Sunday, June 23, 2013

Massive Paradigm Upheaval in Power Production is Already Happening

IKEA recently announced its plans to be a net PRODUCER of electricity by 2020, using solar and wind power to produce electricity over and above what the company uses. They've already committed 1.8 BILLION dollars to the goal. It's just 7 years from now. Walmart also has similar plans for the future. Apple, too. Many other companies, too. A consortium of 33 companies came together to sign a "Climate Change Declaration" to call on the US to move toward meaningful climate change policies. Levi's. L'Oreal. Intel. Unilever. North Face. And many of these companies are also putting money into ramping up their own power production from renewable energy. General Motors...GM has committed to DOUBLING it's solar output to 125 MW by 2020. All of a sudden, the technology is there to turn some of the biggest purchases of electricity in the county into net PRODUCERS of electricity with wind and solar. Over a short period of time. What the hell business does a large retail store like IKEA have getting into the electricity generation biz? NONE, really. None at all! But here we are. In the actual world. RIGHT NOW we are seeing RETAIL and COMPUTER companies saying "Hey....we can produce a surplus of electricity...." while other huge companies worldwide are committing themselves to enormous jumps in wind and solar capacity to....get this.....MANAGE COSTS....
“GM has set an example in renewable energy within its industry and beyond,” said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Solar helps companies reliably manage their long-term energy costs, and our top 20 companies are going solar in a big way across the nation.”
So the question is...What does that mean for Business As Usual in the energy industry? What does that mean for the utility companies? When their biggest customers are jumping ship, making their own damn electricity Because They Can? It's a problem for Business As Usual. A huge one. Recently a major utility organization the Edison Electric Institute issued a report on "Disruptive Challenges" for the utility industry and solar power is one of the big ones. A utility company actually used the term "mortal threat" when referring to the effects of rooftop solar on the utility industry.
Today, a variety of disruptive technologies are emerging that may compete with utility-provided services. Such technologies include solar photovoltaics (PV), battery storage, fuel cells, geothermal energy systems, wind, micro turbines, and electric vehicle (EV) enhanced storage. As the cost curve for these technologies improves, they could directly threaten the centralized utility model.
We are in the midst of a massive revolution in how we power our world. One that has reached the tipping point in favor of renewable energy. Keep pushing. Keep PUSHING! This sucker is about to fall right on over the edge and the world of energy production will forever be changed for the better. We're already seeing in Europe how fossil fuel plants no longer make sense as investments. Like any major technological shift, it will happen as if overnight. Our law makers aren't prepared for this massive shift toward decentralized power production. Many don't even see it coming. But it's coming hard. Here in Michigan we had energy forums to talk about our energy future and I fear it focused too much on a centralized model that's just about to collapse in the next half decade. There's going to be bumps in the road. But that's because while the utilities were lording their influence over folks and shoring up their power...........the world changed at the bottom. And there's nothing that will stop this shift now. It's happening. Be ready.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lack of Energy Water Roadmap Could be Disastrous to Nation's Water, Food, Economy

It doesn't get much coverage in the energy debate, but our energy needs require a LOT of water. Just about half of our nation's annual 400 billion gallons of water draw goes toward energy production.

Most of that water goes back into the source (although a lot hotter and sometimes more polluted). But there's no two ways around it: we use a lot of water for energy production. There's simply no arguing that energy production has dramatic affects on water quality, availability, and environmental quality.

So, as the world heats up and we head into back-to-back drought years with more competition for dwindling water resources, it seems that regular folks, businesses, and policy makers may want to know how our Nation's energy use affects the quality and accessibility of our water supply.


Water is kind of important to human civilization.

Heck, the energy choices we make right now are long term. The power sources we build today will be around 25 to 50 years from now. So we can't build plants armed only with today's resources and needs in mind. We need to build them with tomorrow's resources and needs in mind.

As States all over the US prepare their energy portfolios for the next half century, they'll want to know exactly how that choice will be interacting with water and agricultural needs...or even future energy needs. Having a fleet of water cooled power plants won't do much good when the cooling system intake is above the water line in an evaporated lake.

 photo SAM_1146_zpscd3be9a2.jpg

The water-energy nexus will have enormous consequences for our nation. And we need to be prepared so that we have A) Water B) Energy and C) Food. We'll need food.


Fortunately, in 2005 congress required the US Department of Energy to file two reports on the water energy nexus. Eclectablog did a great post about that yesterday. Unfortunately, only half of that requirement was fulfilled. The second part, the energy-water roadmap was not completed. Eight years on, it's still being held up by the Department of Energy....and it's been rewritten TWENTY TWO times. 22. Twenty-two.

Michael Hightower, an energy systems analyst at Sandia National Laboratories and a co-author of the report, said the first draft of the study on research needs was delivered to the Energy Department in July 2006. Energy Department reviewers have since called for 22 rewrites, the last of which was delivered in May 2009, Hightower said.

This isn't something to take lightly. This isn't just about energy. It's about our water, and our future. It's about giving our states, utilities, farmers, and individuals the information they need to make wise decisions.

It's a problem that this report has not been released. A HUGE problem, with potentially disastrous effects on our water, food, and economy.

Here's a petition to President to compel the US Department of Energy to release its energy water roadmap.

All we need is 45 more signatures on this online petition before it's searchable on the Whitehouse website - We need to get to 150 signatures and it'll be searchable.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Drying Lake

These are lumber tailings, freshly exposed from the bottom of Muskegon Lake as the lake levels fall and recede. It may not seem terribly surprising or interesting that the wood waste of lumber production is exposed from the lake bottom unless you realize that Muskegon hasn't really been a lumber town since the late 1800s...about 120 years ago. But here are the lumber tailings. Freshly preserved, thousands of them as far as the eye can see on the shoreline that not too long ago had been under water for at least a century.

 photo sawmilltailings_zps820abf21.jpg (image taken by Jon McEwen)

For many it's merely academic, the news that Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have reached record lows for December and are on the edge of reaching all time historical lows. Along the coast of Lake Michigan, we're watching the Big Lake coastline recede while smaller coastal inland lakes are drying dramatically.

Here's Muskegon Lake this week...

 photo SAM_1151_zps85c19f09.jpg

Dwindling water levels. No water ice, in January. See that red light up there near the right? Draw a line from there to the left center of the image, and all the water on the right of it is gone, when just a few months ago it was up to where the reeds are.

And another photo

 photo SAM_1146_zpscd3be9a2.jpg

Here's what it looked like in 2009 at almost exactly this time of year.

Ice shanties. Higher water levels.

Here's an overhead visual of about how much the lake has dwindled - also illustrated by an acquaintance of mine, Jon McEwen. All the areas between the red lines is now above water.

 photo 582576_4344196968411_1310723693_n_zps10ce8e7d.jpg

I'm not going to harp too much about how Muskegon Lake is a critical part of the Muskegon community and economy. It is. But I will point out that we are watching, in real time, the effects of climate change right here in my home.

Greater evaporation due to reduced ice cover in the winter and drier conditions. Drought. Less precipitation. The water levels are declining fast. FAST.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Shrinking Great Lakes Reveal 125 Year Old Shipwreck Near My Grandpa's Island

Falling water levels have revealed a 125 year old shipwreck and several others in the Grand River by Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan. That's just a couple miles south of me. And on a river island where my Great Grandfather built the only house on Harbor Island almost a hundred years ago. Now two years gone with just a driveway from Google Maps to show where it once was. The last line of the article "The Great Lakes are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures." Photobucket
The dropping water levels in the Great Lakes have revealed the remains of a wooden steamer built 125 years ago. Sections of the 290-foot steamer Aurora and parts of at least four other shipwreck hulks were exposed by the receding waterline at Grand Haven near the edges of Harbor Island. The Aurora is in the Grand River, which flows into Lake Michigan nearby.
As a child I spent days and weekends there in the marshes, fishing off the small and drifting river island. My parents got married there. My great grandfather planted irises there. My great grandmother boiled kidneys there. Old country. You know. High speed silent and black and white movies of family gatherings there. Great uncle F making a beeline for the banquet table...stopping...fanning the space behind him and continuing on. In the cat-tails and muck I had a three pronged frog spear hunting nothing and anything...when most of the property was gone as the island drifted and the basement was filled with water and smelled musty and of river. Grandpa in his later years spent aquatic summer after summer bringing in fill dirt to build up the land and pump the water out, Netherlands style, until I could no longer fish from the back porch. I never caught anything with that trident.
At the time of its launch in 1887, the Aurora was considered to be the largest wooden steamship traveling the Great Lakes, according to Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates.
Swisher sweet smell of the air and redwing blackbird calls from the reeds. Guns in the pocket and skeleton keys. On the island. Grandpa on the concertina singing something that sounded Polish, I thought, or Slavic, or Spanish, or French. I'd find old glass, old bottles and cans and imagine they were ancient. Epic. Old medicine bottles. The old weeping willow. And the leaning garage filled with rust and iron and mystery where we should have been forbidden to go. And in the morning the house like a boat, the bathroom mortis-lock door opening and closing. Opening and closing. As if rocking in the waves on the island.
It served as a coal and grain trade vessel until it was damaged by a fire and turned into a barge. It was abandoned in Grand Haven in 1932. Valerie Van Heest, director of MSRA and a maritime historian, says this offers a rare chance to see wrecks without having to scuba dive.
My grandfather passed on surrounded by family. The house went empty. And the forces of time and the Grand River near where it meets Lake Michigan, overtook the house. It was torn down in 2010. Now there's just a driveway. And the weeping willow. And a Four Winns boat dealership and a marina.
The Great Lakes are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Real Stories of Higher Fuel Efficiency Standards Putting Industrial Midwest Back to Work

Put a way the shine and the polish. Put away the talking heads and their excellent hair and confidence opining with a certainty that is inversely proportional to their accuracy.

Give me a guy with callouses on his hands speaking from the heart, a woman speaking from experience, the coffee addled lab researchers talking about how they're pushing the limits. Show me the folks in the trenches with reports from the day to day world.

How is a higher fuel efficiency standard working for America?

It's working. It's putting the Industrial Powerhouse Midwest to work is how it's working. Here's a whole website dedicated to real-life stories of real, actual, real-life people getting real jobs and real businesses hiring and innovating BECAUSE OF, not in spite of, the recent increase in fuel efficiency standards:

Visit the site. Watch the videos and the stories from the ground.

Right now at this very moment, the 2007 35.5MPG by 2016 and the new 54MPG by 2025 fuel efficiency standards are pushing American companies to innovate, grow, hire and spark technologies with applications beyond the original market.  They're reducing our nation's need for energy. They're keeping more US money in our country. They're making American products more competitive globally.  They're keeping money in the pockets of American drivers at the pump, and putting downward pressure on gas prices from falling demand.

And they're reducing America's greenhouse gas emissions.

A higher fuel efficiency standard doesn't just impact a couple of car companies, mind you. This is about an entire industry from researchers and engineers, small parts manufacturers, and advanced battery manufacturers and all the small manufacturers in between.

This is from a Johnson Controls battery manufacturing plant in Ohio, a plant that employs 400 people and recently added 50 new jobs...

"This battery here is used for the Stop-Start application. The stop-start application is basically when your car is at idle position it shuts off and then the battery. And then the battery is used to keep your electrical components running and then restart your engine once you take off again....your battery will start your engine again when you take off the break."

Emerging Start-Stop technology will allow US cars to shut down the engine during stopped periods and start back up again when the light turns green. That's going to go a long way toward improving fuel efficiency.

Already popular in Europe, stop-start systems shut off the engine when it is not needed, such as when idling at traffic lights. It’s an inexpensive addition to conventional gasoline-powered cars and can reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions between 5 to 12 percent.
Reduce fuel consumption by up to TWELVE PERCENT...just by eliminating the fuel waste from sitting at a red light. 

This is a perfect example of  how we actually CAN reduce our energy use without all the hand wringing from the usual No We Can't voices telling us there's a secret agenda to send Americans back to living in caves.

We can do this. We as a nation CAN move toward a cleaner, lower carbon future. And the only way it's going to happen quickly is if we drive home the fact that it's not just GOOD for the planet and GOOD for our future. It's good for our economy and good for Right Now. Because a family struggling to get by -- and families are struggling to get by -- doesn't have climate change at top of mind. They've got worry and frustration in the pit of their gut because they very much need to see the dentist and they can't swing the cost. They're out of milk and not getting paid for another week. They have to shell out for $20 for their son's field trip and they're looking for quarters under couch cushions.

Let's put folks to work solving the world's problems like energy demands and climate change.

We know it works, because it's working.
More than 25 percent of total U.S. job growth in the auto sector since June, 2009 is concentrated is just three states – Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. For decades, these states have been at the center of U.S. auto manufacturing. Workers, companies and taxpayers in the Midwest are now benefiting from a resurgence of auto-related innovation and investment. As of June 2009, collectively, the three states saw an increase of 66,300 jobs, for a gain of 30.2 percent since the low point in June 2009.1

Michigan has seen the largest increase, adding 35,200 jobs for gain of 33.7 percent. Indiana’s auto manufacturing grew by 19,800 jobs for a gain of 39.8 percent. Finally, Ohio’s auto sector also is seeing robust growth with 11,300 jobs added for a gain of 17.4 percent since the economic low point of June 2009.
Stronger standards mean more “onshoring” of the production of fuel-efficiency components. Stronger U.S. standards means higher volumes of fuel-efficiency components and advanced vehicles that otherwise would be built overseas, since higher volumes justify producing locally. Examples of this onshoring trend are Toyota and Honda bringing hybrid production to Indiana, and Ford beginning to produce hybrid transmissions in Michigan, instead of purchasing from Japan.

America is manufacturing again. A large part of the credit goes to the man America just re-elected as president. And I suspect his re-election is due to his support for the hard-hit manufacturing states like Ohio and Michigan. We've noticed.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July Moonlight in Wave Distorted Replica

My arms are lined with red, all on account of blackberries and Very Small Boys discovering plumes of shiny black fruit far back into the jagged plants. I reached through brier portals, up on tiptoes, precarious toward nestled and far berries. The bucket didn't have many of them. But purpleness stained the Very Small faces, hands, shirts.

With the fading red and orange of the cicada sun - the fishing sun. The burning sun. The blackberry sun - we were on the soft beach, still stained. Still lined in red. Absorbing somewhere the union of the sun and water that brings the cars in singlefile parades. The pilgrimage to the Big Lake. When it's angry and storming. When the waves crash high over the light house. When the red and orange blueberry sun sets. Or when the mind is restless. Grieving. Quiet.

But somehow there was no other pilgrimage in our chosen beach spot, along the sands which in the absence of people had shifted back to its banded, wind layered patterns. And the sun had slipped down into the banded and rhythmic waters. And the stars and moon shone from the South, reflecting on a shiny black surface in wave distorted replica.

A new sand castle began construction. In the moon darkness the sound of children: games and laughter feeding on itself, tunes hummed unselfconsciously from minds absorbed. I wandered into the dark waters and smelled the stirring sands, tripped on a sand bar surprisingly close to shore. My red lined arms plunged into the waters to catch my fall.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Visiting Michigan's Green Job Economy at the Michigan Energy Fair

Watching some Fullmetal Alchemist on Netflix, breathing in the warm evening breeze coming in from the window. Enjoying some time to myself after some time at the beach with some friends and the kids. Whole lotta splashing around and sand.

Last weekend my little boys and I made our way to the Michigan Energy Fair near Ludington and visited some of the many vendors and businesses in the area innovating through renewable energy, creating new jobs and opportunities in our state. Four Elements Energy for one. Those guys are cool. Clearly love what they do. They're the folks who set up the solar array for the folks down the street.

Here's a picture of somebody charging his or her Chevy Volt up at one of the Four Elements Energy solar setups:

There were quite a few Volt drivers there. Never seen so many in one place. If there wasn't a wall in the way I'd have been able to get a photograph with three Chevy Volts in it. Here it is:

There's one in the foreground charging up at a plugin station. There's one behind the tent, the silver one being charged up with the solar array, and inside that building is one more. But you can't see it cuz there's a wall in the way.

My two little boys made paper pinwheels, got a lot of fun schwag from the displays and vendors, and the made solar cooking boxes for making s'mores. Then we took a tour of the Lake Winds Energy Park under construction near Ludington. It was beautiful...and the construction of the wind farm employs 150 people.

We first got to see the place where they kept the wind turbine components as they got shipped in:

Here's a row of 165 foot long wind turbine blades.

This is a hub and some tower components:

And here they are under construction, with some completed ones: