Alternative Energy? It’s not always rocket science.

Alternative sources of energy: is it too complex, too ‘out there’ to even contemplate? Worse, is pursuit of glamour and glitz getting the go-ahead while the practical gets pushed aside?

Sure, wind farms look good, so long as the wind blows steadily. Solar has promise, too. But. There could well be more practical alternatives right under our very feet. Two examples- one to do with life down on the farm, and then, let’s head up to the big city.

If you have ever had the pleasure of staying over in a bed and breakfast; next to a feedlot (or even driven by a feed lot at 80 miles an hour on the interstate), you know that the stench of manure is nothing to sniff at. Yet, this vapor, rich in methane gas, can, with the help of an anaerobic manure digester, be transformed into energy.

In addition to producing energy, an anaerobic manure digester improves hygiene of the farm, reducing odor, fly problems and the like. It provides animal bedding, and creates a fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Incidentally, if you scoff at the existence of ‘odor free methane gas,’ methane is key ingredient in natural gas.  Thank you, Sierra Club for this tip. See: Sierra Club Magazine/March-April 2012.

Oh and hey kids, build your ‘AMD’ right here: USDA guidance Perhaps some kind of loan funding could help the farming community in this transition.

Now on to the city. Performance Contracting is where energy costs can be markedly reduced. We are all becoming familiar with this process. As old furnaces die, more efficient furnaces are going on line. Better insulation, lower-cost-to-operate lights, and more fuel efficient cars with a longer service life are also examples of this trend.

A little more complex, but with the implementation of smart electrical grids, rates for energy usage can be demand based. Power plants are currently being built to meet peak demand times- i.e. extreme weather, hot or cold. But if some activities can be time-shifted to lower demand times, it may become cost-effective for rate payers to shift their demand and the electric utility to offer a reduced rate to encourage users to do so, thus changing consumption patterns and leveling demand throughout the day.

On a larger scale, here are other examples of more energy-efficient practices: An office building in Okinawa freezes a water reservoir at night, to provide cool air-conditioning by day.  In Zimbabwe, the Eastgate Centre uses a design inspired by African termites to markedly reduce AC and heating costs.

We are definitely in for a very interesting next 10-20 years. Will algal oil ever become practical? Why pump primordial ooze out of the ground that began fermenting way back in the Paleozoic Era and it often only accessible in dangerous, difficult and inconvenient places. Instead, we we can brew our own…

What’s next, brave new worlders? Solar panels in space, with power microwaved to earth stations?  Gigawatt megapolis sized batteries…The only limit is in the imaginative genius of our scientists and engineers and the support of our citizenry.

The Real Cap and Trade—Seven Billion Affected!!!

webshots overpopWith the Copenhagen Climate Summit happening soon, there has been much skepticism raised on the value of cap and trade. Questions abound. “Is Carbon Dioxide really that bad? Will cap and trade really motivate the use of alternative fuels?
For anyone who doubts the human footprint has changed the environment, consider this. In 1960, there were only three billion people living on the earth. Soon, in the next two years, the population of the world will hit SEVEN Billion. Unless something drastically compassionate and widely supported happens soon, what will life on earth be like by the year 2050? Can the earth support TWENTY billion people? Yes, many of these people will be living in poverty, but even so, the demand on resources will continue to rise. Somehow means will have to be devised to reduce birthrates, and to more efficiently produce energy as well as process the waste stream. What do the nattering nabobs of Denial have to say about that?

A Little Too Free for the Common Good?

Broadband has now given the public a splintered rainbow of opinions. ‘Who can tell the accuracy of any given ‘read’ on a situation? Accountability has to be factored into the process. Perhaps that is why ‘Mission Statements’ have become so popular of late. Of course, mission statements are nothing new. And even the most concise such statements offer an opportunity to ‘read between the lines. For example, let’s pick apart these two statements: “The No Spin Zone, and All the News that’s Fit to Print.”
In the first example, one may well ask ‘Of all the words available in the English Language, why does Bill Reilly gravitate towards the word Spin?’ As to the New York Times choosing ‘Fit,’ this too leads to some interesting speculation…such as ‘What doesn’t fit?’
Perhaps that’s why the internet has incubated this splintered rainbow of opinion we find on our blackberries and elsewhere- finding places where the news will fit.
Indeed it would benefit everyone to develop their own mission statement. A mission statement can serve like a rudder that guides the ship out on the vast sea of information that is available to those willing to sift through the facts.
Before being swayed by the various pundits and arbiters of reality one might do well to consider a mission statement like armor, too. In this age of rapid change, perhaps a drastic example could illustrate this point. Once upon a time when the world was young, and automobiles were just coming on the scene, as those on horse drawn carriages might have passed a broken down motorist, the well horsed traveler might have smiled as his horses trotted by the avant-garde motorist with a cheery greeting of ‘Get A Horse.’
Now, fast forward a hundred years and the motorist is in many places ruler of the road. Horses are nowhere to be found. What of that brass plated opinion of yesterday? Get a Horse indeed. If it can be found at all, it’s in the dustbin of history.
Perhaps today, as a go-by-rail commuter passes stalled commuter traffic on the ‘expressway’ the rail commuter ‘might mutter ‘Get a metro pass.’ Warning/opinion to follow: Will rising fuel costs turn our highways into the exclusive purview of local delivery services, inspectors and salesmen?
Getting back to ‘Get a Horse.’ If that message has any meaning now, it could serve as an invitation to a well-to-do city-slicker (or a farm family); to get into the pleasurable (but time-and-money consuming) pastime of horseback riding.
New is not always good. Old is not always good either. This brings us back to the original issue; how can we tell which news source has got the real fire, the heart of the matter, and who’s blowing smoke? Who’s got the interests of the common welfare in mind and who is more interested in feathering the nest of special interests?
Reading a variety of sources can help sort this thing out. But also establishing a mission statement, to support those whose point of view agree with our own, to stand up for what we believe, that may be the final word.
As a person develops a mission statement, some criteria I would offer to measure the validity of an issue are as follows:
• Does the opinion expressed stand on its own or is it borne along by demeaning the opposite point of view?
• Does the opinion offer a positive direction or does it argue that this is ‘an emergency crisis situation; there are no other options?’
All this philosophizing came about the other day as I happened to hear a talk radio host rant “Charisma shouldn’t count in reporting a political candidate.” Ironically, he made quite the point of how reportage shouldn’t be laden with ‘touchy feely’ emotional comment—(Is bitter vitriol better) ?
I turned off the radio as I’d reached my destination; the neighborhood garden store. I hadn’t anticipated planting a garden, but how the clerk rhapsodized over growing your own green beans.
As I returned to my car with my packet of seeds I wondered how the talk radio host might react to my decision. Perhaps he would take me to task for going to so much trouble, being so gullible to the clerk’s ‘implication’ (real men till the soil). The talk show host might even be so bold as to point out his sponsor’s grocery chain sell perfectly adequate canned green beans with only 5% of the nutrients.
It’s a free country, although some of us may be a little too free for the common good.