Friday, April 18, 2014

The Trike That Thinks Its an Electric Car

This entertaining hybrid, part three-wheeler, part bike, part electric car, goes by the nickname ELF. There's something intrinsically appealing about this little vehicle.

Grist did a quick profile on it and, if you're interested, a 7-minute video follows as well. A bit pricey ($5,495), but about as low impact as travel can be.

Specs in a nutshell:
The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles — farther if you put your thighs to work.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Energy Strategy for Minnesota Evaluates Renewables

A new article in the RMI Outlet looks at a comprehensive evaluation in Minnesota to assess the value and potential of renewable energy resources to replace the infrastructure heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The move has elicited some corresponding excitement from businesses in the state.
And it is not just Minnesota’s government building momentum around an alternative energy future. The state’s Fortune 100 companies, such as Target and Best Buy, have set significant GHG reduction goals. Its power companies continue to expand renewable generation, including both solar and wind. And Minnesota’s civil society, pillared by organizations such as Great Plains Institute and Center for Energy and Environment, helps facilitate change and drive innovation in the energy and efficiency sector. That is why RMI was excited to support the Minnesota Department of Commerce in the development of a comprehensive guide to conducting an energy future study for Minnesota.
You can imagine that somewhere in the faraway, fictional land of Lake Wobegon, solar panels are appearing atop barn roofs and wind turbines are gracing ridge lines.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

NASA Study Points to Collapse of Civilization

A new study funded by NASA suggests that we're facing the collapse of industrial civilization within decades due to a combination of factors evaluated using a cross-disciplinary model, HANDY (Human And Nature DYnamical). Factors that were weighed in the study include: population, climate, water, agriculture, and Energy. Rather than being a rare occurrence, the study points to earlier historical precedents that show that "precipitous collapse" has been common in human history and the results often last centuries. The study has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics

In evaluating the factors using the HANDY methodology, the study noted:
These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."
Will technology save us? The authors were skeptical:
"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."
The conclusion: our "business as usual" approach cannot be sustained and governments, corporations, and consumers need to adapt and change to keep our worldwide civilization intact and functioning.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Energy Solutions—Amory Lovins Speaks at Bioneers

The annual Bioneers conference is often a revelation to attendees, offering fresh, pragmatic, sustainable solutions to the social, cultural, and environmental problems of our age. The last conference included a keynote address from Amory Lovins, the cofounder, chief scientist, and chairman emeritus of the Rocky Mountain Institute. It's worth viewing—the talk summarizes many of the key ideas of Reinventing Fire, Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.

Watch for a YouTube posting of Lovins' talk at TED2014: The Next Chapter, to be held in Vancouver, BC, Canada this next week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brighter Streetlights, Less Energy

As reported by the Earth Island Journal, a shift from traditional streetlights to light-emitting diodes bulbs is being instituted by cities in locales around the country, from San Antonio to San Francisco. 
Energy savings from this conversion are already showing benefits. Quoting from the article:
In terms of the environment, LEDs definitely bring some benefits, the biggest of which is energy savings. The Oakland Streetlight Conversion Project will save the city nearly $20,000 per year in energy costs, and will reduce city greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40 percent (or 80,000 pounds) per year. “The overall goal of this whole project was to have better light in our city streets,” says Kristine Shaff, a public information officer with the City of Oakland. “And the energy savings are tremendous.”
One catch, noted in the article, blue-rich LEDs have the potential to disrupt circadian rhythms in animals and humans, so municipalities are encouraged to install yellow-rich LEDs to eliminate the concern.

Streetlight photo by flickr user meltedplastic 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Storing Energy from Intermittent Power Sources

One of the enduring canards that is trotted out on a regular basis by those who disparage renewable energy (usually in favor of fossil fuels or nuclear) is that because the wind and sun produce energy intermittently, they have no value in the world's long-term energy strategies.

In truth, there are multiple methods of storing energy from daytime sunlight or windy days. One particularly good example is the Bath Country Hydro Pumped Storage Facility, operated by Dominion Power on the Virginia-West Virginia border. Energy stored as hydropower in one of the largest engineering projects ever implemented helps serve the energy needs of some 60-million people across 13 states.

A Think Progress article on the topic included this quote:
When Sean Fridley, the facility’s Station Manager, looks at the Upper Reservoir perched a thousand feet above his office, he doesn’t see drops of water. He sees a thousands-of-megawatts-deep block of power, a huge amount of stored potential energy — with more output than the Hoover Dam — that he can turn on with a flick of a switch.
Other innovative storage methods have been suggested, all based on proven technologies. A promising plan was presented in Scientific American in 2007 involving collection of solar energy in the US southwest desert, with distribution over high-voltage DC transmission lines  to compressed-air storage facilities around the country. The current cost of compressed-air storage is roughly half that of lead-acid batteries.

This video gives a nice overview of the storage facility in Bath County:

The next time someone tells you that intermittent energy sources can't solve our energy needs,   the evidence is abundant that they don't know half the story.