Tag Archives: consumption

This is What the Future Looks Like

People frequently ask me what I think the future looks like.  Rarely do I provide a coherent answer because what I think will happen is constantly changing based on the conditions of the day.  There do exist some constants, however, and solar power is one of those constants.

Why?  For one, it is easy.  Once the panels are installed your array will just sit on your roof producing electricity regardless of what you do.  When you go to work the panels produce electricity.  When you go on vacation the panels produce electricity.  It is the ultimate in “set it and forget it” environmentally beneficial behaviors.

Second, you can see the impact at a household level.  If my utility purchased electricity produced by wind turbines I have no real concept of what that means to me.  Was 15% of my electricity produced by the wind?  More?  Less?  However, with solar panels installed you get a very local idea of how much energy you have produced versus how much you have consumed.  Witness this portion of my latest utility bill:

Electricity Usage House September.png

Notice the lack of green bars from April through August?  That signifies my solar array produced all or more of the electricity that I consumed during that period.  Sometimes my math and the utility company’s math will not align because billing periods do not align with calendar months but the general outlines agree.

Now, imagine approximately 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity being added to this chart.  The contract has been signed, the check has been sent, the plans have been approved, and the panels are waiting in a local warehouse for my system expansion.  I am just waiting to hear when the installers are scheduled to make it happen.

This is what the future looks like.

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A Great Month for Solar Production, Electricity Consumption, and EV Efficiency

At last!  In August 2019 my solar photovoltaic array produced more than the same month in prior years.  I was somewhat consigned to a reality where my best days of solar production were behind me, but August came to the rescue:

Image-1 (4)

All in, my household ended up 179 kWh “up” in terms of electricity production minus consumption.  Remember, this includes all of my EV miles as well.  For the year I am creeping back toward being even in terms of production minus consumption after some awful months in the dead of winter.  During that period of time my solar array was covered in nearly a foot of wind driven snow and our electricity usage was high due to crazy low temperatures.  Normally August is a heavy month for air conditioning use.  Our HVAC system has been idle since the first week of month.

For the month of August my total miles driven in the Nissan Leaf was depressed by not being home for a little more than a week.  In the end I drove 531.2 miles at an average efficiency of 6 miles per kWh.  Compared to my truck and assuming power is drawn from the electricity grid, I saved ~620 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Since bringing the Nissan Leaf home I have driven a total of 5,138 miles and save 5,854 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released.  Using the most conservative method of calculating savings—which assumes all electricity comes from the grid as opposed to my solar panels—I have saved just under $727 in fuel costs alone.

Friday Linkage 4/26/2019

Steve King, the white supremacist representative from northwest Iowa, is not a man of faith.  He uses his so-called faith as a shield for his vile beliefs and his lack of a record in Congress.  He is not like Jesus Christ, but he will waste no time in making the comparison if he thinks it will help him get elected.

This is the same strain of “faith” that allows people like Michele Bachmann to claim that Donald Trump is “godly.”

It is the same strain of “faith” that allows hucksters like Jerry Falwell Jr. to claim that Donald Trump can do no wrong in his eyes.

It is not faith.  It is naked lust for power.

On to the links…

Interior Department Watchdog Opens Ethics Probe Into 6 Agency Officials—Repeat after me, “This is the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States.”

This GIF Captures Just How Gigantic the U.S. Carbon Footprint Is—It’s kind of alarming to see this play out.

There’s an Amazingly Simple, Beautiful Way to Fix Midwestern Farmlands—This is the most impactful potential change I have seen proposed and it makes so much sense.  For too long the modus operandi has been to encourage farmers, at their own economic risk, to plant as much acreage as possible. What if the solution is to maximize the efficiency of capital relative to planted acreage?

10 Ways to Accelerate Progress Against Climate Change—We know what we can do in the near term to accelerate the fight against climate change.  None of these actions require breakthroughs in technology.  It just requires political will.

7 Things We’ve Learned about Earth since the Last Earth Day—Knowledge is power.

How America’s ‘Tree-to-Toilet Pipeline’ is Destroying Forests—We are literally wiping our asses with boreal forest.  There is a better way.

Eco-Friendly Solid Could Replace Conventional Refrigerants—No one talks about the damage refrigerants can cause because we think we beat this beast in the 1990s with bans on certain CFCs.  Nope and in a world where air conditioning becomes more prevalent the damage will be greater.

Could Hawaii Be Paradise For Hydrogen-Powered Public Transit?—Hawaii is our energy laboratory.  The hydrogen economy never really got off the ground because it was just a better idea to feed renewable energy into the grid instead of converting it to hydrogen and dealing with the attendant losses.  However, what if you have too much renewable energy at certain times?  Now it makes sense to think about hydrogen as a chemical battery of sorts.

The Problem with Online Shopping—I think the article could have stopped at the “problem with online” and answered a lot of questions.  The most frightening passage in the article is this:

Consumption has reached an all-time high in the United States. In 2017, people spent $240 billion on random stuff like clothes, shoes, phones, books, and toys – double what was spent in 2002, despite the population growing by only 13 percent.

What the hell?

Why You Should Join the ‘Do Nothing’ Club—Maybe we should all aspire to be Peter Gibbons.

Back to Earth: Washington Set to Allow ‘Human Composting’—Ashes to ashes and dust to dust…yeah, this is the way I want my family to deal with my mortal remains in the end.

It’s Time for New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition in America like no other.  When the year turns over we spend a lot of time agonizing over the things we want to improve about ourselves.  Quit smoking.  Lose weight.  Be a better human.

By March most of those resolutions are forgotten as we fall into old habits.  Now, I am lucky that I do not smoke, I am not about to quick drinking, and I do not really worry about my weight so most of the traditional resolutions are off the table come January 1st.

However, there are things that I want to get done every year.  These are less resolutions in the traditional sense and more goals for the coming year.  Here we go:

  • No more Amazon—Amazon has become the default online store for millions of people. It is, however, a company that engages in horrible labor practices, utilizes its platform to screw over small businesses, and is generally just a shit operator like so many other big companies.  I used to be a subscriber to Amazon Prime, but I killed that extravagant luxury more than a year ago.  Plus, shipping several items in single boxes is just a ridiculous waste of resources.
  • No more Walmart—Seems pretty self-explanatory, but it is difficult to avoid the Bentonville beast during the course of a year. Here’s a hearty toast to trying in 2019.
  • Decarbonize transportation—Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are now the largest source of gasses that are wreaking havoc with our climate. My goal for the year is to supplant my current driving with a used Nissan Leaf powered by solar panels on top of my garage.
  • Declutter my home—Clutter messes with your mind. Don’t believe me?  Believe the New York Times.  Apparently consumption, which is the driving force behind clutter, is also causing us to be less creative.  Get rid of the extra stuff people!
  • Drink local—Everyone is familiar with eating local, but drinking local is equally important. It’s not just about beer.  It’s about forsaking bottled water for tap water.  It’s about finding the local coffee shop instead of mindlessly trudging to the green mermaid.
  • Read twenty five books—Why twenty five? The number is a nice figure that the brain can wrap its head around like historians love to use decades as lines of demarcation despite events running over the imaginary date line.  It also corresponds to about two per month, which seems doable given life’s way of getting in the way of just sitting down to read.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—There is a two part rationale for this goal. First, saving water is something we should all be trying to do given the realities of climate change.  Second, the toilets in my home do not work very well and become clogged frequently.  Having to flush multiple times and use a plunger is not an efficient use of resources.
  • Plant at least five trees—In my suburban neighborhood I am the “tree guy.” Most people have the builder plant a single tree in the front yard as required by city code and leave it at that.  Not me.  Going into the spring my yard has thirteen trees representing six different cultivars across both deciduous and coniferous trees.  I have had plans to add trees to some specimen plantings in order to create more “mass” in my landscaping.  This is the year that I get cracking.
  • Reduce lawn coverage—This goal goes hand in hand with planting trees, but it is so much more. It’s about reducing the monoculture of turf grass and planting native shrubs that require little or no maintenance while providing much needed habitat for animals.
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—Last year I totaled a little more than 2,250 miles on the trails and gravel roads of Iowa and Nebraska. I am looking to eclipse that total in 2019 with a concerted effort to execute some big day rides.

In the coming weeks and months I will expand on these goals and provide updates on my progress.  Or, my lack of progress as the case often tends to be when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.  Welcome to 2018 everyone!

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:

German-electricity-by-source-2017.png

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.

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The “Downside” of Staying at Home More

In a quest to save money and consume fewer resources my family has been staying around the house a lot lately.  I tried to make it sound fancy by saying we were focusing on a home based life or economy, but the truth was much simpler.

The reality of the situation is that the transition has been fairly straightforward.  No more “convenience” trips for weeknight dinners.  Instead I meal plan for the entire week—including the provisioning of leftovers for those nights where activities keep us away from home until almost eight o’clock in the evening.  No more “shopping” trips that are really just excuses to walk around like a zombie consumer with the vague notion of buying something you deemed necessary.  Instead we have spent a lot of time the last month or so going through our closets and getting rid of the stuff that clogs our home.  There are probably a dozen or more examples of what this home based life is like in practice.

We are not perfect.  Not by a long shot and it was never the intention.  We still like to go out to eat, but we have cut it down to once during the weekends and we try to go local.  No chains for us, but mostly because the local restaurants are the ones that serve the local beers.  It’s a virtuous circle like that.

The one downside, however, has been that our consumption of electricity at home has gone up.  It makes sense as more time at home cooking dinner and just living would equal more energy consumption.  It was just not something that I had counted on when making my calculations for my solar photovoltaic system.

It is not a large delta—approximately 40 kWh or about $5 per month.  Given the cloudy nature of October and November, so far, we have been outstripping the production of the solar photovoltaic system.

On the plus side, we have traded somewhat hidden energy consumption and overt monetary costs for a modest increase in electricity consumption and significant monetary savings.  Consider that the $5 a month in electricity costs is offsetting a single meal out of the house per weak or slightly more than four meals out of the house per month.  At an average cost of $30, which is conservative given my habit of ordering whatever local tipple is on tap, we are a net positive of $125 for the month without accounting for the energy savings of not driving as much.  Should I consider myself more than $1400 in the black?  Maybe.

The calculation is a little facetious, but it gets at a more salient point about the hidden energy costs of our decisions.  I have no doubt that it takes just as much energy or more to produce a meal at a restaurant when everything is considered—power, plant, and equipment so to speak for those with an accounting bent—that even though we have increased our household electricity consumption somewhat, we are saving both in terms of energy and money.  Something to consider as well is the reduced driving costs to and from such convenience meals.  A few miles here and a few miles there starts to add up to some real savings when you multiply things out over the course of a year.

An October Solar Surprise

October 2017 was kind of an ugly month for my solar photovoltaic system.  I calculated an expected production of approximately 400 kWh and saw production come in at just over 265 kWh.  This works out to about 66% of the predicted output.  Here is how ugly it was:

Solar October 2017.png

Do you see the period of time from October 10th through the 14th?  It must have been almost night out there all day.  What happened?

Easy.  Eastern Iowa saw some seriously gray conditions throughout the month.  Apparently we are entering into the so-called “stratus season” when local climate conditions produce low hanging stratus cloud formations that block out the sun.  November and December are apparently the worst months for this condition.  Awesome.

On the bright side I only ended up using approximately 73 kWh of grid electricity this month, which is not very much in the grand scheme of things.  Considering how well September turned out in terms of production I think I am still ahead of the game by about 64 kWh since my system became active at the end of August.  I will take net positive as we head into the gray months of November and December.