Friday Linkage 8/9/2019

No links next week since I am going to be on vacation and completely out of touch with the world…at least in terms of electronics.  I am going to enjoy a lot of snorkeling, cold beers, and not worrying about the latest tweet storm coming from our dear leader.

See you in a couple of weeks.

On to the links…

Economic and Environmental Cost of Trump’s Auto Rollback Could be Staggering—Who is surprised that a reactionary rollback of well thought out environmental regulations will have drastic economic and environment costs?  No one raised their hand.  Color me shocked.

Speak Up Now to Save Our National Forests—Another brilliant idea from the people trying to loot our public lands for private gain.

Trump’s Environmental Legacy Will Take Time to Erase—Yes, it will take time.  Yes, it will be undone.  November 2020 is the most important election since the Great Depression.  Look at what four years of Donald Trump has done to America.  Do not try and imagine four more years.

How Climate Change Could Trigger the Next Global Financial Crisis—The next financial crisis, which is coming sooner rather than later, may be exacerbated by climate change or even caused by a climate change related disaster.  Will it still be a Chinese hoax for our tangerine hued leader?

How American Cities Score on Clean Energy—Until sometime in January 2021 we will have to look to American cities for leadership in the clean energy transition.

Why Is U.S. Demand For Solar Panels Booming?—Taking advantage of a tax credit that is due to begin phasing itself out over the next few years may be artificially driving demand for solar panels into 2019, but maybe there is a solid base of demand for homegrown clean energy.

US Utilities to Boost Capital Spending in Shift Away from Coal—Coal fired power plants are going to be considered “stranded assets” in the very near future.  That is to say these power plants will no longer be assets in the traditional sense, with a commensurate value on the open market, but that the intrinsic value will be zero because there is no buyer available on the open market at any price.

1 Stat Shows Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Passed the Point of No Return—The death spiral is real.  It is now just a question of how fast we can retire these coal fired power plants and get on with our lives.

How The Clean Energy Transition Could Save More Than It Costs—The discussion has moved from the feasibility of the clean energy transition to a discussion about the potential cost savings of the transition.  We’re talking about saving money and making clean energy.  The market has spoken.

Using Electricity at Different Times of Day Could Save us Billions of Dollars—Demand or load shifting is one of those holy grails of infrastructure planning.  If you can shift peak demand to other times the load on the overall system is decreased and redundant capacity can be reduced.

Sorry, Scooters Aren’t so Climate-Friendly After All—Lifecycle costs are a bitch, man.  Just get on a bicycle and be done with it.

What Grocery Stores Won’t Tell You About Plastic—Bring all the reusable bags you want to the grocery store.  It’s a start, but until the grocery stores demand changes from their supply chain there will be little real impact in the reduction of single use plastic packaging.

Subway Partners with Beyond Meat as Part of its Comeback Bid—Non-meat meat alternatives are now considered an appealing part of a restaurant’s menu in an effort to combat falling sales and perception issues.  Think about that for a moment.

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Going Back to a Flat Bar Yet Again

There are certain themes I seem to come back to time and time again.  When it comes to my bicycles the past is prologue which means it must be time for me to give up on the drop bars and return to a flat handlebar setup.

After several thousand miles and two different drop bars—the OEM compact set and a reused 44cm Salsa Cowchipper 2—I spent a weekend rebuilding my primary bicycle into this:

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Let’s get a few things out of the way before the drop bar mafia makes their presence known.

Compared to the variety and comfort of flat bar grips the usual drop bar solution of grip tape basically sucks.  You can point me to extra cushioned tape or thick natural cork tape or gel pads under tape…it all sucks compared to a set of Ergon grips.  Plus, I can never seem to wrap a bar neatly or in such a manner that the grip tape starts to come undone in less than a month.  My Ergons are held in place with a single bolt and stay rock solid.

When it comes to hand positions, which is the primary reason that the drop bar mafia claims to love drop bars, I found myself riding almost entirely on the flats or hoods.  You know what those two positions look a lot like in my current setup?  The two primary hand positions.  Hmmm…

Additionally, the position on the flats of my Salsa Cowchipper 2 never felt wide enough.  It was the most comfortable position for my hands, but it felt like someone was squeezing my shoulders inward.  That is not a sensation that is particularly comfortable on a big day ride.  I could have opted for a wider drop bar or gone to a bar with more flare.  However, that would have made the outer hand positions feel wider to a degree that was also uncomfortable.  Do you see where I am going with this?  I could not find a good spot to put my hands for a long ride.  Any ride over the two hour mark really started to hurt my hands and wrists.

In addition to switching to a flat bar I switched out the OEM Shimano Sora 9 speed drivetrain for a SRAM GX based 10 speed drivetrain.  Both setups utilized a single 42 tooth chainring up front.  If this setup looks familiar that is because it is reusing parts from a prior build I did on my old bicycle.  Hilarity, so to speak, ensued when I discovered late Sunday night that the derailleur cable for my rear shifter was about an inch short.  Naturally, no bike shop was open and my build had to wait to be completed until Monday evening.

A big shout out to the guys at Goldfinch Cyclery in Cedar Rapids.  When I could not get my drivetrain to shift accurately—it would not get into the largest cog—they got everything working lickety split.  Turns out you need to exaggerate the alignment a little bit to get everything working.  Who knew?

Friday Linkage 8/2/2019

I say this a lot on this blog, but I have a hard time believing that it is already August.  My kids are three weeks away from going back to school, people are starting to talk about fall sports, and my mind starts to wander to thoughts of skiing.  Pretty soon the miles on the bike will start to decline and the trips to the weight room will increase.  Gotta’ get the knees ready for big days on the mountain.

On to the links…

Just 10% of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Cash ‘Could Pay for Green Transition’—When someone says that we cannot afford to transition to 100% clean energy what they are really saying is that we are choosing not to afford the transition.  There is more than enough money sloshing around in government and corporate coffers to make a renewable energy world possible.

A Wind Turbine Farm The Size Of Delaware Could Power The Entire United States—Take a look at the map and understand just how much or how little area we are talking about here:

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Now imagine we actually utilize the offshore wind resources.  Look at how much coastline there is to develop.  We can make this happen.

Low-Carbon Energy Makes Majority of UK Electricity for First Time—This is not a small island being powered by solar.  This is a large island with a post-industrial economy that got over 53% of its electricity in 2018 from low or no carbon power sources.

Coal’s Demise Quickens in Europe as Market Shift Idles Plants—If no one is lining up to buy the power then the plants will sit idle.  The market is working.

Ohio just Passed the Worst Energy Bill of the 21st Century—This is what you get with Republicans in control.  It is crony capitalism at its finest.  Private companies line their pocket with the public’s money with the consent of elected officials.

Angry about No Pay, Kentucky Miners Block Train Loaded with Coal—The coal industry does not care about the people in their employ.  These companies have never treated their employees with anything but contempt at best and deadly intent at worst.  As coal companies go bankrupt they will continue to use the legal and political system to destroy the land and line their pockets at the expense of the communities in which they operate.

Most EV Charging Infrastructure Is Wasted Due To Lack Of New Thinking—It is not that EV charging spots are not numerous enough considering that anyone with a garage or dedicated parking space probably has access to some level of charging.  It is that the charging infrastructure that exists today may not align with how we drive our EVs.

Minnesota Town Makes do Without being Connected to Power Grid—I know that a lot of us imagine living off the grid, but this is what the reality looks like.

Beyond Meat’s Competitor Impossible Foods Plans to Launch in Grocery Stores in September after getting FDA Approval—I am really looking forward to buying a sleeve of Impossible Burgers and throwing them on my own grill this fall.  What I really want to see is Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger selling sleeves of their plant based goodness at Costco.

Plant-Based Eggs Land their First Major Fast Food Deal—Slaughter houses get a bad rap because they are nasty places, but our eggs are also produced in some fairly brutal conditions.  First the plant based substitutes came for our hamburgers, now they are coming for our eggs.  I welcome the transition.

Can Chefs Learn to Love Cooking Without Fire?—Can we just stop our love affair with primal fire?  I get that something about the flame speaks to our lizard brain, but as someone who has cooked with electricity daily for the past twenty years there is no reason to rely on piping explosive gas into our homes to fuel our gastronomic adventures.

Why Republican Baby Boomers are More Likely to Share #fakenews on Facebook—I rag on Baby Boomers pretty hard, but until someone can show me how this generation has actually made the country a better place I am going to keep piling on.

Knocking it Out of the Park with EV Efficiency…Solar Not So Much

There are times when driving my second hand Nissan Leaf feels like I am working on cracking a code.  Change one behavior (e.g. turning on the heat) and relative efficiency takes a nose dive.  Adjust a few things (e.g. make sure to drive with the car set in “B” mode) and it seems like you can do no wrong.  Ambient air temperature, type of driving, route choice…on and on it goes.

I am certain that it is the same for a traditional ICE vehicle or even a Tesla, but when you are limited to a little more than 100 miles on a full charge there is a hyper heightened awareness to how quickly the “guess o’ meter” depletes.  However, it was a lot less of a concern this month as I averaged 6.1 miles per kWh for just a tenth of a mile over 900 miles.  That works out to a little less than 148 kWh of electricity consumed and ~1,053 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.

Since January I have driven 4,607 EV miles at an average efficiency of 5.1 miles per kWh.  This correlates to ~5,234 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.  As I have said before this assumes that I draw all of my power from the grid as opposed to generating it on site with my solar panels.  Based on gasoline prices I have saved about $650 just in fuel since January.

Speaking of solar photovoltaic production, July was a fairly good month:

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720 kWh for the month is good.  It is a little bit less than the same month during the prior year, but I would say that it is within the margin of error.  It is not like this is January and February where snow covered my panels up to a foot deep some times.

All in my household consumption ended up about 26 kWh more than my production.  Included in my household consumption numbers are almost all of my EV charging, so without the Nissan Leaf in the garage we would have ended up over 100 kWh.  Granted, that would mean I was spewing carbon dioxide from the tailpipe of my truck.  I will take the trade.

Unlike some summer months we were home for every weekend and took no trips.  Furthermore, for the entire month of July we went out to eat once.  I feel fairly good about making all but one meal at home, charging my electric car, running the air conditioning when it got really hot, and still managing to almost be even in terms of household electricity consumption versus solar electricity production.  It is my hope that in the next month I will adding about 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity to my roof.

Friday Linkage 7/26/2019

The heat and humidity finally broke here in eastern Iowa this week and we got to open the windows.  Okay, we opened the windows in our house but it seems like everyone else still has their air conditioning running full blast.  Naturally, this includes my neighbors who run their air conditioning even when it is sixty degrees outside.  It must be an ice box inside that house.

These are the same neighbors who complain about their high electricity bill.  So it also makes sense that these same neighbors would install a hot tub.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, says high electricity costs quite like a hot tub.

On to the links…

American Green—If there is one thing that I wish people would do it is that they stop obsessing—in terms of both time and money—about the lawns surrounding their homes.  Who cares if a stray dandelion shows up or some clover has established itself?  Who cares it some spots start to brown out when the mercury hits 90 degrees?

New York Just Passed the Most Ambitious Climate Target in the Country—There is no climate leadership at the federal level, so it falls to cities and states to move things forward.  Luckily, the states most likely to move forward also happen to be home to a lot of people and a lot of economic activity.

Refinery Explosions Raise New Warnings About Deadly Chemical—If a Tesla or other electric vehicle catches fire there is sure to be a whole raft of coverage.  If a normal ICE car bursts into flames or an oil refinery explodes there is little coverage.  Never mind the potential of a truly catastrophic incident at an oil refinery.

It’s Just Good Business: Even Red States Are Dumping Coal for Solar—I think that this needs to be the response for anyone who gets asked a question about solar power.  It’s just good business.

Waste Only: How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World—Plastic is bad.  It may be a necessary evil in some applications, but limiting the use of plastics is the ultimate goal.

Cigarette Butts are the Most Pervasive Man-Made Pollutant—My late father, a former smoker who quit in his thirties, hated cigarette butts with a passion and had a more hot burning hate for the people who threw their cigarette butts about with abandon.  His whole theory was that cigarettes with filters should be banned, all cigarettes should be called coffin nails, and the package should say “Smoke More, Die Younger.”

10 Ways the Bicycle Moved Us Forward—The bicycle is a humble solution to a lot of problems.  As we design ever more complex solutions to our problems we need to remember that easier solutions exist.

In Madrid, a Car Ban Proves Stronger Than Partisan Politics—I know it will come as a shock to most right wing reactionaries, especially the ones on Fox News who want to cover themselves in a cologne called Fossil Fuel Funk, but people actually like living in places where cars are not valued over people.  Remember, in most modern offices your car will be allotted more space in the parking lot than you will be inside the building.

How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid—If you live in Iowa during the summer you understand this phenomenon all too well.  The humid haze that rises from the endless fields of tall corn in July and August is like an oppressive ghost moving through the landscape.  Maybe I spend too much time cycling along these same fields in the heat.

Dunkin’ Adds Beyond Meat’s Sausage to its Menu, Starting in New York—Are we turning the corner into a world where renewable energy is the cheapest source of electricity, people actually care about the climate, and non-meat alternatives are commonplace?  I sure know that non-meat alternatives seem to be everywhere.

Can You Taste the Difference Between Plant-Based Meat and Beef? Burger King Sweden is Betting No.—This is what the people behind calling plant protein “meat” in Arkansas are worried about.  Okay, their actually being funded by a locally powerful meat industry to take this fight on but their paymasters fear this outcome.

Has Wine Gone Bad?—When reading Napa at Last Light by James Conaway I was struck by some critiques of wineries for the total lack of environmental consideration.  The gist was basically that if anyone actually knew just how much of a bad actor the wine industry was in California it would cripple the industry’s marketing efforts.

The Budweiser Beer Empire was Built on Debt. Now it’s Racing to Pay it Off—Geez, I cannot imagine how building an empire through acquisitions fueled by debt could ever go wrong?

Orange Chicken Showdown: Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken versus Aldi’s Never Any Chicken with Orange Sauce

Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken is a perennial favorite of everyone’s favorite odd little supermarket.  Freezers across the country are stocked with bags of this weekday dinner delight and it has been a lifesaver in terms of getting everyone satisfactorily fed in my household as well.

However, we seem to be living in the age of meatless alternatives.  If you like hamburgers you can default to the old standbys like Boca or Morningstar Farms, but you are more likely to choose a Beyond Burger or Impossible Burger.  Heck, you can even get moderately priced meatless fair from the ever quirky Aldi.

You can also get a bag of meatless orange chicken from Aldi.  Or is it orange not-quite-so-chicken?  I digress.

Naturally, I wanted to compare Aldi’s offering with that of the old standby Trader Joe’s:

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An initial visual inspection reveals the primary difference between the two products.  The Aldi alternative is much more like chicken nuggets with sauce while the Trader Joe’s offering is more akin to Chinese takeout.  If you desire the craggy and crunchy thrill of deep fried chicken pieces than Trader Joe’s will win every time.  You can see the difference:

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In truth, that is the primary difference.  Let’s be honest for a moment.  The presence of actual chicken versus a textured vegetable protein is almost a non-factor because I do not know of anyone who eats frozen orange chicken because of the meat.  This is a show about crunchy fried bits and orange sauce.  Unless you run across a stray piece of cartilage there is nothing that you remember about the chicken.  I posit that you could sell people pieces of deep fried batter in orange sauce, minus any actual protein, and it would sell quite well.

Aside from the texture difference of the chicken pieces there is a slight difference in the taste of the orange sauce.  The Aldi version is slightly thinner and sweeter.  The Trader Joe’s version is thicker and has a vinegar bite.  Which do you prefer?  That would be personal as I know people who prefer thin red sweet and sour over thicker and more vinegary sweet and sour.

The real question I have is why Aldi could not have made a meatless orange chicken that duplicated the craggy fried goodness of the Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken.  It would seem to me that random and misshapen bits of protein covered in battered and deep fried would be an easier problem to solve versus the analogue of a breast meat nugget.  Just saying.

A Meatless Burger from Aldi?

There is a trope in economics about a product or technology getting to a “China price” or an “India price.”  The idea being that it is one thing for a product or technology to be affordable to American or European consumers, but to be truly transformative something needs to be affordable to the billions of consumers in China and India.

Like most popularized economic wisdom this is a little simplistic and overlooks much of the nuance that makes a product or technology transformative.  However, there might just be a corollary for meatless hamburgers.  I propose the “Aldi price.”

Flipping through the weekly flyer that comes in the mail while I waited for my daughter to finish her weekly piano lesson I saw several meatless foods advertised in the Aldi flyer.  Normally, I do not shop at Aldi.  It has little to do with the offerings and more to do with the fact that I just don’t seem to understand shopping at Aldi.  From the quarter deposit for a cart, the odd way the store seems structured, and so on.  It is just not my bag.

However, for approximately $3 I was able to buy a package of four meatless burgers under the Earth Grown label:

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This is half the price of what a Beyond Burger goes for in the grocery stores around here.  Heck, you cannot even buy the Impossible Burger for home consumption anywhere yet.  On a per ounce price basis the Aldi Earth Grown meatless burger is cheaper than decent ground beef.  At this price there can be little argument that a meatless burger is both an economic and environmental winner.  At the “Aldi price” a meatless burger is a burger that anyone can afford.

The question remains, does anyone really want an Aldi meatless burger:

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There is a definite disconnect between what is shown on the box and what comes out of the box.  I would guess that the patties—which come four to a box—are about half the thickness of the patty shown on the box.  Furthermore, the texture is less ground beef analog—which is what the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are going for—and more improved veggie burger.  This is an improvement on the lifeless Boca patties of your late 1990s backyard party.  This is not, however, a patty that will sit in the uncanny valley between actual hamburger and veggie burger.

It is amazing that we have come to a time and place regarding meatless hamburgers where we are arguing if the product is enough like actual hamburger versus is the product barely edible.  For anyone who soldiered through eating crumbly black bean patties or bizarre quinoa creations in the early aughts this is a revelation.