Recently in energy Category

Sidewalks are Hotting Up

Brendon writes in:

Heating a sidewalk section has climate change implications. I calculate the 26-year cost of your section at $8,722 at the low end and $9,708 at the high end (depending on the discount rate you assign to the future impacts of climate change. I tend to lean towards the higher end). This means your break-even point is 8% to 20% higher, meaning maybe 173 to 192 pedestrians per day. Of course with a carbon tax in place, there would likely be more walkers in some places, meaning heating the sidewalks become feasible in more places.

Now, if you could use waste heat that hasn't been previously captured to heat sidewalks, as they are proposing to do with the new "interchange" plaza and HERC steam, the carbon footprint becomes effectively zero additional. Much less per kWh/BTU.

Other interesting facts, heating all the sidewalks in Minneapolis with electricity from the grid for one year would produce more greenhouse gases than the disposal of all our solid waste and wastewater does over the same time period. The additional energy consumption would be equal to about 1/3 of the current annual consumption in all residential properties in the city. It would increase the city's annual electricity consumption by 8%.

He nicely identifies a feedback effect, heating up sidewalks will create more emissions, which will heat the atmosphere, which will eventually negate the need for heating up sidewalks. There must be an equilibrium point here.

More seriously, the use of waste heat is a great idea, especially near the HERC. The problem would be building infrastructure to distribute that more broadly. There might also be waste heat from wastewater (which is still liquid in the winter, and thus warmer than the ground around it) which we don't capture, or let go to roads, by running sewers under the streets rather than the sidewalks.

Profitmobiles (EVs)

Quartz: Elon Musk’s electric car company Tesla Motors is now cash-flow positive:

"Elon Musk just disclosed on CNBC that last week, for the first time, Tesla Motors was “mildly cash-flow positive.” That’s only a couple weeks later than Musk’s earlier prediction that Tesla would become cash-flow positive by the end of November. The electric-car company is also paying back early its $465 million loan from the US Department of Energy, and the company is ramping up production to 200 cars per week."

10,000 cars per year is still a bit less than the 13 million cars per year in the US market, but it is more than zero, or what EV production has been historically. It would be about half of Nissan Leaf sales (18,000) or a third of the Chevy Volt (~30,000).

More on Electric Drive sales here at the industry trade group. Sales of hybrids + EVs are now up to 3.3% of the total market. Most of that is hybrids though.

Routing around failures

Updated November 26:


AE sends me to, which has this article: Driving on this Quebec highway? Watch out for that hydro pole

"A hydro pole in Johnville, Que. was left in place after construction crews moved the highway to correct a dangerous curve."

Hydro poles are electric poles in American English, Hydro being the nickname of the company that provides power (mostly Hydro-power) in Quebec.

The article says it's been there two months, but they will fix it, just a coordination problem.


The Quebec pole can be contrasted with this Chinese holdout, around which they built a road.


This reminds me of Dr. Seuss's Zax.

The Zax
by Dr. Seuss From The Sneetches and Other Stories Copyright 1961 by Theodor S. Geisel and Audrey S. Geisel, renewed 1989.

One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.
And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.

"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said, "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"
"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
"I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove."

Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
"I never," he said, "take a step to one side.
And I'll prove to you that I won't change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!"
"And I'll prove to YOU," yelled the South-Going Zax,
"That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"

Of course the world didn't stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.

Driverless Cars

Tim Taylor (Conversable Economist) on: Driverless Cars:

"The fully self-driving car isn't right around the corner. Clearly, costs need to come down substantially and a number of complementary technologies need to be created. However, we do already have cars in the commercial market with cruise control and anti-lock brakes, as well as cars that sense potential crash hazards and can parallel park themselves. Changes like these happen slowly, and then in a rush. As the report [Self-driving cars: The next revolution From KPMG and CAR] notes, "The adoption of most new technologies proceeds along an S-curve, and we believe the path to self-driving vehicles will follow a similar trajectory." Maybe 10-15 years? Faster? "

A pessimistic colleague of mine writes:

the arguments in favor of energy efficiency will be swamped by the added demand. Right now, people don't drive more because it's a pain. If I can drive while sleeping, I'll be more likely to work in one city, commute to another; or, go to the cabin every weekend; or, allow little Johnny to sign up for a soccer league since the car (not me) will drive him; and so on.

automatic-drive cars would make travel much more convenient, which would increase travel demand -- likely, a lot. That's not a benefit for energy consumption.

maybe we'll have electric-only cars, which would help with local emissions but not energy consumption; and, we'll only get those if we require them, which it's not clear we will..


I agree distances will increase, but the cars will be more efficient as human driving patterns (excessive braking and stop and start, e.g.) will be replaced. There are parallel trends in making cars more energy efficient as well. How this nets out is unclear, but I am more optimistic.

NYT reports on this reversal of trends: Report Sees U.S. as Top Oil Producer, Overtaking Saudi Arabia, in 5 Years - :

"The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by about 2017 and will become a net oil exporter by 2030, according to a new report released on Monday by the International Energy Agency."

So combine Peak Travel with not quite-Peak Oil, and we become an oil exporter. (Or in other words, we have reached "Peak Import". I have low confidence in forecasts like this in general, based on past experience evaluating forecasts, but the trends are interesting.

Some Sandy links:

(1) Subway Recovery:

In general I am really impressed with the speed of the subway recovery. If periodic flooding does not destroy the network, maybe New York does not need to relocate or build really expensive defenses, just take a 1 or 2 week vacation every hurricane.

From WNYC: Subway Network Recovery animation

From NYT: New York Subways Find Magic in Speedy Hurricane Recovery

(2) Gas Rationing:

From NYT: In New York Gas Shortage, Missed Opportunities and Miscalculations

From NYT: Odd-Even License Plate Rules Have a History

We really need to invent/deploy gasoline-powered gas stations and refineries. It seems many stations had gas they could not pump for lack of electricity. Obviously lots of other problems as well, and I am sure there are risks of sparking near lots of gasoline, but this should be a solvable problem.

How to Create Fuel Out Of Thin Air

Wired: How to Create Fuel Out Of Thin Air :

"A small British company has developed a process that uses air and electricity to create synthetic fuel. Yes, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but the result is what Air Fuel Synthesis is calling, after much consideration to the term, ‘carbon-neutral’ gasoline.

Here’s how it works: air blows up into a tower filled with a sodium hydroxide solution mist. After reacting with some of the sodium hydroxide, the carbon dioxide in the air forms sodium carbonate. The mixture gets pumped into a cell where it gets hit with an electric current, which releases more carbon dioxide, the excess of which is collected and stored for subsequent reaction.


They plan to scale up slowly (a refinery in 15 years). However, play this out. Eventually we not only clean out all the CO2 we put into the atmosphere, we clean out all the CO2 animals exhale and plants inhale, killing all life everywhere. (Assuming we convert more to fuel than we burn). We can call this new threat Global Oxygenating.

Underground Utilities





After a thunderstorm, I was disempowered for about 5 hours today. Certainly not the end of civilization, but perhaps its foreshadowing. A few moments ago, the power truck rolled down my alley, made some adjustment, and my house roared back to life. I have been re-empowered.

This raises the question, why are power lines still above ground?

Richard Layman sends me to this Electrical Industry discussion of the issue. My sense is they would be happy enough to put utilities underground so long as someone else pays. While underground utilities are less likely to fail due to storm, they may take longer to restore.

If electricity costs me about $0.10 an hour, ($2.40/ day, $876 year), then I would be willing to pay at least $0.10 to avoid an hour of blackout. In all likelihood, I would pay much more than that. In a typical year I am probably blacked out for 24 hours.

If converting to underground distribution cables for utilities costs $723,000 per mile (let's round to $750K, there is a very wide range of suburban costs of new distribution construction according to the report), and there are about 100 houses per linear mile (a convenient guess, 10 houses per block * 10 blocks per mile (at uniform density, assuming square lots, this implies a density of 10,000 houses per square mile of residentially developed area or 23,000 persons per square mile, which seems high, but we are ignoring areas that don't have houses as they don't need residentially-oriented electricity wires), and the line can serve two row of houses (i.e. it runs in the alley) the cost is about $3750 per customer.

I would need to avoid 1562 days of blackout at $0.10 per hour to justify this on blackout avoidance. (In other words, ignoring discounting, if I can avoid 1 blackout day per year, it would take 1562 years to pay back). Obviously I am probably willing to pay more (reducing the payback time), I might even pay $100 per blackout day in extreme cases (maybe the cost of a hotel stay), but that still requires a 37.5 year payback, which is far more than most people would be willing to tolerate. Given the differences in reliability between above and below ground, undergrounding is not economically justified as retrofit for the purposes of continuous electricity unless power outages get much worse.

There are other advantages. Aesthetics for one. And I think this is important, though everyone will weight this themselves. One study in Australia suggests that underground networks increases house prices by 2.9 percent. For an average house price of at least $129,310 this would mean it is worth at least $3750. Now it pays for itself. A stated preference survey by one of the same authors also in Canberra estimates value of $6883 per house.

James Fallows discusses electric infrastructure reliability in the wake of the derecho back east.

Ethical Ethanol

The Meetopolitan Council. Saint Paul. April 1, 2012

The Meetopolitan Council announced today the conversion of its entire bus and rail fleet to 100 percent pure Ethical Ethanol(™). Ethical Ethanol(™) is a type of ethanol that is carbon negative. All Ethical Ethanol is derived from plant stocks, usually corn, grown within 32.6 miles of its use.

The corn stalks are hand harvested by US citizens and wheel-barrowed to the nearest grain elevator. The wheel-barrows are made in northern Minnesota by indigenous wheel-barrow crafts-persons, using methods developed 600 years ago prior to the European colonization.

All corn is allowed to range free, no factory farms are admitted into the program. The corn is fed only locally-grown organic pork and beef waste, but is not permitted to be fertilized with waste products of older corn. This is intended to avoid Mad Corn Disease.

The advantages of Ethical Ethanol(™) are several. First it reduces electrical pollution resulting from electric vehicles and electric power generation. Second it guarantees Minnesota will not be subject to the vagaries of the international energy trade market.

To finance this conversion, an Ethical Ethanol(™) surcharge is being placed on all vehicle-vehicle transfers. This surcharge, a mere $4/transfer, is intended to help finance the conversion. Meeto Transit is also applying for a US Department of Energy grant to help pay for the conversion. "We are happy not to have to raise rates", Council Chair Firebottom stated.

All vehicles which cannot be converted to Ethical Ethanol will instead be converted to fertilizer, as shown in the attached picture.


Image shows unconverted transit vehicles being converted to Ethical Ethanol fertilizer.

Linklist: March 28, 2012

BBC: Wireless highway charges electric cars as they go:

"Engineers in his lab are developing a way to wirelessly charge electric cars from magnetic coils embedded into the road. The car would pick up the power via another coil, meaning – in theory – that you would never have to make a charging stop again."

Stephen Smith @ The Atlantic Cities: Why Tokyo's Privately Owned Rail Systems Work So Well :

"Beyond the astonishing size and quality of the networks, Japan's three major metropolitan areas, sometimes called the Tokaido megalopolis after its Edo-era road, are also home to a vibrant free market in transportation. Singapore and Hong Kong also have private companies, but competition is weak compared to Japan's dizzying array of independent firms. Japan has by no means a completely free transportation market – even the private companies receive low-interest construction loans and are subject to price controls and rolling stock protectionism – but at the moment, it's the closest thing this planet has."

Linklist: March 7, 2012

YouTube has Videos mentioned by The all conveniently in one place (of course, not all of them, just YouTube ones).

PCWorld says Robotic Cheetah Sets a New Robot Land Speed Record, Leaves Humans in its Dust:

"The new Cheetah Robot is the latest animatronic creation to come out of DARPA's Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program. It is the fastest four-legged robot in the world, and it can reach speeds of 18 miles-per-hour; the previous land-speed record for a four-legged robot was 13.1mph set by MIT in 1989."

Ars Technica: Maxis announces new SimCity for 2013:

"During a Game Developers Conference presentation to gathered press, Bradshaw noted its been roughly ten years since Maxis last released a core SimCity title, and that the phones in many people's pockets now have the same power as the machines that ran SimCity 4 back then. The new SimCity will take advantage of advances in computer power to be the first truly 3D entry in the series. "This is like an entirely new playground for us, and we're going to take advantage of it," she said."
[It would be nice if they opened up the algorithm.]

Jamais Cascio: Open the Future: Record Battery Energy Density in Context:

"A tech company called Envia Systems has announced that it is able to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion, i.e., the standard kind of rechargeable batteries that go in everything from phones to electric cars) with a world-record energy density of 400 Watt-hours per kilogram! (Gigaom has lots of info, and useful background material.) Cool, right?"

Reihan Salam on Ed Glaeser on Infrastructure Spending:

"To that end, Glaeser calls for more user fees, congestion pricing, the decentralization of transportation spending, and, perhaps most interestingly, devoting the Highway Trust Fund to maintenance, leaving state governments to fund new projects themselves. (Here Glaeser is drawing on the excellent work of Matthew Kahn and David Levinson.) It’s a very sensible agenda, and it avoids the twin pitfalls of infrastructure alarmism and misplaced China envy. "


Boulder Daily Camera: Boulder phone survey: 71% of respondents support city utility : "Poll results released Monday show strong support for a Boulder municipal utility, with the City Council set to vote Tuesday night on the critical second reading of ballot measures about Boulder's energy future."

CNET: Nissan Leaf batteries to power homes : "Rather than cranking up a generator during a blackout, Nissan Leaf drivers may be able to tap into the electric car's batteries. Nissan earlier this week unveiled its Nissan Leaf to Home system, which it plans to commercialize in Japan within a year."

Marginal Revolution: Ukraine Modigliani-Miller tax arbitrage : "Today I received some tax saving wisdom from a taxi driver in Ukraine. He told me that people who import cars to Ukraine sometimes cut the car in two separate pieces and carry it through the customs this way. By doing this, they save a fortune on import tax. A car carried in two pieces is seen as spare parts and therefore is taxed at a much lower rate than a normal car."

NYTimes: Concrete Tests Faked Again, Officials Charge"In 2008, a company hired to test the strength of the concrete used at major public works projects in New York, including the Second Avenue subway and the new Yankee Stadium, falsified results, prosecutors concluded, and construction executives scrambled to find a replacement."

Plug-in Hybrid Conversions


A niche market in the EV world is Electric Plug-In Conversions, converting a run-of-the-mill hybrid (e.g. a used Prius) to a plug-in hybrid.

Minnesota's local converter ReGo Electric Conversions is holding an open house bright and early August 9, 2011 from 7:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. at 5925 Nicollet Ave South.

They tell me a conversion is $4995. This is a factor of 10 cheaper than a Chevy Volt. Still, at what price of gas ($/gal) is this economical?

The NY Times reports New Mileage Rules Debated by Carmakers and White House: "

The administration is proposing regulations that will require new American cars and trucks to attain an average of as much as 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025, roughly double the current level. That would require increases in fuel efficiency of nearly 5 percent a year from 2017 to 2025.

The standard would put domestic vehicle fuel efficiency on a par with that in Europe, China and Japan, saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump and creating for the first time a truly global automobile market.

The automakers say the standard is technically achievable. But they warn that it will cost billions of dollars to develop the vehicles, and they express doubt that consumers will accept the smaller, lighter — and in some cases, more expensive — cars that result."

Consumers will accept it if that is what is offered, i.e. if all automakers have to produce this at a price to move (i.e. hiking the price of poor fuel economy vehicles to shift the demand curve), the CAFE standards will have achieved their end. Why we can't just raise the gas tax to achieve the same ends and be done with it remains something I cannot fathom (yes I know politicians don't like to raise taxes, but this is implicitly a tax, and surely people complain about regulation with the same frequency they complain about taxes - you could return the money to taxpayers somehow and bill it as a credit). Anyway the article suggests this will result in a 50% Hybrid fleet, which seems perfectly plausible, especially since we are talking 14 years from now. Until the recent downtick in hybrid sales, we were well on our way to that mark.

From MSNBC: Power-grid experiment could confuse clocks

A yearlong experiment with America's electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers — and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.

"A lot of people are going to have things break and they're not going to know why," said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current — and the time — as precise as possible.

The group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment that would allow more frequency variation than it does now without corrections, according to a company presentation obtained by The Associated Press.

I have long thought there should be a time stamp on the electric grid power signal, something quite small, but that could be read as embedded information (some highly non-random sequence) from modulation of the phase or frequency of the AC cycle. Other means for synchronizing clocks rely on other networks (internet, GPS, radio, etc.), some old discussion here. This is similar to the idea of powerline modems, but not nearly as sophisticated (i.e. I just want a time signal).


PNAS has an article relating GDP with luminosity: summarized in ScienceNOW Bright Lights, Rich Cities:

In the hope of finding an alternative means of measuring GDP, macroeconomists Xi Chen and William Nordhaus of Yale University turned to nighttime images of the globe taken by U.S. Air Force satellites. They overlaid a grid on these high-resolution images and measured the amount of light, or radiance, emanating from each cell. For countries that already provide economic information widely considered trustworthy, brighter radiance in a given region correlated tightly with a higher GDP in that region, the researchers report online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using this data, the economists built a statistical model, correcting for certain variables such as location on a continent (reflections on large bodies of water can distort satellite images) and distortion of the image by the atmosphere, that then allowed them to estimate the GDP for countries with unclear economic status.


(Via WM)


NY Times has a nice infographic: The Great Kilowatt vs. Gallon Face-Off

(Via Matt Kahn.)

The gridless grid

eMercedesBenz Electric Roads May Be In Our Future

We ask a lot of our cars – heat me, cool me, be silent, be comfy, be exciting and, increasingly, propel me without costly and polluting gasoline. It’s the latter request that confounds, since batteries, the most obvious replacements for gas, are heavy and have limited energy storage.

But what if the energy storage burden was shifted from our overworked cars to the road?

Researchers at the Energy Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University are working on just such a solution, called electrified roads.

Electric vehicles, or EVs, could pick up small amounts of electricity as they drive over charging pads buried under the asphalt and connected to the electrical grid. Researchers say that a continuously available power supply would allow EVs to cut battery size as much as 80 percent, drastically reducing vehicle cost.

“Basically you get power directly from the grid to the motors as the car moves,” said Hunter Wu, a Utah State researcher who was recruited from The University of Auckland in New Zealand, where the technology was pioneered, to further develop the concept. “You can travel from the West Coast to the East Coast continuously without charging.”

Nicola Tesla first discovered the principles of wireless charging, or inductive power transfer, in the late 19th Century. It works by creating an electromagnetic charging field that transfers energy to a receiving pad set to the same frequency.

Manufacturers are already marketing wireless charging pads for electric vehicles – retrofitted to accept the charges – that can deliver a 5-kilowatt charge with 90 percent efficiency from a distance of about 10 inches.

There is also a trial application of electric roads – albeit at slow speeds and using very long charging pads – for buses at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, south of Seoul.

But Wu is thinking of something much more radical: charging at interstate speeds. This will require several technical breakthroughs, he said.

“At 75 mph, you’re only going to stay on a pad for about 30 milliseconds,” he said. “We need to turn the pad embedded in the road on and off really quickly.”

The pads would need to be able to signal to each other that a car is coming and the car would also need to communicate its need for a charge, he said.

Wu said the pad must also deliver power even when the car isn’t directly over top of it – a capability called horizontal misalignment that the current generation of stationary inductive power transfer chargers don’t have.

John Boys, a University of Auckland professor who is credited with refining the technology, said it would be possible to transfer up to 30 kW of power at an average efficiency of 80 percent on the highway. Assuming that chargers would be available at home and work, Boys said, a car would only need “a battery big enough to make it to the nearest interstate or major road.”

Wu said the cost of electrified roads, pegged at $1.5 million to 2.5 million per lane mile, could be made up through charging a toll along the roadway.

Not only would the cost of EVs, but range anxiety would be totally eliminated, he said.

“This technology,” Wu said, “would propel EVs forward.”

This is a fascinating proposed technology that could reduce the required battery size and weight, and thus increase efficiency of EVs. I previously noted a proposed technology: turning the road into a solar panel.

Combine these two ideas (solar roads with electric roads), and you can take the road and the car "off the grid."

The Art of Endless Upgrades

Kevin Kelley on The Technium: The Art of Endless Upgrades

When we first moved into our current house, newly married, I had some caulking to do around the place. I found some silicon caulking that boasted on the tube that it was warranted for 20 years. Cool, I thought. I'll never have to do this again.

Twenty years later, what's this? The caulking is staring to fray, disenigrate, fail. I realize now that 20 years is not forever, though it seemed that way before. Now that I am almost 60, I can see very permanent things decay in my own lifetime. Surprising, asphalt doesn't last forever, nor do iron and even stone. Some of the most permanent things we can think of -- the earth beneath us -- visibly moves over 60 years. The hill our house rests on is slowly sliding around us. Over a hundred years tree roots can crumble foundations. Try to make something last for 1,000 years and you'll quickly realize that this is an almost impossible achievement. It requires the constant application of order and energy to combat the everyday entropy unraveling what has been made.

It's taken me 60 years, but I had an ephipany recently: Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. Not just living things, but the most inanimate things we know of: stone gravemarkers, iron columns, copper pipes, gravel roads, a piece of paper. None will last very long without attention and fixing, and the loan of additional order. Life is maintenance.



I was curious how Hybrid Electric Vehicles were doing, I had seen some data a few years ago showing the share of HEVs rocketing upward, to the point we could expect a large share of HEVs (or EVs) in the US fleet in a few years (perhaps a majority of new vehicles). However 2010 was a down year not only for sales (which given the overall economy is not surprising), but also share of sales (which given the drop in fuel prices from 2008, and perhaps the state of the economy, is not surprising, but perhaps troublesome). Sales are still dominated by the Toyota Prius.

All technologies have their ups and downs, deployment is seldom perfectly smooth (though it looks quite smooth in retrospect).

Data are from US EIA and EPA
Worksheets available at
Heavenrich (2010). Light-Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2010. Appendix D. U.S. EPA: Washington DC.

From NPR Blackouts That Could Continue For Years

... The problem is these rolling blackouts could continue for many months -- even years.

"This is a real problem for those factories which need uninterrupted supplies," says professor Tatsuo Hatta, president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. He says the situation might cause some companies to move.

"It's clear that from their viewpoint they'd better move their plant to the western part of Japan where electricity is plenty."

It might seem much easier to send the surplus power from one side of Japan to the other to ease the blackouts. But that's harder than you might think, Hatta says.

"One major problem is that the east and west of Japan have different electric cycles and the capacity of the connectors are very much limited," he says.

That's partly an accident of history. Eastern Japan followed the German model and has a 50-cycle electrical power grid. The western part of Japan used the American model and has a 60-cycle grid. Transferring power from one grid to another requires a very expensive facility. And there are only three connections between eastern and western Japan. [ed. note wikipedia says 4] That bottleneck means the power transfer is just a trickle, even during this national emergency. Creating more capacity would take years. ...

Somewhere along the way, you would have thought, they would have standardized on one frequency or another (e.g. after World War II), but standards have strong lock-in, even in a defeated country. Apparently in the US, Southern California Edison did not convert to 60 Hz (from 50 Hz) until 1948.

Choosing a single standard increases economies of scale, has network effects, and improves redundancy (unless the standard itself fails for some reason).

Battery technology: Highly charged

From the Economist Battery technology: Highly charged

Promising technology for fast-charging batteries, one of the barriers that must be overcome for fleet electrification.

... "The battery-maker's dilemma is that the recharging rate depends on the area of contact between electrolyte and electrode. A thin, sandwich-like arrangement, in which cathode, electrolyte and anode are close together, can thus be discharged and recharged rapidly. However, this speed comes at a price. The amount of energy a battery can store depends on the volume of its electrodes, so a thin battery does not last long. What is needed is a way to increase contact area without sacrificing volume. And that is what Dr Braun has found. Moreover, his solution looks suitable for mass production.

His starting material, as he describes in a paper in Nature Nanotechnology, is made of closely packed polystyrene spheres about a millionth of a metre in diameter. This is an arrangement similar to that found in opal (except that in opal the spheres are made of silica) and the result is, indeed, opalescent.

The next stage is to fill the gaps between the spheres with nickel. This is done by electrodeposition--like nickel-plating a piece of steel. After that, the material is heated, to melt the polystyrene. This leaves a sponge made of metallic nickel. The connections between the spherical gaps in the sponge are then enlarged, using a technique called electropolishing to dissolve the surface layer of the metal. This creates an electrically conductive framework suitable for smothering with materials normally used to make cathodes.
The result is a huge area of contact between the nickel (which conducts electrons to and from the battery), the cathode (which conducts ions to and from the electrolyte to compensate for the movement of those electrons), and the electrolyte (through which the ions are moving between cathode and anode)--but without a significant loss of cathode volume. Just, in other words, what the doctor ordered.

The consequence, according to Dr Braun, is a charging rate ten to 100 times higher than that of a normal, commercial battery (in one instance, the researchers created a lithium-ion battery that could be 90% recharged in two minutes), at a probable increase in production cost, once the process is properly industrialised, of 20-30%. And that rate might be improved still further if similar techniques were applied to the anode--a task that Dr Braun is now working on."


From Ramez Naam writing in SciAm Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore's law apply to solar cells?

Solar may be cheaper than conventional electricity by 2018. This will do many things, (de-carbonization of electricity, etc.), but it will also help electrification of the fleet.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy has watched solar photovoltaic price trends since 1980. They've seen the price per Watt of solar modules (not counting installation) drop from $22 dollars in 1980 down to under $3 today.

Is this really an exponential curve? And is it continuing to drop at the same rate, or is it leveling off in recent years? To know if a process is exponential, we plot it on a log scale.

And indeed, it follows a nearly straight line on a log scale. Some years the price changes more than others. Averaged over 30 years, the trend is for an annual 7 percent reduction in the dollars per watt of solar photovoltaic cells. While in the earlier part of this decade prices flattened for a few years, the sharp decline in 2009 made up for that and put the price reduction back on track. Data from 2010 (not included above) shows at least a 30 percent further price reduction, putting solar prices ahead of this trend.

What's driving these changes? There are two factors. First, solar cell manufacturers are learning - much as computer chip manufacturers keep learning - how to reduce the cost to fabricate solar.

Second, the efficiency of solar cells - the fraction of the sun's energy that strikes them that they capture - is continually improving. In the lab, researchers have achieved solar efficiencies of as high as 41 percent, an unheard of efficiency 30 years ago. Inexpensive thin-film methods have achieved laboratory efficiencies as high as 20 percent, still twice as high as most of the solar systems in deployment today.

What do these trends mean for the future? If the 7 percent decline in costs continues (and 2010 and 2011 both look likely to beat that number), then in 20 years the cost per watt of PV cells will be just over 50 cents.

Indications are that the projections above are actually too conservative. First Solar corporation has announced internal production costs (though not consumer prices) of 75 cents per watt, and expects to hit 50 cents per watt in production cost in 2016. If they hit their estimates, they'll be beating the trend above by a considerable margin.

Minneapolis advises I must separate my recycling, and leaves a yellow "nastygram" on my trashcan if I do something wrong.

For recycling alone, I need to track 9 categories of waste flows (see table at bottom). If each requires 2 square feet, that is 18 square feet of real estate per household in space devoted to temporarily storing recyclables. This 18 square feet might be slightly off, but measurements in my house put it as about right.

At $100 per square foot (typical of real estate), $1800 of space per house must be devoted to storing recycling. At 168,352 housing units in Minneapolis (2000) , this is $303,033,600 of space devoted to storing recyclables.

Minneapolis says:

Why Must I Separate All My Recycling?


Sorted recycling generates the biggest revenue. Revenue from recycling provides money for:

  • Large item pickup
  • The voucher program
  • Clean City programs
  • Ongoing operating costs
If the City of Minneapolis used singlestream recycling (all recycling in one bin, as some areas do), the higher cost of processing these materials would result in lower revenue, and possible cuts in other waste services.

The question is, is the Net Present Value of the future stream of lower revenue anywhere near $300 million? I don't think so. A simpler recycling program for users would allow more of my house to be devoted to things other than storing recycling (on the theory that I sort at time of disposal, rather than separate to prepare the trash for transshipment after already premixing). It might also increase compliance.

Recycling is a good thing. I hear Minneapolis is considering singlestream recycling.. This is an especially good thing. Now if they could go to weekly instead of fortnightly, we might be making real progress.

Material and Energy Flow management at the household is quite complicated. I counted the following Inflows:

  • Water
  • Mail
  • Electricity
  • Natural Gas
  • People
  • Food
  • Other goods

And Outflows:

  • Electricity
  • Returned on AC
  • Wastewater
  • Stormwater
  • Compost
  • Boxtops for Education
  • Unseparated, Unrecylcable Trash (which ideally would be close to zero)
  • Recycling:
    • Paper
    • Aluminum
    • Glass
    • Plastics
    • Batteries
    • Garden waste (branches, grass clippings)

  • Recycling the city does not do:

    • Plastic bags from grocery stores

    • Lightbulbs

    • Waste Electronics

    • Water filters

    • Toner cartridges

    • Bulk goods

  • Reuse

    • Old Clothes

    • Bulk goods

  • Mail

  • People

And I am sure both lists are missing things. Perhaps if we had competitive trash services, private firms would figure out the optimal mix of mixing and separation.

The following table is provided for easy reference.

All recycling must be placed in separate paper bags, as follows:




Place in Paper Bag


Cans; food, beverage & aluminum foil

Rinse, clean and remove all caps or lids.


Glass Bottles & Jars

Rinse, clean and throwaway all caps or lids.


Plastic Bottles

Rinse, clean and throwaway all caps or lids.



Keep dry. Ads are accepted.

Yes, or bundle with string or twine.

20 lbs.

Magazines and Catalogs

Keep dry.


20 lbs.

Dry Food Boxboard, Office Paper & Mail

Flatten boxes, remove plastic, and keep dry.


Household Batteries

Tape ends of lithium contacts to prevent fire.

No, but Place in clear plastic bag, on top or inside the bin.

Phone Books

Keep dry.

No, but Place on top or inside the bin.

Corrugated Cardboard

Flatten each box. Remove and throw away plastic, tape and packing material.

No, but must be bundle with string or twine

20 lbs.

3ft. x 3ft.

From the Pioneer Press: Can't find a parking spot? Get a hybrid ... or a baby:
New types of restricted slots are popping up in local parking lots, but not everyone's a fan.

This (at least the "fuel efficient cars" part is occurring because of LEED, which I have railed about before.

Buildings are not 'energy efficient' if they are surrounded by parking and require driving to get there, even if that parking privileges certain travelers, even if those cars are "fuel efficient". Fuel efficiency should be its own reward. The enforcement hassle (is the car listed with some fuel efficiency list which no one knows and is not current?) make the whole thing a ridiculous game. This is not quite as bad as giving hybrids preference in HOV lanes, but almost as silly.

From the Pioneer Press St. Paul buys all-electric utility trucks, plans 24 charging stations

It is good to see electrification moving forward, but assuming a 6 year lifespan for the vehicles, the energy savings of $1300 / year * 6 years = $7800 seems to be less than the additional fixed cost of $38,800 (i.e. a Ford Transit Connect Electric at $60,000, while a Fort Transit Connect actually starts at about $21,200.) I was hoping the economics would be closer.

We probably should include the negative externalities avoided. The article reports Carbon emissions of 3.5 tons * 6 years = 21 tons. The market price of carbon is about $18.75/ton (14 Euros), so those savings (21 * 18.75 = $393) do not quite close the $38,800 gap.

St. Paul is getting EV-ready.

Mayor Chris Coleman will be joined today by Gov. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and other leaders to display the Twin Cities' first all-electric vehicle, one of three Ford utility vehicles St. Paul has purchased with federal and local dollars to use for its public works and parks departments.

The capital city also is planning to install 24 plug-in charging stations in downtown parking ramps and on the streets this spring. All but a few will be available to the public.

"We want people to know we're getting ready," said Anne Hunt, St. Paul's sustainability coordinator, who oversees a number of federally funded initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and saving fuel costs. "If people are out there wondering if they should order a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, we want them to know that if they commute to the cities, or just come down for a Wild game, there will be options for them to plug in."

The three St. Paul vehicles -- Ford Transit Connect Electric -- cost about $60,000 each and were chosen because the company gave assurances they would perform in Minnesota's winters, Hunt said. St. Paul's vehicles will be among the first in the country off a Michigan assembly plant as Ford rolls out the vehicles, which are marketed for commercial use.

The city estimates each vehicle would reduce annual carbon emissions by 3.5 tons and save $1,300 per year in fuel costs. Over a six-year period, the Transit Connect

is estimated to cost $1,800 in electricity.
Rybak drives a Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid that he had converted so its batteries can be recharged by plugging in, and both cities own gas-electric hybrids, but St. Paul's Transit Connects will be the first all-electric vehicles for either city.

First National Bank recently installed plug-in charging stations in its parking ramp, but otherwise, the 24 new charging stations, which will accommodate both generally used charging configurations, will be the city's first. Among the locations for the chargers will be RiverCentre/Xcel Energy Center parking ramps and areas around the Union Depot. Hunt said several private parking ramps have expressed interest in obtaining charging stations.

Stations also will be located along the route of the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line linking St. Paul and Minneapolis via University Avenue. Some of the charging stations will generate their electricity from solar panels.

Charging a vehicle won't be free, nor will parking in front of a charger, Hunt said. Details are being worked out, but Hunt said there are plans for a smartphone app that would allow drivers to check availability of charging stations and reserve one.

In all, the vehicles and the charging stations are being paid for through a combination of sources, including $286,000 in federal stimulus money, $60,000 from St. Paul and a $60,000 grant from Xcel Energy's Chairman's Fund. The federal dollars are part of $2.8 million in stimulus money being spent on a host of St. Paul energy-related projects, ranging from LED streetlights to programs aimed at helping private industrial companies become more energy-efficient.

The Transit Connect purchases and charging station plan are part of a partnership called Drive Electric Minnesota, which includes a host of metro corporations, nonprofits and governments with the goal of installing electric-vehicle charging infrastructure throughout the metro area.

Network Reliability on the Electric Grid (from Miller-McCune Debunking Theories of a Terrorist Power Grab

Hines and Blumsack's study ... shows that the most vulnerable points are the ones that have the most energy flowing through them -- like huge power stations or highly connected transformers.

Article Do topological models provide good information about electricity
infrastructure vulnerability?

I think there is something to learn about generalizing network reliability and vulnerability across fields (electricity, transportation, etc.). Network structure, and the underlying technology, matter.

NY Times Wind Power Backbone Sought Off Atlantic Coast

WASHINGTON -- Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region's electrical map.

An interesting new network element for transmitting electricity from Virginia to New York, and serving as a backbone for off-shore windmills. New electric generation and transmission capacity is needed for many reasons, not the least of which is the coming electrification of cars.

From Lisa Schweitzer: Sustainable Cities and Transport blog HSR's energy/emissions promise and peril

Reviewing a recent study (Horvath and Chester (2010) "Life-cycle assessment of high-speed rail: the case of California" Environmental Research Letters 5 014003
doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/1/014003), Dr. Schweitzer notes of HSR:

Being the cleanest mode per passenger hinges on getting a critical mass of people using it. The timeframe for payback on emissions invested in the colossal investment: about 70 years. I won't see it, but my students might.

Ok, so this is better than Charles Lave found for BART (Lave, Charles. 1976. The Negative Energy Impact of Modern Rail-Transit Systems Science, February 11, 1977. Vol. 195, pp. 595-596.) , which required even more construction underground, but it is not a good payback period by any means. And this is assuming conventional modes as competition. Remember, you have to skate to where the puck will be, not where it was.

From earth2tech: Electric Car Bills on the Hill: 10 Things You Should Know

The Electric Drive Vehicle Deployment Act of 2010, introduced in Congress this week, has a simple goal to electrify half of all cars and trucks on U.S. roads by 2030, and a basic strategy: focus the might of the federal government on a small number of pilot communities around the country, subsidizing the buildout of charging infrastructure and purchase of electric vehicles.

Generally, electrification is a good idea (as opposed to fossil fuels) as it is easier to control the environmental effects of energy production if they are at single points. It also enables more easily switching between fuels without having to modify 200 m vehicles, that is it is a more general technology. However, half the cars by 2030 seems singularly unambitious, how about half of all new cars by 2020 being electric, fuel cell, or hybrid, and almost all new cars by 2030?

Battery innovators: The Senate version proposes $1.5 billion for research aimed at delivering a battery that can go 500 miles on a single charge. The Senate also proposes establishing a $10 million prize for whoever delivers a commercially viable battery with those specs.

Somehow I think the $10 million prize will have a greater return on investment than the $1.5 billion in federal research. How about upping the prize (or establishing many prizes) and let the market fund the research with the hope of payoff.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

Subscribe to RSS headline updates from:

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the energy category.

employment is the previous category.

engineering is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Monthly Archives


Powered by Movable Type 4.31-en