Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Keynes on the New Deal, as it happened

The NYT has on file a 1934 letter to the editor from JMK, a criticism and appraisal of the New Deal.

It doesn't appear in Skidelsky's biography, or at least I don't remember it. I only found out about it because the "Economix" blog published a Bruce Bartlett editorial on what he dubs "inflation-ophobia."

I'm saving the link here so I can find the Keynes editorial easily for fall's EC 2013 Introduction to Economics class.

Why is this historical letter at all important to a blog about sustainability?

Because climate change policy is intimately entwined with macroeconomics.

You can do the work needed to understand the climate science, the best policies for mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and even get your head around the strange Through the Looking Glass world of carbon sequestration, but if you don't also begin to think about the macro-economics and geopolitics of climate policy, you'll eventually run into trouble.

Trouble of the largest possible kind: global macroeconomic and geopolitical trouble.

(Otherwise known as recession, depression, conflict and war.)

Keynes remains the world's most influential modern macro-economist, despite the rise during the 1980s of the thought of his theoretical nemesis, Hayek. He was the pre-eminent academic economic theorist of the Great Depression and World War II, and his thought shaped our world then and shapes it now.

Ergo, no understanding climate policy without first understanding Keynes.

Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

Sad that we need this, but good that we have it:


Monday, July 15, 2013

Topped out -- just in time

(This post mirrored between my academic sustainability blog and my personal farm blog.)

Yesterday the last structural boards were fitted to the roof of the Womerlippi farmhouse's new extension, an experiment in passive solar construction.

I was too tired and upset from the heat and heavy work to take pictures at the time. Later, when I've had chance to recover, I'll take some shots.

(This link leads to the Facebook slideshow of the construction process.)

But that was a milestone. Now we have a building, and all we need to do is put roofing on and trim it out. Wiring, plumbing, even drywall, windows, doors and trim, these are all easy to do in comparison to heavy rough-cut lumber framing, especially when you're working by yourself. Even a short two by six rough-cut board, for a stud or a plate, weighs many pounds, never mind when you've joined a whole bunch of them together to make a wall frame section or rafter truss.

The foundation was particularly heavy labor, too.

Historically, carpenters from the British Isles held "topping out" ceremonies whenever this stage of a building was completed. I'm not going to cut down a small tree and pin it to my highest rafter and drink a bunch of beer with the building crew, as the old tradition goes.

Seems like a waste of a perfectly good baby tree. And the building crew is way too small to have a party.

That would be a rather lonely ceremony, especially as Aimee, like a true scientist, despises all such "superstition.".

But I am detecting that transitional feeling, when you move from one important phase of construction work to another. And it's a good feeling, of accomplishment and of having done the right thing at the right time.

Even so, I'm going to be very glad of the upcoming break from heavy labor. It's taken me about seven weeks (with a break for a few days for an academic workshop, and another several days to put together a crew and do an anemometer job), to get this building structure built. In that time I've definitely melted fat and built muscle, and I feel a lot fitter and stronger than I have for several years, but I'm also bruised, tired and achy. My body needs a rest.

In any case, the weather won't be cooperating with building plans for the foreseeable. The forecast is for high heat and humidity through Friday.

This is an unusually long heat wave for Maine, although those of us who have to keep up with climate data for a living were expecting a hot summer this year because we're close to the top of the curve in the 11-year solar cycle, so it comes as no real surprise.

Usually we can expect a few truly hot and humid days in a Maine summer. These short heat waves occur when the jet stream is well to the north of us and the circulation from high and low pressure systems (counter-clockwise around a low, clockwise around a high) introduces warm moist airflow from the south.

We began this current heat wave yesterday, and the weather systems are currently set up to continue to pour in warm moist air for several more days. We may easily break some heat records.

We talked about the likelihood of this heat wave occurring in GL 4003 Global Change class during the spring semester, and now here it comes.

The next thing will be a hurricane. I haven't begun checking the NOAA Hurricane Center web page regularly yet, but I will. The Atlantic hurricane season is really just getting started.

I used to spend a lot of time pontificating on this blog about when the penny would drop for Americans about climate change. I'm still not sure just how many hurricanes, tonadoes and heat waves it's going to take.

More than it should, that's for sure.

But I'm glad that I just completed the structural framing on a building that is way more heat-proof, hurricane proof, and tornado proof, as well as energy efficient and low-carbon, than the average Maine building.

I don't want to fit air conditioning, but I expect I could do so if I had to. With the amount of insulation planned for the building, air conditioning would be particularly efficient.

I'd rather have some proper Maine summer weather, with regular, prolonged blasts of cool, dry Canadian air, than air conditioning. I would be happy to suffer frost warnings in mid-to-late August, to be worried about whether my tomatoes are getting warm-enough nights, and so on. That would all be preferable.

But I may not get the choice.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Keep the anemometer flying!

Our 40 meter tower in process of removal from the Dexter site. Photo Ben Holt, SEM '14.
(Click on any picture to see an enlarged, slide show version.)

Regular readers will know that I run one of two State o' Maine sponsored research programs to measure and analyze the wind patterns over Maine's land surface, producing basic science knowledge for Maine renewable energy generation.

(The other is run by University of Maine School of Engineering Technology Associate Professor Paul Villeneuve.)

Our own program's funding comes to an end on September 31st. Accordingly, we're dismantling our large anemometer sites, securing final data pulls and getting ready to write the final reports. I hired a small crew of Unity students to help with this, the third and smallest of Unity College's summer students research crews. (The others are the HEMS crew and the Bear Study.)

Because I have federally-sourced funding, from USDA and DoE, even though the money is "washed" through Efficiency Maine and I'm essentially the subcontractor, all my jobs must be open to all members of the public to apply. We've had some wonderful people and interesting characters become members of the Wind Crew before, but in this case the small number of hours available, likely less than eighty hours per worker for the summer, meant that only our own students applied, for which I was grateful, because of course, these are our students, from our own program and they are already trained and competent.

This years hires are Jake McGinley '14 and Ben Holt '14, both Sustainable Energy Management majors, both of whom were available because they are serving internships with local renewable energy firms for the summer. Ben is with Vaughan Woodruff at Insource Renewables. Vaughan also teaches at Kennebec Valley Community College, our main local partners in renewable energy technology education. Ben is with Chuck Piper at Sundog Solar Store.

What a great summer of practical experience these guys will have!

We had our first three work days last week, dodging thunderstorms (which are not good for Wind Crew workers).

(Our towers are all thoroughly grounded and double-grounded, but a foot tall metal pole stuck on top of a Maine hilltop is not a good place to be if there's thunder. We made a hasty exit from our site the first day, but the next day was dry and calm enough, so down the tower came.)

These NRG Systems Inc. towers, of which we have 30, 40, 50 and 60 meter models available, are not, as NRG Systems technical representative Welly Cobden says, "for the faint of heart." This is science on a large scale, using some serious engineering, and a lot of trigonometry and basic Newtonian mechanics is involved in raising and lowering the towers and generally keeping the anemometers flying.

NRG towers are the standard in the industry, and Unity College is pleased and proud to have received a lot of support from NRG over the years.

The crew must raise and lower the towers using a "gin pole" and a winch. This technique is used for many other kinds of towers all around the world, but particularly for small wind turbines, such as the popular Bergey "Excel" models, so the experience gained working on the Wind Crew is multi-purpose, and good for SEM majors in general.

We have a small 30 foot "training" tower facility located on campus, and so Ben and Jake were previously checked out on that equipment during various of their classes, but the real thing is a lot bigger and scarier, and can be dangerous. I'm very big on safety for wind crew workers. Unfortunately, Ben didn't take any pictures of use wearing our hard hats (which we put on, once the overhead danger was established -- as the tower was coming down.)

Here are some pictures Ben took:

Jake and I assemble the winch to the winch anchor, which in this site is a 2-inch eyebolt drilled into the solid rock. We hired a compressor for the purpose, two years ago when the tower was raised.

Shackling the gin pole. many shackles are used to connect to the four levels of guy wires that are needed to keep the tower straight while it's being lowered. All operate, as gin poles must by definition, at a mechanical disadvantage. An awareness of operating loads and Newtonian mechanics is a must-have qualification for a Wind Crew worker.

The fully assembled tower in vertical position.

Coming down! What goes up....

I always wonder what passers-by on rural roads must think when they see this sight -- the tower that was vertical now at a steep angle. Luckily, no-one ever drives up to find out -- or we'd have to shoo them off for their own safety.

A little bit at a time, so as not to overheat the winch.

The tower almost down. The point of maximum strain on the winch and winch anchor is when the tower is almost parallel to the ground but not yet on the ground. If the winch is going to break, or the winch anchor give way, this is the moment.

Here I'm checking the tension on the gin pole ropes, temporary guys that keep the gin vertical as the tower comes down. This is a key part of the process -- making sure the tension is distributed evenly throughout the system as the tower comes down. There's enough leverage with a big long stick like a 40 meter NRG tower to pull most ground anchors right out of the ground, or bend and snap the tower, if you allow any one guy to take too much strain.

The tower comes to a rest on blocks and sawhorses....

...then the gin pole too has to be lowered.

We use steps to catch the gin pole wire before it gets too close to the ground, because the leverage at that point would be severe.

 Detail of the tower head with anemometers

Everything safely on the ground. The hard hats can come off now, but not the gloves and safety glasses.

Another one bites the dust!

Now the hard work begins, dismantling all that steel and wire. It took a couple more hours' work to clear the site. These towers and the electronic equipment will be stored until the state decides it needs to know more about Maine's winds. 

And, a good time was had by all!