Friday Linkage 9/23/2016

For everyone who does not think elections matter or who think that a protest vote for one of the fringe third party candidates is a political expression worth something more than the smug feeling it give than I raise you one Donald J. Trump.  His negatives are outstanding and his positives are…well…non-existent.

Here is a thought exercise for a Friday morning.  Imagine all of the progress that has been made over the past eight years in terms of renewable energy.  Now, imagine four years of Donald J. Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan.  How much of that progress will get rolled back?  All of it and more.

On to the links…

Almost Everything You Know About Climate Change Solutions is Outdated—If there is one thing you do today watch Joe Romm speak about the clean energy revolution.  In a nutshell, science did its job and made cheap renewable power possible along with some other compelling solutions.  Political will is what stands in the way of further progress.

How Energy and Conservation Became Partisan Issues—It all comes back to electoral politics and optics.  Conservative pundits and advisors saw an issue they could use to create a schism among voters.  They exploited this schism over and over again to gain electoral advantage.  Thus, the battle lines for today have been drawn.

Most States on Track to Meet Emissions Targets They Call Burden—So, the Clean Power Plan set targets for states to meet in order to improve air quality, etc.  A lot of “red” states cried that these rules were burdensome, job killing, anti-business, and the whole host of usual right wing screeds.  However, it looks like most states are on a path to meet the goals.  Huh?

Graphic Shows Surface Area Required to Power California with 100% Renewables—Remember, some of this area may already be covered with a building or a parking lot so there would not be an additional loss of land for power product but rather a second use:

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Solar Rooftop Revolution Fizzles in U.S. on Utility Pushback—Nobody said the revolution was going to be easy.  If I told you that an entrenched business with guaranteed revenue streams was going to face disruption it would be natural to assume that said business would fight hard to maintain its status.  Guess what?  Utilities are doing exactly that.

Aging Coal Fleet a Factor in Record Plant Retirements—This is what the end looks like.  Companies stop making investments in infrastructure and when it comes time to assess the cost-benefit analysis there is no way that an aging coal plant can be made to look viable in an era of cheap renewable energy.

Coal’s Last Gamble: A Choking Industry Bets on One More Big Score—Does this remind you of a heist movie where a group of criminals get together for one last job to set them up for retirement?  That always goes well, doesn’t it?

Solar Just Hit its Lowest Price Ever—2.42 cents per kilowatt hour is cheap power.  Literally pennies.

First Wave-Produced Electricity in U.S. goes Online in Hawaii—The U.S. is behind a lot of other nations when it comes to developing and deploying waver power—surprise, surprise—but Hawaii is getting in on the act.  The thing is that wave power, like offshore wind, can bring a lot of reliable renewable energy close to where people live.

World’s Largest Airport-Based Solar Farm makes Creative use of Land to Generate Clean Energy—Why isn’t every airport using the land surrounding their runways in such a way?  We need to be asking these questions.

Can Reusing Spent Nuclear Fuel Solve Our Energy Problems?—I do not know what to do with nuclear power.  It produces carbon free electricity, but it also happens to produce nuclear waste.  What if someone figured out a way to reuse the nuclear waste we had already made in a way that produced carbon free power?  Now there is something I think people can get behind.

France Leads the Charge Against Single-Use Plastics—France is a challenging place to love, but I love their approach to eliminating the use of single use plastics.

California Governor Backs Rules on Cow, Landfill Emissions—It is going to be called the “cow fart” bill, but tackling emissions from sources other than power plants and cars is critical to gaining the upper hand in the fight against climate change.

Toyota Prius Chief Designer Admits Some EVs Already Cheaper To Manufacture Than Hybrids—Really?  I cannot imagine why a car with a single drivetrain would be cheaper to produce than a car with a dual mode drivetrain.  Oh yeah, it’s the batteries but those are now cheap enough to make a car for $37,500 that can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge.

California Seed Sharing Bill Signed into Law—Seed sharing may not seem like a big deal, but with consolidation happening at a pretty frightening pace in the agricultural services industry it is likely that grassroots initiatives like seed sharing will be important in the future.

Drugs Kill More People Than Cars or Guns—If you do not think there is an opioid problem in the United States then you need to read this article.

Friday Linkage 9/16/2016

In what alternate reality do I live?  Donald J. Trump is the scariest politician that I can think of since the rise of Fascism in the 1930s.  Joseph McCarthy was not this bad.  Huey P. Long was not this bad.  Any of the long line of corrupt politicians from Illinois, New Jersey, or Louisiana was this bad.  Seriously, I ask you to go back into recent memory and find me a politician of national scale that is as bad or as scary as Donald J. Trump.

On to the links…

Beginning of the End for Fossil Power—This is an article published by Bloomberg, not Treehugger or Grist.org.  Furthermore, it posits that the end of fossil fuels has begun because traditional power producers are splitting off fossil fuel based generation.  A company does this because the underlying assets are going to be a future drag on the ongoing business, in this case the power grid and renewable generation.

Economic Growth Has Decoupled From Carbon For Good—Here is another reason that fossil fuels are doomed.  We no longer need to produce proportionally more power to produce an additional dollar of economic growth.  The paradigm has been broken.

America Has Seen 11 Consecutive Quarters With More Than 1 Gigawatt of Solar PV Installed—The chart below shows the quarterly installed solar capacity.  Remember, these are quarterly install numbers not a cumulative total of installed capacity:

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Here’s Why Solar Farms Are Booming in the U.S.—Basically, utilities like big solar farms because it is the form of solar power that is closest to their traditional model of centralized power production.  Additionally, compared to rooftop solar these big solar farms can scale to such a level that costs are brought down to a very low level.

Johnson County Triples its Solar Power Production—Local governments are installing solar power at a good clip thanks to low prices and creative financing arrangements.  I just wish that we would stop equivocating solar power with cars taken off the road.  How about houses taken off the grid?

Electricity-Generating Windows Could Turn Skyscrapers into Solar Farms—Why not?

US Plans for 86 GW of Offshore Wind—Offshore wind is in its infancy, but it could be huge.  Not yuge.

Think Wind Power Is Cheap Now? Wait Until 2030—Making predictions for almost fifteen years into the future seems a little foolhardy, but I think there is some basis for hope here.

U.S. Companies Tout Climate Policies, Fund Climate Skeptics—Corporations like to tout their environmental responsibility, but they are actively funding the very people who are doing the most damage to building consensus around solutions.

This New Electric Bus Can Drive 350 Miles on One Charge—Every bus in the world should be an electric bus.  There is no excuse to have loud and dirty diesel busses on our streets.

Is There a Way to Revive Drought-Stricken Soil?—In an age of human caused climate change where the weather has become less predictable and epic droughts more common, our ability to regenerate ecosystems will be critical to our success or failure in terms of survival.

Turn Off the TV to Save Your Health—People have been advocating that we “kill our televisions” ever since the first sets were sold to homeowners.  Now we spend all day in front of a screen at work and then we spend our evenings in front of a screen.  Who is controlling whom?

How Much Does Your Shower Cost?—I love this calculator.  It is good for fifteen minutes of fun thinking about the cost of your showers.  There are some other fun calculators on the site as well.

Friday Linkage 9/9/2016

The long national nightmare has entered the stretch run.  It is finally after Labor Day, so the interminable presidential election is within the boundaries of what is considered the “traditional” campaign season. The only downside is now that I am watching football with an over-the-air antenna I will probably get to see a lot of political ads here in battleground Iowa.  Wasn’t the caucus enough for you people?

On to the links…

The Most Impressive State for Clean Energy—I will let out a spoiler, it’s Iowa.  That is right folks.  Our governor may be an imperial bonehead and residents in the western part of the state love them some Steve King, but we have got it going on when it comes to renewable energy.  By the way, there are some serious projects in the works across the state that are only going to drive the numbers up.

The Renewable Energy Future is Here – it’s Just Unevenly Distributed—As someone who lives in a renewable energy superstar state—see above—it is hard to understand why certain places are not taking advantage of their natural resources in the same way.  I have never understood why Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas are not neck and neck with Iowa in terms of wind deployment.  Okay, Kansas is a nut job state so I will ask the question about the other three.

The Number of Coal-Fired Power Plants Under Development Saw a Big Hit in the First Half of 2016—From January 2016 to June 2016 the amount of planned coal fired electrical generation declined by almost 130 GW.  If you do the math that represents the total coal generating capacity of the European Union.  What is even better is that some of the remaining 930 or so GWs of coal generating capacity may be “zombie” projects that are practically, but not officially, dead yet.

3 Big Trends Shaking Up the Energy Industry—Energy is not a sector known for disruptive innovation over short periods of time.  For the bulk of the Twentieth Century and into the Twenty First it was a story about coal, oil, and gas.  Recently, cheap solar and wind along with electric vehicles threaten to upend the dominance of fossil fuels.

Here Comes the Sun: Solar Power Is Offically Reshaping Our Energy Production—I remember a time—okay, it was the 1990s—when solar power was the province of hippies and back-to-land types who bought land where no power company would run a high voltage line.  Now, it is getting so cheap as to become ubiquitous.

Solar + Storage In Australia Could Be Cheaper Than The Grid By Next Year—What if it was cheaper to generate your own power and store it on site rather than be connected to the grid.  Is this the ultimate in demand destruction.

100% Solar?—The fact that we are even asking this question has to be a paradigm shift.

How Climate Change Could Jam The World’s Ocean Circulation—Granted, this was part of the plot to the ridiculous disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, but there are legitimate scientists not played by Dennis Quaid who are worried about the so-called “conveyer belt” in the oceans that keeps places like England somewhat livable.

Hawaii and Other Big Marine Protected Areas ‘Could Work Against Conservation’—There is an argument to be made that by saving remote oceanscapes we are forgetting about the threat to the waters close to shore.  I tend to believe that all oceans are deserving of our protection regardless of location.

Most Humpback Whales Removed from Endangered List, but Threats Remain—We sure do love our apex species when it comes to conservation.  This is a good story, overall, and it shows that we can do something about our horrible impact on this planet’s natural systems.

How New York Grocery Stores Plan to Use Ice Batteries—I remember when people started talking about the smart grid and how ice batteries could be used to level cooling demand.  The smart grid as envisioned never really panned out, but some people kept at the technologies.  While ice batteries are cool, I will never understand why we do not ask that grocery stores stop displaying goods in open coolers.

Why Three-Day Weekends Could Help to Save the World—I do not know about saving the world, but it might do a lot for our frazzled psyches.  I know that Utah tried something similar post-2008 financial crisis and did not see the savings materialized, but that may have had more to do with no enough non-government employers signing on to reach a critical mass.

Barcelona Unveils “Superblocks”—Barcelona is already an amazing city.  Despite its abundant street infrastructure it is an amazing city for pedestrians in the opinion of this American, but residents are asking if there is more that can be done to make it a city for people as opposed to cars.

Friday Linkage 9/2/2016

It’s September and that means it is time for football, cool weather, and waxing skis.  Oh yeah, I am ready to spend an afternoon in the garage listening to the Hawkeye on AM800 waxing the family’s sticks before the first snowfall.  How many days until the lifts start turning?

On to the links…

California is About to Find Out What a Truly Radical Climate Policy Looks Like—SB 32 is a game changer.  As goes California so goes the United States.  What happens when Washington and Oregon sign on to this concept?  I doubt we will see a repeat of what happened in Ecotopia.

The $8 Trillion Fight Over How to Rid America of Fossil Fuel—Here is where things have changed.  Economists and social scientists no longer debate whether it is possible to be done with fossil fuels.  Now it is a matter of how much it will cost.  That is a massive change.

Floridians Overwhelmingly Support Solar In Tuesday Vote—Put policies favoring renewable energy in front of voters and, generally, the voters overwhelmingly approve the measures.  Florida was not a state known for its solar friendly policies.  Now over 70% of voters in the Sunshine State made it easier and more affordable to go solar.  Progress marches on.

We’re Nearing Peak Energy—On a per capita or per $ of GDP basis we no longer consume more energy.  Granted, as living standards across the globe increase consumption of energy will increase but it does not need to happen in the same way it did for the West during the 20th century.

Renewables = 43% Of New Electricity Capacity In USA In H1 2016—Renewables now account for 19% of U.S. electrical generating capacity and actual generation stands at 17%.  Coal has now fallen to 28% of U.S. electrical generation.

Will Texas Surpass California as King of Solar?—Texas can be accused of a lot of things, but it cannot ever be accused of going small.  Just look at the anticipated solar connections for the coming years:

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In 2016 there are almost twice as many anticipated connections with financial backing than what already is connected to the grid.  2017 looks even bigger.

The Eastern US Could Get a Third of its Power from Renewables within 10 Years. Theoretically.—The problem right now is that everything with regard to renewable energy rollout is theoretical.  Smaller electrical grids have employed more intermittent renewable power, but nothing has been done on a grid as large and creaky as what exists in the U.S.

The Price of Solar Is Declining to Unprecedented Lows—Solar, already cheap by historical standards, declined in price anywhere from 5 to 12 percent in 2015.

Solar Sold in Chile at Lowest Ever, Half Price of Coal—It seems like every day that I am reading an article where an energy auction leads to a new renewable energy price record.  It also looks like coal cannot compete anymore.

Burning Trash To Create Energy: The Complicated Journey To Zero Waste—The incineration of trash to generate electricity has been controversial forever.  In a world where landfill space is increasingly hard to come by and regulated to an even greater degree, burning our garbage will become a favored solution in a lot of communities.

Old Construction Tech is New Again at Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Vancouver HQ—Cross laminated timber may get all the love, but good old nail laminated timber has a place.  Heck, if you have the inclination you can build using nail laminated timber without all the hassle of dealing with CLT manufacturers.  Let’s see…it’s green and the technology is established.  I say go for it.

We Grow Enough Food. Getting It On To People’s Plates Is The Problem.—A friend of mine who was a specialist in rural development—code for built roads in foreign countries for the military—said that the problem of food in the developing world was efficient storage and transit.  He would tell me stories about storehouses of food spoiling before getting to market for want of transport or of food loads being damaged because roads were shit.

The Stark Difference in How Doctors and the Government View Marijuana—Physician Nathaniel P. Morris is getting a lot of press for his piece on marijuana amongst medical professionals.  His words say it best:

For most health care providers, marijuana is an afterthought.

We don’t see cannabis overdoses. We don’t order scans for cannabis-related brain abscesses. We don’t treat cannabis-induced heart attacks. In medicine, marijuana use is often seen on par with tobacco or caffeine consumption — something we counsel patients about stopping or limiting, but nothing urgent to treat or immediately life-threatening.

Does it Really Cost $0.54 per Mile to Drive?

The IRS allows a person filing their taxes to claim a value per mile driven of $0.54 in 2016. The rate is actually down from $0.575 in 2015.  Gotta’ love those half cent increments.

This figure is supposed to represent the fixed and variable costs of operating an average automobile.  That is to say that it is to be inclusive of expenses like gasoline, maintenance, and insurance in addition to the depreciation of the asset as it is driven.

This gets me to thinking about the cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle for daily purposes.  If it really costs $0.54 per mile to operate my motor vehicle then I am watching a dollar bill fly out of the tailpipe, metaphorically speaking, about every two miles I drive down the road.  I could have gone with an analogy about change jangling out the tailpipe but change seems like such an anachronism anymore. Paper money is probably getting to be like that for certain age brackets.  I digress.

In general, we do not think about the costs of operating a motor vehicle in this way.  We tend to focus on the price of gas and near term maintenance expenses like oil changes or replacement tires.  Occasionally we think about expenses like insurance, especially after an accident, or license plate fees, when the government seeks to squeeze a little bit more out of everyone because companies like Apple do not really pay taxes.

Considering the average motor vehicle commuter in the U.S. travels approximate 15 miles to work one way for an approximate 30 miles round trip, we are spending on average approximately $16 to drive to work every day.  Individual results may vary.

Think about $16 per day to drive to work not counting trips to the shopping mall or grocery store during the weekend.  $16 per day for more than 200 days per year.  It’s kind of insane.

It is even more insane when you consider the tangential effects of these $16 commutes.  On average, Americans are more sedentary and spending time in a car waiting out traffic is not helping anyone’s derriere become shapely.  The environmental costs are huge, especially if you get beyond just thinking about the tailpipe emissions and consider the leakage of polluting fluids onto the ground, the embodied energy in the manufacturing of motor vehicles, or just the sheer amount of infrastructure we have devoted to driving in the U.S.  Hell, planners budget an area of approximately of 162 square feet per parking space when planning a building’s infrastructure versus the average cubicle size of approximately 75 square feet for the average worker.

Yep, your car gets more space at the office than you do.  Now do you feel like a valued employee?  Dig it.

Hybrid and electric cars do not help because that just shifts some of the costs from the variable to the fixed side, e.g. a higher sale price in exchange for higher effective mileage leading to less fuel purchased, and does nothing to ameliorate the tangential impacts, e.g. you are still sitting on your ass in traffic if you are in a Daewoo or a Tesla.  One just has better lumbar support.

The answer lies in subverting the paradigm.  Trade in your lazy ass motor vehicle commute for a two wheeled rock star commute on a bike.  Yeah, yeah another hippie in the blogosphere telling you to “go by bike.”  As if the world needs another e-hippie extolling the virtuous bicycle and its magical commuting properties.  You know what?  Until more people are riding bikes to work the world does need another person promoting the two wheeled miracle.

Bicycles are not a fancy solution to the transportation problem like subways, streetcars, bus rapid transit, autonomous cars, steampunk vacuum tubes, or whatever else someone has cooked up in the evil laboratory of urban planning alchemy.  Bicycles are the cockroaches or urban planning and transportation infrastructure.  Bicycles can survive with little or no assistance, taking over the margins, and thriving well after better funded alternatives have been shown to be nothing more than Potemkin transportation.

However, getting back in the saddle again—cue the only slightly ironic rock anthem “Back in the Saddle” by AC/DC—is a personal choice and it is not something that you will get to talk about with the cool people at work.  The cool people just spent $35,000 on a Chevrolet Volt because it’s electric and gas.  Congratulations, you just bought the Snackwells of 21st Century motor vehicles.  Just think about pocketing a dollar bill every time you replace 2 miles of motor vehicle commuting with 2 miles of bicycle commuting.

One Thing Out Every Day

One of the many ways that downsizing experts suggest a person reduce their household consumption is to follow a “one in, one out” model of purchasing.  If you want to bring something into your home it should replace a similar item that finds itself on the way out.

This is a great way to approach household items like clothing where a new pair of shoes replaces a worn pair or a new computer replaces a malfunctioning unit.  You get the idea.

What if your goal is to not end up renting a mini-storage unit?

A lot of people have gotten hold of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing to answer this question.  I find it somewhat fascinating that a person selling people on decluttering as a pathway toward some sort of life changing epiphany is selling an actual physical item.  Always beware of the person selling you the solution to your perceived problem.  Skip the book and take the highlights if her pathway is your bag.

I have a different way to tackle the stuff in my home that is cluttering up my physical and mental life.  Instead of “one in, one out” I am embracing “one thing out every day.”

The concept is simple.  Every day I get at least one thing out of my house.  One day I might take a bag of old clothes to Goodwill.  Another day I may donate a few unwanted books to the public library. If I am particularly motivated I will decide to tackle the collection of medicine and mini toiletries that seems to grow by itself over the course of a few trips.  How does one end up with a dozen mini bottles of lotion?

Slowly, it becomes a game of sorts.  You begin to want to look into the dark corners of closets and storage areas for long forgotten items in boxes.  You begin to free yourself from stuff that you may have moved several times without ever having removed it from a box.  How many t-shirts do we have that we no longer wear?  How many boxes of old books do we have that we will never read again?

Some people may choose to go the blow out route and have a garage sale.  Trust me, I have had two in the past three years and I amazed each time at how much unnecessary or outdated stuff we have acquired.  Even my two children got into the act the last time by culling their toys down to what they actually cared about playing with.  Everyone feels better when they are not weighed down by so much stuff.

The trick is not to bring anything more into the house while getting rid of things.  Otherwise you have nullified your effort.  This becomes a game as well.  You begin to start counting days between purchases.  If I exclude groceries it becomes an exercise in recall as I now go weeks between purchases.  Maybe I am embracing an increasingly ascetic life in search of meaning, but it feels better than blindly whipping out a credit card and hoping that a purchase will make me feel whole.

Live Like We Did in College

On vacation I got the chance to sit down for a few beers with an old friend from college.  While our children slept with dreams of Walt Disney World swirling through their heads and our beers dropped enormous rings of sweat from the thick central Florida air we came to pose a question to ourselves, “Why can’t we live like we did in college?”

Now, two mid-thirties fathers of two children apiece asking that question while sitting on the balcony of a hotel room at Walt Disney World may seem a little out of place but bear with me for a moment.  Granted, it all feels a little bit like the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime.”

I have always thought of my friend as someone who is relatively far down the road of “green” enlightenment.  He has never fallen for the trap of more expensive status cars as his income has grown, his house is definitely not in line with his peers at work, he commutes to work a few days per week by bicycle even in the dead of Minnesota’s winters, and he generally seems to live a life free of constant consumer drive to buy things to fill a deep pit within one’s soul.

As we pulled back the layers on his thought process it became apparent that he wondered if he had gone wrong somewhere along the way in a fundamental way.  His thesis was simple, “Why can’t we enjoy life like we did in college?  Why can’t we enjoy just getting to go out to eat once a week instead of being upset that we did not get to eat at the fancy, new place in town?  Why can’t we be happy spending a night with friends drinking some beers and not worrying about doing something?”

We spent some time thinking about this and remembering our college days.  Some of it good and some of it bad.  Trust me, neither of us was suggesting that we trade in our hoppy IPAs for quarter draws of Natural Light.  There is something to the idea, though, of looking back at a time when you did not have very much discretionary income and seeing what made you happy.

No one cared about cars or houses when we were in college.  Sure, we all knew people who drove new cars and lived in the nice apartments but those were seen as auspicious outliers.  Most of us drove cars that were running on borrowed time and living in houses that hopefully could pass an inspection if the city every decided to crack down on your landlord.

No one really cared where you went out to eat because getting to eat out anywhere was a welcome relief from pasta or ramen noodles.  There are few dinners more satisfying than being able to sit down to a plate of chile rellenos and happy hour margaritas on a Thursday night. You felt like a king for an hour.

Maybe our college experience at a mid-sized Midwestern state university was different from someone who went to a prestigious Ivy League school or a mega-sized football powerhouse.  Maybe the intervening years have fogged our memories and we remember things through the haze of nostalgia rather than through the lens of reality.

Regardless, there is something about trying to recapture some of that economic innocence at a time in our lives when we are supposed to be avid consumers of an upper middle class existence.  Wouldn’t we all be living a “greener” life if we worried less about buying a bigger house and filling it with more stuff or a new car to park in that oversized three car garage?  Wouldn’t we all be a little happier if we spent our Friday nights on the decks with a few friends enjoying a cool night over a few beers rather than chasing entertainment somewhere trendier?

I think the answer is that we would all be in a better place if we just tried to live a little simpler.  Now, I am not going to trade decent coffee for that gas station swill I used to drink in college.  There are some things that are just a bridge too far.