Thursday, March 29, 2012

Climate and political dysfunction from the NYT

A article and an op-ed. Enjoy. 

Kinetic sculpture?

Apropos of nothing even vaguely serious, except perhaps the Laws of Thermodynamics -- just a fun time-waster

Using heat maps to plan district heat systems

This is a great application of "big data", specifically Google and other infrared landscape imagery, from a UK organization, reported in today's Guardian. Areas where waste heat from industry or wasteful buildings are shown clearly. Waste heat from industry can be recycled using district heat systems to heat homes and other buildings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Global warming visual

Student Molly forwarded this video, which I've seen before but haven't made available to this semester's class. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The most important thing....

Perhaps the most important new geopolitical fact since the demise of the Soviet block in the early 1990s is that the US is returning to energy independence. Actually, when you include Canada and Mexico in the mix, the North American continent is yet more energy independent. A large number of environmental activists, some heavy hitters among them like Bill McKibben, see the increase in domestic oil consumption as a bad thing, primarily because it means that total global oil production/consumption is now also likely to increase, for the first time in a while, adding to our climate woes. But there's another way to look at it. It's going to take many billions, perhaps trillions, to pay for the renewable energy capital needed to eliminate our dependence on carbon-based fossil energy resources. We're certainly not going to get there if the economy is in the tank and we have to continue protecting the supply of oil from the middle east. Here's the lede from the NYT with the summary statistics.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In like a lamb...

The ongoing heatwave is breaking enough records to be considered outside the range of normal variation. The Womerlippis are certainly having an interesting time in our part-time jobs as a small-time farmers this spring break. We've been able to get annual chores done that normally wait until late April or even early May.

For students in this semester's Environmental Sustainability, we'll be talking about this first thing after the break.

These are statistical questions, and require an understanding of some basic statistical theory: the mean, the median, the variance, and the difference between changes in mean, changes in median, and changes in variance, and what happens if all three act together.

In the meantime, although they probably will add to the confusion of some, these articles popularize the current trends. Advanced students should follow the links to the original primary works.

Monday, March 19, 2012

New PhD Program

(From Wind Energy Weekly. Note the interesting definition of a qualifying first degree: "calculus-based.")

Iowa State is now offering an interdisciplinary wind energy PhD

Applications are due March 1 for Iowa State University's PhD program in wind energy science, engineering and policy (WESEP), which is rather unique for the scope of its interdisciplinary nature.

The program is an Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, to train PhD students in WESEP. The vision of the program is to strengthen the nation's wind energy resources by producing graduates who are technical experts, responsible communicators, and ethical decision makers to lead the U.S. transformation to a high wind-energy portfolio.

All students will participate in such activities as state-of-the-art research, a 3-6 month internship with an industry partner, and a three-month international experience in Denmark, Spain, Ireland, China, or Germany.

Applicants should have a calculus-based (e.g., mathematics, engineering, economics, statistics, atmospheric sciences, or related fields) undergraduate- or masters-level training. To apply or for more information, go to

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoreau's data used again

A very interesting article on the uses of old weather and botanical notes by HDT.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Educational class system

An excellent article from the NYT on some of the problems in our higher education system, with some new statistics included.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wind turbine tour

The energy class and I took a tour of local wind power facilities on Thursday.

We began with the turbines built by local Amishman Ervin Hochstettler and his son Joas.

Ervin and Joas are largely self-taught engineers and manufacturers. Like all Amish, their formal schooling ended with the eighth grade. But they've mastered many if not most of the process functions of engineering and manufacture, including the most difficult work of designing assemblies.

Their primary line of turbine makes not electricity but compressed air. This is because Amish shops are not generally allowed to use electricity, at least not mains supply 110 and 220 volt electricity. Instead they use hydraulics and air, as well as battery-powered hand tools, which they generally charge with solar power.

Ervin and Joas have been organizing production for the last several years that I've been dropping by with students. They reported on this visit that they've finally begun to show a small profit from turbine sales.

Visiting a small manufacturing operation like the Hochstettlers is good for students in our Sustainable Energy Management degree who, although intended for the management side of the renewable energy business, need to know how design and fabrication works.

It's also good to see the theoretical side of renewable energy put into practice. Ideas learned in the classroom or in the laboratory, such as the efficient design of turbine blades for different purposes, begin to finally make sense when you see those blades being put to use.

We then visited the MOFGA 10KW Bergey turbine. This much older version of the standard Bergey workhorse has been in more or less constant use on two different sites since 1987. Lately the inverter has quit, and a second inverter that I managed to salvage from a different turbine site two years ago hasn't proven of any use. Both inverters are now in the electronics shop at the local community college to see if one good one can be made from the two bad ones. Failing that, MOFGA will have to consider a new inverter.

A quick drive-by of the Kinney Farm Jacobs 10KW was the next order of the day. This is an almost antique type which has been cranking away off and on at this site since 1982, although all the equipment has been changed out several times, so it's really only the tower that has lasted that long.

Following that we finished up our tour at the Beaver Ridge Wind Farm, where there are three GE 1.5 SLE turbines, much larger, and much more capable than any of these other types. The older GE 1.5s are noisy, and these are no exception, having prompted multiple complaints over the years from various neighbors. Through a process of winnowing and accommodation, most of the neighbors who disliked the turbines the most have moved, or have been bought out by the company, so these machines are no longer quite as controversial locally as they once were, although I'm sure there remain some neighbors who hate them still. There's a good case to be made that they never should have been put as close to houses as they were, particularly on the south side where most of the noise ends up.

But despite the complaints, the three turbines are productive and have together produced around 12,000,000 KWh/year since they were commissioned, enough to power about 600 houses each, or 2,400 houses total.

It's good for the students to see and hear the larger turbines. Up close, they are gargantuan, and do severely impact the neighborhood, essentially industrializing a large portion of the quiet and peaceful Town of Freedom. And they're noisy too, although on a winter's day like Thursday, the wind in the trees and brush was making more noise than the turbines at least according to our decibel meter at about 700 feet. In summer, with high wind shear conditions, the turbines will make noise when there's little wind, and thus little noise, on the ground. At that time of the year the turbines will seem very loud indeed to neighbors.

Our home-grown Maine anti-wind activists will say that these turbines are noisy and spoil the landscape, both of which are true.

But they'll also say that the turbines don't retire any fossil fuel combustion or climate emissions, which is not at all true, not even slightly true, and that the intermittent production of wind power can't be handled by the grid, and this isn't true either. If anti-wind activists stuck to the facts -- that turbines are noisy and unsightly -- and didn't distort the truth with these other arguments, I'd have more respect for their point of view.

But it's primarily a NIMBY sentiment. Having less wind power would mean we would need to use a more environmentally damaging form of power somewhere else.

There are several rational alternatives to these noisy, unsightly turbines: more drilling and fracking for gas in PA and NY, more mountaintop removal coal mining in WV, more nuclear power stations, more solar power stations, more solar panels on our own houses (and more expensive electricity as a result), or, and perhaps most difficult, to convince Americans to use less electricity overall.

I think that the reason there's so much opposition to wind power in Maine is because we've grown accustomed to having someone else, somewhere else, produce our power for us, and that someone else has also had to absorb the environmental impacts of producing that power.