Friday, March 27, 2009

There Is No Such Thing as Clean Coal

I saw an ad on the television the other day, using a clip of President Barack Obama (presidential candidate at the time) on the campaign trail saying to the crowd that clean coal (scrubbing sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other particulate emissions from the coal-burning process) could be a reality some day soon. I've also seen and heard Barry Schweitzer, governor of Montana, speak to the benefits of carbon sequestration (burying carbon dioxide underground) from coal-fired power plants. The latter is unproven on a large-sale and is cost prohibitive. The former is to me an oxymoron. Even if you capture all of the particulate matter and toxic chemicals from the coal-burning process where do you put it? We've seen what happened in Tennessee when we put another by-product of the coal burning process, fly-ash (aka "slurry"), into large storage ponds or landfills. There's a chance that it will spill, flood, or completely leach into the water supply as we saw in Tennessee in December 2008.

If you hadn't already noticed from the masthead above, I am a proponent of renewable energy. The reasons are simple. For one, the current rate at which the U.S. and other emerging economies (China and India) burn coal for their electricity and/or use oil in the combustion engine is unsustainable. These fossil fuels are both finite and hazardous to humans, animals and the planet itself. Second, I am a much happier person (and I think it's safe to say for all Earthly people) with clean air, water, and land. Burning coal or oil doesn't contribute to clean air, water, or land. Using renewable energy sources does. Third, finding renewable resources to assist with our energy needs is the right thing to do for the living and future generations.

I am not an environmentalist or a moral crusader. I am realist. That having been said, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that there is no such thing as clean coal and burying carbon dioxide underground is a fool's errand. Utilizing renewable, clean energy technologies to offset some of our coal-burning is a step in the right direction. And let it be known that I completely understand that the road ahead involves a partnership with coal, because the base electricity load cannot be supported by solar or wind technologies alone. Coal still needs to be used for the foreseeable future. But we can't continue to use coal as our primary means to electricity because it is the cheapest source out there. When our skies are polluted and our coastal cities are flooded and our droughts get worse, and the forest fires become more intense and prevalent, and the food supply dwindles, and people begin to starve, I dare say that we aren't going to care whether things are "cheaper."

So let's lose the myopia, and the feeble attempts at placating the coal and oil lobbies who scream that the sky will fall and jobs will be lost if we take away the lush subsidies that they receive today. We need to roll up our sleeves and figure out a way to transfer most of our energy production to renewable sources as soon as possible. This isn't a time for politics as usual or business as usual. This isn't time for outta sight outta mind and back to our SUVs and driving 10 miles to the grocery store just because gas prices are low. This is time to plan for the future with innovation and research and investment into renewable energy, alternative public transportation sources, localization (food, energy, and commerce), smart grids, and urban renewal. What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

World’s Fastest Electric Car is a 1972 Datsun

Nice. 0-60 mph in 3 seconds! 20 minutes to charge, and it'll run for about 40 miles on a charge. That's impressive. And how fun would it be to drag race an electric '72 Datsun against BMWs and Ferrari's and blow their doors off? It would be hard to wipe the silly little grin off of my face.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stimulus Bill to Boost Colorado's New Energy Economy

Really nice article on what the stimulus bill is going to do to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency in Colorado. Nestled within the article is a hint of Colorado being a renewable energy leader that other states can use as a model. It's definitely becoming a reality but I am not going to celebrate yet because there is a lot of work to do. So read the article yourself and start to think about weatherizing your home, or installing that solar thermal system to help offset the cost to heat your pool or jacuzzi, or maybe a PV array to provide electricity for your home or business. All of these actions will go to employing more people and helping to cement Colorado as a leader in this industry.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ascent Solar World HQ Grand Opening in Colorado

Ascent Solar's worldwide headquarters and manufacturing plant had their grand opening today with Governor Ritter attending. They expect to hire up to 200 people over the next year. Ascent Solar manufacturers thin-film solar technology, which has many applications (think PV on a thin and light substrate as oppossed to those large and heavy PV modules you see on roof tops). This is a good day for Colorado and another step forward into become a leader in renewable energy. Congratulations Ascent Solar!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Honda Takes on the Prius

A little competition never hurt anybody. Looks as though Honda is back in the market selling hybrids. Hopefully this will squeeze Toyota a bit to drop their prices so more people can afford these cars. We'll see.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Boulder County's ClimateSmart Loan Program: April 1 to April 10, 2009

For those of you in Boulder county, the ClimateSmart Loan application window is coming up soon. The ClimateSmart Loan Program provides low-interest loans for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements for residents in Boulder county. The application window is April 1 through April 10, 2009. That's 10 short days. More information can be found through the following:

Boulder County ClimateSmart: For a list of eligible measures, property owner checklists and loan details)

Center for Resource Conservation: For workshop details and registration
303-999-3820 x216

Standard Renewable Energy: For ClimateSmart Value Packages and to schedule an Energy Audit
(303) 562-2752

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Colorado Brewer Learns Lesson About Green Marketing

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. Kudos to New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado for releasing a sustainability report on their environmental footprint and for demonstrating that a corporation can have integrity and humility and still be successful.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Renewable Energy a Top Priority for U.S. Interior Secretary

I've had my disagreements with Ken Salazar when he was a Colorado Senator over some of his political positions, but I must say that he has blossomed quite nicely as the U.S. Interior Secretary. This past week he issued an order that recognizes our dependence on foreign oil and the need for a clean energy economy with new jobs. It is refreshing to see an Interior Secretary that is concerned with addressing our national addiction rather than doing business as usual.

Friday, March 13, 2009

University of Miami Physicist Develops Battery Using New Source of Energy

Synchronicity lurks in the battery world? Another battery story, but different from the one I posted on Wednesday. This one happens to be about storing energy with magnets instead of with the chemical reactions in a typical battery (think lead-acid). Really interesting invention.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

U.S. Engineers Find Way to Build a Better Battery

Update: more scientific candy here at MIT's Technology Review.

Wow. Researchers have figured out a way to charge a cell phone lithium battery in seconds. How exciting and how unbelievable. Just think of all the applications that this technology can be used for. Check out the article for the scientific goodies.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Xcel CEO Reconfirms Company’s Commitments: Efficiency Programs Still a Priority

It's good to see that Xcel's leadership is committed to reducing consumer demand for energy (aka demand side management) through various energy efficiency programs. As I've said before making your home or building energy efficient provides a bigger and faster ROI than investing in supply side technology like PV or solar thermal. So, it does make good business sense for Xcel to make an investment in these type of demand side management programs, as opposed to only building new renewable energy power plants where the ROI would take longer. First step of initiating your own demand side management program is of course, the obligatory energy audit.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

NY Times Op-Ed: Home-grown Power

I'm going to have to agree with Mr. Bowles on most of his points in his op-ed. The model of generating power in one place and then transmitting it over a wire a hundred miles away seems to me to be a bit outdated, if not cost prohibitive. I believe that my old friend, "localization" might need to be brought up again.

As Mr. Bowles mentions there are several methods of renewable energy production that are respective to their geography, "hydropower in the Northwest, solar in the Southwest, and wind farms offshore in the ocean." These green power methods can be produced regionally and distributed regionally. In addition, power generation from the grid can be supplemented with home power (PV, solar thermal) and energy efficiency methods (insulation, caulking, Energy Star appliances, efficient HVACs) which will reduce the need for power. Couple that with a dose of conservation and we might just have an abundance of clean energy.

So, although building new power transmission lines across the U.S. might provide for new jobs, we should take a serious look at localized energy production and distribution, which will be cost effective, will begin to perpetuate a localized mindset (think local agriculture, too), and will help eliminate single points of failure in the transmission grid. Who doesn't like a little home-grown love anyway?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why Biofuels Are the Rainforest's Worst Enemy

In my post below this one, I should have added one more thing to my statement on 'using human food sources for biofuels." It is not just turning human food sources into biofuels that is egregious (in my humble opinion), but that growing biomass on agriculturally viable land (whether it be fertile farmland or acres of rain forest) is troublesome. Any threat to food supplies or biodiversity is problematic (and also shows that we do not take future generations into consideration).

This excellent reporting by Mother Jones magazine on the rush to grow oil palms (good for creating biodiesel, apparently) on diverse rain forest land is particularly troublesome. The rush to find cheaper fuel is clouded with the myopia of short-term profits. Third world nations, with the help of their governments, are rushing to grow palm trees on rain forest land. If the rain forests die, we die. It is really that simple.

The second-generation biofuels that I am talking about are the algaes that can be grown in tanks in the desert. That is the type of biofuel that we can generate with somewhat of a clear conscience and an eye toward the future. I wonder when we are going to stop this nonsense of short-term thinking and greed.

Light Immersion Technology Could Speed Up Algae Growth, Lower Biofuel Costs

It is encouraging that researchers are beginning to realize that second generation biofuels are the practical and moral way to go (as opposed to using human food sources such as corn to create fuel for our automobiles). In addition, I am encouraged by all of the research that is being put towards second gen biofuels. Articles such as this one on speeding up algae growth with "light immersion technology" demonstrate the good things that can come from the inquisitive and scientific human mind. More of this please.

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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