Tag Archives: Iowa

Beware the Drop Bar Mafia

I tried.  I really tried.

First, I tried to find a level of comfort or rather less discomfort with the compact bend drop bar that came stock on my cyclocross bike many years ago.  Ugh.  It was nothing less than an exercise in shifting my hands constantly to find a position where something did not ache.

Next, following the advice of many fellow riders in the area I went with a Salsa Cowchipper.  The flared drops and increased width seemed to do the trick along with some generous bar tape and gel padding underneath that bar tape.

I thought this was the ticket.  Riding in the drops was much more comfortable with the flare and the extra cushy bar tape/gel padding combo seemed to dull the pain of long rides on the tops.  Over time—as in thousands of miles the past couple of summers—several problems reared their ugly heads.

I was never comfortable in the drops for anything other than a moment or two.  I was never comfortable with the drops or hoods being the only place to grab a handful of lever.  This is not a big deal on wide open country roads or trails, but in town surprises are many and if you are not in the drops you might not be able to brake in time.  At least that was the problem for me.

Riding on the tops was okay, never truly comfortable but better than being in the drops.  However, with no accessible brake levers I always felt like was riding somewhere between secure and without hands.  Call it the mountain biker in me.

With a handful of scavenged parts from my garage and those of a friend I went all-in on a flat bar conversion:

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The Answer Protaper Expert bar is 685mm in width and has a nice brown finish.  Does anyone else remember when bars came in black or silver only?  Maybe that is just me.  The bar has an eight degree sweep to the back.  The bar ends are some cheap Titecs that would have cost an arm and a leg in the 1990s because of the carbon fiber construction.  Grips are repurposed Ergons from another mountain bike build that has been languishing in my garage for the better part of two years.

The result looks a little odd.  It is almost like the gawky half-brother of a NORBA cross country rig from the early days of mountain bike racing.

The drop bar mafia is coming for me.  I can feel it.  Around here fellow riders have already looked somewhat askew at my dirt wagon—the half-kidding nickname given to me well-loved and well-worn bike—as if it were some unwelcome chimera among the carbon fiber matchy matchy set that seems to dominate the weekend population.  The best part is that I just do not give a flying f*ck.  For the first time in at least three years I am comfortable in the saddle.  That is all that matters.

Friday Linkage 8/11/2017

Heading out on vacation in a few hours because nothing says relaxing like Orlando in August with your extended family.  There is absolutely nothing quite like late summer Florida heat and humidity to really bring people together.  At least there will be Dole Whip.

On to the links…

Utah Commission: Keep “Negro Bill Canyon” the Same—Between the zealots who cannot stop fighting the Civil War by idiotically flying what they assume is the flag of the Confederacy—when in truth it is bastardization of a battle flag flown by either the Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee—to maintaining symbols of hate like this we will never grow as a nation.

How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico—It will never happen with the current White House and most of the governors being Republicans, but there should be a national program to pay farmers to deploy cover crops.  No single action would be better for the health of the Gulf of Mexico and our nation’s water quality.  It is a proven solution.

How Fossil Fuel Money Made Climate Change Denial the Word of God—Be wary of the man who claims to be godly, but spends his time talking about earthly matters.  It usually means that he is hiding an agenda and using a veneer of piety as a shield against criticism.  As I tell people all the time, “I do not remember a single passage in the bible where Jesus talks about the rights of oil companies to drill on public lands.”

Americans Are Using Less Electricity Today Than A Decade Ago—The key caveat here is per capita.  There are more people, but we are using less electricity per each person.

Thanks To Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar—I went to a wedding this summer just outside of Kalona and the solar panels were all over the place.  Ground mount arrays were at almost every farm that was not owned by an older order Amish or Mennonite family.  If everyone could embrace solar like the customers of Farmers Electric Cooperative the world would be a better place.

Dirty Energy’s Quiet War on Solar Panels—They can try and stem the tide but solar panels will win in the end.  The guys who put the panels on my house this week were booked solid with jobs for the rest of the summer and fall.  Solar power is real and it is here.

To Solve ‘Duck Curve,’ Missouri Utility to Pay Bonus for West-Facing Solar Panels—It’s not just about south facing roofs anymore.  As someone who has installed a west facing array—270 degree azimuth baby—I cannot wait to see how my peak production lines up with the duck curve.

Shell Oil CEO Stunner: ‘My Next Car will be Electric’—The worm has turned.

More New Yorkers Opting for Life in the Bike Lane—Bikes are amazing and can be a major component of the mobility solutions puzzle we, as a nation and species, are trying to solve.  Seriously, if people are willing to bike in New York City you should be willing to bike in Cedar Rapids.

A Perfect Illustration of the Spatial Inefficiency of the Automobile—Remember, if you work in a cubicle your parking space is bigger than your office.  What do we truly value?

Pedal Power: How Denver Bike Crews are Rescuing Food from Landfills One Ride at a Time—I love this business model.  Collect scraps—for a fee—with a no-emissions bicycle and create wonderful compost to nourish the soil.

Here’s Proof the Average U.S. Household Isn’t the ‘Dumb Money’—I spent twenty one months in business school listening to the icons of “smart money” tell aspiring investment bankers how they were the masters of the universe and what not.  The financial crisis in 2008 was a total nut punch to these guys, but it obviously did not make them humble.

Papa John’s has Made a Gluten-Free Pizza that Gluten-Intolerant Diners can’t Eat—Here is proof that the gluten free trend is not about people with celiac disease and more about marketing.

Impossible Burger’s ‘Secret Sauce’ Highlights Challenges of Food Tech—Soy leghemoglobin may be an allergen, but I love the government’s concern.  I also find it stunning that the FDA has acted so quickly when other problems in our food system are persistent and pernicious going on for years and decades without any government intervention.  Do you think big meat is behind this?  Oh yeah…

Demand Destruction from Home

Demand destruction is what coal mining companies, utilities, and anyone who benefits from a centrally controlled power grid dreads.  Why?  Demand destruction represents an existential threat to the entire business model of these entities.

Consider the state of Iowa’s electricity generation mix and my recently installed solar photovoltaic system.  Iowa’s electricity generation mix breaks down like this for April of 2017:

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In Iowa non-hydroelectric renewables usually equals wind given the relatively low penetration of solar photovoltaic generation.  Another caveat is that the wind tends to blow strongly in the spring and demand for electricity has not spiked with the onset of the summer air conditioning season.

Now consider the impact of a solar photovoltaic system, mine or someone else’s.  When that demand leaves the grid, so to speak, what generation sources do you think will be curtailed?  In order I think it would be coal, nuclear, natural gas, and finally wind.  Why?  Wind turbines do not have a recurring fuel cost, so the cost to retire them does not include a perpetuity of fuel cost baked in which can be a significant driver for an asset with a long life.

In other terms, do you keep generating power by paying to burn a fuel or just harvest the wind for free?  In business school the number one lesson I learned in marketing was to not compete with free.  You will lose every time.

So, as demand disappears from the grid as a result of distributed residential solar the traditional fossil fuel sources are forced to compete with installed and cheap wind power for a dwindling number of customers.  I exaggerate to some degree to get the point across, but in Iowa this may not be such a moot point given the plans for wind power development in the next three years.

Depending upon how you measure it Iowa has more than 6,900 megawatts of wind power providing anywhere from 35% to 40% of the state’s electricity.  This is great news in and of itself, but the state’s two major utilities—MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy—have announced investments for an additional 3,000 megawatts or more by 2020.  Just with these additions—barring any additional activity by other energy players—would bring Iowa nearly 10,000 megawatts of wind power and give the state the capacity to produce more than 50% of its electricity from the wind.  This is without a significant portion of the state’s electricity demand being displaced by distributed residential solar or energy efficiency.

As you can see from the chart that when the wind blows heavily, which it tends to do in the spring, wind is already the largest source of electricity generation in the state.  That trend was true for February, March, and April of 2017. This is only going to grow in the future.

Our homes can be the drivers of change for a cleaner and greener world.

How Much Electricity Will My Solar System Produce?

By the beginning of September I should be generating electricity from the solar photovoltaic panels mounted on my roof.  The system will be comprised of 16 290W panels mounted on a nearly directly south facing roof (270 degrees azimuth give or take a degree for those of you into these things).

Using a variety of calculators online I averaged out the estimates of “peak solar hours” for my system as designed and came up with the following chart to estimate my solar system’s output:

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The output is based on taking the system size (4.64 kWh) times the peak solar hours and reducing it by an assumed system yield (65%).

The system yield is probably the trickiest number to estimate.  I went as low as 65% because that level would still allow me to meet my annual electricity consumption based on a 400 kWh per month rolling average, which dipped to 390 kWh the past few months and which I hope will drop even further with some forthcoming household changes.

The yield is a function of so-called system losses and general lower production due to siting issues, shade, cloud cover, dirt, etc.  My hope is that on balance I see a system yield in the 75% range.  This would give me a little breathing room above and beyond my average annual consumption.

The worst part right now is the waiting.  The solar installers are ready to go and the panels have arrived but we are waiting on the power company and the city to sign off on the system design.  Every day that I see the sun out shining bright is a day that I feel like I have missed an opportunity to generate clean electricity from the sun.

Friday Linkage 7/7/2017

Altitude really kicked my rear end last week.  I normally have no trouble travelling to the high Rockies and partaking in all manner of activities with just a day or so of acclimation.  This trip I struggled mightily until the final day.

What this means is that my quest to hike a 14er is on hold until next year.  On a warm up hike near Breckenridge I barely got to 12,000 feet and felt like dirt the next day.  I hope that this is not a harbinger for my physical condition during ski season.

On to the links…

Court Rejects Temporary Block to the Methane Rule—This is the best that we can hope for right now with the current political leadership in Washington D.C.   Thankfully these hacks do not understand that there is a process in place to manage the rules making process.  Incompetence on the part of Donald Trump and his allies is our greatest source of hope right now.

Improved Representation of Solar Variability in Climate Models—The models of climate change keep getting better with more data, but the climate deniers keep yelling louder.  At what point do we put climate deniers in the same room as perpetual motion machine hucksters, flat Earth proponents, and John Birch Society members?

The Energy Secretary Is Wrong: The Grid is Ready for Renewables—The energy secretary is wrong.  Get used to saying that as long as Rick Perry is holding that position.  Do you remember when Ernest Moniz was in that position and statements were made with a deliberate foundation in good science?  Yeah, not so much anymore.

Even as Renewables Increase, Fossil Fuels Continue to Dominate U.S. Energy Mix—There is a long way to go:

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Check out the decline in coal.

Renewable Energy Generates More Than 25% Of UK Electricity In 1st Quarter—The United Kingdom has now had multiple quarters where renewables have accounted for more than 25% of electricity generation.  The future is now.

Johnson County Adding to Solar Grid—The same guys who are putting in my solar system, Moxie Solar, are contracted to build this 75.5 kWh array.  This is in addition to existing 85.8 kWh and 159.6 kWh arrays nearby.  Why aren’t all large buildings taking advantage of solar?

Study Shows That Electric Cars Could Help Kill the Duck Curve—The “duck curve” is one of the most pernicious problems with respect to renewable energy production and grid demand.  When the sun is shining and the wind is blowing are not the same times that residential demand peaks.  Hence, a curve that looks like a duck.  EVs could provide an energy storage solution that could help smooth the duck.

The Chevy Bolt & The Tesla Model 3: The Solar-Powered Restoration of American Energy Independence—Are mass market EVs and cheap renewables, which are finally available to consumers in a broad based manner, representative of a turning point?  I hope so.

Here’s A Huge Reason Why We Need Electric Trucks—Check out this GIF and tell me that electric semis are not the future:

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Oil Got Trounced And Solar Soared In The First Half—Only two of the top 50 oil and gas producers had a positive return on stock in the first half of 2017.  Renewable producers did much better.  When the markets turn on you there are few places to hide.

McDonald’s Brings Foam Cups Back to Chicago Despite Shareholder Pressure—This is such a blast from the past.  I remember the push to get McDonald’s to get rid of foam clamshells as one of my formative moments in environmental awareness.  Be nice, it was the 1980s.

7 Reasons to Rant about Fireworks—After decades of banning fireworks, Iowa’s legislature led by freedom loving Republicans pushed a bill to legalize fireworks because…’Merica?  It is the worst.  The actual July 4th holiday was reminiscent of a war movie with an acrid haze hanging over our neighborhood and explosions throughout the night.  Why?

Friday Linkage 6/16/2017

What will the mass shooting in Alexandria, VA this week lead to?  My guess is that Republicans will push for less stringent gun laws—although it is hard to see how much less stringent our non-existent gun laws could become—and a crackdown on political speech that is counter to their aims.  Do not believe me?  In the first few moments after the shooter was identified there were Republican operatives calling for the rhetoric regarding Donald Trump and his policies to be toned down.

WTF?  This is the single person responsible for more coarseness in our political discourse over the last eighteen months than anyone else and we are supposed to suddenly simmer down because of a completely unrelated incident?  Can’t stop, won’t quit.

On to the links…

These Five Charts Show the Seismic Shifts Happening in Global Energy—If there is anything that you can do to accelerate any of these trends do it.  Do it today.

In Trump Country, Renewable Energy Is Thriving—I live in “Trump country” as much as it pains me to say it and I still cringe every time I see someone sporting a bumper sticker, shirt, or freaking red hat.  However, renewable energy is a very big deal in this red state and it is a similar story in a lot of other red states.

When You’ve Lost Iowa: Wind-Loving Heartland State Says “Buh-Bye, Coal”—What allegiance to coal does a state like Iowa have?  We do not mine or produce any coal, so every dollar we spend on coal for power is a dollar that is leaving our state.  On the other hand we have a lot of wind and those dollars can stay home.

Coal Can’t Compete on its Own—Remove the subsidies and preferential policies makes coal an even bigger loser than it already is in today’s marketplace.  Now, supposed free market Republicans will never actually allow the free market to work when it comes to their beloved fossil fuels.

This is How Big Oil will Die—Imagine I could replace an essential machine in your house with over 2000 moving parts and filled with flammable or toxic fluids.  Imagine that the replacement machine would have 20 moving parts and no flammable or toxic liquids.  Oh, and it is cheaper to operate on a per mile basis.

Renewables Provide More than Half UK Electricity for First Time—So, during mid-day renewables were knocking out over 50% of the U.K.’s electricity needs.  Who says that we cannot deploy more wind and solar?

Three Nations Plan 500% Increase in Global Offshore Wind—That is a big increase.  Once the basic technologies are even more mature and cost effective the adoption rates will soar.  What would happen if the people working in offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico were deployed to develop offshore wind?

A Quarter Of EU’s Electricity Demand Could Be Met By Offshore Wind At €54/MWh—The future may be out to sea.

Chevrolet Bolt Will Hit Remaining Dealer Lots in August—It’s going to be available nationwide a month or so earlier than forecast.  Here is to hoping that sales follow availability.

Resistance to Last-Ditch Antibiotic has Spread Farther than Anticipated—This health crisis is happening because we demand cheap meat.  There is no other reason to feed farm animals huge amounts of antibiotics which breeds antibiotic resistant bacteria.  We are literally staring into the precipice of going back to the dark ages in terms of fighting infections.

Trump Wants to Cut EPA’s Scientific Research in Half—Of course the ignorant buffoon wants to cut research staff.  These are people who spend their careers trying to actually discover answers to hard questions rather than watching Fox News constantly.

In Praise of ‘Scruffy Hospitality’—We just need to put the smartphones away and stop posting everything to Instagram or Facebook.  We need to get back to enjoying the analog moments of life.

Friday Linkage 6/9/2017

Do you remember when we all woke up on November 9th wondering how bad things could get?  If you thought the first week of the Trump presidency in January was bad, it just kept getting worse.  If you thought “covfefe” was the nadir, it is going to keep getting worse.  We are witness to the single most incompetent president in the history of the United States.

On to the links…

Kansas Republicans End the State’s Failed Tax Reform Experiment—Normally I do not spend a lot of effort on taxes or tax policy.  This is important because it drives a dagger right through the heart of the Republican mantra that tax cuts pay for themselves.  It is over with and the tea party lost.  In Kansas of all places.  I expect Sam Brownback to quickly take a position within the Trump administration now that he realizes Kansas is not his personal playground of Ayn Rand fantasies.

Iowa’s Push Toward Renewable Energy not Likely to Change with Paris Climate Accord Decision—Iowa could be doing more, but the state already gets more than 35% of its electricity from the wind with plans to get north of 40% in the next two years as planned wind farms come online.  We can keep moving forward despite what the flaccid cantaloupe in Washington D.C. decides to do when he eats some beautiful chocolate cake and fires up his Twitter account.

Trump’s Answer to Paying for U.S.-Mexico Border Wall: Install Solar Panels—I thought Mexico was going to pay for it?  This is what happens when you cannot tell the difference between reality, parody, and satire.  Nothing is funny and everything is horrific.

California Plan for 100% Renewable Energy by 2045 Clears Key Hurdle—Leadership will come from states and cities.

Coal Bows to Natural Gas, as Consumption Falls to Lowest since 1984—Lowest level since 1984.  Not because of the Clean Power Plan.  Not because of Barack Obama.  Because of cheap natural gas.  Try saving coal from cheap natural gas el Trumpo.

The War On Coal Is Over—This is not coming from Treehugger or Grist.org.  This is coming from a website dedicated to following the fossil fuels markets.

India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green—Good luck exporting coal to India.

What Pittsburghers Know About the Environment That Trump Still Needs to Learn—Trump is ignorant of so many things.  When he claims to represent the people of Pittsburgh as opposed to Paris he is really saying that he is in the White House to line his pockets.  Every decision he makes needs to be seen through the lens of how it lines his or his family’s pockets with filthy lucre.

11 Ways to Build a Paris Climate Change Accord—Again, leadership will not come from above.  We need to create our own Paris climate agreement and execute on our own goals.

Colorado Blazes Low-Emissions, High-Employment Energy Pathway—Deploying clean energy means lots of jobs.  Jobs installing solar panels, maintaining wind turbines, building the infrastructure necessary to handle distributed power sources, and so on and so forth.  Why can’t people like Donald Trump and his Republican cronies see the potential?  Oh right, fossil fuel dollars flow through their veins.

Company Behind DAPL Used Paramilitary Security to Track Activists—How soon before these companies are conducting their own raids to target activists “in support” of law enforcement?  Your rights are under assault by the corporate class in a way never before in American history.  Is anyone paying attention?

Walmart’s ‘Ah Ha’ Moment on Climate Change—Walmart has zero credibility in my eyes, but when outlets like CNBC are reporting on the corporation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions something is happening.  Can’t sell cheap shit from China if everyone is too busy bailing out their homes because of climate change.

The Truth About Meal-Kit Freezer Packs—Can someone finally kill the whole meal kit idea?  The kits are not less expensive than buying stuff locally unless you compare one scallion to a bunch.  The kits are an environmental disaster with all the packaging and transportation costs.  Now we discover the freezer packs are little plastic bags of death.  Just learn to use a knife, shop at the grocery store, and really cook.

“Pink Slime” or Lean Finely Textured Beef? Food Defamation Trial Set to Begin—This has all the hallmarks of the McLibel case from long ago when a trial brought out all sorts of evidence that condemned the defendants but destroyed the credibility of McDonald’s relative to its food quality.  My whole defense would be, “The product coming out of the machine is pink, right?  The product coming out of the machine resembles a gelatinous blob, right?  Thus pink slime your honor.  Defense rests.”

Being Healthy Isn’t a Contest, So Stop Trying to Win It—If you are vegetarian, you need to vegan.  If you are working out, you need to be doing HIIT.  If you aren’t into yoga and juice cleanses you are just not doing enough.  Stop people.