Tag Archives: decarbonization

Friday Linkage 2/21/2020

I do not understand the United States anymore.

Somehow, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh feel empowered to talk about values.  These are two men who have no values other than accumulating wealth and power for themselves at the expense of others.  Yet, people listen to them and feel that they are trusted sources of opinions on any number of issues for which they should be considered rank hypocrites.

Maybe this is just a dark valley that we must pass through in order to reach a better place.

On to the links…

Climate Crisis could Cause Economic Recession ‘like we’ve never seen before’—Cats and dogs living together.  You get the idea.

The Enormous but Hidden Consequences of Antarctica’s Record Heat—Sometimes I feel like whatever hope I have for humanity is just crushed by an onslaught of bad news.

Good News: USA Had Largest CO2 Reduction In The World In 2019—Remember, this occurred in a country where Donald Trump was president.  Imagine what could happen if we had actual leadership.

Here’s What Happens To Nature When Humans Get Out Of The Way—I have an idea.  Why don’t we stop destroying nature for the profit of a few and give nature a chance to recover?  Oh wait, profiteers do not care about anything except money because they feel that they can buy their way out of the apocalypse.

Can We Actually Stop Using Fossil Fuels?—It is not a question of can we, but rather what would civilization look like.

Cheap Natural Gas is Making it Very Hard to Go Green—I know natural gas is cheap right now and people are building business models based on that reality.  However, anyone who has watched the natural gas market understands that there is an inherent volatility that tends to destroy the best laid plans of man.

Electric Cars Are Better For The Environment Than A 50 MPG Gasoline Car—Electric vehicles are intrinsically more efficient than an ICE vehicle.  So when your Uncle Carl starts spewing about your Tesla using coal fired power from the grid just slide this image across the table:

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Unless he is driving an ICE vehicle that gets more than 50 miles per gallon he is less efficient in terms of emissions.  Suck it Uncle Carl.

11% Electric Vehicle Share In France!—This is not a small number.  Car markets tend to move slowly with regard to change since a car is a durable good item that lasts a long time and is quite expensive.

The Electric Pickup Wars are About to Begin—As someone who currently owns both an EV and a pickup truck I can only hope that this is a true since I would love to consolidate my fleet down to a single vehicle in the next five years.

Electrifying Heat, Transport And Industry Can Lead To Deep Carbon Cuts—From the “no shit Sherlock” file.  Listen, this is not news to anyone who has been talking about these issues for the past two decades.  However, this is an article in Forbes so we have to consider that these opinions are fairly mainstream now.  Progress is never a straight line.

Volvo Trucks VNR Electric First Drive Review—Short haul heavy duty truck routes are a big emissions source.  The solution to the problem is here.

New Biorefinery Research Adds Bite To Reforestation Bark—Planting trees is a good thing.  If those trees can do more than just be normal trees I guess that is all that much better.

Can the U.S. Slash Food Waste in Half in the Next Ten Years?—My assumption is that our food waste issue is a result of laziness.  Like everything lately, it seems like it is going to take a crisis to reimagine our relationship to any number of pressing issues.

Jeff Bezos Spent More on this House in Beverly Hills than Amazon has Paid so far in Federal Corporate Income Tax for 2019—Wow.

First Step in a Path Toward Deeper Decarbonization

Once you have purchased an electric vehicle—in my case a used 2015 Nissan Leaf—and installed solar panels—in my case a total of 24 panels for a nameplate capacity of ~7.5 kWh—you are left with a question: how do I further decarbonize my household?

If you live in a single family home in the United States there are a surprising number of places where fossil fuels are being used on a daily basis.  Most home owners do not really consider these sources of carbon emissions.

Consider the lawn.  Anyone with an inkling of environmental conscience understands that the turf grass monoculture that dominates our landscape is essentially a hellscape of inappropriate plants, harmful chemicals, and energy intensive maintenance.

In my household we have abandoned the chemicals and I am ripping out sections of turf grass as often as I can in order for it to be replaced with perennials suited for my region.  However, I am left with some amount of turf grass and social expectation that this grass be mowed on a semi-regular basis.

Trust me, I have pushed the bounds of both social expectations and legal ramifications over the years by allowing parts of my lawn to go weeks without seeing the spinning blade of a lawn mower.

Nonetheless, I am bound to some degree to maintain a well-manicured lawn.  As a good suburban homeowner I spent the last nine years mowing my lawn with a traditional gas powered push mower.  I dutifully filled it up with a small amount of ethanol free gasoline every few weeks and spent about an hour clipping my grass down to the maximum height setting.

Thankfully, a series of mechanical mishaps aligned with my desire to rid myself of this pollution spewing beast.  How much pollution does a mower release, you ask?  It depends upon the source and methodology, but according the EPA lawn mowing accounts for up to 5% of the United State’s total air pollution.  Not to mention the millions of gallons of gasoline that are spilled filling mowers.   Add in the oil required for four stroke engines and you have a lot of fossil fuels being consumed to keep our lawns high and tight.

Now, I could have rolled old school with a reel mower as someone will surely point out.  I would also ask that person if they have ever mowed more than a few hundred square feet with one of these contraptions.  Seriously, another eco-minded neighbor bought one and every household with an interest tried it once.  Reel mowers are the Zima of lawn care.  You try it once and never think about it again.

Strolling the aisles of my local Home Depot—an activity one is likely to engage in when waiting for your child to complete soccer practice—I noticed a clearance sticker on a Ryobi cordless electric mower.  Now was the time to jump on the electric lawn mowing bandwagon.

For less than the cost online of a regular push mower—battery electric or ice—I took home a battery electric self-propelled mower.  The 40V mower came with a single 5-amp hour battery.  If I believe the online reviews this battery should provide about 45 minutes to 1 hour of cutting depending upon usage.  We shall see.

Additionally, I purchased an extra battery online.  The cool thing about the 40V Ryobi tool line is that with such a large installed base there is a healthy aftermarket in third party batteries.  I was able to get a compatible battery rated at 6-amp hours for less than $80.  With two batteries I should have more than enough capacity to complete mowing my lawn.  Again, we shall see.

For the first time in forever I am looking forward to the beginning of lawn care season if only to see how the electric revolution applies.  The march toward a deeper level of decarbonization carries on.

Personal Goals for 2020

Welcome to 2020 folks.

I have always said that I do not do “resolutions.”  Except for the year I told people that I was going to take up smoking, gain weight, and drink more.  Granted, I failed on all three but I made some resolutions. However, I will make some goals.

The reason I publish these goals and cadence them on this blog is that I have found it is hugely effective in getting me to execute.  The power of accountability. What follows does build on what I wanted to achieve in 2019.

Here are my goals for 2020:

  • Deeper decarbonization: It is one thing to put solar panels on your roof and buy an electric vehicle.  That is just the start. As I look at my household energy use holistically I can see several opportunities for deeper decarbonization.  A couple of examples: replacing an aging gasoline powered lawn mower with an electric lawn mower; replacing an existing natural gas fired water heater with an electric air source heat pump “smart” water heater.
  • Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: It is one thing to replace a gasoline powered mile with an electric powered mile, but it is an even better thing to replace all of these miles with human powered miles.  Why? While an EV is orders of magnitude more efficient than an ICE vehicle, both pale in comparison to the efficiency of human powered transit. It is not just about the direct energy costs of delivering a human being to their desired location, but the embodied energy of the infrastructure required for cars.
  • Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: Last year I rode over 3,000 miles.  I am keeping the goal the same for this year because I am looking to incorporate more commuting into my summer riding and I am going to try and branch out with some different riding.  Maybe I will even get back into mountain biking after almost a decade out of the saddle.
  • Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: There are so many potentially amazing trails just in my region that I have not ridden.  It is easy to become complacent and ride the “usual.” I am going to try and break out of the rut.
  • Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: It is one thing to buy local beer, but it is better to buy it directly from the brewery without creating packaging waste.  Combining all three is like the holy grail of beer consumption.
  • Read 40 Books: Last year I read 51 books against a goal of 25 books.  I guess that I was sandbagging a little bit. Moving the goal up to 40 books, but there are a lot of thick and dense tomes on my book list.  Like Capital in the Twenty First Century dense.
  • Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: There is too much grass.  Our lawns are giant monocultures that are crying to be diversified.  The goal this year is to take some of that grass out and replace it with diverse plantings that are beneficial for both the environment and wildlife.
  • Maximize Local Food: Month in and month out, food is the second largest expense in my household after a mortgage payment.  Directing as much of this money as possible to local vendors and producers is the single biggest change that I can make in 2020.  I have about three months of detailed information from the end of 2019 when I began thinking about this as a baseline, so I think I will know if I am doing a decent job.

The Financial Math Behind Decarbonization

What if I told you that for the price of a base model Tesla Model 3—good luck actually finding one—you could decarbonize your household?

What if I told you that this is not a thought exercise but an examination of steps already taken?

Are you ready?

The price for base Tesla Model 3 is ~$35,000.  That is the price assuming that you can actually purchase the so-called “standard range” model and before any applicable tax credits.  For the purposes of this discussion I am going to leave tax credits aside for the time being.  So, we are working with a starting price of $35,000.

For that price you get an electric vehicle that has to draw power from the grid, which depending upon your locale and power company may support coal fired electricity.  It may also support fracking for natural gas or the nuclear power energy, assuming any of that industry remains in your region.

What else could you do with that $35,000?

Over the course of the past two and half years I have installed solar photovoltaic panels on my roof in two phases.  Why two phases?  Initially, my power company would only allow my roof mounted solar photovoltaic array to exceed my annual consumption—based on average expected production—by ~10% or so.  Considering how little electricity my household used in comparison to the average this worked out to a system of 4.64 kWh.  This initial phase cost me ~$11,000 before tax credits at the state and federal level.

In the past month I added ~62% more capacity to my existing solar photovoltaic array at a cost of ~$7,500.  In the past year I added an electric vehicle to the mix, which has upped my household consumption, in addition to a few winter months in 2019 where my prior panels were covered under deep snow curtailing production.  We also forgot to turn off a garage heater, which ran up the electric bill in February.  All told these changes goosed our consumption just enough to allow me to install an additional eight panels on my roof.

As it stands right now the photovoltaic array on my roof has a nameplate capacity of 7.52 kWh.  This was complete at a total cost of ~$18,500 before any tax credits.  Remember, we are leaving tax credits aside for the moment.  Assuming my household usage patterns hold—including one electric vehicle—this system will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity requirements for the year.  The estimated excess production should allow me to replace my natural gas water heater with an electric air source heat pump model further reducing my household requirements for fossil fuels.  With the water heater replaced in the next year my household will only use natural gas for the forced air furnace in the colder months.  Trust me, I am looking at options to replace that as well.

What about the electric vehicle?  This is where the power of the market and a realistic assessment of one’s needs come into play.

A Tesla Model 3 is a fine automobile.  Dollar for dollar, it may be the best vehicle on the market right now when one considers its relative performance and environmental bona fides.  However, it still costs $35,000.

In January of this year I purchased a used Nissan Leaf for ~$11,500.  The Leaf had ~33K miles on the odometer, but the battery was in great condition being that the 2015 and later model years utilized an updated architecture that corrected some of the prior model years’ most glaring problems.  A purchase price of more than eleven thousand dollars might sound like a lot, but this was a car that retailed for more than $30,000 when new.  Losing two thirds of car’s value without high mileage is crazy town.  Or, good for the person who can take advantage.

If one can live with a lesser range, one can take advantage of the market punishing these older EVs for not being up to Tesla’s newer standards.  If one drives in town, for the most part, there is no disadvantage.  In almost a year of daily driving I have had just one instance of the range “guess-o-meter” dropping below ten miles remaining and I have never experienced the indignity of “turtle mode.”

How does this all add up?  Total cost for me to purchase an EV to replace all of my daily driver miles and enough solar photovoltaic capacity to power me entire household, including EV electricity requirements, was less than $30,000 before any tax incentives.  Compared to a $35K Tesla Model 3 I would say that I ended up in a better place.  Five thousand or so dollars better, mind you.

This is not to diminish the decision of someone purchasing a Tesla or any other EV.  Rather, it is to illustrate that there is an alternative path to decarbonization that is neither as expensive as portrayed by many and without any appreciable downsides.

The future is now.

This is What the Future Looks Like

Last week the installers from Moxie Solar completed the installation of eight additional solar photovoltaic panels on my west facing roof and the attendant upgrades to the electrical system (e.g. larger inverter).

Here is what 62% additional solar capacity looks like from the road:

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See anything?  That is right, you do not see anything out of the ordinary save for a standard suburban house.

Here is what that same additional solar capacity looks like from the west side of the house:

IMG_20191119_105357389

This is what the future looks like.  Twenty four panels—sixteen 290W panels and eight 360W panels—producing green electricity every time the sun sends its rays our way.  These panels do their thing every day without nary a thought or action from me.  Silent and motionless these panels produce clean electricity.  This solar array will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity needs including an electric vehicle.

If this is not the future than I have no idea of what will come to pass.

Friday Linkage 9/6/2019

If you have a Sharpie and you are the President of the United States then anything is possible:

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It is an old trope to ask someone what the right wing would have said or done in the wake of President Obama doing the same thing, but can you imagine the cerebral hemorrhage that Sean Hannity would have had in this case?

We live in strange times.

On to the links…

15 Things a President can Actually do to Tackle the Climate Crisis—It’s not like number fifteen on this list is ever going to happen.

Cedar Rapids Electric Bill Could be Slashed in Half from New LED Lighting in Downtown—It’s a small change, but why hasn’t every city in America switched to LED streetlights?

Trump Rolls Back Regulations on Energy-Saving Lightbulbs—Does Donald Trump just sit in his private residence during “executive time” and mumble things like, “LEDs…bad…horrible…old, hot lights…good.”  In a little more than one year and four months someone with half a brain can take the executive pen and reassert some sanity.

Economics of Electric Vehicles Mean Oil’s Days As A Transport Fuel Are Numbered—Anyone who drives an electric vehicle will agree with this hypothesis.  In my case, I spend approximately 2 cents per mile to drive my Nissan Leaf versus approximately 15 cents per mile to drive my Ford F150.  Even if I doubled the mileage of my truck it could not compete.

China’s Very Ambitious Transportation Revolution—China was supposed to be the “swing” consumer for fossil fuels as developed Western economies transitioned to cleaner energy.  Looks like China is going to try and just bypass the whole dependency on fossil fuels stage of economic development.

While ‘Zombie’ Mines Idle, Cleanup and Workers Suffer in Limbo—Coal companies do not care about workers or the communities that they leave behind when they close up shop.  Coal executives fly away on private jets after paying themselves while leaving workers high and dry.

The Feds Tried to Make an Example of a small Washington Coal Mine. It Didn’t Work.—Twenty years later and the job is still not done.  Maybe it would be best if we just left the coal in the ground and found another way to make electricity.

Ireland Will Plant 440 Million Trees By 2040 To Combat Climate Change—If Ireland can plant 440 million trees in a little more than twenty years what could the United States achieve?  Okay, probably nothing in the short term with Republicans and Donald Trump hanging around.

The Disturbing Hypothesis for the Sudden Uptick in Chronic Kidney Disease—Climate change will come for our chocolate and coffee.  Climate change is also coming for our kidneys.

Holy Cross Energy Eyes Complete Decarbonization after Striking New Wind Energy Deal—Big utilities, small utilities, rural electric cooperatives…the list goes on and on but the trend is the same.  The tools to free our electricity production from the tyranny of fossil fuels are available and cost competitive.

The Best Place for Harvesting Solar Energy Is Not Where I Expected It to Be—I remember reading about a French pilot project that combined solar canopies over high value crops like grapes.  That project showed the viability of the idea.

One Very Bad Habit Is Fueling the Global Recycling Meltdown—I see this all the time in my neighborhood where people put all kinds of random crap in the curbside recycling bins.  Styrofoam packaging?  Yep.  Resin chairs?  Yep.  Christmas light strings?  Yep.

Banning Mini Shampoos from Hotels Won’t Really Reduce Plastic or Save the Environment—We are just nibbling around the edges of our problems with promises like these.

Tyson Foods Invests in Plant-Based Shrimp Company—I do not know if plant based shrimp is any good, but I know that plant based foods are a real trend when the people at Tyson Foods are putting their money behind the trend.