Friday, May 30, 2008

Energy & sustainability topics

With regard to the question on everyone's mind:

"What can be done in a household to save money on energy?"

and my idea for an "Energy & Sustainability Forum" to help elevate the public dialogue and assist people in answering that question...

I've started moving forward. And while there are many things that would need to happen, such as building support for it (I've already spoken with two Council members and two Energy Commission members) and dealing with the logistics of any event... I figure one of the most important aspects is setting an agenda that will ensure the credibility of the forum, while beginning to answer the question for people.

See... I have a feeling that many people may feel that something like a windmill would be a great idea. And while windmills are very site-specific, generally they do not perform well in CT. Rather, their efficiency in CT is quite poor... in relation to other alternative energies. So while wind turbines can be great in the wide, treeless expanses of a Nevadan valley... they tend to offer low returns in CT because of a variety of factors, such as the trees... and even our shoreline is basically "landlocked" because of Long Island.

Anyway... my point is that a forum may work best if it at least touches on most of the commonly used alternative energies, including ones that don't work well in CT households. Because if the forum doesn't touch on windmills... I'm wondering if people will scratch their head and say... "but they didn't even mention windmills... I wonder if they even know what they're talking about?"

For that reason, I think the best approach would be to have a forum that touches on as many alternative energies as possible (skipping nuclear though... I'm guessing most people wouldn't want a nuclear reactor in their basement anyway).

Here's my beginning list of topics, in no particular order:

1) Microturbine
2) Fuel cell
3) Photovoltaic (electricity using the sun)
4) Solar thermal (heating water using the sun)
5) Geothermal (tempering water with ground energy)
6) Wood/gas stoves
7) Windmill
8) Biomass
9) Compressed natural gas (CNG)
10) Ethanol
11) Biodiesel
12) Composting/gardening
13) Energy efficiency

Now I just need to find experts on each topic. And my goal is to identify "non-profit" or "independent" groups that can expertly speak on the topic... but not necessarily advocate for a particular company. IMO, that wouldn't be right.

But as I've already found out this week... for the energies that are viable in CT... many already have industry spokespeople. And for the industries that may not have industry spokespeople and are not really looking for much business in CT (such as wind)... there are companies around... but since they don't really sell their products here in CT... at least not to CT households (such as fuel cells)... I figure that independence is less of a concern.

Anyway, that's where I stand. More updates to come. But in the meantime... your thoughts?

Tim White


Chipmaker said...

For ethanol/biodiesel, address the many different crops that can be used to produce these fuels. Different crops have different conversion efficiencies. Don't round up some bootlicking lobbyist for a given farming sector.

Tossing in a brief overview of the state of superconductors might be interesting. This is a long way from being solved, but if ever a material is found that can remain superconductive (essentially lossless) at ambient temperatures, the efficiency of power transmission goes ballistic.

The last subtopic I can think of is lighting. Mini-mercury bulbs are a good start, but sometime (soon, I hope) we'll have LED units that will save MUCH more power. Many cities already use these for streetlights, and getting some citations for actual power saved there would be great. Imagine using soft, pleasing LED lights at home.

A personal report on how your Prius has impacted your energy costs would be a good touch.

tim white said...

Different crops have different conversion efficiencies

That's an important point... french fry grease, soybeans and chicken fat are all quite different.

address the many different crops that can be used to produce these fuels.

Herein lies one of the difficulties I foresee... if you want to keep people's attention, you normally need to follow the rule of "3Bs."

Be brief
Be brilliant
Be gone

I'm thinking that if this could work, I'd try to set up a series. And if that happens, then I could get into details. But for an initial forum, I'd try to cover 10-15 topics, limiting each speaker to 3 or 4 minutes with a 30 second intro by someone. Then opening it up to Q&A could easily end up taking another 30-60minutes... for a total time of up to two hours... and that'd be long enough for most people.

If I could do some followup meetings, I'd love it though. And I suppose what I'd really like to do is document this whole process, then offer it to people I know in other towns... hoping they'll use the format and set up their own forums... increasing public awareness throughout CT.

As for finding someone in CT who can offer the insights that chipmakers have... ummm... if you wanna fly up here, I bet there's a lot of people who'd love to hear you speak!

As for LED lights, the ConnDOT rolled them out on all state highways over the past few years. And since Cheshire has (I believe) no streetlights on town roads... all of Cheshire's streetlights are now LEDs. (There's one exception at Stop n Shop due to the close proximity of the two lights.)

bob107b said...

MR. White,
Thank you for your service to the Town of Cheshire. Please review the following link and news article:
Please use your financial skills to estimate the cost savings to the Town budget for converting the entire Town fleet of vehicles over to this “hybrid” HHO technology. Yes, every police car and town truck converted to use the hydrogen generator that is my suggestion. The estimate would include a 40% increase in gas mileage at $1,500 per vehicle. This technology will soon be researched and tested by an Independent Laboratory mentioned in the article.
The estimate will be a narrow dollar figure for the Town of Cheshire. We both know the true broader cost of dependence on foreign oil, that price is paid in American military blood that is spilled on the battlefield as well as the ground zero during 9/11… we can NOT put a dollar figure on that cost.
Respectfully submitted
CPT. Robert O. Steers USA (Ret)

tim white said...

Bob... I appreciate your comments. But to be frank, without having first hand knowledge (articles don't count), I'm not about to ask the Town Gov't to get involved in some emerging technology.

I have two concerns:

1) there are many borderline breakthru energy technologies... not just hydrogen. And to choose one (at this point) seems unwise. (though I recognize the need for someone to take action)

2) I strongly prefer to get "buy-in" from people. For example, when we switched the DPW to biodiesel, I helped the DPW decision maker get comfort with the decision by asking him to contact the State DOT. Since the DOT had already been using biodiesel... and since our guy knew the state DOT guy... and was comfortable with his judgement... it was relatively easy to get the buy-in... but without the "buy-in" by the decision makers... and without local users who can offer a degree of comfort with a particular technology... I don't see the town going down this road... it's too iffy... and we've had too many projects (software, hotWatergate, pool) blow up in our faces recently.

Thank you though! We do need to have this dialogue for anything to change.

Anonymous said...

We need to be practical. Making ethanol uses more energy to produce than it provides. It can not be transported in pipelines and must be trucked. In the mean time we are burning our food supply to make it. We used to be the bread basket of the world. We are now a net importer of grain. It would be better to direct our efforts at producing food for the rest of the world and reducing our trade defect.
Hydrogen also takes energy to produce. If we were to build more nuclear facilities and use that energy to produce hydrogen then it would be a good idea. To use fossil fuels to create electricity in order to manufacture hydrogen is ludicrous
We need to build nuclear plants, improve photo voltaic technology and produce more domestic oil to tide us over.

tim white said...

I agree... it's the same as windmills in CT. At this moment in time, neither windmills nor ethanol offer a return that makes much sense for Nutmeggers.

But since ethanol and windmills are currently part of what I'll call "the public discourse," I think it makes sense to mention them... simultaneously pointing out that they don't make much sense in CT, based on current technology.

My understanding is that in CT, the best bang for you buck are energy efficiency measures. And in terms of renewables... you're looking at PVs or solar thermal.

Sure, geothermal could make sense, but more for new construction than existing houses. And biodiesel may make sense for a fuel... but that's part of what I'd like to achieve... if this forum happens... increase public awareness across the board.