Tag Archives: resiliency

Friday Linkage 5/30/2014

This is going to be a short list of links because I am currently on a plane heading to Denver with my brother to spread my parents ashes near the Continental Divide. The upside to this depressing event is that I get to sample some great beers from Front Range brewers. More to come.

On to the links…

Obama to Unveil Rule to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions—With no action possible in Congress, the President will issue a new rule through the EPA under the Clean Air Act to, in essence, cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants. Republicans will howl that this is an “imperial President,” but conveniently forget how much they liked the same kind of action under the second Bush. It’s called progress.

There is Still Hope for the Climate: Regional Cures for Planetary Fever—I do not know if I am so positive anymore, but some part of me hopes that we cobble together a patchwork of solutions that will avoid the absolute worst of climate change and leave it to our children to fix the mess. We suck as a species.

Wind Energy In 2013 Was Equivalent To Taking 20 Million Cars Off The Road—It’s amazing how much wind energy has been deployed in the United States. Now imagine if we could have a similar commitment to deploy residential solar at this level. Damn.

Ohio Is Poised To Be The First State To Roll Back Its Renewable Energy Standard—Just when you think you are making real progress, ass clowns like those in Ohio’s legislature, egged on by Republican a-hole Governor John Kasich, decided to gut the state’s RES. Progress be damned in the face of Koch money!

On the Road to Green Energy, Germany Detours on Dirty Coal—Following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the German government pledged to get the country out of the business of generating power from nuclear sources. While laudable it does mean that the country is going to have to turn to coal to meet its commitment.

‘A Government Of Thugs’: How Canada Treats Environmental Journalists—Apparently, my view of Canadians being easy going was dead wrong when it comes to the government’s treatment of environmental journalists and activists. It’s an insidious thing for a government that claims to be transparent to act as an agent for private development, but it is the nature of our modern governments that this is the case. If you do not believe this to be true, just review the case of Tim DeChristopher.

Resiliency+: Distributed Generation and Microgrids Can Keep Lights On During the Next Storm—Every time there is a storm or major power disruption on the east coast of the United States this topic comes up because somewhere in the center of the problem was a microgrid powered by renewables that kept the lights on. Maybe it’s a trend now.

Turbines Popping Up on New York Roofs, Along With Questions of Efficiency—I guess that in order to attract trust fund hipsters a developer needs to include some sort of greenwashing for their project.

The Time My Mom Got Me A Tiger—It’s not what you think. This video talks about the problem of captive tigers being used for photo opportunities and the chance he got to “adopt” his tiger.

Strange Brews: The Genes of Craft Beer—I brew a lot of beer and the science of yeast really escapes me. It seems that it does not make a difference in some recipes and, yet, in others the difference is marked. What gives?

Chef Dan Barber on the Farm-to-Table Movement’s Next Steps—I don’t always agree with Dan Barber’s ideas about food as I find them to be difficult to scale in order to “feed the world” but nonetheless he is an important influence in how the system develops.

Solar Roadways: A Modest Proposal?—I love seeing this idea get press outside of the normal “green” outlets. One thing lost in the discussion about these panels is that it does not even have to be used on roads to be really effective. How many square feet of driveway, sidewalk, and parking lot exist in just the united states that could be covered with the material? Just saying.

Ford’s Customers Tested Its New Trucks for Two Years, and They Didn’t Even Know It—I am watching the development of the next generation Ford F-150 with a lot of interest. For one, I own an F-150 for work. Second, it’s the best selling vehicle in America so any technology deployed successfully on this platform will likely find itself adopted across a broad swath of vehicles. Of most interest is the new aluminum body, replacing traditional steel, that is purported to cut over 700 pounds off the weight of the truck in the interest of fuel economy. Interesting.

The Narcissism of Preppers

I do not understand preppers.

I understand the desire to be prepared for a scenario where the world we take for granted dissolves into something less than recognizable, but I do not understand their preparation for such event.

It smacks of narcissism unbound.

How so?  It’s the entire notion that by stocking away enough supplies—food, fuel, ammunition, etc.—this individual will be able to “ride out” the coming dissolution of civilized society with little more than an interruption in cable service.  It’s as if to say in a few months the person and their family or whomever shares their modern day ark with emerge as the individuals to reseed civilization.

Really?  Outside of an obvious case of paranoia, what skillset qualifies any of the people we see on these prepper shows as uniquely qualified to rebuild civilization?  The answer is very little to nothing.

True preparation would consist of acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to provide the basics of life—think food, water, shelter, etc.—for an enduring period of time.  Not just enough rice and beans for six months.

True preparation would be more about making sure you had enough open pollinated seeds on hand as opposed to gold and guns.  A close friend of mine always scoffs at the notion of people hoarding gold for the end times because the value of that “precious” metal is quickly devalued when one person has food and a lot of people want to buy food.  It reminds me of the scene in the recent Klondike mini-series where the protagonist is staring into a general store window where a single orange is price at $100.  People in the gold fields had lots of money, but what they really wanted was a bit of citrus.

True preparation would rely on building a community of neighbors who would be able to assist each other in the endeavor of survival because autonomy is very inefficient.  Autonomy is also very dangerous.  In a larger community dedicated to survival the loss of a single person would not necessarily critically endanger the community.  In many preppers’ worlds the loss of the patriarch—because these people tend to be middle-aged males—would critically alter the arithmetic of survival.

True preparation would look less like the Walking Dead and much more like The World Made by Hand.   In James Howard Kunstler’s excellent book about a forced realignment of modern civilization true resiliency comes from the ability of the larger community to provide the necessary tools and means for long term viability.  It’s about someone being a doctor and another person being a carpenter and even someone being a barber.

None of this type of preparation gets a lot of press because it looks a lot like homesteading or crafting.  It’s a lot more telegenic to show people building a bunker and stocking it with freeze dried meals rather than showing someone learning how to save seeds from one season to the next.

Thinking about Solar Potential

Iowa is a national leader in terms of wind power.  As it stands now, the state gets about one-quarter of its electricity from the wind.  Many projects, including a recently announced $1.9B project by MidAmerican Energy, will keep pushing that percentage higher.

But what if wind power was not the sole solution?

Well, what is the problem we are trying to solve?  The elimination of fossil fuels to generate electricity is my goal and I think that Iowa has the potential to get there.

In a prior post I wrote about the level of windpower investment required to eliminate fossil fuels from the power equation.  Depending upon how you add up the numbers with regard to projects in the pipeline Iowa is almost 75% of the way there.

Assuming that these projects do not all happen for various reasons, what are the other options?  Disregarding hydropower, which is a solution for some locales but not a state like Iowa, the solution, in terms of renewables, must be solar.

“Solar cannot work in Iowa!” the naysayer says.  Really?

Germany is a leader in the deployment of solar photovoltaic technology.  That country is never thought of as being sun drenched like its southern EU compatriots Spain or Greece.  Do not even think of comparing Germany’s solar radiation with North Africa’s.  So, solar works in places that are not thought of as ideal.  Got it.

In 2012, Germany is estimated to have produced 28,000 GWh of solar electricity.  Iowa is about 41% the physical size of Germany, so if Iowa deployed solar in proportion to geographic size the generation potential would equal 11,480 GWh of solar electricity on an annual basis.  What does that number mean?

In 2010, Iowa produced about 57,508 GWh of electricity.  Assuming the numbers for the last full year are similar, the state would have produced about 43,131 GWh of electricity using fossil fuel or other non-renewables.  This assumes that 25% of the state’s electricity generation came in the form of wind power.   At the deployment figure stated above, 11,480 GWh, solar could easily account for approximately 27% of the state’s electricity generation.

A side benefit to deploying solar is that it tends to be at a production peak that is counter cyclical to wind power’s production peak, which levels out the demands on the grid.

It’s total “pie in the sky” territory, I realize, but it’s fun to run the numbers and see how close we could be to a time when we no longer burn fossil fuels to watch Whale Wars.

Electricity Rates on the Rise

The infographic from One Block Off the Grid  highlights why I worry about my household’s electricity usage.  Granted, as I pointed out in an earlier post, my household, on average, uses a lot less electricity than even the lowest state’s per household amount.  However, resiliency, in my opinion, is about reducing my exposure to the almost guaranteed increase in the cost of electricity that is to come in the future.

Another reason to be concerned about your household’s electricity use is the growth in natural gas as a generation fuel and the continued use of coal.

Coal’s problems are well established.  No matter how cleanly it is burned, coal is a dirty fuel.  From mining through to combustion the list of problems is long.  Whether it is mountain top removal or bad practices at mining companies or mercury or soot or some other pollutant, coal is a bad actor when it comes to energy.  It’s cheap and the U.S. has a lot of coal, but that does mean we should be burning the stuff.

Natural gas seems like the better choice.  It’s cleaner than coal on almost all fronts—although its clear superiority has been challenged as of late.  However, hydraulic fracturing or fracking has come to the forefront as a concern.  The U.S. is entering a so-called “golden age of natural gas” as fracking has opened up huge deposits of gas as viable operations across the country.  The growth in gas production is starting to rearrange the entire energy infrastructure as coal is replaced en masse for energy generation and the petrochemical industry gears up to take advantage of this new found bounty.

But the environmental concerns are legion.  The process of fracking is suspected in the poisoning of sub-surface water and the wastewater from the operations sits in polluted lagoons waiting to cause a problem.  Don’t think vast pools of wastewater are a problem?  Just ask people affected by the coal ash disaster in Tennessee or residents near manure lagoons after a flash flood.  It’s as nasty as it sounds.

But, if everyone used less electricity—that oh so dreaded concept of efficiency—there would be less need for any kind of electrical generation.  Furthermore, the percentage of the total generation regime that renewables accounts for could increase because polluting sources like coal and natural gas plants could be taken off line or reserved for peak load moments.

Distributed generation, e.g. photovoltaic systems on residential rooftops, figures into this equation greatly because it places electricity generation near the loads.  In some regions solar PV dovetails nicely with peak demand because the prime solar generation hours coincide with the hottest times of the day and, therefore, with peak demand for things like refrigeration or air conditioning.

Then again, this all just sounds like hippie utopian thinking.  Damn Ecotopia!