Tag Archives: Power Generation and Transmission

The same old energy mix — The Japan Times editorial

The same old energy mix — The Japan Times editorial.

I follow the folks that write Japan Safety: Nuclear Energy Updates and they just posted an article from the Japan Times where they look at the current government’s plans for energy sustainability over the next few decades. The picture is disturbing in light of the disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

Nuclear energy is carbon neutral, but it brings so many other long-term risks into the picture that it should not be considered as a sustainable energy source.  At Fukushima, they are having to store huge amounts of contaminated water on a site that was completely inundated with ocean water in 2011.

Read the article here.

A molecular approach to solar power (MIT News)

This is another example of excellent innovation from MIT and Harvard. This one is for energy storage and it is quite similar to one I just recently posted on the “bionic leaf”. With better solar energy conversion and more efficient energy storage the idea of moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear power begins to look possible.

Open Matters

Diagram of molecules going through solar-induced charge-discharge cycle, with heat released. The working cycle of a solar thermal fuel, using azobenzene as an example. (Courtesy of Jeff Grossman.)

A molecular approach to solar power
Switchable material could harness the power of the sun — even when it’s not shining.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
April 13, 2014

It’s an obvious truism, but one that may soon be outdated: The problem with solar power is that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine.

Now a team at MIT and Harvard University has come up with an ingenious workaround — a material that can absorb the sun’s heat and store that energy in chemical form, ready to be released again on demand.

This solution is no solar-energy panacea: While it could produce electricity, it would be inefficient at doing so. But for applications where heat is the desired output — whether for heating buildings, cooking, or powering heat-based industrial processes — this could…

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What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

earthship brighton
figure 1: Earthship Brighton (Photo credit: ivanpope)

Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“?  I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away.  What is an Earthship then?  In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.

The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA.  The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico.  As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary.  Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology.  The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

Conservation International – A blog to make a difference

One of my colleagues showed me this site today and it looks really good.  This is a link to their blog page.  This group has some pretty high priced help on their roster.  From Harrison Ford to Hillary Clinton, they seem to have the bases covered.

One of the environmental movement needs more of is “good news stories” and this blog is replete with them.  One that immediately attracted my attention is on a new initiative to stop poaching of African elephants.  The article includes a video on the subject with the aforementioned celebrities.  Worth a read.  Don’t forget to bookmark the page.

Uncovering corruption: Charmian Gooch at TEDGlobal 2013

My Comments:

Once again, TED has published a very timely piece on an issue that is becoming huge in the west these days…corruption and its societal costs.  Corruption has always been around, but until recently in the west, it was associated with shame and scandal.  Now it seems to be so commonplace that we barely even acknowledge it.  But the costs of corruption to society are very important and this TEDGlobal talk puts the matter into perspective.  definitely worth a read.  Thanks TED.

 

TED Blog

When we talk about corruption, certain types of individuals come to mind, says Charmian Gooch, co-founder of watchdog NGO Global Witness. She gives some familiar examples of the type. There’s the (former) Soviet megalomaniac — such as Saparmurat Niyazov, the all-powerful leader of Turkmenistan, whose indulgences included erecting a 40-foot-high gold-plated statue of himself that rotated to follow the sun. There’s the African minister, dictator or official, such as Teodorin Obiang, son of the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, where many live in dire poverty despite per capita income comparable to Portugal. Obiang junior owns an 18 million Euro art collection, million-dollar sports cars, a Gulfstream jet, and a $30 million Malibu mansion. Until recently, he was officially earning less than $7,000 a month. Then there’s the former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete — a convicted money launderer.

It’s easy to think of corruption as something that happens “over there,”…

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Metroland.com – Trash Troubles

Polski: Wysypisko odpadów w Łubnej
Image via Wikipedia

The other day at work, one of my colleagues passed a link on to me because she knew that I am interested in waste management.  I really have to thank her because the link she provided was to an excellent 3 part article entitled “Trash Troubles – grappling with our garbage” (Metroland.com – Trash Troubles) published in MetroLand.com and authored by Don Campbell and Thana Dharmarajah.  These two journalists have done a really good job describing the problems with our solid waste management in many communities in Southern and Eastern Ontario.  It is really worth a read.

In the article, they describe the escalating cost of landfill, the ridiculous practice of shipping our garbage out of our jurisdictions, the patchwork of recycling programs across the province and they provide a few ideas about what citizens can do to minimize their impact on the environment.  They discuss where the responsibility lies for cleaning up our act.

The most important thing that I took away from their article was a feeling that the province needs to step up to the plate and play a bigger role, establishing policies and standards for managing solid waste across all communities, identifying best practices, building markets for recycled materials, and helping to fund waste management programs in a way that provides the best bang for the buck.

Electronic waste accumulates at an alarming rate

Another thing that they bring up that I have been advocating for years is for extended producer responsibility for waste management.  I blogged about this earlier in my open letter to the plastics industry. It is high time that we start holding producers partly responsible for managing the waste that flows from our consumption of their products.  Yes, this will increase the costs of products, but we are paying anyway…this will only bring the payment front and centre and not hiding it in the line items of municipal taxes.  If you want to read more about plastic recycling read my blog entry at https://gourken.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/an-open-letter-to-the-plastics-industry/

Anyway, the article by Campbell and Dharmarajah is an excellent overview of the issues that we need to face if we are to manage our solid wastes responsibly.  While the picture they paint isn’t too hopeful, they do present a few things that will help us see that the future isn’t too bleak either. 

On a final note, I am still very intrigued with Mike Biddle’s idea of using of mining technologies to mine waste streams to allow the extraction and reuse of plastic polymers and metals.  If it works, this is a paradigm shift worthy of the word.  It seems to me that you could use this technology to go back into landfills and mine for valuable resources (like the plastic polymers and the metal ores buried there).  If you want to read more about this technology (and see a video of how it works), visit Mr. Biddle’s web site at http://www.mbapolymers.com/home/.

Who’s making money on bio-fuels and are they a good alternative to oil?

MIT c1901 LOC cph 3g09599
Image via Wikipedia

I just read an interesting paper from the MIT Centre for Energy and Environmental Policy Research and it had some interesting things to say about bio-fuels and politics.  The paper Some Inconvenient Truths About Climate Change Policy: The Distributional Impacts of Transportation Policies (August 2011), by Stephen P. Holland, Jonathan E. Hughes Christopher R. Knittel and Nathan C. Parker is a technical paper where they reflect on the relationship that exists between various forms of carbon emission reductions that rely on subsidised biofuels and voting patterns in the United States. 

The paper compares the costs to reduce greenhouse gasses of three different policy choices against the Cap and Trade (CAT) option, which does not subsidize the production of biofuels.  They show CAT as the lowest cost alternative in terms of dollars per unit of carbon reduction but find that the higher cost options are frequently adopted.  They go on to show that the subsidized options, though more expensive, produce the highest potential for private gain, while CAT produces the highest potential for carbon emission reduction per dollar spent. 

While the article does not answer the question posed in the title, it does seem to conclude that if private interests were taken out of the equation, we could get better carbon reduction bang for our bucks if we adopted a cap and trade system rather than any of the subsidized bio-fuel alternatives.

The article is a bit technical, but it is still written in such a way that most informed readers can take something away from it.  It is also nice to see that these issues are being discussed by institutions such as MIT.

Solar Thermal – What to do when the power goes out!

I spent 6 months living in Kathmandu back in the 90s.  It was commonplace for the power to go off each evening for 2 or more hours and to cope with the outages everyone had battery backups and gas-powered generators. 

But over here in Canada we have never needed battery backups or generators to keep things running.  The electrical system is far more reliable here than it was in Nepal in the 90s.  That being said, we do still get the occasional power outages but for the most part they are little more than an inconvenience.  The same cannot be said for solar thermal systems when the power goes out.  Continue reading Solar Thermal – What to do when the power goes out!

Power Surges and Drops – Causing Electrical Problems?

Electricity pylon - power outage
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t know if you have noticed it too, but there seems to be a lot more power outages and surges these days.  I’m not talking about the 20 day variety like the one that hit us during the ice storm, but rather the one and two second ones that seem to come in bunches every few months. 

Hydro has a fund to deal with hits to electronic equipment that is damaged due to surges like the one we had in Kanata when a 17 kV line dropped on a 10 kV line early in the last decade and fried a bunch of computers.  Fair enough as far as it goes, but what about the things that didn’t burn up?  What about the fridge that was supposed to last for 15 years, but ends up only lasting 10 years because it was hit by a large surge?  What about the dozens of light bulbs that were supposed to last for 10,000 hours and end up only lasting half that because they experienced a big surge?  Sure, they didn’t die when the surge hit, and there is no way to prove that their life span was decreased due to the surge, but doesn’t it make sence that it would be?  Where is the compensation for these items?

OK you say, but that is history…old news…almost 10 years old now!  What about today?  Well, of course, you’re right.  There aren’t a bunch of surges like the one I spoke of happening from day-to-day, but there are a whole bunch of little black-outs where the power drops for a few seconds and then surges back on.  Aside from the inconvenience of having to re-set every clock in the house, have you never noticed anything funny with your electrical devices after such an outage?  I have, and I am not speaking about problems with your computers because, like me, most of you will have shelled out hundreds of dollars to buy surge suppressing power bars or uninterruptible power sources (UPSs) for your high-end computer gear.  No, once again, I am speaking about your equally expensive fridges, stoves, and even furnaces, each of which is now controlled by computer. 

Every time there is a power outage in my house, the ice maker on my high-end fridge stops working.  I have to cycle off the power on the fridge at the circuit breaker, leaving it off for at least a minute (so that any capacitors in the system drain) and then cycle it back on.  Only then will the unit come back to life.

Or how about your heat recovery ventilator unit (HRV)?  An HRV is critical to the healthy functioning of an R2000 or an energy star home as it keeps the humidity level in the house within reasonable limits).  At my house, the same thing happens to my HRV when there is a power outage too.  Once again, I have to cycle off the unit, wait, and then cycle it back on again. 

To me, it is only reasonable to assume that these expensive devices “feel” these small power outages and surges.  Doesn’t it make sense to you too?  Well, if they “feel” the pain of the outage/surge combination, doesn’t it seem likely that they experience a shortening of their useful life when it happens?  Where is the compensation for this loss of useful life for these expensive products? 

The question in my mind is, if Hydro cannot provide more reliable power, shouldn’t they have to come up with some sort of mandatory standards for a new power distribution panel that includes surge suppression as well as some limited UPS (uninterruptible power source) capacity?  And shouldn’t they subsidize the purchase and installation of these devices until the volume of sales drives down the cost to a reasonable amount, or until their service provision becomes more reliable? 

I know that Hydro is bleeding red ink in a number of areas, like the need to replace dirty coal, the need to pay for expensive cogeneration, and the need to retire old debt, but in my opinion, these are symptoms of a poorly constructed business model.  What they need, is to engineer resilience into their business model.  I don’t want to have to replace everything in my home every time they fail to provide clean power to my home and I don’t want to have to pay through the nose to buy products to mitigate the risks associated with these instances. 

Law suits are not the way to go…they are too expensive and the only ones that profit from them are the lawyers on both sides.  Further, they are not the Canadian way.  Rather, Hydro needs to just step up to the plate and consider the needs of their clients and get together with the various standards councils and come up with a strategy for making homes more resilient to the surges and outages until they can fix up their network so that it becomes more resilient.  While they are at it, they might want to consider having each distribution panel set up for net metering (so that people can start feeding the grid using solar voltaic or wind energy generated around the home) and even consider having the panel set up to allow external generators to be plugged in (such as gas-powered generators that could be used during a long power interruption).  This would allow for better engineered homes that were resilient to power fluctuations, that allow for cogeneration projects and that do all this safely with consideration for folks that have to work on the lines when there is an electrical problem in the neighbourhood.

In short, we need Hydro to take back the playing field and start planning for the future.  A bright future if they play their cards right.