Sunday, November 20, 2022

Transportation Equity is Basic Physics

We have only one place left to go, and that is to question the unquestioned urban configuration of machines and humans competing on the same plane, terra firma. Put people and 2-tonne machines in the same place, and the machines will win. They've been winning for over 100 years. Here's a slice of time, from 1982:
"What a difference there was between the new and the old parts of Mexico City only 20 years ago [e.g., 1982-20 = 1962, 60 years ago]. In the old parts of the city the streets were true commons. Some people sat on the road to sell vegetables and charcoal. Others put their chairs on the road to drink coffee or tequila. Others held their meetings on the road to decide on the new headman for the neighbourhood or to determine the price of a donkey. Others drove their donkeys through the crowd, walking next to the heavily loaded beast of burden; others sat in the saddle. Children played in the gutter, and still people walking could use the road to get from one place to another.

"Such roads were built for people. Like any true commons, the street itself was the result of people living there and making that space liveable. The dwellings that lined the roads were not private homes in the modern sense - garages for the overnight deposit of workers. The threshold still separated two living spaces, one intimate and one common. But neither homes in this intimate sense nor streets as commons survived economic development.

"In the new sections of Mexico City, streets are no more for people. They are now roadways for automobiles, for buses, for taxis, cars, and trucks. People are barely tolerated on the streets unless they are on their way to a bus stop. If people now sat down or stopped on the street, they would become obstacles for traffic, and traffic would be dangerous to them. The road has been degraded from a commons to a simple resource for the circulation of vehicles. People can circulate no more on their own. Traffic has displaced their mobility. They can circulate only when they are strapped down and are moved...."
Silence is a Commons, Ivan Illich, 1982
The Spartan Superway team at San José State University is designing a mobility system that separates humans (+pets, deer, kangaroos…) from machines. The team of mostly mechanical engineering students is applying basic physics to design a mobility system that is intrinsically safe: "No two objects can occupy the same place at one time." (At the quantum level, it's called the Pauli Exclusion Principle.) Paying attention to fundamental physics beats the electric vehicle (still a car), the autonomous vehicle (still a car, friendly to the machine and hostile to the human), the bus (a car on steroids), light rail (slicing communities in half), "Safe Streets" (pure rhetoric), "Complete streets" (Would you drop your child off to daycare at a lions den?!), PR campaigns (edutainment trumps physics?), and laws against drunk driving (after the fact). 

Kids playing under the Spartan Superway

Transportation equity is the bicycle, unencumbered by life-threatening monsters on the streets.

Rise above!!

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Hold anyone responsible for starting the fires accountable

A couple days ago I heard on BBC News that Turkish officials promised to "Hold anyone responsible for starting the fires accountable." I was lucky enough to track down a video on Reuters with captions that confirmed what I had heard on the radio. 

Turkish officials promised to hold anyone responsible for starting the fires accountable
Mert Ozkan, July 30, 2021, Reuters

Where do we place the blame when the atmosphere belongs to all of us and we all contribute in some way to the accumulated emissions of CO2 (methane, etc.) which have driven the world to this beleaguered state of siege by Mother Nature. This can get downright personal. A week ago I was on the smokey edge of the Dixie fire in the Sierra Nevadas. My host was accommodating 4 fire refugees whose homes were on the fire's path. I'd like to know who's responsible for starting that fire, since we're sleuthing anyway. 

The responsibility could be framed this way:

The oil companies are responsible. Oh, you bought gasoline from one of those actors? What is your standing, then?

Percentage of Global CO2 emissions by country

The industrialized countries are responsible. Oh, you live in one of those big polluter countries/regions? What is your standing, then? 

2000 World-GHG-emissions Sankey Flow Chart  by WRI

The transportation, electricity, industry, and agriculture sectors are responsible.  Oh, you work in or interact with some of these sectors? What is your standing, then?  

If we all confess to the Turkish officials, where could they find enough judges, courtrooms, and jail cells? 

There must be better ways to tackle these crimes. How about following the example of Whatcom County in Washington State?
"Whatcom County has been a fossil fuel hub for years, but its council just banned new fossil fuel activity. It could be a game-changer."

Local commitments make a lot of sense. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

First we bail out Detroit – then we bail out the oil patch

Channeling Leonard Cohen on Father's Day...

... Well, it's Father's Day, and everybody's wounded
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

This week's US rig count is 470; a year ago it was 266 (having plummeted from over 900 at the beginning of 2020). That 470, a far cry from what it was before Covid, is a harbinger of high prices and gas lines like 1973. It's just a matter of time. 

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC...

First we bail out Detroit

Millennials are buying fewer cars and cities around the world are banning cars from their central districts; Covid motivated people to work from home and drive less. Seeing all these looming threats to the automotive market, Biden et al are on a roll to bail out Detroit with a big push for electric cars (not sustainable with fossil-fuel-intensive manufacturing, but still a well-meaning friendly gesture to corporate America and union jobs). 

But what can governments do for the oil patch?

Then we bail out the oil patch

Here comes the IEA's get-off-oil report on the threat of uncontrollable climate change, the Dutch court ruling against Royal Dutch Shell on climate issues, and the ExxonMobile board of directors fight to bring about a response to climate change. 

Imagine that most intelligent oil company leaders know full well their days are numbered with peak oil breathing down their necks. Now all of a sudden they have a cover story: climate change. Under that smoke screen (literally), they can carry on with all kinds of shenanigans. For starters, governments can now begin subsidizing them to get off oil and into renewables.

There may be other ways to scoot down the slippery right-hand slope of the Hubbert curve without killing civilization, but this one just might get enough votes for all of us to squeak by.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Consider your sources

There are conflicting views about nuclear energy vs. renewables in the climate debate. Is nuclear energy safe? Are there sufficient resources and time for renewables to scale up to meet demand as nuclear and fossil fuels are rapidly curtailed? Does nuclear encourage profligate energy use? Is the nuclear industry offering a Faustian bargain to climate restoration advocates?

These may all be useful questions, but there's one overriding concern that affects everyone.

Stable governance

Is there a globally effective government (whether a superpower acting unilaterally or all governments in concert as "united" nations) that has demonstrably kept all nation-states and powerful private interests accountable to clean up the radioactive "waste" from nuclear power plants?
"As of the first quarter of 2019, 162 units are globally awaiting or in various stages of decommissioning... Overall, only 19 reactors, with a capacity of 6 GW, were fully decommissioned ... only 10 have been returned to greenfield sites... 
"When analyzing decommissioning policies, one needs to distinguish between the process itself (in the sense of the actual implementation), and the financing of decommissioning...." [The World Nuclear Industry, pg 158-159]
Since radioactivity lasts a long time, is there a robust global government that has maintained stability for several thousand years? No? Well then, it would seem that one more nuclear power plant in the hands of the current club of despots is very risky business (not the least of which is the American nuclear superpower's own home-grown "very stable genius").

Speaking of unsavory characters... the Kock brothers weigh in

Renewables are criticized for using more land than fossil fuels or nuclear power (for example, in The Footprint of Energy: Land Use of U.S. Electricity Production). It turns out that the publisher of this report, Strata Policy Institute, gets it support from incumbents with an agenda:
"In 2016, the Charles Koch Institute contributed $1,677,500 to Strata" [Energy and Policy]
Now that's not to say their data is entirely wrong, but by publishing independently, they are thereby not under the same rules as academic publications which respectfully require conflict of interest statements.
When you connect the dots, it gets easier to understand what's going on:
Correcting Anti-Renewable Energy Propaganda
"... Renewable energy gets cheaper each year, nuclear power gets more expensive each year — how come they still adamantly claim that renewables are not a cost-effective way of decarbonizing?

The answer, of course, is that the studies are flawed. Taking a look at these studies shows that several patterns can be observed in many of these studies. Among these flaws are ridiculous overestimates of storage requirements, overestimates of grid expansion needs, and the insistence on uneconomical strategies of storing electricity, such as insisting on batteries to store several weeks worth of grid electricity consumption.
James Hansen

It is strange to find someone so gifted as James Hansen caught up in this drama.

We can be thankful for Hansen's monumental contributions to climate awareness. That said, he wrote a bizarre opinion piece 6 years ago, "Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions?" In this piece, Hansen tackles "Energy misconceptions" (meaning, his views on renewables, as if he were the arbiter who knew what he was talking about). Unfortunately, his understanding of the technology and its applications is limited and his assumptions are far off the mark.

For example, has he scrutinized his cohorts when he joined a presentation with Michael Shellenberger at COP23, in a session titled "Nuclear Power? Are Renewables Enough?" 

Shellenberger has been on the take from the nuclear power industry for a long time. He bolsters his creds by weaving a grand story of his conversion from solar. In this presentation, Shellenberger concludes his remarks by invoking the weight of a rock star, Sting:

The very idea that Shellenberger would manipulate his audience on matters of engineering and physics by quoting a celebrity whose credentials are limited to having once sung a song, "Nuclear Waste," is plainly fraudulent. Furthermore, Sting advocates for "massive amounts of power" which completely misses the point. What we need is good engineering, to do more with less and stop trying to power a brute force fossil fuelish world with nuclear. We need an elegant new energy system which directs sophisticated energy to where it's really needed. 

(At the end of the steam era, locomotives were typically only 6% efficient; a few reached 12%. Diesels came along at ≈20% efficiency and put steam locomotives out of business. Would we now go back and use solar energy to power a steam locomotive? With electric motors at more than 80% efficiency, we can find better ways to move things.)

Consider your sources.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Can we wean ourselves off fossil fuels?

In that light, a new energy policy editorial ("opinion") just came to my attention, which offers the opportunity to address a gross misunderstanding that prevails in the political community. Here's the article:
In turn, that article makes reference to this list of supposedly great ideas for energy policy:
Now then, let's tease this apart...

Looking at the first article, here's the sweetener (to butter you up as the reader for what's next):

"To begin with, fossil fuels will remain essential since they are plentiful, easy to find, extremely efficient, easy to transport and generate thousands of jobs.

And here's the "clincher," the absurd statement by the "opinionator" ......

"To think we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels any time soon is a pipedream..."

A "pot calling the kettle black," he is the dreamer:
  • We aren't likely to "wean ourselves off fossil fuels". Especially in the overextended USA, fossil fuel "production" (actually _extraction_) is likely to collapse — drop like a stone — because of the limits to Mother Mature's endowment (long story, happy to show you details later);
  • As climate change impacts accelerate, humanity may be forced to abandon fossil fuels. Maybe Americans will be clueless, but Europeans, Chinese and Indians may move so quickly that they will be putting pressure on Americans within the next 5 years or so.
So here's what's going on. Consider the author of the first diatribe -- "Jerry Haar is a professor of international business at Florida International University and a global fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C." Well, first of all, his PhD is in Political Science, not engineering or science, and secondly, what do you make of the scientific prowess of the pretentiously named Wilson Center?
While it might be hard for the layman to understand what's going on with the second article, you have the advantage of starting with what I told you yesterday. Do you think there is a chance that _any_ of the 10 initiatives spelled out, now before Congress, arrived there without bias ... and with an eye to correct the egregious wrongs of the past? I'll leave that for you to dig into. Just looking at who is behind these and who is benefiting would be a great exercise to take on. You can look directly into the search paths I've given you here.

And that leads you to my article, which I referred you to yesterday, available in either of these two libraries (both the same):
Stated differently,

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Thin is in!

You ask about the adequacy of natural resources for a solar future. It's a good question.

Sunshine is diffuse; we can be very glad for that. Otherwise we would burn to a crisp, of course. The further advantage is that it is universal. Even the Swedes have sunshine ... or I wouldn't be here. Somehow my ancestors managed to thrive in a climate where there was little or no sunshine for months at a time in the winter. (They used solar energy exclusively. We can be at least as smart as our ancestors, don't you think?!)

So how do we handle diffuse energy sources? We use thin energy receptors. It's that simple. I was prompted to post this today when I saw a news article that explains it well:
Speaking of thin, I suggest you watch this long video which explains in a very compelling manner how ideas are formulated out of thin air and then propagated as if they were real:
Solar electricity is so magical that people have a hard time getting their heads wrapped around it. Skeptics with an agenda can have a field day with it because so few people have an idea how it works. (Did you know that Einstein got his Nobel prize, not for relativity (e=mc^2) but for the photoelectric effect, what we now call photovoltaics?!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

More about Windows

A note from a friend raised an important point:
The most efficient solar is the sun warming things, right?

That is not how Title 24 thinks, which can drive up energy use. Basically Title 24 assumes outside inputs are bad and the way to manage temperature is to seal a house from the outside - and as efficiently as possible use energy inside. This is based on a lifestyle assumption – that you need to live at a constant temperature. If you are OK with letting the sun in to heat your home and having temperature vary by 10º or 15º over the course of a day Title 24 works against you by limiting glass area while mandating sun blocking windows and roof insulation that prevents internal solar gain.
Yes, he's right and that's a long story. The good news is that Title 24 offers the alternative of demonstrating performance compliance through good design.

So you can hire folks who know what they're doing and prepare calculations which show compliance.  Here are a couple of short web pages explaining the basics:
The most challenging detail to grasp is the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient. Window manufacturers don't want to confuse people with too much information, so they train their sales forces to promote "one size fits all" and for God's sake, don't let the sun come in and fade your drapes and furniture!

So if the customer says "energy conservation," they will get low-e glass (good insulation) with the standard _low_ solar heat gain—which works well on the southwest or west sides of the home, but for windows on the south, very little heat will come in during the winter when it's needed.

You can read glowing reports (such as US DOE's Energy Star propaganda) that will confuse you even more. So instead, here are a couple of articles (one from Canada where there are 4 seasons) explaining why you will want to specify the high solar heat gain coefficient on your south-facing windows:
All the more reason to know your home's compass headings... North-South, East-West.