Archive for the ‘energy and it’ Category

Japan Harnessing Foot Energy In Train Stations

Sunday, December 14th, 2008


Experiments have started this week at two of the Japanese capitals’ busiest stations, with special flooring tiles installed in front of ticket turnstiles. Every time a passenger steps on the mats, they trigger a small vibration that can be stored as energy.

Multiplied many times over by the 400,000 people who use Tokyo Station on an average day, according to East Japan Railway, and there is sufficient energy to light up electronic signboards.

Read the whole story here

I can hear the complaints now:

    Passenger: “Oh, I missed my train because I could not find the platform.”

    Conductor: “You have shamed Japan Rail by not expressing enough kinetic energy.”

GIS for Strategic Renewable Energy Planning

Monday, December 1st, 2008

H/T AM, Intro to GIS

The current increase in levels of consumption but decrease in fossil fuels stock is propelling the transition to more renewable energies. Modernizing the energy sector by incorporating a share of clean sources would also mitigate the effects of climate change. To complement the already existing energy plants, windmills constructions are rising all over the world.

To develop a strategic energy plan, the use of Geographic Information Systems is of great help. The current way to identify potential windmill sites is centered on spatially mapping the wind energy sources. The potential power of the windmill is determined by the wind velocity, which varies according to seasons, and the spatial aspect, depending upon the variations in landscape. Experts are using Remote Sensing and GIS to identify suitable locations. On land, elements such as the flatness of the region, tree canopy cover and height are recorded and mapped.

Aside from assessing the availability of the wind energy resource, GIS would be extremely useful in analyzing the optimal areas according to environmental and anthropogenic constraints. In the site selection, the results of impact assessments in terms of vulnerable flora, fauna and more broadly ecosystem services could be incorporated. Buffer zones around vulnerable areas could be drawn. The population’s willingness to participate in a windmill project might also influence its success; this, the acoustic issues and feelings for historical landscapes could be mapped too. Each concern would be represented in a layer and given a value. Their layering would result in the best sites for erecting windmills.

GIS constitute a powerful analytical tool for decision makers, and the scope of its applications has only begin to be explored. Integrating the people and environmental concerns into the first step of site selection is important in achieving a more ethical process.


Hirematha, R.B., S. Shikhab and N.H. Ravindranath. Decentralized energy planning; modeling and application — a review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 11 (2007) 729–752.

Ramachandra, T.V. and B.V. Shruthi Wind energy potential mapping in Karnataka,India, using GIS Energy Conversion and Management 46 (2005) 1561–1578.

the end of batteries as we know it

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

the potential (no pun intended) for electric cars is profound:

An Austin-based startup called EEStor promised ”technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries,” meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline.

By contrast, some plug-in hybrids on the horizon would require motorists to charge their cars in a wall outlet overnight and promise only 50 miles of gasoline-free commute. And the popular hybrids on the road today still depend heavily on fossil fuels.

”It’s a paradigm shift,” said Ian Clifford, chief executive of Toronto-based ZENN Motor Co., which has licensed EEStor’s invention. ”The Achilles’ heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary.”

If only it could be extended to all the battery powered devices that now clutter our lives…

(one should keep in mind that the production and end-of-life disposal of the new system may be as great or worse than the batteries or engines that it replaces.)

once you go Blackle…

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Treehugger reports that Google now offers its search engine web page in fashionable black. It’s called and the goal is to consume less energy by using a black background instead of the ubiquitous white background. EcoIron claims that Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year although his commenters helpfully point out that this is only really true for CRTs. As the world switches to energy saving monitors (well, at least in the usage of the monitors and not necessarily in other stages of the lifecycle), Google will need to find other ways to help the world save energy.

Update: oddly enough, when I try to log on to Blackle, I get the following response,

You don’t have permission to access / on this server.

Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

Don’t know if there’s a problem down the road at Googleplex or with SJSU where I’m currently staying.

UPDATE: It works now.

zero energy houses

Friday, May 11th, 2007

CBC radio this morning had a piece on zero-energy condos being built in Verdun (see Three will go on sale – there is a lot of interest from people (more demand than supply!).

carbon offsets for server farms

Monday, April 30th, 2007

We tend to focus on carbon neutrality for previous centuries’ industries (cars, coal). But we can forget the gluttonous material and energy needs of our e-industries. I’m thinking specifically of the acres of computer servers needed to support e-commerce functions and search engines. These server farms deserve our climate change attention just as much as our concern about SUVs. A couple of examples show that organizations are beginning to address these concerns.

Yahoo, for example, is aiming to go carbon neutral this year.

Carbon Neutral consults with firms to determine their carbon footprint, assess possibilities for reduction, and then estimate offsets. Some high profile organizations have used the company–IUCN is one–although I don’t know the Carbon Neutral’s provenance in terms of the carbon-friendly projects it funds.

Two Steps Forward succinctly lays out both the problems and advances of energy consumption by data centers.

I, for one, would like to determine how much offset I require for my home computers, although I realize that purchasing offsets doesn’t obviate my need for reducing overall energy consumption and computer use.

unintended consequences of alternate energy policy

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Renewable energy sources that reduce our dependence on oil and gas and decrease the emissions of green house gases may unintentionally do more harm than good.

In the rush to develop biofuels, forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.
The campaign [for sustainable biofuel standards] is driven by evidence that developers in the two Asian countries have burned vast tracks of rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleash millions of tons of carbon dioxide and smoke that shroud entire areas of Southeast Asia in eye-watering smog for weeks at a time.

The Netherlands is Europe’s biggest importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as well as a fuel oil supplement. One Dutch company has plans [as of 2005] to build three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively running on palm oil.

This is part of a hurried effort by The Netherlands to produce biofuels, which is not just an internal environmental decision but a reaction to stringent limits on carbon emissions imposed by the EU and a response to skyrocketing oil prices. To promote the use of biofuels, the Dutch government has created a basket of tax incentives. The government is rethinking the consequences of the push.

The Cramer Commission, which conducted the study, has recommended “a track-and-trace system to follow a [sustainably developed] product from plantation to power plant, like an express delivery package”. This may be a good test case for RFIDs. The original goods/packaging could be peppered with the minute ID tags. Enough should survive each step so the provenance of the goods could be determined. Not to say there wouldn’t be problems (e.g., diluting the ‘sustainable’ products with non-sustainable oil) but my experience with certificate programs suggests that they are quite difficult to enforce. Every bit helps.

going deep green

Friday, March 30th, 2007

A New York family vows to spend a year without toilet paper. It’s part of their experiment to exert no impact on the land — “eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and … using no carbon-fueled transportation.”

The family is blogging their progress on reducing their impact to zero. Wait a minute, using computers as a part of no impact? Neither the computer use nor the artistic/entertainment products of this year-long experiment goes unnoticed in their blog’s comment section:

“Getting people to read a blog on their 50-watt L.C.D. monitors and buy a bound volume of [their book] postconsumer paper and show the filmed doc [a friend is filming a documentary of the year] in a heated/air-conditioned movie theater, etc., sounds like nonimpact man is leading to a lot of impact.”

Still, this family’s experiment is a lesson for my students. Reducing your impact requires major lifestyle changes and is VERY time-consuming. Think on that if you live up 10 flights of stairs or have no refrigerator.

artificial lights and the environment

Friday, February 10th, 2006

From GeoCommunity

Lights enable humans to use the outside environment at night, but what does artificial illumination mean to wildlife? Artificial night lighting may affect behavior of wildlife in complex ways, and may even contribute to declines in some reptile species, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Texas Tech University published in a chapter in a new book by Island Press.

In the book, experts worldwide explore the ecological effects of artificial night lighting across animal groups and plants. In their book chapter, Dr. Robert N. Fisher, a USGS scientist in San Diego, Calif., and Dr. Gad Perry, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, reviewed the knowledge base from published and unpublished accounts and reported that scientists know relatively little about the effects of night lighting on reptiles, other than young sea turtles. They noted that little is known about the natural history of most herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians), although decline rates in reptiles are believed by some scientists to be similar to those reported in amphibians.

In rapidly urbanizing southern California, Perry and Fisher noted that declines appear to be occurring in populations of many local reptile species for a variety of causes, but significant local declines of two nocturnal snakes – from coastal sand dunes and marine terraces — may have links to light pollution.

Hmm. Using one technology (GIS) to understand the negative impact of another technology (outside lighting).

In a Recent Turn of Events, Clean Energy Promises By Bush in State of the Union Address

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

In his state of the union address on tuesday evening, President George W. Bush emphasized the need to reduce America’s reliance on oil. Unlike his predecessors Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, both of whom made similar appeals, Bush didnt merely stress the need to reduce reliance on foreign oil, he stressed the need to reduce oil use period. In his own words, he told Americans they need to “move beyond a petroleum-based economy”. He is aiming for a 75% reduction in oil imports from the Middle East by 2025, which now account for about 17% of the oil consumed in the U.S.. Part of this plan involves an increase in financing for clean energy technology by 22%. His new budget proposal for October 2006 involves $289 million spent on hydrogen technology, as opposed to $53 million this year, $44 million for wind, up from $5 million this year, and $150 million for ethanol from cellulose, up from $59 million this year. Currently, renewable energy accounts for 6% of U.S. energy consumption. A notable omission from the speech was that the President made no mention of increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars.

Inefficient household products

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

American households spend $1 billion a year on energy that they are not even aware of consuming. No, not to fuel their cars or charge their ipods, but rather to keep their televisions and vcrs running at night- WHEN THESE DEVICES HAVE BEEN TURNED OFF! The energy needed to fuel such items amounts to 1000 kilowatt hours a year per household. The invention of the microchip has partly led to this phenomenon. It brought improvements over the traditional switch (in the form of a soft button) in that it was more durable and compact. The downside, however, is that the chip requires a steady flow electricity. Thus, even when home devices using this chip have been shut off, they are still sucking electricity out of the sockets, resulting in huge amounts of energy wasted. While there are more efficient alternatives available, they do not compete very well in the marketplace, especially since most consumers are unaware of this overnight energy use. There has been call from the most unlikey of places, notably the Bush administration, to increase the energy efficiency standards of such objects. The energy department had a meeting this week to discuss the implementation of energy standards in homes and California has already created such a program, to begin in 2006. As more and more electronics flood the home, it is important that consumers understand the energy implications of their actions, specifically that “off” does not neccessarily mean “off.”

Greenpeace and co. – running things into the ground

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

Here’s a story: I am an economist working for an eNGO (or running an eNGO?), and I want to go about proving that renewable energies are under-prioritized. In fact, break-throughs like new, fancy, cheap solar panels need encouragement (monetary incentives, tax breaks, subsidies, etc.) so that renewables can take the lead in providing primary energy for society.

Well, well. It won’t work just yet. Scanning mostly any mainstream account of energy choices and alternatives describes renewables as a niche-source. Limited applications include in-situ provision of energy for, say, manufacturing hydrogen.

The real hurt comes from a simple fact: wind and sun come and go, and capacity for storage is plagued with poor efficiency. Supplying energy to a power grid is impossible, because the mis-match between supply and demand cannot be righted if a few cloudy, windless days roll by. Everyone’s back to candles and extended weekends (who’s going to go to work?).

Now then, what does Greenpeace say? Popular arguments are often a mimicry of public paranoia and poor grasp of science. Most notably, the profound distaste for the only, repeat, the ONly wholesale source of carbon-free energy: nuclear power. Even if MIT concludes the same. The recent volleys of email-cum-spamming from Greenpeace characterize nuclear power as a terrorist threat (everyone’s favorite, especially in the cozy Mid-Western US).

I certainly wouldn’t say that the “Tainted Desert”, the South-Western desert region in the US, hasn’t been ravaged by toxic waste in the air, water, and soil, hasn’t caused exploding adult and infant radiation poisoning and cancer, hasn’t forced US imperialism to extend itself in a 40’s-era-fashion over vast tracts of Native American land, jobs, and communities only to offer bitterly-bitterly-ironic compensation by funding the construction of cultural history museums, or general added to the triumvirate of industrial-military-government blinded dominance in matters of science and social justice. Of course not.

But, if the climate is changing, then campaigning against nuclear power has to be re-thought. Quite seriously. Otherwise, many parallel campaigns against threats to sustainability, rain forests, oceans, icebergs, species biodiversity, natural heritage, etc. seem to tug against each other, until they become hopelessly behind the catastrophe.

Zero Emissions Vehicles: Not Anytime Soon

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Recently, GM and a few other car makers have decided to discontinue producing electric vehicles, claiming that the production was economically unsustainable. The companies recalled many of the vehicles that had been leased, leaving behind many disappointed consumers. Much of the focus of large auto companies has been shifted towards gas-and-electric hybrid automobiles, which have been receiving a lot of hype and media attention. There are notable mileage limitations with solely battery powered vehicles and they require several hours worth of recharging. Additionally, while operation of the vehicle produces zero emissions, the power plants that produce the electricity used to power the battery are nowhere near zero emissions. Zero emission technology has a long way to go from here.

Next hydrogen engine to come from Canada?

Monday, September 19th, 2005

They’ve cut down the size and dramatically reduced the possibility of explosions. The question is: will it work (and how expensive will it be)? Joe Williams, Sr., originally from Winnipeg, thinks his Hydrogen Generating Module (H2N-Gen) is the solution to the Kyoto Accord:

Smaller than a DVD player – small enough to sit comfortably under the hood of any truck or car – it could be big enough to solve the world’s greenhouse gas emission problems, at least for the near future. In fact, it could make the Kyoto protocol obsolete. Basically, the H2N-Gen contains a small reservoir of distilled water and other chemicals such as potassium hydroxide. [The device is added to an existing gasoline-powered engine.] A current is run from the car battery through the liquid. This process of electrolysis creates hydrogen and oxygen gases which are then fed into the engine’s intake manifold where they mix with the gasoline vapours.

It’s a scientific fact that adding hydrogen to a combustion chamber will cause a cleaner burn. The challenge has always been to find a way to get the hydrogen gas into the combustion chamber in a safe, reliable and cost-effective way.

Williams claims he has achieved this with his H2N-Gen. His product, he said, produces a more complete burn, greatly increasing efficiency and reducing fuel consumption by 10 to 40 per cent – and pollutants by up to 100 per cent.

I’m skeptical but hopeful.

Damn Yankees

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

The scenario has risen again: the science and policy surrounding energy policy have had a hard time coming through. And so, the same question as before comes hard on its heels: a blend of scientists and policy makers are being listened to… but which ones? And why?

The long-standing logic of switching to zero-emission energy sources was written in a bill signed by President Bush (CNN) which included new nuclear power plants, and encouraged domestic coal, oil and natural gas production (ENS). (See NYTimes for good measure.)

Now, it’s a matter of patriotism.

The Yankee Ingenuity of yore was what inspired drawings of Uncle Sam and was fueled by a booming USA. Suffice it to say, this sentiment is still strong in the US, but with the last 20 years of technology specialization by foreign countries, there has been less and less dominance. Of course, dependency on foreign oil fits in here as well. But, so does keeping jobs domestic, and keeping jobs with longevity and security.

Thus, the mission of the Apollo Alliance has been one of a blend of environment and labour. A quick glance through their material (and having heard them speak at last summer’s Democratic National Convention and an energy conference) invokes patriotic pride. This is to say that it communicates through the right channel.

If coal miners are most concerned with their job security, then clean-burning coal turned into a competitive industry option will attract more attention for that reason, and less directly for reasons of environmental cleanliness. It’s a sustainable job either way, and both sides are excited for it. So too with wind and solar power gaining grants and therefore proposals from engineers and construction.

This is mimicked in the formation of the Nova Scotia Environment and Labour. Interestingly, it is next to impossible to navigate to anything mentioning energy science or policy, or greenhouse gas emissions. But the grouping of bodies is still wise for getting things done.

Back to the bill. There were criticism that came from all over the scope… The top Democrat on the Energy Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingham, praised the passage of the bill but said more must be done to tap the potential of renewable energy, address global warming and use less oil from overseas. Rep. Edward J. Markey said much of the same, highlighting the lack of boosts for renewables over fossil fuels, and called the bill “a historic failure.”

So for all the bill promised vis-à-vis a Stronger America, there was no help for tax incentives for renewable energy resources, a renewable electricity standard, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, reducing global warming, and installing a federal ban on MTBE. Anna Aurilio of U.S. PIRG doubted that the dependency and linkages to dirty sources and foreign sources of energy would be weakened by the bill.

With the Apollo Alliance, it is impossible to say whether or not there has been a mis-step. The Death of Environmentalism paper (see some background here) heralds the Alliance as a breakthrough of the ilk desperately needed to keep environmentalism from slipping into the mechanisms of science and society it is trying to re-define. With such attention to The Markets as the solution, and a host of proponents springing up to do combat with Market Tools, it is expected that such a group would gain so much applause and perform so well… they boast and attractive track record. TIME magazine runs articles like this one all the time, as does Newsweek and cohorts.

One hopes that the sentiment for Americana doesn’t blind people (like me a week or two ago) to fall in step with the Yankee Ingenuity spirit and disregard the poor oversights that bills like this one offer in spades.

A nice job if you can get it

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

What happens to poor White House appointees who get caught editing out the impacts of climate change? The oil industry takes care of them.

A former White House official and one-time oil industry lobbyist whose editing of government reports on climate change prompted criticism from environmentalists will join Exxon Mobil Corp., the oil company said Tuesday.

The AP report above mentions that the leaked documents came originally from the Government Accountability Project, a program that defends whistleblowers. The former appointee and incoming oil exec was not the whistleblower. Instead,

Rick Piltz, who resigned in March from the government office that coordinates federal climate change programs, made the documents — showing handwritten edits by Cooney — available to the Project on Government Accountability and, in turn, to news media.

Very non-techie

Sunday, June 12th, 2005

But I bet they had cellphones, although where they stored them… 😉

Bicyclists Ride in Protest, and in Little Else

LONDON, June 11 (Associated Press) – About 100 naked bicyclists rode past Big Ben and the American Embassy on Saturday to protest the West’s dependence on gas-guzzling cars and to push for more use of bicycles. …

calculating climate contribution

Monday, June 6th, 2005

From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a new pre-design software package has been unleashed that provides a LEED breakdown of energy use. In short, it’s a energy diet designer. Energy-10 and affiliated Sustainable Building folk have left nothing out when it comes to the full trajectory from planning to construction, a no-loose-ends offering.

Green servers

Monday, May 16th, 2005

Via slashdot, an interview with Richard Sawyer, director of data center technology for American Power Conversion Corp., on whether computer servers have innovated to be energy efficienct without giving up performance.

I found the comments to the slashdot post to be the most interesting, particularly this one from Shalda:

Your average data-center manager could not care less about whether his server farm is environmentally friendly or not. On the other hand, electricity is a major expense. A dozen racks of 1U servers pulling 100-200 watts each will probably run you upwards of $80k/year. And that doesn’t even include the cost of cooling your server room (which will add another $20k or so). Server consolidations and energy efficient servers save money. And that will always be your driving force. If company A says they have a “green” server room, it’s just marketing. Their first concern and only concern is the bottom line.

Cynical but an entry point to convincing chief financial officers to purchase energy saving devices.