Green Building, Carbon Footprint, and Santa Explained

Santa and His Sleigh, Compressing Space and Time
Santa and His Sleigh, Compressing Space and Time

In the last week or two I came across a number of interesting energy-related resources, blogs, websites, and talks that I wanted to share.

  • I was happy to run across Barry Katz’s new blog, The Future Is Green, because Barry, a home builder, is where all home builders need to get in the next 5-10 years. He’s committed to building zero-net energy homes and remodels. His web site has examples of the some of the work he’s done so far.

    In fact, the homebuilding industry can do something that not even hybrid cars can do. It is entirely possible, using currently available technology and materials, to build homes that consume zero-net energy. And not only zero net energy, but energy positive enough to recharge our plug-in hybrids. Such houses exist already. If we can build one, we can build many. (From Barry’s post, What We Need Now.)

    Barry’s also writing a book on green remodels, which should be useful for people like me who live in a house that’s already been built.

  • Saul Griffith, of Makani Power, calculated his current carbon footprint, and then his “allocated” carbon footprint as a global citizen. In this talk at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference earlier this year, he walks through those numbers – which are both scary and heartening. His calculations suggest that we need to throttle our energy usage at about 15 terawatts (TW) for the entire earth. As he puts it:
  • My life today is 18 horsepower, my new life should be three horsepower

    I found the section on the energy available for us to use – the total solar flux, the tidal power of gravity, nuclear, and geothermal – extremely interesting (about 30:30 into the recording).

    There are only four sources of energy – sun (85,000 TW), gravity (tidal – 3.7 TW), geothermal (constant flux of 32 TW), nuclear. All photosynthesis is 90 TW, which is the major argument against biofuels.

  • Science Daily reports on some research by Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, regarding Santa Claus’s ability to “travel around the world in just one night on his reindeer-pulled sleigh and deliver toys to all the children.”
  • “He understands that space stretches, he understands that you can stretch time, compress space and therefore he can, in a sense, actually have six Santa months to deliver the presents,” Silverberg told Reuters.

I hope you enjoy these links – let me know your thoughts, especially about the Griffiths talk if you have a chance to listen to it on your iPod – or on your computer at work.

Biofuels Are Sustainable and Economical, Say German Researchers

Ablaze
Blaze (image by Nicholas T, CC 2.0 license)

Oh Snap! Now some German scientists have (in effect) taken a swing at Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson, who concluded in a recent paper that biofuels are a bad policy direction (see summary post here).

In their paper Sustainable global energy supply based on lignocellulosic biomass from afforestation of degraded areas, Prof. Jürgen O. Metzger from Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany and Prof. Aloys Huettermann from the University of Goettingen in Germany say that growing and using biofuels for all the earth’s energy needs is not only possible without jeopardizing the global food supply, but also economically feasible.

Their key discovery is that by reforesting land that has been “degraded by human use in historical times”, they found:

… the global energy demand projected by the International Energy Agency in the Reference Scenario for the year 2030 could be provided sustainably and economically primarily from lignocellulosic biomass grown on areas which have been degraded by human activities in historical times.

(H/T to Science Daily for the link.)

The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind

Windmill and old houses in Schipluiden
Old Windmill (image by waterwin, CC 2.0 license)

The results of this study on solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, by Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson, are somewhat surprising, given the drumbeat from many areas on both nuclear and biofuels as necessary for the salvation of the world.

Jacobson analyzes 12 energy sources for their beneficial impact on global warming, air pollution, and energy security – the ten electricity sources are solar-photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology; the two liquid fuel options are corn-ethanol (E85) and cellulosic-E85.

An article in Science Daily summarizes one of Jacobson’s conclusions:

Jacobson said that while some people are under the impression that wind and wave power are too variable to provide steady amounts of electricity, his research group has already shown in previous research that by properly coordinating the energy output from wind farms in different locations, the potential problem with variability can be overcome and a steady supply of baseline power delivered to users.

As the bottom line in the study, Jacobson writes:

In summary, the use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, solar, wave, and hydroelectric to provide electricity for BEVs [battery electric vehicles] and HFCVs [hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] result in the most benefit and least impact among the options considered. Coal-CCS and nuclear provide less benefit with greater negative impacts. The biofuel options provide no certain benefit and result in significant negative impacts. Because sufficient clean natural resources (e.g., wind, sunlight, hot water, ocean energy, gravitational energy) exists to power all energy for the world, the results here suggest that the diversion of attention to the less efficient or non-efficient options represents an opportunity cost that delays solutions to climate and air pollution health problems.

Note that the study ranks the various energy alternatives without regard to cost. That’s going to be controversial. Jacobson says:

Costs are not examined since policy decisions should be based on the ability of a technology to address a problem rather than costs (e.g., the U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 prohibit the use of cost as a basis for determining regulations required to meet air pollution standards) and because costs of new technologies will change over time, particularly as they are used on a large scale.

In the real world, costs do have a major impact, especially given that we do not have a Clean Air Act regarding carbon today. This is why it’s so important that the price/kW of solar panels, for example, is dropping and will continue to drop.

In fact, when you leave cost out of the equation, is it surprising which energy sources came out on top? Let me know your thoughts.

Encourage Obama To Name a Secretary Of Food

Kale
Beatiful kale,not from a factory farm (photo by terren in Virginia, CC 2.0 licensed)

Nicholas Kristof in his NY Times op-ed today urges Obama to appoint a Secretary of Food:

A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.

The interests of big agriculture – the “factory farmers” – are really opposed to the interests of people. The “food” they raise wastes energy, causes huge environment damage, makes us unhealthy, and even leads to antibiotic resistant diseases.

On the other hand, real family farmers, who grow non-factory food on relatively small farms, are good for us, good for the environment, and good for our health.

If you feel this is a good cause, check out the online petition at www.fooddemocracynow.org, which calls for a reformist pick for agriculture secretary — and names six terrific candidates, including Chuck Hassebrook, a reformer in Nebraska and Fred Kirschenmann, an organic farmer and researcher in Pocantico Hills, NY.

For more on food policy and its relation to health, environment, and policy, check out Michael Pollan’s “Open Letter To The Next Farmer In Chief” in the October 12 New York Times Magazine. Eye-opening and inspiring, like all of his work.

Why Not Just Sell Them Here?

Some classic old GM cars - 1957 Cadillac tailfins
Some classic old GM cars (Image by thebi429, CC 2.0 license)

An article in today’s Seattle Times says that GM does know how to make good small cars, just not in the States:

Nearly three-fifths of General Motors’ employees make cars that are admired, popular and profitable. They just don’t work in the United States.

GM has a bigger presence and employs more people outside the United States than in it, and actually makes money selling cars around the globe. Its U.S. revenue has sunk 24 percent in the past three years, but in the rest of the world, GM can boast a 28 percent increase.

In Ford’s recent 2008 retrospective, they mention similar results – growth in Europe and Asia, production of lots of high mileage models outside the States, new fuel technologies, and so on:

  • “Ford of Europe is offering its customers ultra-low CO2 alternatives for selected car lines with the launch of a new range of Ford ECOnetic models at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show”
  • “Volume production of the new Ford Fiesta, the first of a generation of new global small Ford cars, started at the company’s Cologne plant in Germany”
  • “Ford ranks highest in overall new-vehicle sales satisfaction in Indonesia, according to the J.D. Power Asia Pacific 2008 Indonesia Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study”

So, my simple question is – why don’t they just make those cars here? Or at least ship some of them here and sell them?

Friedman to Detroit: Batteries R U

Soyuz Boosters
Soyuz rocket (Photo by James Duncan, CC 2.0 license)

Following up on my post yesterday about the Detroit bailout, today I wanted to mention Tom Friedman’s op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times “The Real Generation X.” It is primarily about how Obama’s stimulus package should focus on preparing us, especially our young people, for the future, not saving old dinosaur industries like Detroit:

We not only need to bail out industries of the past but to build up industries of the future — to offer the kind of big thinking and risk-taking that transforms enormous challenges into world-changing opportunities.

But what I thought was both charming and an important call to action was specifically about the auto industry bailout – an audacious challenge to Obama and Detroit:

You want my tax dollars? Then I want to see the precise production plans and timetables for the hybridization of all your cars and trucks within 36 months. I want every bailed-out car company to move to hybrid electric drive trains, because nothing would both improve mileage and emissions more — and also stimulate a whole new 21st-century, job-creating industry: batteries.

I love the audacity of this idea. It’s a big idea, and breaks the commonly held “20 year” rule that says it takes 20 years for a laboratory discovery to make it into industrial production. But we’ve overcome that rule occasionally before, in moments of great crisis, haven’t we? The Manhattan Project and the conversion of U.S. industry to war production during World War II, and the Apollo program both accelerated the 20 year rule significantly.

Do you have other audacious suggestions for Obama, or examples of technologies that broke the 20-year rule? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

Old Failures And New Rules For The Auto Industry

The best pieces I’ve read on the auto industry bailout/failure/bankruptcy are Bob Sutton’s giant flame, “Thoughts About Why GM Executives Are Clueless And Their Destructive ‘No We Can’t’ Mindset” and Umair Haque’s “Detroit’s 6 Mistakes and How Not to Make Them.”

While neither of these articles are about green energy or hybrid cars or sustainability per se, they both get at some of the big issues that industry and finance worldwide have to overcome for the the world to change as it must.

Sutton is a measured and careful writer, whose primary beat as a teacher (at Stanford School of Engineering, B School, and D School), business consultant, and writer, is using effective techniques for creating innovation, and using evidence to understand whether the decisions you make are taking you in the right direction. His post, in a measured and careful way, excoriates GM for decades of practices that go against those precepts:

I could list hundreds of management, cultural, and operational reasons why I believe that GM is such a flawed organization, but to me, a pair of root causes standout: Most of the senior executives — and many of the managers — are (1) clueless about what matters most and (2) suffer from a “no we can’t” mindset.

Haque, on the other hand, looks to the good future of what he calls “the new rules of 21st century business,” using Detroit as the example of the old rules.

Old rule: Choose evil. Industrial era business is unrepentantly and almost sociopathically evil: shifting costs onto others, while striving to internalize benefits. Detroit chose lobbying, marketing wars, and low-cost hardball – to always and everywhere try to socialize costs and privatize benefits. Never was this truer than Detroit’s lobbying against public transport throughout the 20th century. Why does public transport in the States suck? Because Detroit’s lobbying machine doesn’t.

New rule? Choose good. In the 21st century, every moral imperative is also a strategic imperative: doing good – for customers, employees, suppliers, or society – is a radical strategic choice that unlocks new pathways to innovation and growth. The opportunity cost of defending evil for Detroit was never learning how to choose good – and that’s a crucial mistake other auto players didn’t make. Tata chose to make a car that was accessible to the world’s poor. Porsche and BMW chose to invest in talent, people, and imagination. Honda and Toyota chose to invest in renewables and partnerships with the public sector. All opened new avenues to growth for an industry at the brink of extinction.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting again about the auto industry, focusing on Obama’s pledge on Saturday for “public works on a massive scale” and Tom Friedman’s Sunday op-ed, in which he suggests we tie any bailout to a commitment by the car makers to having their entire fleets running on hybrid power plants in 36 months.

Integrated Design Makes “Smart Garage” Part of Utility’s Infrastructure

Garage of the Future
Garage of the Future (photo by Elsie esq., CC 2.0 Attribution License)

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Andrew Demaria blogged a few weeks ago about “smart garages” that combine smart cars, a smart home network, and much smarter utilities into a synergistic system that optimizes power usage. After describing a “day in the life” of a smart garage:

Given the utility is experiencing a peak load period, it asks my house if it can use the spare power in the car’s battery and send that electricity elsewhere in the grid. What’s more, it will pay me for that power. Since I like being paid, I have already programmed the system to accept such requests.

The article then goes on to list the highlights of a recent Smart Garages conference organized by RMI. Attendees included representatives from auto manufacturers GM, Ford, and Nissan, utilities PG&E and Duke Energy, and consumer-focused companies Walmart and P&G.

Integrative design like smart garages requires all these organizations to work effectively together, based on official or de-facto standards. Although the cost of making such a transition will be hundreds of billions of dollars, the associated business opportunities, especially for those companies who can help tie all these disparate parts together, are commensurately huge.

21st Century Pit Mining – Olive Stones As Biofuel Source

Drink Up
Olives are great in martinis; their pits will go well in your car (photo by Swanksalot, CC2.0 Sharealike license)

According to this article a few weeks ago in Science Daily, researchers in Italy have figured out how to turn olive pits into fuel:

Olive stones can be turned into bioethanol, a renewable fuel that can be produced from plant matter and used as an alternative to petrol or diesel. This gives the olive processing industry an opportunity to make valuable use of 4 million tonnes of waste in olive stones it generates every year and sets a precedent for the recycling of waste products as fuels.

The difference between fuel from corn and fuel from olive pits? The pits otherwise are waste, while corn grown for fuel displaces crops grown for food.

I think Michael Pollan would approve. What do you think?
swanksalot

Deutsche Bank Confirms Green Energy Creates Jobs and Economic Growth

home with free electricity
Available: Home with free electric (photo by Kainet, CC 2.0 Sharealike license)

From MIT’s Technology Review comes this column from Kevin Bullis, about a recent report from Deutsche Bank on the economic benefits of investing in new energy projects:

It argues that it’s possible to address challenges related to climate change, energy security, and the financial crisis at the same time by investing in four specific areas: energy-efficient buildings, electric power grids, renewable power, and public transportation. The report cites figures that suggest investing in these areas creates more jobs than investing in conventional energy sources because much of the old energy infrastructure is already in place. It says that “a $100 billion investment in energy and efficiency would result in 2 million new jobs, whereas a similar investment in old energy [such as coal or natural gas] would only create around 540,000 jobs.”

Of course, Obama has already pledged to do something along these lines, and the blogosphere (including me, here) has chimed in as well. But the imprimatur of Deutsche Bank adds some gravitas to the proposal.

If you want to read the report yourself, it’s here.