Friday Linkage 7/22/2016

Heat dome, believe it.  It was mid-90s here in eastern Iowa on Thursday with the humidity tickling 80%.  You can tell me the heat index was 105 degrees or 115 degrees, I do not care because at a certain point it is just miserable.  Today is supposed to be worse and it is sapping everyone’s will to be productive.  Mine included.

On to the links…

The Republican Vision for the Environment is Not a Pretty Sight—The Republican “vision” in 2016 for almost everything is not a pretty sight.  If you do not think elections matter, please imagine Donald Trump or people appointed by Donald Trump in charge of the National Park Service.  Got it?

Government Abandons 54.5-mpg CAFE Standard—When is a standard not a mandate, but an estimate?  When it comes to automobile gas mileage I guess.

As Solar Floods California Grid, Challenges Loom—As California and other states move toward an increasingly higher share of renewable energy new challenges will emerge, particularly in demand regulation and power production.  The interesting thing in this article is that rooftop solar arrays, more than 537,000, in the total renewable energy picture.  If you want to get an idea what is happening in real time with regard to California’s electricity grid check out this site.

You’ll Never Believe How Cheap New Solar Power Is—Solar energy’s expansion in the U.S. is not a miracle.  It is the market at work.  Every professor of economics is salivating at the beauty of this chart:


Did An Entire Region Of The U.S. Just Disincentivize Renewables? This Lawsuit Says Yes.—This falls into one of those boring, but important categories of news and/or developments.

In India’s Big Solar Energy Drive, Insurance Policies Against Monkeys—You think we have challenges deploying solar in the U.S.  In India monkeys are a problem.  Yes, freaking monkeys.

The Future of Biofuel Isn’t Corn—It’s Algae—Stop me if you have heard this before: Algae will be the future of biofuel.  Okay, it’s a story as old as biofuel.  Almost.  However, there is promising work being done and the economics might make sense when you consider the potential for other products to be made from what is left over after oil production.

Methane Pollution Is About To See A Serious Cut From This Stinky Source—Stopping or greatly reducing the emission of methane gas into the atmosphere might be the best of the low hanging fruit we have to take care of in an effort to slow down and eventually abate climate change.

Original Hybrid Batteries Still Charged Up 15 Years Later—Apparently, the batteries were overbuilt and the charging programming was conservative.  I remember naysayers telling owners of first and second generation Toyota Priuses (Prii?) that in a few years when the battery wore out the car would be nothing more than a junky golf cart.

The L.E.D. Quandary: Why There’s No Such Thing as “Built to Last”—No company wants to sell you the “last” of anything because it represents a major flaw in their business model.  With no returning customers the company is forced to acquire new customers, which is always a more costly endeavor than retaining existing customers.  Is this why all of our appliances are so janky now?

The Exciting Future of Sustainability—We are pretty “doom and gloom” a lot of the time when it comes to the future.  What is things were just a littler sunnier, so to speak:


Friday Linkage 7/15/2016

Appliances are insane.  I do not mean the actual appliance itself, but rather the entire ecosystem of appliances.  Take the refrigerator in my home for example.  It is approximately five and a half years old.  In that period of time it has had one service call to replace the drain hole valve that was an almost universal problem on this model and it has iced over on three separate occasions.  Iced over you ask?  Well, imagine coming home to find out the refrigerator is not cooling but everything appears to be working fine.  Yeah, the coils are iced over because of humidity.  WTF?

Thankfully, the internet is a wonderful repository of knowledge on how to fix stuff.  It is also a repository of completely bonkers information, but I was able to get a hold of a technical sheet that walked me through how to diagnose the problem.  Apparently, everything is working and I just need to clear the coils of packed ice.  Awesome.

I realize that I am rambling somewhat, but I want to get across the point that a refrigerator is a mature technology that costs a lot of money.  Actually working in a trouble free manner should be table stakes.  However, this does not appear to be true.

On to the links…

Exxon Is Still Helping Fund The Spread Of Climate Denial—If there is a worse actor vis a vis climate disinformation I want to know about them because ExxonMobil really takes the cake.  Coal companies may have been the target of opportunity for the last decade, but with that industry in its death spiral it is time to really turn up the heat on ExxonMobil.

The Government Should Get Out of the Coal Business—This is not Mother Jones or the Sierra Club saying that the government should get out of the coal leasing business.  It’s freaking Bloomberg.  When the establishment business press has turned on coal you know the gig is up.

The Republican Party’s Platform Says Coal Is ‘Clean’ Energy—Apparently, Republicans thought that George Orwell’s 1984 was a “how to” manual and not a cautionary tale.  Again, these are the same people who tell us that the solution to gun violence is more guns and that government budgets can be saved by cutting taxes.  How soon before “drill, baby drill” makes a comeback on the campaign trail?  Paging Sarah Palin…

Exelon Readies Super Microgrid Controller that Allows Microgrids to ‘Talk’ to Each Other—The idea of microgrids always comes up in the aftermath of a major natural disaster because the idea of islands of electric power in a sea of blackouts is viscerally appealing.  It now looks like the technology to support that idea is finally maturing.

3 Sure Signs of Texas’ Emerging Solar Market—Texas is the “great white buffalo” of solar.  The state is big and sunny.  Great white buffalo.  Maybe the reality is finally catching up to the dream.

In Defense of Rooftop Solar—Distributed, rooftop solar is taking it on the chin lately as power companies and traditional energy providers push a more centralized agenda that looks a lot like the status quo with somewhat greener energy.  Of course these entities hate rooftop solar because it moves the locus of control from the provider to the consumer.

Cutting the Cable: Kangaroo Island Eyes Switch to 100% Renewable Energy—When presented with the bill to update the ageing centralized power infrastructure the leaders of Kangaroo Island decided to modernize via cutting the cord.  Literally.  Islands, with their isolated power grids, will be the laboratories where we figure out how to transition to 100% renewable energy.

Fast Charging System for Electric Buses — Quicker than Filling a Tank—Buses and garbage trucks have always seemed like the ideal vehicles to be electrified first, as opposed to passenger cars, because of fixed routes and established centralized garages.

How One Man Repopulated a Rare Butterfly Species in his Backyard—It is amazing what a single, dedicated individual can do to make the world a better place.  Think about thousands or even tens of thousands of people making these kinds of efforts.  Sometimes I have my faith in the human race restored.  Just a little bit.

We Need to Call American Breakfast What it Often Is: Dessert—My wife and I have run into this looking at cereal for children.  We were aghast at the amount of sugar in cereals promoted as the “smart choice.”  This one breakdown is all you need to know:

muffin = cupcake
smoothie = milkshake
granola = streusel top
yogurt = ice cream
waffle = cookie

Friday Linkage 7/8/2016

I wish I could say that my lack of posts lately was due to working on something cool, but is just due to life getting in the way.  It is crazy how hectic a “lazy summer” can be between weddings, weekend trips to see friends, a few activities, and trying to keep up at a full-time job.  I know that most people do not want to wish summer away, but I am beginning to pine for winter’s cold embrace.

On to the links…

America Electric Car Market Expected To Grow 62% In 2016—Granted, that growth is off of a small base. However, with the pending introduction of the all-new Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 in addition to a revised Nissan Leaf the market will finally have compelling longer range EVs at competitive price points.

UK Solar Energy Breaks New Record — Almost 24% Electricity Demand—Think about the United Kingdom generating almost one quarter of its electricity demand from solar.  Why can’t Arizona or Nevada do the same thing with ample solar resources and plenty of sites to exploit?

New Wind & Solar Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Cost Less Than Keeping Aging Nuclear Power Plants Running—Aging and cost inefficient nuclear plants are going to be shut down in the near term, particularly in the Midwest, replaced by renewables and natural gas.  However, many people are wondering if we should keep nuclear plants open via subsidies and close down fossil fuel plants.

California Solar Generation Grew 1,378% In 5 Years—Now those are some growth numbers.  I wish we could see that kind of growth across the country, particularly in sunny states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Florida.

Now There’s One Less Way for Big Coal to Screw Over Americans—Closing this loophole means that coal companies have to pay the correct amount for their leases on federal land.  Granted, the correct amount is still below market value but this is a start.  Now, about that self-bonding thing…

Congress vs. the Zombie Coal Amendment—Now here is something amazing.  Congress might actually close a ridiculous provision in U.S. law that forced military bases in Germany to be fueled by coal mined in Pennsylvania.  One less brick in the wall for coal to hide behind.

By the Numbers: Western Coal Mine Layoffs—For all the talk about the impact of coal mining jobs during this election cycle actually look at the numbers for a moment.  In Colorado, coal mining jobs now represent just over 3,000 jobs.  Compare that to an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 jobs in the legalized marijuana industry.  Granted, the jobs might not be comparable in terms of salary but there is no question that coal’s influence is waning when it comes to economic arguments.

ExxonMobil May Have Friends In High Places, But Fraud Is Not Constitutionally Protected—When ExxonMobil gets in trouble it calls its friends in high places.  Often times those friends are in the White House.  Do not believe me?  Read Private Empire by Steve Coll.

Can Kelp Save The Pacific Ocean?—Every little bit helps, right?

Don’t Be Blue; Cree Introduces Warm LED Street Lights—I was talking about this with my wife the other day.  Everything seems so harsh under light now that incandescents have been largely phased out.  I love the energy efficiency, but I miss the warmth.

It’s Time to Take Back the Streets and to Make Our Sidewalks Grand Again—I have always wondered if one of the reasons that people do not walk or cycle more is because the route options are so limited.  If you have ever taken a walk in a place designed for cars, e.g. a suburban office park, there are moments when you feel like you are being stalked by cars.

If You Want to Cut Back on Clutter, Keep It Out of Your Home to Begin With—Whatever mechanism stops you from buying stuff, awesome.  We, as a culture in the West, buy too much stuff and most of it is disposable crap.  Our homes and, by extension, our lives are filled with stuff that has become the defining element of our existence.

Which Supplements are Backed by Science and Which are Snake-Oil—The return of the infographic:


Going on a Carbon Diet

My bike is going on a carbon diet.  Through a friend, who spends weeks every quarter in China doing supplier assessments for his employer, I have been “gifted” a carbon fiber steam and seatpost for my evolving gravel grinder.  It seems that once his contacts at various manufacturers in China learned he was a cyclist they fell over themselves to present him with manufacturing samples that just happened to correspond to his chosen hobby.  No one has gone so far as to present him with a carbon fiber frame, like the ones you might see on eBay, but I have no doubt the day is coming in the future when he returns with one of those.

Carbon fiber was a miracle material when I was in high school.  Bikes made of carbon fiber, especially the Trek OCLV models in my local bike shop, seemed like space ships compared to our TIG welded steel bikes.  Now it is everywhere and TIG welded steel bikes are the objects of desire due to their rarity.  How times change, eh?

When compared with the OEM aluminum alloy stem and seatpost that were replaced the weight savings were nil to meh.  The stem was a wash compared to the alloy version it replaced at 4.8 ounces.  The seatpost weighed ~3.7 ounces less.  I probably have that much variability or more in my own weight depending on whether or not I have taken a leak before going on a ride.  This was definitely not going to be about a weight reduction.

What I was looking forward to was an increase in comfort.  I put in a lot of miles on buzzy asphalt and gravel trails.  After about two hours in the saddle the transmission of road buzz on your rear end gets old.  With about two hundred miles on both parts I can safely say that there is a noticeable reduction in buzz.  Nothing crazy, but every little bit helps when you are staring at putting on successive days in excess of 100 miles later in the summer.

Some of the comfort derives from the fact that I replaced a 6 degree rise stem with a 17 degree rise stem of the same length for a more upright position.  I think that this has made a world of difference for my hands by taking some pressure off.

Friday Linkage 7/1/2016

I would ask where June went, but I spent a good chunk of it on my bike trying to rack up the miles.  A string of all-day work events and an ill-timed rain storm on the 30th prevented me from crossing over 1,000 miles before the beginning of July but I am feeling good about my goals as the height of summer is upon us.

On to the links…

Just Five Common Foods Produce More Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Nearly All Countries—If we fail to address the impact of agriculture on climate change we will fail regardless of whatever else we achieve.

Solar Power Could Account For 13% Of World Electricity Generation By 2030—What does a world look like where 13% of electricity is generated via solar?  Trust me, coal companies do not want to find out.

Solar In Australia Saving $1 Billion Per Year—Australia is a sub burnt country and I will never understand the appeal of vegemite, but solar is saving them serious coin.

Here Comes the Sun: US Solar Power Market Hits All-Time High—All the momentum with regard to solar power seems like a self-catalyzing function where today’s solar install leads to several more in the future and each new install breeds more.

UK Burns No Coal for First Time since 1882—All right, that Brexit vote did not go the way that most people were thinking.  But, at least the U.K. is also getting off the coal train.

How the London Array Blows Away the Competition in Green Energy—Maybe the future is in offshore wind.

Super Lightweight Solar Panels for Flat Roofs Install in Under Two Minutes—I always wonder why so many industrial roofs in the U.S. do not have any solar panels on them.  Maybe it is not for a lack of desire, but rather a lack of the building’s ability to handle to the load.

How Canada Went Geothermal, and How the US Will, Too—Geothermal is the odd man out when it comes to discussions about renewable energy.  I think that is because the physical plant looks so much like a coal or natural gas plant that we assume geothermal is like those dinosaurs.  Instead, it is base load reliable renewable energy.

Meet the New Advocates for the West—I remember someone telling me that environmentalists would finally be able to beat old school extractive industries in the West because someone was able to put a large dollar figure on the value of recreation.  Maybe outdoor recreation is the gateway drug, so to speak, to advocacy.

Friday Linkage 6/24/2016

It has been a while since I have written about Steve King because the world has been consumed by Donald Trump.  However, ol’ Steve King decided to pop his racist and bigoted head up once again.  This time he wants to block any changes to the $20 bill, specifically to block the inclusion of Harriet Tubman in favor of a genocidal racist in Andrew Jackson.

King also weighed in on the gun control debate by, well, being Steve King on Twitter:

I’ve had it with the gun grabbing Democrats and their sit in anti 2nd amendment jihad. I’m going to go home and buy a new gun.

Remember, Democrats are asking the House to consider a bill that would bar people from the “no fly” list from buying a gun.  No one is “grabbing guns” or banning AR-15s or anything like that.  What an ass clown.

On to the links…

What Would a Global Warming Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like?—Considering how much climate change is already “baked in” we need to be asking ourselves what is the planet going to be like in a few years so that we can begin to prepare for such changes.  Scary.

EU Smashes 2020 Emissions Target Six Years Early—I do not understand why good news like this is not replicated in more developed countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia which all have abundant renewable energy resources.

How India’s Poorest Can Skip Power Lines And Go Directly To Off-Grid Solar Energy—There is no need to spend billions, if not trillions, of dollars on centralized power generation when the technology exists to put that capability in the hands of the people.

Cost of Clean Energy Seen Nosediving Into the Next Decade—The cost curve on renewables is amazing.  In some ways, it has already put coal out of business and we are just waiting for that dinosaur fuel to roll over in its final death throes.  Can you imagine solar power that costs nearly 60% less than today by 2025?  Bring it on!

The Swiss Have Upgraded a Hydroelectric Dam to Produce as Much Energy as a Nuclear Power Plant—In order to make renewables work on a large scale there will need to be some measure of energy storage and grid leveling.  Most often this is thought of as batteries, but pumped water can serve in the same role.  It is technology that is understood well and it scales.

Solar Thermal System Integrates Invisibly into Slate Roof—Solar thermal does not get a lot of love, but this integration into a slate roof is really stunning.

Illinois Coal’s Last Stand—Coal is a big deal in Illinois.  I lived in Carbondale for four years and remember kids whose relatives worked in nearby coal mines stripping the land for the black rock.  By the way, is the Chicago Reader just killing it lately with their reporting?  It has been an amazing read on a number of important issues.

U.S. Gasoline Demand Is Likely to Slide—20% less gasoline demand in the coming decades?  Wow.

How Fast Could the Market for Electric Vehicles Grow?—I do not know if I would compare an electric car to a VHS player, but there might be some parallels in the adoption of new technologies.

The Invasive Species that Nobody is Talking About—In my neck of the woods palmer amaranth is the invasive species we think no one is paying attention to, but in lake communities milfoil is just as bad.

Federal-Lands Ranching: A Half-Century of Decline—Grazing on open land in the American West has been a declining industry for over fifty years.  Right wingers would have you believe that it is the fault of the Obama administration or the BLM or the EPA, but the fact of the matter is that the world has changed.

Down and Dirty Bike Rack

If you own a pickup truck you will be quite familiar with the world of accessories designed for these all-purpose utility vehicles.  You will also be familiar with how expensive accessories have become for pickup trucks, which is to be expected when you can easily order a pickup truck from the factory with a price tag north of $50,000.  Who in their right mind would consider a pickup truck with leather and a sunroof?  Just saying.

Spending north of $300 on a bike rack seemed a little crazy.  So, like any self-respecting suburban male with a garage full of tools, a stack of miscellaneous wood lying about, and an Amazon Prime account I got to work on a homebrewed solution.

From the aforementioned Amazon I ordered three quick release block fork mounts.  Total cost at the time was ~$35.  Now, I did not need to worry about thru axles or anything more exotic than a standard 9MM quick release skewer.  Your experience may vary and so may mine when I build up my next gravel grinder.

Next, I cut a piece of wood from a 2×4 to fit across the bed of my pickup truck after the wheel wells.  With the block fork mounts closer to the tailgate I can just roll a bike toward the cab and secure the fork without having to actually get into the truck.  The block fork mounts took all of five minutes to install with three captive washer wood screws each.

The results speak for themselves:


Three bikes with full size wheels (26” in the case of my wife’s bike and 700C for my daughter and I) and quick releases fit easily.  As you can tell by the image I offset the middle fork mount block to make room for my son’s bike, which does not have a quick release for the front wheel and thus stays assembled on trips to the trailhead.

All in all, minus my time and materials I already had lying about the garage, I was into this for the ~$35 I spend on block fork mounts and about twenty minutes of total working time.