16 December 2013

Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy?  Great idea.  But I doubt it will fly in the USA in any significant manner until it’s far too late to deploy technologies in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  U.S. citizens are just too stupid.  They prefer to skate on borrowed time in exchange for a whole lot of pain down the road.  Sit and watch a Wal-mart crowd for 30 minutes.  And think that those people might actually vote!

We’ll have to wait for the equivalent of martial law, and even then, it will probably be too late. 

The media just doesn’t get it.  Witness headlines that try to connect high gasoline prices with a boost in wind farms.  Really?  Since when is electricity a substitute for gasoline, unless you’re among the wealthy elite that can afford an electric car, and even then, the majority of the electricity comes from burning nasty coal.  So much for “green” driving.

Humans manufacture energy for three basic functions:  transportation, electricity, and space heating.  Different energy feedstocks produce a different mix of functional energy forms. 

U.S. Congress and nearly all (if not all) State Legislatures don’t get it.  Congress has it’s balls squeezed by the oil and gas industry.  But that’s only one reason for the absurdly illogical actions (inactions) of Congress.  They’re collective IQ is about that of the shoe-size of Michael Jordan and it seems that the only thing that gets their attention is how the polls say they’ll do in the next election.  Oh, and they love to bicker.  They live to bicker.  National death by bickering. 

State Legislatures are no better and are as equally lame in their lack of concern about the energy future (or the future, period).  Vision, leadership, and the common good are not part of their lexicon.  These values really aren’t part of the voting public’s lexicon either, or we wouldn’t be routinely voting these idiots into office. 

Governance by popular opinion works well if you’ve an educated populace.  Think again about that Wal-mart parking lot.

The American public doesn’t get it.  There is almost zero concern about the future.  All that seems to matter is the monetary price of something right now.  Screw the grandkids.  Chuck them out with all the non-monetary values.  This is Wal-mart’s model and look how well it’s been accepted!  We’re enthusiastically willing to pay through the nose in the longer run, if we can just get something for a few dollars less right now.  Look at most cars, major appliances, or nearly everything else.  We, as Americans, are abysmally wasteful and could not care less.  The piper will extract a serious price. 

Witness the wanton consumerism over Thanksgiving and the shameless greed of Christmas . . . or any other time. 

And we blame the corporations for feeding upon this opportunity?  Why blame the Morlocks for the culturing the Eloi, if the Eloi insist on maintaining gross ignorance.  OK, maybe the corporations could be more responsible.  But that doesn’t sell in the market place as well as crap for cheap.  It wouldn’t work if our society wasn’t so hedonistic.

This is America.  We preserve our right to be stupid beyond belief and sacrifice our children and heritage on the holy altar of immediate gratification.  Not all nations are this way.  There are many examples of a national population saying enough is enough.  We’re going to do the smart thing and work collectively to face the hard issues and come out ahead in the long run.  This is a totally foreign (yes, it’s a pun, too) frame of reference for America.

Renewable energy?  The lowest hanging fruit is using wood chips to heat clusters of larger buildings (e.g. hospitals, municipal buildings, etc.) using distributed heat through a pipeline system.  It’s not a new idea by any means (maybe that’s why it’s seldom on the decision table?) and there are many good examples across the USA.  These distributed energy (DE) systems can be deployed in a couple different ways, but the upshot is that they’re remarkably reliable, efficient, and have a tiny environmental footprint when compared to anything else.  Oh, and did I say they’re cheaper than anything else?  Can’t forget that. 

For the millions of homes and buildings off the natural gas grid, wood pellets are the next cheapest source of heat energy. 

So, why aren’t these systems more common?  Well, it’s not the way we’ve always done it.  The lemming syndrome.  Do you remember that total lack of vision among decision-makers?  To make matters worse, the oil and gas industry doesn’t like this DE and pellet idea.  It could cut into their profits and market dominance.  So, they lean on Congress, that then passes remarkably non-sensical policy, and forces agencies like the EPA to create future-killing rules and regulations. 

These systems also keep energy dollars local, provide good-paying jobs, contribute to sustainable communities, greatly reduce negative environmental impacts (e.g. less atmospheric carbon – the climate change thing), help provide national energy security, increase the opportunity for better forest management (products, habitat, resilience, etc.), and are cheaper than anything else.  I realize that only the last benefit will resonate with most decision-makers and the American public. 

Legislatures have enacted and funded a plethora of high-tech, high risk, and experimental programs to produce alternative transportation and electricity energy (although even these are fading as the oil/gas/coal lobbies choke-off creativity).  They have virtually ignored the heat component and, in fact, have actually discouraged the cheapest and easiest of all renewable energy applications.  That’s not to say that funding ground-breaking work, for example, in gasoline alternatives is a bad idea.  It’s not.  But failing to support, financially and otherwise, the easiest solutions is nothing short of the high crime of social and economic suicide. 

Good grief.  We deserve our fate.  Too bad that the upcoming generations don’t get to vote.  

16 May 2013

Wood Energy

Wood energy (currently) offers the single greatest potential to sound renewable energy.  More than solar and wind combined.  Furthermore, it can be employed in each of the three ways humans use energy; heat, power, and transportation.  It's sound from the three pillars of sustainability; environment, economics, and socio-cultural.  However, it's the third pillar that present the greatest challenges. No surprise that people just don't get it. 

People don't like cutting trees.  It's absurd, but it's real.

The environmental footprint of wind and solar is greater than that of wood.  But that's another story - filled with misconceptions about wood and narrow reasoning.  And, we need both wind and solar, along with all other renewable energy technologies.  It's not about a competition among renewables.  It's about displacing fossil fuel with any renewable. 

Wood chip systems compete well with the cheapest fossil fuel, natural gas.  Guess which fuel type is most likely to increase in price?  Which one adds carbon to the natural carbon cycle?  Trees grow back, especially when forests are well-managed.  Natural gas and other fossil fuels don't grow back.  Almost ANYTHING is better than consuming fossil fuels.

Worried about bang for the buck in extracting energy from wood?  Compare wood to fossil fuels.  All energy products take energy to produce.  By and large, the conversion in not particularly efficient.  Fossil fuels are among the least efficient, and they are without doubt the most environmentally damaging.  But they're cheap.  So, the almighty dollar wins again.  Yet, this time it's not some huge, amorphous corporate entity.  It's each of our own individual decisions.  Americans refuse to pay a marginal increase for global stability.  As Pogo said back in 1971; "We have the enemy and he is us". 

Worried about subsidies?  Gheez, take a look at the fossil fuel industry!!  You think your gasoline and power aren't already heavily subsidized!  Consider paying your full freight for fossil fuel energy, including damage to the environment.  We've been getting a cheap ride for decades . . . putting the payment to our grandchildren.  Selfish bastards, we are. 

Worried about carbon, CO2, and climate change?  Go with wood.  Yes, wood releases carbon, particulates, and other emissions.  But wood got all that stuff from the natural carbon cycle in the first place, mostly the atmosphere.  So, it's a mathematical wash.  Burning wood simply moves that stuff (e.g. carbon) among the normal, natural carbon pools.  Fossil fuels don't do this.  Their combustion introduces carbon that has been stored for millions of years.  Better to leave it in storage.

Worried about devastating forests?  Don't be stupid.  Wood energy will help keep forests as forests, preferably managed forests.  Temperate deforestation is caused by land use conversion, usually urban sprawl and urban splatter.  Americans have an atrocious land use legacy and current policy.  Again, another story.  In the tropics, deforestation is a significant problem.  But we're talking about temperate forests and energy use.  Completely different animal.  Vibrant wood markets lead to demand, which leads to better management potential, which leads to healthier and more diverse forests. 

There is, of course, much more to say about the benefits and wisdom of wood energy.  It's not an inexhaustible source, but it's a pretty big piece of the solution, if people could only shed their ignorant prejudices and Sierra Club mantra.