Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's the oil, stupid...

The United Press International has story which contains the clearest quote I have heard why the US, and the world, absolutely needs to develop oil-free energy sources...

Quote: "The only way you could hurt Iran is by sanctioning on oil exports," Haeckel [of the international soccer federation FIFA] said. "But that is virtually impossible because our global economy depends on a stable oil price which you could wave goodbye in case of an Iranian oil embargo. Ahmadinejad knows that very well."

This quote was in response to a call to ban Iran from the FIFA Soccer World Cup in Germany next year. The ban suggestion was in response to [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent anti-Semitic remarks claiming that "[The Jews] have fabricated a legend [The WWII Holocaust] under the name 'Massacre of the Jews,' and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves," he said. "This is our proposal: give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to (the Jews) so that the Jews can establish their country."

When one man can hold the world hostage because of oil, it's time the world does something about it.

As a citizen of the US, you can make a difference. When given the opportunity, choose to use less energy, and choose to make that energy come from something other than oil. If we all do that, we can disconnect oil from politics.

Magenn Power Air Rotor System

The Magenn Power Air Rotor System is an interesting wind turbine concept that looks to have the potential to really take off. The initial product is scheduled to be on the market by the end of 2006, and they are taking orders now. What's more, the first product is geared toward home sized requirements (4 kw of electricity production). This is probably because it's less complicated to build and operate a smaller version while to company accumulates real world experience (speculation on my part). The first systems are expected to cost $10,000 for 4 kw of power. That's a remarkable price point, as it would make the electricity produced cost less than grid electricity for most residential consumers:
Assuming a 10 year life (no mention of expected life of the system was found on the web site, so this assumption may not be good)...
4 kw power per hour of operation * 12 hours usable wind = 48 kwh of power per day
48 kwh * 3650 days (10 year life) = 175,200 kwh per life of system
175,200 kwh / 1.2 DC to AC conversion inefficiency = 146,000 net kwh
$10,000 / 146,000 = $0.0685 per kwh.

Another interesting note, the 1 kw system projected for 2007 is even cheaper per kw of power.

I would have a few concerns...
What would it take to get permission to fly one of these things?
What happens if it breaks loose from the tether?
Is there a point where it has to be reeled in to avoid too strong of a wind or bad weather?

From the web site: "The Magenn Power Air Rotor System (MARS) is an innovative lighter-than-air tethered device that rotates about a horizontal axis in response to wind, efficiently generating clean renewable electrical energy at a lower cost than all competing systems. This electrical energy is transferred down the tether to a transformer at a ground station and then transferred to the electricity power grid. Helium (an inert non-reactive lighter then air gas) sustains the Air Rotor which ascends to an altitude for best winds and its rotation also causes the Magnus effect. This provides additional lift, keeps the device stabilized, keeps it positioned within a very controlled and restricted location, and causes it to pull up overhead rather than drift downwind on its tether."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Zero Energy Homes

Nice summary on the possibilities of zero energy homes over at After Gutenberg.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Universe evolution favors 3 and 7 dimensions

An older post that I'm keeping up with...

In case anyone was wondering why we live in a universe with 3 infinitely long directional dimensions, Andreas Karch (University of Washington assistant professor of physics) and his collaborator, Lisa Randall (of Harvard) says it's because the natural evolution of universes (or more specifically the branes described in M-Theory) favor the eventual formation of a universe where you end up with either 3 or 7 infinite physical directions (the remaining dimensions shrink to a minuscule size). Other numbers of physical dimensions are possible, just not favored. An interesting note, the good professor implies that our universe actually contains many regions with different numbers of spatial dimensions at the same time; we just happen to live in a region that ended up with 3 spatial dimensions.

The announcement also implies that our universe is infinitely large and has big bangs happening inside it somewhere all the time. On the other hand, it has also been theorized that two branes colliding might have created what we call the universe.

Karch and Randall detail their work in the October edition of Physical Review Letters, published by the American Physical Society.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Interstellar Spaceflight: Is It Possible?

Another one of my favorite dreams -- the possibility of interstellar travel. This article from Physics Org talks about an interstellar internet growing from self replicating robotic missions to the stars. Interesting idea. Is this how the Borg will get started?

Interstellar Spaceflight: Is It Possible? from PhysOrg.com

With current space travel limited to just a few robotic probes visiting nearby planets, how realistic is it to think about reaching the nearest stars? For the short term, not very – especially when we speak of manned missions. But the long term - 50 or even 100 years - chances are good mankind will have missions, unmanned to start with, traveling to stars in our galactic neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Kyocera To Ship Low Cost Solar Panels as Early as FY 2006

Found over at The Energy Blog and the Centre for Energy (tm).

Kyocera Corp. (TSE:6971) plans to start shipping low cost solar panels as early as fiscal 2006 that uses just one-fifth the silicon of existing models. The expected cost for a 3 kilowatt system is just under $17,000. A $17,000 PV system that can produce an average 3 kilowatts of electricity per hour for 8 sun hours per day for at least 10 years (expected life of the system) equates to a cost of $0.194 per kwh. More sun or longer system life would lower the net per kwh cost.

Personally, I average paying $170 per month for electricity at about $0.17 per kwh grid electricity for the house. That works out to require a PV system that delivers just under 5 kilowatts of power on average for 8 hours each day without any efficiency improvements at my house (and there are places where I could reduce my electric load as I replace old appliances with new). Reducing my electric needs to a 3 kw system would be the same as an average $102 monthly electric cost. Paying $102 per month for grid electricity means a PV system must cost less than $12,000 to be a net cost improvement. Not quite there yet but much closer than we were 5 years ago.

What's really cool though is to see what happens if electricity costs go up in the future and compare that with a system purchase using today's dollars. To see what difference that would make, one would have to include a fudge factor (otherwise known as a guess) for future electricity costs. If electricity costs go up by 3% per year (the average inflation rate), 10 year total grid electricity costs would go up from $12,240 to $14,253, putting a break even at 11.6 years. If electricity costs rose as much as 10% per year (unlikely in the forseeable future), you would break even in 8.75 years. To break even exactly at 10 years would have to have an electricity cost increase of 6.31% per year. So the thing to watch will be if the PV system cost decreases as production ramps up or if the cost of electricity increases at better than 6% per year. Or some combination of the two.

Calculations:
Average 1000 kwh per month x 12 months = 12,000 kwh per year
12,000 kwh / 365 days / 8 hours sun per day = 4.11 kilowatts per hour
4.11 kilowatts * 1.2 conversion (inefficiency of converting DC to AC) = 4.932 kw system.

Assuming I can reduce my electrical load to 3 kws power would mean I need to use 3 / 5 kws x $170 = $102 average cost per month for grid electricity.

System cost would be recovered in $17,000 / 102 / 12 = 13.9 years. Life of the system assumed to be 10 years, so the cost of this system must come down to $12,240 to break even (also assuming no PV system maintenance costs above the average maintenance needs of my house over those same 10 years).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hot water via microwave heating

Pulsar Advanced Technologies, a Canadian company, is beginning to market a hot water heating system that heats water using microwave energy (no hot water is stored). No mention of efficiencies compared to conventional instant hot water systems. Have to revisit this once the company gets some exposure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mosquito Magnet

I just have to record this product so I can track it. If you live on the Gulf Coast, you know that mosquitoes can be a real pest for both people and pets. Here is the Mosquito Magnet, a high tech tool that kills mosquitoes (and a few other bugs). It creates CO2 by burning propane (this simulates a person breathing) and then adds Octenol from a cartridge. Octenol is a naturally occurring chemical that attracts mosquitoes but does not kill them. The Mosquito Magnet then vacuums in the mosquitoes and kills them by dehydration (a fitting end for the little monsters). Have to check this out before the next mosquito season arrives...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Private Sector, Low-Cost Lunar Plan

While this blog is intended to allow me to track energy related information, one of my favorite subjects is space exploration, so here is a post about returning to the moon. NASA has projected a cost of 104 billion dollars and 13 years to return to the moon permanently. One has to wonder, however, if NASA is blinded by too much knowledge on the subject of space to consider alternative technology. After all, for a given area of expertise, it's been frequently shown that many significant breakthroughs come from outsiders and not from the experts in the field. It's a natural phenomena for humans to get "tunnel vision" and to thus completely ignore possibilities. The software industry (of which I am a small part) demonstrates this understanding when testing software. It's inevitable that software engineers cannot adequately test a program because they just don't consider all the various ways a user will interact with a program. That's why testing should always eventually include end users.

So, here is a link to a private group that says a return to the moon can be done much cheaper and faster than the NASA plan. Of course, the group simply says they can do it without any significant detail but it is encouraging. I know one thing: Real near Earth space exploration will never become commonplace until it becomes commercially profitable. The question is, what can one do commercially close to Earth or on the Moon that would make it worth going? To be honest, nothing that I have heard of at the moment. The best ideas currently involve using the two natural resources of space: Vacuum and micro-gravity. Unfortunately, there just isn't a lot of call for ubiquitous vacuum or micro-gravity in any existing commercial product without requiring significant changes. Still, a lot smarter business people than I are thinking about it and so I have a high level of optimism for the future of near Earth space exploration.

Companies or organizations mentioned in the article:
SpaceDev
Spaceage Publishing Company
International Conference Moon Base
High Frontier

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mini windmills power wireless networks

Here's a mention of a new small windmill for small power requirements. The windmill works using piezoelectric crystals to convert a 10 mph wind to 7.5 milliwatts of power. Might be a future possibility for the house (that is, small electric generation based of piezoelectric materials).

State of the home power generation

Measurement of success:
In 10 years I will be producing the equivalent of all the energy I use at home and for local driving. The cost will be less than the average cost for a comparable house and cars using traditional energy (i.e. electricity and natural gas from the utilities, and gasoline for fuel). How much less will be based on an estimate of the utility costs verses the cost of purchase, installation, and maintenance over the life of the various systems involved. At the moment I will not define a reduction goal other than it has to cost less than traditional utility costs.

Rules and assumptions:
Solar and wind power are the only two viable home energy production methods for the foreseeable future. Electrical power from natural gas, hydrogen production at home, geothermal, hydro, and nuclear are assumed to be unavailable or impractical for home use (however, I will keep an eye out on developments).

The automobiles will still depend on gasoline or diesel for long trips. Local trips are defined as less than 200 miles per day for each car with time to recharge/refuel at home each day.

In order to have a net positive energy production, not only will power need to be produced but the use of that power will have to be more efficient. In other words, we have to meet in the middle somewhere.

It is permissible to trade "credits" between technologies. For example, it is valid to heat water by natural gas and sell excess electricity if the net cost is to my advantage (i.e. if I make more money selling the electricity than I pay for the natural gas to heat the water). However, it is not permissible to heat the water by natural gas if it would be cheaper to install and maintain a solar heating system as an example.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Why are plug-in hybrid cars so important?

Ultimately, the most straightforward source of power for transportation is sunlight converted to electricity. However, there are two major problems with current technology. One, we cannot convert the sunlight to electricity efficiently enough to replace fossil fuels and two, batteries that could conceivably store enough power for cars are way too expensive. While it's good to see progress being made in both of these areas, it will be at least 5 years before some of the recent breakthroughs reach the automobile industry.

Plug-in hybrid cars fill that 5 or more year gap in three important ways.

The immediate benefit is that the fossil fuel engine (normally a gasoline powered internal combustion engine (ICE) in the US) can be optimized for a narrower range of RPMs while the much more efficient electric power source can take up the load where needed. You don't hear much about it but electric motors are up to three times as efficient as the same power producing ICE. So, once we have converted a fuel source to electricity, converting the electricity to mechanical work is very efficient (obviously, it is the creation and storage of the electricity where we lack efficiency).

Secondly, hybrids allow us to realize better efficiency in the automobile without needing a whole new fuel distribution system. Yes, this is a stop-gap measure, but it is something that we can do now for pretty much the same cost (spending money up front for a hybrid instead of for gas over the life of the car). And it has the added benefit of reducing our dependency on oil immediately.

Lastly, but very very important, a plug-in hybrid will allow us to leverage both electricity from the grid and improving solar electricity conversion over the coming years. It is very likely that within 5 years home solar (and wind) electricity production will become affordable. At some point, not only will you be able create your own home electricity but (if you install enough power generation) you will be able to charge up your plug-in hybrid as well for no additional cost. Sized correctly, you could eliminate the need for gasoline for local driving. How much do you pay for gas annually? Right now, I pay more than $6,000 per year for local driving (two cars). A rough estimate of the equivalent cost for electricity at the current high local utility cost is $4,000 annually. So, without solar power generation I could save $2,000 per year if my cars could cruise around town on battery power. If I were to create enough of my own electricity at the house, I could save up to the full $6,000 cost for local driving, as well as the electricity the house uses (around $1,800 per year). That means over the life of the power system (assume 10 years), I could save $78,000, which would more than cover the cost of the installation even at today's prices (and this assumes the cost of energy doesn't go up during that 10 years).

To conclude, coupling plug-in hybrids with home electricity generation is a revolution in the making. Is this unrealistic? I don't think so. I plan to use this blog to search for and record the necessary things to make this happen. My goal is to replace both cars with plug-in hybrids within 5 years, and to install solar (and possibly wind) electricity generation over the same 5 years.

The reason for this blog

I have just discovered this blogging web site. Since it's free (and because I'm cheap), I will be using this site to track information about improving my personal energy efficiency. And I guess it won't hurt to rant about a few of my own pet peeves from time to time.