Gravity Dam

One of the world’s largest renewable energy projects, largest project’s period, was constructed in the 1930’s. The Grand Coulee Dam.

Not without controversy, it was also the beneficiary of some terrific luck when, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and outbreak of WWII, President Roosevelt and other supporters looked like geniuses for having had the foresight to push through such a crazy-expensive project. Hydro-electric power from the dam made possible the building of planes by Boeing and ships in Portland, not to mention the transformations of Seattle and Portland from outposts into major Northwestern cities.

This, really well-done, documentary tells a lot of the story, including choice bits about Woody Guthrie being paid to come up with promotional tunes for public energy (!) [who has that gig now?] and environmental consequences like the interruption of salmon runs on the Columbia River, the restoration of which have been probably more feel good and window dressing for preserving regional identity than anything. Anyway, recommended.

L’air over there

off1The government of France is thinking post-nuclear energy and developing off-shore wind farms in the North Atlantic:

Long reliant on nuclear as its chief source of energy, France is having to think long and hard about its energy strategy in the face of increasing public questioning about the safety of nuclear after the Fukushima disaster and greater evidence about the potential future high financial costs of the technology. The decision by the French government late last week to award tenders to build offshore wind farms to produce 2 GW of energy suggests that wind power is high up the Elysée’s list of alternatives to nuclear.

French energy minister Eric Besson said the decision would create up to 10,000 new jobs and “position France among the leaders of the offshore industry,” when making the announcement that a consortium led by energy giant EDF and engineering firm Alstom had won a bid to build three wind farms off the coast of northern France. Spanish energy firm Iberdrola and French engineering giant Areva secured the rights to build a fourth farm, he said. The two consortia are expected to invest around €7 billion to install 2GW of offshore wind energy capacity, according to Besson.

I’m sure all kinds of batailles are raging there about whether climate change is real, too.

Via Juan Cole.

Material Flow Accounts


According to this article, the number of calories consumed at home in the UK peaked in 2001:

“One thing that’s remarkable is the sheer speed with which our resource use has crashed since the recession,” Goodall continues. “In the space of a couple of years, we’ve dropped back to the second lowest level since we started keeping track in 1970. And although the figures aren’t yet available for 2010 and 2011, it seems highly likely that we are now using fewer materials than at any time on record.”

Goodall discovered the Material Flow Accounts while writing a research paper examining the UK’s consumption of resources. The pattern he stumbled upon caught him by surprise: time and time again, Brits seemed to be consuming fewer resources and producing less waste. What really surprised him was that consumption appears to have started dropping in the first years of the new millennium, when the economy was still rapidly growing.

So of course that’s there and not here, But still, point taken. And we’re oftener than not a decade or so behind the continent on some things.

Our problem will be, is, one of scale. Proportional reductions of consumption will also have to be done to scale – across regions and demographics. Sounds obvious, sure; but so does not feeding bears and they still have to put signs up everywhere. The much bigger problem will be that we will have to decide/believe it’s us, our own selves, who is telling us what to do – and not some librul hippie government whatever. I know. Obtuseness seems to be our sweet spot.

Costs, Benefits and Analysis

This post on the Vélib program in Paris brings up a couple of interesting points. First:

While far behind cities like Amsterdam (who isn’t?), Paris is trying to hold its own in the green sweepstakes. To date, one of its most important projects has been a short-term bicycle rental system. Vélib, which started in 2007, is today fully integrated into the fabric of the city, counting millions of passenger trips each year. In proposing my Autolib article, I explained that the city was seeking to build on that “‘hugely successful’’ model.
My characterization of the bike program as ‘‘hugely successful’’ led to a lively debate among my editors, a number of whom argued that Vélib was not in fact successful because it had failed to reduce traffic and so many of the bicycles are damaged, vandalized or stolen that the program was probably running at a loss.


Programs like Autolib and Vélib have little impact on local air pollution and noise, and whatever effect they do have could probably be achieved at lower cost, he said.
All the same, they can be effective ‘‘in setting a first step towards a transition in transport, energy and the environment — a transition that probably is needed in the next decades,’’ Mr. van Wee said.

Touché. That’s the whole point – there are limits to looking merely at the costs and benefits and calling it analysis. We could be doing all kinds of things by implementing these programs, of which making bikes available for rent is just one. By the same, very same, token, it is possible to look at the cost of say, a bike program, and compare it to the costs of a personal automobile program. We have an abiding belief that the costs of roads, bridges, cars themselves (payments and maintenance), insurance, not to mention the gasoline and not to even hint at the wars that are necessary from time to time to maintain access to that gasoline, are relatively acceptable or low-cost in some aspect, or somehow a natural part of the world. But the costs of driving are none of these things. They are excessive. And would be unthinkable if considered in their totality.
Only then, when we have an idea of such a sum, such costs, should we compare that number and the bits of flesh that will eternally decorate it to the cost of a bike program, or a wind farm, or outfitting every man, woman, child, dog, cat and long-eared galoot with a personal solar chapeau and matching lawn darts set. Then we might know which might be worth it, and which might be just another receptor for our rage.

Speaking of which, see also this.


Solar all night

I’m usually pretty hard on CNN, and they always deserve it, despite the many fine people in their employ. So here’s an attaboy, CNN.

Closed (Collision) Course

How close do you have to get to being a doomsayer to get the point across about resource depletion without seeming like a kook and therefore being easily marginalized? It seems like we are on a collision course with finding out. The idea filters down (or up, depending on your orient) to every sort of green advertising, book selling, and opinion writing you can find by opening your iLid. To even get in the door to policy discussions, the apocalyptic ends must be sufficiently trimmed to keep the discussions civilized (i.e. potentially profitable) to the corporate nervous Nellies who control everything. But any serious steps to alter the trajectory of planetary ruination will be absolutely predicated on a series of disasters, sufficiently devastating as to be impossible to iSleep through. It’s an indelicate path between catastrophe and optimism. Joe Romm quotes little Tommy Friedman, channeling Paul Gilding:

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

The need for crises; the will to avert them.

Closed (collision) course. Amateur driver.

The Cost of What You’re Not Doing

Should energy oil companies continue to receive government subsidies at a time of record profits? Seems like an easy one: No! Congress does’t agree, but there’s certainly a case to be made.

But what about us? Our highways are heavily completely subsidized. Gas taxes are relatively low, encouraging us to drive. Single-family, detached houses with minimum lot requirements? Check. Minimum parking requirements for new business? Ccchhheccckkk. The government requires all of these things of us, or we do of ourselves, through our government, that in turn compel us to, um, consume mass quantities, in the common parlance. And of course, when we do some things, we don’t do others. If we drive, we can’t also bike, sure; but what about all those other things we might be doing to save money or use less energy that we’re not doing – and our government is not forcing us to not do them… we’re just not. Hey, wait a minute! They can’t not make us not do something! But they are.

JR has this post on energy efficiency as a resource… not a resource but the resource.

Energy efficiency is the most important climate solution for several reasons:

  1. It is by far the biggest resource.
  2. It is by far the cheapest, far cheaper than the current cost of unsustainable energy, so cheap that it helps pay for the other solutions.
  3. It is by far the fastest to deploy, without the transmission and siting issues that plague most other strategies.

People on the right freak about this all the time – although they seem to believe with 1st century zealotry in eliminating government waste, they are wholly ambivalent about their own. Anything but being told what to do, ha. As if. It’s true that energy companies and their legions of shills have to demonize efficiency all-day every-day because if people found how easy it is – we would soon begin taking on the harder stuff. But that would be good, right? What are they/we so afraid of?

Even without the government subsidies, we could do it. We could pay our utilities more for selling us less – or at least incentive them properly in that direction. As it is, the more we use the more they earn. Like everything else. But maybe this is our greatest resource, the one we’re not using.

Photo-voltaic Impasse

Might have been broken.

Photovoltaic (PV) efficiency is a significant problem for today’s commercial solar panels, which can collect only a theoretical maximum of about 30 percent of available light. Now, a team that includes a University of Missouri engineer is developing a flexible solar film that can theoretically capture more than 90 percent of available light. Prototypes could be produced within the next five years.

Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, says energy generated using traditional photovoltaic methods of solar collection is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic (sunlight) spectrum. The device the team is developing — essentially a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna — is designed to harvest industrial waste heat and convert it into usable electricity. Their ambition is to extend this concept to direct solar facing nantenna devices capable of collecting energy broadly from the near infrared to the optical regions of the solar spectrum.

90% is much more like it. High-speed electrical circuitry. Inexpensive manufacturing processes. This is not being saved by technology so much as using engineering to break the problem down into manageable fragments until it’s no longer a problem and more of way to do what we want – harvest as much energy as possible for the sun.

Moving on to renewable energy sources can be done – and need not been seen or thought of a desperate last gasp/final hope but the natural of progression of technology and its uses that our subservience to fossil energy sources has for so long stymied. Departments of Energy whose first loyalty is to oil and gas industries will not provide the necessary R & D investments in replacing the same. This kind of research takes a lot of money, time and expertise – but the payoffs will be enormous. I’m looking at you, coal, in the rear view mirror.

Via IC.

Subsidy Sunset

This is one way that they end.

John Boehner courageously supported ending taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil for 12 hours, as Climate Progress noted yesterday.

But then he gets called on the mat (do they still say that?) by chez Big Oil and Limbaugh, and immediately flips back. But the writing is on the wall.

Again, not hopeful. They are posting the last of the massive profits, and they know it. The same way the House of Saud knows things are changing.

I cut my finger really badly two days ago, and the first two times I changed the bandage, the wound gushed blood, like crazy – I could barely take it, or staunch the flow. But this morning, I soaked the wound in warm, soapy water and slowly cut the bandage and dried blood away, until after a (long) while I had all the gauze out down to the clean wound with no hemorrhaging and noticeably less pain. It took a while, but… it worked.

Just saying.

Clean Energy Race?

No, it’s not newly discovered caste of green humans.

But actually, a pathetic tale.

Our research shows that the clean energy sector around the world has roared back from flat recessionary levels, increasing 30 percent from 2009 to achieve a record $243 billion2 worth of finance and investment in 2010. More than 90 percent of all clean energy investments were directed to companies and projects in the G-20. Excluding research and development funding, clean energy finance and investment in the G-20 countries totaled $198 billion, 33 percent more than was invested in 2009.

That’s from the Pew Charitable Trusts report, “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race?” You can guess the nature of part the next:

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third. Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk. Growth is sharper in Latin America, where private clean energy investment in Argentina increased by 568 percent and in Mexico by 273 percent, the highest growth rates among G-20 members.

That’s right. Growth is sharper in Latin America. I mean, God bless ’em and all, but this is actually too serious to be an embarrassment. Our competitive position in the clean energy sector, such that it is, is at risk in the toilet because of a failure to face up to the facts. Instead we just want to debate them. Opportunity knocking a plenty, but only others answering.

Godspeed you clean energy racers.