Friday Linkage 12/19/2014

It’s amazing how you can wake up one day and someone actually decides to do something resembling leadership. It was silly that for over five decades we have had such an antagonistic policy towards Cuba. If it was really about human rights and democracy…well, we would not trade or have diplomatic relations with countries like China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and so on. It was really about a small cadre of politically connected Cuban exiles pressuring Congress to keep the embargo in place because it gave them a reason to exist.

I want to wish everyone the best over the holiday season. I will be taking a break for a couple of weeks to enjoy time with my family and hit the slopes in Colorado.

On to the links…

Product of Mexico—Take the time and read the entire L.A. Times series on the conditions and economics surrounding the production of food in Mexico that is bound for the U.S. It is shocking and sad, but it is essential.

Coal, an Outlaw Enterprise—Almost since its inception the coal mining industry has been one of scofflaws. Only recently, as coal’s power to influence has waned, is there an effort to actually punish the industry for polluting our environment and killing its workers.

First Solar Jumps Into Community Solar—First Solar, a really big damn solar panel maker, is partnering to help develop community solar gardens. So, for people who cannot afford a full install or have a site that is not conducive to solar a community solar garden provides the opportunity to partake in the clean energy revolution.

17% Of Household Energy Comes From Rooftop Solar In Queensland—Think about that number for a moment. 17% of the power in one Australian state is generated locally. Distributed generation is grid demand destruction.

Australia’s Rooftop Solar PV Surpasses 4 GW—Australia is sunny , so it should not be surprising that so much solar has been installed. The really stunning number is that is estimated that 40% or so of households in Queensland (see above) and South Australia have solar panels installed.

Can Japan Exceed 10 Gigawatts of Solar Capacity Installation in 2014?—Damn, 10GW is a behind-load of solar. If Japan gets to that number approximately 2% of the nation’s power will come from solar photovoltaic. Damn.

Asia Pacific Solar PV Market Set To Reach 10 GW Q4’14—These are some nice numbers in terms of regional solar installations. Led by Japan (see above) and China there is a lot of panel installation being done.

One Texas City Plans To Get Over Half Of Its Power From Renewables By 2025—Okay, it’s Austin. So, it’s not like Houston or Dallas is making this claim. But, it is Texas and that means something when it comes to optics.

Solar Rises in Malaysia During Trade Wars Over Panels—Apparently, the winner in the trade war between the U.S. and China over solar panel dumping and tariffs is Malaysia. Interesting.

IKEA To Start Selling Solar Panels In Switzerland—I just hope that the solar panels come with better instructions and more than a cheap ass Allen wrench for install. Some meatballs would be nice as well.

Losing Weight makes your Lungs a Potent CO2 Emitter—Great, so if I lose a few pounds I am really just a gasbag contributing even more to global warming.

Are Republicans Really Behind Tesla Sales Bans? Data Offers Clues—I doubt if it is conscious conspiracy, but there does appear to be some sort of correlation. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be all free market and what not? Oh right, it’s only a free market when it’s a subsidy or protection they do not like. Just like Obama is only an imperial president when he does stuff they do not like, otherwise he is a do nothing president.

How we can Reduce our Dependency on Plastic—We use too much damn plastic and rarely think about it for a moment:

plastic-infographic

Friday Linkage 12/12/2014

Have you seen the storm bearing down on Northern California and the Pacific Northwest? Strange weather in that region, particularly California, reminds me of Marc Reisner’s thoughts on the instability of the region’s hydrology. Why would anyone choose to build so much infrastructure and plant so many people in an area with such instability? It’s beyond me.

On to the links…

Fate Of The Struggling Greater Sage Grouse Shaping Energy Development In U.S. West—The fight over the listing of the greater sage grouse is shaping up to be the spotted owl of the 21st century. If you do not think so take a look at what Congress is doing in the abomination of a spending bill winding its way through the halls of government.

After Steep Decline, Signs of Hope for World’s Sea Turtles—People just love sea turtles. It is good to see that this group of animals is showing some signs of population recovery due to the efforts of a lot of people worldwide. Keep on trucking little honus.

US Fuel Economy Average Down for the First Time in Four Years—Gas prices drop on the back off a precipitous oil price drop and people clamor for extra large SUVs and trucks. Ugh.

Our E-Waste Problem Is Ridiculous, and Gadget Makers Aren’t Helping—Increasingly, integrated electronics with small embedded components are harder and harder to recycle. What could once be pried off a board and reused or upgraded is not only recoverable through means like melting or acid leaching. It’s nasty stuff.

Narendra Modi, Favoring Growth in India, Pares Back Environmental Rules—Development seems to always win. In India it appears like the prevailing attitude is going to be “we’ll clean things up later.”

India’s Largest Power Generator Signs Deal For 375 MW Solar Power Plant—For every bad story coming out of India there are at least half a dozen highlighting the progress being made. I hope the trend of one step back for every five forward can continue for a while.

Softbank May Finance 10,000 MW Solar Power Capacity In Indian State—Development may be winning, but the development of clean power is moving forward at a pretty good pace as well.

Far More Americans Trust EPA Over Congress To Set Pollution Standards—Does anyone trust Congress to do anything?

As Coal Crashes, US Governors Push Wind Energy—As fewer and fewer people work in extractive industries like coal, whether that is due to increased mechanization or reduced demand, governors are forced to face the reality of green jobs expansion. Wind is good for the environment and good for the economy.

Grassroots Anti-Coal Movements to Watch—There is a burgeoning worldwide sentiment that coal is the fuel of the past and needs to be retired. No amount of astroturf pro-coal groups can compete with the growing calls for the end of coal.

US Sees Second-Largest Solar Installation Growth In Q3—Third quarter 2014 solar installations were up 41% over the same period of time in the prior year. If the same trend continues for the fourth quarter then it will result in a lot of solar.

Tweaking Thermostats In Boston Would Save Energy Equivalent To 17,000 Fewer Cars On The Road—There is a huge potential for energy savings in changing our behaviors and tweaking the settings of our energy using devices. Think about what we could save if everyone, nationwide, made a concerted effort to save energy. It would be amazing.

Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out—There was going to be a backlash against Vani Hari, but I wonder how much of it is centered on her premise of certain food additives being mysterious and potentially harmful. At the end of the day we need to be suspicious of anyone who stands to make money from fearmongering—as Vani Hari does with her books—but it does not mean she is wrong.

Hoping to Change the Industry, a Factory Farmer Opens His Barn Doors—This is an act of economic bravery not commonly seen among the farmers under the thumb of massive agribusiness corporations. It will be very interesting to see how the industry responds to Craig Watts’ bravery.

What is driving deforestation and what can you do about it?—What actions do you take that contribute to deforestation:

Jarrimber-Deforestation-Infographic-2

The Joni Ernst Watch 12/8/2014

Joni “Make ‘em squeal” Ernst has been extra quiet lately. I expect that to change as the lame duck session of Congress comes to a close and the Republicans take control of the Senate. In full campaign mode for 2016, clowns like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are sure to send things right off the rails. Iowa’s junior Senator will probably be shoveling coal as the train goes plummeting to its doom.

She is, however, a rising star in the party. Her latest activities have taken her to campaign stops in Louisiana supporting Bill Cassidy before his successful runoff election.

Steve King is never one to be outdone by another person’s brand of crazy. President Obama’s executive action on immigration, in line with the level of action taken by prior president’s, has got him all hot and bothered:

And I can look at this thing, as I have all throughout the Thanksgiving break, and try to conclude how it is that anybody can step into the House or the Senate chambers January 6 and take an oath to uphold this Constitution, this oath right here, having voted to fund the president’s lawless, unconstitutional act.

Yep, he thinks it is just unbelievable how someone could fund this action and take the oath of office. By the way, did you see Michele Bachmann lurking in the background? Isn’t her fifteen minutes of D.C. fame up yet?

King also wants to preemptively blame the president for any potential government shutdown. Why not just try and govern instead of threatening? Oh wait, it’s Steve King.

Apparently, Steve King is now the GOP’s “voice” when it comes to immigration policy. Need I remind anyone of how he views immigrants:

For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that–they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

Steve King, proudly spewing vitriol since 1949.

Friday Linkage 12/5/2014

Work travel really sends me for a loop. I leave for Thanksgiving break and before I sit down in the office again it is December. Pretty soon I will be hurtling down I-80 towards Colorado and Christmas vacation in the mountains.

On to the links…

Fracking Boom could go Bust Faster than Obama Thinks—There are a lot of energy experts who believe the recent surge in U.S. fossil fuel production via fracking is going to be a short lived moment. Basically, it might buy us until 2020 when fuel prices will again soar. Time to invest this dividend into solar!

Tar Sands Development Financially Unsustainable, Report Shows—Dirty, dirty tar sands oil is only economically viable if the price for oil stays above $95 a barrel. At current prices the production is a big time money loser and investors might lose out big. If that happens it will be decades before the industry recovers. See what Texas looked like in the mid-1980s.

India’s Installed Solar Power Capacity Crosses 3 GW—The expansion of solar is down this year compared to last—800MW versus 1GW—but India is making some real strides in deploying grid scale solar.

China’s Solar Energy Progress Sputters—Everything seems to be bigger in China these days, but solar power installations seem to be falling short of stated goals. Last year 13 gigawatts of solar came on line and that number falls to 10 gigawatts in 2014, which is a reduction from a goal of 15 gigawatts. Still, it’s a lot of solar power.

World’s Largest Solar Power Plant Is Now In Operation—The Topaz project features over 9 million solar panels and has the capacity to generate 550 megawatts of carbon free juice. Damn. I want one.

Animated Guide To The Solar Rooftop Revolution—Rooftop solar is coming to a roof near you. Distributed generation is an amazing trend that could really change the face of the utility market forevermore.

New Solar Cell Efficiency Record Set At 46%–Solar is getting cheaper because of better manufacturing, competition, and the constant drive to extract more energy from every speck of silicon. 46% efficiency is pretty amazing.

How Wind Energy Is Subsidizing Albertan Ratepayers—Yep, wind power was driving down the pool price for Alberta ratepayers.

Wind Industry Is An Economic Shot In The Arm—So, as the argument over the extension of the wind production tax credit wages in Washington maybe every politician who says they are concerned about jobs ought to consider the economic impact of the wind power industry.

Solar Uniquely Positioned to Help States Meet New Regulations—Solar is the way forward in reducing emissions. If we could replace coal megawatts for solar megawatts the impact would be huge. Smokestacks and mines or roofs and panels…your pick.

Florida Fails to Support Solar Energy for Homes and Businesses—Florida is pretty much the worst. If there is a policy that might help people or the environment you can rest assured that it will be dead in the water. It’s a swampy hell hole.

NextEra Buys Hawaii’s Biggest Utility To Study Renewable Energy in the Island State—NextEra is viewing Hawaii and its isolated grid as the perfect laboratory for the transition to clean energy. It also helps that executives will now get to make “business” trips to the islands.

Beyond-the-Grid Is Not Just About Light, It’s About Resiliency—Not being dependent on fragile centralized systems is a good strategy in a world that is going increasingly strange.

Antibacterial Soap Ingredient Triclosan now Linked to Liver Fibrosis—At what point does everyone just stop using triclosan? The stuff is not actually effective and it has a whole host of side effects.

How We Can Make the Food Supply Chain More Eco-Friendly—Marlyhurst University put together a nice little infographic showing the ways in which we can “green” the supply chain for our food:

Green-Food-Supply-Chain-Infographic-2

Friday Linkage 11/28/2014

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday enjoyed with the company of family and friends. I also hope that no one participated in the ridiculous shopping creep that has taken over the former holiday in the interest of more consumerism. This is the time of year when I tend to huddle indoors with my kids, wait for the worst to be over, and emerge on the other side of Christmas with the blank stare of apocalypse survivors.

On to the links…

Lean Times Ahead: Preparing for an Energy-Constrained Future—Look around and imagine what your immediate world would look like if energy were not available at the flick of a switch. What would it be like if you could not just turn up the thermostat a few degrees? It’s a possible future.

Wind Energy Provides More Than Two-Thirds of New US Generating Capacity in October—This is important because as older, dirtier plants go off line the generating capacity is being replaced with green energy. Even more telling is that for the balance of 2014 over 44% of new generation capacity has come from wind.

Biggest Ever Offshore Wind Energy Auction, Up To 5 Gigawatts—Now, let’s imagine some serious offshore wind power being sited near clusters of coastal populations.

Community Solar Prices at All-Time Low—Community solar is awesome because it gives people access to solar power who may not have the capital for an entire system or a site for a system. It also reduces the cost of the system per watt because the amount of solar being installed is so large. An economy of scale, if you will.

America Could Get 10 Percent Of Its Energy From Solar Power By 2030—Why does this need to wait until 2030? It’s not like America does not have enough roofs or parking lots to cover in solar panels. Make it happen.

UK’s First ‘Poo Bus’ Hits the Road—Once you get past the “ick” factor, biogas is a drop in replacement for natural gas. Considering the infrastructure already exists for natural gas it makes no sense why we are not making more biogas.

NRG Energy Committed To Cut Its Emissions In Half—These are commitments without overarching government regulation. Change can happen. I just do not know if it can happen fast enough.

Merchants of Doubt Film Exposes Slick US Industry Behind Climate DenialI’ve suggested you read the book, but now you can sit down with a bellyful of food and soda to get the same message.

Can Whole Foods Change the Way Poor People Eat?—Can a single retail store change the behavior of an entire neighborhood? I do not know, but Whole Foods in Detroit can only be a good thing. What bad can come of it?

Grade 9 Blogger takes on Big Sugar at a School Presentation—There is nothing like corporations getting owned by adolescents.

A Power Plant in California Goes Quiet, but the Stacks Still Tower—I have relatives in Cayucos, so Morro Bay is a familiar site to me. The three smokestacks, while incongruous to the natural landscape, seem almost inseparable in an odd way.

You Must Read—Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade

Hard as I try to imagine the cars that this rubble once was, I can’t. It’s like standing in a supermarket meat section, staring at a package of hamburger and trying to imagine cows. [Page 229]

We, as consumers in Western countries, do not really recycle. We harvest. When we dutifully put our recyclables in one bin or seven, depending on the country’s recycling norms, we are just harvesting the raw material for the people who really recycle our old bottles, cans, Christmas lights, and so on. For most of us that bin of nearly-trash is out of sight and out of mind while we have assuaged our green guilt for another day.

9781608197910The words at the top are Adam Minter’s, who brings childhood memories of being the son of a scrapyard owner and a unique perspective to Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, so it is surprising that sometimes he cannot see the trees for the forest when it comes to scrap. It speaks to the transformation that our end products go through once they leave our possession and become “trash.” I, like the author, am hesitant to call anything trash after reading this book because somewhere, usually in a developing economy hungry for jobs and cheap raw materials, has found a way to extract something of value for either reuse or recycling from our refuse.

Adam Minter’s father and grandmother ran a scrapyard in the Twin Cities, which sparked a lifelong interest in the colorful world of scrap. The story, like so many nowadays, really comes to fruition in China where the author details the workshops and companies that hoover material in the United States and other countries to fuel China’s economic growth. Without the recycling of scrap from the developed Western countries it is quite possible that China would not be enjoying the amazing economic growth of recent history.

It’s stunning the value that can be gleaned from surprising places. There are workshops in China that specialize in removing the copper wire from string lights. You know, those little twinkly lights that hipsters love to decorate patios with, have some copper but it’s wrapped in a lot of nearly worthless insulation. I say nearly worthless because someone figured out that slipper makers could use the plastic for the soles of inexpensive shoes.

The story about the recycling of cars surprised me the most. I always assumed that cars were recycled, but there was a period when rising wages post-World War II combined with a boom in the sales of cars created a situation where more cars were being junked than could be economically broken down into recyclable parts. Millions of cars polluted the landscape until someone came up with an effective way to shred the cars into little flakes of metal. It was only recently that we finally caught up to the backlog of cars that were abandoned and that was perhaps a function of the economic crisis that slowed the retirement of older automobiles. Also interesting was the fact that the average junked car has $1.65 in loose change. How come I can never find that money when I am looking for meter fare?

The thing that nagged at me the entire book was the thought of how much stuff was buried in landfills across the United States. Before it was economical to shred cars or mechanically separate mixed metals or strip metals from electronics that trash was probably buried. It’s just sitting somewhere, interred until we could figure out a way to economically mine and process the material. Are we sitting on billions of dollars of buried waste?

Junkyard Planet is a trip into a world most of us will never see or consider because we have no access or concept of how the scrap economy functions. Heck, most of us could not tell you where the closest junkyard actually is located unless we repair cars or have a predilection for odd Instructables that require things like washing machine motors.

Friday Linkage 11/21/2014

Winter blew in with some force. Keystone XL went down in the Senate. Obama pissed off Republicans by leading, taking executive action, and doing something about the mess that is U.S. immigration policy. Remember, every time you hear a Republican moan about the imperial presidency these were the same people who were okay with W using signing statements to change the intent of laws. Every time a Republican screams an angel’s head explodes.

On to the links…

Chicken Abuse Revealed by Undercover Videos at Koch Foods Sites—Well, it looks like the Kochs just don’t hate liberals but they also hate chickens.  I wonder how fast ag gag laws are going to show up in every state with a Koch funded legislator and lobbyist?

Emissions Rules Yield Little Benefit along Colorado’s Front Range—Basically, even if emissions from any one particular well are decreasing the impact of so many new wells swamps the improvement of a single site. If you drive anywhere in eastern Colorado you get a real sense of the boom in oil and gas drilling.

‘Scandalous’ Solyndra Program Actually Earned Taxpayers A $5 Billion Profit—Where is Darrell Issa’s righteous indignation now? Oh right, he’s a vaudeville performer in politician’s clothing. The program, in total, worked even if particular projects failed.

Don Blankenship Charged with Conspiracy over Mine Explosion that Killed 29—Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy or a snappier dresser:

rally12_i0909072049581.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scaleIn case you were wondering, he plead not guilty.

New ‘Solar Cloth’ Allows Solar Cells To Be Stretched Across Parking Lots, Stadiums—The U.S. is covered in an estimated 61,000 square miles of roads and parking lots. Imagine if just a fraction of that were covered in relatively easy to deploy solar cloth?

Google, IKEA, And SunEdison Bought A Lot Of Wind Power This Week—Private companies and utilities are adding a lot of wind to their portfolios. I wonder what the driver of this behavior is right now?

Wave Goodbye to the Two-Car Family—Has there been a bigger driver of bad planning behavior than the American love affair with the personal automobile? Not that I can think of, but the switch away from auto ownership will have equally huge outcomes.

The 10 Biggest Factors Changing Millennial Driving Habits—I was going to blame hipsters, but it looks like there are a lot of correlations driving behavior here.

Why Going to the Library is one of the Best Things I Do—I think I said something similar a short while ago, even using the term “original sharing economy.” It’s good to see people agree with me.

Hellmann’s Are a Bunch of Giant, Eggless “Mayo”-Slinging Hypocrites—These clowns got all huffy with a company using the term mayonnaise in reference to their spread which did not contain eggs, but the plaintiffs also did the same thing. Huh? Oh right, it’s big food trying to smash an upstart. My bad.

Appliance Science: The illuminating physics behind LED lights—LEDs are transforming lighting, but how many of us actually understand how the little buggers work?