Tag Archives: biomass

Friday Linkage 12/22/2017

It is time to decompress and enjoy the holidays.  I know that the holidays are actually stressful for a lot of people—dinner arguments with drunk Uncle Carl who want stop saying “MAGA!” and “You’re all a bunch of snowflakes!” would take it out of any of us—but it is important to just stop for a moment.

Yes, the world seems like an unmitigated clusterfuck right now.  For all intents and purposes the world is an unmitigated clusterfuck.  However, it is important to remember that at almost any point in the history of the world things seemed like an unmitigated clusterfuck.  Except the period from 1997 to 1999.  That period of time was freaking awesome.

I digress.

On to the links…

We’re Witnessing the Wholesale Looting of America—Washington D.C. is run by a bunch of sociopaths who want to take from the many and give to the few.  The whole reverse Robin Hood thing is getting old real quick.

The EPA Spent $120,000 in Taxpayer Funds to Hire a GOP Public Relations Firm—Scott Pruitt may actually be the worst person in Trump’s administration.  He is a paranoid party hack who scans his office for bugs, built a secret phone booth like something out of a 1960s spy movie, and he now is hiring partisan opposition research firms to message his mess of a policy platform.

E.P.A. Employees Spoke Out. Then Came Scrutiny of Their Email.—If you do not think we are living in an increasingly Orwellian state than Scott Pruitt’s EPA is here to make you nervous all over again.  Remember, the president and all of his men like free speech as long as it is promoting their agenda of coal, tax cuts, foul air, dirty water, and MAGA.

Rick Perry’s Fake Grid Crisis just got Undermined by More Grid Experts—Rick Perry is the gift that keeps on giving.  No matter how much he tries—the “smart guy” glasses are a good disguise—he is just a partisan hack from Texas who has no idea what he is doing when it comes to leading the department of Energy.  His marching orders from the head Cheeto is to find out a way to pay back the coal barons who love America so much they want to blanket it in fly ash.

Global Coal Consumption Forecast to Slow—Other than India the world is trying to get off coal.

The World’s Biggest Coal Port is Now Preparing for the End of Coal—What happens when the market for coal dries up?  It does not matter how much people like Donald Trump want to mine coal if there is no one to burn coal and no place to transport coal.

Burning Wood instead of Coal in Power Stations makes Sense if it’s Waste Wood—When the forests are managed for timber products, like in the southern United States, there is a lot of waste wood that does not get turned into lumber or pulp.

Tesla Responsible for Slide in U.S. Home Solar Sales—Have we entered the slow growth phase of residential solar installations?  Or, is the business model used by companies like the former Solar City not up to long term stability?

Iowa Utilities Adding to State’s Wind Power Portfolio—Announcements like these are pretty routine in Iowa right now as Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy are putting the finishing touches on some serious wind energy expansion.  Iowa is driving toward more than 50% wind produced electricity in the near term when you look at the aggregate numbers.

Germany Predicted To Set Renewable Energy Record In 2017—Take a moment to check out the chart:


Over 33% is coming from renewables and counting nuclear over 44% is carbon free.  This is progress.

Meet the Microgrid, the Technology Poised to Transform Electricity—As our grid becomes increasingly brittle the solution to future resiliency may be a solution that looks a lot like the early days of electrification when small scale grids dominated.

Solar Power and Battery Storage could Topple 10GW of US Natural Gas Peaker Plants—Peaker plants are the necessary evils of the energy marketplace.  When demand starts to spike in excess of baseload power these plants come on line fast to make up for the deficit.  The downside to this rapid action is a severe lack of efficiency compared to traditional combined cycle generation plants.  Replacing these plants with a renewable solution would be a very green thing kilowatt hour for kilowatt hour.

Unconventional Solar Panel Siting Saves Agricultural Land While Providing Plenty Of Power—Basically, there is a lot of potential space for solar panels that would not in any way imperil our ability to produce food.  Just sock this away for that moment this holiday season when drunk Uncle Carl starts talking about how solar panels are taking away land from the farmers.

Food Waste is 20 Percent of Iowa Trash—Waste is bad.  Twenty percent is crazy because it is just money in the dump.

One-Third of Forests aren’t Growing Back after Wildfires—Well, that sucks.

Wine Glasses are Seven Times as Big as they Used to Be—Given how messed up things seem lately I am surprised that the glasses are just seven times bigger than before.



Friday Linkage 2/24/2017

November 9th was a day of some serious despair, but I see a lot of potential in the awakening of a progressive spirit and an exposure of the right wing’s anti-people agenda.  Yes, it will be a lot of work to make any kind of meaningful change given the dynamics of elections in the U.S.  Yes, Donald Trump is a dumpster fire in human form that happens to inhabit the Oval Office.  However, there has been a spark that has ignited a liberal fire like no other time in recent memory.

On to the links…

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Lowest Since 1994—A lot of this decline has to do with the replacement of coal with natural gas in the electrical generation sector and a recession that dampened demand across a whole host of industries.  Nonetheless, the data is compelling:


The Future of Solar Power Technology is Bright—No matter what the political environment looks like in the future, the potential of solar is very real.

Record Wind & Solar Keep The Lights On In NSW As Coal & Gas Went Missing—Renewable energy can make the grid more reliable.  This should put the argument about intermittency to bed.

Wind Technician Jobs Growing, in Iowa and Nationally—The sooner that everyone realizes that there are more people working in renewable energy jobs, like wind turbine technicians, the sooner that we can get past the narrative of coal jobs being the only energy jobs that matter.

Drilling Experts Explain why Trump Can’t Bring Back Oilfield Jobs—The jobs will not be coming back because like coal before it automation and market changes are driving the need for actual human labor down.

University of Iowa Announces it will be Coal-Free by 2025—Each power generating facility or consumer that goes coal-free is another brick in the wall in eliminating coal from our energy infrastructure.  Yes, it will take a long time.  Yes, it is inevitable if we keep up the pressure.

Petcoke Piles Gone, but Another Dangerous Pollutant Discovered in the Air—If you think that there is no place for the EPA it is likely that you do not live in a community affected by this kind of pollution.  Low income communities are at the mercy of polluters because they do not have the political clout of the Koch brothers.

Which Ski Run Is Better for the Planet?—Ski hills go out of business.  What comes after is hard to imagine as you spend your days sliding.  However, the way we develop ski runs can make a major difference for the next stage of the land’s lifecycle.

Almost Every Packaged Food Comes from These Two Companies—The merger between Kraft Heinz and Unilever may have died, but this should give you some sense as to how consolidated the center aisles of the grocery store have become.

Olive Oil Shortage Looms as Prices and Demand Rise—Climate change has come for our coffee, chocolate, and hops.  Now olive oil is the crosshairs.  When will the larger populace realize that the impacts of climate change is here.

Fifth of World’s Food Lost to Over-Eating and Waste—Food insecurity is not a question of production it is a question of distribution, availability, and affordability.  It is a god damned shame that we live in a world where a significant portion of the world’s population is overweight while a similarly large portion of the world’s population is food insecure.

You Must Read—Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution

Perhaps more important, the simple ancient cannabis plant provides, after industrial harvest, a residual feedstock for regional-based sustainable energy production that cuts out at once Monsanto, BP, and Middle East oil dictators. And it gets out Ring Around the Collar. [Page 105]

9781603585439I am unabashed fan of Doug Fine. I loved Farewell, My Subaru. I told you to read Too High To Fail. So, I am going back to the well one more time and asking that you spend a couple of hours reading his latest book Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution.

It feels like we are at an inflection point in the silly War on Drugs and the collateral damage that the over four decade long folly. You would think that after forty years of failed policy the answer would finally be do something different rather than more of the same. However, this is America and doing more of the same usually means that someone is making a lot of money off the failed status quo.

Led by Colorado and Washington, two states that boldly legalized recreational marijuana through ballot initiatives, the conversation is completely different surrounding all issues regarding the war on drugs. One of the long term casualties in this war was industrial hemp. Hemp is not psychoactive, but because of hyperventilating officials who thought that cartels would farm some Sour Diesel in with acres of hemp the crop remained illegal. Oh how some citizens voting have upended that apple cart.

Fields of hemp have been planted in Colorado. Kentucky is going forward with its own program that has the backing of current U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell—yes, that Mitch McConnell from the “repeal Obamacare because it is evil” camp—and his opponent in this fall’s upcoming mid-term election. If someone can find anything that a Republican and a Democrat can agree on these days it should be a cause for massive celebration.

The author shares my opinion of hemp aficionados who claim that the plant is a panacea for everything. Don’t you remember that person in college who had a bookshelf of odd little paperbacks that claimed hemp could take the place of every modern chemical, but it was forbidden because the big chemical companies were afraid of going out of business.  That image will endure because there are people out there still toeing that line. However, the reality is that there are a lot of smart and ambitious people in the U.S. and, especially, abroad who are putting their noses to the grindstone to build a modern hemp industry.

The hemp plant may not be the solution, but as I have said many times it can be a tool in the box for solving problems. Given the apparent fragility of our climate and our need to find alternatives to destructive modern practices don’t you think that we should gather every potential solution and put them to work? The answer is self-evident.

The other good point that I am glad is driven home is that hemp will not be easy. Sure, it grows like a weed but unlike corn or soybeans there is not a lot of institutional knowledge in the U.S. given that the plant has not been legal to cultivate since before World War II. Plus, seed varieties need to be matched to climate, geography, and intended industrial purpose to maximize the potential return.

The books reads a little bit like blog posts…er, dispatches that seem rushed to print rather than woven into a central narrative because I imagine there was a perceived time crunch to get the book into print. The landscape surrounding the reintroduction of industrial hemp in the United States is changing so rapidly that printing words on dead trees almost seems like a quaint exercise in the self-confidence of one’s own ability to project the future. The book is short—I read it on the outbound flight to Denver this weekend, which took a little more than 90 minutes—so the investment is minimal. Hemp, it’s the future.

Friday Linkage 12/6/2013

Man, oh man did it get cold over the course of this week.  On Monday it was 50-ish degrees and Wednesday was so foggy that school got delayed by two hours.  Come Thursday it was in the low teens and the mercury was still dropping.  Why do I think that this is going to be one of those bone chilling cold winters?

On to the links…

Secretive Right-Wing Group Continues Its War On Clean Energy—ALEC has a whole host of problems right now, including campaign finance violations and sponsor loss, but that has not stopped these darlings if the right wing from continuing to fight solar power.  Clowns.

Missouri Gas Pipeline Explosion Causes 300-Foot Fireball—No matter how many times the pipeline industry tries to sell the public the line about safety, a story comes out where a pipeline has leaked or worse exploded.

Mounting Microplastic Pollution Harms “Earthworms of the Sea”—Is there any place that the plastic pollution from humans is not impacting?  I cannot think of any place.  I bet it is even on the freaking moon.

Marine Reserves Enhance Resilience to Climate Change—So little of the oceans are protected in marine reserves, but the value of these reserves is becoming more apparent every day.

Unless Your Pot is Organic, You’re Probably Inhaling Pesticides—I found it really interesting in Doug Fine’s Too High to Fail that many of the above board growers were trying to do away with the nasty chemicals.  If it’s going to be medicine, it should probably not have pesticides sprayed all over it.

In the FDA’s Action on Trans Fats are there Lessons for GMO Labeling—Grass roots effort beat back trans fats, maybe something can be done about GMOs.

As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Tops $500—I am a huge single payer fan.  As a matter of fact, I want the system to be Medicare for all because the insanity that is talked about in this article goes away.  For anyone who thinks that the private sector is always more efficient has never been involved in hospital billing.

Scientists Warn Obama Against Burning Trees To Produce Electricity—Cutting down trees, specifically to burn them for electricity is insane.  It’s not going to be a net positive outcome no matter what way you slice it.  Here in eastern Iowa biomass from trees was used recently to power the University of Iowa, but that source was from trees felled and damaged in a strong summer storm.

Are Bio-Fuels Worse than Fossil Fuels—This debate will probably never disappear from the public sphere.  It is my belief that if second generation bio-fuels can be brought to commercial scale that there is a place in the future energy portfolio for them.

Why It Makes No Sense To Call Wind Tax Credits “Welfare”—Conservatives love using the word welfare to describe things that they are opposed to because they spent the better part of 25 years creating a series of erroneous images to describe its recipients.  It just does not happen to be welfare when it is something being given to their donors.  That’s just hypocrisy.

Free Mike Roselle From Jail: Free Appalachia From Mountaintop Removal—  Government will silence voices of dissent even when those voices are merely asking that the government enforce the laws, rules, and regulations that are already on the books.

15 Gorgeous Photos Of The Old Cincinnati Library—The pictures from this long gone library are amazing.  It’s also sad that we have lost so many of these buildings to wrecking balls in the name of progress.  Will anyone lament the cookie cutter buildings that replaced these amazing old structures?

Friday Linkage 3/29/2013

It finally feels like spring with the mercury tickling 50 degrees and the sun coming out for long stretches at a time.  It’s the perfect weather to put a vest on and chase the kids around outside for a change.

On to the links…

How The EPA Could Help Cut Carbon Emissions 17% By 2020—There seems to be so much room for the government to affect climate change without resorting to the swamp that is Congress it makes you wonder how much of a stomach the President has for this kind of action.  It’s not like he is running for office again.

Life After Oil and Gas—This opinion article got a lot of play over the last week and it should have because it gets at the central fallacy of fossil fuels.  Is the use of fossil fuels a need or a choice?  When the question is asked, the argument is on.

Rising Solar Power Production In U.S. Likely To Make It Second-Largest New Source In 2013—For anyone who does not believe that solar photovoltaic is a real and viable technology, just look at the stats.  The part of the story that often does not get told about solar is that it is generally generated near the point of consumption, so no costly infrastructure is needed for deployment.

Chasing Green: Going Solar by Paying Your Utility Bill—All of these different financing vehicles for deploying renewables are fascinating.  I saw a project in Breckenridge where individuals could purchase “plots” in a solar PV “garden” instead of deploying panels on their own homes.  It’s getting real folks.

Agriculture Giants Use Emergency Budget Bill To Sneak In Big Gifts For Themselves—Surprise, surprise that big companies would use their lobbying power to sneak “gifts” into emergency budgets meant to avert a government shutdown.  I love how biotech firms are allowed to willy-nilly deploy unproven seeds into the marketplace without proving safety and now the government is trying to shield them further.  Shameful really.

Are Agriculture’s Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees?—I always love how it is treated like a revelation when the use of chemicals by humans is found to have a detrimental effect on nature.  You mean to say that after millions of years of evolution there might be a reason why these compounds do not exist naturally?  Shocking!

The Sly Coyote Becomes a Hunter’s Target in Utah—We always want to blame nature’s predators for things when the problem really lies within our own actions as humans.  Just look at what the state of Oregon is doing to sea lions in the name of salmon.  Never mind that human interference is leaps and bounds more damaging to salmon populations than sea lions ever could be.

SS Badger and EPA Reach an Agreement—I find this agreement to be pathetic.  Allowing the dumping of any waste into Lake Michigan is deplorable and allowing it to continue is nothing short of weakness.

Grasping at Straw—I saw this article and another similar story on Root Simple.  I fell in love with the concept and ordered the book by Joel Karsten right away.  So cool.

Heating Homes With Switchgrass Pellets Could Save Northeasterners Billions And Cut Their Carbon Emissions—I am fascinated with pellet stoves and switchgrass.  Combine the two and I think I might be in love.

Kraft Mac & Cheese Is Nutritionally Equivalent to Cheez-Its—The good old standby in the blue box is having a tough go of it lately.  First, the online world is abuzz that the dyes used in American Mac & Cheese are not used globally because of concerns about long term safety.  Now, it’s being compared to the symbol of nutritional absence—the cheese cracker.

U.S. Electrical Generation Trends

A recent headline highlighted that the U.S. produced less than 40% of its electricity from coal, which represented the lowest share for coal fired electricity since 1978.  Heck, I even linked to the article because I felt that it was an important milestone.

However, it got me to thinking.  When quantities are presented as a percentage of the total it does not always tell the truest story.  When one sees a headline like the statement about coal fired electricity the natural thought is that the total amount of electricity powered by coal went down.  In reality, the amount may have stayed flat or even increased because it is a number that is relative to several others.

Here is the total electricity generation in the U.S. for all power sources going back to January 1989:

The spikes correspond to the summer demand for electricity in the U.S. that is correlated to demand for air conditioning as the temperatures rise.  The red line is merely a linear trend line that shows the general increase in total electricity generated in the past 23 years.  The data set was obtained from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and is available here.

To get rid of the extreme peaks and to look at the general trends in electrical generation sources I compiled the monthly data into a twelve month rolling total.  It produces a chart that looks like this:

What this chart shows graphically is the relative small size of the traditional renewables—solar and wind—compared with the legacy generation sources—coal, natural gas, and nuclear.  However, the chart also shows that coal’s generation share and total generation is falling in the most recent period.

April 2008 represents the high water mark for coal fired electrical generation in this data set.  For the 12 month period up to April 2008 coal fired electricity was responsible for 2,028,321 million kilowatt hours.  By November of 2011 coal fired electricity had fallen to 1,768,817 million kilowatt hours for the 12 month period.  This represents a 12.8% drop.

Meanwhile, the high water mark for total electricity generation was in July 2008 at 4,184,758 million kilowatt hours across all generation types.  By November of 2011 the total had fallen to 4,126,167 million kilowatt hours or a drop of 1.4%, which is huge when dealing with such a large base number.

One interesting phenomenon is the decline in total electricity generation from April 2008, the high water mark for coal fired electricity generation, through December of 2009.  For that period of time, the total dropped 5.4% or 226,701 million kilowatt hours.  From the period ending July 2008, the high water mark for total electricity generation, dropped 5.8% or 241,728 million kilowatt hours.

This drop corresponds tightly with the deepening of the most recent recession.  Correlating the unemployment rate for by month against the total electricity generation for the trailing 12 month period results in a coefficient of (67.4) which suggests a moderately strong inverse relationship between the two datasets.  That is to say as unemployment goes up, electricity generation in total goes down.  It only makes sense.

In summation, the good news about goal generation falling as a percentage of the total electrical generation market is good.  It is tempered somewhat by some other factors that I will look at going forward.

Friday Linkage 12/8/2011

You know how I am sure winter is settling in?  My 10-year old Mazda does not want to start in the morning.  Maybe it’s the battery.  Maybe it’s 10 years of in town driving.  Whatever the case may be that car is one warm weather snob.

With the bad of winter comes the good as well: hot chocolate with my daughter, sleeping in under flannel sheets, and not worrying about getting outside to accomplish som task on the “to do” list.  Winter is about relaxing under warm blankets and letting the mental batteries recharge.  On to the links…

One-Third of the World’s Energy Solar by 2060–Not if Exxon has anything to say about that happening.  As the prices of PV continue to fall, it is becoming increasingly clear that the portfolio of energy in the near term is going to include a larger degree of solar than previously thought.  Considering that consumer scale PV does not require the infrastructure of high power transmission lines the attractiveness of the option only increases.

North American Solar PV Set to Double in 2011–Maybe the change is already happening.  2011 will see a doubling of the installed base of solar PV in North America driven by US demand.  This is not a doubling of installations, but a doubling of the total power derived from solar PV.  That’s a big deal.  Congress will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Romantic Wood Stoves–On the other end of the spectrum is the realization that the romance of wood heat does not meet the reality.  I remember a friend in Minnesota whose house was heated by wood.  It was always fun to have his dad yell down to the basement to put more logs on the fire because things were getting a bit chilly.

Americans Driving Less–A variety of factors are used to explain the quantifiable decrease in the amount of driving that Americans are doing today.  However, the article does note some structural changes that will continue to accelerate this trend.    Baby boomers are aging and driving less, which is a trend that will only continue.  Teenagers are also getting their driver’s licence at a lower rate–31% of 16-year olds in 2008 versus 46% in 1983.

Suburbia is Not Doomed According to Some–I think the truth of this argument lies somewhere in the middle.   Our obsession with suburban development patterns is coming to an end, but it does not signal a return to some pre-World War II urban development nirvana.  New Urbanism sounds nice, but there are appeals of the suburban life that call to people.  You decide.

James Inhofe is an Ass–Don Young is still an ass,but James Inhofe requires a special shout out as a member of this Hall of Shame.  Who is he kidding anymore?  After his igloo stunt a couple of years ago I wondered if we would make the same claims as his state baked this summer.  Nope, just an ass.

Cargo Bike Litter Patrol–I so want to see one of these on the various in-town trails that I ride on a regular basis.  The trails are not dirty per se, but some of the sections seem to accumulate wind blown trash at an alarming rate.

The North Face’s Sustainability Report–It’s pretty dry reading, but these reports are interesting in that they even exist.  It suggests a shift among the corporate culture that this is something to take seriously.  I do not think the North Face’s effort is as comprehensive as Patagonia’s, but it’s a start.