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What do you want to do about “energy”

What can an individual do to lower energy usage, and shift to “greener”, “sustainable” energy sources?

Our approach is to take a “realistic” look at what is real and what is hype, what is effective and what is sales talk. There is so much information, and mis-information, out there that it seems silly to start another web site on the same subject (some 13.4 million hits on energy, realist).  But the aim is to work through this in an orderly fashion, based on what you want to do. We will try and explain our reasoning as best we can and welcome your feedback.

We also want to create a discussion on what we can learn from other parts of the world.  Germany and Australia, at different ends of the world and in different climates, have done much to use renewable energy resources.  We have homeowner experience from those two countries and want to build on that experience.

Home, sweet home

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Here is an old house in NJ,USA showing heat loss through poor windows and minimal insulation

“Why” do you want to do something about home energy consumption?

go to detail on energy at home

Community

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Everyone wants clean energy. Nobody wants turbines in their backyard.

Want to raise hell in your town meeting? Want your town to stop using diesel spewing trash trucks? How about zoning for wind turbines? Getting a permit to drill a geothermal well?  We’ll try and look at some of those items.

Anyone who has dabbled in this area knows that the NIMBY and BANANA effects are the major considerations here.

The world

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Lots of oil around. Do we really want to waste it?

Energyrealist is about individual action, and we don’t presume to advise how to solve the problem at a national or international level.

The common wisdom is that “every little bit helps”, and if you just change your lights to CFL’s and unplug the charger for your laptop all will be fine.  An extra inch of insulation will save so many supertankers of oil, and so forth.  The real problem is of course much bigger than that.  The realistic statement should be “if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.” (*Paraphrase of the motivations from “Sustainable Energy” by David JC MacKay – here is a Apr ’09 interview with MacKay)

We need to do a lot, to achieve a lot.  To achieve a lot you need to give input to decision makers.  You need to know the issues and form an opinion.

The trouble is that everything is connected to everything else. The other trouble is that politicians are connected to everything. And the other trouble is that every lobby is very skillful at pushing their agenda to the politicians.

We will build up a list of sites and contacts to help in that process.

go to detail on energy for the world

What am I doing?

1. Reading 7 years’ worth of xkcd cartoons. #1007 seems sort of appropriate:

I wonder if, when every word becomes “sustainable”, we will actually have a sustainable energy situation. One can hope.

2. Going on a trip to the other side of world – with a short (4 minute) video – go see it!

Some duty, lots of fun. More energy related items to report on – later.

Solar Energy!!

Solar "oven". Triple insulated glass box with a stainless steel door to the kitchen. Put pie in oven, wait, serve...

Dry composting toilet - before installation. 6 wedge shaped containers in the circular box. Rotate the wedges under the toilet seat every 4 months. After 2 years the 1st container comes back to the start. Remove the dry composted material. No water used!

At Kings Creek, Northern Territory, Australia

Dinner at Kings Creek station.  The man on the left is Ian Conway, owner of the station – an activist on aboriginal affairs, a mover for tourism and breeder of camels.  On the right is Dick Smith, probably one of Australia’s most recognized entrepreneurs.  He is active in politics and has outspoken positions on unending growth, including matters of energy.   In December 2011, Smith was appointed as a Consulting Professor in the Department of Biology, School of Humanities and Sciences of Stanford University California by Dean, Richard P.Saller. This was made in recognition of his many years of work in relation to environmental issues including his 2011 book, Dick Smith’s Population Crisis.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

This crazy hotel in Singapore has swimming pool in that curved ship-shaped part 57 floors up.  “They” claim it is an energy efficient and environmentally responsible building.  But even if it isn’t – it is sort of cool.

3. Some minimal amount of gardening.

There has to be an energy connection. My job is to cut back on the lush growth this time of year; stop the house being lost, like Sleeping Beauty’s castle like, behind a wall of roses. All that bio-fuel…

4. Working

Solving New Jersey’s energy problem one house at a time.

5. Learning stuff

My new mobile phone has so much power and so much capability I need to a postgrad course to keep up. And by the time I’ve finished it will be obsolete. And I really need to understand VB in Excel, and what about the meaning of William Blake’s poems, and…

6. Waiting for a response from Statoil

Oh well, I guess they’re busy.  I’m sure they’ll write soon…

Statoil and me

So I wrote to the CEO of Statoil, and 2 other key executives, congratulating them on their fine “oil is great and see how alternative energy savvy we are” web site, and the brilliant name they have chosen; “Energy Realities”.  And I wrote how flattered I was that they chose such a great name – being the original energy realist.  And how much more flattered I would be if they could transfer some of their oil cash to poor, realistic me.

The result is of course absolutely predictable – absolutely nothing.

Not even a tongue-in-cheek response by some underling thanking me for my letter and wishing me well?  Come on Statoil you can do better than that

2013

Happy New Year – about 300 energy audits done over the last 2 and a bit years.  I’ve seen lots of houses from McMansions to tiny cottages.  The owners are all interesting, most very pleasant.

They self-select as being interested in saving energy because they contact us, agree to have us spend hours in their house and pay a fee up front.  Yet almost half decide not to go ahead with a project.  Why?

It could be that I’m a lousy salesrep, but the statistics comparing to others don’t support that theory.

More likely it is a combination of factors;

  • The cost of a project is relatively high, in the region of $10-20K
  • We are still in times of economic uncertainty
  • The rebates and 0% loans – very generous in New Jersey – still do not totally cover the costs and most people don’t have cash laying around.
  • Boilers and insulation, even if we love them, are not very sexy.  Air sealing is of course quite invisible.  A new counter top or some window treatment is more satisfying.
  • The price of energy is too low

The last item is the most important in my opinion.  Sure, it’s great to have low energy costs and the impact on a fragile economy of increased prices would be painful.  The prices are low partially because energy is still easily available (in the US) and because the costs are subsidized by all sorts of of direct  and indirect  support.

[Direct support such as tax incentives, exploration subsidies and much larger indirect support like leases on government land and payment of environmental and health effects by others – later]

For a home owner to really embrace a project they have to fall into one of three categories;

  • The rebates and other incentives cover most of the project
  • Their furnace or boiler is broken and they need a replacement today (and might as well collect the rebate…)
  • They have a “green” philosophy and a ten year plus outlook on return on investment

OK then, on into another year, looking for these enlightened people – and thanks to all my previous clients.

More Sandy stuff

Power is back!  We were very lucky.  Other towns were hit so much worse.  The FEMA distribution stations are busy, lines at fuel stations long.  We pulled apart the fuel filler to the pickup truck to defeat the anti-siphon grid and get fuel out to power the generator.

Here are my videos of during and after (Warning: they are quite boring to start!  But that’s how it was; very quiet until the late evening and then again not much damage around our house until we walked into town)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL6bdv_Kxuw&feature=plcp

And here is some NOAA imagery.  The first photo is from Keyport.  You can see the boats all smooched into one corner of Pedersen’s yard and the two boats suspended from the bridge. Further down are some more dramatic images of the way the water carved new channels through existing suburbs.

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/weeklynews/nov12/ngs-sandy-imagery.html

This one is post-Sandy satellite imagery.  By zooming in you can see the debris surrounding the houses.
Anyhow – – let’s at least talk about getting, some of, the power lines underground.  All the fuel shortage and rationing is not because there is no fuel – it’s mostly because there is no electricity to pump it.

Hurricane Sandy

Day 4 after Hurricane Sandy went through.

Unlike many others, and unlike buildings in the center of Keyport, we had minimal damage.  It was not until I walked into town on Tuesday that we realized the extent of the destruction.  In Keyport there is almost no damage from trees (Keyport trees have to be tough to stand the constant northerlies in winter), the damage is from the storm surge.

Watching the 10’ plus waves chew up the shore line on Monday night and seeing the amount of debris they threw up (from trees to boats to sections of dock) I realized that my measly few sand bags around the basement door were not going to do much.

With a lot of luck high tide turned at about 9:30 pm and the wind shifted to the east at much the same time.  We were lucky…

I am trying to get videos up to YouTube, but no luck with the internet connection so far. Here are a couple of pictures during, and after.

The Steam Boat Museum - gone - some nice pieces of maritime history washed away

Let's dock the boat on this bridge over here...

Lessons?

I was not nearly as prepared as I should have been.  The long electricity outage (it could be another week, maybe more…) means nothing works; no heat, no fridge (some bait in there really started to smell!), no internet (except on the cell phone), no traffic lights, no pumps, no cooktop, no microwave, no electric kettle, no TV etc. etc.

Back to my hobby horse; get those power lines underground!  Sure it’s expensive, but look at the added security.

And the elections; one party promises some focus on energy conservation, renewable energy and all that green stuff.  The other promises “North American” energy independence.  Listen closely it does not say American independence, it says North American.  In practice it means drill, baby drill, it means Canadian tar sands and a huge pipeline, it means more Mexican off-shore rigs in the gulf.

No wonder Statoil is launching that beautiful web site – see my previous entry.

More when I get power again – in all senses of the word.

Energy Realities

This popped up on my screen – and, man, am I jealous!  This is the site I would have liked to build.  But then I don’t quite have the resources of Statoil, The Economist, New Scientist, Slate and National Geographic.  Anyhow, nice of them to adopt the realist’s realistic approach.

It’s a mouthwatering web site.  Have a look at this(I seem to have a formatting problem embedding the graphic – will try to fix)

Here is another image from the site:

“Although not yet widely exploited, the kinetic energy in tidal currents has huge potential for generating electricity. SeaGen, the world’s first commercial-scale tidal turbine, has been operational in the waters of Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland) since 2008, producing enough power for 1,500 homes. Further installations of SeaGen systems are planned for Scottish and Canadian waters between now and 2020”

How, you ask, can the realist take time to surf the web and stumble on other web sites, when he should be out saving the world by selling insulation and boilers?  Good question.  Mea culpa.  I thought maybe, over an early Sunday cup of coffee, I might be permitted….

Then I ponder Statoil at the head of the list and it gives me pause.  Who is Statoil?

Statoil is an international energy company with operations in 36 countries. Building on 40 years of experience from oil and gas production on the Norwegian continental shelf, we are committed to accommodating the world’s energy needs in a responsible manner, applying technology and creating innovative business solutions. We are headquartered in Norway with approx. 21,000 employees worldwide, and are listed on the New York and Oslo stock exchanges.”

OK, so it’s an oil company.  A Norwegian oil company; which counts for something in terms of ethics etc.  If I read the reports at the time correctly Norwegian practices in blow-out preventers would not have allowed a spill like the BP Gulf of Mexico event.  (Please note that I do not use the words disaster, fiasco or calamity – I am being cool and calm).

Statoil also has a web site to drool over.  Lovely photography and videos, concern for the environment, support for the achievers of the next generation.  It’s all good.  The data on energyrealities should oslo be good given the fact checking prestige of the other sponsors.

Here is just one chart, and honestly, it is depressing.

Why depressing?  Look at Australia; almost all fossil fuel.  Look at France; looks great, but note it is “Alternative AND Nuclear”.  France of course has the world’s highest percentage of nuclear energy.  Look at Germany; despite their world lead in solar, and a strong push in wind power, they are still overwhelmingly fossil fuel dependent.  (I think there is a problem with the site and I can’t scroll to any other countries)

So now I have spoilt my Sunday morning may as well go all the way:

Article in Slate Magazine about how alarmists, using suspect data, undermine legitimate concerns about genetically modified crops and global warming.

Article on the BBC about the uncertainties of predicting world population.  Is the fertility reduction in economically advanced countries just a temporary blip?  Evolutionary biology suggests that the more resources you have (i.e. the wealthier you are) the more fertile offspring you produce.

Could we really have 30 billion people on the earth?

“…forecasting population will always be a highly uncertain science.  In 2004 the UN’s department of economic and social affairs tried to guess what the global population could be in 2300.  It said the population would stabilise at around nine billion by 2050 and then remain at that level for the rest of the period.  But that was just its medium estimate. Its high estimate was 36.4bn, and its low estimate just 2.3bn”

OK guys, time to stop reproducing!

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