I planned to start taking and documenting in my other blog (which has a single entry from over three years ago). To that end, I have some skills in the Archdruid's suggested portfolio, having learned to do some woodworking and machining and possessing some tools for those purposes. Such skills will probably be at a premium in James Kunstler's World Made By Hand. By no means do I think that such changes will have a measurable effect on the trajectory of civilization, but they should enable me to be better equipped for what's to come - for better or worse.

It's fun to contemplate arming myself to the teeth, providing a bunker for myself and my family, and figuring out how to provide for the bottommost two levels in the ubiquitous Maslow's hierarchy of needs in a post-apocalyptic world. But I'm not sure that that's a constructive approach for a 56 year old businessman, even one who was a Boy Scout and can self-sufficiently camp in the desert and is very familiar with firearms.

So, what (watt?) can be done? Well, in the most recent billing period, my household used electricity at the continuous average rate of 1.92 kilowatts. What about cutting that by, say, 40%? I've blogged previously about replacing my Land Rover with, say, a Chevy Volt. Of course, I'd be using electricity to charge it, so adjustment in the 40% reduction in electricity use would be in order. My tools are located about 70 miles from where I currently sit, I will be bringing them here. I have a roof that's ideally suited for a solar installation, and sufficient room for both solar photovoltaic electricity and solar water heating. I'll seriously look at these types of investments of time, financial resources, and energy in the ensuing few months. Implementation of some more of the Archdruid's recommendations may well follow.