Archive for the ‘Solar’ Category

Suggestion No. 1: Put Solar Panels Where the Sun Shines

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to focus in on suggestions for our newly elected president and congress regarding actions they might wish to consider in addressing the world’s climate crisis.

My first suggestion is to establish a program whereby citizens who live in less than optimal solar zones might still be able to install solar collectors in areas where their energy (and hence financial) return is maximized.

I have been driving “Sparky”, my electric car for the past ten years.It is fast, reliable, and financially a success, particularly at gas prices above $4/gallon.Last year, in an offering to CNN’s Youtube Debate, I proposed to ask the candidates the single question:

“Why aren’t we all driving on sunlight?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_lSxhTatUU

The concept is simple:every electric car is capable of “running on sunlight” through the simple expedient of using solar panels to capture sunlight and delivering the electricity they produce to the batteries of the car.

In practice, it’s a bit more complicated than that.Several points need to be made here:

1) Can a car run on solar cells attached to the car?No.An important point needs to be understood — -there is only so much energy in a square foot of sunlight.Even if every square inch of a modern car’s surface were to be covered with some kind of “super solar cell” (one that could convert 100% of all the sunlight falling on it to electricity), it would not be able to supply the car’s energy needs.

2)How do you supply electricity to your car if your panels are at home and the car is on the road?You don’t.Driving on sunlight does not mean that a car is continuously hooked to its panels.Instead, it works like this:your panels collect the sunlight and convert it to direct current (DC).The DC current is then changed to AC current (the kind of electricity you use in running your home) by running it through an “inverter”.The inverter is then hooked directly to the electrical system of your home.What this does is to supply your home with usable electricity produced from sunlight.When this happens, your electric meter will actually slow down or even begin to run backward because you are not drawing power from your utility (“the grid”).In reality, you begin to build up a “bank account” of solar-generated electricity.The size of that account will depend upon how many panels are on your roof, and how much sunlight falls on them.Your electric car arrives home after work and you plug it in.It then withdraws the electricity you collected during the day and stores it in the car’s batteries for tomorrow’s commute.

3)What happens when the sun doesn’t shine?No problem.You install a large enough solar collector system to provide more power than the car can use when the sun shines to cover those days when no power is collected because of clouds.This is an important point to understand:a solar powered car is based upon annual solar collection, not daily solar collection.So your collector system is sized based upon the number of amp hours needed by your car in a given year.In Sparky’s case, he needs 2 amp hours of power to go one mile.If I intend to drive 10,000 miles per year, I need a system that will generate 20,000 amp hours of electricity in a year, most of which will be collected in the summer months.

It should become immediately obvious from this, that the amount of sunlight falling on the panels over as given year is the critical defining factor in the size of a solar system needed to create a truly “solar powered car”.This brings me to the specific point of this discussion:don’t put your panels where the sun doesn’t shine.

I live in Olympia, Washington.Several years ago, I was stunned to find that my city has less sunlight than any other major city in the world — -I was scanning a list of cities arranged by their solar standing, and there it was, drop dead last!My initial reaction was:Well, if I can demonstrate that solar works in Olympia, Washington, then that will show the world that it can work anywhere!Maybe that makes a great PR point, but it makes a terrible financial one — -it would only demonstrate how expensive it is to drive a solar powered car.

So that brings up the central point for policy makers:the government needs to establish a mechanism whereby a person who drives an electric car in Olympia, Washington, can buy solar panels and install them in Yuma, Arizona…or Needles, California.I submit that government needs to obtain large tracts of solar-rich land and create a “solar farm” where individual citizens can install solar equipment that sends electricity into the grid so that they can in clear conscience declare that the electricity they are pulling off the grid at their house is indeed “solar energy”.It makes no real difference that the specific electron that enters Sparky didn’t actually come from my Yuma solar panel — -the important point is that, on a national basis, I am putting as much electricity into the system as I am pulling out.

There are many advantages to this concept.

1) By centralizing the solar collectors of car owners from all over the country, a single maintenance man can service a large number of customers, reducing the maintenance costs of owning solar collectors;

2) A standardized model of collector can be decided upon which will result in the benefits of specialized large scale production (economies of scale);

3) Individual power inverters (one of the expensive components of a stand-alone system) would be replaced by large scale inverters, thereby substantially reducing this cost center;

4) Eventually, individual solar panels will be replaced by community solar collection systems (solar generating plants) which will further increase the return on the solar dollars invested.

It should be immediately apparent that this concept would not be limited to electric car owners.It is equally applicable to homeowners and businesses that want to “operate on sunlight”.While government is the logical candidate to be the entity to facilitate the creation of these solar farms, it can just as easily be accomplished by a co-op of car and/or home owners.

One thing that government can do, as a matter of policy, is to insure that the money paid per amp hour from an owner’s panel be equal to that he must pay at home when he withdraws his electricity from the local grid.In other words, retail for retail.Indeed, it seems like a great candidate for a tax-type credit that would encourage all of us to convert our cars, our homes and our businesses to solar.

Richard

Cancer

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

My wife has cancer. It started in her breast two years ago and progressed to her brain last year. It is terminal.

I inject this personal matter into the Deathstroke blog because it has taught me something about myself, about all of us: no one wants to hear bad news, particularly really bad news.

Quite soon after Judy’s initial diagnosis was made, well-meaning friends and family would call the house on a regular basis to see how she was doing. Each call would send an electric jolt through me as time and again I would be called upon to describe the details of her health and treatment, and of course, her prognosis. People don’t realize that your inner being wants to free itself from the realities of an ominous event — -to pretend if only for the here and now that things are going to go on as they always have. Reality asserts itself often enough — -in the slurred word, the stumbled step, in the letters “MRI” that daily approach on the wall calendar.

I realize that I have come to a position that, consciously or subconsciously, I drive the truth of what is coming from my active thoughts. I know that Judy has done this to a far greater extent than I. To be sure, there are moments of tears, even anguish when it all pours in, but for the most part the terrible reality of what is coming lies just beyond some invisible door that we have erected in our separate minds. I know that the day will soon come when the door will open, never to be closed again. But that day is not today. Judy and I can still live in the world that was, if only for just another day.

I raise all of this because I have come to realize that, as a species, we are doing on a global level what Judy and I am doing on a personal level — -we are consciously blocking out the reality of the most compelling truth in the history of mankind: that the world we live in has cancer.

By now, the symptoms are well known, and growing in number and intensity: the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is rising dramatically; the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps are melting; the Great Barrier Reef will be dead by mid-century; Glacier National Park will soon have no glaciers; the honey bees are dying, the rain forests are disappearing, and the snows of Kilimanjaro will soon exist only in fiction. The list goes on. Our planet has cancer, and, like my beloved wife, I fear that it, too, is terminal.

I ask you: How are we reacting to this information? If we were told that an asteroid was going to strike the planet on June 11, 2011, we would be marshalling all of the resources of the planet to avert the threat, or to make certain that as many people as possible would survive it. Yet a catastrophe of equal magnitude is approaching. It comes for all of us — -for our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, even our beloved dogs and cats. I created Deathstroke to focus firmly on this horrendous truth. Yet, by and large, we ignore it. As a species, we have closed an invisible door so that we can go on believing that life as we know it will continue without interruption.

But the big difference between the invisible door Judy and I live behind and the one our world is living behind is that Judy’s cancer cannot be stopped. It is a certainty.

By contrast, the prognosis for the world is as yet uncertain. The scientists and others who have raised awareness of the climate crisis say that we can stop the coming disaster if we act decisively. But let me ask you this: Do you see us taking any decisive action on a global scale? Have we done anything meaningful to reduce mankind’s carbon footprint, let alone our individual ones? Or have we collectively closed that invisible door and picked up the remote to change from the Science Channel to American Idol?

No one wants to hear bad news. But some bad news needs to be heard, loud and clear. That is why I wrote Deathstroke — -to plant a stake firmly in the ground on the other side of those who say the crisis can be avoided. I am trying to say as forcefully as I possibly can, that if you don’t open that door and start acting quickly, you are going to inherit a planetary Deathstroke that cannot be reversed.

I start and end Deathstroke with the ominous phrase: “The Gorgoth is real. It comes for all of us.” It was, and it remains, a warning. It’s the bad news we can no longer afford to ignore.

Richard

Defining Moment in History

Monday, October 6th, 2008

“A defining moment in history”. We have all heard that phrase linked to some event, usually a major one.

December 7th, 1941, November 22, 1963, 9/11.

While the world went about its day-to-day routine, a major, critical defining moment came and went, virtually unnoticed by the media in the U.S., barely noticed in the rest of the world. May 1, 2008 was truly a date that provided definition.

On that date, Shell Oil Company announced that it was pulling out of the world’s largest wind generating project, the London Array, to pursue “more profitable” endeavors — -arguably, the black gold rush now taking place in northern Canada where the “tar sands” of Manitoba have become economically feasible in the new world of $100+/barrel oil.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/02/renewableenergy.royaldutchshell

The sands represent the world’s second largest oil field (second only to Saudi Arabia), and Shell will want its share of the gold. The wind farm was only “marginally profitable”, Shell declared as it threw the project under the bus. The withdrawal of its $1.3 billion share, roughly one third of the project cost, jeopardizes the entire project, leaving its other participants to scramble to fill the giant financial hole left by Shell.
Lost in the tiny headline was the fact that Shell’s contribution represented only a fraction of the profit it had announced just two days earlier: $8 billion dollars had been generated in three months, the largest return in company history.

The London Array was to have been the largest wind field ever constructed. It would have produced enough electricity to power one quarter of London’s homes. And, of course, all that power would have been generated without the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Shell’s decision to abandon its share of the undertaking throws a brilliant spotlight onto a decision that mankind must make: just what is our future source of energy going to be? May 1, 2008 is a day that brings exceptional clarity to bear on that decision — -it is a Day of Definition.

Mankind has arrived at a true fork in the road. For the past 200 years, humanity has travelled a path based exclusively on carbon — -first coal, then oil. We have prospered beyond expectation because of this. But in the late 1970’s, we began to come to the realization that carbon might be toxic to the Earth’s atmosphere. As far back as 1896, it had been realized that a buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere could result in an increase in the world’s temperature. A scientist named G.S.Calendar tried raise public consciousness about the matter in the 30’s, but the whole issue went largely unnoticed until the environmental movement of the 70’s began to take a fresh look at the potential for disaster inherent in the atmospheric data. Those numbers, coupled with ominous data streaming in from the Venus probes (showing the disasterous effects of a runaway greenhouse), created a growing sense of alarm that man’s use of carbon could have a profound impact on the planet’s climate. Finally, in 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its findings, confirming that global warming was real, and that man’s use of carbon lay at the heart of it.
Enter the point of this discussion: the central issue presented by Shell’s withdrawal from the Array is one of criteria: upon what criteria should our future energy decisions be made? Shell’s decision to abandon the Array demonstrates that Shell considers the sole decision criteria to be one of “profitability” — -that it placed the Array in one pan of the scale and oil in the other. The scale promptly tipped in favor of carbon. Hence, Shell has packed its London bags and headed for Manitoba.
But the decision criteria can no longer be “what path is going to lead to the greatest return on investment?” Mankind stands at a perilous crossroad. We can turn to the left and continue to burn carbon, because it is cheaper, because we have a lot of investment in carbon-burning infrastructure, and, well, life can go on as it always has — -just pull up to the gas station and fill’er up.

Or we can make the right turn: bite the bullet and begin a global transition to a non-carbon reality. It’s not that it’s going to be some drastic, tighten-your-belt descent into a horse-and buggy world — -far from it. I have been driving an electric car for ten years now and have found it to be quite reliable and satisfactory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_lSxhTatUU. “Sparky” is a bit of a throw-back in the world of convenience — -it has all of the creature comforts of a ‘75 Volkswagen, but I am sure that Detroit can come up with a state-of-the-art version of Sparky if they put their mind to it (GM’s Chevy “Volt” holds significant promise in this arena).

But I return to the central issue of this discussion. What is the decision criteria that we, as a species, are to use in determining which fork in the road should take for our future? It can no longer be simply one of profit. That mind set has led us to the cliff. It is time for all of us to demand that a finger be placed on the scale of that mode of thinking — -that we demand that the equation include the true cost of burning carbon. No one has ever required that the cost of cleaning up after carbon (global warming) be added to the up-front cost of a gallon of gas or a ton of coal. If it were, even the “profit” scale would tilt away from coal and oil.

We need to demand that our collective decision-makers, whether government or private industry, take the right fork in the road. We need to demand that the basis for making a decision as to which direction to go not be based upon profitability but upon the common good of future generations.

Shell’s decision to withdraw from the London Array provides us with a true “defining moment in history”. It provides a pair of glasses from which we can see into one of the most basic considerations facing mankind: is our future to be based solely upon the bottom line?
Post Note 1: It has been announced that German-based E.ON and Danish-based Dong Energy have agreed to take up Shell’s 1/3 interest. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/worlds-largest-offshore-wind-farm-london-array-back-on.php

Post Note 2: My local paper has just reported that on October 1, Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s largest drug companies, has announced that it is “shifting its research focus to diseases that have a high potential for big profits” http://www.theolympian.com/business/story/602879.html. The Shell Oil decision process is not restricted to energy. Perhaps we should all pray that if we contract a serious disease, that it not be an obscure one. There just ain’t no money in it.

 

Sparky - Running on Sunlight

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Here’s the first video of Sparky on YouTube.