Thursday, August 31, 2006

One idea for New Orleans' future

Oh yeah, lest I be deemed simply a critic with nothing positive to say, let me add an idea.

New Orleans should apply to host the 2016 Olympic Games (or whatever the next open year is).

This would offer a solution to a number of problems. First of all, the World Olympic Committee would give it to them in a heart-beat (the whole world watched the tragedy). D.C. might even allow/offer a bit of federal funding to back up the deal. Secondly it would give the city and the people of New Orleans a lofty yet achievable goal for the city. It would give many businesses the economic certainty that investing in rebuilding would be rewarded down the road. Thirdly, the planning involved in citing facilities for the event would provide a legitimate excuse to acquire the lowest lying properties and build up these areas so the new Olympic facilities would be at or above sea level.

Yeah some people will scream and moan, but really, allowing let alone encouraging, people to rebuild homes that are significantly below sea-level (again) strikes me as both foolish and negligent. I may get flamed for this last bit, but honestly building/living in the houses below sea-level and relying on imperfect (and no levee is perfect) levees to keep them dry is at least partly what caused this whole thing to begin with.

New Orleans then and now

One year ago today, I watched in disbelief the slow response of my nation's government to an unprecedented disaster. What started out as a powerful and frightening storm was transformed by broken levees into a flooded and devastated city. The full gamut of tragedy and misery unfolded before our eyes. Images of ruined homes, shattered lives, trapped and dying neighbors floated over the screen. People were in desperate straights, several days without food or water, clinging to rooftops and surrounded by water, an entire city literally drowning before the TV cameras. The Rescue and Relief efforts underway were wholly inadequate. But my goodness, how do you rescue an entire city?

Sadly it got worse, day after day. The federal emergency muckymucks were calling for calm, saying help is on the way, we prepared for this...While the stranded people and even the mayor was asking in ever shriller tones, when is help going to arrive? When?
There were some sketchy reports of looting, rape and even shooting. Panic (among the policeforce certainly) was growing, civic breakdown seemed possible. Yeah, that got somebody's attention because the national guard was finally called in. The orders were to evacuate everyone, willingly or not. Next came pictures of armed guardsmen in humvees patrolling the slightly flooded districts, with even a some snap-shots of an elderly woman being handcuffed and forcibly removed from her home (or maybe was it an old man?). Either way, it all seemed completely outrageous!
What went wrong? How did this happen? how could such a tragedy happen in the USA?

Ah yes, the blame game started...and for this Muth'a of all catastrophe's there is plenty of blame for all.
It was Katrina's fault! It was the levees fault! Why its the govenor's fault! No its the mayor's fault! No its FEMA's fault! No it was the people's fault for not evacuating!
Oh wait, some of those people were poor? They did not own SUVs to drive to the next state, or credit cards to pay for week/month long hotel stays? Or they were elderly or already being taken care of in a nursing home or hospital? And nobody told 'em to leave?

The problem is that there were two disasters in one. The first responders were caught by the disaster too. Nobody could have predicted that the levees would fail...oh wait someone did? just last week? said it to the president's face, and you have videotape? oh drat, it was that humorless fellow named Mayfield. harrumph!

What is that? some oil rigs were damaged? 3/4+? Are they gonna be okay? We gotta do something or else gasoline prices might rise. Maybe the president should fly over and get a look...
Well now its a year later. And the place is still a mess. Some signs of recovery exist, but overall it is discouraging how much remains to be done.

I don't blame the disaster on the Decider! or his cronies, although their lack of urgency and inept response certainly made it worse than it should have been.
The disaster was inevitable, the city exists below sea level and has been for decades. Eventually all levees, any structure built by man will fail.
People feel betrayed by the Army Corps, and surely they cut corners which led to the disaster occurring when it did instead of years from now.

But what I can't get my head around is how utterly clueless, grossly incompetent and criminally negligent Bush and his cronies have been. Talk about a leadership vacuum! Bush should have moved his entire cabinet/staff to New Orleans for a month. He should have camped out in the city as soon as the floodwaters receded, or after 3 months of non-action, or after 6 months (or even today--if the residents would have him). He should have knocked some heads together to get a sensible plan in place for rebuilding the city. He should have made a New Year's resolution to fix New Orleans.

No sir, after complimenting Brownie on doing "a heck of a job" and promising to help rebuild New Orleans "whatever it takes". He goes back to DC, uses the regional disaster as an excuse to implement a neo-criminal festival of victim exploitation for the good of a select few cronies/companies. He signs a $100 billion appropriations bill the legislature hands him and proceeds to tune it all out for another 12 months.

And now for this anniversary, which is just a date, he wants everyone to be patient. We must stay the course...freedom is on the march...we turned the corner...things are really better than they look on TV...criticism is unpatriotic...we learned the lessons of 9/11...the central front...the war on terror...we must fight them abroad or more cities could drown.

A sobering response a year on

I clicked off my normal beaten path today and ran into this over at shakespere's sister. Yeah it is a rant about Katrina, but scroll down about 2 screens and you'll encounter a Blogswarm. So far its been edifying...but its gonna take me hours to work my way through.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A decent proposal

I ran across an interesting proposal for restructuring our energy use over at sustainablog.

Called FairPriceEnergy, the concept is to use a pair of rebates and fees based on currently externalized costs of our energy. The fees and rebates are based on each sources "external" carbon cost and security cost. An external cost is like a tax that society pays, but is not reflected in any one member's economic considerations. The result is frequently a tragedy of the commons, where all of society ends up paying a huge price because no individual member has a specific incentive to reduce the external cost.

A carbon tax has long been advocated as one solution in (environmental) energy circles, but deep down nobody really wants more taxes.

What is different about FairPriceEnergy's proposal is that all the fees collected are refunded directly to the citizens. This is why I suggested that they be called deposits rather than fees.

So what is the point of charging a deposit, if the individuals that pay the deposit are the ones that then get it back? The point is that it creates an out of pocket cost for using carbon-heavy and unsecure energy sources. Once people (and businesses) see this energy cost, they will attempt to reduce it, by using energy more efficiently or switching to energy sources that are comparatively more secure and carbon efficient. Those that reduce their usage to less than the average come out ahead.

The obvious loser in this scheme (as it is proposed) is business, because only taxpayers/consumers get rebates. But then again, it is ultimately the taxpayer/consumer that pays for everything business does, and collectively businesses have proven very adept at looking out for their own profits.

Chaz Teplin is the NREL scientist that has put forward the idea and set up the fairpriceenergy website to promote it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

One step down the Recycle path

Please humor me a bit, I'm new to this whole environmental purchasing action thingy.

Inspired by a recent post on Treehugger about a boycott of Kimberly-Clark by Greenpeace called Kleercut, I'm joining. Kleenex is one of KC's biggest brands, and KC is not using Post-Consumer Recycled paper (a.k.a recycled paper!) in its Kleenex products, nor does it use a chlorine free bleaching process, at least according to the NRDC's guide to home tissue products. In fact almost none of the big branded consumer product paper companies are. Greenpeace is concerned about some Canadian old growth forest and sustainable harvest practices or something. I'm concerned, but I'm not that concerned about that particular forest or its vintage...what I am concerned with is using less energy and water and reducing pollution etc. Using my buying power to get a major brand to incorporate more Post-Consumer recycled content in their paper towels, napkins, tissues and TP seems like one reasonable way to achieve this (or just maybe I'll be helping to build the next big brand). So far the Atlantic Fiesta brand roll of paper towels that I (was surprised to) find at an indie convenience mart looks like its gonna be an ok replacement. Looking for suggestions on recycled TP...

I'm also paying attention to the printer paper that I buy, the latest batch I bought has 30% recycled content...for about the same price as non-recycled, under an International Paper brand. Is that Post-Consumer recycled? Or did I get green-jacked? I'm looking for recommendations on higher recycled content brands.

Much more to do Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Avoided cost of cooling with CFLs

I decided to investigate how much the extra heat of incandescent light bulbs over CFLs might cost a customer in a/c cooling costs.

I ran across a slightly dated (1993) EIA report on home heating and cooling costs. In particular Table C2 in Appendix C of the report (okay, I have too much time on my hands) provided a key data point...1 million BTU of cooling costs $10. Assuming a SEER of 8.3 and 8.3 cents/kWh electricity costs. Also 1 watt = 3.414 Btus/hr. I further assume that air conditioning is needed 6 months a year (4380 hours).

A 100W incandescent bulb will produce 250 btus/hr more heat than a 100W equivalent CFL (~25W). If the incandescent bulb is run 24/7 for the 6 months that a/c is used, this adds up to over 1 million Btu of extra heat (compared to the CFL) or an extra $10/yr in cooling costs.

If you only run the light 6 hours a day, this still adds up to $2.50/yr difference in cooling costs, which is about the price of a 25W CFL at Home Depot. And that is just one bulb!

This avoided cost of cooling for a CFL is significant. I'm surprised that this figure is not more widely reported.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A simple demonstration of the 90 degree + cell principle

The improved solar module, I've invented and want to see widely adopted, will have the mirrors and cells at a 90 degree angle to each other inside the module.

But to help conceptualize the idea, I've placed a mirror at 90 degrees to a module (i.e. on the outside) as a quick and dirty way to demonstrate how the principle could work. The module that I used for these photos was an Australian made SLIVER (TM) panel (14" x 18") rated at 10W that I bought earlier this summer...because it sounded cool.

I measured the amps generated using 1) just the panel and 2) using the panel + mirror. After adjusting each arrangement to maximize the amp reading, I got 1) 0.71 A and 2) 0.94 A which represents about a ~30% boost from using the mirror + panel.

Both figures are above the 0.61 A rating and the 0.7 A short circuit current listed on the panel.

Edit: Oops the pictures seem to be in 2) then 1) order which is clearly backwards...sorry.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

One solution to some of the world's water problems

Below is a snap of a portable solar water distiller, my other invention. I think this type of device could solve drinking water problems in the numerous hot sunny places where clean water is scarce.

The device requires sunlight and water to work. The water going into it can be dirty, salty, discolored, arsenic tainted, bacteria infested, or all of these combined, and what comes out is good safe drinking water.

Despite its simplicity, I have been working on this invention for some time. Water production is at ~ a gallon/day, which is half of what I believe it can produce with the 2 sq. m. mirror you see. The whole thing is portable (under 40 lbs if memory serves) and disassembles easily. The mirror is flexible and rolls up into a poster tube.

I have always thought this would be of great use to the Red Cross or some UN relief agency which could ship/airlift several hundred into an area following a disaster. They could set up in a central location or distribute them to individuals/small families who could take home and make their own drinking water. Kind of the cell phone of water infrastructure.

Anyway there is still development work to be done. My main strategy going forward is to improve thermal management--reduce heat losses in the pan & increase heat loss (i.e. condensation) in the roof section.

I was hoping to get data with my newest latest design, but that may take months. My latest version is stuck in my supplier's backlog, and I may not get it this summer (aargh!). As if only having three months to test solar devices (near Chicago) wasn't a big enough drag.

Update 8/17 5pm...Almost forgot, this is a patent pending design. Still, I would enjoy working with groups or companies that have an interest in using the design, please have them contact me.

8/23 Edit: oops that link didn't work so added below (cross-fingers).

A new dimension for solar energy

I'm going public with my new solar module invention.
The PR gives some basic facts. I hope that will post it today.

I believe that this invention can reduce the cost of solar modules by 15-20%. My research shows that silicon represents more than 50% of the cost of current solar modules.

While manufactures will have to re-tool their module assembly lines to accomodate deeper modules (about 2x current module depth) and insertion of both cells and reflectors, the 30% savings of a critically scarce/costly input like silicon ought to make this an easy decision.

And mirror/reflectors cost 1/10th as much as silicon.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wearing a bit thin...

The New York Times, Think Progress, and many others are pointing out that good old fashioned police work on the part of the Brits foiled yesterday's plot. Moreover it demonstrates the flaw in believe that if we fight them in Iraq or Iran or wherever, that we won't have to deal with them here. Thanks again to the Brit's we dodged this try but we must continue to do more prepare here at home, something made harder by the commitment of resources in Iraq.

I suppose it is only natural for the Republicans to try to take credit...although as far as I can see the only credit they deserve is for scaring the bejeebus outta everyone yet again. Oh that and yesterday's new security measures which are designed to maximally inconvenience everyone. Implementing real security measures would require serious investments in systems and equipment around the country (we are doing this oh oh so slowly), but at that point the evil-doer will find the next weakest link.

I do distinguish real security from cosmetic security measures like banning nail clippers, water, toothpaste, and shampoo (do they suffer from hygiene envy?) and making us shuffle barefoot and beltless through metal detectors. I also consider it cosmetic to use plastic-ware in place of metal-ware and then serve toothpicks and wine in glass bottles. Whatever damage you can do with a metal fork you can do with a toothpick, and whatever damage you can do with a butter knife you could do more with a broken glass bottle. Sigh, I consider real security inspecting all air cargo and ship freight/cargo, restricting or scanning fluids that are open (i.e. not sealed) and do not pass the sniff test (i.e. look and smell like what they ought to).
Perhaps I'm suffering from the assumption that precautions should be rational.

In any event, I don't see how the war in Iraq has done anything to advance (our side of) the so called "war on terror". I see many ways that it has helped the other side (stretched our military, budget, and international credibility--and a massive human toll as well). I am not denying that many people are bent on damaging or destroying America, our military superiority, or much of what we stand for. I just believe there are better, more effective ways to isolate and stop them, than the path the US has chosen these last 5 years.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Link to publication pdf

If I did this right the PUF article should be accessible here in .pdf format.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Viva La Revolucion!

I read Solar Revolution this weekend. I strongly recommend it for two reasons.

First, with all the doom and gloom and growing concern about energy security and the global environment in the news, in the movies, and in the world, this book projects a down to earth, conservative optimism that is sorely needed (plus he shows how solar is going to take over the world).

Secondly Travis Bradford, the author and founder of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, systematically deconstructs the notion that solar can't compete economically with existing power generating technologies. In performing this analysis he does not assume massive government subsidies for solar, the elimination of massive subsidies to competing technologies, radical technology breakthroughs in solar, a carbon tax, or even high and rising fossil fuel prices (although this seems almost certain to me).

He simply assumes that as the volume of solar panels made and installed around the world continues to increase the cost of solar will fall. His basis for this assumption is 1) economies of scale--making almost anything in higher volumes reduces the per unit cost and 2) economies from the technology learning curve--as any new technology matures and more players enter the growing field, costs fall in a predictable fashion.

Moreover Bradford explains how distributed generation, solar is different from nearly all existing commercial scale utility plants because the electricity is generated at the location that it is used, offers unique advantages in terms of energy cost and security. He looks at ways governments have and can continue to cost efficiently stimulate/accelerate the shift to a solar future. In about 30 years, according to Bradford, the majority of new power generation will be solar.

Whether you are a believer in solar or a skeptic (especially if you are a skeptic) you should grab a copy and look at one person's view of a a brighter future powered by the sun.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Another idea finding the light of publication

I have been fortunate to have an idea piece of mine appear in this month's Public Utility Fortnightly. (They have not updated their website yet, but they should soon.) I'll try to post/link a .pdf of the piece here in the next couple days. The article "Green Options on the Future" walks through some theoretical pricing scenarios and the benefits buyers and sellers might receive from using renewable energy call options. The idea occurred to me almost exactly a year ago, and I spent last fall writing/developing the article.

Edit 8/31: PUF finally posted my article to their website.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

2 for 2

I filed for my second patent today.
This one covers my (now) patent pending idea for a solar water distiller.
Over the days and weeks ahead I can begin to share some of the work I've been doing recently, now that I have taken steps to protect the IP.

For now I'm just celebrating.

Also cool, a copy of Solar Revolution by Travis Bradford arrived on my doorstep today. I met Travis almost exactly a year ago at the 2005 Solar World Congress in Orlando, FL. He impressed me as being extremely competent and knowledgeable about solar.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Doing the inventors shuffle! Do Doo

I filed my first patent application today. Hurray!
Now I just need someone to use my patent. Luckily this patent pending idea covers a hot subject: solar energy!

Specifically I've developed a design that will generate solar energy using 30% less solar collector surface area. Works for both PV and solar thermal systems.

I'm happy to discuss details offline.