Monday, December 31, 2007

Global Warming and World Instability

While dwindling numbers of deniers continue to minimize the threats of global warming, a group of United States military leaders, including retired four-star General Anthony Zinni, have released a report on the potential impact of climate change on our nation's security. This piece was produced by the Real News.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Vehicle to Grid Power Could Supplement Energy Needs

That 200-horsepower engine propelling your personal road machine could also do its share to help power your home or office. The concept of vehicle-to-grid power hasn't yet advanced from the research labs, but the idea bears serious consideration as a means to deliver power to the grid during peak demand periods. The Univeristy of Delaware describes the technology in these terms:

Electric-drive vehicles, whether powered by batteries, fuel cells, or gasoline hybrids, have within them the energy source and power electronics capable of producing the 60 Hz AC electricity that powers our homes and offices. When connections are added to allow this electricity to flow from cars to power lines, we call it "vehicle to grid" power, or V2G. Cars pack a lot of power. One typical electric-drive vehicle can put out over 10kW, the average draw of 10 houses. The key to realizing economic value from V2G is precise timing of its grid power production to fit within driving requirments while meeting the time-critical power "dispatch" of the electric distribution system.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has been studying this issue (and has launched The Smart Garage initiative). One of their fellows, Bryan Palmintier, recently wrote an article posted on Yahoo Green News, How Your Future Car Could Help Add Power Back to the Grid. He describes the most basic approach to the technology:

The simplest V2G strategy is to charge vehicles at night, when electricity use (and price) is lowest, and then use the batteries to provide power during the peak demand (typically in the afternoon). This way, V2G could replace the so called "peaker" power plants, which run for only a few hours to meet the highest loads, and are typically the least efficient and most polluting.

To be effective however, this peak shifting would require millions of V2G-capable vehicles on the road (or, more precisely, parked in the afternoon), which will take some time to happen. In the short run, the most promising use for V2G is to provide "ancillary services" to help stabilize the grid.

But, another smart way to implement the technology would be as a supplement to renewable sources of power where the levels of energy fluctuate frequently:

Another exciting possibility for V2G is to help compensate for (or "firm") the variable output of intermittent renewables such as wind and solar.

When the wind blows or the sun is out, vehicles could charge their batteries, while still leaving plenty of power to run other loads on the grid. Then when the wind slows, or a cloud covers the sun, power from the vehicles would be used to continue to provide the same level of power to the grid.

Many innovative solutions to our energy problems are within our grasp with a little imagination and the willingness to make some changes to the entrenched infrastructure.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blending Science, Art, and Climate Change Evangelism

From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Scientist Shearer Brings Odd Bedfellows Together to Save the Earth, emerges a fascinating portrait of a new media practitioner grounded in science and committed to reducing climate change. The subject of this piece, David Shearer, defies categorization as he combines expertise in a variety of areas to persuade the doubtful, activate markets, and initiate dialogues among unlikely participants.

But, regardless of the backgrounds and sensibilities of his audiences, he sometimes tosses out ideas that challenge conventional thought.

His doctoral degree gave him the intellectual chops to explain the science of climate change, yet friends say his open mind is what allows him to hear new ideas. It is his spiritual side, colleagues say, that really sets him apart from your garden-variety academic.

Like when he talks about exploring a multidimensional world that we cannot see or hear.

"I joke with my friends that I'd like to demonstrate as a scientist that love is a real energy. That love can run a light bulb," the now-divorced Shearer said while sitting in his Financial District office. "And they say to me, 'David, how are you going to do that?' And I say, 'I don't really know, you guys, but as a scientist I need to be open to new ideas, and maybe it resides in one of these other dimensions.'

"Lately, as I talk about climate change, I lay out the picture - this is where we are, this is what the solution packages are - but really what it gets down to is cooperation, conversation and, dare I say, love. It gets down to having dialogues across countries, across societies."

Journalist Joe Garofoli concluded the piece with an appropriately upbeat quote from Shearer.

"While we need to be very sanguine about what the problems are on the planet, we need to create exciting, realistic, solution packages that capture the imagination," he said. "It's just too dire without creating some excitement.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Natalie Portman and This Bulb

It's the millions upon millions of small steps that we all take to reduce energy use that collectively can make a monumental difference worldwide. In this segment produced by National Geographic (heavily laden with the startling imagery and striking visuals for which National Geographic is known), a pantheon of celebrities as well as some average folks make the case for switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Catchy and persuasive...

Some people balk at the idea of switching to compact fluorescent bulbs having heard of the mercury dangers. The Union of Concerned Scientists addresses that issue right here.

Wake-up Call on Global Warming

Something remarkable happened at Bali. The delegate from New Guinea stood up to the U.S. and essentially said, "You can lead on this issue or you can get out of the way so the rest of us can make some progress."

The result, documented in this Greenpeace video, which also includes the final version of a video collaboration, Climate Message in a Bottle, may surprise you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tom Hanks Electric Car

A quote comes to mind, one that Jim Hightower captured from John Dromgoole, a natural gardener, in his book The Upchuck Rebellion. The quote applies as well to energy and automotive issues as it does to organic gardening:

Those who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Tom Hanks is doing it, with an electric car that gets 80 or more miles per charge and keeps up with the freeway traffic effortlessly. He talks about it and a conversion company that he is involved with on this Letterman segment:

Tom also has a video on his MySapce page that gives you the opportunity to drive along with him and hear about a more recent electric car's features.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Changing Habits to Fight Global Warming

As discussed in this Boston Globe article, people don't change habits easily when it comes to global warming and energy conservation. A city task force in Keene, NH, is trying to use social pressure to change those daily wasteful habits that impede efforts to cut energy consumption.

The idea is to seed the city with visible green role models and have them reach out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers - essentially using the same type of peer pressure that makes teens want to wear Ugg boots and North Face jackets.

"We want to get people to do the right thing because it's cool to do it," said Mikaela Engert, Keene's city planner. "We're trying to make [environmentalism] part of the fabric of the city."

So far the project has yielded mixed results, but it is revealing for spotlighting the challenges that any community faces when trying to directly confront global warming.

In 2000, Keene became one of the first communities in New England to pledge to combat climate change, eventually agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1995 levels by 2015. Without the effort, emissions were projected to rise 26 percent over that time because of economic and population growth.

As other communities begin to do their part to slow the world's warming, Keene's unfolding story - high on hope and short on money - offers a glimpse into the extraordinary challenge of changing a culture.

The journey of a 1000 miles needs to start quickly and with more than one step.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Obstructionist Tactics at Climate Change Conference in Bali

At the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali (3 DEC - 14 DEC 07) Canada's new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, managed to accomplish a near-impossible feat: presenting a more regressive approach to climate change policy than George Bush, who won the Fossil of the Century Award in 2005. The Real News reports:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali and Biofuels

Despite urgings from a number of environmental organizations, issues related to biofuels did not get a thorough airing at the recent United Nations climate change conference in Bali, which ran from December 3rd to the 14th. Demand for biofuels has skyrocketed with many nations rethinking fuel sources to help limit greenhouse gas emissions, but the dark side of biofuels, the impact on food sources, deforestation, and land use, was largely missing from conference sessions and discussions.

As reported in an Inter Press Service article, Climate Change: Biofuels Scarce on Bali Menu, agricultural issues associated with biofuels have a significant impact on food availability:

‘’We are concerned about the pressure biofuel production is placing on the world’s food reserves. If you produce biofuel with food crops like corn, you won’t have it to meet food demand,’’ Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of IUCN said in an interview. ‘’The grain reserves of the world today are the lowest they have been in the last 10 to 15 years.’’

Similar views were expressed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in pamphlets made available at the U.N. agency’s display booth in the main conference venue. ‘’Food security (availability and accessibility) of the poor may be compromised by increased demand for energy crops,’’ it cautioned.

Currently, the biofuel industry is fed by corn, wheat, sugarcane and palm oil, among other crops. Close to 5,000 lt of biofuel can be extracted from one hectare of corn, 6,000 lt from a hectare of sugarcane and 4,500 lt from a hectare of palm oil, said Barbara Bramble of the National Wildlife Federation during the IUCN-hosted discussion.

A quote from the Netherlands environment minister provides a succinct summary of the issue:

And the main drivers of this demand, the European Union (EU), has admitted that a more sustainable policy is needed to meet a 2010 target of having 5.7 percent of its transport fuel from green sources. ‘’The negative impacts should be avoided,’’ said the Netherlands' environment minister Jacqueline Cramer. ‘’When we use biofuel for our cars, we might be destroying biodiversity and have negative impacts on food production and social and economic development.’’

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Total Decarbonization

Total decarbonization... That's a catchy phrase. George Monbiot used in in a 4 DEC 07 article in the Guardian Unlimited, This crisis demands a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means.

The crux of the issue of quite simple, though the solution is anything but.

In the new summary published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), you will find a table that links different cuts to likely temperatures. It suggests that to prevent global warming from eventually exceeding 2C, by 2050 the world will need to cut its emissions to roughly 15% of the volume in 2000.

There are more facts and figures, but it boils down to the need for generating a global cut in CO2 emissions of more than 90% by 2050 to avoid dire repercussions of global warming. And to stabilize temperatures globally at a level consistent with the pre-industrial period will require a global cut of nearly 100%.

To most humans, this would be cause for complete despair and inaction, but Monboit is optimistic that there remains a path to circumvent disaster.

But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge that is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means. Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.

Deep ecology is one place to start. Deep Economy (as described in Bill McKibben's recent book) is a way to continue (as are the steps outlined in his more recent book, Fight Global Warming Now). It's time for us collectively as a species to wake up and take action if we want to be around to celebrate the next millennium.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Nuclear Power Information Tracker

The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the best watchdog and energy advisory group around, offers a comprehensive online guide to the existing reactors in the U.S. The interactive map also provides some startling surprises, such as when you click on the button labeled "Show Inherently Safe Reactors" and get this popup:

An inherently safe reactor, in theory, would be designed, operated, and monitored in such a way that the reactor would never be damaged and, as a result, no radioactivity would ever be released to the environment. No such reactor currently exists. The risk from existing reactors is so real and so large that liability insurance from private companies is financially impossible, thereby requiring federal liability protection

The catalog of reactor problems, near misses, forced shutdowns, and spotty safety records is eye opening and a clear indication of the nature of the beast.

The Wonders of Liquid Coal

Mark Fiore is one of the sharpest political and environmental commentators on the scene, using Flash animation to poke a stick in the eye of the establishment and expose the ongoing foolishness of government and industry. This piece, created for NRDC and just posted on YouTube, extols the virtues of liquid coal. Didn't realize there were virtues? Just click to find out more...