Category Archives: Energy

Pipelines & microgrids

Gas & Hazardous Liquids Pipelines

Pipelines are everywhere. There’s probably one near you right now  delivering hundreds of cubic feet of a fossil fuel allowing you to live comfortably.  Whether you’re in the countryside or downtown of a big city – pipelines are everywhere.  There is a solution to get rid of pipelines – and it’s right there waiting in your hood… just like your farmers market!

San Bruno 2010 Gas Pipe explosion

The people of San Bruno, CA.  discovered their pipeline in a violent way on September 9, 2010  when a PG&E gasline exploded underneath their homes killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. That pipeline was 30” in diameter going right underneath a major suburban area. It was part of PG&E’s 1800 miles of major gas transmission feedlines.

1st hand PG&E experience
When I was doing intense six month training period at PG&E in 1977, a gas department VP  explained how their piplines were used as storage tanks and the pressures could vary 10x fold depending on various demand and supply needs within the system. At that time I thought it was an ingenious, multiple use for a simple underground pipeline system, now we know different.

I’ve come to discover since that the utilities also have massive ‘natural’ underground storage caverns… but that’s a whole different topic.

Other pipelines    Even low pressure pipelines like the infamous DAPL and Excel oil pipelines present unseen hazards to our comfortable living environment. Any and all pipelines present hazards to modern living – even the countless little gas/electric/water/sewer pipes in and under your home.  A low pressure water pipe can create an immense sink hole.  In last year’s DAPL demonstrations, the chant ‘Water is Life’   

DAPL demonstrations

resonated with me.   Even tho oil is now flowing (for now) through the DAPL line, we need to remain vigil and insist that no pipeline be placed within 150 feet of a body of water.  Is that so difficult?  Is that so outrageous?  We don’t allow oil refineries next to schools and hospitals, why should we tolerate pipelines close to our homes any less?  It’s a simple resolution to start on.

We need to get around in our cars.  Pipelines are safer than railcar delivery. Pipelines are here to stay.  Let’s just stop polluting countless underground aquifers and geological formations for centuries to come with pipelines that will satisfy our appetite for gasoline for only 30 years??  We have rules that we  shouldn’t piss within 150 feet of a river or lake when you’re out hiking – so why not the same for pipelines?  It’s just common sense!

The case for microgrids        

Power island

 

The ultimate solution is to wean ourselves away from all this massive, centralized infrastructure and just like our food supply (local farmers markets and not big Ag), take control of our own community’s energy needs.  Several cities are already well on their way in taking control of their energy needs.

 One example:   

MAKE  BROOKLYN  LOCAL  “In New York, the Brooklyn microgrid is conceived to work with the conventional grid, which is in the midst of a reboot under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s directives to make it more flexible, resilient and economically efficient while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. That effort, known as Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV, includes encouraging the development of microgrids and more active community participation.” ….    -New York Times

REAL microgrids

I’d take it one step further like some European cities are doing: cut the cord to the main grid completely and embrace your neighbors’ microgrids for backup and resilience.  With all the renewable choices out there, a symbiotic relationship between microhydro, geothermal, wind, solar, and biogas/mass can easily be tailored to each community’s needs.

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my eco-dilemna

I constantly live at the intersection of  mainstream or ‘alternative’ lifestyle. Living at WinSol,  there is no cost:  no energy bills, no garbage bills, no water bills, no sewer bills… nada!   Is that alternative? or just nice, even cool?  So when I go live in the mainstream for a few days, I quiet all my judgment, evaluations and comparisons. Over the years I have arrived at a state of equanimity: it just is. I used to just ‘let go’ but eventually found that letting go is the negative form of attraction and is as much of a trap as outright judgment is. So ’empty mind’ and ‘metta’ (as the buddhists say)  fills my mind and heart. But lately, something has come to the forefront of my mind, and I can’t let it go: crockpots!

Lately, I have circled around and focused on crockpots as being the poster child of our continued western decline.  A crockpot by its innocent self contains all the trademarks of our declining civilization going down the rabbit-hole.

At best a crockpot produces a beautiful savory food dish. At worse it could burn your house down. But it’s the space in-between where my judgmental mind can’t seem to let go. Maybe it’s this: in order for WinSol to have a working crockpot I would need to spend over $5,000 increasing my solar panels/controller/battery storage – just to accommodate a 1500watt constantly on electrical heating element. And maybe – just maybe – I am envious of mixing up a casserole, soup or other delicious dish, plugging it in,  walking away… and 5 hours later I can enjoy a savory dish. How convenient is that!!? But the ‘real’ price that I would pay for that is beyond my ‘alternative life style budget’ and WinSol’s philosophy.   Let me explain…

…First of all at WinSol, we live by the sun. We are immersed in the nuances and cycles of nature (real nature). One of our founding principles (WinSol’s manifesto) is that electricity cannot be used for heating and cooling. I’m about 95% there in reality – due to a small solar electric driven freezer.

On a technical basis:  WinSol’s current solar & wind electrical system cannot accommodate a microwave (high-surge induction load), or any electrical heating elements like a toaster, convection oven, space heater, or crockpot. I miss the convenience of a toaster more than anything, but have developed a work-around using a gas burner. I could probably develop an alternative to a crockpot using a pressure cooker or a double pot over a gas burner – but why?  I remember a past eco-dilemna that had to do with making bread….

Bread maker?   I think the easiest explanation for my behaviour change is an electric breadmaker. Before I moved to WinSol , I used an electric breadmaker twice a week to make beautifully home-baked, healthy bread without chemicals. But was it really ‘home’ made? I think it was closer to being ‘microprocessor’ made. A few years back, a friend and I decided to make bread the old fashioned way, and I reconnected with the passion of true artisan bread. There’s something
very cool and ‘right as rain’ about kneading, rising, kneading, rising and baking a loaf of bread from three ingredients… talk about being a purist!! And that’s really what an electric breadmaker and crockpot takes away – the artisan element.  (besides using a WHOLE bunch of electricity, high-embodied energy, shelf space, another convenience contraption, another appliance that’ll break and has designed obsolesce built in… geezh! tell me how you really feel :-)!

Artisans   What would our world be like without artists and artisans? As technology encroaches further and further into minimizing real artistry I will stubbornly cling to WinSol’s ‘alternative’ and artisan lifestyle and not enjoy the conveniences of crockpots.

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Sidebar….What’s ‘Alternative’ ?

Everywhere we hear ‘alt – right’, alternative news, alternative energy… I really dislike the word: ‘alternative’. Alternative to what? Is it a good or bad alternative? Does something really need an alternative? Isn’t it really just different rather than alternate?

Take alternative energy for instance. Most (all?) people know that alternative energy is that green stuff: solar, wind, geothermal. But oil, coal, natural gas are the REAL alternatives, because ALL our energy comes from our only energy source: the sun. One of my fun sound bites is: ‘Oil is renewable, you just have to wait a couple million years’.

So can we agree that ‘alternative’ is in the mind of the beholder?

two WOW’s

It’s a long time between my ‘WOW’s.  After decades and ramblings around, it takes something special & extraordinary to elicit this reaction. Here’s two in the last week:         1) DrawDown                           2) Scandanavian electric cars

Book

DrawDown is Paul Hawken’s latest (swan song?) endeavor along his philosophy of ‘natural capitalism‘ and ‘ecology of commerce‘… in other words they’re solution based. I’m a BIG fan of Paul over the decades, but he’s outdone himself on this one. I knew about drawdown a few years ago and could never quite figure out what it was about until recently. When I attended his sold out (250+) pre-release at the Oakland Impact HUB last week – a big WOW again. Paul’s original thinking and limitless passion are unique in the USA.  Dr. Michael Braungart told me 10 years ago that Paul was the best example of a ‘european eco-dude’ in our midst. I say that with all the love in the world:  a european eco-dude in our midst (sounds like a book or song title) is my way of saying forward thinking with social/economic/environmental balances on the cutting edge within a long-term systems thinking strategic view: like Michael’s green chemistry and C2C endeavors.

Drawdown’s mission & vision:

The Mission

Project Drawdown is facilitating a broad coalition of researchers, scientists, graduate students, PhDs, post-docs, policy makers, business leaders and activists to assemble and present the best available information on climate solutions in order to describe their beneficial financial, social and environmental impact over the next thirty years.

The Vision

To date, the full range and impact of climate solutions have not been explained in a way that bridges the divide between urgency and agency. Thus the aspirations of people who want to enact meaningful solutions remain largely untapped. Dr. Leon Clark, one of the lead authors of the IPCC 5th Assessment, wrote, “We have the technologies, but we really have no sense of what it would take to deploy them at scale.” Together, let’s figure it out.

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This solution based book (database/case studies) and website (which is VERY deep) is a compilation of the world’s best think tanks and scientific research on carbon reduction projects. In 2001, Paul asked: …‘what are the top five things we should be doing to reverse the CO2 trend?’… no one knew. Fifteen years later, there was still no consensus.  Three years ago, Paul decided to assemble a team of researchers and scientists to answer this question, and he has succeeded. It’ll be interesting to see how the vested interests and climate change mafia (Paul’s words) aka IPCC will react to this seminal work.

In a nutshell, drawdown has three CO2 forecast scenarios: business as usual, adopting 80 solutions, optimistic adoption. In the latter, we could start actually REVERSING global CO2 buildup by 2045. WOW – who would’ve thought that was possible even in the next hundred years! Most pundits including the IPCC, Bill McKibben, etc… have stated that even if we stop all CO2 emissions right now, levels would not go down for hundreds of years. Paul Hawken says otherwise – and more power to him.

Quick summary (spoiler alert) is that even though Refrigerant management is the #1 solution (HFC’s are 100X+ more potent than CO2) combining (#6) educating girls and (#7) family planning makes it over 119 Gton of CO2 reduction, AND combining (#3) reducing food waste and (#4) plant rich diet wheat food also makes it over 136Gton of CO2 reduction. So focusing on women and food instead of energy and transportation would be a better start.

Thanks for refocusing us, Paul. He’ll be at several book signings in the Bay Area if you want to thank him personally…. I know I will, again and again. Stay tuned for Drawdown #2 as there are another 100 coming attraction (solutions) in the works by Paul and his team.

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Electric cars in Norway: 40% of all cars sold in Norway are electric. Norway has set a goal to be 100% electric cars by 2025. WOW. Considering that StatOil is one of the world leading oil producers, and that Norway isn’t exactly located in the sunniest climate = it’s an ambitious and admirable goal.  For starters:  “Earlier this year, Norway opened the world’s largest fast-charging station, which can charge up to 28 vehicles in about half an hour.”  So maybe Germany, China, California can take a clue from Norwegians and emulate them.

One a side note, a couple weeks ago California crossed a milestone and produced 50% of its electrical demand from renewables. And they said it couldn’t be done… by 2020! That’s our current goal: 50% of our energy from renewables by 2020. And we crossed that threshold three years early. Now the challenge is to increase its frequency and duration.

maslow essentials

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy?  It basically says we need to have our basic essentials taken care of first and then we can move on.  It starts at love & security; food-shelter-clothing, and ends up at self-actualization.  First developed in 1943, it’s amazing it still stands the test of time.

Although this version may be more accurate….
or maybe this one is more current?

 

My personal experiences at WinSol’s simple & natural living has been a constant focus of not ‘powering up’.  It is SO, SO tempting to just go to the store and buy, buy: more solar panels, more comfy chairs, more 2×4, 2×6, etc.  It has taken me over a decade to realize the surrounding forest has all (or most) of what’s needed.  1″ fir tree rounds are way stronger than 2×6’s.  Chairs can be made from the forest (hey – I’m working on it).  Thermal mass is amazing in tons of local granite.  The dome floor is just the dirt (sifted) from clearing the access road to it…. on and on.  All re-purposed, or in the current PC lingo: up-cycled.

What are the  basic essentials? Let’s face it, our basic physical needs are still food, shelter and clothing.  Ok, I’ll add warmth (coolth?) in there. But one can easily survive with an indoor temperature of 40F.  But do we really need to cool ourselves to 65F on summer days?

And then there’s all that energy.  

Do we really need energy to live simply?  Ok, I’ll vote for lights, music, videos and internet in that order.  Above these items, it’s over-rated.  We are getting more comfy and cozy with all our toys.  I hope they last, but if they don’t y’all can always come experience the sheer beauty and serenity (and quietness) of WinSol in it’s natural state…. and maybe after a few days feel refreshed by real simplicity.

Here’s my personal favorite on Maslow’s hierachy:

Energie Wende

that’s German for ‘Energy Turning’... which is well under way with the utility death-spiral already a reality in Germany, but we have our own ‘energy turning in the USofA’… so here’s annual op-ed on energy:

Exec Sum: It’s time to take a hiatus and chill in our warming planet: it’s all too damn confussing,  as our rubber band has exceeded its stretching limits:  Oil prices will continue to hover between $20-40, coal IS done – fini-  despite trumpian efforts,  wind and solar will continue to enlighten, and the USA will continue to gets its energy ass kicked by Europe and China… we are a laughing stock when it comes to energy policy: cheap oil at any price.  We hardly notice as the world moves on (to renewables).

Between falling oil prices and OPEC’s dysfunction (latest production cut agreement won’t hold long),  trumping around with uncertainty, Paris accords fading, Venezuela’s civil unrest, protesters turning into connected protectors,  fracking getting a pass,  more cars at less MPGs, Tesla’s stock shrinking as marriage to its incestuous cousin is approved, and Gaia keeps turning up the
heat on us frogs, what can I say that’s positive?   Hey – we’re waking up!  slowly but surely we are reaching a tipping point and I’m optimistic that our Big Brains will soon figure out that nature doesn’t really have an opinion and it’s better off without us – any questions?  There’s just one little issue with my optimism: Are we really that smart?  It only took us 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage! And that was on top of 55,000 years without wheels!  something about chisels?… but I digress…

We have an energy solution right in front of us, but can’t seem to get past bi-partisan morass. Even NRG can’t figure it out… I get tired reading about the troubles in the renewable business… would the pop media wake up and get some balls – please?  Fossil fuels are not only messy, they’re guey, they stink, their supply chain is extremely inefficient (<5%), when they leak they kill, and we’re addicted like a heroin addict.  If you’ve ever driven up to an active fracking development area, you’ll be smelling and seeing methane clouds miles away; or if you’ve been with a wild-catting/leatherneck crew you’ll soon learn the messy business of dozens of 100ft long steel pipes swinging overhead waiting to be launched into the ground to send a diamond drill bit down,down,down (sound like I’ve been there? – yep in the 80’s… they were fracking then too in Oklahoma and I had a front row seat… but the fracking is WAY bigger & messier now).

(Newsflash on a recent Oil discovery: a HUGE – yes a trumpian huge – oil reserve in the Texas Bakken field was just unearthed that’ll keep oil & gas prices low for years more and renewables in the USA fighting for survival.)

renewables are messy...and renewables continue getting a dose of political uncertainty (again, sigh…) but what’s so messy about hooking up two wires to a solar panel, a couple water pipes to a hot water collector, or erecting a steel tower (once) for a wind blade? Compared to ANYTHING in the fossil fuel industry… absolutely nothing! (sing it Edwin Starr…. music tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpWmlRNfLck

Here’s an easy solution:  teach a kid how to heat water with a black soda bottle (just put some dark liquid in there and stick it out in the sun), or point out the solar PV panels on rooftops, and maybe even a wind turbine when you’re driving around… but hey! in order to be a teacher, y’all gotta be a good student… so study up and then teach the GOOD stuff to a young-un.

Note: if ya wanna be really cool, do this on the right… super heat a soda can!

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P.S. That’s what the LeLc is all about… FUN and PLAY… and the GREAT TURNING  (WTR)