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No serious student of energy can deny the inanity -- the senselessness -- of our energy system in the face of increasingly serious resource challenges (Peak Oil, climate change, etc). Beyond the necessity for confronting these challenges to stave off catastrophic implications, a simple (yet incredibly complex) truth: options exist to foster sanity out of the inane nature of today's energy system

With Crossing the Energy Divide, Moving from Fossil Fuel Dependence to a Clean-Energy Future, Robert Ayres and Edward Ayres provide a structural approach toward bridging the divide between inane and sane.  Key to their bridging strategy that enables us to thrive (or, well, at least survive) amid Peak Oil challenges as alternative (cleaner) options ramp up in scale: attacking the inefficiencies in the U.S. energy system.  The Ayres assess, with a good deal of validity, that it would be possible to raise energy efficiency in the economy from 13 to 20 percent (a 50 percent improvement) over the coming decade.

Eight 'girders' would enable building this bridge:

  2. Industrial Waste-Energy Recycling: From petroleum refining to blowing glass to making paper, industry requires tremendous heat inputs ... and typically much of the heat goes to waste.  While about 10,000 megwatts (10 gigawatts) is recovered, analysis shows that somewhere between 65 to 95 gigawatts of additional economically viable heat recovery could be used for electricity generation (somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of total US electricity demand).  This could enable shutting down perhaps 20 percent of coal-fired electricity.LLNL_Energy_Chart300   
  3. Decentralized Combined Heat and Power: Rather than generating electricity at centralized plants send it via transmission lines to heat homes, technology has advanced such that it is more cost-effective (on a systems basis) to generate heat and electricity at the point of use.   This would enable avoiding in the range of a trillion dollars in utility investments while increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel use.  Another 135 gigawatts of electricity generation capacity or, in other terms, 25+ percent of coal electricity generation.   
  4. Energy Use Efficiency in Industry and Buildings:  Over the past 40 years, some 75% of new U.S. energy demand was met via increasing efficiency ... and "three-quarters of that "invisible energy boom took place in the buildings and industry sectors." Despite these real achievements, tremendous room exists for increased efficiency.  And, those are high payoff opportunities: "efficiency investments are generally low in risk ([think] government T-bills) yet have produced high returns averaging about 25 percent".  This is the sort of investment that a floundering economy could use on a massive scale (especially since this is a job-creating investment).  Consider another 25 percent of coal plants, at least, at risk due to increased bulding/industry efficiency.   
  5. End-Use Efficiency: From the refrigerator to cars to Passiv-Haus building standards, the opportunities for improved end-use efficiency are essentially endless.  The opportunities are so strong that the authors conclude that "it is hard to make realistic projections of future efficiency gains" but even fewer polluting power plants will be necessary.   
  6. Kick-Starting the Micropower Revolution: In addition to CHP, to rooftop PV and solar hot water "can potentially covert rooftops ... into a major source of clean energy for the grid long before the end of this century."   
  7. Substituting Energy Services:  Rather than utility companies providing Kilowatt Hours (and natural gas) to run homes and businesses, Energy Service Companies (ESCs) would provide for cooling, heating, lighting our homes.  Paid for the 'service', the incentive exists to drive energy efficiency even faster.  Telecommuting, flexible work arrangements, internet shopping combiend could cut autmotive trips enough to reduce oil imports by over ten percent.   
  8. Redesigning Cities for the Future:  While more efficient ('smart growth') urban infrastructure would cut energy demands and pollution, it will serve another path: "It's not just coastal or riverside cities that can -- and should -- be gradually redesigned for climate change, however. Programs aimed at reducing automotive dominance of urgan spaces, increasing reliance on bus rapid transit, and reducing or eliminating the need for energy to heat buildings wil generate long-term savings that could more than cover the costs of the upgrading."  An insurance policy that pays for itself ...   
  9. Reforming Fresh-Water Management: Pumping and cleaning (both before and after use) water is a heavy energy user ... and this is worsening in the face of increasing water scarcities and the use of inefficient pumps in degrading acquifers. From increased end-use efficiencies, better agricultural practices, to moving away from water-demanding ethanol production, addressing fresh-water challenges will help reduce our energy challenges.

The Ayres see a "make-or-break moment".  In the book's conclusion, they argue that
our investments in [the] future must be twofold, with one stream directed to the clean-energy, low-carbon economy that will phase in over the next several decades, and another, equally strong, directed to the transitional bridge. Without adequate attention to the bridge, the American and global economies could collapse under the mounting pressures of rising population, resource scarcities, environmental decline, and climate disrputions.

But we now have abundant indications that a safe and strong bridge can be built, both quickly and affordably ... Among the signs is a U.S. power-generation system that for the past four decades has been stuck at 33 percent efficiency when existing technologies unleashed by regulatory changes can raise that to 60 percent or higher in time. We have an opportunity to save hundreds of billions of dollars in capital costs ... We have an opportunity to reduce U.S. fossil fuel use ... We have a momentous opportunity to raise the overall energy efficiency of the U.S. economy ... And, of course, we have an opportunity to save ... cities and towns from the potentialy catastrophic impacts of intensifying climate change -- and, at the same time, to materialy upgrade the energy security and quality of life in all other cities and towns.

Perhaps most significant from a pragmatic standpoint, with existing, well-tested, and relatively inexpensive methods, we have the immediate opportunity -- not theoretical, not "someday," not "if only" -- to do all this in ways that provide abundant opportunities for profitable investment. Finally, this is an opportunity -- an imperative, we believe -- to take a course of action that, far from harming or further depressing the economy, as mainstream economists have feared, will give it robust new life.

Crossing the Energy Divide provides serious educational perspectives on energy and energy systems to foster knowledge. (I learned quite a bit.) It speaks rationally about challenges and opportunities. And, it provides a vision for a more prosperous climate-friendly future.  Sadly, too large a share of the U.S. political system does not value knowledge, rationality, or fostering greater prosperity for all.

Originally posted to A Siegel on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:09 PM PDT.

Also republished by oo, DK GreenRoots, Readers and Book Lovers, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  windows (16+ / 0-)

    one thing I always notice when I go back to Germany is how well designed and insulated the windows are. My house here in SF has its original windows from over a 100 years ago, you may as well not have any at all. That would never fly in Germany. I don't know if there are any numbers on how much energy is wasted in the U.S. from cheap window design but I can't help but think it's very significant.

    Thanks, as always, A Siegel!

    •  Not just design ... (16+ / 0-)

      My home has 1990 or so windows: pretty good for that year but so-so for today's market.  Not really sensible to replace but we have great curtains and shades to compensate.  Real issue: installation.  I recently took down the walls in my wife's office to discover that not only was there zero insulation (as opposed to the marginal insulation that I had suspected -- this was homeowner done basement renovation which was worse, in this vein, than any other room in that I've worked in) but that the windows had been installed incredibly shoddily:  wood shims holding them in place but, sigh, not even caulking. Once the paneling and drywall was out, we could see daylight around the shims.  Sigh ... ripping out walls to properly caulk these windows is a rather daunting (and expensive) task that will be taken one room at a time (as I incrementally up the house's insulation since ripping out walls and rebuilding is the only viable option in this house).

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:24:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  it's an uphill battle (7+ / 0-)

        In Germany you have a whole trade of window workers plus regulations and codes that would never allow that kind of shoddy work in the first place. But you're right, ripping out all the existing drywall and windows is a waste in itself, so the most effective thing to do is probably to lobby for stricter codes and regulations in new buildings. I know you can get LEED points for that stuff, but that just doesn't seem widespread enough. Somehow we have to make it clear to people how much money they can actually save by insulating their homes better. These are long term smart and sensible investments, and even if you're not a greenie it just makes so much sense.

      •  exactly (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel, neroden, Limelite, RunawayRose

        I have "very expensive" windows from 1997 that were installed incorrectly. The Anderson Renewal guy that gave me an estimate on replacing them ($18K for the house!) told me that there are two basic types of windows (as far as installation goes). There are those designed for new construction and those designed for replacement. The former owner's contractor had taken new windows and chopped them up to make replacement windows and installed them wrong with no caulking are anything. So we have reasonably good double pane windows surrounded by a reasonably huge infiltration gap. ugh.

        And even if our heating bill went to zero it would take 10 years to pay back that kind of money.

        Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

        by jam on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 03:48:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Issue for windows ... (5+ / 0-)

          often isn't the financial level but the comfort and the esthetics. In any event, on the financing, with the exception of truly horrible windows, replacing windows is often one of the lowest ROIs in terms of energy efficiency paybacks that a homeowner can make but it is often near the top of the agenda ('visible', very well advertised (highly profitable), etc ...).

          Now, depending on how badly your windows were installed, seems to me you might have opportunities for foam insulation / such.

          Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

          by A Siegel on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 03:56:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  yep (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            A Siegel, RunawayRose

            I feel like I've done a pretty good job with upgrading the house in terms of energy efficiency in the 2 years we've owned it. My bills were lower this winter on a per heating day basis even though heating oil went up over 50% per gallon.

            Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

            by jam on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 04:06:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  sprayfoam insulation (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            A Siegel, Limelite, RunawayRose

            has been wonderful stuff for dealing with pre-existing walls which weren't insulated.  I would think unless there are other structural problems with the window installation (water infiltration, structurally unsound, etc.) that one could patch up the gaps pretty easily with it.

            Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

            by neroden on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 08:39:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Issue with sprayfoam (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              is that it is not always appropriate. (Drywall with very thin gap on top of cinderblock, in my case, that would not enable easy insertion and would not achieve high R value (although would stop air gaps).)  For windows, challenge is getting access all around the window to assure good sealing.

              Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

              by A Siegel on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 08:44:21 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  "The Super-Insulated Retrofit Book" (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              A Siegel, RunawayRose

              Is apparently still the standard text, even though it's from the 1970s.

              Available materials have changed somewhat, but apparently the principles haven't.

              Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

              by neroden on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 08:49:30 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Similarly in SoFla Issue is What Code Allows (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            A Siegel, RunawayRose

            To be blunt, I had new replacement Miami, aka, awning windows, installed three years ago to replace the old ones which weren't closing tightly any more and wasting A/C on all South Dade.

            I had to do it w/o permits because building code requires pane windows, sash style.  The problem is, Miami windows are most suitable for our climate and weather.  

            Because the windows are opened and closed with a crank that levers the overlapping large glass panes open and shut, they can be infinitely adjusted to regulate air flow (on windy days -- the Trades can howl) and against the rain.  It's wonderful to turn off the A/C, ventilate, yet keep the deluge from splashing in by cracking the Miami windows an inch or two.  You could never open a sash window during a SoFla thunder storm w/o drenching everything either from sill splash or blow-in.

            Yes, I have hurricane shutters that fit over them in that eventuality.  So, code be damned!

            Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

            by Limelite on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 12:11:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I faced a dillema (5+ / 0-)

        In 2000 I took over my Mother's vintage appartment built in 1928 with it's charming but but leaky wrought iron window frames.

        Expecting to spend at least the next 20 years there (have since moved) we undertook an ambitious plan to remodel and rennovate and decided upon a fusion of traditional and modern to create a more open and functional plan to maximize usable space (only about 400 sq ft).

        After 3 rounds of design and revision to work around the structural limitations (the last version with a structural engineer that actually knew and understood the building code and the officials at the city office) got down to the demolition and reconstruction, with the maximum amount of work done by the still ambitious we, working evenings by light bulb.

        OK, then, let's discuss widow frames in old brick buildings.

        On second thought let's not.

        After making a #$%@ing mess of things and discovering how little actual remaing metal is required to hold together wobbly iron window frames (clue: the paint may actually be more structurally importiant) I bit the bullet and called in a professional who showed me lots of nice double glazed samples, most of them pretty ugly aluminum thingies and then some more suitably traditional wooden frame windows from Finland meeting Euro standards and Mrs koNko's approval. Can you believe this was going to cost more than we spent refinishing the wooden and tile floors? Yes, you probably can. Way-way above the budget we never planned.

        Ultimate solution: Asked my neighborhood glass shop if they could repair of rebuild the frames. "No, we sell glass. Go here {address of iron fabrication shop}. Two old guys. "Yes, we can fix windows or make you new ones".

        Result: Thin profile double paned windows cleverly set into newly fabricated vintage frames set into box setction main frames welded to the rebar and then bricked up and sealed with felt shims covered with silicone sealant. And including hand crafted wrought iron handles.

        At about 25% of the price quoted for the wooden frames.

        Look for the old guys. They know what they are doing.

        Later we had most of the furnature (pretty basic) made by some other old guys.

        Ultimately the the familly added a member and we wanted to move to a neighborhood with better schools so left it behind, but it was a great experience to rebuild and lots of fun despite all the hardship and living hand to mouth so we could afford the materials.

        Unfortunately I don't seem to have any photos of the windows handy but below is Mrs KoNo the week we moved back in before putting away stuff looking from the sitting room toward the bedroom. To the right is an interior bedroom window (glass wall, bamboo shade) and to the left a faux fireplace (H beam framed minimal structural wall) built with an alcove on the bedroom side with a desk and cabinets. When you do it yourself sometimes you get some good ideas.


        Exterior, green building to the left, showing window style.  Not much to look at outside but great stone floors and open style cage lift inside and high ceilings such as no longer built.


        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 09:29:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  10 - 25% heat loss through windows in the US (11+ / 0-)

      Replacing them saves 20% - 45% of the heat they lose Lossier windows will give a better return, so a house with old, single-pane windows and no storms will gain more by replacing windows than a house with better windows and/or storms.

      •  Thanks, good info (5+ / 0-)

        and I've been meaning to tell you how much I groove on your name. ;-)

      •  Challenge (5+ / 0-)

        is that payback periods can be truly lousy on windows. As per Efficiency Vermont:

        Properly installed, high-quality energy-efficient windows do a great job of reducing drafts and increasing comfort. But the payback period, from energy savings, on the cost of replacement windows is long. So it's generally not advisable to replace windows for money-saving reasons alone.

        The cost-effective time to buy a high-performance window is when you need to replace a nonfunctional or damaged window or when you need a window where one has never been, like in a new house or an addition. But if you've got windows that work, you're better off, cost-wise, improving them than replacing them.

         Nice Treehugger discussion

        Lets assume a 2,000 square foot (~45'x45') house with eight foot ceilings. This house would have 5,440 square feet of ceiling, floor, and wall space, of which 120 square feet represent ten 3'x4' windows. If your windows currently have an R-Value of 1 and the rest of the building envelope is insulated to R-13, your building's average R-Value would be 12.73. Replacing your windows with windows rated to R-3 would increase this to 12.78, or 0.4%. Saving a couple of dollars a year on your heating bill is probably not worth spending $5,000. In fact, a study mentioned in this article says that the payback period of replacing old wooden windows is up to 400 years!

        Of course there could be additional reasons to justify your window replacement. Replacing windows, especially if the old ones are falling apart, can add value to your home if you are planning on selling in the near future. If your old windows are drafty, you will be losing far more heat through them than a few dollars a year, as well as compromising indoor comfort and air quality. Finally, if your windows are just plain broken and need to to be replaced, or if you are building a brand new house, it does pay to spend a little bit more on better windows.

        Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

        by A Siegel on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 04:00:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Absolutely (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Siegel

          We have opted for an annual "plastic the windows" event. The big problem is that the windows themselves are extremely expensive and even if you save 45% of the lost heat, you're saving 45% of (up to) 25% - so you only get, at most, a 12% savings, at a very high cost.

          Insulating and air sealing the rest of the house and covering the windows will save more energy much more quickly.

          Even a thin cotton curtain will drastically reduce heat loss by creating a dead air space between the window and the room air. In one energy audit, we observed a 10 degree difference between two adjacent windows on the same wall in the same house. One was covered with a thin cotton curtain and the other uncovered.

          Caulking around the window trim outside, and installing v-seal or another thin sealing membrane on the sashes/jambs will further reduce the heat loss, at a much lower cost than replacing the windows.

      •  Generally, insulate the roof and walls first (4+ / 0-)

        Unless you live in a masonry house, it's going to be cheaper to do ceiling and wall insulation, and so it gives a quicker payback than window replacement.  Window replacement should only generally be done if you're placing them in insulated walls.

        Masonry houses are an exception, because masonry walls can be a pain in the neck to insulate, unless you're willing to "wrap" the entire house.

        Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

        by neroden on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 08:41:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  'Windows are importiant (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, Limelite, RunawayRose

      How well they insulate, how well they ventillate, how much radiation and heat they pass or filter, and even how much pv Solar power they generate.

      A simple invention still evolving toward perfection.

      Deep subject.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 07:48:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency (11+ / 0-)

    Good to see somebody finally emphasizing the immediate solutions.  Don't see that very often.

    Of course, the big money will still go to oil, gas, coal, and nuclear and there will be no coherent US energy policy because the US doesn't do industrial policy.  Too bad we forget that no policy is a policy.

    The rest of the world is moving on without us.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:21:54 PM PDT

  •  Point number 3 is the worst idea in energy. (4+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    bryfry, OtherDoug, Egalitare, RunawayRose
    Hidden by:

    The idea that distributed energy is superior to centralized energy ignores completely history.

    The most common form of distributed energy on earth is the, um, car, which as it happens, is the greatest environmental energy disaster of all time.

    Anyone who wants to hawk distributed energy has not considered the issue of point source pollutants, which are an intractable problem.

    Recently there have been a number of papers written in the primary scientific literature on the toxicology of cadmium telluride leachates.

    In 30 years, when all of our "freedom generating" solar PV panels have made their way to landfills, we're going to have a huge point source pollution problem on our hands, even though in 30 years solar PV energy will still remain a trivial source of energy.

    When I hear people singing praises of distributed energy, I invite them to go on a hike around a lake or slow flowing stream anywhere in North American and see how many minutes, exactly, it takes to locate an oil slick.

    That is, um, point source pollution.

    Of course the car was marketed, in the early days, via appeals to "freedom."    It was garbage a century ago, and it is garbage now.

    Basically, suburbs are examples of distributed energy, for instance, furnaces in every house in the town where I live.

    By contrast, district heating via cogeneration - a centralized technology available in many cities - is incredibly superior, and lacks the obvious environmental consequences of low use redundancy.

    The idea that distributed energy is a good idea is marketing.    It is, again, the worst idea in energy.

    Have a nice evening.

    •  Combined heat & power systems lock in NG use. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, A Siegel, RunawayRose

      Combined heat & power (CHP) systems are generally fueled by natural gas (NG).  While that's certainly better than coal, it's only marginally better in terms of CO2 emissions.  We've seen how old, polluting, oil-fired boilers can be kept in operation long after more efficient alternatives were commercialized.  If there is a wholesale move to CHP for power and heat production for residential and commercial scale buildings we will lock in NG use for decades to come unless we commit to large scale production of syngas from low-CO2 sources.  I'm not convinced that a syngas approach is feasible or wise, so I'm really skeptical of this point as well.

      Utilizing the waste heat from power generation should be attempted for all power sources, but that can done at centralized plants as well as decentralized.  Waste heat utilization at large plants makes sense if you want to use that heat for industrial processes, something I think needs to be done.  That sort of industrial utilization becomes more difficult the more decentralized the power generation infrastructure becomes.

    •  How do you propose to solve the waste (4+ / 0-)

      of power transmission? Roughly 2/3rds of the power generated never makes it to the consumers of that power. It would seem local systems, maybe not house by house, but perhaps block by block or neighborhood sized ones would be more efficient.

      The Weeping Orange Creeper (vulgarium boehnerii) is a Class B noxious weed weed and should be removed if possible.

      by ontheleftcoast on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:54:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Couple things ... (5+ / 0-)

      1.  Isn't district heating with cogeneration distributed power generation, even if 'centralized' in a relatively small zone?

      2.  Question to consider: if this had been focused on SMRs / 'battery'-like nukes (Hyperion?) as a path toward having a distributed small-scale nuclear power supported system, would you be as dismissive?  

      3.  Really, what you are pointing to is the importance of paying attention to the 'risk' of distributed power. One of the arguments 'for' electric cars is that it is far easier to control (& reduce) pollution at large facilities than attempt (for example, C02 capture) to control pollution at 10s of millions of tailpipes.  Can distributed power be done cleanly is a different question/challenge.

      4.  Honestly, for resiliency purposes, I see value to a mixed centralized and distributed energy (including generation) system, enabling at least limited 'islanding' and continued functioning in the face of manmade or natural disasters.  

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 05:25:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Regarding point 1... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel, RunawayRose

        ...I had the same thought.  I would have thought NNadir would be supportive of decentralized, modular reactors and nuclear batteries, but his argument seems to be in favor of large centralized plants.

        I think that district heating using cogeneration may fall in the middle of the spectrum in terms of centralization.  It's an interesting option, but requires siting generation plants in or adjacent to residential neighborhoods.  That might work if those plants are fuel cells or some other technology with minimal emissions but I'm not certain that folks will be satisfied with a medium sized NG combined cycle plant next door, even if the emissions are just water vapor and CO2.

      •  Efficiency v jobs (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        neroden, RunawayRose

        I'm not an expert - at all - in this, but it seems to me that a distributed system creates more jobs in the United States, but at the cost of being significant less efficient and with the potential for significantly more lifecycle pollution than a concentrated system.

        My rationale is basically this:  It's far more efficient to have wind farms in the great plains and solar farms in the southwest, where the renewable resources are more concentrated, but having a solar panel on every roof makes for hundreds of thousands of solar repair technician jobs.

        Which is better, long run, for our society and environment?  30,000,000 solar panels and 250,000 solar techs, or 300,000 solar panels and a team of 3,500 solar techs?

        These numbers are obviously made up, and my thinking could be wrong.  If so, someone please correct me!

        •  There are so many factors ... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OtherDoug, neroden, RunawayRose

          Writ large, "Large" is better for wind turbines along with siting in best location.  More efficient 'small' turbines are being developed but we're far from 'there there' (not just imo).  Best / saddest item in this Worst wind turbine installs in history. (Note, this is a page at Paul Gipe's Wind-Works, which is a tremendous resource for learning more about wind power.)

          Solar can scale incredibly easily.  There are 'efficiencies' for large-scale in the southwest while there are other efficiencies for putting directly on the rooftop in an urban area.

          And, there are ways in which distributed power can be far more efficient. (Think CHP for home heating, where the natural gas heater is also an electricity generator -- far more efficient, even with the capital costs, than central generation and distribution, in colder climates. (Not great in an area which requires only a few months of heating / year.))

          Point is that there is no 'single point' solution / answer.  

          Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

          by A Siegel on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 08:02:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Some answers to your questions. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel, bryfry

        1.   Well, you would have a point, if you discussed "cars," I guess.   Most of them are cogeneration systems, at least in winter.   They aren't, however, very clean.

        By defnition, district heat systems are fairly large.   When I was a kid, we had power generators in my high school that were cogeneration systems.    They were all powered by oil.    As such, there was no real resources to do things like make the oil tanks secure, monitor catalyst performance, control pollution in other ways.

        One may argue that this is a district heating system, and in a way it is.   It did, in fact, reduce the pollution associated with the combustion of dangerous fossil fuels, but it is not what I would call "safe."    We had school children, myself included, breating dangerous fossil fuel fumes.

        2.   I am not, and never have been, a small reactor kind of guy.    That said, it turns out that about 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions and a considerable portion of coastal particulate pollution is associated with ocean freighters, so I would certainly support small freighters powered like naval ships with nuclear power.    Otherwise the advantages are over rated except in remote communities.

        The Hyperion concept is interesting to me only because of the very high burn-up of the fuels, more than 100,000 MWd/ton of heavy metal.    That's impressive, but it is not enough to overcome other problems.    

        One may argue that the only thing that failed when a 14 meter wave swept over the Japanese plants that are gathering so much attenition as a distraction was, diesel systems, and that therefore small reactors would have been superior, since they can function, as is well known, under water.

        But my view is that large reactors are superior for many reasons, if one manages the heat transfer issues properly.    The fact that volume and mass increases as a cubic function while area increases as a square function, does put limits on the size of reactors, but with proper thinking, nuclear fuels can be made very dense.

        3.   Carbon dioxide capture was, is and always will be a, um, pipe dream.    It's not even worth discussing.    

        There is not enough neodymium (and alternate lanthanides) to make even a million low weight electric cars, never mind 700,000,000 or 1 billion.

        The idea of electric cars is like putting one of those little circular bandaids kids used to put on pimples on an amputated limb.

        4.  I am all for high energy efficiency, but the real path to efficiency is for all heat engines, Carnot efficiency.    This means that the heat difference between the heat reservoir and the cold reservoir - which is usually the ambient temperature (which is why summer capacity of power plants is lower than winter capacity) - must be as high as possible.

        The most efficient powerplants operate at very high temperatures.    The drawback to such systems is materials cost.

        Let me give you an example.

        This weekend, to distract myself from the orgy of anti-science now being played out in public,  I was reading an excellent monograph, just recently published on superalloys.


        These are alloys that combine reasonable levels of being machinable, with corrosion resistance, high tensile and shear strength and resistance to high temperatures.

        The most common use for these superalloys are in turbines, including power plant turbines, in jet engines, and in nuclear power plants.    Some regrettably have been used in high temperature coal plants.

        One of the things about superalloys is that they are expensive.   I have personally priced Inconel and Hastelloy at different times in my carreer for various reasons, and, um, they're not cheap.   On the contrary, they are expensive.

        Their primary component element is nickel, which is about 24 times as expensive as steel and four times as expensive as copper.

        It follows that investing in these systems will need to have high productivity and will need to be designed to be as immortal as is possible.

        This is not possible to do for a small neighborhood system, nor can they afford the engineering professionals whose task will be to monitor system performance.

        Distributed energy sounds good if you don't scratch the surface, but if you do a little digging, and I do, its less attractive.

        •  It's funny (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NNadir, A Siegel

          how nobody talks about the pollution spread by the cars that were swept away by the tsunami. Many of the pictures that I recall seeing on TV had at least two dozen automobiles being pulled along by the current.

          Each of those cars has a lead-acid battery and a tank full of hydrocarbon fuel that contains known carcinogens. Where is the containment for this material?

          No, it has now been strewn across the countryside, and very few people even notice.

          Automobiles are our largest example of "distributed energy." And people want more of this?!

          An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
          -- H. L. Mencken

          by bryfry on Thu Mar 24, 2011 at 06:33:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  HRed for the usual bullshit. (0+ / 0-)

      No, solar panels are not going to go to landfills, they're going to go to recycling -- this is already done.  No, they are not all going to be cadmium telluride.  No, in 30 years PV will not be a "trivial" source of energy.

      Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

      by neroden on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 08:44:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Wrong. Very wrong. (3+ / 0-)

      I realize you are recovering from a car accident and probably in no mood for an arguement but you are really presenting an uninformed an illogical arguement based on a strongly biased philosophical viewpiont and some rediculous assumptions based on generalities that don't exist in the real world.

      Simply stated there is no one size fits all solution because there is no one model and set of conditions the world runs by.

      In some situations off grid distributed generation or small local grids are the most cost effective and effcient solution. For example, running transmission lines great distances to service low intensity consumers is not cost or energy effecient. Wind and solar works best. Perhaps in your ideal nuclear future small modular reactors can replace the renewables you find so philosopically distasteful but that won't be any day soon, if ever.

      In other situations such as high density urban or industrial areas grids and larger scale generation sources are a given and quite effcient if properly designed, but whether you like it or not the future will include greater diversity of power sources because they work and lower the cost.Wind is already cheaper than nuclear. That is a fact.

      Complain all you like about it but the world is moving in that direction whether you like it or not. If that bothers you, tough shit, enjoy your bunker.

      And BTW, Solar cells are easily recycleable and don't present a problem of storing the spent cells in salt mines for 10,000 years.

      Happy Day.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 10:17:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Because this is a book review (6+ / 0-)

    I am republishing it to Readers & Book Lovers and adding our tags.

    This will put it into over 400 streams.

    Another important diary...thank you!!!!

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:52:49 PM PDT

  •  Simply staggering the amount of waste (7+ / 0-)

    in our systems. Of the nearly 100 quadrillion BTU's of energy we consume in a year something like 60% of it is "rejected energy". Basically wasted. Transportation is easily the worst offender, something like 75% of the energy is wasted. But just getting the power from places it's created to places it's used is nearly as bad. Roughly 2/3rds goes into wasted heat. The energy consumption of the US, even with major efficiency gains (like getting nearly all of that 60% back) seems unsustainable. We'd still need something like 30T watts per day to keep our current lifestyles. And as you point out, with the coming demands of fresh water for food, etc. that number will only go up.

    The Weeping Orange Creeper (vulgarium boehnerii) is a Class B noxious weed weed and should be removed if possible.

    by ontheleftcoast on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:42:39 PM PDT

  •  Heard about Solar Roofing Material (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, RunawayRose

    a couple years ago.  Not solar collector units, but actual roofing "shingle" material.

    Excellent idea for people like me who live in sunshine-y hurricane alley.  Traditional roof-mounted solar collectors need to be uninstalled for every hurricane and are impractical for a latitude where solar power ought to be generated in every single building.

    But integrated solar roofing is a great idea.  The problem is its terrific expense.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 12:17:41 PM PDT

    •  BIPV (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Limelite, RunawayRose

      refers, generally, to solar shingles -- e.g., that be integrated into the 'normal' roofing structure and not be something bolted onto the roof.

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 12:31:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Interesting about the hurricanes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I think there is potential for solar thermal collectors inside the attic, which would sidestep the hurricane issue. My attic is pretty well ventilated, but temp is currently 134F compared to 93F outside. There is a company 'solarattic' that uses attic heat for a pool heater, and a variety of patents to utilize attic heat for residential hot water, but I don't think there are any products commercially available.

  •  I clicked the link to the book. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, Ahianne

    Site says it's not available to the U.S.; pity about that. I'd get it if I could.

    C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la pomme de terre.

    by RunawayRose on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 03:07:20 PM PDT

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