Tag Archives: energy

solar phone chargers

I love the idea of charging my phone and other small devices with solar power. So, here is a Wirecutter article on doing that. One thing I learned is that you generally want to pair your solar panel with a battery so you can charge the battery during the day, then charge your phone all night. Otherwise you would have to leave your phone sitting near the charger for several hours during the day, which is probably exactly when you want to be using your phone for other things.

July 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

  • A new cancer treatment genetically modifies a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Shareholders of big fossil fuel companies are starting to force some action on climate change business risk disclosure.
  • Richard Florida offers five ideas for solving poverty and what is wrong with cities: taxing land based on its improved value, massive investment in public transportation and public education, ending the mortgage interest tax deduction, and guaranteed minimum income.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Technology is marching on, whether or not the economy and human species are. The new thing with satellites is to have lots of small, cheap ones instead of a few big, expensive ones. Even if the coal industry were to make a comeback, today’s coal jobs are going to data analysts, remote control machine operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, not guys underground with pickaxes and headlamps. But the coal can be produced with a lot less human effort (i.e. jobs) than it used to be. Iris scans like in Minority Report are now a thing.
  • Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
  • Isaac Asimov says truly creative people (1) are weird and (2) generally work alone.

Some combination of the Trump news, the things I see every day on the streets of Philadelphia, and events affecting friends and family led me to question this month whether the United States is really a society in decline. Actually, I don’t question that, I think the answer is yes. But the more important question is whether it is a temporary or permanent decline, and what it means for the rest of the globe. I am leaning slightly toward permanent, but maybe I will feel better next month, we’ll see. Maybe I need to get out of this country for a little while. Last time I did that I felt that the social glue holding Americans together is actually pretty strong compared to most other places, even if our government and its approach to other governments have become largely dysfunctional. We need to get through the next couple years without a nuclear detonation, hope the current vacuum of leadership leads some quality leaders to emerge, and hope things have nowhere to go but up. There, I talked myself off the ledge!

 

Volvo

According to Fast Company, Volvo is planning a move to 100% hybrid and electric cars.

Between 2019 and 2021, Volvo will launch five 100% electric cars–three Volvo models and two under Polestar, its premium brand. The rest of its new models will be either hybrid plug-ins or hybrids that generate power from braking.

The company is moving towards electrification more quickly than it initially thought was possible. In 2015, when Volvo first announced a plan for electrification, the company’s senior vice president of research and development said that the Volvo would focus on hybrids and that it would take time for fully electric cars to be viable.

But battery costs have plunged, falling almost 80% between 2010 and 2016, and are likely to fall further. Charging infrastructure is spreading. New regulations, like an EU law that limits CO2 emissions for cars, and France’s newly announced phase-out of internal combustion engines by 2040, mean that traditional technology has to change. And customer demand is increasing.

Electric cars don’t solve all the problems cars cause of course, such as urban sprawl, pedestrian deaths, obesity, and wasted time. But they solve the air pollution problem (locally, at least, and regionally if there is also a shift to cleaner power plants) and the problem of producing, refining, transporting and storing large quantities of toxic and carcinogenic gasoline and diesel fuel.

climate change and shareholder revolts for big oil

According to Bloomberg, the board at Exxon just lost a fairly key shareholder vote on revealing business risks due to climate change. Part of the story is that large institutional shareholders like venture capital funds are concerned about these risks. These aren’t good guys acting out of purely ethical concerns of course – they are concerned about risks to the profits they are expecting.

Growth in support was driven by unprecedented majority votes for shareholder proposals asking Exxon Mobil Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp. and electric utility PPL Corp. to report on the long-term business impacts of climate change. This proxy season marked the first time that kind of proposal has passed over board opposition. It also marked the first time BlackRock Inc. and likely more of the companies’ largest shareholders voted in its favor.

“When a company as prominent as Exxon Mobil loses a vote,” the board or corporate governance team may change its negotiating stance in the future so that it doesn’t happen again, James Copland, a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute, told Bloomberg BNA…

Even though the proposals aren’t binding, boards that fail to respond to climate concerns could be held accountable come director election time. That’s already happened at Exxon Mobil, where BlackRock voted against the re-election of two directors after repeated requests to meet with the board to better understand its oversight of climate risk and other issues were rebuffed.

We are starting to see amoral, conservative actors in the finance and insurance industries demand action to mitigate climate risk. The good news is markets will respond and action will be taken. The bad news is amoral investors and markets tend to react to big and short term risks, and by the time the risks are big and short term, the best chances to take meaningful mitigation action may have passed.

fan buying guide

Let’s face it, cheap fans are annoying. Normally you get a new fan when you a desperate for one – either an old one broke, your air conditioning is on the fritz, or you have company coming and need to cover an additional room. You stop by your local drug store, hardware store, or big box monstrosity and pick up whatever they happen to have. No matter how cheap, it almost always does the job of making air move. But your cheap new fan is loud, rattly, and just all-around annoying. There are some better models out there, and if you have just a few days to plan ahead you can order one of them.

June 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
  • Water-related hazards including flood, drought, and disease have significant effects on economic growth.
  • There were 910 deaths from drug overdose in Philadelphia last year. Interestingly, I started writing a post thinking I might compare that to car accidents, and ended up concluding that the lack of a functioning health care system might be our #1 problem in the U.S.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Tile is a sort of wireless keychain that can help you find your keys, wallet, and those other pesky things you are always misplacing (or your significant other is moving, but won’t admit it).
  • Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
  • Traditional car companies are actually leading the pack in self-driving car development, by some measures.

automation in the coal industry

The simplistic image of “coal jobs” meaning miners toiling underground is no longer accurate given the increasing automation of the coal industry, according to Bloomberg.

Coal miners no longer swing a pickax or wield a shovel. While coal companies are hiring again, executives are starting to search for workers who can crunch gigabytes of data or use a joystick to maneuver mining vehicles hundreds of miles away…

“Whether coal comes back or not is not necessarily directly related to jobs,” Heath Lovell, a spokesman for coal producer Alliance Resource Partners LP, said in an interview on NPR’s “On Point.” “We should be becoming more and more efficient, which would mean we could produce the same amount of coal with less employees…”

One irony for the industry now is that in some areas the coal companies say they can’t find the high-skilled workers they need. In West Virginia, companies are resorting to offering signing bonuses and fully paid healthcare to poach experienced shift foremen, mechanics and electricians from rivals. Many of those workers left the coal industry during the last decade’s collapse and found more stable employment in other sectors. They aren’t anxious to switch back.

HSBC on peak oil

The idea of peak oil is definitely not dead, according to HSBC. While low demand and high supply have pushed down prices over the past several years, the market is headed back for an equilibrium, demand is growing, output from traditional fields is declining while investment in new discoveries and new technologies has dropped sharply in recent years. A crunch could be coming.

  1. The oil market may be oversupplied at present, but we see it returning to balance in 2017
  2. By that stage, effective spare capacity could shrink to just 1% of global supply/demand of 96mbd, leaving the market far more susceptible to disruptions than has been the case in recent years
  3. Oil demand is still growing by ~1mbd every year, and no central scenarios that we recently assessed see oil demand peaking before 2040
  4. 81% of world liquids production is already in decline (excluding future redevelopments)
  5. In our view a sensible range for average decline rate on post-peak production is 5-7%, equivalent to around 3-4.5mbd of lost production every year
  6. By 2040, this means the world could need to replace over 4 times the current crude oil output of Saudi Arabia (>40mbd), just to keep output flat
  7. Small oilfields typically decline twice as fast as large fields, and the global supply mix relies increasingly on small fields: the typical new oilfield size has fallen from 500-1,000mb 40 years ago to only 75mb this decade
  8. New discoveries are limited: last year the exploration success rate hit a record low of 5%, and the average discovery size was 24mbbls
  9. US tight oil has been a growth area and we expect to see a strong recovery, but at 4.6mbd currently it represents only 5% of global supply
  10. Step-change improvements in production and drilling efficiency in response to the downturn have masked underlying decline rates at many companies, but the degree to which they can continue to do so is becoming much more limited

May 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The public today is more complacent about nuclear weapons than they were in the 1980s, even though the risk is arguably greater and leaders seem to be more ignorant and reckless.
  • The NSA is trying “to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research”.
  • We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Some experts think the idea of national sovereignty itself is now in doubt.
  • Taser wants to record everything the police do, everywhere, all the time, and use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • The sex robots are here.

genetically engineered algae

USEPA has approved a strain of genetically engineered oil producing algae to be tested outdoors.

On August 1, 2013, EPA received TSCA Experimental Release Applications (TERAs) R-13-0003, -0004, -0005, -0006 and -0007 from Sapphire Energy, Inc. to test five different intergeneric strains of the photosynthetic green algae Scenedesmus dimorphus in open ponds. The purpose of the field test is to (1) evaluate the translatability of the genetically modified strains from the laboratory to an outdoor setting, and (2) to characterize the potential ecological impact (dispersion and invasion) of the genetically-modified microalgae. The introduced intergeneric DNA sequences include certain metabolism genes and an intergeneric marker gene that enables detection of the microorganism from environmental samples. Also, different regulatory elements controlling expression of the genes were used, resulting in the five intergeneric strains. The field trials are to be conducted at the University of California San Diego Biology Field Station (BFS) in La Jolla, CA.