Thursday, November 24, 2011

Almost as smart as termites


We know that ground-nesting termites can build mounds where the temperature and humidity remain moderate year round (a concept that has drawn the attention of architects in recent years). But, for whatever reason, humans don't typically pay much attention to natural heating and cooling in their building design and construction—a fact that leads to an enormous amount of energy consumption so that building inhabitants don't suffer from the heat or cold.

You can find exceptions to this tendency to ignore trees, shade, hillsides, and sun exposure when constructing buildings, even back in the 19th century. One good example, highlighted in Julia Whitty's Blue Marble blog (the post is a couple of years old, but as relevant today as when it was written), is Lincoln's cottage, where the President escaped the suffocating climate of Washington D.C. in the summer.

Among the passive techniques that characterize the cottage:

The builders relied on smarts not watts. Some of their techniques included:

Orienting the building so a powerful crossbreeze blows when the front door and rear windows are opened

Installing tall windows with two sections, a top half to expel warm air and a bottom half to introduce it

Attaching shutters to block the sun or let light in when necessary
Decorating with lace curtains to minimize bugs not breezes

Some of the simplest techniques available could make an enormous difference in energy consumption in our homes and cities. It's not too late to learn from the termites and the builders of the 19th century.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Inside the Evacuation Zone at Fukushima


Former Shooto heavyweight champion Enson Inoue took a bold journey into the evacuation zone at Fukushima and offered some candid revelations on the state of affairs in and around the disabled nuclear plant. Anyone who thinks the situation is firmly under control should look and listen and perhaps reconsider the situation. MMA Fighting also interviewed Inoue, who offered additional details about his journey into the region.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Irrational Disdain for Electric Vehicles

EV haters

The mainstream media holds sway over much of public opinion and messages repeated over and over seem to become the reigning paradigm, engrained deeply into most everyone's consciousness. As Steve Harvey points out in The EV-haters guide to hating electric cars, the list of fallacies that are promoted in this way is long and continuous. An example Harvey provides is the typical EV-hater calling electric vehicles a sales flop despite one- and two-year waiting lists for most models.

To counter the many misconceptions, Harvey compiled a list of "truthy" facts and introduced it in this way:

Whatever the reason, the media often has an irrational disdain for electric vehicles. And a similar disdain is common among the general population too. The same EV-hating arguments are repeated ad nauseam in the media. After analyzing the key arguments of the EV haters, I have compiled what I believe is the first-ever "EV-Hater's Guide to Hating Electric Cars." If you really hate EVs -- and you know who you are -- then this Top 10 guide is especially for you.

Good information to have on hand the next time you get into an argument with an EV-hater.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections of a Nuclear Power Engineer

Nuclear plants

In this article, reposted on, a nuclear engineer talks about his disenchantment with nuclear power because of safety issues and offers an insider view of inherent problems. He offers an interesting assessment of the probability and risk associated with nuclear plant operation:

He illustrates this by comparing driving on the Italian highway, the Autostrada, with running a nuclear power station. Driving on the Autostrada has a low risk to the general population. A possibility does exist that you will crash, and perhaps die as a result, but the consequences of the accident to the general society will be next to nil. That’s why countries let almost anyone drive. So a moderately high P times a very low C equals a small risk to society as a whole.

On the other hand, the chance of an earthquake and tsunami of the magnitude that hit Japan are quite remote, especially occurring in tandem, which makes for a tiny P. But the consequences — the C — of them imperiling a nuclear power plant are huge, leading to a much higher risk to society.

Voters in Italy are convinced. They just voted down plans to restart nuclear power in their country.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Solar-powered aircraft spends 12 hours aloft, consumes no fuel


It only flies at 30 mph, but what it lacks in speed it makes up in efficiency. This aircraft from Solar Impulse, designed to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy, stayed aloft for 12 hours 59 minutes without consuming a single drop of avgas. This article by Gizmag notes:

Solar Impulse is an astonishing feat of engineering. It has a wingspan of over 200 feet (61 m) yet it weighs only 1600 kg (3,527 lb) and carries almost 12,000 solar cells which supply all of the energy required to keep it aloft.

The following video shows this amazing aircraft during the final leg of its historic voyage.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Three-wheeled ZAP Alias classified as a motorcycle

Federal certification for the ZAP Alias was simplified by the three-wheel design, which means that it only had to meet certification standards for a motorcycle rather than more stringent automobile requirements. ZAP, headquartered in Santa Rosa, CA, recently acquired a majority share in Zhejiang Jonway Automobile Co. Ltd. in China, where the Alias will be manufactured. The first deliveries of the electric vehicle, priced at $38,000, are slated for September 2011.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Houston embraces renewable energy

Houston serves as an excellent model for moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear power to a genuinely clean, infinitely renewable approach to meeting a major city's energy needs.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Designers find ways to tap wind power almost anywhere


A gizmag post, Power Flowers to domesticate wind turbines, explores the potential of the product of a Dutch design house, Nl Architects, to tap wind power closer to where it is needed.

While most of us will offer strong vocal backing for the construction of wind farms, that can soon change if someone suggests building one nearby. As a result, the tri-blade towers get exiled to the middle of nowhere – or even further away. Instead of having a few high performance giants scattered throughout the land, NL Architects proposes a structure that would bring a few less efficient turbines together and place them closer to the users of the power they generate.

The efficiency of the vertical-axis turbines used in this design is less than tri-bladed turbines, but more can be situated in a given location. The technology looks promising and deserves more investigation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Smart meters encounter resistance in CA


Smarten up, people, urges a post in The TerraPass Footprint. Numerous consumers are balking at the smart meter installations the California utility, PG&E, is rolling out across the state. Privacy and electromagnetic sensitivity are two of the issues being cited by consumers. If a significant proportion of utility customers choose to opt-out, the value of the entire program—which can provide useful minute-by-minute information about electricity usage—can be significantly lessened.

The post's author, Erik Blachford, comments:

For those who aren’t familiar with the smart meters, the basic idea is to replace analog meters read by hand (er, by eye), with digital meters which transmit electricity usage information wirelessly and presumably more accurately back to the utility. This technology enables but does not automatically trigger a variety of new rate-setting possibilities, most notably time-of-day pricing. By the same token, it enables the utility to provide consumers with more detailed information about their energy use; this data can be helpful for consumers hoping to reduce their consumption or even just their bills (though there are other services which don’t involve smart meters which achieve some of the same goals). Finally, smart meters may eventually tie back into the smart grid, allowing utilities to manage power distribution better by optimizing power available from small, distributed energy sources.

The trade-off between individual rights and the greater good of the commons (through a more efficient energy distribution network that can accommodate micropower installations more easily) is a tough one. In this case, the greater good may be on the side of smart metering.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Why buy an electric vehicle? Consumers speak out . . .


With a growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) reaching the market, consumer preferences are being scrutinized in a serious way. A recent Web survey conducted by ZPryme Research and Consulting—as discussed in a Gizmag article—revealed what it might take to lure a future car buyer away from a fossil-fueled macine to an EV.

As might be expected, range and charging time were key concerns:

Within the very to somewhat likely within two to five years group, 33.7 percent said that 400 miles (644 km) would be a sufficient range, while 33.3 percent were willing to settle for 300 miles (483 km). When it came to acceptable charge times, 32.1 percent indicated 4 hours, 18.1 percent indicated 6 hours, and 20.0 percent would wait for 8. If it were possible to pay a premium to charge their cars faster, 87.4 percent said they would opt for it. The ability to charge one’s EV at home is also a big deal, with 93.2 percent describing it as very important.

The technology is getting there, but meeting some of these consumer demands is going to take some work and some of that work involves consumer education.