Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Astounding wind

According to this Guardian article, the winds around Lake Turkana average 11 meters per second. We're lucky in Maine if we get 6 or 7.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

More anemometer testing

Here's our test site on the former USAF radome building at the Charleston Correctional Center again.

This time we have the NRG Systems and RainWise Wind Log anemometers side-by-side, to do a scientific comparison of the accuracy of the RainWise device.

If the device is accurate, we may deploy several of them around the state to strategic sites, to start getting the data we need to correct the Maine wind maps. This project was previously out of the question because of the high cost of equipment. The RainWise device, if it works well, reduces the cost decisively.

Actually, the Charleston site is ideal not just for testing -- the USAF building is a superb test platform -- but also as a strategic site. We will learn a good deal about Maine wind just from this one site, which is in mid-central Maine on the highest point for 30-40 miles in any direction.

That kind of thing makes me very happy indeed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ventnor-Exxon partnership on biofuel

Geneticist Craig Ventnor and former climate denialist kingpin Exxon-Mobil are to invest $600 million in commercial development of algae-based biofuels. This according to the Guardian, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/14/green-algae-exxon-mobil

This is serious renewable energy and climate change news. We've been aware of the potential of algae-based fuels for several years. One major attraction is that there would be no great need to change the distribution system. And, as with all biofuels, if CO2 uptake is matched to CO2 output, there would be net zero atmospheric carbon.

Actually, if the US federal government actually wanted to sequester some carbon, they could do so this way, by making more biofuel than the market demanded and storing it in terrestrial geological storage, such as the salt caverns used for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Assuming the Exxon-made algae fuel was as stable as the various crude oils currently stored, that is, and that there are sufficient new salt dome sites available or some other sequestration geology could be worked out.

If the new biofuel wasn't stable or couldn't be made so, we could just store light crude and use biofuels instead, offsetting demand for crude, and preventing the release of the CO2 from the crude. This second choice could never actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, like the first could, but it would reduce additional emissions and act as a buffer on carbon dioxide levels.

Not only would sequestration of biofuel be a good climate change maneuver, it would be a good strategic maneuver too. The US, and the democratic west in general, needs a store of petroeleum-type fuel for defense, on the off-chance that our natural petroleum-owning friends in places like Russia, Burma, Venezuala, Sudan, Nigeria, Iran, and their ilk turn out, as seems already to be the case, to not be as fond of us, and our strange habit of deciding leaders by voting, as they perhaps should.

Not only do we have the voting habit, but (at least when characters like Dick Cheney are not in charge) we also respect human rights a good deal more than most of these petrostates, and indeed even the ones that seem to like us, like the Saudis. Unfathomable, I guess, why you would do this when you could plump for the civic excitement of public executions, or the stimulating effect of making twitter contact with the west illegal. Another strange habit.

Not only would it be good to have extra fuel for defense, but larger stores would give us a better ability to stabilize oil prices.

(Dear Pentagon: If you happen to read my blog, and you probably don't, you can have this whole biofuel sequestration idea for free. You're welcome.)

The only thing I don't like about this development is that it's a project of Exxon Mobil, who doesn't deserve to have any advantages in the coming green energy economy after they funded the climate denialist campagn for so long. But their board has changed hands several times since the bad old days when Rex Tillerson said, and I quote,

"...There is really nothing ExxonMobil can bring to that whole biofuels issue. We don't see a direct role for ourselves with today's technology."


So the new initiative represents quite a corporate change of heart as well as one of the more blatant corporate gainsaying events of recent years.

Never say never, Rexy, old boy.

I imagine that Exxon will continue to fund organizations that are not quite outright denialists but close, as they do with their current support of the Heritage Foundation or the National Center for Policy Analysis, proved by the Guardian earlier this year.

What is amazing about this is how a publicly traded corporation can get away with it, and so much of it, for so long.

It seems a lot of us prefer not to look at, or hold our noses when we look at, what goes in our 401 and 403Ks and other mutual-fund type retirement investments.

It will interesting to see what the conservative wonks at Heritage make of Exxon's foray into biofuel greenery. Betrayal? Or an opportunity for spin?

And it will be ironic, after all this, if Exxon is the corporation that nails down a viable sequestration technology. Like I said, on past performance they do not deserve any part of the new green economy. But a corporation is really just a figment of our economic imagination -- the ever-shifting sum of a lot of businesses and shareholder's dollars, not an unchanging individual corpus. Despite Exxon's attempts to hold tight to an ideology as if it were an individual, the market has clearly whittled away at those efforts.

By the way, the world's leading Exxon-watcher on behalf of climate change is Bob Ward, of the LSE and the Royal Society.

Thanks, Bob. And thanks to the Royal Society for taking a stand.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Have you reduced your emissions yet today?

A piece in the New York Times about how environmentalists are becoming critical about the Obama administrations's climate change and energy plans is ticking me off. Not because I don't agree that Waxman-Markey was watered down. Of course it was. But because of what this reveals, once more, about misconceptions of how we need to get the climate change job done.

The notion that stopping climate change can be done with One Big Government Program is just plain wrong. It took industrial civilization 200 years or more to create the sources of carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate pollutants, and they are widely distributed and decentralized across the face of the planet.

Carbon sources are, are or almost all of them are, entirely outside the jurisdiction of the executive AND legislative AND judicial branches of the American government.

The people that are in charge of them are you and I.

And the way we reduce emissions is to execute our own private authority and simply do something practical to stop emissions.

This is not a desk job.

The practical work of stopping emissions is a business of technical and manual labor. You put in some insulation. You trade out some light bulbs, wire in a new automated switch. You put in new insulated windows. You build replacement buildings that use no carbon, and then (very vital, this one) you demolish the old buildings, carefully recycling whatever materials can be recycled (if you leave them up, some fool will use them and your new low carbon building effectively doesn't reduce emissions, it adds emissions). You measure the wind and put up a wind turbine. You build a new vehicle that runs on less gas or on electricity. then you scrap the old one, carefully recycling the materials.

All the time you are doing this, you plan your work very carefully (this is the desk job part) to make sure you are picking the right, low hanging, fruit first. You have a plan, a sustainability plan that takes your household, firm, non-profit, or government agency from high emissions to low, following a pathway that your outfit can afford, one that will maybe even save you some money.

It's really very, very simple. But they key is to actually do something. And the ridiculous thing is, you can do something practical on the first day of your new sustainability program.

What you do is, is look at your light bulbs and then go to the hardware store and get new ones, and get your pliers and screwdriver and stepladder and switch out the old ones. Then you go on to the next thing, and the next.

No carbon tax or cap and trade bill is actually necessary. We could easily achieve 80% by 2050 just by proper planning and execution of sustainability work, practical jobs done by practical people. None of these new government and non-profit desk jobs, proliferating to take advantage of stimulus money, are going to help very much.

Most of them will actually get in the way. If there is a role for the desk-bound office wallah, especially the one who knows nothing of practical things like construction, engineering, or trades, in all of this, it's simply to provide the funding and organization and then get the heck out of the way.

I've lost count of the number of organizations I've visited who preach about climate change but live in leaky buildings. Or the number of homes of important environmentalists there are that still run on oil or gas heat.

It drives me crazy that people just don't get this. Do you think that, when Pearl Harbor was attacked and Americans finally knew that they had to go to World War II (duh -- we Brits thought that took a while. So did Europe's Jews and the other victims of the Nazis.), they stood back and said, OK, well, wait a minute, we need a new tax policy first? Or a new non-profit? When the going gets tough, the practical people get going. Others are left spluttering inanities in conference rooms heated by oil and lit by T 32's.

So can we please just stop talking about it and writing about it and complaining that it isn't getting done and go do some of it?

People who live in glass houses need to go out and frame over their windows.

Unless they're passive solar, that is.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"This Old House" re-runs

The piece is copied from the farm blog I keep at www.womerlippi.blogspot.com But it's about how you might make a very well insulated house out of an old Maine farmhouse, so it really is a sustainability activity, and part of the "real work."

And yes, I really do like This Old House re-runs, although my wife thinks I'm very silly for it.

When Aimee and I bought this old farmhouse we only had time to do about half of the work we needed to do in terms of rebuilding before we had to move in.

If you check out Aimee's page of photos here, you can see what we did manage to get done. It was quite a bit of work -- and that was a summer I worked about 45 hours a week at the college too. But we concentrated on the interior, although we also blew 2 feet of cellulose into the upper crawl space and later that year rebuilt the attic above the kitchen with two layers of R19 fiberglass.

One of the jobs that was saved "for later" was rebuilding the exterior walls of the house and adding insulation. The house had vinyl siding when we bought it, in a sick shade of green. Even so, the exterior, with the vinyl, was more or less bombproof on the outside and could safely be left for a while. But we knew we wanted a super-insulated house.

Eventually, as we could afford it.

This week I began the job of rebuilding the exterior walls. I'm adding both 4 inches of cellulose inside the walls and 2 inches of pink foam board insulation outside. There is 1/2 inch shiny foam board insulation on the inside already -- done before we moved in as we replaced the drywall. The inside insulation has the 3/8 inch airspace that bumps the value up to R6.1, so with the R15.2 of the cellulose (studs are actual 4 inch rough cuts) and the R10 of the pink foam and two inches or so of wood, we will have roughly R34 walls. The ceiling of the main house is already more than R60 with the two feet of cellulose (R 3.8 per inch).

So when this new job is complete we will not quite be officially super-insulated. But still, we should be nice and warm.

The first part of the job was to wreck out the parts of the old wall we were not going to keep. I removed the vinyl and it's underlay. Then I tore out the bottom few siding and sheathing boards, which I removed to inspect the sill -- nice and sound after 109 years -- and plan to replace with PT plywood, while adding lots of sealant and carpenter ant repellent.

Moisture and carpenter ants will do for an old house in Maine very quickly. We had already to trade out part of the sill on another wall because of ants, and I'm very careful now to spray the pyrethrin-based repellent compound each spring all around.

This job has to completed before Saturday's predicted thunderstorms to be on the safe side, so I'm under the gun.

Here's the kind of mice nest we find in these walls when we take them apart. I used rubber gloves to get this out. There was even a bat sleeping under the vinyl. He was pretty groggy to have to come out in the daylight.

Then there's a shot of the completed wrecking job, the sills all nice and clean.

The next thing I did was drill the 2 inch holes for the cellulose blower at the top of each stud bay. Then I stuffed fiberglass in the spaces under the windows and closed it all in with PT plywood and glue and nails from the nail gun.

This morning first thing, I will go get the blower machine from the rental yard. I have today and Saturday to get the wall closed in again before the rain.

Once the new foam and sheathing is up, Aimee will shingle the walls with cedar shingles. She's an excellent shingler, and not too shabby a finish carpenter either.

But she doesn't like framing, or what she calls "big jobs."

This is a fairly painstaking way to do this work, with all the checking of structure and glue and sealant, and then the time-consuming shingles. But when we done these walls will be good for another hundred years, or more. The materials we're using are modern and more inert than the pine and hemlock that have brought us thus far, and not as tasty to critters. Cellulose is actually impregnated with Borax which repels insects. The new materials are also put together differently: tighter, sealed better, well insulated.

This is definitely the way to go.

I realized yesterday that I don't perhaps need to be quite as worried about my firewood pile this winter, because if I can get this job done, we won't need as much firewood. Or heat oil, either.

Now that would be a good thing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grid can accept more wind than previously thought

Is the "base load" issue, that limits the proportion of wind power you can run in a grid to 20%, effectively dead? This is the second serious report I've seen which says so.

Gavin at the Edge

Gavin Schmidt, founder of RealClimate blog, one of my regular haunts, has an interesting essay/interview over at the Edge.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Testing a new anemometer system

Anemometer systems are expensive. Our Community Wind Assessment program has two of the professional level kinds made by NRG Systems, one for buildings with a tower, one for open country sites with a guyed tower. These systems cost around $4,000 and $17,000 respectively.

However, I have just received a new, much cheaper device to check out, made by RainWise of Bar Harbor, called the Wind Log. I was contacted by two different community wind sites where these devices are in use, and so I called the firm to find out if they were seriously marketing the devices for large scale turbines. It is generally not advisable to use personal weather station equipment, which these devices really are, to measure the wind for industrial scale turbines.

However, despite my skepticism and desire to encourage proper practices, when I called them the company offered to give me one to test out, so I thought I'd do a good scientific job of it and try to make it work properly for industrial scale wind power sites.

I fabricated a small test tower of PVC pipe to test the device on my front lawn before putting it out on the site we have at the Charleston Correctional Center. Once it's been on the lawn for a couple days and I have checked out the sensor and logger, I plan to run it side by side with my smaller NRG rig, already in place on that site, for a couple of months to check that it collects valid data. The results from both rigs should be statistically the same.

The main problem with this device is that it doesn't come with a tower. A minimum of 100 feet of tower is generally advised for anemometry for serious wind turbines. I recommend 50 and 60 meter towers for wind farms using the larger GE and Vestas turbines. Already the folks that are using these for serious turbines are both also using too short a tower.

The other problem is that it only has one wind speed sensor, whereas two are required to get the wind shear factor, one of the basic anemometry statistics. Two are also recommended in case one quits. Our NRG 60 meter sensors come with three banks of two wind speed sensors, typically at 40, 50 and 60 meters, as well as two directional vanes.

However, these devices are cheap, around $350. There are several wind power projects in Maine that are stalled right now because the two anemometer loan programs in-state, ours and the one at UMO, only have a handful of anemometer systems available for loan, four last time I counted. That's because the systems are so expensive.

With some tinkering and rewiring, you could afford to buy two or more and place them on the same tower at different heights.

And lots of different tower systems are available.

The rewiring would be needed to get the heavier logger box away from the sensor so the sensor could be placed on a standard boom arm. This is needed to place a sensor on the side of a tower instead of the top, which is what the device is currently built for. I didn't see any particular difficulty doing this. It's just wiring. Possibly once the company figures out what is needed they will offer the new wiring set up as an option or extra.

My friends at NRG will be pretty mad with me if I figure out a way to seriously measure the wind with these devices, however modified. They've been stalwart supporters of our work for several years.

But that's science and engineering, folks. The cookie doesn't always crumble your way. Like Popeye, who "yam what I yam," data and results "is what it is."

As always, you can expect us to provide objective reporting.

Monday, July 6, 2009