Posts Tagged ‘quality of life’

ETHANE | Not just a hypothetical, or hyperbole—when the end of oil FINALLY arrives

Right. We want an EV (electric vehicle) infrastructure in the USA. I want it, too, eventually and in geographically predisposed locations that make the most sense. However, it can’t happen in ‘an instant.’

Sobering sanity check aside: I have a friend/colleague who was working on  electric vehicle prototyping back in the 1980s. Only this past year did this person feel affirmed by work performed on this schema started ~30 years ago was FINALLY starting to mature.

I think (wo)man is being rather short-sighted if we think we’re going to be able to maintain the quality of life to which we have become accustomed is going to be anything but smooth transition, once the end of easily extractable oil comes to an end—a readily available fuel stock is NOT going to be coming to a fuel pumping station to you in the ‘near future’, en masse, if there is not a replacement soon.

THE BIG PICTURE: EVERYTHING in industrialized society is predicated on oil. Think about it, even renewable energy systems technologies [RESTs]. Those huge wind turbine blades don’t make it to the wind farm on their own from the factory.

And once the EV infrastructure becomes fully realized, where is the money going to come from to pay for the infrastructure, er roadway maintenance if there is no longer a gas tax? I’m just sayin’…

We have a transitional fuel opportunity in ‘the low hanging fruit’ of ethane in the USA of Shale Gas that needs to get snatched up. No, I’m not keen on hydraulic fracturing,  but it’s an engineer’s job to make choices on merits, choose a solution that matches the requirements at a reasonable cost. S/He doesn’t look for the perfect solution. S/He looks at available trade-offs and chooses the one best suited to balance the cost to benefit. And right now, capture cleaner, greener ‘waste’ ethane from the natural gas stream is pretty darn cost-effective and attainable for utilizing in an ICE (internal combustion engine) to increase driving range, like this Ford F150 Pickup Truck because:

  • 1st tests: 9%-17% incr. in miles/GGE vs Gasoline
  • Torque increased
  • Performance close to gasoline
  • Potentially reduce emissions after combustion in the engine up to 30%!!
1st Ethane Truck in the World
1st Ethane Truck in the World

I’d rather see compressed ethane used, because it’s residence time is (time it lives in the atmosphere, the troposphere) ~78 days, compared to methane (~10 years) and CO2 (hundreds of years). Otherwise, this wasted resource is going offshore for the manufacturing of more plastics. And somebody’s lord knows, we certainly do not need more plastics on our space ship.

Not to mention, at this juncture in time, using ethane in a ICE is just as effective at reducing GHG emissions than any energy efficiency program, wind farm or solar farm, but those making policy don’t seem to be all that keen to embrace this concept. Yeah, well you know…

Do peep this action. Ethane Low carbon, Low cost, High-performance Transportation Fuel

As always, better…

PREPARE. RESPOND. ADAPT. because leadership is failing us, HARD…

If it is a matter of the quality of life…

…it remains to be seen when investing in renewable energy technologies will achieve the same ‘sexy’ status and value as say a luxury car, a fur coat, a diamond ring, etc. Surely, since renewable energy resources have a lower overall negative impact on nature and public health systems, many people can benefit from the quality of life these technologies hold so much promise, yes?

Most of the world’s energy resources are from the sun’s rays hitting Earth. Some of that energy has been preserved as fossil energy, some is directly or indirectly usable. e.g. wind, hydro- or wave power. According to Volker Quaschning’s Understanding Renewable Energy Systems: 

Annually,   39 exajoules  (3.9×1024 J) = 1.08×1018 kWh of solar energy reaches the surface of the Earth. This is about ten thousand times more than the annual global primary energy demand and much more than all the available energy reserves on the Earth. In other words, using one-ten-thousandth part of the incoming sunlight would cover the whole energy demand of mankind.

For some perspective on the Earth’s energy resources, one only needs to look at the world energy resources versus consumption. The volume of the cubes represent the amount of available geothermal, hydropower, wind and solar energy in terawatts (TW), although only a small portion is recoverable. The small cube shows the proportional global energy consumption, in a word, thermodynamics. Put another way,  this is equivalent to an annual average power consumption rate of 15 terawatts (1.50×1013 W).


Perhaps if President Obama were to issue an Executive Order, say, to implement a national solar Feed-in Tariff (FIT) policy to require PG&E in California to buy all solar from homeowners & farmers at $0.54 kWh, this would create ~22 million new jobs in one year, creating a HUGE opportunities for improvement in the quality of life for many. In Germany, who has far less sun than the USA, the FIT has contributed making the economy in Germany the strongest in Europe. I defer you to a former post:

VIDEO :: Environment MN & SolarHotDish got game! Putting the Sun to Work for Minnesota


Consumption == the bane of human existence? Pt. 3 :: Do we really need hydrogen? A hydrogen economy?

I have been cogitating on this ‘Do we need hydrogen?’ question for a good number of days now. For some applications, yes, because I’m sure most would not want to nor be amenable to adopting to compromising a quality of life they have become accustomed. So YES, I think there will be need an alternative to petroleum. And sure, hydrogen could support these systems. But I ALSO feel we require an alternative lifestyle, and a quality of life that’s not based strictly on the west and not based on consumption.

Indeed, we require an energy revolution and need to revisit analyzing energy needs. But I also think we require analyzing an alternative lifestyle, especially here in the USA, that’s not based on the west and not based on conspicuous energy consumption–which, I fear, will be the bane of our existence.

One of my colleagues, The Green Machine, recently posted this up on his web site–I could not say it better about the USA:

“That we have to use a car to buy a loaf of bread or get a cup of coffee from Starbucks is the problem. The fuel in the car is not the problem. That we live 40 miles from our jobs and move our fat asses driving alone in a 4,000 pound hunk of steel is the problem. That we have houses that are 4,000 square feet with lawns that are 40,000 square feet is the problem. That we eat 4,000 kilo calories a day of meat and processed food is our problem. That we don’t recycle aluminum and plastics is our problem. That we have religions that want us to go forth and multiply is our problem. The best use of a chemical is probably in birth control not a battery and that no leaders of religions or countries will tell the 7 billion folks who walk erect that their birth rate is a problem. That Yemen has seen population growth of almost 4% a year for 40 years is the problem. That we have almost a billion internal combustion engines firing up every day is the problem. That we use the resources of three planet earths is a problem. Mostly that otherwise intelligent people like you can be led around by the nose by a thermodynamic fake like Shai Agassi is the problem. Wake up there in Israel Shai is not an energy Prophet he is just making a profit out of energy.”

Shai Agassi referenced in this read.
What about a revolution in oil dependency?
As the countries owning most of the planet’s oil reserves confront growing political turmoil, the economic stability of the whole world will remain at risk – until an alternative to petroleum is developed.

“Green Gone Wrong” :: Consumption == the bane of human existence? Pt. 2

I just don’t get it. I probably never will understand how our species chooses not to use our intelligence more mindfully and in a most timely manner with regards to addressing environmental issues surely to continuing compromising quality of life all over Earth. Sure, change is slow.

Ja, ja, quality takes time. I however, do not think time is on our side. It’s only a matter of time when we won’t be able to purchase anything from hair care products to a coat without knowing the amount of emissions that went into the entire manufacturing life cycle process. Right, chunk mall retailers like Walmart are touting they are green, sustainable and I now understand they have plans to deploy green labeling to thousands of product lines. I am not impressed, AT ALL. Saving the planet is not about buying more stuff, especially stuff that is designed for the dump.

If you have no idea what I mean by ‘designed for the dump’, Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff Project nails it in her film, The Story of Electronics.

Woe is our space ship…

Meer | Mehr | Mais | Mas | More “Green Gone Wrong :: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution”

Right-o. I just completed reading Heather Roger’s “Green Gone Wrong.” A MUST sustainability development read for EVERYONE.

I read this book thinking as a species we actually already know everything that should not be done, AND, we know everything that needs to be done. The current models are not working. I strongly believe, to avoid a catastrophic collision (that I already think is in the making), a non-trodden path must be the approach. Our biosphere is finite, all cultures need to be understood, and economies cannot continue to function w/o the involvement or services of the ecosystems i.e. understanding thermodynamics and biodiversity MUST be embraced as of the utmost importance.

Straight-up, Malthus was certainly on to something, and if the way things are currently progressing continue, I’d say he was dead-on. Growth, the quantity of accumulation, does indeed have limits. Development, the liberation of creative possibilities, on the other hand, does not. If there is too much growth, the quality of life decreases. So now, the USA is an under-developing nation. So many people these days living in cars is not what I would call development. Bong bong.

What is so UTTERLY troubling to me is, so many see nature as a subsystem of the economy; on the contrary, it’s the other way around. Leadership, and each and every one of us need to start telling the truth. You have heard of this operative, local. If we are going attempt to mitigate the effects of this positive feedback loop I am convinced is already in full-effect, if we are going to be hard-headed about being consumers, we need to start bringing consumption closer to the product. This will not only humanize the product, but lower the adverse impacts on our ecosystem(s) of space ship Earth.

Life and all of its manifestations are of the utmost importance–it’s NOT just about we humans. So what now you’re thinking? I think, the more you have, the more greedy you become. Time to bring this ‘supertanker’ about face.

NB: I’m not trying to impose myself or lifestyle on others. I do, however, think it’s important you understand I am trying to, after all, be a renewable energy ‘evangelist’/engineer who practices sustainability development. No foolin’,  I have downsized to just ~30 cubic feet of crap (books, bicycle, bits & bytes/computers, body gear/clothes), recycle, compost, bicycle everywhere I can, or walk, utilize mass transpo, car share, purchase as much local foodstuffs as I can and try to eat a predominant vegetarian diet. I aspire to be agile, live a Spartan lifestyle of ‘enough’ and do my part to contribute to the wellness of the greater good.

In her closing chapter, Notes on the Possible, Heather writes,

“…somehow a catastrophe continues to seem profoundly unreal…an inability to comprehend a loss of environment we live with every day. Governments and major corporations in the most developed economies are fully apprised of the findings of the world’s top climate scientists. Regardless, the majority of leaders continue with policies and practices that so obviously exacerbate the situation, including promoting ecologically themed but ineffective products. By accepting green consumer goods as a way out, we consent. Compared to the scale of the disaster, such solutions are extraordinarily inadequate…”

Well, I don’t consent, nor do I intend to acquiesce. I hope in sharing I have inspired whomever reads this to be informed, to push our unwilling and unwitting leadership to move toward MASSIVE transformations, post haste.

Nature won’t wait for us :: Monbiot – Climate change enlightenment was fun while it lasted. But now it’s dead

I think George Monbiot summed this up rather well on his blog yesterday, and the Guardian UK today.

The Process Is Dead

It’s already clear that the climate talks in December will go nowhere – so what do we do?


What all this means is that there is not a single effective instrument for containing man-made global warming anywhere on earth. The response to climate change, which was described by Lord Stern as “a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen” (7), is the greatest political failure the world has ever seen.

Nature won’t wait for us.

I blogged about this a few days ago, if AB32 is suspended because the California ballot initiative Proposition 23 passes, I will be in COMPLETE agreement with George’s assertions above. For starters, I think it all boils down to invoking a carbon tax and reducing consumption, so economies  based on social forces that keep consumption rates too high will need to invoke MASSIVE transformations. I think the oil conglomerates are aware of this, otherwise they would not be ‘dabbling’ in (mediocre) support of renewable energy technologies.

I would like to have hope that one day, all will come to a conclusion (sooner than later) that no one uses more that they require, and still be able to maintain a high quality of life, as per the tenets laid out in the 2,000 Watt Society.

The 2000-watt society (2,000-Watt Society) is a vision, originated by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich at the end of 1998, in which each person in the developed world would cut their over-all rate of energy use to an average of no more than 2,000 watts (i.e. 17,520 kilowatt-hours per year of all energy use, not only electrical) by the year 2050, without lowering their standard of living.

The latest on California’s AB32 vs Prop 23 => Stop TX Oil & 10-10-10

I’m not sure if the LinkedIn matrix community is attuned to what is transpiring in the state of California these days. We have an election coming up  on 2 November 2010. One of the most heated items being challenged is Proposition 23. But let me back up a moment…

For those of you unaware, California is the 12th biggest carbon emitter in the world. Our AB32  Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is supposed to go into effect at the start of 2011, as a means to mitigate climate change. It is one of the most aggressive offerings in the world to invoke these measures. For starters…

Proposition 23 would suspend all of those measures adopted to date, including CARB’s low-carbon fuel standard, restrictions on high global warming potential refrigerants, increased landfill methane capture, SmartWay truck efficiency, tire pressure program, reduction of high global warming potential greenhouse gases in consumer products, ship electrification at ports, reduction of perfluorocarbons from the semiconductor industry, and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) reductions in non-utility and non-semiconductor applications.

If Proposition 23 AKA California Jobs Initiative passes, AB32, California’s landmark clean energy and climate solutions law, will be undermined/suspended–essentially:

…the dirty energy proposition would repeal the state’s clean energy regulations until unemployment reached 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters’ a market condition that has only occurred three times in the last 30 years.

California’s unemployment rate is at about ~12.2% now. If AB32 is repealed, then the greener, renewable energy industries in Cali will be COMPLETELY compromised and likely crawl to a standstill for many years to come. Furthermore, what happens in California could very well affect the rest of the USA. California has historically been a vanguard in passing sound, sensible environmental legislation. If California cannot keep this much-needed legislation on the books how willing will lawmakers in other states in the USA be likely to expend political capital on such a fight?

The Union of Concerned Scientists, of which I am a member, has a fact sheet you can download here. And a summary of the key points are outlined here.

What can you do?

Oil companies have had their filthy go, time for them to make way, step down and those of us who are stewards in mitigating the adverse effects of our anthropogenic exacerbations take charge and invoke more greener, holistic measures and practices–this way, future generations can even attempt to have a chance at a quality of life we have been accustomed…

A Neo-Malthusian speaks

I used to rag on my friends not to have children these days, because I thought they were being selfish. I thought this due to the legacy being left to them that they will have to mop-up. I think it’s highly unlikely (in my opinion) they will be able to enjoy the quality of life my generation has been privileged and accustomed. Then a pal flipped the coin on me. He said, at least he was producing progeny that would be intelligent enough to be able to mop-up the mess. Um, yeah, I feel this.

Right, Malthus argued that as population grows exponentially, as it will if left unchecked, the eventually it will outstrip resources available to provide for the future inhabitants. Some have argued that he was wrong, since we are ‘apparently’ still okay, still here, and still growing.

Neo-Malthusians like me, er environmental scientists/engineers, have a different attitude. It’s all about the fact that nature has only a finite ability to assimilate our anthropogenic exacerbations brought on by all the human inhabitants trying to grow food, extract and use energy, etc. Straight-up, nature is overwhelmed by all this human activity and the carrying capacity of Mother Earth is compromised. We need sustainability development ‘in tha houz.’

Look at climate instability for one. I mean it’s as simple as connecting this dot, that weather forecasters fail to present to the lay public. So, I often find myself posing these questions to my pals who are not attuned to this flux, “Have you noticed that the hottest time of the day in the N. Hemisphere/USA tends to be late in the afternoon, or near 6 p.m.? Do you wonder why that is?” So many missed opportunities by authorities to look at the BIGGER picture scenario and educating those who would be unwilling and unwitting to change their behaviour.

And then there’s the notion of consumption. I believe that as a population of high-consumers increases, that this will cause more problems than an increasing population of low consumers. I think it is equally important to encourage not only families from rich nations to reduce, recycle and reuse, but to enable, empower and teach families from poor countries the same.

I dunno. This rift between folks who genuinely care about our space ship Earth, and all the souls that ride this space ship all troubles me. And then, just the other day a pal of mine had no problem with the notion that once we’ve completed trashing our ‘home’ here, that it was acceptable to ‘punt’, attaining escape velocity to points beyond our stratosphere-mesosphere. Leaving this mess to be mopped up to those disenfranchised ones, and quite alright to create new messes ‘elsewhere.’ I am duly troubled. Woe is the fate of our spaceship…

A challenging contradiction on the Ecological + Societal Performance vs. Financial Performance

OR… Does addressing the TBL in VC circles incorporate sustainability development?

Most of the citizens of Earth understand humanity is approaching limits. In the EU, a great deal of companies understand they have a responsibility, AND the ability to exert positive change on the world’s economy, environmental and social conditions. Sadly, it has been my experience that this cultural understanding is not yet pervasive in the USA.

In terms of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), the goal is to expand the traditional reporting framework to take into account not only financial performance, but ecological and societal, as well. But, we seem to have a challenging contraction when it comes to the role of the venture capitalist (VC). Yes, traditionally, a company’s responsibility lies with shareholders, the owners for profit, not stake holders or those who are influenced directly/indirectly by a company’s actions.

Indeed, this is nothing new, and has been a legacy since (wo)man has been trading/selling. And altho I hesitate using this terminology rooted in academia, I think we actually do require a serious paradigm shift at this juncture in time–something on the order of a Manhattan Project for the 21st century that is mindful to nature and the way nature operates whilst preserving as much of the quality of life so many are accustomed.

So, I have recently been in contact with some folks in the VC arena and posed the following to them. I asked:

To the best of their knowledge if there any discussions occurring in VC circles to change his challenging contraction?

I have some ideas on how this can be accomplished from a sustainability development standpoint, but it requires embracing a social democratic position, as well as developing models that involve public organizations, similar to efforts of what’s embraced in the EU e.g. de Stoere Houtman Housing Collective in Arnhem, NL, etc.

Other industrial examples: In DE, Festo [see bottom of the page view]. In the USA, Rumsey Engineers – Peter Rumsey is a vanguard on designing and implementing energy efficiency designs in the industrial sector with seven LEED Platinum buildings, and clients such as PG&E, Ford Motor Company, Seagate and the NRDC. “Rumsey Engineers, one of only three firms worldwide with five or more LEED Platinum certified projects…” – Rumsey Engineers is testimony that energy efficiency measures can be implemented here in the USA.

BTW:  The last time I checked-in with Peter Rumsey a couple of weeks ago, he shared with me his firm has seven platinum LEED rated buildings to their credit.

In my world, investigating mitigating risk along with creating opportunities, be they financial or knowledge-based, in the sustainability development arena ain’t nothin’ but a thang–and, it should not require waiting for heaps of painful scenarios to justify a proactive, monetary, up-front investment.

An interesting aside: The current efforts of the oil lobby’s misguided attempts to undermine California’s AB32 bill, who’s provisions are slated to take effect 1 January 2011, baffles the mind. Former Secretary of State, Levi Strauss & Co., Waste Management, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, NRDC, Environmental Defense Fund, Google, Serious Materials and Bloom Energy know a good policy when they see it. Read more here.

More thoughts on the Portland, OR, USA 12W Bldg wind turbine array

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to walk past the 12W  building in downtown Portland, OR, USA. The day was blustery, so it was a treat to watch these downwind machines yaw into the wind. I know, I know, I am a geek.

Last summer, I had an opportunity to speak with the project architects about the energy production of this urban ‘wind farm.’ Indeed, the energy yield of 1%/annum is rather low; far less than expected for urban wind turbine installations. And ja, perhaps a 4-5%/annum yield would really mean something, especially if it were a part of a hybrid system, say accompanying a PV array.

Aside: From my vantage point yesterday, it appeared as if there might be a PV array installed since I made my last pass this building in late summer last year. Perhaps these architects took my advice?

Right, so ZGF is testing the production of electricity. And perhaps now they are investigating the vibrational and noise effects of putting four turbines on top of a building since I planted this seed on them last summer. I pointedly told them vibration and noise could end up being the bane of this real-world experiment. I had shared with them what I had learned from the decommissioning of wind turbines on the high-rise buildings due to the aerodynamic noise generated in the Warwick Wind Trials results, such that the wind turbines formerly installed on the 45m high Eden Court in the Warwickshire, UK had to be permanently switched off in October 2008 due to noise complaints by the inhabitants. I last heard there was a moratorium on installing wind turbines on buildings in the Midlands of the UK because of these results. Be a shame if this happens in Portland, too.

Typically, wind turbine supports/masts are installed directly into the vertical support structures of the building to make them stronger. Beats the hell out of me why they didn’t do this, especially since there was obviously intent to do this in their early drawings. Installing the wind turbines directly on the rooftop makes an ideal opportunity for different frequencies of harmonics, precipitated by the wind, “making parts of the building hum and vibrate.” The harmonics shift and cause different portions of this structure to vibrate as the wind rises and falls, compromising the quality of life for the inhabitants of this building. Annoying to say the least. And at worst, could compromise this installation, requiring a decommissioning and a missed opportunity to study the potential of installing small wind turbines in the urban/built environment.

I asked these architects last summer if the results would be publicized for public consumption, and so I could have a go at analyzing their data. I understand that the building was officially commissioned back in Nov 2009. I am still waiting to see the data that is produced by the on-board inverter, user-monitored two-way wi-fi interface of the Skystream 3.7 wind turbines. I have been known to be “blind”, but I could not locate anything last time I trolled their web site. And, I stopped contacting them, because I was under the distinct impression I had unearthed some discomforting ideas they weren’t too keen on addressing, although I am always one for providing workarounds and solutions.

As I am learning, most designers tend to quietly dismiss a project’s failings, and don’t repeat installations like this. And so, as with folks in the USA not paying attention to the results of the Warwick Wind Trials, I have to wonder as if the poor decisions will only be repeated here.

Some have wagered that this installation will be taken down within another 12 months. I would like to think this will not be the case. But only time will tell, eh?

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What is a Hybrid RE Engineer?

An engineering generalist with an understanding of sustainable development whose skills set are typically comprised of an amalgam of mechanical and electrical engineering. One who is able to design and assemble systems and components that are comprised of more than one renewable energy (RE) technology i.e. solar, wind, hydro-kinetic (ocean/wave/micro-hydro), biomass, hydrogen fuel cell, geothermal and storage (battery, fly wheel, pumped-hydro). The RE technologies selected depend on one's geographical predisposition, resource availability, the end-use need, practicing conservation (behavioral change) to name a few considerations...

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