Friday, July 25, 2008

Technosanity #6: Hazards of U.S. nuclear power plants, part 2 (

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Rebroadcast from Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear and former director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at Nuclear Information and Resource Service, illuminates the operation, disrepair and vulnerability of U.S. nuclear power plants. This episode also includes an excerpt from the 1983 Oscar-winning documentary, If You Love This Planet, which features Dr. Caldicott giving a lecture about the risks and consequences of nuclear war.

Hazards of U.S. nuclear power plants, part 2

External Media


Technosanity #5: Hazards of U.S. nuclear power plants, part 1 (

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Rebroadcast from David Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, about the public health dangers of the 104 aging nuclear power plants in the United States. Hear about near-melt-downs, how terrorists could easily crash planes into the planes or sabotage them from the inside, and how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fails to ensure community safety. Also includes a short excerpt of a lecture by Dr. Caldicott about the Nuclear Age from If You Love This Planet (1983 Academy Award-winning documentary) with narration from U.S. nuclear propaganda films.

This is the first in a series of broadcasts from Dr. Helen Caldicott. As they say, it is imperative that this show reach a large audience, not just in the U.S. but worldwide.

Hazards of U.S. nuclear power plants, part 1

External Media


Monday, July 21, 2008

Motorcycles are green machines

Motorcycles are green machines: Motorcycles are fuel-efficient, pollute less, create less wear on our infrastructure, they alleviate traffic jams, and require less space for parking. This litany of win-win-win makes it astonishing why there aren't more motorcycles on the road.

Governments could establish congestion charges -- to which motorcycles are exempt. Two-wheelers of all kind alleviate congestion. Shopping centers and other places could be required to have motorcycle parking areas in parking lots. Motorcycles use less parking space in the first place.

And, by the way, everything just said about motorcycles applies doubly so to bicycles.

As gas prices rise, increasing numbers of Wacoans taking to the streets on motorcycles and scooters This article is from Waco Texas, and describes a growing trend of riding motorcycles and scooters for daily driving. Waco, west Texas, where people famously prefer their pickup trucks, is adopting motorcycles and scooters in a large scale.

Further it's not people buying a motorcycle for 'recreation' but for commutes.

Scooter sales have been the briskest, with the shop selling about 40 to 50 during that period. Before gas prices started creeping up, it sold only about 10 per year, he said....In the past, customers were sometimes reluctant to buy scooters because of the geek factor, Barger said. But as soon as gas prices spiked, vanity hasn’t been as big a concern, he said....His most popular scooter model sells for $2,399, Barger said. It gets 100 mpg and can go 55 mph. Many customers have told him they can justify the upfront cost because of the fuel savings they expect to get from zipping around town on the scooter rather than a in gas-guzzling vehicle.

Article Reference: 


Green light for Europe's biggest windfarm


Europe's largest onshore windfarm has been given the green light by the Scottish Government.

First Minister Alex Salmond said the 152-turbine Clyde windfarm near Abington in South Lanarkshire would be capable of powering up to 320,000 homes.

This development will bring £600 million of investment while during construction the project is expected to create 200 jobs, with approximately 30 staff employed when fully operational.

Speaking ahead of the World Renewable Energy Congress in Glasgow, the First Minister said:

"The Clyde windfarm will represent a very important step in the development of renewable energy in Scotland and in meeting shared European targets. It is another step towards making Scotland the green energy capital of Europe.

"The Scottish Government has an ambitious target to generate 31 per cent of Scotland's electricity demand from renewable sources by 2011 and 50 per cent by 2020.

"Today's announcement makes it virtually certain that the 2011 target will be met early and exceeded by the end of this Parliamentary term and represents a significant milestone on the way to achieving the 2020 target.

"Scotland has a clear, competitive advantage in developing clean, green energy sources such as wind, wave and tidal power.

"We have put renewable energy at the heart of our vision of increasing sustainable, economic growth.

"Installed renewables capacity is already greater than nuclear capacity. But this announcement demonstrates that we are only at the start of the renewables revolution in Scotland. Combined with the crucial announcement of a new biomass plant in Fife on Friday, the Clyde declaration today makes this weekend one of the biggest advances ever in energy technology in Scotland."

The Clyde windfarm application was submitted by Airtricity. The windfarm will be built in clusters of turbines on either side of the M74 motorway. It will have a total capacity of up to 548 Megawatts (MW). At present, the largest consented windfarm in Scotland is Whitelee, on Eaglesham Moor, south of Glasgow, which is currently under construction and will have a total capacity of 322MW. Currently the biggest operational windfarm in Europe is the Maranchon windfarm in Guadalajara, Spain which has a generating capacity of 208 MW.

The Scottish Government's Energy Consents Unit is currently processing 36 renewable project applications - 26 wind farm, nine hyrdro and one wave project, which equates to 2.5 Gigawatts (GW) of electricity.

Current installed renewables capacity in Scotland totals 2800 MW. Installed nuclear capacity is 2090 MW. Approval of the Clyde windfarm means that the total installed capacity either built or consented and under construction will be 4.55GW - just 450 MW short of the 5GW needed to reach the Scottish Government's interim target of generating 31 per cent of Scotland's electricity demand from renewable sources by 2011.

Approval of the Clyde windfarm makes a significant contribution to meeting the EU renewables target of 20 per cent of all energy consumption by 2020.

17 energy projects have now been determined by this Scottish Government. This includes consent for 12 renewable projects since May last year, and compares with an annual average of four under the previous administration.

In Scotland the latest annual figures are for 2006. These show:

  • Electricity generated by renewable sources (apart from hydro natural flow) increased by 46 per cent
  • As a result of unplanned outages, nuclear's share of generation fell from 38 per cent to 26 per cent in Scotland
  • In 2006, Scotland could have supplied 92.5 per cent of its electricity needs from non-nuclear sources
  • Electricity generated in Scotland increased by nine per cent. In 2005, Scotland exported 15 per cent of the electricity generated to consumers elsewhere in the UK, but this rose to 20 per cent in 2006
  • Announcements over the last year bring us much closer to achieving the Scottish Government's ambitious targets of generating 31 per cent of Scotland's electricity demand from renewable sources by 2011 and 50 per cent by 2020

Any proposal to construct, extend or operate a windfarm with a generation capacity in excess of 50 MW requires the consent of Scottish Ministers under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989.

Article Reference: 


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Amory Lovins: Expanding Nuclear Power Makes Climate Change Worse

Amory Lovins has a very intriguing proposal... Increase of Nuclear Power use would cause an increase in Global Warming. That's kind of a puzzler but it turns out he has an interesting analysis. And, to be real, Officialdom is presenting increased nuclear power as a method to solve some of the 'energy' problems the U.S. is facing. Not just Washington Officialdom but some head scratchers like Stewart Brand and other environmentalists have been suggesting nuclear power because it doesn't emit carbon. Since nuclear power doesn't emit carbon it's thought to be a safe energy source in terms of global warming. But of course nuclear power has tremendous problems with disposal of the left over nuclear material, and increased use of nuclear power would lead us to perhaps using nuclear weapons again.

Before Amory Lovins began talking they quoted President Bush, and Senators McCain and Obama, all talking about the need to invest in (or explore investing in) new nuclear power plants. This makes it appear that no matter who is chosen President this year, we will have Nuclear Power on the table for discussion, debate, and possible approval by Congress.

First point

electricity and oil have essentially nothing to do with each other, and anybody who thinks the contrary is really ignorant about energy. Less than two percent of our electricity is made from oil. Less than two percent of our oil makes electricity.

Yup.. there are very few nuclear powered vehicles. Except in the military, who have nuclear powered ships of various kinds. But there are a couple ways nuclear power could help offset the use of oil..

I looked into this a couple years ago -- Examining nukes to replace oil -- The electricity or heat from a nuclear reactor can be used to extract hydrogen from water, or can be used to drive a coal-to-liquids plant. Coal-to-liquids is specifically a curious technology in that it's a way to make a liquid fuel starting from what are essentially rocks (coal). The Germans used this technology during WWII to drive their war machine even though they had no indigenous oil supplies. There happens to be huge coal deposits in the U.S. and further the same technology can be used with tar sands and other very sludgy oil deposits, and there are large tar sands deposits in Canada (Alberta).

This means there are a couple ways to make liquid fuels by way of using nuclear power to drive the machines that do so.

President Bush was quoted discussing "You know, one of these days, people are going to be using battery technologies in their cars." ... uh, yeah, look at my driveway. Since nuclear power creates electricity the use of electric cars could be powered by nuclear reactors. In todays arrangement most vehicles are driven by liquid fuels (oil) but if most vehicles were driven by electricity the electricity could come from a wide range of sources. Solar panels, wind power, tidal power, biomass, and, uh, ah, nuclear power.

But let's move to his next point:-

The costs have just stood up on end lately. Wall Street Journal recently reported that they’re about two to four times the cost that the industry was talking about just a year ago. And the result of that is that if you buy more nuclear plants, you’re going to get about two to ten times less climate solution per dollar, and you’ll get it about twenty to forty times slower, than if you buy instead the cheaper, faster stuff that is walloping nuclear and coal and gas, all kinds of central plans, in the marketplace.

If you have 'n' dollars to put into climate change and environmental benefits don't you want the best return on investment? That's where Amory Lovins has been working for years.

It's cheaper to not build a power plant which isn't needed because efficiency improvements caused a decrease in what would have been the power demand. Amory Lovins invented this term negawatts which is power which isn't needed to be generated because of efficiency improvements.

Another thing he points at is how improvements in wind and solar power technology has made them far more economically attractive than nuclear power. Nuclear power plants have a very high cost to build (that is, to build safely) and wind/solar technology has been improving to the point where it's directly competitive with the usual technologies. The market is responding, as he points out, by investing in wind and solar power plants while ignoring investment in nuclear power plants. Wind/solar installations have increased at a huge rate while nuclear installations have been essentially flat.

He claims this is due to costs and the unwillingness of "Wall Street" to make investments in costly power systems. Uhm, that is probably true, that Wall Street isn't investing in nuclear power due to the costs, but isn't there also a moratorium in the U.S. against nuclear power? It might not be an explicit moratorium, but ever since 1978 when the Three Mile Island power plant almost melted down the U.S. public has been against building more nuclear power plants.

That's what the cost difference means.. if you spend dollars to build nuclear plants you'll get less power per dollar spent than if you instead use the dollars to build wind power plants.

The way this turns investments into nuclear power would increase global warming...? It's that because there are 'n' dollars and there is a certain sized problem to solve, the U.S. will solve that problem more slowly if we depend on nuclear power to solve it. Likewise if we use technologies like solar or wind power the problem would be solved more quickly than if we depended on nuclear power.

The core problem is the ever-increasing demand for power. The numbers I've seen indicate huge huge huge needs for massive investment in new power plants. If those investments are primarily in coal, well, that means burning a lot of coal and we've seen the result of that. The choice in technologies to invest in to provide that power will be with us for decades into the future. We must make this choice with the long view in mind.


Article Reference: 


Saturday, July 19, 2008

On energy, McCain sounds a lot like Cheney

Joe Conason is claiming the proposals floated by John McCain are eerily like the ones pushed by V.P. Dick Cheney. Hmm... McCain is running on claims he bucked the White House on various things, but hey if he's reading from the same playbook as Cheney then is he really the maverick bucking the administration?

McCain is pushing for the folly of increasing offshore oil drilling .. and .. coincidentally so is Cheney.

McCain is pushing for more nuclear energy .. and .. coincidentally so is Cheney.

McCain is pushing for the oxymoron of 'clean coal' .. and .. coincidentally so is Cheney.

Article Reference: 


T. Boone Pickens Responds to Al Gore's Climate Speech

T. Boone Pickens Responds to Al Gore's Climate Speech: In a "My plan is better than your plan" kind of statement T. Boone Pickins announced: "Today, former Vice President Al Gore put forward a framework of a plan that is focused on global warming and climate issues. My plan is aimed squarely at breaking the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our country and the $700 billion annual impact it has on our economy. We import 70% of our oil and that number is growing larger every year. Vice President Gore's plan does not address this enormous problem, it is clear that he and I have two different objectives and our plans should be viewed with that in mind." Hmm...

Why is T. Boone Pickins important? He's a rich, very rich, richer than god, Texas Oil Man. And if nothing else recent history has shown that Texas Oil Men have an inordinate ability to make this country do things differently before.

The Pickins Plan (linked below) is to install a massive wind farm system in the Midwest. Conveniently it would begin in the Texas Panhandle area. His plan points to there being massive amounts of wind there. The other half of the plan is to use the electricity to liquify natural gas. The LNG would be used to drive cars and perhaps LNG can be burned directly in existing cars or with small modifications?

His plan has some good points. For example wind power only is delivered when the wind blows and the wind doesn't always blow when you need it most. The question is how to store wind power for use later. Doing something like liquifying natural gas is one way to store electricity, but there are other ways. For example air could be compressed and then later released through an air turbine.

A big flaw in his plan is that while Oil has a looming peak oil situation there is also a natural gas peak. While natural gas is more widely available today than is oil, it will eventually also come into short supply. By moving to natural gas based "energy" we'd still be dependent on fossil fuel, and we'd only be delaying the real problem.

Article Reference: 


Monday, July 14, 2008

Corn Stover as a cellulosic ethanol source

Economist: Take 'stalk' in corn stover as state's ethanol future and Purdue Study Concludes Corn Stover Better Economically Than Switchgrass for Indiana Cellulosic Ethanol

"Cellulosic ethanol made from corn stover and switchgrass could be the next big thing in liquefied energy." At least in corn producing states like Indiana (the study was published by Purdue Univ). Generally ethanol derived from Corn has been seen as a bad idea because it is diverting food to make fuel. There are food riots around the world for a couple years now, due to higher prices for food, and these higher prices may be due (in part) to the diversion of corn (etc) into making fuel.

However Corn Stover is a byproduct of corn production which isn't the food portion of the corn plant. It is the other part, the stalks and leaves. This can be processed as cellulosic ethanol without diverting food for fuel.

Purdue conducted a study comparing Corn Stover with Switchgrass, and this Stover stuff came out better. However it looks to me their figures accounted only for monetary inputs, that by the money inputs to processing Stover it comes out monetarily better than processing Switchgrass. The article doesn't discuss whether it is better from the standpoint of energy inputs.

Gives some background on what Corn Stover is.

It says that in Europe (Netherlands and Belgium) Stover is used as animal feed during the winter. They harvest the entire plant and crush the part which isn't the corn husk.

The wikipedia article has this quote: “some agronomists question whether taking stover out of the field annually will have a negative impact on soil fertility and structure.” (link) I expect what they're getting at is if the Stover is left on the field then it will biodegrade on its own and become part of the future soil. But if it is removed then the soil isn't replenished by having the composted plant matter (Stover) feeding into the soil.

GMO Corn-Stover Eats Itself, Makes Ethanol Processing A Breeze and Researchers Modifying Corn With Genes to Produce Enzymes to Enable Simpler Production of Cellulosic Ethanol

"Researchers at Michigan State are trying to get corn-stover to digest itself after harvest. Doing so would mitigate the costly pretreatment steps needed for the production of cellulosic ethanol from the non-edible parts of the corn plant." -- This research would be an optimization of the processing of Stover.

The method is to genetically modify the corn -- so that it produces enzymes required to make the Stover break down more quickly. Uh.. lessee, they're adding a feature to Corn so that the byproduct can be reused more readily? This sounds like a way to distance food from being food, or rather they're putting effort into designing food with featureitis that isn't food-like. This reminds me of a conceptualized nightmare picture I saw long ago of "food engineering" gone awry; the idea was to make tomato's that packed more tomato per unit of space and therefore they genetically modified tomato's so they grew in a cube, because round tomato's have wasted space in the gaps due to round shape.

uh.. wait... Because it is only in the vacuole of the green tissues of plant cells, the enzyme is only produced in the leaves and stalks of the plant, not in the seeds, roots or the pollen. Meaning they've worked out how to genetically modify it so only the leaves and stalks are producing this enzyme. I feel much better.. maybe.

Measuring The Merits Of Corn Stover-Based Ethanol

This covers some of the same ground as before, but it goes into more details on the tradeoff with removing Stover versus leaving it in place. They say Stover left in place "may help prevent soil erosion caused by strong winds or intense rainfall. It also replaces lost nutrients and sequesters carbon in the soil, lessening CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas and its contribution to global climate change." Hmm.. Stover left in place is a carbon sequestriation method? Really? And we want to interfere with this so we can make fuel?

Researchers Developing Machinery To Harvest Corn Stalks And Leaves

This discusses farm machinery being designed which makes it easier to harvest Stover at the same time corn is harvested. In the past it would take two combines to harvest the Stover and Corn, or else the Stover would simply be left in the field. This new machine is a simple addon to existing combines or I suppose could be built as a combined unit which does it all at once to harvest both corn and stover.

Nutrient removal when harvesting corn stover

This is excellent detailed examination of the chemical and nutrient makeup of stover. By removing stover from a field you are removing nutrients and carbon from the field, as discussed above.

It makes it clear that one effect of removing Stover would be the need for increased use of fertilizer. Fertilizer (in the U.S.) generally is made from oil.. soo.... removing Stover to make fuel causes an increase in oil consumption through increased fertilizer use???

Beef: Turn Corn Stover to Low Cost Pasture

A recommendation that Stover can be a good low cost cow feed. Hmm... sounds familiar..

Improving Biodegradability and Biogas Production of Corn Stover through Sodium Hydroxide Solid State Pretreatment

Chinese researchers in Beijing also researching methods to improve processing efficiency of Stover.

Article Reference: 


MuseLetter: Coal in China

China is the world's foremost coal producer and consumer, surpassing the United States by a factor of two on both scores and accounting for 40 percent of total world production. Coal in China has a long history dating back over two millennia. Production achieved one million tons per year in 1903 and the present annual output is roughly 2.5 billion metric tons (tonnes). China currently has roughly 25,000 coalmines, with 3.4 million registered employees. Some of these coalmines are illegally operated. The productivity of China's coal mining is low: in 1999, 289 tons of coal were produced per miner averaged across all the nation's mines, versus almost 12,000 tons per miner in the US. Thin overburden allows surface mining in some areas, but only four to seven percent of China's reserves are suitable for surface mining, and of these most consist of lignite.

The pace of China's headlong dash toward increased coal consumption is legendary: in recent years an average of one new coal-fed power plant has fired up every week. The resulting annual capacity addition is comparable to the size of Britain's entire power grid. This is no doubt the outsourcing of industry at work. As the world moves more and more industrial production to China, this requires China to build more electrical production plants, and their available fuel is..coal. Coal isn't just used to generate electricity, it also feeds into metals production and fertilizer production.

There is use of Coal-to-Liquids technology. The article doesn't name this but the technique was developed in Germany shortly before WWII and was used by Nazi Germany to provide liquid fuel to drive the German war machine. Anyway CTL is an energy intensive method for liquifying coal, it does produce a usable fuel as the Germans proved in WWII, but it is very expensive. A driving force for this is the cost to transport coal from mines to power plants, usually coal is transported by train, but a large portion of mines are not on the rail network and must be transported by trucks. This requires diesel fuel..

According to China's Coal Research Institute, each barrel of synthetic oil produced from coal will consume at least 360 gallons of fresh water. (For comparison: 360 gallons equals roughly 8.5 barrels; thus at this ratio of CTL to water, 286,000 barrels per day of CTL would require approximately 2.5 million bpd of water.) And most areas of China are already experiencing water scarcity.

The article summarizes several reports looking into when or if the peak in China's coal production will occur. The estimates range from 2006 through 2050. Clearly the 2006 estimate is wrong as we're in 2008 and the production has only increased, but they wave their hands about faulty data. In any case since Coal is a limited resource just like Oil, there will be a peak in China's Coal production and it's likely going to be within the coming 50-100 years.

China's furious pace of economic growth, which is often touted as a sign of success, may turn out to be a fatal liability. Simply put, the nation appears to have no Plan B. No fossil fuel other than coal will be able to provide sufficient energy to sustain current economic growth rates in the years ahead, and non-fossil sources will require unprecedented and perhaps unachievable levels of investment just to make up for declines in coal production—never mind providing enough to fuel continued annual energy growth of seven to ten percent per year.

If and when China ceases to have enough new energy to support continued economic growth, there are likely to be unpleasant consequences for the nation's stability. If such consequences are to be averted, the country's leadership must find ways to rein in economic growth while reducing internal social and political tensions, meanwhile investing enormous sums in non-fossil energy sources. A serious attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would entail an identical prescription. It is a tall order by any standard, but serious contemplation of the alternative—which, in the worst instance, could amount to social, economic, and environmental collapse—should be bracing enough to motivate heroic efforts.

Article Reference: 


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Saving gas: A trend on two wheels

Are you among those cringing at the high cost of gasoline? There are many motorcycles which have high fuel efficiency.

“We've been sold out of small and medium-sized motorcycles” for weeks, said Don Ehlerding, president and general manager of MotorSports Inc.... “Sales are way up in the highest fuel-efficiency models,” ... People who've never ridden motorcycles before are investigating them as an alternative to cars. Ehlerding said interest is particularly strong from wives of motorcyclists and “40-somethings” who may have ridden in their teens or 20s and are now considering a return to motorcycles. Sure, it's fun, but the prospect of saving hundreds of dollars in gas every year can make the prices of small motorcycles, even new ones, palatable.

I have a Honda Rebel 250, as do one of the people quoted in the article. This motorcycle gets around 75 miles/gallon .. but the article quotes a dealer characterizing this bike also impose limitations. Its light weight - barely more than 300 pounds - makes it harder to control in a strong wind, he said. Even as it attains 70 miles/hr speed this light weight makes it unsuitable for highway riding. A heavier bike might give a more comforable ride.

Article Reference: 


Electric Scooter Offers Way To Beat The Gas Pump Blues

The Cape Cod Chronicle had an inside track to getting a Vectrix Motorcycle to ride and review. One of their employees was married to the senior product manager for Vectrix. Anyway, they got an opportunity to ride one around for quite awhile.

"A person riding a Vectrix scooter is a novelty. Motorcycle enthusiasts—and there are more out there than you might imagine—are the most curious...." I've experienced this with my own electric motorcycle (not a Vectrix). Regularly people pull up next to me in traffic, do a double take of my motorcycle, roll down the window, and start asking questions like... "How fast can it go? How far can it go on a charge? How long does it take to charge the batteries? How much does it cost? ..." Yup, I get those questions too.

The article goes into the cost savings: Here on Cape Cod, residential electric rates are closer to 12.5 cents, so the real cost per mile is a fraction of a cent higher than their advertised cost of a penny per mile. By comparison, a fuel-efficient gas-powered scooter might get 47 mpg, yielding a cost per mile of around 9.3 cents—a number that will go up with gas prices. In case you’re curious, the cost per mile for a fuel-efficient 29 mpg compact car is about 15 cents. Those numbers are based on gasoline sold at $4.39 a gallon, and don’t take into account the maintenance costs of any of the vehicles.

The author of the article was also a newbie to motorcycling and lists several new experiences and things you have to be aware of: Weather forecasts, Insects, Solar glare, Potholes, Water sprayed on the pavement, Loose dogs, Coffee (no cup holders)

They seem to like it but this is really just an introductory article.

Article Reference: 


Open Road: Fuel savings entices some to try motorcycles

"Since gas went over $3.50 ... a lot of people are looking for 50 cc scooters,...Pretty much everyone these days wants to use them for daily driving." Motorcycle and scooter dealers - and riders - across the Rio Grande Valley say more and more shoppers are looking for fuel-efficient bikes to get them to work.

I know from my experience this is true. one day while at the gas station filling my Honda Rebel 250, this guy with a big truck drives up. He looked at me and asked how little it took me to fill up the tank on my motorcycle. Well, 8 dollars, and he goes on to complain that it takes $150 to fill his truck etc... I didn't mention to him my other motorcycle is electric and ends up costing even less to ride for my daily commute...

So, yeah, get scooters or motorcycles to save cost. Please, do.

The article suggests a fuel efficient motorcycle can pay for itself pretty quickly. Here's the way it works:-

Take a "car" which gets 15 miles/gallon versus a Ninja 250cc which gets 67.5 miles/gallon. You can go 4 1/2 times further per gallon of gas with the motorcycle than the car, or cover the same distance with 22.222% of the cost. Per mile you ride such a motorcycle versus the "steel cage" (car) you're saving 77% of the fuel cost, and for some commutes that fuel cost savings could add up to the $3700 purchase price of the motorcycle.

e.g. 10,000 miles takes 666.666 gallons in a 15 mile/gallon vehicle (no kidding) and at $4 per gallon costs $2666.666 per year for fuel.

10,000 miles takes 148.148148 gallons in a 67.5 mile/gallon vehicle and at $4 per gallon costs $592.295295 per year for fuel.

If you ride 10,000 miles per year you'd save $2074.06 per year in fuel costs riding the motorcycle over driving the car.

There is a national organization, Ride To Work, which is promoting the use of motorcycles for commutes because of the fuel/cost savings. While driving the highways it's apparent that most cars are driven by solo drivers, and it makes a lot of sense to encourage solo-driver-vehicles a.k.a. Motorcycles as an acknowledgment of this factoid of modern life.

Article Reference: 


Saturday, July 12, 2008

America's Best Places For Alternative Energy

The "cubic mile of oil"--a metric roughly equivalent to the amount of oil consumed worldwide each year--is frequently used to explain the challenge facing solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power. What would it take to replace the amount of energy in a cubic mile of oil? The best location for specific technologies varies, and some areas are best for one technology or another. Some places are windy, others sunny, the wind varies from season to season, and geothermal power is easily tapped only in volcanic regions.

The Texas panhandle was recently highlighted by oilman T. Boone Pickens. But that's not the only place where the wind blows strong, it just happens to be one which Mr. Pickens is fond of.

The deserts of the U.S. Southwest are great places for solar power. The most insolated place in the country is Inyokern in southern California. Ensconced on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyokern covers 11 square miles of Kern County in the dust-choked Mojave Desert. Those 11 square miles receive more solar insolation annually than any other comparably sized locale in North America. FPL Energy recently announced plans to build a massive 2,000-acre solar power plant in the area called the Beacon Solar Energy Project.

Article Reference: 


Ausra Goes Viva Las Vegas with Solar Thermal Power Factory

"Ausra develops and deploys utility-scale solar thermal power technology to serve global electricity needs in a dependable, market-competitive, environmentally responsible manner....Ausra's core technology, the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) solar collector and steam generation system, was originally conceived in the early 1990s at Sydney University. It was first commercialized by Solar Heat and Power Pty Ltd. in 2004 in Australia and is now being refined and built at large scale by Ausra around the world." They have opened a production plant in Las Vegas. At the plant they will produce reflectors, absorber tubes and other key components they use to build solar thermal power plants. They plan to service the "rapidly growing Southwestern solar power industry".. the Southwest U.S. has a lot of sunlight, a lot of heat, and very few people.

In November 2007, Ausra and California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)announced a power purchase agreement for a 177-megawatt solar thermal power plant to be built in central California. The power plant will generate enough electricity to power more than 120,000 homes.

The new factory will make solar field equipment for the PG&E project,for other power projects throughout the American Southwest, and for Ausra's process steam customers, who are adopting solar thermal power to lower their fuel costs and emissions in their operations, including food processing, enhanced oil recovery and refining, and pulp and paper manufacturing. At full capacity, it will annually produce more than 700 megawatts of solar collectors – enough to power nearly half a million homes, and keep 1,400 construction workers employed building solar power plants.

The technology works by focusing sunlight using a zillion reflectors. The light is focused on a central heat collector that vaporises water, using the steam to drive turbines to generate electricity. The steam is recollected as water again to form a closed loop.

They publish a series of reports:

Article Reference: 


GM to build world's biggest rooftop solar station in Spain

General Motors, not exactly known for environmental cleanliness.. well.. they apparently have been making BIG investments in solar power. The current bit of news is a rooftop solar power plant they are planning to build onto the roof of a factory in Spain. It is a 10 megawatt installation and will apparently provide more power than required by the plant, because they intend to sell some power to the local power company. The installation will cover about 2,000,000 square feet of the rooftop. The plant assembles more than 480,000 vehicles per year.

GM currently has two of the largest solar power installations in the United States on the roofs of its Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana, California parts warehouses.

Rooftops are prime territory to install solar power systems. The rooftop already exists meaning the solar power installation does not consume land in its own right. Instead a rooftop solar power installation is reusing land that is already being used.

This is so interesting ... a roof of a single factory has enough square footage to install a 10 megawatt solar power plant. So just think for a moment, how many factories and office buildings and warehouses are existing.. how many square feet of rooftop there is, and how much electricity could be generated from the sun if that otherwise empty rooftop space was repurposed to solar energy?

If a company as environmentally dense as GM can do it, then why not all others?

The problem with the energy crisis the world is facing right now is the "energy" driving our society is coming from a limited resource. Energy can come from many sources some of which are nigh on limitless, such as the sun or wind. There would not be an energy crisis if the energy system were based on these nearly limitless resources.

I'm carefully saying "nearly limitless" because scientists say the Sun will burn out several billion years into the future. Uh, that's limitless enough for me, how about you?

External Media


Friday, July 11, 2008

Man falls in love with his Xingyue enclosed scooter

"If I drive between 30 and 40, I'll get 120 mpg. If I drive between 40 and 50, I'll get 80-90 mpg." This guy is owning a three wheeled scooter that has a semi-enclosed cabin. The scooter is made by a Chinese company, Xingyue. The video shows the scooter tilting during turns and it looks really cool. It uses a 150cc gas motor.

Article Reference: 


Friday, July 4, 2008

Solar Energy: Saved by the Sun

Solar Energy: Saved by the Sun is a PBS documentary (a Nova episode) covering the solar energy industry, developments in solar technology, and generally presenting solar energy in a very positive and with a, uh, bright future. The documentary doesn't go into great depth but has great information in it. Interviewees include two members of the German Parliament, the Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Amory Lovins, several people who have installed solar systems in their houses, farms or businesses.

In Germany there are deep incentives for solar and wind power. This has led to massive growth of industries to build these technology, and massive installation of these technologies. Germany passed a law, as has many countries, to set a target for 20% renewable by 2020. However it appears Germany may well exceed this target. A pig farmer was interviewed, who has installed a massive 1 MW solar array on his farm. It cost $5 mil investment, earns very significant revenue every year, but they claimed that what made it work was the incentives. Without the guarantees in the incentive program the banks would not have lent the required money.

Which leads to a question of what will happen if/when the incentive program ceases.

A theme returned to over and over is a key flaw in solar or wind power is they don't produce electricity when the sun is down, or the wind is not blowing. There aren't battery systems which can store sufficient power to drive a whole city for any length of time. Therefore the essential feature of electricity is it cannot be stored. Electricity which can't be stored is not much use, further at night when the sun isn't shining how would we power our houses.

This leads to a situation where solar powered houses are still tied to the grid, so that they can draw on the grid when the sun isn't shining. You might think, oh, that's cheating. Well... It's pragmatic is what it is. Some solar advocates are purists, nothing but solar power for them thank you very much. However that means they require batteries to store their power to have lights when the sun doesn't shine. The battery pack raises cost and complexity of their systems. And, if the house is grid-tied then the grid becomes the battery pack to store electricity.

A point presented in several ways throughout the documentary is that it is when the sun is the hottest that electricity demand is highest. Because American houses are misdesigned and heat up badly when it's hot (they could be designed to be less affected by heat) American's learned response is to crank up the air conditioner. Cranked up air conditioners are what cause the steep power demand during the day. Hence solar power can be what provides peak power during the day when the power is most needed.

Rather than it being a flaw that solar panels only produce when the sun is shining, looked at from another angle it is a blessing that solar panels operate when their power is most needed.