Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blue Vinyl

Directed by Judith Helfand & Daniel B. Gold

 Available at MyHouseIsYourHouse.org


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chelsea Sexton Test Drives The Volt

According To Paul

Those of you who know Chelsea Sexton (the red head from "Who Killed the Electric Car?"), know she's a wealth of information on all things having to do with plug-in vehicles. Given her position as a senior advisor to VantagePoint Venture Partners, Plug In America's initial Executive Director and a consulting producer on Chris Paine's upcoming "Revenge of the Electric Car", she is privy to lots of the action happening with the various OEMs' plug-in vehicle programs.

Her history with GM's EV1 is legend, so when she was asked to test drive the Volt, she jumped at the chance. I've been bugging her to blog on her activities so we can get some of this great info out to those who crave the latest. Also, Chelsea always seems to be able to articulate things in a way that clarifies the reality without all the PR baggage the car makers or battery manufacturers bring to the table. So, today is the inauguration of Chelsea Sexton's blog.

Chris Paine and crew traveled to Detroit with her to record the event.

Chelsea writes, "Next to the car was Frank Weber, looking more proud and hopeful than I’ve ever seen. Self-described with the statement “I am German, I am an engineer- I do not feel”, Frank has always seemed pessimistic to me against the aspirational backdrop of the Volt team- but even he couldn’t completely disguise his thrill at finally having something functional to show after two years of talking. I’d had enough of the talking, myself- so with little fanfare, I was pointed toward the track and let loose. After the first few of many laps, Jim, “the Voltkeeper” who tended the car all day from a technical standpoint, asked if might stop smiling anytime soon. I think Frank just wondered if all EV people drive that fast…"

And for the naysayers who claim the Volt has problems with the range extender mode, Chelsea has this to say, "I also failed to talk the guys into letting me drive the Volt in range-extended mode- I’d really been hoping to put to rest all the conjecture that because no one’s been allowed to drive it that way, there must be something wrong with it. Alas, Frank was typically insistent that it just wasn’t ready. I persisted, assuring him I’m familiar with pre-production systems, but he remained stoic, until I finally pinned him- “what is so wrong with this car that you won’t let anyone drive it with the engine on?” He paused, and admitted almost sheepishly, “well, when the engine comes on, you can hear it.” I kept waiting for more, but that was it-the big mystery… you can hear the engine. I started to note how that would be, oh, I don’t know, standard for an internal combustion engine in any car and that some people prefer it that way, but I was chastened by my own admiration for the position he took. While there’s absolutely a point where you have to stop engineering and start building, Frank’s statement is indicative of the attention to detail being paid to the Volt."

And finally, she touches on the attitude of GM and their engineers, contrasting that with the horrible mistake of letting Bob Lutz get on the Letterman show last week and once again lie (my words) about the EV1 program: "Driving the Volt was a mix of experiences- it was a fun day, and it’s great to see spots of hope in Detroit from folks who are excited to be working on “something cool again” (their words). And let’s face it, it was also a relief- there were certainly some years there when I wasn’t sure they’d ever get even this far on a plug-in car again. But in the end, building the car won’t be their biggest challenge- it never has been. Whether they can get behind it effectively as it hits showrooms remains to be seen. And I remain repeatedly frustrated at watching them struggle to tell their own story, or when they allow, say, Bob Lutz to go on national television. I think they’re learning, but I wonder often if the wisdom will come fast enough- and at what cost.
I still don’t know that they entirely understand the nuances of passion people have for electric cars- but I do think that they understand just what’s at stake for this one. It is the end of the poker game for GM, and they’re all in.

There's lots more, see it here:




Russian TV

Someone sent me this, whihc is cool because i had completely forgotten about this interview. A film crew from Russia (via LA) came out to interview me towards the end of last year. As always, I cautioned them about coming down the stairs because of the bottles, but either the cameraman didn't care or didn't understand, because there it is, caught on tape as the bottles come tumbling down. Shockingly nothing was broken and it actually looks as if I started the avalanche, but I swear it was him. Well, that's my story anyway and I'm sticking to it.



Monday, May 25, 2009

Why We Never Need To Build A New Power Plant

Check out this very cool article by Joseph Romm from Salon.com. He lays out very simply and with great examples how the US can cut energy use simply through efficiency and halting energy leaks in the grid. Sighting California as an example, he writes

"In the past three decades, electricity consumption per capita grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation, while it stayed flat in high-tech, fast-growing California. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians currently do, we would cut electricity consumption 40 percent. If the entire nation had California's much cleaner electric grid, we would cut total U.S. global-warming pollution by more than a quarter without raising American electric bills. And if all of America adopted the same energy-efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another polluting power plant."

Check it out, it's a quick read. 


Why we never need to build another polluting power plant

Coal? Natural gas? Nuke? We can wipe them all off the drawing board by using current energy more efficiently. Are you listening, Washington?
By Joseph Romm

Jul. 28, 2008 | Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that's pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it's able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.

America is the Saudi Arabia of energy waste. A 2007 report from the international consulting firm McKinsey and Co. found that improving energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and factories could offset almost all of the projected demand for electricity in 2030 and largely negate the need for new coal-fired power plants. McKinsey estimates that one-third of the U.S. greenhouse gas reductions by 2030 could come from electricity efficiency and be achieved at negative marginal costs. In short, the cost of the efficient equipment would quickly pay for itself in energy savings.

While a few states have energy-efficiency strategies, none matches what California has done. In the past three decades, electricity consumption per capita grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation, while it stayed flat in high-tech, fast-growing California. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians currently do, we would cut electricity consumption 40 percent. If the entire nation had California's much cleaner electric grid, we would cut total U.S. global-warming pollution by more than a quarter without raising American electric bills. And if all of America adopted the same energy-efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another polluting power plant.

How did California do it? In part, a smart California Energy Commission has promoted strong building standards and the aggressive deployment of energy-efficient technologies and strategies -- and has done so with support of both Democratic and Republican leadership over three decades.

Many of the strategies are obvious: better insulation, energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling. But some of the strategies were unexpected. The state found that the average residential air duct leaked 20 to 30 percent of the heated and cooled air it carried. It then required leakage rates below 6 percent, and every seventh new house is inspected. The state found that in outdoor lighting for parking lots and streets, about 15 percent of the light was directed up, illuminating nothing but the sky. The state required new outdoor lighting to cut that to below 6 percent. Flat roofs on commercial buildings must be white, which reflects the sunlight and keeps the buildings cooler, reducing air-conditioning energy demands. The state subsidized high-efficiency LED traffic lights for cities that lacked the money, ultimately converting the entire state.

Significantly, California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called "decoupling." It also allowed utilities to take a share of any energy savings they help consumers and businesses achieve. The bottom line is that California utilities can make money when their customers save money. That puts energy-efficiency investments on the same competitive playing field as generation from new power plants.

The cost of efficiency programs has averaged 2 to 3 cents per avoided kilowatt hour, which is about one-fifth the cost of electricity generated from new nuclear, coal and natural gas-fired plants. And, of course, energy efficiency does not require new power lines and does not generate greenhouse-gas emissions or long-lived radioactive waste. While California is far more efficient than the rest of the country, the state still thinks that with an even more aggressive effort, it can achieve as much additional electricity savings by 2020 as it has in the past three decades.

Serious energy efficiency is not a one-shot resource, where you pick the low-hanging fruit and you're done. In fact, the fruit grows back. The efficiency resource never gets exhausted because technology keeps improving and knowledge spreads to more people.

The best corporate example is Dow Chemical's Louisiana division, consisting of more than 20 plants. In 1982, the division's energy manager, Ken Nelson, began a yearly contest to identify and fund energy-saving projects. Some of the projects were simple, like more efficient compressors and motors, or better insulation for steam lines. Some involved more sophisticated thermodynamic "pinch" analysis, which allows engineers to figure out where to place heat exchangers to capture heat emitted in one part of a chemical process and transfer it to a different part of the process where heat is needed. His success was nothing short of astonishing.

The first year of the contest had 27 winners requiring a total capital investment of $1.7 million with an average annual return on investment of 173 percent. Many at Dow felt that there couldn't be others with such high returns. The skeptics were wrong. The 1983 contest had 32 winners requiring a total capital investment of $2.2 million and a 340 percent return -- a savings of $7.5 million in the first year and every year after that. Even as fuel prices declined in the mid-1980s, the savings kept growing. The average return to the 1989 contest was the highest ever, an astounding 470 percent in 1989 -- a payback of 11 weeks that saved the company $37 million a year.

You might think that after 10 years, and nearly 700 projects, the 2,000 Dow employees would be tapped out of ideas. Yet the contest in 1991, 1992 and 1993 each had in excess of 120 winners with an average return on investment of 300 percent. Total savings to Dow from just those projects exceeded $75 million a year.

When I worked at the Department of Energy in the mid-1990s, we hired Nelson, who had recently retired from Dow, to run a "return on investment" contest to reduce DOE's pollution. As they were at Dow, many DOE employees were skeptical such opportunities existed. Yet the first two contest rounds identified and funded 18 projects that cost $4.6 million and provided the department $10 million in savings every year, while avoiding more than 100 tons of low-level radioactive pollution and other kinds of waste. The DOE's regional operating officers ended up funding 260 projects costing $20 million that have been estimated to achieve annual savings of $90 million a year.

Economic models greatly overestimate the cost of carbon mitigation because economists simply don't believe that the economy has lots of high-return energy-efficiency opportunities. In their theory, the economy is always operating near efficiency. Reality is very different than economic models.

In my five years at DOE, working with companies to develop and deploy efficient and renewable technologies, and then in nearly a decade of consulting with companies in the private sector, I never saw a building or factory that couldn't cut electricity consumption or greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent to 50 percent with rapid payback (under four years). My 1999 book, "Cool Companies," detailed some 100 case studies of companies that have done just that and made a great deal of money.

There are many reasons that most companies don't match what the best companies do. Until recently, saving energy has been a low priority for most of them. Most utilities, as noted, have little or no incentive to help companies save energy. Funding for government programs to help companies adopt energy-saving strategies has been cut under the Bush administration.

Government has a very important role in enabling energy savings. The office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy has lots of (underfunded) programs that deliver savings every day. Consider, for instance, Chrysler's St. Louis complex, which recently received a DOE Save Energy Now energy assessment. Using DOE software, Chrysler identified a variety of energy-saving measures and saved the company $627,000 a year in energy costs -- for an upfront implementation cost of only $125,000.

The key point for policymakers now is that we have more than two decades of experience with successful state and federal energy-efficiency programs. We know what works. As California energy commissioner Art Rosenfeld -- a former DOE colleague and the godfather of energy efficiency -- put it in a recent conversation, "A lot of technology and strategies that are tried and true in California are waiting to be adopted by the rest of country."

So how do we overcome barriers and tap our nearly limitless efficiency resource? Obviously, the first thing would be to get all the states to embrace smarter utility regulations, which is a core strategy of Barack Obama's plan to reduce greenhouse gases. But how does the federal government get all the states to embrace efficiency?

We should establish a federal matching program to co-fund state-based efficiency programs, with a special incentive to encourage states without an efficiency program to start one. This was a key recommendation of the End-Use Efficiency Working Group to the Energy Future Coalition, a bipartisan effort to develop consensus policies, in which I participated. The first year should offer $1 billion in federal matching funds, then $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion, and finally stabilizing at $5 billion. This will give every state time to change their regulations and establish a learning curve for energy efficiency.

This program would cost $15 billion in the first five years, but save several times that amount in lower energy bills and reduced pollution. Since the next president will put in place a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, the revenues from auctioning the emissions permits can ultimately be used to pay for the program.

We should restore a federal focus on the energy-intensive industries, such as pulp and paper, steel, aluminum, petroleum refining and chemicals. They account for 80 percent of energy consumed by U.S. manufacturers and 90 percent of the hazardous waste. They represent the best chance for increasing efficiency while cutting pollution. Many are major emitters of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. A 1993 analysis for the DOE found that a 10 to 20 percent reduction in waste by American industry would generate a cumulative increase of $2 trillion in the gross domestic product from 1996 to 2010. By 2010, the improvements would be generating 2 million new jobs.

For these reasons, in the 1990s, the Energy Department began forming partnerships with energy-intensive industries to develop clean technologies. We worked with scientists and engineers to identify areas of joint research into technologies that would simultaneously save energy, reduce pollution and increase productivity. The Bush administration slashed funding for this program by 50 percent -- and keeps trying to shut it down entirely.

Indeed, conservatives in general have cut the funding or shut down entirely almost all federal programs aimed at deploying energy-efficient technologies. Conservatives simply have a blind spot when it comes to energy efficiency and conservation, seeing them as inconsequential "Jimmy Carter programs."

I recently testified at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on nuclear power and spoke about how alternative technologies, particularly energy efficiency, were a much better bet for the country. Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said this was "poppycock," and then asked all the pro-nuclear witnesses to address the question, "If nuclear power is so uncompetitive, why are so many utilities building reactors?"

Voinovich apparently has forgotten about the massive subsidies he himself voted to give the nuclear industry in 2005. He seems to be unaware that states like Florida allow utilities to sharply raise electric rates years in advance of a nuclear plant delivering even a single electron to customers. If you could do that same forward-pricing with energy efficiency, we would never need to build another polluting plant.

Although he is a senior member of the Senate and a powerful voice on energy and climate issues, Voinovich doesn't seem to know the first thing about the electricity business; namely, that a great many utilities have a huge profit incentive to build even the most expensive power plants, since they can pass all costs on to consumers while retaining a guaranteed profit. But they have a strong disincentive from investing in much less costly efforts to reduce electricity demand, since that would eat into their profits.

The next president must challenge the public service commission in every state to allow utilities to receive the same return on energy efficiency as they are allowed to receive on generation. That single step could lead the country the furthest in solving our ever-worsening climate and energy problems.

-- By Joseph Romm


Could River Currents Power The Planet?

According to this article in the UK Telegraph they can. A new system can be installed in water moving as slowly as 1 mile an hour. This makes the ability to generate power off of waves/currents much more viable. Here's a link to some more info on the subject as well.

If this works like they say, it could be a pretty impressive breakthrough. There's energy everywhere, we just need to learn how to harnas it.



In Defense OF The Electric Car

This story popped up on my Google alert. The author of this piece is Adam Hasner. He's a Republican state rep from Boca Raton and is the majority leader of the Florida House of Representatives. He is a conservative.

When I read the essay, I was very impressed that a conservative Republican wrote such a beautifully articulated and balanced EV piece. I was thinking of forwarding it to my list with some comments, and then I looked closer at the site I was on.

Oh my!

I Knew I was in a strange land when I read the comments.  I decided to respond to some since they were so hilariously wrong. If you have some free time, and want a laugh, read through the comments. 

Also, do read Rep. Hasner's piece. It's quite good.


April 13, 2009

In Defense of the Electric Vehicle

Adam Hasner
In his recent article titled "Would You Buy an Electric Car?", Isaac Martin appears to be suffering from a misconception that electric vehicle technology is intended as a petroleum replacement for long-distance (250-300+ mile) highway driving.  That, or he is intent on creating a fallacious straw-man argument that he can easily knock down in a cynical attempt to discredit the benefits of electric vehicles (EV). 

While I share Martin's critical view of President Obama on issues too numerous to count, on this matter, it is Martin's cul-de-sac mentality that needs to be addressed.

While it is no secret that I am charged up about the possibilities that EVs offer in transforming our nation's transportation sector, I also understand that they are only a part of our overall energy security solution.  No serious EV advocate would ever suggest that current electric vehicle technology offers the best solution for long-distance highway driving.  That's an inappropriate misapplication of the technology that would make about as much sense as trying to use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail or a microwave oven to cook the Thanksgiving turkey.

Advances in lithium battery technology over the past several years has made driving longer highway distances in all-electric cars more feasible and future developments will only increase the mileage per charge capabilities of EVs.  But Mr. Martin's criticism of mileage "discrepancy" in the Tesla completely misses the point of the potential benefits of EVs since approximately 80% of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day.  It is satisfying these more typical everyday mobility needs that will drive us in the direction of mass consumption EVs and plug-in EVs to replace most of the petroleum we use for daily driving, as opposed to the occasional long distance trip.  

While cost decreases in lithium batteries will likely continue in the coming years, their current price compared to the current price of gasoline represents enough of an upfront cost premium that it only really makes economic sense at the present time to install enough onboard battery capacity to provide adequate electric range for the typical person's daily driving needs.  The remaining small fraction of distance driving will eventually be powered by liquid petroleum or biofuels in a fuel/electric hybrid vehicle.  It is this compelling economic logic currently driving automakers' plans to produce 40-mile (initial electric range) plug-in hybrids as the sweet spot of the market. 

Consensus market forecasts predict that these plug-in hybrids will represent the lion's share (around 80-85%) of the total market for electric vehicles over the next decade, while "pure" all-electric cars will represent the remainder of the market.  A 40-mile range plug-in hybrid (dubbed PHEV-40 by the engineers) will allow 80% of Americans to power between 75% and 95% of their daily driving with grid-generated or self-generated electricity (increasingly renewable energy), with the remaining balance of their daily driving powered by liquid fuels. 

So what does this mean to you and me?  A net average fuel efficiency of 120+ miles per gallon from an affordably priced car.  This would reduce our national petroleum consumption by up to two-thirds which coincidentally is the proportion that the U.S. now imports from overseas.  Imagine a steep reduction in energy dependence from nations hostile to us that would result in a new paradigm of energy security and national security.

Beyond this, consider the stimulating effect on our economic security by redirecting the several hundred billion dollars a year we currently spend on foreign oil purchases to investments in "Made in America" electrons.  The result will be the creation of innovative high paying jobs, economic stabilization and revitalized energy and automotive sectors.

The best part?  When you want to take the family (or your gambling buddies) on that 300-mile weekend trip to Vegas, you can do so in that same PHEV-40, driving 70 mph the entire way and not have to worry about charging along the way.  Just jump in and go.  The simplicity of plug-in hybrids is that they combine the best of both worlds: electric power for daily driving and petroleum/biofuels power for longer-distances in a single, affordable vehicle.

The economics are fundamental.  At today's prices, the fuel cost of petroleum-powered propulsion is currently over 3 times that of electrically-powered propulsion. At last summer's $4.30/gallon, it was 6 times more expensive to drive on gas than on electricity. 

I know a little bit about this subject since during the final months of last year's election, I drove a 2002 Toyota RAV4-EV production all-electric SUV every day as part of my campaign.  With a 120 mile range to easily enable daily travel throughout my coastal district, it also covered some longer-distance highway trips to events in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.  There were no stops to get gas since all I had to do was plug it in every night and the next day it was ready to hit the trail.      

Electric Vehicles are not some distant dream far out on the horizon.  EV's are here today, and they are going to forever change the way we think about transportation while having the profound impact of making our nation stronger and more secure.  

So to answer Mr. Isaac's question.  Yes, I would buy an Electric Car - and you can bet the White House teleprompter on it. 

State Representative Adam Hasner (R-Boca Raton) is the Majority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives.  He currently drives a hybrid vehicle and this year is sponsoring HB 879 which will provide state tax incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and charging infrastructure.  Adam can be contacted at adamhasner@hasner.org


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tired of chemical laden pools? Try a swimming hole

Check this site out for 1000's of natural swimming holes in the US and Canada.  How cool is that?



Garbage Warrior

A film by Oliver Hodge.

Available here.



If you have never heard of Earthships, they are worth checking out. The brainchild of Michael Reyonolds they are off grid structures, built using recycled and repurposed materials (including car tires and cans) and are not only cool, but affordable and sustainable. Even if you never have the option of living in something like this, they are worth checking out for their ingenuity alone.