Professor: Let's get real about alternative energy

Discussion in 'Environmental' started by Chuck, May 14, 2009.

  1. Chuck

    Chuck just the messenger

    [​IMG] Most people don't understand the size and scope of the effort needed.

    [fimg=left][/fimg]David MacKay - CNN - May 14, 2009

    Professor MacKay's book, "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air," is published by UIT Cambridge and is also available in electronic form for free from -- Ed.

    We need to introduce simple arithmetic into our discussions of energy.

    We need to understand how much energy our chosen lifestyles consume, we need to decide where we want that energy to come from, and we need to get on with building energy systems of sufficient size to match our desired consumption.

    Our failure to talk straight about the numbers is allowing people to persist in wishful thinking, inspired by inane sayings such as "every little bit helps."

    Assuming we are serious about getting off fossil fuels, the scale of building required should not be underestimated. Small actions alone will not deliver a solution... [rm][/rm]
    Last edited: May 14, 2009
  2. PaleMelanesian

    PaleMelanesian Beat the System Staff Member

    As with home-sized solar electric installations, the key is not on the production side. Just throwing a bunch of solar panels at the problem will cost more than to continue buying electricity from the utility. I priced a solar array recently, and the payback time would be 25-plus years. I bought insulation instead, with an estimated payback time of 3 years. The key is to reduce consumption.

    - Make the automobile fleet twice as efficient, thereby requiring half as much production to power them.
    - Make homes more efficient and reduce the cost to heat and cool them. Add insulation, design them so they benefit from solar heating and lighting, make the heating/cooling systems more efficient (house, water, refrigerator).

    While this is happening, work on installing renewable generation capacity. Somewhere along the way, the two will meet. In an ideal world, at least.
  3. Chuck

    Chuck just the messenger

    Just skimming his ebook, I realize why the EV is so fuel efficient - no heat generation.

    75% of the gas in your tank is wasted heat that does not get you to your destination. :eek:
  4. ksstathead

    ksstathead Moderator

    I printed the 10-page synopsis, and am halfway through that, but I hope to go back and read the full ebook. (free) Looks like the right type of analysis (for UK) to enable rational decisions. Need folks in countries around the world to generate values for their locales and get things moving.
  5. bnther

    bnther Well-Known Member

    You sir, are spot on. Our energy issues need to be approached from both the production and the consumption sides of the equation. We will find a happy medium, I have every confidence about this. The first automobiles were pretty pathetic in comparison to what we drive today. There is no reason to think that alternative energy won't see substantial improvements with time.

    Food for thought though. Be sure to include the rise in the cost of electricity over the course of 25 years, before assuming that you will not break even. With PHEV's on the near horizon, I expect to see substantial increases in the price of electricity. It may be that your 25 year break-even system may actually prove to be profitable in the end. (Not to mention that you are providing for your own needs responsibly :) )
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  6. jimepting

    jimepting Well-Known Member

    I gotta read this book!

    I have long felt that conservation was a much stronger contributor to energy independence and emissions reduction than anything else we could do.

    Regarding solar cells, I just don't see us spending enough to paper over the state of California with them. I own 360 watts of solar and I gotta tell ya, that stuff is expensive. From my meager understanding, solar collection by concentrators is much more cost effective. The is a huge concentrator farm near China Lake, CA. Very interesting to see. My favorite option for substantial alternative generation is nuclear(sp?). It is clean, and hugely productive. If we could reform our policies somewhat, the cost would come down. For gosh sake, if the French can do it - we should certainly be able to do so.

    As I see it, most of our roadblocks are cultural and political. We have the fake ethanol solution because of farm politics. We don't have nuclear because politicians don't exercise leadership and let a few opponents distort the picture and shout down the advocates. We don't conserve because Americans haven't been convinced by the media - too busy watching "Biggest Loser." Also, the "cheap carbon" paradigm is very hard to break. Culturally, it is hard to break the link between excess consumption and personal status. (How many mayors of cities have chauffer driven Escalades?) And lastly, we don't have the political leadership needed to make the situation as clear as the professor has.
  7. Chuck

    Chuck just the messenger

    I skimmed thru most of the book and the main conclusions is hardly anyone pays attention to the math....they power from renewables is enormous, but our consumption is even greater - not quite sustainable.

    MacKay sees they only way to have a lifestyle somewhat like our current one is to employ all renewables, plus nuclear, plus cutting back. North America is better endowed, as it could go without nuclear, but Europe likely would need to solarize the Sahara.

    One other thing: the NIMBY attitude would have to go - unless Antartica is an option. :D
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  8. SageBrush

    SageBrush Active Member

    Music to my ears guys -- keep on truckin' :)

    I feel like an idiot for having waited this long, but this spring/summer/fall I will dramatically decrease my home's carbon footprint by doing these three things:

    1. Move clothes drying outside
    2. Install solar hot water
    3. Install windows on the my house's south wall

    I live in the dry high altitude desert of New Mexico. My family really has no excuse consuming as much as we do. There will be a family meeting of the most dire and boring imaginable if electricity consumption does not drop below 200 kWh/month and NG to less than $100/year. Which actually brings me to a point of argument with MacKay: 95% of the lifestyle can be preserved at ~20% of current consumption in my opinion. But then I don't view wearing a sweater in the winter inside as worthy of discussion, or driving a hybrid as a step down from a gas hog. Actually, I view inter-urban trains as a step up in quality of life. My kids, on the other hand, may view hanging laundry as a fate worse than death.

    I've got that one figured out. If they go to the pit smiling, I will compromise and run the dryer for underwear.
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  9. Shiba3420

    Shiba3420 Well-Known Member

    I love the way he alternates between sources of energy and usages of energy. Keeps it more interesting. Not sure I agree with all his numbers, but they are certainly close enough to reason to work in a piece like this. Hopefully many will read it and start to understand.

    We installed a whole house fan as we were heading into fall last year. We didn't get much use during winter except to clear the house of smoke during thanksgiving diner. :) Increased insulation in the attic did drop heating bills some.

    But now that we are getting into warmer days. We are seeing a vast differnce. We haven't started the A/C at all yet, a month after we normally would have started. On days staying under 76, we can leave the fan on low and a window open and the house stays cool enough. On warmer days, we turn the fan on at night and let it run. The house pretty much matches the morning temps. We turn the fan off and close up the windows. The house usually stay under 74 through the worse of the day with the house being a big ol' heat sink for whatever heat does make it through the walls and windows.

    When it gets to the worst of summer, we expect this won't work. If the nights don't at least make it into the mid/lower 60s, A/C will have to be used during the day. At those temps, A/C might have to come on near the end of the day before the night cools again, but still we may be looking at 50 to 75% cut in our A/C usage. I'll take it.
  10. SageBrush

    SageBrush Active Member

    Shiba, sorry for the stupid quesion: how much better is the fan than opening windows ? Or on nights without any wind, using the fan only in the central AC ?
  11. phoebeisis

    phoebeisis Well-Known Member

    What is the big deal about building 1 million wind turbines?? So what, $2 trillion dollars-big deal- we have tossed that the banks and we have close to nothing to show for it.
    My guess is that we need about 2 million turbines, and a 200 mile by 400 mile swath of the USA.
    WTF- big deal- it isn't as if the land is useless for anything else.You can still farm it, or ranch the land.Besides lots of the SW is pretty barren. Even on expensive beachfront property-where you probably shouldn't build anyway- you are only occupying -actual footprint- much less than an acre.

    Wind can work.This guy makes it sound like we have to fence off this land, and toss it away. You know, throw CA away.

    He might be right about turning off cellphones(but there are other reasons to turn them off).
    Oh well,

    PS- BESIDES WHAT IS OUR CHOICE.Use oil until we pump it dry, and then pee in our pants while we sink back to the stone age?? There isn't a choice.
  12. Shiba3420

    Shiba3420 Well-Known Member a lot of homes where we are, the windows are on the north an south sides of the home. There is one window on the east side, and none on the west side. As such, usually there is no breeze we can capture. We have actually gone to sleep in low 50s outside with window open and woken up hot.

    The A/C fan-only mode help some, but is limited on much it swaps out air in the house. And if the entire house is hot, there isn't anything good to swap. It also uses more power than the whole house fan. The whole house fan doesn't deal with ducts so there is far less back pressure to deal with. If the temps outside are warmer than we like to sleep in 74+, the a/c fan doesn't help as all, but the whole house fan works much like a ceiling fan when comes to keeping a breeze blowing over you. As such, the air can be warmer than we normally like and still be acceptable.

    The first big test comes Tues-night/Wed...tues night we only expect lows in the mid 50s. Wed, sunny and a high around 80. We still think the house will be cold enough by morning that if we button it up when we wake up, the temps won't even get into the mid 70s. However since we have dogs at home, we will be setting the A/C around 75....just in case.

    The writer isn't basing his info on US, but on England where there is less land and I believe they have a much greater poplulation density. As such, they are more limited in their ability to provide 100% of their power using internal renewables. However there is always the possibility of them importing green power, but countries are getting sensitive to relying on others for energy.

    The biggest take I got on this was that conservation can do as much, or more, than new power sources. Its not knocking new power sources, just pointing out that England, like most countries, can't keep expanding energy usage. His numbers suggest 2 primary sources of reductions....better transportation and better heating systems. Those two represent the best value for money when it comes to reducing energy usage.
  13. Chuck

    Chuck just the messenger

    Correct - he is addressing the UK, then the rest of the world.
  14. Shiba3420

    Shiba3420 Well-Known Member

    Trying out a new search site (WolframAlpha)...pretty cool, but in need of a lot of work.
    However it did give me population densities....
    US 86.5 people per square mile
    UK 651.0 people per square mile

    So at 7.5 times the density, they are going to have a lot harder time going to green power without using outside resources or going into the deeper seas.
  15. phoebeisis

    phoebeisis Well-Known Member

    I would guess that GB-an island- has plenty of wind resources-but not as much as we do on a per person basis- no where near as much.

    We-the USA- are absolutely blessed with wind resources.We have plenty of not in my backyard whiners, of course, but screw them. Would you rather look at a wind turbine farm (a really otherworldly sight at night in a thunder storm-you could sell tickets), or suck in what comes/came out of coal stacks??

    Tidal power-not very mature-but something we also have plenty of.In fact, we probably have the best renewable situation-wind/solar/ and even biofuels on the planet.

    We have tossed so much money at thieving bankers why would anyone complain about tossing the same amounts at something useful?? B Obama is correct, we should be able to mine lots of green jobs, but we should insist the technology be made in the USA.
    We also need to prevent outsourcing of jobs-by both parties- by allowing non citizens to underbid citizens for jobs.

  16. ILAveo

    ILAveo Well-Known Member

    Whole house fans are great for cutting AC needs --- the family of my best friend when I was growing up in MO had one and they never installed or really needed central AC --- though somehow he always ended up at my house on the hottest days:). Clearing the heat out of the attic really seemed to help cool their house down at night.

    Glad you reminded me, if/when I get laid off at work due to Illinois' inability to pay its bills, I'll put that on the list of things to do around home.
  17. Tochatihu

    Tochatihu Well-Known Member

    Download the book. It's free. Read the book.


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