Signing on the Dotted Line for Solar

The contract is signed.

By September I will have a solar photovoltaic system on my roof generating electricity for the next twenty five years or so.  I consider it my fairly large middle finger to anyone who wants to keep digging coal out of the ground and burning it like some bad parody of the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

The system will be installed on a west facing (almost exactly 270 degree azimuth for those of you into that sort of description) roof that is a large single pitch with no protrusions.  Due to my relatively low electricity consumption the maximum system allowed the power company was under 5 kWh.  My system will be composed of 16 SolarWorld 290W panels for a total of 4,640W.

Gross system cost is $2.35 per watt installed.  The applicable federal and state tax credits take that figure down to $1.29 per watt.

Based on the system size, orientation, and projected system losses I figure that this system will generate slightly more than my annual electricity consumption assuming no changes in consumption patterns.  This would all get thrown out the window if I traded in my truck for a Chevy Bolt.

The most frustrating part is that if it were not for the various hoops that the power company makes everyone jump through this process could have been completed in weeks if not days.  Now that the cost for the solar panels and inverters have dropped so dramatically the biggest impediment to widespread adoption will be the balance of system costs and the permitting hassles.  Although my power company is obligated to allow me to install solar panels and the feed that power back into the grid via net metering it is their intention, in my opinion, to make the process as onerous as possible in order to deter other people from signing on the dotted line for solar.

This is the first step in the newly coined #myPersonalParis where I am going to control as many aspects of my life to align with a significantly reduced emissions footprint as possible in solidarity with the Paris climate accord which our dear leader decided was too onerous because…reasons?

What are you doing?

DIY Ski Racks

One of the downsides of skiing is the collection of gear that you end up with after a few seasons.  It’s a total first world problem, but the struggle is real.  If you are a family of skiers—or god forbid, snowboarders—the collection of gear can reach some ridiculous heights.

Even if you do not subscribe to the idea that you need specialized skis for all kinds of conditions—my Icelantic Pilgrim 95s have handled everything from fresh Colorado powder to Midwestern shave ice to spring corn with no problems—you will end up with a lot of skis.  Kids grow fast and you keep the first kid’s skis to hand down to the next kid because the sticks only have thirty or so days on mountain.  Heck, I am probably keeping little skis for the day when I have to coax a grandkid out onto the slopes with promises of hot cocoa and good times.

The solution is storage.  Most ski storage solutions are somewhat temporary and meant for storage between days on the mountain not the deep storage of summer.  I despise the vertical dowel-type racks because I have been witness to many a set of skis sliding out and crashing to the floor.  Nothing like having to get the p-tex out to fix a nice gouge in your base layer due to a bad storage rack.

My solution was to use several various wakeboard storage racks on Pinterest for inspiration and come up with my own homebrewed design.  What does the better part of a Saturday, four 2x6s, some scrap 2x4s, and a whole lot of power tools get you?  Two completed ski racks for yourself and your friends’ condo in Colorado:

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Each rack is composed of two 2×6 dimensional or structural lumber approximately eight feet long.  In my neck of the woods a select structural—which usually are not as beat up and contain fewer knots—costs about $4.50.  With a shorter piece of 2×4 dimensional or structural lumber as well you are looking at about $10 in costs.

The rack is 30” interior width, which I cut from each 2×6 to yield two stretchers and two risers.  The 2×4 that stiffens the top and acts as a mounting board was cut to 30” from some scrap stock that I had on hand in the garage.  When you are building project after project from dimensional or structural lumber you end up with a lot of useful scrap.  You also end up with a lot of fuel for backyard fire pits.

The real work is on the slots that will serve as the storage for each pair of skis.  I drilled 1” diameter holes 1.75” off the back side of the riser down the length of the board at 9.5”, 18.5”, 30.5”, 42,5”, and 52” measured from the top of each riser.  The measurements may seem a little random but I based them on my original ski rack design that had some issues fitting skis with bindings.  Once the slots are cut these provide a variety of slots to store kid and adult skis without stuff banging together.

The bottom of each slot is a 45 degree line measured out with a speed square.  In my original design I used two parallel lines cut at 45 degrees, but this tended to bind thicker skis or those with a little more camber than others.  On the second iteration I cut the top of each slot slightly more open.  Honestly, I just guessed at a good measure using the speed square.  The slots were cut using a circular saw and sanded clean with a drill mounted drum sander:

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The entire riser is finished with a round over router bit to smooth the sharp edges.  Construction is simply gluing and screwing everything together.  Quick, simple, and dirty but it is strong.

Here is a picture of my original design mounted in my basement:

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Each rack is mounted with a pair of cabinet screws into studs.  Do not mount this with wall anchors or cheap ass screws.  It is made from freaking 2x6s so it is stout and, thus, heavy.  Take the time and spend the quarter on actual high grade cabinet screws.  Take the time to find actual studs and mount properly.  Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

Two racks, space for eight to ten pairs of skis, and a whole lot of winter memories.

Friday Linkage 6/23/2017

Rick Perry is not a scientist.  Just ask him, but he apparently “knows” that carbon dioxide emissions are not the main driver behind climate change.  Okay, but what does the former Dancing with the Stars contestant and multiple time presidential candidate failure actually think is driving the climate to change?  Good luck deciphering that opinion.

The part about the “debate” over climate change is that no one asks no-talent ass clowns like James Inhofe what his thoughts are about the issue when it is too hot for planes to take off in Phoenix or the temperatures reach 90 degrees in Siberia.  Sure enough the media is ready to put him on television holding a snowball in the freaking winter—like the presence of snow in winter is proof of anything other than it being winter.

On to the links…

Renewable Energy Just Passed a Major Milestone in the United States—10 percent of the electricity in the United States was generated by renewables in March.  Wind power is now the fourth largest source of power in the United States behind coal, natural gas, and nuclear.

Solar Power Will Kill Coal Sooner Than You Think—We have reached the tipping point where the costs of choosing solar power are the same or better than coal.  Why tether yourself to an outdated fuel?

Forget Coal, Solar will Soon be Cheaper than Natural Gas Power—When this happens a lot of people are going to be gagging on their ribeye steaks across the natural gas basins of the United States.

This Case Could Upend America’s $29 Billion Solar Industry—Everyone loves the free market right up until the moment it impacts their own business.  It’s the same in automobiles, agriculture, and even solar panels.  The reason solar is so cheap right now is that China is selling panels extra cheap.  Each time I get an estimate for a solar PV system on my house the cost has gone down, which is directly attributable to reduced panel cost.

LED Lights are Taking over Households at a Meteoric Rate, but Some are Slow to Make the Switch—Prices for LED bulbs are down 90% since 2008.  LED bulbs are having a measureable impact on electricity consumption.  Even with these crazy numbers there are still a lot of households holding on to inefficient incandescent bulbs and horrible CFLs.

Nevada Boosts Solar Power, Reversing Course—It’s a little bit of good news coming out of the Silver State.  Eighteen months ago Nevada killed net metering which slaughtered its solar industry.  Now it is back.

Texas Is Too Windy and Sunny for Old Energy Companies to Make Money—Am I supposed to feel bad for fossil fuel companies that built business plans under the assumption that they would have control over their markets into the forever future?

California Invested Heavily in Solar Power. Now There’s So Much that Other States are Sometimes Paid to Take It—The LA Times has done some great reporting on the growth and development of California’s entire electrical grid, including the construction of unnecessary power plants to the tune of billions of dollars.  Now it looks like they cannot contain the solar either.

Tesla is Changing the Electric Grid—It’s all part of Elon Musk’s plan.  Sell you a car that is really just a giant battery on wheels and sell you a house covered in solar panels with a Powerwall to tie it all together.  Suddenly Tesla is the company that can help the electric grid manage its peaks and valleys in demand and generation.  Talk about power.

Scientists Sharply Rebut Influential Renewable-Energy Plan—So if we cannot get to 100% renewables—which is a debatable assertion given that much depends upon the timeline and technology developed during that time—what is the number we can get to economically and technically?  I remember a time when a lot of influential people were saying that 10% seemed out of reach.  Well…

Rick Perry Just got Scooped: New Report Shows Cleaner Grid Provides Reliable Power—Is there a bigger knucklehead in government than Rick Perry?  Trump is a bully and I fully believe that Steve King is some kind of demon sent from hell to torture anyone with good sense.  But Rick Perry?  What a knucklehead.

Interior Chief Ryan Zinke Wants to Shed 4,000 Staffers in Budget Cuts—Your government is going to look a lot different in four years and it is going to take a long time to rebuild the expertise that is going to be lost in these purges.  It is intentional to degrade the service and capability because it allows people like Paul Ryan to say, “See, government does not know what it is doing.”  No shit Sherlock.  When you staff it with incompetent toadies it is no wonder government does not work.

What’s in the Box: Nomadik June 2017

This is getting to become a trend.  My monthly Nomadik subscription box comes in the mail and I forget to write anything about it for at least two or three weeks.  My bad.

The problem is that I am not really getting a lot enjoyment out of what is coming in these boxes.  This month’s box—the theme is “camp kitchen”—really seems like someone was mailing it in over at Nomadik.  It is as if someone called up Sierra Trading Post or the guys running Sports Authority’s bankruptcy liquidation and said, “I need to fill a couple of hundred boxes with some kind of outdoorsy stuff.  What have you got collecting dust over there?”

Here is what you get when that is the question.

BananaGrams WildTiles:

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If you have not seen BananaGrams yet you have probably been playing too many games of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity or whatever else it is that people play when they are not on their phones playing Candy Crush.  I guess it is a good game for people who like to travel since it comes in a fun banana shaped bag and requires little more than a flat surface to play upon.

As with some inclusions in prior months I already have a BananaGrams game in my collection of family friendly board games.  This little bag o’ fun is heading straight to my friends’ condo in Colorado.  Maybe some random weekend renters will get some use out of it.  Or I will play a game with my kids over Christmas when I convince them to finally stop playing Clue.  Seriously, how many times can a ten year old play Clue?

Wildo Camp-A-Box Light:

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Can we finally dispense with the legend that is the spork?  The spork does none of the tasks for which it is intended very well.  It cannot cut anything that your teeth cannot tear apart with ease.  It does not work as a spoon since one side is given over to tines and the other to an ineffective knife.  It does not work as a fork because the tines are so shallow you might as well use well chewed fingernails.

Nonetheless, we all love cutesy camping gear that promises to do more than one things or that folds down into a cylinder the size of a AAA battery even if the practicality of the item is in question.  Don’t believe me?  Try and actually use 90% of the multi-tools available, especially the ones you see in sponsored posts on Instagram.  Ugh.  A few decent screwdrivers, crescent wrench, pliers, and lockback knife are more useful without taking up considerably more space.

If you are serious about camping and are not a “go light” fanatic just get some actual utensils and actual dinnerware.  An enameled cup or two serve as great containers for any camp meal from eggs to fireside cobbler.

Simple Shower:

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I honestly thought this was something that just got dropped in the box by mistake before I read the little card that explains everything.  No packaging, which is fine, but it was really not tied together at all.

However, this is actually something I might use.  Fill a two-liter bottle—clean it first you degenerates—with cold water and spray yourself down after a long day hiking.  With an attempt on a 14er coming up in a week or so I am going to pack the Simple Shower for when I make it back to the truck.

I now have two months or two boxes remaining on my gift subscription to Nomadik.  Unless the company “comes strong” with something fairly compelling in the next two months I can see no reason to actually spend my heard earned money on an extension of the subscription.

My Personal Paris

The U.S. government will not save us from climate change.  The signs have been apparent long before Donald Trump took the oath of office and handed over the U.S. government to fossil fuel interests in a manner so brazen even Dick Cheney would blush.  The final nail in the coffin of the possibility of leadership from the U.S. government came with the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Make no mistake, the Paris climate accord was not going to be the tool with which to save the world from man-made climate change.  It was a first step in codifying a structure with which to address the issue in a constructive manner.  The current President of the United States does not understand constructive problem solving since it cannot be manhandled into a monosyllabic tweet at five o’clock in the morning.

The Paris climate accord was limited, but it was a start.  Just getting everyone to the table—save for Syria and Nicaragua at the time—was a major accomplishment.  Just getting everyone to agree that man-made climate change was a problem and that we should act was herculean.  We all can agree, however, that the Paris climate accord did not go far enough to address the problem and it does not include forcing functions for countries that fail to live up to the commitments made to the world.

Regardless, the framework of the Paris climate accord is irrelevant for those of us in the United States.  This does not mean that we have to sit idly by and watch as the world tries to address the problem.  I surmise that at this moment in history most of the tools that we need as a civilization exist for us to combat climate change and secure the future of Earth as a viable habitat for humanity.

Consider the following chart of the sources of carbon emissions in the United States:

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As an individual we have a hand in every slice of the pie with a more direct impact on some more than others.  It is our job as residents of the planet to figure out how we can meet or exceed the goals of the Paris climate accord without the agreement of politicians in Washington D.C.

Everyone has to figure out how they will act on a “personal Paris.”  Unlike almost any other time in recent history we have the tools to make meaningful change at a personal level.  Solar photovoltaic systems are cheaper now than ever and make economic sense in almost any market in the country.  Electric vehicles are now more common than ever before and accessible to a larger share of the population that at any other time in the short history of the technology.  Commuting can be reduced or eliminated via bicycling or telecommuting or just becoming an early retiree like all those couples living in vans on Instagram.

My point is that we have a plethora of options in order to address every slice of the emissions pie pictured above.  If you have the discretionary income there are options.  If you have extra time there are options.  If you need to save money there are options.  As I stated earlier, unlike any other time in recent history we have the tools available to use to make meaningful change.

We need to take responsibility for our actions and act in a correspondingly restorative way.  We need to become the change we want to see in the world.

Friday Linkage 6/16/2017

What will the mass shooting in Alexandria, VA this week lead to?  My guess is that Republicans will push for less stringent gun laws—although it is hard to see how much less stringent our non-existent gun laws could become—and a crackdown on political speech that is counter to their aims.  Do not believe me?  In the first few moments after the shooter was identified there were Republican operatives calling for the rhetoric regarding Donald Trump and his policies to be toned down.

WTF?  This is the single person responsible for more coarseness in our political discourse over the last eighteen months than anyone else and we are supposed to suddenly simmer down because of a completely unrelated incident?  Can’t stop, won’t quit.

On to the links…

These Five Charts Show the Seismic Shifts Happening in Global Energy—If there is anything that you can do to accelerate any of these trends do it.  Do it today.

In Trump Country, Renewable Energy Is Thriving—I live in “Trump country” as much as it pains me to say it and I still cringe every time I see someone sporting a bumper sticker, shirt, or freaking red hat.  However, renewable energy is a very big deal in this red state and it is a similar story in a lot of other red states.

When You’ve Lost Iowa: Wind-Loving Heartland State Says “Buh-Bye, Coal”—What allegiance to coal does a state like Iowa have?  We do not mine or produce any coal, so every dollar we spend on coal for power is a dollar that is leaving our state.  On the other hand we have a lot of wind and those dollars can stay home.

Coal Can’t Compete on its Own—Remove the subsidies and preferential policies makes coal an even bigger loser than it already is in today’s marketplace.  Now, supposed free market Republicans will never actually allow the free market to work when it comes to their beloved fossil fuels.

This is How Big Oil will Die—Imagine I could replace an essential machine in your house with over 2000 moving parts and filled with flammable or toxic fluids.  Imagine that the replacement machine would have 20 moving parts and no flammable or toxic liquids.  Oh, and it is cheaper to operate on a per mile basis.

Renewables Provide More than Half UK Electricity for First Time—So, during mid-day renewables were knocking out over 50% of the U.K.’s electricity needs.  Who says that we cannot deploy more wind and solar?

Three Nations Plan 500% Increase in Global Offshore Wind—That is a big increase.  Once the basic technologies are even more mature and cost effective the adoption rates will soar.  What would happen if the people working in offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico were deployed to develop offshore wind?

A Quarter Of EU’s Electricity Demand Could Be Met By Offshore Wind At €54/MWh—The future may be out to sea.

Chevrolet Bolt Will Hit Remaining Dealer Lots in August—It’s going to be available nationwide a month or so earlier than forecast.  Here is to hoping that sales follow availability.

Resistance to Last-Ditch Antibiotic has Spread Farther than Anticipated—This health crisis is happening because we demand cheap meat.  There is no other reason to feed farm animals huge amounts of antibiotics which breeds antibiotic resistant bacteria.  We are literally staring into the precipice of going back to the dark ages in terms of fighting infections.

Trump Wants to Cut EPA’s Scientific Research in Half—Of course the ignorant buffoon wants to cut research staff.  These are people who spend their careers trying to actually discover answers to hard questions rather than watching Fox News constantly.

In Praise of ‘Scruffy Hospitality’—We just need to put the smartphones away and stop posting everything to Instagram or Facebook.  We need to get back to enjoying the analog moments of life.

Friday Linkage 6/9/2017

Do you remember when we all woke up on November 9th wondering how bad things could get?  If you thought the first week of the Trump presidency in January was bad, it just kept getting worse.  If you thought “covfefe” was the nadir, it is going to keep getting worse.  We are witness to the single most incompetent president in the history of the United States.

On to the links…

Kansas Republicans End the State’s Failed Tax Reform Experiment—Normally I do not spend a lot of effort on taxes or tax policy.  This is important because it drives a dagger right through the heart of the Republican mantra that tax cuts pay for themselves.  It is over with and the tea party lost.  In Kansas of all places.  I expect Sam Brownback to quickly take a position within the Trump administration now that he realizes Kansas is not his personal playground of Ayn Rand fantasies.

Iowa’s Push Toward Renewable Energy not Likely to Change with Paris Climate Accord Decision—Iowa could be doing more, but the state already gets more than 35% of its electricity from the wind with plans to get north of 40% in the next two years as planned wind farms come online.  We can keep moving forward despite what the flaccid cantaloupe in Washington D.C. decides to do when he eats some beautiful chocolate cake and fires up his Twitter account.

Trump’s Answer to Paying for U.S.-Mexico Border Wall: Install Solar Panels—I thought Mexico was going to pay for it?  This is what happens when you cannot tell the difference between reality, parody, and satire.  Nothing is funny and everything is horrific.

California Plan for 100% Renewable Energy by 2045 Clears Key Hurdle—Leadership will come from states and cities.

Coal Bows to Natural Gas, as Consumption Falls to Lowest since 1984—Lowest level since 1984.  Not because of the Clean Power Plan.  Not because of Barack Obama.  Because of cheap natural gas.  Try saving coal from cheap natural gas el Trumpo.

The War On Coal Is Over—This is not coming from Treehugger or Grist.org.  This is coming from a website dedicated to following the fossil fuels markets.

India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green—Good luck exporting coal to India.

What Pittsburghers Know About the Environment That Trump Still Needs to Learn—Trump is ignorant of so many things.  When he claims to represent the people of Pittsburgh as opposed to Paris he is really saying that he is in the White House to line his pockets.  Every decision he makes needs to be seen through the lens of how it lines his or his family’s pockets with filthy lucre.

11 Ways to Build a Paris Climate Change Accord—Again, leadership will not come from above.  We need to create our own Paris climate agreement and execute on our own goals.

Colorado Blazes Low-Emissions, High-Employment Energy Pathway—Deploying clean energy means lots of jobs.  Jobs installing solar panels, maintaining wind turbines, building the infrastructure necessary to handle distributed power sources, and so on and so forth.  Why can’t people like Donald Trump and his Republican cronies see the potential?  Oh right, fossil fuel dollars flow through their veins.

Company Behind DAPL Used Paramilitary Security to Track Activists—How soon before these companies are conducting their own raids to target activists “in support” of law enforcement?  Your rights are under assault by the corporate class in a way never before in American history.  Is anyone paying attention?

Walmart’s ‘Ah Ha’ Moment on Climate Change—Walmart has zero credibility in my eyes, but when outlets like CNBC are reporting on the corporation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions something is happening.  Can’t sell cheap shit from China if everyone is too busy bailing out their homes because of climate change.

The Truth About Meal-Kit Freezer Packs—Can someone finally kill the whole meal kit idea?  The kits are not less expensive than buying stuff locally unless you compare one scallion to a bunch.  The kits are an environmental disaster with all the packaging and transportation costs.  Now we discover the freezer packs are little plastic bags of death.  Just learn to use a knife, shop at the grocery store, and really cook.

“Pink Slime” or Lean Finely Textured Beef? Food Defamation Trial Set to Begin—This has all the hallmarks of the McLibel case from long ago when a trial brought out all sorts of evidence that condemned the defendants but destroyed the credibility of McDonald’s relative to its food quality.  My whole defense would be, “The product coming out of the machine is pink, right?  The product coming out of the machine resembles a gelatinous blob, right?  Thus pink slime your honor.  Defense rests.”

Being Healthy Isn’t a Contest, So Stop Trying to Win It—If you are vegetarian, you need to vegan.  If you are working out, you need to be doing HIIT.  If you aren’t into yoga and juice cleanses you are just not doing enough.  Stop people.