Thursday, January 31, 2008

New axial wind turbine design

Picture from today's Guardian, by Grimshaw Architects

Vertical axis wind turbines, like the Darieus or Savonius types have certain advantages over traditional "windmill types." The generator can be placed at ground level, easing service, and the need to support the great weight of generator and power conversion equipment is reduced. Weighed against this are the disadvantages that it is harder to reach a good altitude, and devices may be top-heavy and thus unstable. Wind power increases greatly with altitude, or distance from surface interference. This new type from a UK company, which at least partially solves these problems, shows great promise for offshore use.

The Aerogenerator wind turbine

Duncan Graham-Rowe,
Tuesday January 29 2008

It may resemble a giant rotary washing line, but it might just help Britain mee its hugely ambitious new wind energy targets. At least that's the claim of th company developing a novel "vertical axis" wind turbine dubbed th Aerogenerator.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Can Traditional Chemical-based Photography Be Sustainable?

Can Darkroom Chemicals Be This Safe?

The Issues at Hand

With a vast array of environmental issues facing Generation X, film and chemical-based photography education has been careening toward the-bucket-of-obsolescence. With the advent of digital technology, the struggle to keep the film-based roots of photography alive has been tough in the least.

Even so, there may still be hope for traditional methods in today’s era of silicon image domination. Now, safer more environmentally friendly darkroom chemicals may provide salvation for those who still hold tooth-and-nail to the film-based roots of photography.

Year after year, for over the past decade, digital technology has progressively transformed the photo industry with great haste. For better or for worst, institutions of photographic learning have responded to this rapid shift in technology by shifting with it.

As it stands, many colleges, high schools, and photography specific educational organizations have eliminated there dark rooms and replaced them with cutting edge, modern digital equipment. Following in the wake of institutions many personal dark rooms have been replaced with digital equipment as well.

While digital photography has its many major advantages over its film-based roots, many would argue that the two mediums will never truly be interchangeable. As a result, many photographers still practice traditional methods—but the numbers are diminishing now exponentially.

Even though many photographers still feel adamant that film based photography has an important roll to play in teaching the rudimental concepts of photography, it has been rapidly failing in the contemporary fight for a cleaner environment.

Driving the modern wave of digital photography in the debate of environmental concern is its presumed, lower impact on the environment. While this may seem to be a give-in at first glance, as you look at the two mediums in-depth side-by-side you will realize that this is not as accurate as it appears. But nevertheless, the initial deception of film vs. digital serves as a great ruse that should teach us the invaluable lesion, to delve deeper into the breadth and depth of environmental issues.

While stipulations to toxicity and allergenic hazards have been known for more than a century of photographic history, these stipulations may no longer be as relevant as they were in the past.

As it stands, large photo-chemical companies have known about safer alternative developing agents for the last twenty years. One such agent is ascorbic acid, which is known by many in the photo industry to be the holy grail of photo chemistry. With the ability to produce finer grain, while at the same time having zero toxicity, it's bizarre at best that large photo companies didn't jump on the opportunity to perfect this new chemistry a long time ago. However, there is a logical explanation for this that I will get to later on.

Companies such as Fuji, Agfa, Paterson, and Illford, have, in the past, produced developers using ascorbic acid, although not necessarily with the underlying intent of safety as with Silvergrain. Ascorbic acid is the chemical name for vitamin C and while the compound used in photographic chemicals has no nutritional content, it is completely non toxic and has no known adverse affects on humans or the natural environment.

What’s in Those Chemicals?

There are a variety of chemical compounds commonly used in photographic developers that are known and or presumed to have adverse affects in human and or the environment. Some of the most predominantly used and controversial chemicals are Metol, hydroquinone, EDTA, DTPA, and NTA.


The chemical compound Metol has been known for quite some time to cause a dermatitis condition of the skin known as Metol poisoning. Only after years of direct exposure does this typically occur; though when skin does become sensitized it is usually for good. The compound Metol is also known to cause eye and respiratory tract irritation with unknown long term effects. In addition to the human health concerns, Metol is extremely harmful to aquatic organisms.


The most commonly used chemical in photographic chemistry is the compound hydroquinone. Found in nearly all developers on the market to this day, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) acknowledges hydroquinone as a mutagen, to cause Cumulative Corneal damage, adverse central nervous system effects, and is a suspect Teratogen. Hydroquinone is also known to have carcinogenic effects in animals and suspect for its carcinogenicity to humans. Symptoms of exposure include: eye irritation, conjunctivitis, keratitis, excitement, colored urine, nausea, dizziness, suffocation, rapid breathing, muscle twitches, delirium, and collapse. Hydroquinone, like Metol is highly toxic to aquatic organisms, this being a primary reason to check local ordinances about how and where to dispose of traditional darkroom chemistry.


EDTA, short for ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid, is also a common agent in photographic film and print developers. EDTA is a chelating agent which means it is used in the reversible binding of a ligand and a metal ion. While EDTA does not have any known adverse affects on humans, it bio-degrades very slowly under normal environmental conditions.

In addition to its use in photo chemistry, it can be found as an additive in many foods and is accepted by the FDA to be fit for human consumption in small quantities. For this, the salt from EDTA is one of the most predominant anthropogenic compounds found in water sources throughout the world. While not proven harmful to aquatic organisms or humans in small quantities, EDTA is still not “readily bio-degradable”.

DTPA is an alternative to EDTA in photo chemistry and is alternately used as a chelating agent for removing harmful radioactive material from the human body. EDTA and DTPA are not used for the chelating process in photo chemistry though. In photo chemistry EDTA or DTPA are used as oxidizing agents.

NTA is a similar compound used typically much like EDTA or DTPA as a chelating agent, but used in photographic developers as an oxidizing agent. NTA is not proven, but thought to be a gastrointestinal or liver toxicant. As crazy as this all sounds, many of the commonly used developing agents have all or a good arrangement of some of these chemical compounds as well as a wide variety of other potentially harmful proprietary ingredients.

There May Be Hope

The company Silvergrain has produced the first marketed print developer to make the claim of being ultra low in toxicity and non-allergenic. Not only did they make this grandiose claim to human and environmental safety but they have in turn also claimed that their new print developer—Tektol—has unsurpassed shelf life, keeping qualities, is virtually inexhaustible, and is as fast if not faster than most commonly used print developers on the market.

In addition to these selling points, Silvergrain has published the most comprehensive list of known harmful or potentially harmful chemical compounds that are NOT used in their products.

The managing director of Silvergrain’s distribution company, Digitaltruth Photo LTD, Jon Mided stated, “the design goal behind Silvergrain chemicals was to remove as many of the toxins as possible from each solution, without sacrificing ANY image quality or functionality.” While the claims seem to be a bit far fetched, colleges all over the country are hailing the Silvergrain’s print developer, Tektol, with raving reviews.

The Silvergrain Story

So, why is it now, twenty years later, in the year 2007, that an ultra low toxicity and non-allergenic ascorbic acid based print developer has finally been perfected and put on the market?

The answer is simple. Chemists began researching these alternatives at the birth of the digital movement. During this time though, photo-chemical companies quickly shifted their primary focus to the next best thing, digital technology, leaving the chemistry research in the dust.

Not for good though. Japanese chemist and avid photographer, Ryuji Suzuki sought to perfect these promising, but imperfect formulae. The alternative developing agent currently being sold by Digitaltruth Photo LTD is based on ascorbic acid.

This is where Ryuji Suzuki’s story began. While ascorbic acid has been a known effective developing agent for years, there was great need for more research and additional tweaking for these new chemicals to compete with the existing chemicals in such a heavily saturated market.

Has Suzuki succeeded? You tell me. I have tested the chemicals personally and have been thoroughly impressed. Student Mike Logan at Unity College, America’s environmental college, made it clear that Silvergrain Tektol is, “an ideal solution for individuals or institutions who are also environmentally conscious but who still enjoy the hands on nature of black and white photography.”

After working with the developer for a few weeks, I can assertively conclude that the developer truly lived up to expectations—and in many ways exceeded them. What is truly unique about this developer is its remarkable ability to produce exactingly comparable results while, at the same time, eliminating the most comprehensive list of chemicals known to be human health and or environmental health hazards. This is the fist major breakthrough in the film industry in over a decade. So you may now, want to think twice before saying film is dead and expand environmental awareness to your photography practices. Darkroom-based photo education does not have to fold due to environmental concerns and Silvergrain has only reinforced this premise.

the biofuel buzz

As some recent posts will attest, people from politicians to scientists, moviemakers, farmers, and college students are talking a lot about biofuels. Last weekend's Sundance Film Festival was opened by Fields of Fuel (, a film created by Josh Tickell. (Tickell wrote the now classic book _From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank_ about running diesel engines with wast vegetable oil (WVO), and also raised awareness touring the country in his colorful WVO Winnebago van).

Press coverage of biofuels tends to oversimplify and is often misleading. Amidst the excitement about biofuels as a potential alternative to fossil fuels, it's important to look objectively at all their far-reaching implications for sustainability, including carbon budgets, food availability, and even habitat conservation.

Here's an article to complement Mick's earlier post, this one coauthored by David Tilman, a leading ecologist at the U. of Minnesota. It gives an overview of the energy budgets, environmental and economic effects of producing ethanol from corn and biodiesel from vegetable oils. Take a look -- you may be surprised!

I also have copies of the primary scientific literature on which this story is based. If you're interested, I'd be happy to share the papers or talk more with you.

Jack-up barges for offshore turbines

BBC Photo

A great article from the BBC, with a startling set of pictures. How soon before we see these rigs in the Gulf o" Maine?

Ships on Legs

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
BBC Scotland

Rising from stormy seas, the giant turbine towers of an offshore wind farm seem almost miraculous to the untrained eye. But how do you put them there?
Most boats do not have legs. But a jack-up barge has six, protruding high into the air when the ship is in transit.

Extending to a length of 48m from the bottom of the ship, and penetrating up to 5m into the sea bed, the "legs" of these ships provide a stable "ground" in a place where there is only roiling water.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Greasy Garage of Sustainability

~Peter Knipper welcoming all to the garage.

The "Grease Garage" is located in the far garage bay of Unity Colleges Sustainability house, formerly referred to as "the white house". This garage bay is in the process of being fitted with tools and other amenities to serve as a sanctuary for sustainable handy-work. From its current primary use as a filtering station for waste vegetable oil powered vehicles, to repairing and testing wind turbines and other sustainable technologies, the more aptly termed Sustainability Garage is a cool (it's winter and not heated--yet) place to pass time. On a weekly basis, despite the temperature steadily hovering in the teens, students Peter Knipper, Clayton Kern, Will Hafford, Toria Arnold and Jake Harr have spent several hours filtering waste vegetable oil to power 2 student driven vehicles.

~Waste Veggie Oil passing through a gravity feed filtering system

~Student built, more elaborate filtering system

Students have been in correspondence with others in the community that have expressed interest in their efforts. The students are more than thrilled to share their efforts and knowledge with members of the community--after all that's what it's all about. For up-to-date information on Grease Cars at Unity College, questions can be directed to or to

~Mattress surfing--Sustainability is not always serious!

Please stay tuned, as the garage is slowly transforming into a really neat place, harboring great learning opportunities.

For now, enjoy the Photos!

~Jake Harr working on his 1978 Diesel Mercedes (300D)

Unity College's new sustainability majors

Unity College faculty passed the two new degree programs last Thursday by a very wide margin of votes. Thanks to all faculty for the support and help in getting these exciting new programs up and running.

Time now for some students. Some good students!

If you are a prospective student who has not attended college before and are interested in these programs, please see the Admissions Department. You can apply on-line, and they will make sure you see me at some point if you visit the college for advising and career counseling.

If you are a transfer student, especially if you have a lot of credits, you are asked to see me or the Registrar, preferably both, so we can make sure you can graduate in a timely manner.

If you are a supporter or friend of the college, we ask you please to forward the url to this blog post to anyone who you think will be interested.

Here are the catalog descriptions for the two programs. Email if you have any questions:

Sustainable Design and Technology
(Beginning Fall 2008)

This Bachelor of Science program will allow students to develop their talents and skills as applied scientists and planners in the fields of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and response to climate change. The emphasis will be on technology and accounting.

Students learn to evaluate and implement emerging technologies and to design, quantify, and account for programs of energy efficiency and climate emission reductions for government, for private businesses, or for households. The emphasis will be on practical skills based on solid general theory.

Upon graduation, students may choose work in the emerging job market in government sustainability implementation and planning, to work as lobbyists and advocates in the same arena, to work in the housing market as implementers and auditors of sustainability and energy efficiency measures, to work in industry as an environmental compliance officers, sustainability coordinators or sustainability officers, or to go on to graduate school in the fields of public policy, planning, architecture, environmental law, environmental and industrial design, or climate mitigation.

Agriculture, Food, and Sustainability

(Beginning Fall 2008)

This Bachelor of Science program of study is designed to prepare students for future study and careers in the growing fields of sustainable agriculture and
food systems.

The approach will be interdisciplinary and experiential, drawing on several disciplines that intersect in the field of agriculture and food systems study, including biology, ecology, economics, critical social sciences, and history, as well as applied sciences such as horticulture, livestock management, and marketing.

The program will have a significant field and experiential component, utilizing the college’s farm and garden resources as well as those of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), whose headquarters are in Unity. Field studies will also take place on MOFGA member farms in the region and around the state of Maine.

Graduates of the program may choose careers in sustainable crop production, sustainable livestock production, food business enterprises, and nonprofit advocacy and management in areas such as food and agriculture policy, community agriculture, food security, farmland preservation, food and health, and
community development.

Jobs for UC students: Sustainability Coordinators

These are the kinds of jobs our new degree programs are designed to prepare students for:

Sustainability is everyone's job, but some get paid for it

Employees whose sole job is to improve "ecofriendliness" are popping up at colleges and businesses in Minnesota and elsewhere.

By CHAO XIONG, Star Tribune
Last update: January 21, 2008 - 9:48 PM

Request for data

Students interested in how our CO2 emissions compare to other institutions may be interested in this correspondence with another university representative:

Hello Keith:

I'm glad you enjoyed the presentation. The data you refer to comprised estimated CO2 emissions for about 20 plus colleges and universities, which was were gleaned from the various reports that colleges had published on the Internet at time of writing. In each case, the date were adjusted to reflect per-capita emissions. Attached is a spreadsheet with links to the original published data.

Although these estimates were the best available at the time (8-9 months ago), the ACUPCC is collecting up to date data, which (only in the last two weeks) has become available on their web pages, particularly,


I would expect you would want to use the up-to-date data.


-----Original Message-----
From: Crawford, Keith
Sent: Mon, 28 Jan 2008 2:57 pm
Subject: Metric Benchmarks?

Dear Mick,

I greatly enjoyed your presentation during the ACORE HEC meeting in November. I am sorry that I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to you afterward. You are clearly leading the way in creating a renewable future at Unity. I am hoping you can help provide some guidance to me.

As you can see in the attached document, I am making the case for eco-effectiveness investments at UVA’s Darden School of Business to create a zero waste and carbon neutral institution. In order to access our current resource use, recognized benchmarks from peer institutions are valuable. Within your PowerPoint presentation, you provided a graph that listed “Campus Climate Emissions” for a number of colleges and universities. Are these statistics and standards readily available? If so, could you guide me to where I can access the statistics? Similar benchmarks for energy use, water use and waste generation would also be extremely helpful.

I hope to see you again at WIREC 2008 in March.

I appreciate any guidance that you can provide.


Keith A. Crawford, AICP, LEED AP
Darden School Facilities Administrator
University of Virginia

"There's no money in sustainability!"*

*Our title is a famously mistaken quote from a now-departed Unity College administrator. But honestly, seven million pounds, or about 13 million dollars a year is ridiculous.

Insurance job takes Blair's earnings above £7m

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
Tuesday January 29, 2008
The Guardian

Tony Blair is due to take his post-prime ministerial earnings to more than £7m this year following his appointment to a six-figure-salary job with Zurich Insurance, the Swiss financial firm, advising it on climate change.

Monday, January 28, 2008

C.R.A.P. Crew call-out!

Many thanks to Keith and his staff, as well as Sarah Ingalls and the CRAP Crew for taking this effort on. A great way to boost recycling awareness and effectiveness.

Let’s see if we can WIN!


On 1/28/08 1:49 PM, "Keith Giles" wrote:

I just wanted to let everyone know Recyclemania is under way. For those who don’t know about Recyclemania please check out the web site, we will be competing against 7 colleges in Maine and 200 colleges nationwide. In the next few days you will see a small white trash can without a liner next to your regular trash can. Please place all paper in this small can. Custodians will empty this daily and keep it separate from regular trash so it can be recycled. The C.R.A.P. Crew is working hard this semester to keep the bags emptied on a regular schedule. We have a lot of new students on the crew this semester so if you see something being missed please let me know by email or my ext 334. This is a great opportunity to show other colleges why we are Americas Environmental College.
Let’s all do our part and recycle everything we can. Thanks for your help and support!!!


Sustainability Student Club

(This initiative from Keira has my support. If you are interested, please contact her. See the student email sent out and reply to that.


My name is Kiera Shepard and I am a transfer student, new to Unity this semester. I know that there are a lot of students working actively on campus in sustainable development ventures, but am curious if any students meet on a regular basis to discuss ideas and tactics to further sustainable progress. If students already meet regularly I would love to take part, and if not, I would like to start something with like-minded students on campus with a sustainable focus. Let me know if you are interested or if something like this already exists, I would like to start working on this ASAP.


Note from Stephenie: Green Jobs Conference

March 13-14 (spring break?). It's $150 per person plus $110 per hotel room. I think it's in Pittsburg. Don't know if there's student rates, but thought any perspective sustainability technology students would get something out of it...


Energy interns needed

From: - MUSKIE-L - Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service mailing list [mailto:MUSKIE-L@LISTS.MAINE.EDU] On Behalf Of Susan Moore
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2008 2:28 PM
Subject: Internship Opportunities at the Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security (OEIS)

* Please be forewarned when you reply to this post, *
* you send an email to everyone on the list. *

There will be an information session on Wednesday 1/30 at 3pm in the Law
Building for more information. Room location is TBD.

Internship Opportunities at the Governor's Office of Energy
Independence and Security (OEIS)

Our nation, region and state have become dangerously dependent on
unreliable, insecure and expensive foreign oil, natural gas and other
fossil fuels. According to a vast majority of the scientific community,
combustion of these fossil fuels have contributed to climate change,
damage to our environment and threatened the health of our families and
communities. The Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security
believes we need to chart a course to Energy Independence by creating a
comprehensive State Energy Plan, an integrated and holistic Energy
Emergency Management Plan and a Two Year Energy Action Plan. The OEIS
hopes to create a collaborative strategic planning and decision-making
environment to encourage the development of a public/private partnership
to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. In addition, we seek to
develop and to enact public policies that will transform our current
Fossil Fuel Energy Culture into an
environmentally clean and Energy Sustainable Culture.

Creating a Sustainable Energy Culture:
Students will be able to engage in the following areas of interest:
1. Energy Efficiency and Conservation
2. Renewable Energy such as wind, solar, hydro, tidal etc
3. R&D relating to biofuels
4. Electricity Transmission and Generation
5. Natural Gas Transmission and Generation
6. Co-generation technologies
7. Biomass development
8. Hydrogen fuel-cells technologies
9. Development of energy data, maps and statistics on all energy
sources, transmission and uses in Maine
10. Policies and Programs related to national, state and local
organizations such as FERC and ISO-NE
11. The New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers
12. Energy Utility Regulation
13. RGGI and other environmental issues
14. Federal, state and local legislation
15. Assisting consumers and organizations with energy problems
16. Assisting in developing a comprehensive State Energy Plan
17. Assisting in developing an integrated State Energy Emergency
Management Plan
18. Assisting in developing a Two Year Energy Action Plan
19. Working with federal, state and local governmental officials
20. Working with the leadership in the private sector

Due to the historic high cost of energy prices and the acute need for
immediate action to assist those in need, the OEIS has up to ten
internships available for spring 2008 semester.

Financial Assistance:
The stipend is $2,500 for the current semester.

Student Qualifications:
While a background in energy R&D, IT, public policy, economic or
environmental issues is desirable, we are primarily interested in
securing students who are highly motivated to help others, enjoy working
with teams, intellectually curious and are concerned about the future of
their state.

Student Requirements:
10 work hours a week required with a final research paper on an
assigned topic. Students required to spend some time in the OEIS office
in Augusta.

John M. Kerry, Director,
Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security,

Jennifer Puser, Energy Policy Analyst
Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Great Guardian article on biofuels

If you're tired of the "two legs good, four legs bad" type switcheroos the press keeps pulling with biofuels, here's a well-balanced article.

(That was an Animal Farm reference, by the way. George Orwell.)

To bio or not to bio - are 'green' fuels really good for the earth?
The EU says we need them, some experts say they damage the planet. Who is right?
David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian,
Saturday January 26 2008

From the top of the Greenergy refinery in Immingham you can see across the Humber estuary to Hull. A hum of equipment fills the air, along with a curious smell. Popcorn.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bench tests for wind turbine alternator

Regular readers may remember I managed to break the blades of our small, student-built wind turbine, necessitating new blades, and providing an opportunity for a bench test of the alternator.

This is a vehicular alternator fitted with a permanent magnet instead of an electromagnet for a rotor, significantly changing the power production curve. A regular alternator for a car produces a relatively constant voltage output using a feedback loop involving an electromagnetic rotor. As the demand for power changes, a voltage regulator supplies more power to the rotor, making a stronger magnet, increasing the current output, or amperage. Voltage stays more or less constant at about 13.5, but amps increase, to power more peripheral devices (headlights, wipers, battery charging, etc). The constant voltage is particularly good for electronic devices, such as your car's computer. Electronic devices like regular power supply.

Batteries, on the other hand, such as the six golf cart batteries supplied by this alternator that power the "Eco-cottage" where the students in these photos live, can soak up a wider range of current, and a more varied range of voltage. Our batteries need a bit more than 12 volts to start recharging. Up to a point, the more current they get, the faster they recharge.

With the permanent magnet rotor, both voltage and current increase with RPM. RPM is obviously related to wind speed. The charge controller in this domestic DC system can manage the output of this turbine with no operating problems up to about a 35 mph wind speed.

In our bench test, we used a motor to drive the turbine with a pulley. We wanted to check that the alternator was working, by detecting a voltage suitable for charging the batteries at an RPM that wind speeds at the turbine tower site could reasonably supply. We got this. We also wanted to find some idea of the variability of power output with wind speed, so we used different size pulleys to adjust the RPM. We used a witness mark on the pulley and another on the fan belt, and a watch, to determine RPM. We repeated the experiment using a different pulley. The first pulley providing an RPM of 716, for a voltage of 20.2, the other provided an RPM of 358, for a voltage of 9.9.

A simple extrapolation of the equation provided by these data points (which is an equation for a straight line of the form y = mx + b, where slope is 0.0283 and intercept -0.22) tells us that the required charging voltage of 12.5 is provided at an RPM of 449. We estimate we achieve this voltage at about 15 mph wind speed, but we will fit one of our older NRG anenometers to the tower to be sure this time. (This almost 20-year old equipment was freed up from other uses thanks to the donation of a brand new set of gear from NRG.)

Having done all this, we put the new blades on the turbine and got the whole thing ready for reassembling to the turbine tower, and then, as they say in Yorkshire, "t'jobs a good un" and it's quitting time.

If you're a high school or college teacher who would like to know how to make a small wind turbine like this, you can go to my webpage to download a PowerPoint slide show with instructions.

We'd like to thank Hydrogen Appliances for providing us with a new set of wind turbine blades for this project.

Award for us!

In my email late yesterday:

Dear Mick,

Congratulations for all of your dedicated work to reduce your carbon emissions. Unity College will be receiving an award plaque at the Governor's Carbon Challenge Networking and Expo Forum on February 13th for achieving more than a 10% reduction in carbon emissions.


Sara Lippert
Office of Innovation
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
17 State House Station
Augusta, Maine

EU: 20% by 2020

EU aims for moral high ground with swingeing climate change package

· Blueprint's binding targets for 27 member countries
· Brussels wants deal with US, China and India

New science project on thermohaline circulation

Out of Brydon's shop at Southampton:

From the Observer:

Ocean floor sensors will warn of failing Gulf Stream

UK will be in a deep freeze if the current strays

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Grow Smart Maine

The first Lapping Lecture Series speaker was Beth Nagusky. Beth has worked with many organizations focused on aspects of sustainability. She now works with Grow Smart Maine (, a"statewide non-profit citizens' organization working to promote sustainable prosperity and to protect the state's distinctive character and quality places."

During her talk, Beth highlighted the organization's recent report, "Charting Maine's Future (" Many aspects of the broad-based report are related to state-level planning for sustainability. She spoke specifically about dealing with growth, and how regulations should change to promote more sustainable development.

For example, the total annual mileage driven on Maine roads has grown by 90% since 1980, despite population growth of just 14% over the period. Beth argued that technological improvements (e.g. more fuel efficient vehicles) alone cannot achieve sustainability. We also need to make lifestyle changes such as driving less. The Grow Smart Maine report recommends changing tax, zoning, and building codes to promote revitalized population centers and walkable/bikeable communities.

During questions after the talk, we had an interesting discussion about why no front-running presidential candidate is making climate change a top issue in his/her campaign. President Tomashow argued that leadership on the presidential level is crucial, while Beth emphasized 'bottom up' change beginning at grass roots levels. It seems like an element of the 'chicken and egg' problem exists here, but from the above example, I believe that both government leadership and uncoerced personal/community action are necessary to move toward meaningful sustainability. Food for thought...

Jake's Instructions for "Hibernating" a PC

(Doesn't work for Macs)

If you right mouse click on your desk top you will get a menu. Go to "properties" at the bottom of the list and click. Next click on the "screen saver" tab at the top of the list. Once there is a picture of a computer screen in that menu there should be a section at the bottom labeled power it will have a message next to the button that says something like this "To adjust monitor power settings and save energy. Click Power" So follow the directions and click on the power button. A new set of top tabs will appear at the top of the box. Click Hibernate and make sure the "enable hibernation" box is checked. Once this is confirmed, go back by clicking the "power schemes" tab and go through the drop down boxes and set all of the settings to "never" accept the "system hibernates after:___" and select how long you want to be able to leave the computer before it automatically hibernates.

If you click on the "advanced" tab at the top of the same window box, it will give you drop down menu selections for what you want the computer to do when you press the power button on the computer. Here you can select that you want it to go into hibernation and you are done.

It probably looks a lot more complicated than it is. You should have no problems doing this. You wont have access to these setting controls on the school computers though--unfortunately.

You should never loose information that is on the screen when the computer hibernates so there is nothing to worry about. The more it hibernates when you neglect it, the better it is for energy savings.

Jake Harr

New Community Run Bike Shop!!

Open on Weds evenings: 6pm-8pm and also Saturday mornings at 9am
We want to help people with simple repairs, give a "safety" class in the spring and promote bicycles as a viable and safe way to travel.

We want to rebuild and put back into action any lame bikes that often decorate yards, sidewalls of buildings and are bent around poles in cities and towns... we are sure there are folks who would ride more often, if they owned a bike.

For more info call Jack at 568-3444

repair a few bikes to use as community bikes.
alternative peddle power

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

From Sarah at Northland College in MN

We have reusable cloth bags, made by a company that also provides a stand for them. They are in all areas where paper is used. Our student-run CRAP Crew, (Community Recycling Action Program is run by Sarah Ingalls (Job title: "CRAP Crew Captain") is in charge, supervised by Keith Giles, the head custodian and green cleaning expert.

This semester we are doing Recyclemania, the national competition, as a means to boost recycle volume a little. But we do very well already. Little paper is thrown away. It helps that the local recycle center is run by Aaron, an alum, so we have very good relations and he is very encouraging.

Compost is also collected by a work-study crew. We have bins outside the two food service areas, and the compost heaps are on campus. We have a truck dedicated to compost, but it's in the shop right now.

We are just now hiring a new supervisor.


On 1/22/08 11:43 AM, "Sarah wrote:

> Hello, Michael!
> Thank you for contacting me so quickly!
> I'm mostly curious about how Unity College has there recycling and composting
> program set up. Where are the cans located? Is there signage around the cans?
> What sort of problems have come up with using the current or past systems? My
> interest is on more of a communications level. So the accessability of cans
> and how they appear to the campus community are important. Anything else you
> would like to add would be fantastic!
> Thank you again!
> Sarah

Unity Experience students build barn at Last Chance Ranch

Last Chance Ranch is an equine rescue center -- battered horses, otherwise bound for the dog food cannery. These are students in Dr. Phillippi's section of Unity Experience, an environmental engagement and UC orientation program required for all frosh.

This project was a good example of local lumber utilization in a building project. Hemlock is the local construction lumber of choice for outbuildings due to it's longevity. Pine is more expensive, but nice for interiors, especially in full timber-frame buildings. I wouldn't claim this as a green building, though. The foundation was all wrong. When students build buildings at UC (the Sugar Shack, the FFA Farm), I make sure they get local lumber. When contractors build buildings at UC, we make them get local lumber, including sheathing.

Hibernation and Kill-a-Watts from Jake (with poetry)

This was in response to a UCvoices note on how to save energy by shutting off your desktop. Jake also publishes his poetry at the foot of his emails. The picture shows the Kill-a-Watt meter. We have some available for check out from the Quimby Library.

I can have a student come to your office and run the Kill-a-watt test if you want.


Jake's Note:

Hibernation is the closest you can get to shutting the computer off without shutting it down completely. It is very nice because you can change the settings very easily to make the power button on your computer send the computer into hibernation and back out of hibernation. It is very quick, making it ideal for a computer you are turning on and off multiple times a day. Many people don't want to take the time to wait for their computer to start back up from being completely turned off--this is where hibernation is nice because it starts back up in a fraction of the time and all you need to do when you are leaving your computer is hit the power button to send it back to hibernation. The best part about hibernation is that you can leave everything you are working on up on the screen and it will be just as you left it when you turn the computer back on.

The computer requires only about 8 watts of energy in hibernation vs. the 100 watts the computer consumes when on and operating. (as you stated before, standby does not save energy like many initially believe. If anyone is interested in this, or doesn't believe the information here, the library has Kilowatt meters that you can check out and plug all of your appliances into and check their energy consumption. It's very interesting and a very good learning experience.

I would bet that internet crimes are not an issue when the computer is in hibernation as it is very close if not essentially turned off. It is a concern though and should be checked into. I hope some of you find this interesting or helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.

Jake Harr

Jake (MacGyver) Harr

Provocative rain screaming
Into a sky that says hello
To the children that stare up from below
The children starve
An abundance of food
Sits in shambles
That olfactory smell of decomposition

Smiles that reek of their distraught
Polyurethane varnish covered candy
Teflon coated hearts
And children that die fools of their naivety
Bones that itch with discomfort
The children look into the rain-showering sky
For answers

All the while
The Man is talking in circles
Around the children of distress
Policy at its best
He assures them
They will be fine
Just fine

Fine with a subsidized death
Of plastic eyes and digital voices
Its policy at its best
We’ll take care of the rest
As the children stare into the sky
Drizzling industrious acidic rain
Into the open eyes of hopeless children

Helplessness in a free market inundation
Devouring the children of tomorrow
Devouring the hopes
Before they arrive
Smiling for money
On the inside
Of many envelopes

Israeli eco-cars

Mitch found this on in the NYT:

JERUSALEM — Israel, tiny and bereft of oil, has decided to embrace the electric car.

On Monday, the Israeli government will announce its support for a broad effort to promote the use of electric cars, embracing a joint venture between an American-Israeli entrepreneur and Renault and its partner, Nissan Motor Company.

Energy Futures Summit, Abu Dhabi

A holographic prince, saving carbon emissions by appearing in virtual reality image to give a speech, in which religion is linked to saving the planet from climate change, a new renewable energy university funded by an oil shiekhdom, and a government sustainable development adviser who doesn't think his government is sustainable enough. Gotta love it.

Is the Guardian becoming the "People" magazine of the emerging climate cognoscenti? Or do I just live on a farm in Maine?

Maybe Prince Charles can "holographically" come talk to my sustainability economics class about his point of view. Now that would be a technological feat.

Prince saves his energy in dramatic appearance at climate conference

· Charles appears via hologram in Abu Dhabi
· Emirate plans to lead way in funding research

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jake and I spent around 2 hours or so in Waterville combing the local restaurant scene for good quality vegetable oil yesterday to "test" as a vehicle fuel. Out of the 5 restaurants we checked we found two good dumpsters with quality oil. After gathering several gallons we supported one of the restaurants by ordering some dinner as well! Turned out we gathered some very high quality oil, and the trip was well worth the drive.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Student bloggers

What a Crew!
Students working on our NRG windpower assessment tower
Photo by Clayton

The Sustainability Activities Blog has been "syndicated" on our local newspaper site and its link has been emailed to a lot of influential people in Maine, regional and national sustainability circles. It's also been a focus of interest to incoming students. Finally, we discover how to get the news out about Unity College sustainability activities and programs, "virally."

It easy for other colleges and universities to get attention. They have contacts and financial pull that we just don't have, and we certainly wouldn't spend our student's tuition dollars just to get attention when we could spend it on new green buildings, or retrofitting old buildings. But the competition has been fierce, and at times ludicrous. Other colleges and universities have gotten national attention for the most ridiculous greenwash.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you know of, or attend, a college that has less than our current actual climate emissions of 1.86 metric tonnes per student per year, we want to know about it.

Virally, however, Unity College can become recognized, because what we do may be frugal and simple, but it is very real, and we show how just about anyone can do it. The CEE Online site, where K-12 schools are encouraged to green their campuses, is a great addition. (See link to left, below the CEE Banner.) Our students who want to work in this field realize this, and they contribute a lot of the thinking, ideas, and almost all of the exuberance and energy to these efforts.

I want our efforts to get this recognition because I want our students to succeed. Any of the folks who have helped out in this effort can go away after graduation and do much the same for you institution. That goes for our current grads in degrees like ecology, environmental policy, and environmental analysis, but our new grads, in a few year's time, in the two new programs, will be directly trained to take charge of institutions and reduce energy costs and climate emissions, or to start local food systems programs.

Three of these budding experts have now officially joined the contributor team, Sara, Jake, and Clayton. You've seen their activities already, but now they want to post in their own right, and you'll see their stuff come up from time to time. I won't say welcome, because they've really been here all along, but I'm glad to have them posting directly. I couldn't ask for any better indication of the success of the work we do, and of their own competence.

If other students also want to post, just come see me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Roads as solar collectors

Photo from Philip C of, via Treehugger

Anders sent the following article in. What a great idea! Would work well with a cold climate water-to-water heat pump, or ground source heat pump, could be incorporated in new building design. I was already wondering if a greenhouse or other passive solar installation would amplify the efficiency of a cold climate air-to-air heat pump. This would have much the same effect.

Would quit in snow, though.

Dutch Company Siphoning Heat from Asphalt for Energy Uses
by Jeremy Elton Jacquot, Los Angeles
Science & Technology

While most solar enthusiasts are busy focusing on building ever larger thin-film solar farms or ever more advanced concept solar cells, others have been relying on older, though no less innovative, technologies to supply households for years now. Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV, a Dutch civil engineering company, first conceived its Road Energy System 10 years ago; back then, a technology that aimed to siphon heat from roads and parking lots to heat offices and homes probably sounded a bit eccentric, if not outlandish.

Ten years on - with climate change and renewable energies featuring much in the news and in policy discussions - their once long-shot bet is looking like a shrewd one. Their thermal energy system, which collects solar energy from a 200-yard stretch of road and a parking lot, powers a 70-unit 4-story apartment complex in the small village of Avenhorn; the heat stored from 36,000 sq ft of pavement during the summer helps keep a 160,000 sq ft-industrial park warm in the winter.

Smart cars, smart students....

Daimler is finally making the Smart Car available in the US. These are absolutely tiny two-seaters popular in the UK, where you can buy them for about $10K. You've seen one, on TV in the Nintendo Wi ad, driven by two Japanese guys. The EPA rated mileage is 45 mpg highway, but UK Smart users routinely get 65-70 miles per Imperial gallon (an Imperial gallon is 121% of a US gallon). The company had a $99 down payment scheme, but ran out of cars!

Small sensation: America gets Smart
Andrew Clark in Detroit
The Guardian,
Tuesday January 15 2008

My parents have a Ford Ka four-seater, another great gas mileage vehicle not available in the US. My dad (whose memory is not the best), reckons he gets 65-70 mpg per Imperial gallon too. Shades of 1973, when the best Detroit could do for the US market in the face of the Arab oil embargo was the Gremlin! Or the Dodge Omni!

Students are back. Snow day yesterday, so false start, but we're off!

Current practical projects: bench-testing the wind turbine alternators, and then reassembling whichever of the two is most efficient to the tower and erecting the tower, switching out the light bulbs in the Sustainability House (and doing a KWH projection and writing about it for the Sustainability House Blog), and crunching wind assessment numbers.

Friends Camp is looking for a cost-benefit analysis (see earlier post), and Will Hafford, SGA President, will be asked to vote (Feb 29th) on a BOT motion authorizing $150,000 of loan money for renewable fuel heat plant for up to four or five existing buildings (again, see earlier post).

And we may soon be looking for a Composting Czar to supervise the Work Study compost crew.

There are others, but these are the biggies.

Any takers for these projects, see me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Inedible ethanol

Coskata PR Image

I've been watching the ethanol technology race for several years now, waiting to see which cellulosic ethanol process would win out and get first to market. It seems GM has backed this particular horse, which makes it a front runner.

Cellulosic ethanol -- ethanol made from the woody stalks of plant and plant debris, which would include Maine forest trees -- is the best bet for a liquid fuel technology in the near term. Liquid fuels that avoid climate emissions entirely, or that have a lower ratio of climate emissions per unit energy compared to fossil fuels, are important because they would allow us to weather an upcoming and necessary technological transition in vehicle design and energy use -- the transition to electric vehicles run on solar and wind and other renewable electricity, without giving up too soon on our massive current capital investment in liquid fuels. Most cars on the road today will run on 85% ethanol with little problem.

Eventually, we will need those long range electric vehicles, like the Tesla, to be price competitive with gasoline/ethanol vehicles, because the ecological costs of making all those liquid fuels from plants, particularly trees, may well be too high. And, unlike Europe which has already exported its biofuel market, causing an environmentalist backlash, in the US the costs of some if not most cellulosic ethanol production will be borne at home. A new jobs scheme for foresters and ecologists will be in figuring out how to manage the demand on US forests for ethanol and wood pellet production in the medium term.

GM, Coskata Partner in Breakthrough Ethanol Technology

Process Makes Ethanol from Renewables Including Trash and Old Tires

DETROIT, Jan. 13 – General Motors announced a partnership Sunday with Coskata Inc. to use the company’s breakthrough technology which affordably and efficiently makes ethanol from practically any renewable source, including garbage, old tires and plant waste.

Coskata, which was formally introduced as part of GM’s opening press conference at the North American International Auto Show, uses a proprietary process that leverages patented microorganisms and bioreactor designs to produce ethanol for less than $1 a gallon, about half of today’s cost of producing gasoline.

“We are very excited about what this breakthrough will mean to the viability of biofuels and, more importantly, to our ability to reduce dependence on petroleum,” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said.
Coskata’s process addresses the issues most often raised about grain-based ethanol production.

According to Argonne National Laboratory, which analyzed Coskata’s process, for every unit of energy used, it generates up to 7.7 times that amount of energy, and it reduces CO2 emissions by up to 84 percent compared with a well-to-wheel analysis of gasoline.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Free Insulation! (In the UK.)

From the Guardian:

The energy offer that really is a dead Cert

Save on your bill and help save the environment thanks to a new scheme to cut carbon emissions. Oh, and it won't cost you a penny

* Miles Brignall

Friday, January 11, 2008

The sky is falling, civilization is coming to an end, not...

Although I'm pretty worried about the consequences of climate change, I also get pretty tired of some of the folks who write about it in the most cataclysmic terms. George Monbiot, a British author whose opinion pieces I read regularly in the Guardian, is one example, although there are many, many others.

Here's the piece by Mr. Monbiot that got me going, right here. It's a new book by Cormac McCarthy, another climate change dystopia. Mad Max.

My problem with this kind of stuff is that I just don't think it makes sense to believe that modern humanity will just let things get worse and worse until there is no recovery. Do the authors really think that everyone who is in science and government is absolutely incompetent? Some are, I know, believe me. But many if not most are reasonable and professional. And by concentrating on the worst possible cases of social and economic upheaval, these new dystopias distract us from what is real and now, and quite straightforward, which is the workaday reduction of carbon emissions from household and industrial processes.

Because this is just work, folks. Boring old work. And I suspect that in the long run, most of it will NOT get done by people who read and write dystopian projections. It's a very banal, down-to-earth business, this reducing climate emissions.

You don't need to feel any earth-shaking worries to do it. You reduce emissions pretty much the same way you pay your bills every month. You say, ho-hum, oh well, better do this now, and set aside a little time, and go switch out a light bulb, or do some insulating, or make the calculations you need to make to decide whether or not it's time to switch out that furnace, or get that new hybrid car. And then you get done and go have dinner. Just like any other day.

You make a habit of reducing emissions, just like some people make a habit of paying bills. I actually enjoy paying my bills, because it gives me control over my life. I like saving energy for much the same reason. When will most people begin to think about reducing emissions? When they look at their bills, their heat bills and oil bills, and realize that they are wasting their money buying expensive energy they really don't need to use.

Corporations and smaller businesses have people who pay bills too. They will do much the same kind of thing. In their case, it will be some very disinteresting gray men and women poring over computers in back rooms who will save the planet.

And then it will be time for dinner.

News article on our wind assessment project

From Craig Crosby of the Kennebec Journal

THORNDIKE -- A tower recently placed near the site of the new Mt. View school could hold the key to supplying the school with electricity. The tower, which was erected in November, was fitted with three anemometers at 130, 165 and 196 feet. The anemometers will record wind speed over the next year to determine whether conditions are right for an electricity-generating wind turbine.

"We're hoping for average wind speeds of between 12 and 14 miles per hour, which would justify installation of a small, utility scale turbine on site able to produce 20 to 30 percent of the electricity needed for the school," said Stephen Cole of Coastal Enterprises of Wiscasset, which is heading up the study.

School Administrative District 3's new pre-K through 12th grade school is expected to open in the fall of 2009.

Though the district is a partner in the study and officials are interested in installing a turbine, Coastal Enterprises is bearing the costs of the study through grants.

The study, which is being conducted with support from Unity College, began last January, when anemometers were installed on a 100-foot wind turbine tower on a farm on nearby Knox Ridge.

Vermont-based NRG Systems, whose director of manufacturing is a Unity College graduate, donated a meteorological tower to erect at the new school site. The tower has been in place since November.

Wind speeds at the farm averaged just 9 miles per hour over the past year, but Cole is hopeful the higher position at Mt. View School will be enough for an additional three miles per hour, which would justify a turbine.

Though the top anemometer on the tower is at about 196 feet, the proposed wind turbine would reach between 140 and 160 feet at the blades' highest point, Cole said.

If the yearlong study finds the location is appropriate for a turbine, Cole hopes to raise the money and complete the project in time for the school's opening in 2009.

Craig Crosby -- 487-3288

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jake and the Big Time!

Jake made the local paper back home. Read it all here:

Green' car a well-oiled machine

Bucks County Courier Times

College student Jake Harr needed a way to travel between his Middletown home and Unity College in Maine.

The 2005 Bucks County Technical High School graduate said he wanted to make the 500-mile road trips in a vehicle that was reliable, didn't hurt the environment and wasn't expensive.

Opportunity for a student project

This from Mark in PR:

There is an opportunity for several students to work on a documentary about the President’s House using some material of the process shot by the PR Firm retained by Bensonwood. Music from members of the Unity College community may be used in this, additional footage shot, and so forth. This could easily be an independent study and I’m willing to advise with you, and / or, if Susan Fedoush were interested, to be an advisor with her under your supervision. Time is of the essence.

Best, Mark Tardif, Associate Director of College Communications

Sounds like a fun project. If you're up for this, better go see Mark.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cold Climate Heat Pumps and Pellet Boilers

Unity College has 100% Maine-made green power, most of our buildings are either brand new, or have recently been retrofitted for energy efficiency, all but a couple of dinosaurs. (We're waiting for the master plan to tell us whether we should keep these, or just knock them down.) You can see the results of the last four-five years of our efficiency drive here, if you have MS Excel. This spreadsheet is also the basis for our reporting to the Maine Governor's Climate Challenge (sheets 4 and 5, for those of you who are interested in climate emissions reporting formats). We have been very successful, so successful we were cited by state government for our hard work. All of these emissions reductions were achieved here, on site, and cost-efficiently. No offsets.

What is left? Heat oil. Diesel, or #2 heat oil, each gallon of which produces 23 pounds of carbon-dioxide equivalent climate pollution. And costs over $3.

How can we eliminate heat oil? We can 1) first insulate all buildings and put in new windows and doors, especially air-lock doors. Insulation is the best bang for your buck, and the best thing to do first, economically speaking. We've already insulated all but our most dinosaur buildings. (Those dogs will have their day, as soon as we know if they're to be kept.) We still need to replace some windows. Once that is done, we should 2) Put in new, computer operated controls. You need well-insulated buildings to have a lot of variance in set temperature, but if you only heat to 55-58 degrees when you're not using the building, you save money and oil, and the climate. We have done a lot of controls recently.

What comes next? Switching to renewable fuels. Renewable energy, by definition, does not create climate emissions. At Unity College, a single renewable fuel pellet boiler, most likely provided by Biomass Commodities Corporation, Inc., attached to our Activities Building (one of those dinosaurs), would save nearly a quarter of our climate emissions AND pay for itself in just a few years.

Other smaller buildings would benefit from the new generation of cold climate air-to-air and air-to-water heat pumps, some of which are made in Maine. If a cold climate heat pump is run on 100% renewable power, no climate emissions are produced. These machines are right now cost-efficient as replacement or new installation heating equipment. A few more points in the price of oil, and it will become economic to replace existing boilers before their life cycle is over. The Hallowell company already promised us two of these to demonstrate in our new President's House, and Sustainability House.

This spring, the Board of Trustees will vote on a motion whether or not to fund $150,000 of new heating equipment at Unity College, to go for that pellet boiler, and a bunch more cold-climate heat pumps. This is enough renewable heat equipment to reduce our remaining emissions by at least 30%.

Watch this space for more details.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Finally, a news article about the new Pres Res

Lots of people have been asking me when this house would get built. There's been a hiatus while the company in charge, Bensonwood, made some arrangements to demonstrate different equipment and appliances in the building. (MIT is also involved in the project, the primary academic design partners.) Other people, particularly those of our students who work for local renewable energy companies, have been asking if they can work on it. Unfortunately as befits a prototype "manufactured home," the whole thing will be assembled at the factory for testing, disassembled, then brought here in big chunks and reassembled. As Rob Constantine explains, we bought a whole house here, finished, not a building project.

But I'm glad to see that our graduates still know how to advocate.

Don't worry, we have another house project upcoming that is better designed for local firms to participate in, our retrofit demonstration house. This is a basic American ranch house that already stands and is owned by the college, and we'll be reworking it beginning soon, to make it as climate neutral as it can be: zero fossil fuels to run, as few fossil fuels embodied in the retrofit as possible. Students will do much of the design and work, using donations from important energy and equipment companies.

We'll put a receptionist in there and open it to the public, as well as use it for training our new degree program graduates and energy folks in general. An environmental education center will go in the two largest rooms, others will be used for various offices, such as sustainability coordinator or student newspaper. We already have pledged a cold-climate heat pump for this building, thanks to Hallowell Inc. Other equipment should be forthcoming after we send out a mailing, very soon, to Maine businesses for funds and equipment for us to demonstrate or beta test.

I started a web site for the Sustainability House here where you can follow the process blow-by-blow.

We will of course use the President's House for education too, and at times we will open it to the public. But not every day of the week! Mitch and Cindy might not like having folks traipsing through quite that often.

I already give campus tours to visitors and other folks who want to see innovative sustainability design, but by the time this year is out, and we've worked on both these house projects, and some innovative heating projects we have up our sleeve, this campus will be one of the best demonstration sites for building sustainability in the nation. That's the plan, at least.

Watch this space for updates on both houses this year.
To read the Sentinel article on the Pres Res, which will also feature a Hallowell heat pump on beta test, go here.

Bensonwood's wep page with details of the house is here.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Scientific American and a Grand Solar Plan

Solar Thermal-Electric power plant in the desert. Scientific American picture

Anders sent in the following SA article which goes with this picture:

Scientific American Magazine - January, 2008
A Solar Grand Plan: By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions

By Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis

A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050. A vast area of photovoltaic cells would have to be erected in the Southwest. Excess daytime energy would be stored as compressed air in underground caverns to be tapped during nighttime hours. Large solar concentrator power plants would be built as well. A new direct-current power transmission backbone would deliver solar electricity across the country. But $420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive.

The College Garden Controversy: Your Comments

Famous Unity College Head Chef and manager of the Student center Charlie Krause, who apart from being Maine's Best Cook, is also a master organic gardener in his own right, recently discovered that the garlic bulbs we were saving to use for seed in the community garden had been allowed to freeze. Charlie wrote to UCVoices, the college's email op-ed/discussion service, to complain.

This started a typical UCVoices controversy. Oy.

Now, there will be some at the college who probably think I should be more circumspect before airing our UC sustainability dirty laundry on a web page where the whole world could see it. After all, I'm supposed to be a professional person with years of experience and dirty laundry is typically not aired in public.

But this kind of controversy is actually a strength of the UC system, so why not air it? We are very responsive to student concerns at UC, and we always allow discussion. We have public Community Meetings, organized by student government, to discuss the biggest concerns. Students can get access to the President or other officials pretty much anytime they need, they can write anything they want to UCVoices, and in the sturdy Anglo-American free speech tradition, even rude or otherwise uncongenial writing is never deleted or otherwise censored. And students have a vote and a voice on the Board of Trustees. Anytime the Student Government Association President wants to, he or she can take an issue directly to the Board. The Board will always perk up and pay very close attention to students concerns.

So, it's not a democracy, and can't be, because someone (the BOT, the President and the college officials) has to be legally responsible under Maine and US law, but it's durned close, and certainly the most open college system I've ever seen.

Why go to all this trouble just to run a college? Because this is what a college is for, training leaders for society. Students can't be properly trained to become agents of change unless they can be shown ways to make changes. No brainer.

We should be proud to show the world how well we know how to be a caring, engaged, service-oriented community with students who are actively becoming leaders in scoiety.

And, to boot: If this is the worst we have, well, we're doing pretty good. I can find a much larger pile of dirty sustainability laundry of any other college or university ten minutes after visiting their campus. Big, empty brick and concrete buildings, lousy windows and door, no insulation, energy leaking into the sky, incandescent bulbs everywhere, fume hoods left open in labs, twenty, thirty times more heated square footage per student than is actually needed, unresponsive, uneducated administrators, and students who have to resort to protest or direct action to get anyone to listen to them.

And five or ten times the climate emissions.

Anyway, here is the thread. feel free to chime in.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Wind charger, or wind pump?

These turbines (there are two) are outside the Shenandoah Farmer's Market in Harrisonburg VA. (Aimee and I just got back from visiting the in-laws.) This is a Mennonite business, where you can buy canned goods, including Yoder's famous canned meats, as well as books on Amish, Mennonite, Church of the Brethren and other German-American Anabaptist culture. It's a Peace Church cultural center of sorts, as well as a place to get a great pulled pork sandwich and more kinds of jelly and other preserves than you ever thought could be possible. I recommend the rhubarb pie filling, but the jalapeno jelly is an acquired taste.

Anyway, these "gate guardians" sit astride the parking lot. Although I've looked at them many times, I just noticed they appear to have a generator, or some other machine in a cowling or nacelle behind the vanes, and reduction gears, as well as the fact that they are considerably larger and taller than most traditional family farm wind pumps.

Does anyone know exactly what they are? I know that wind chargers provided electricity to farms in remote areas before the Rural Electrification Authority era. Is that what these are?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jared Diamond op-ed for the NYT

Op-Ed Contributor
What’s Your Consumption Factor?

Published: January 2, 2008 [NYT}

Los Angeles

TO mathematicians, 32 is an interesting number: it’s 2 raised to the fifth power, 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2. To economists, 32 is even more special, because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the first world and the developing world. The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That factor of 32 has big consequences.

$100/BBL: Happy New Year!

Sweet light crude oil, for a few minutes on the NYMEX yesterday, could not be bought for less than $100/barrel. This long-awaited moment has a kind of psychological "point of no return" feeling to it. I hope. because we really need to stop using this stuff.

It's hard, gosh knows, hard, but you can do it. And it's getting easier by the day to switch out from oil-based energy. You can buy 100% renewable power through the grid, you can first insulate, then switch your home to firewood or some other other biofuel, or get a heat pump, and in more and more places you can buy a liquid biofuel suitable for for your existing car. Exciting new technologies such as Nanosolar film or Tesla cars, featured below, are rapidly accelerating research and moving towards full scale production. Unity students have, of course, preempted the commercial biofuel craze by making their own biodiesel, or making grease cars whose fuel comes for free. And generally doing all kinds of crazy engineering and lifestyle stuff to avoid using oil.

The other thing ALL Unity students get is a small but important dose of sustainability theory. They all learn the Bruntland definition, and the Daly throughput model, as well as the Daly input-output rules. They also learn how to build simple feedback models to understand and even solve environmental problems where feedback is a factor, like climate change, or, as it turns out, oil depletion. Teaching feedback is a recommended outcome for introductory environmental science curriculum, one of several recommendations from the National Council for Science and Environment CEDD curriculum research program.

How would we know if we were running out of oil? Would the market know? Most market analysts see oil depletion as a supply-demand problem, which it most clearly is. But supply-demand theory assumes that supply is infinite, but that there may be increasing costs to scale, which is why supply curves slope uphill. The higher the price, the more producers will enter the market, the more supply is available. this is true for oil, as higher prices drive exploration and development of close substitutes, such as Alberta's tar sands.

But what if total conventional crude oil supply is actually finite, as it most assuredly is? That the planet may have certain resources whose supply is finite is not factored in to normal market analysis. They consider a shorter time span. A finite oil supply is actually best modeled using feedback loops, involving exponential (asymptotic) decay caused by the links between oil price and consumption. There are other feedbacks, including the effect of price or economic growth, which affects consumption, price of exploration, which affects new oil discovery, which however, is finite, and so on.

All Unity juniors learn to construct simple feedback models in their third year Environmental Sustainability class. This is good math to learn, since it's the math of lots of important things in the world, like climate change, population growth, or even, and we use this example to drive home the importance of the math, student loan payback periods.

You can use a spreadsheet program to do this, you can construct difference tables, you can use calculus and differential equations, or, as in the first picture above, you can find a graphics-based computer modeling program like Stella® from ISEE Systems. We do a bit of all of these.

One experiment we do in class is to construct a basic model of oil feedback loop affects, and then do thought experiments by changing the parameters. Students divide themselves into interest groups and come up with the following hypothetical parameters based on their (shamelessly stereotypical) assumed interests.

1) The quantity of known reserves. Is it high, 2500 giga-barrels, as stated by the USGS, or low, 700 giga-barrels or less, as is believed by pessimists like Dr. Colin Campbell?

2) The amount of oil waiting to be discovered. High or low? You can factor tar sands and shales in here and model those too.

3) The price elasticity -- how quickly will consumers switch to other fuels as price rises? A steep demand curve is price inelastic demand, consumers can't or won't buy less of a product as price changes. A shallow demand curve is price elastic demand, as price rises, consumers buy much less and vice-versa. A key concept, as you'll see below.

4) The rate of economic growth: How quickly will the total scale of the economy grow, and thus oil demand, grow. This has to be qualified by the estimate of price elasticity.

Typically, students, who are give free rein to dream up schemes, come up with three or four of those shamelessly stereotypical interest group categories. Apologies to those who belong to one or more of these groups. No-one gets off lightly at un-PC UC, so beware!

a) The "Rush Limbaughs," who want high economic growth, are super optimistic, and thus assume high available undiscovered oil reserves. High assumed known and undiscovered reserves, high economic growth, steep price elasticity

b) The "soccer moms," who want to keep putting gas in their relatively inefficient family vans and have a very steep price elasticity -- they just cannot switch out of oil easily, because changing lifestyles is hard, and what would we do if we couldn't go to the mall? But even soccer moms are more cautious than Rush about reserves and prefer a steady growth - not an overheated economy that causes rapid social and suburban change, with all the difficulty that means for schools and neighborhoods. High assumed known and undiscovered reserves, high economic growth, steep price elasticity

c) The UC "Bunny hunters":
back-to-the-lander, grease car-driving, totally organic, totally crunchy types who want the oil economy to end quickly and all its minions to go back to the dark side where they presumably came from. Very low assumed known and undiscovered reserves, shallow price elasticity.

Of course, and this is the lesson here, when you crunch the numbers, no-one quite gets what they expect or want when ecological feedback is involved:

Soccer mom (first graph) has medium reserves and growth and steep price elasticity, so she actually makes life less stable by burning up the oil fast. Should have put the kids in a Prius.

Rush (the second graph above) is surprised by how quickly he burns up even 7,000 GB of hydrocarbons. Oil shale, tar sands, throw it all in, economic growth of five to ten percent will burn it up more quickly. And the endgame might be unpleasant, as that steep price elasticity makes depletion effects more dominant than conservation effects towards the end of the oil era. Oops.

Bunny hugger does the opposite of what she wants -- she extends the lifespan of the oil economy. That shallow price elasticity is what does this. Everyone saving energy, riding bikes, taking mass transit. All those oil imps stick around for another 100 years.

Go figure. What of this is actually realistic? Very little. These are just teaching tools. And the daily ups and downs of oil price, which ARE determined by supply and demand in a short time span, being based largely on complicated international oil news that changes daily, make predictions much more complicated than these simple models.

(But I have a private version of the model that I keep to myself that tracks the oil price very well.)