GreenTech

Why We Should Accelerate the Use of Nuclear Power

Yesterday’s post about our solar installation got me to thinking more deeply about the overall problem of renewables and that they are unlikely to be able to keep pace with the accelerating demand for energy.

The only place I differ with many environmentalists is that, while renewables make so much sense and we need to embrace them, I believe we also need to fully utilize nuclear energy. It turns out that there are ‘safe’ alternatives — and emerging innovations — to huge nuclear power plants and the threat of nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Doing so can ensure we have a steady, reliable, demand-meeting, nighttime using, energy grid that doesn’t spew carbon in to the atmosphere.

Heck, even Stewart Brand, a guy who helped shape environmental consciousness back in the 1960s and 1970s, began calling for nuclear energy back in the early 2000s to be rekindled and used once again:

Brand calls for the rapid deployment of a new generation of nuclear power plants to combat global warming, arguing that technological advances have made nuclear energy safer and any potential danger from nuclear waste pales compared to the damage inflicted by burning coal.

“The air pollution from coal burning is estimated to cause 30,000 deaths a year from lung disease in the United States, and 350,000 a year in China,” writes Brand. “A 1-gigawatt coal plant burns three million tons of fuel a year and produces seven million tons of CO2, all of which immediately goes into everyone’s atmosphere, where no one can control it, and no one knows what it’s really up to.”

Co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has also called for nuclear energy and has helped drive forward the current bipartisan legislation surrounding energy research:

If dollars were votes, newly reintroduced legislation aimed at boosting nuclear energy innovation and advanced reactors would be a winner, thanks to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ strong endorsement today.

The world’s second-richest person is the founder and chairman of Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, a startup that’s working on next-generation nuclear fission reactors. Back in December, Gates listed nuclear energy research as one of his top policy priorities, and he reportedly followed up by promising lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money and line up another $1 billion in private capital if federal funds were approved for a TerraPower pilot project in the United States.

In the past, Gates has also tweeted this and others that are similar:

“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.” – Bill Gates on why he believes in the potential of nuclear. https://bit.ly/2DSSXUS

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHY NUCLEAR ENERGY NOW?
Here is a very good overview from Vox media that is worth a few minutes of your time to watch:

We are having solar installed on our new home. In less than five years our cost for electricity will be nearly zero!

Solar power generation is awesome … especially when it enables a person’s electricity consumption to become nearly free within a handful of years. Solar is a smart investment for us personally in our new home and could be for you, too.

BUYING A SOLAR INSTALLATION WAS A NO-BRAINER FOR US
When we moved from Minnesota to California in June of 2018, we knew costs for everything would be higher. We expected that any new home we would buy would cost a lot more (our new home cost nearly double the value of the home we sold back in MN), but what we did not  expect was the high cost of electricity!

In Minnesota we had Xcel Energy whose cost for electricity around-the-clock was 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour. Our new home here in southern California happens to be located in San Diego Gas & Electric‘s (SDGE) region, and it turns out that their electricity cost is the highest in the nation!

SDGE’s pricing plans are numerous, but the year-long average per-kilowatt hour cost — which prospective solar install companies used to calculate our solar system size — was going to be roughly 32 cents per kilowatt hour, nearly 3X what energy cost us when we were living in Minnesota.

On almost all of those SDGE plans there are off-peak, super off-peak and on-peak rates (and one plan even has a cheap car-charging rate from midnight to 6am of only $.09 per kilowatt hour). The on-peak rates are in effect during the summer months — which run from June 1 – October 31 during the 4-9pm time-frame — and what stunned us was the rate during those five hours each day can cost up to $.53 cents per kilowatt hour!

Because of that unexpectedly expensive energy, a few weeks after we closed on our new home we immediately set about learning everything we could about solar, what we needed and what it would cost. We then set about finding the four “best” solar install companies and have them propose a solar panel solution. We selected the best installer for our requirements, signed-up, and everything is in motion.

Within the next several weeks our new solar panel installation will be complete on top of our new home and, based on our projected energy use for the year, our break-even on our solar investment is expected to be 4.8 years. After that our only cost for electricity will be approximately $12 per month for the SDGE “interconnect fee,” which covers the electric meter on our house and account management by them.

Energy rates continue to accelerate and I’ve read numerous articles on the projected 20 year rates that SDGE has received agreement on with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). However, this article from less than a month ago said this:

If approved by CPUC commissioners, average electricity rates in SDG&E’s service territory would increase from 26.25 cents a kilowatt-hour this year to 27.4 cents next year, a rise of 4.54 percent. For a typical residential customer living in the company’s inland climate zone and using 500 kilowatt-hours a month, a bill during a summer month would increase $5.59, according to SDG&E estimates.

I’ve seen SDGE’s own projections and 4.5% per year price accelerator is expected. So as each year passes, our investment in solar energy will pay off even faster and continue to look like a very smart move on our part. But solar (or wind) alone will help combat climate change, but even if every one of the 2,500 homes in our development went solar, it wouldn’t make a serious dent in the emission of  greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.

For our system being installed, our estimated net electricity cost savings over 25 years will be over $82,000 (assuming a 4% per year utility price escalator). That’s why it was a no-brainer for us to get solar!

Obviously our solar generation will go back in to the grid and offset all of our energy use, including at night. In fact, we’ll be adding about 30% more energy back in to the grid than we consume, just in case we end up with two electric cars at some point and need that extra amount to offset an increase in our consumption.

WHAT ABOUT ENERGY STORAGE?
We drive hybrid cars (and I’m getting a plug-in hybrid in two weeks that will cover 90% of our driving needs on electric) since both my wife and I believe in climate change and that the United States must move forward toward a clean energy future and away from carbon emitting fossil fuels. Charging my PHEV from solar will be easy and free in the near-term, but with energy demand increasing monthly in the United States and around the world, we at least considered buying battery storage to run essential systems (e.g., the refrigerator and some lights).

As such, we also looked at the addition of solar energy battery storage in our garage. Unfortunately batteries are far too expensive and not worth the investment currently (e.g., one Tesla PowerWall is $12,000 and we’d need four of them to be completely energy self-contained) so we’re holding off on storage, perhaps permanently.

As part of our analysis and reading, my wife and I also talked about large-scale battery storage, just in case renewable energy creation does reach critical mass here in California and more energy from solar goes back in to the grid. What might happen if SDGE begins to embrace battery storage for solar-produced energy?

The green energy storage problem is too expensive right now, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

TRUMP & THE GOP DENIGRATING RENEWABLES
It pisses me off that the Trump administration continues to try to gut clean energy spending with his proposed budget that does exactly that. It is clear that this current administration, and Republicans who support Trump’s position on clean energy, continue to position climate change as a “hoax” and the oil & gas industry as “the future” of energy.

Remember when one of the key talking points for the GOP (for decades) was toward less dependence on foreign oil? That wasn’t positioning for renewables, that was positioning for more drilling (and now for fracking shale to squeeze out oil and get natural gas).

Do either Trump or the GOP think that all of their own base of supporters and constituents are too stupid to think for themselves? Such idiots that they don’t believe in science? Though I don’t think President Trump is even capable of thinking deeply about any issue, Republicans should at least realize that even corporations are calling for action on climate change and they’d better stop being dumbf*cks, sucking-up to the oil & gas industry.

Also, I’m glad I’m not alone in my outrage and found this hilarious:

Climate Change & Big Cars

Often I wonder if the vast majority of people are just stupid. Or to be a bit kinder, perhaps they’re illiterate or they get their strategic decision-making “data” from watching the climate deniers on Fox News since that’s the only channel available to them.

But when I saw this in today’s Minneapolis StarTribune I shook my head in disgust and sadness that confirmed my worst fears about my fellow human beings:

climate-change_big_cars

Loudest climate warning issued,” was replaced last evening online by a much clearer one: UN climate panel says emissions need to drop to zero this century to keep warming in check. It states that, “Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the U.N.’s panel on climate science said Sunday.” That means NO greenhouse gases. You know…like the ONES PRODUCED BY BURNING FOSSIL FUELS IN BIG CARS!

From the report:

“Emissions have risen so fast in recent years that the world has used up two-thirds of its carbon budget, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be emitted to have a likely chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming.”

Two degrees of warming would devastate the world’s coastlines…you know, like Florida’s (more on that in a moment).

So then I was taken aback when I saw this article on the front page of the StarTribune’s Business section that said, “Small-vehicle sales seen slumping as low fuel prices benefit SUVs. Larger SUVs are looking good to buyers as gas hovers near $3 a gallon in much of the nation.

What?

BUYING BIGGER CARS

Some quotes from that second article that illustrates why I said all that stuff about people in my opening paragraph:

The price of gas per gallon is drastically low — I’m really celebrating and enjoying that at the moment,” said Andrea Turner, a Tennessee mother who last week bought a 2014 Buick Encore sport-utility vehicle. The Encore has extra space to fit her 5-foot-11 frame and 10-year-old son’s soccer gear.

You just feel so much better when you look at the pump, and you’re pleasantly surprised,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst for LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich., who sees a direct link between gasoline prices and small-car sales. “You say, ‘Maybe I’ll splurge on something and treat myself.’ ”

Right now, gas mileage is not that much of an issue for consumer choice,” said Greg Williams, new-car sales manager at Holman Honda of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It’s not gas mileage…it’s the carbon going in to the atmosphere dummy. Hope Greg Williams has plans to get out of Florida since this is what the National Geographic climate change map shows for Florida when all Arctic and Antarctic ice melts (the absolute worst-case scenario, I should add):

Florida completely submerged if/when all ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctica

Florida completely submerged when all ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctica

 

Is it Time to Buy LEDs?

cree-bulbQuite often I’ll get in to debates with friends and family about energy and we end up in conversations about why we choose to be a three Prius family and why I’m so hot on the Internet of Things and my investment in SmartThings‘ technologies. Where it gets tough, however, is justifying why we are replacing our incandescent light bulbs (and even compact fluorescents (CFLs)) with LED light bulbs since the costs of LEDs are still a bit high.

That LED bulb cost makes the return on investment (ROI) a little tougher to justify for purely economic reasons, except when you consider that one LED will last for ~25,000 hours and an incandescent for only 750-2,000 hours.

LED costs are coming down but, like my friend Eric said to me just last Friday, trying to time the purchase of doing a wholesale incandescent lightbulb replacement in your home is like “catching a falling knife.” Buy too early and you get hurt since the break-even will take too many years, though I’ll argue that the time is now to begin replacing incandescents (and CFLs) with LED bulbs.

For my wife and I it’s not just about cost, however. We strive to do our bit to minimize our energy footprint and try to positively impact human’s effect on the climate in a myriad of ways such as recycling more than anyone in our neighborhood. Our lightbulb replacement adventure is just starting but will add to our objectives of minimization. Every little bit helps.

So let’s take a look two examples of bulb replacement in my own home to give you a sense of what I’ve already done and what the results have been so far. Hopefully this will help you determine whether or not the time is right for you to “catch the knife” and replace your incandescent bulbs with LEDs.

Read More

Is Thorium Our Energy Answer?

nuclear-plant

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France – Photo by Stefan Kühn

Slowly but surely I’ve become a believer in thorium reactors as one potential energy source that is abundant, cheap and an element that is naturally present everywhere in the world. 

We will need it and Bill Gates is on board and investing in thorium so you know there has to be something world-changing about this element to get him involved.

To give you an idea of why we need more major energy sources — and we won’t be able to satisfy demand with solar, wind or other renewables since the demand is so great globally — let me share with you one sentence that starts off the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2013:

“The International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that
world energy consumption will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040.”

Holy shit. A 56% increase in the next 37 years? Yep.

If you want to know more about thorium — and I’d hope you would at least ask your elected representatives about what the U.S. is doing with thorium research to make sure energy is top-of-mind for them — here is a link to a Wikipedia article on thorium and the video from that Bill Gates page here is about 28 minutes long, but is a great overview and I encourage you to watch it.

Is the Prius a Polluter?

Just saw a cousin’s Facebook post about her new (actually slightly used) Toyota Prius. She had talked to me earlier about my Prius, how I liked it and so forth, so I was intrigued that she and her fiancee purchased one. She looks pretty happy in the photo, doesn’t she?

Then a friend of hers commented, “Yay the “green” that is the most damaging to the environment to build.” Someone then asked what he meant and he went on with, “Prius pollutes more is based on the production and transport of nickel for the on-board rechargeable battery pack. The nickel is actually mined and smelted in Sudbury, Ontario (Canada) by Inco. The nickel is then shipped to a refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel goes to China to produce nickel foam. Then, it goes to Japan. In Japan Panasonic manufactures the battery itself, then it’s off to the Toyota plant for final vehicle assembly. Lastly the cars are shipped to the United States, completing the world tour required for a Prius battery.

That was certainly a bit of cold water thrown on her excitement! I’ve had exactly the same reaction from many who pooh-pooh driving a hybrid or electric car, think those of us who do are “greenies” or goofballs,  all while they climb in to their car or truck that, on a good day, gets 18mpg and costs them $100 a week to drive.

So I took a moment to refute and minimize what this kid had said and also thought this entire discussion would make a great post:  Read More

Bachmann is Not the Brightest Bulb in the Sign

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, in a continuation of her tirades against the “nanny state” and “government takeover” of seemingly everything, reintroduced her Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act which essentially demands proof of compact fluorescent light bulb safety (due to the mercury it contains) and the carbon emissions purported to be reduced if incandescent bulbs begin their current governmental mandated phase-out in January of 2012.

Even though her amended bill seems to include a focus on “the people” vs. her usual focus on business, I have my doubts but can’t figure out what her real motivation is in trying to kill this 2012 mandate. In part her bill states that proof is needed that compact fluorescent bulbs, “…will not pose any health risks, including risks associated with mercury containment in certain light bulbs, to consumers or the general public, including health risks with respect to hospitals, schools, day care centers, mental health facilities, and nursing homes.” Really? I highly doubt Bachmann cares at all about “consumers and the general public” since she’s not showing ANY leanings in that direction during her Congressional tenure.

I’m still trying to figure out who wins here. Is she in the pocket of “big light bulb”? Not likely. Is it just low-hanging fruit to get the non-thinking masses riled up? Probably. But even that isn’t clear and I highly doubt she’s just being her usual short-sighted, screamingly goofy on any anti-Obama issue so other GOP’ers don’t have to be, self.

For the last five years (see this post from 2006) I’ve been closely watching what’s going on in energy and, especially, the ONE, MOST WASTEFUL energy use WORLDWIDE: incandescent light bulbs. The US Department of Energy, the European Union energy ministers, and anyone with half-a-brain can do the 2nd grade arithmetic necessary to easily see the energy wasting nature of this lighting source.

This article (written in 2006!) from the Economist summed up the primary reason why we MUST get off incandescent lighting:

Worldwide about 20% of all electricity generated is used for lighting. Several studies reckon that LEDs could eventually cut that amount in half. That would not only save billions of dollars in electricity bills, but also significantly reduce energy demand, environmental pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.

So is Michele Bachmann a terrorist who wants us to remain dependent on foreign oil? Is she concerned that big oil companies will have their revenues lowered if the U.S. moves toward efficient and energy saving lighting? Seriously, I can’t think of what the hell her motivation is here other than finding any reason to jump on an issue that gets people riled up one way or another.

What do you think?

Will Google Experience Control Data’s Fate?

An early Control Data system with supercomputer genius Seymour Cray at the controls

Google’s recent announcements about their focus on wind energy and these five initiatives bring up the possibility that they’re following in the footsteps of Control Data, a Minnesota corporation that took its eye off the ball and lost their lead as one of the nine most influential computer companies and are now out of business.

Control Data Corporation (CDC) was a supercomputer firm. For most of the 1960s, it built the fastest computers in the world by far, only losing that crown in the 1970s after Seymour Cray left the company to found Cray Research, Inc. (CRI). CDC was one of the nine major United States computer companies through most of the 1960s; the others were IBM, Burroughs Corporation, DEC, NCR, General Electric, Honeywell, RCA, and UNIVAC. CDC was well known and highly regarded throughout the industry at one time. —from Wikipedia

William Norris, founder and CEO of CDC, was a computer visionary but also a social activist. One of his key initiatives was computer-based learning, an initiative that took an increasing amount of his time and made many people who worked there (and I know dozens and am related to many former CDC employees) continued to be befuddled over the lack of focus on core competitive moves and what seemed like an acceleration in “cause related” investments over the years. Yes, losing Seymour Cray was devastating but there was so much more to the core business than chasing the supercomputer end of it.

Sadly, those of us in Minnesota who looked up to CDC watched it slowly fade away and sell off bits and pieces of itself until it was non-existent.

The Google Self Driving Car

Google’s stated business mission? To, “…organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Beyond the mission they post items like this “Ten Things We Know to be True” manifesto which outlines core beliefs like, “Focus on the user and all else will follow” and when it comes to their primary business, search, that “It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

So help me understand Google: How do windmills and self driving cars fit in to the focus of Google and everything you stand for and believe?  There’s a lot of buzz in the tech community about the “Google brain drain” as people bolt to go to Facebook and other startups and I’m not the only one that wants to see them focus, and I’d hate to see you haunted by the ghost of William Norris who’d hate to see another leading company lose its way.

Your Mileage May Vary

Technologists, “greenies” and (hopefully) mainstream consumers are anticipating the release of many new hybrid and electric cars, none the least of which is the soon-to-be-shipped Chevrolet Volt. The issue I see coming is one of potentially profound disappointment by the general masses due to the current state of energy storage in batteries.

I am a somewhat disappointed owner of a Neuton rechargeable lawnmower with nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries (I bought an extra battery for $99). After the first season the batteries weren’t holding a charge so I couldn’t finish my relatively small lawn with both batteries. Neuton agreed I’d “conditioned” them properly over the winter by storing them inside and charging ’em once per month, so they gave me two new ones. They’ve also have recognized the initial failings of these first batteries and have since done a deal with Duracell for newer technology they ship with the current generation of mowers, but reviews I’ve read show people still disappointed with the lower-than-gas-mower power and how as the stored energy drains, the mower’s power weakens right alongside it.

Since I have a Toyota Prius in the garage—a car I may still upgrade to a plugin hybrid (PHEV) using Minneapolis-based ReGo‘s technology for $5,000—I am trying to keep up on the current state of electric storage technology (i.e., batteries) and how far we have to go. No question I see that it’s closer to mainstream but the jury is still out on whether or not it’s yet commercially viable.

That’s what General Motors thinks too.

On page 154 in their most recent SEC Form S1 filing (PDF) they state, “On a fully charged battery and tank of gas, the Chevrolet Volt has a driving range of hundreds of miles. When powered only from electricity stored in its 16-kWh lithium-ion battery; the Chevrolet Volt has a typical range of 25-50 miles depending on terrain, driving technique, temperature and battery age. Advanced lithium-ion battery technology is the key enabling technology for the Chevrolet Volt, although this technology is new and has not been proven to be commercially viable.

All that said, I do believe in the brilliance of GM’s approach by leveraging battery storage along with a small internal combustion engine that will do nothing but charge the batteries when they fall below a threshold. It means that I could hop in the Volt and drive to Chicago…something I would never do in a purely electrical vehicle like the widely anticipated Nissan Leaf which this New York Times article states, “…has a range of about 100 miles before it needs recharging. But that range can vary a lot – to as little as 62 miles to as much as 138 – depending upon factors like weather, traffic, accessory use, load and driving style.” I’d be very nervous driving a Leaf for a full weekend day…let alone out of the Twin Cities metro area.

If you’d like to watch a video that gives a solid overview of the current state of the marketplace, this one from the recent World Energy Expo in Austin, TX will give you a good sense of what’s going on right now. When it comes to vehicle energy storage, I anticipate that consumers will become disillusioned unless they completely and totally understand the limitations and the variables that comprise the statement, “…and your mileage may vary.

When We Run Out of Oil…

If you pay attention to any of the relevant facts about oil production (i.e., supply), oil consumption, and why it’s likely we’re in the Middle East fighting a “war” (e.g., to deploy a strategic military position to ensure a steady flow of oil), then you probably do like I do: waver between complacency and sheer terror over the prospect of running out of oil.

I’ve been following oil geeks at The Oil Drum for some time, and while they clearly give solid and deep analysis of all the current data and conjecture in the oil industry, it’s this “Crash Course 17A-Peak Oil” video by Chris Martenson (from his Crash Course on economics) that I’ve embedded below and is one that will give you a very concise snapshot of where we are in the world with respect to peak oil.

Having learned more than I ever wanted to know about the looming fate of us all in a world soon hungry for energy, I gave up a 34mpg Mercedes diesel in favor of a Toyota Prius — one I routinely get 48mpg in as an average — since I can see strategically that the world’s dependence on a finite resource is accelerating while that resource is dwindling and getting more expensive to deliver. Not a pretty combination. It’s also why I’ll be buying a plug-in hybrid in the next year or two when I find one that fits my strategic and tactical needs for transportation. Gas prices in the next two years will only go one way….up.

Bottom line? If you’re not thinking about your business and personal life in a world with shrinking energy reserves, then you’re not paying attention and need to be….now.