Sunday, August 28, 2005

Getting Off The Grid

By way of Sustainablog, comes word of a report by Greenpeace, U.K' Decentalizing power: An Energy Revolution for teh 21st Century.

More than half the electricity generated today is used just to get the power through the wires; it is an enormously inefficient system. Greenpeace proposes a decentralised energy system that would see everyday buildings playing host to devices such as solar panels, small wind turbines and combined heat and power boilers, which generate electricity as well as providing heat and hot water. The electricity created would be used directly by the house or workplace, and the surplus would be fed into a local network. This electricity would then be locally distributed, avoiding the significant loss that occurs when electricity is transported long distances.

As Greenpeace points out, decentralizing energy would also democratize energy, providing real opportunities for local political leadership on climate change, and curbing the influence of the centralized industry’s powerful vested interests. By enabling local action and empowering individuals and communities as producers, decentralisation has the potential to bring about a massive cultural change in our attitude to and use of energy.

A Green future is not only possible and within our reach, but it may be the only way to survive declining supplies of hydrocarbons.

But the corporate mentality, that knows nothing but huge, centralized solutions will be difficult to overcome. Already they are spending billions attempting to consruct the "hydrogen economy" even though huge, inordinantly difficult technical problems remain unsolved. An efficient, community based economy will have to be built from the ground up.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Light Sweet Crude Production Has Peaked.

Information from OPEC's August monthly report indicates that world wide production of light sweet crude, the most sought after kind because it can be easily refined and because it is low in sulfer, is now in decline. Although overall production of oil is still rising, the shift to heavier grades is helping cause bottlenecks that are driving up gas prices because there is limited refinery capacity for these heavier grades of crude.

Chris Vernon's webpage, Vital Trivia ferreted out this conclusion from the OPEC report;

The key point is that non-OPEC light sweet crude went from 41% of 66 mb/d to 34% of 70 mb/d from 2000 to 2004, a drop of 3.26 mb/d. OPEC added 1 mb/d of light sweet crude over the same period resulting in a global reduction of light sweet crude of over 2mb/d showing that global light sweet crude has peaked and is now in decline.

Previously, Chris had reported numbers showing that all major western oil companies, except for BP, had rolled over into decline by 2005.

The numbers are coming in very much the way many peak oil writers had predicted. The relentless upward drive of prices will continue until we can develope renewable alternatives, redesign our living and working patterns to be less reliant on oil, and abandon the idea of constant growth in material wealth.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chemical Could Revolutionize Polymer Fuel Cells.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology appear to have solved one problem that was blocking the development of smaller fuel cells for use in cars and small electronics, although bigger hurdles still remain.

Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells have long been considered the most promising fuel cells for portable use, but their low operating temperature gives them a very low rate of efficiency. Ceramic fuel cells currently on the market run around 800 degrees Celsius, far too hot for most portable applications such as small electronics.

Polymer fuel cell membranes need to be relatively cool so that membranes can retain the moisture they need to conduct protons. Using water to cool the membrane meant using operating at temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius, seriously reducing their efficiency.

The Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have discovered that replacing the water with a chemical called triazole allows them to increase their PEM fuel cell operating temperatures to above 120 degrees Celsius.

A larger problem that remains is that all present fuel cells rely on a platinum catalyst to generate the elctricity. Platinum is such a rare element that it would not be possible to build enough fuel cells under present technology to run all the cars presently on the road. So the search for a hydrogen solution goes on.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Australia faces severe drought conditions and water shortages. Southeast Queensland, the country's fastest growing area, could run out of water by next December. Drought, climate change and population growth have meant that southeast Queensland's three reservoirs that supply it water, Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine, have a combined water level of 37.2 per cent.

Other state capitals are also facing water shortages and restrictions and soem plans are being made to build desalinization plants. The Irrigation Association of Australia claims that the severe restrictions on water use could cost 6000 to 10,000 agricultural jobs.

Oil and water are the two issues that could bring our society down, only water is not getting the same press that oil does.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Austin Energy has launched a nation wide campaign to promote plug in hybrid cars. Modeling their effort on the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement initiated by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and already endorsed by the US Conference of Mayors and 175 individual cities, Austin hopes to develop incentives to be provided by electric utilities as PHEVs will utilize excess generation capacity available during night-time hours; secure fleet purchase commitments from local, state and federal governments; enlist Chamber of Commerce lead to solicit purchase commitments from private fleets; enlist community and environmental leaders to promote individual citizen purchase commitments; solicit local government and state support of PHEV initiative through approval of favorable policies.

Once again, the lack of a national energy policy has resulted in a grass roots effort to reduce our dependency on oil.

Two problems are being tackled at the same time by 56 impoverished families from the jungle village of Carmelita, Guatemala, who were given a concession to form a logging cooperative in 130,000 acres in the Maya Bioshere Reserve.

Using strict enviromental standards issued by a European organization that encourages responsible management of the world's forests, the cooperative runs what José Román Carrera, Central America forestry coordinator for the New York-based Rainforest Alliance calls "The best model in Latin America."

Environmentally conscious logging efforts such as these were given a boost last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order requiring all new or renovated California state-owned facilities to be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program created by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED rates facilities on a range of eco- friendly standards, including energy and water efficiency, and the use of environmentally sound building resources, including certified wood.

The cooperative has made a noticeable difference in the preservation of the rain forest. Although 36 percent of the reserve is protected by law, some of its most prominent national parks have suffered major destruction in recent years due to illegal settlers, ranchers, poachers and drug traffickers. More than half of Laguna del Tigre National Park, a vast wetland area, has been burned for ranching and farming in the past several years, environmentalists say.

Yet recent satellite photos by the U.S. Geological Survey show forest coverage remains mostly intact in the area under concession to 11 communities and two timber companies.

A program that alleviates poverty, protects the rainforest, and contributes to environemntally sound buildings in the U.S. is quite an achievement.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Listen to a recent speach by oil expert Colin Campbell, a geologist with over 30 years experience in the field, and one of the foremost experts on Peak Oil. The speach takes a few minutes to download but includes the slides used by Campbell.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Although dwarfted by the largesse given to the fossil fuel industry, solar energy got a significant boost in the recently passed energy bill.

The law both increases tax credits for commercial solar installations and offers individual home owners a credit for the first time since Jimmy Carter.

Under the new law, businesses that buy solar equipment can claim a federal tax credit equal to 30% of the equipment's cost, with no dollar limit on how big the credit can be. (In 2008, the credit reverts back to today's 10% of cost level.)

Home owners get a more limited credit. They can put in a photovoltaic system (those are the roof panels that take in energy from the sun and turn it into electricity) and/or a solar-powered hot water system (for hot water heaters, radiant floors or radiators), and get a federal tax credit worth 30% of the systems' cost, up to a credit of $2,000 per system. There are a couple of catches. The heating system can't be for a pool or hot tub. And the federal credit applies to the net system cost after any state incentives.

The bad news--the credits are only authorized for two years.

Monday, August 15, 2005

DOE outlines research needed to improve solar energy technologies

The Department of Energy's Office of Science has released a report describing the basic research needed to produce "revolutionary progress in bringing solar energy to its full potential in the energy marketplace." The report resulted from a workshop of 200 scientists held earlier this year.

The report notes that progress in the proposed research could lead to: artificial "molecular machines" that turn sunlight into chemical fuel; "smart materials" based on nature's ability to transfer captured solar energy with no energy loss; self-repairing solar conversion systems; devices that absorb all the colors in the solar spectrum for energy conversion, not just a fraction; far more efficient solar cells created using nanotechnologies; and new materials for high-capacity, slow-release thermal storage.

The report further notes that revolutionary breakthroughs come only from basic research and that, "We must understand the fundamental principles of solar energy conversion and develop new materials that exploit them."

They identified 13 priority research directions with the "potential to produce revolutionary, not evolutionary, breakthroughs in materials and processes for solar energy utilization." Cross-cutting research directions include: coaxing cheap materials to perform as well as expensive materials; developing new solar cell designs that surpass traditional efficiency limits; finding catalysts that enable inexpensive, efficient conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels; and developing materials for solar energy conversion infrastructure, such as transparent conductors and robust, inexpensive thermal management materials.

Minnesota Opens New Biodiesel Plant

The new SoyMor biodiesel plant, in Albert Lea, Minnesota, is rolling out its first test batches of the honey-colored motor fuel made from soybeans. It's one of three biodiesel plants in Minnesota built to fulfill a state mandate set in 2002 that will require diesel fuel sold in the state to be blended with 2 percent biodiesel. Biodiesel is already sold at more than 200 service stations in the state.

In March 2002, Minnesota became the first state to pass a mandate requiring that diesel fuel sold here be blended with at least 2 percent of biodiesel, beginning on July 1, 2005. Before that could be enacted, the state needed production capacity of 8 million gallons of biodiesel.

Together, the three Minnesota biodiesel makers can make 63 million gallons of biodiesel a year -- nearly eight times the threshold needed to trigger the state law. That's also more than twice the amount of all U.S. biodiesel sales last year.