Friday, August 24, 2012

How your business can save energy when it's hot outside

By David Pospisil

With summer upon us, now is the time for businesses to take steps to save energy before the temperature rises.

Upgrading to high-efficiency cooling equipment and lighting are two ways businesses can use less energy and improve comfort this summer. Here are some specific tips to stay cool, save energy and keep energy costs under control.

Cooling Equipment 
• Upgrade air conditioning equipment with properly sized units that have a high energy efficiency ratio
• Replace old motors with properly sized premium efficiency motors that operate at a lower annual cost
• Install variable frequency drives (VFDs) on large motor loads to further reduce energy usage
• Upgrade old chillers with new, energy-efficient units
• Install an energy management system (EMS) that uses temperature set points and operating schedules to optimize climate control

Lighting & Lighting Controls
 • Replace fluorescent lights that use magnetic ballasts with more efficient models using electronic ballasts
• Install automatic, occupancy sensor room-lighting controls to turn lights on or off depending on occupancy or time of day
• Change out incandescent or fluorescent exit signs with LED exit signs
• Turn off or dim electric lighting when adequate sunlight is available to illuminate interior space.

Seducing a fossil-fuel Frankenstein

Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn
At the point Gene Wilder realizes something is wrong with his creation in "Young Frankenstein," he asks a big-eyed Marty Feldman whose brain he actually ended up implanting into Peter Boyle's head.

"Promise you won't be angry?" says Igor.

"I won't be angry," says the doctor.

But this is classic Wilder. His hair is wild, love-interest Terri Garr is in the background semi-breathless. He will go nuts. After all, Igor's answer is "Abby Something, Abby Normal."

The result is classic. "Are you saying I put an abnormal brain into a 7 1/2-foot-long, 54-inch wide gorilla?" Wilder asks, grasping the earnest Igor by the neck and hefting him off the ground like a rag sidekick.

The U.S. energy industry has installed a series of protocols into its collective head that spew nothing but carbon. So far, solar has a long way to go, even though incremental advances appear to be made on a monthly basis.

Solar developments shine

A couple that come to mind involve a breakthrough by IBM researchers to squeeze more solar power out of cheaper materials and a move by the California Public Utilities Commission that could spur innovation in energy storage for alternative energy projects. Ulicia Wang of says IBM's solar cells made of easy-to-access copper, zinc, tin and sulfur onvert 11.1 percent of sunlight into electricity for a 10 percent gain. The material is important because it uses no rare earth elements, like indium and gallium, which can be difficult to source.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Leaving clean energy solutions to Alien Boy Lem

Petra "Alien Boy" Dorn with monkey in Fairhaven, Wash.
After repeated viewings of the animated movie "Planet 51," my 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter decided her name was no longer Petra.

She assumed the persona of the lead character in the movie. Turns out not only is he male but alien and green. Didn't daunt the girl formerly known as Petra. For two months this summer, she was Lem. And despite questions and interrogations by parents, family and friends, she defended her identity and stayed in character like DeNiro.

"This alien boy Lem lives with Petra's mom," she'd say.

To the Paradise

To my question of what happened to Petra, she would respond, "Petra's gone to the Paradise." Never wavering.

Intense and I guess somewhat unsettling. But we went along with it. I let her mom do whatever she wanted when she was a kid. Mostly. But Petra's mom never became somebody else. My little sister did become a kitten for about a year when she was about the same age. Irritated my grandmother to no end. Julie wouldn't talk, just meow.

Petra/Lem is now another character. Looks the same. Cute as can be.

Kids adapt. Their interpretation of their surroundings is fluid. Anything is possible. In fact, they can accomplish just about anything they put their minds to. Adults have figured out how to operate within the confines of established rules. The parameters of our culture, codes and conditioning have been beaten into our heads.

We need innovation

Not that there's anything wrong with that. American individualism and the freedom to pursue dreams in the United States has driven many to break barriers and achieve success and scientific discovery.

But as a nation and a world, we need innovation. We're close to fouling our planet with climate changing carbon. This was OK for the start of the industrial revolution, but we have the potential to figure out a better method of extracting energy. Fuel prices spike repeatedly. The latest boost in vehicle fuel costs in California had to do with the early August 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in the Bay Area.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FLEX ALERT for August 14, 2012

FLEX ALERT! The California Independent SystemOperator—or as I like to think of them, the magic elves that ensure our electric grid keeps running—has issued a Flex Alert for today, August 14th.  

In a Flex Alert we are asked to conserve power to make sure that there is enough to keep the AC on (screw the lights, all I care about in 109 is the AC!).  And, from someone who was without power from 5pm-1am on Friday I can say it’s not what you want to experience! So, what can you do at the office and at home?

Well, thanks to our friends at Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company we have plenty of no cost ways to conserve: 

NO-COST WAYS TO SAVE ENERGY AT WORK from SCE Energy Tips for Home and Office, R-647-V1-0910

Office Equipment

  • Turn off your screen savers. There is a common misconception that screen savers reduce a monitors energy use; they do not. Today’s screen savers actually waste power by keeping your computer active.
  • Configure your computer’s sleep mode to turn off your monitor after 10 minutes and your hard disks after 20 minutes.
  • Insure that coffee pots, radios or other equipment have been switched off when not in use.
  • At the end of the work day, turn off all equipment every night — especially monitors and printers. Monitors usually consume twice the electricity as CPUs.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

You dirty rat: Global warming's fossil fuel friends

The temperature is a little warm.

The forecast for this early August day called for 111 degrees in Fresno/Clovis, Calif. where I live. That's relatively common in this region, where 40 or more days above 100 is common for summer. But it appears more of the United States is in for similar treatment.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center says July was the hottest month in recorded history.

In fact, its State of the Climate report says, January through July was the warmest first seven months of any year on record for the contiguous United States. The national temperature of 56.4 degrees was 4.3 degrees above the long-term average, with only the Pacific Northwest, which was near average, bucking the trend.

And of course Alaska's a bit cooler. My friend Steve likes to post data on his runs in Anchorage's scenic Kincaid Park. The latest was 55 degrees. Sweltering.

Superheating the atmosphere

This temperature stuff is more than just fodder for oblique discussions of the weather. The ramifications are huge, and most scientists predict dire consequences should the trend not be reversed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Porterville schools install solar

Solar power continues to attract believers.

The latest comes from the Porterville Unified School District, which is installing systems totaling 3.6 megawatts at five schools. The solar panels are expected to deliver up to $44 million in gross savings over the next 30 years and "are creating needed jobs during construction," say officials with San Jose-based SunPower, which is providing its California-manufactured panels to the projects.

At Monache High School, workers are installing SunPower panels on elevated trackers to maximize energy generation by following the sun.

"It's going to be a good thing in the long run," student Kyle Hicks tells ABC30 reporter Jessica Peres. Peres' story says the system at Porterville High will also shade cars in the parking lot as well as cut the school's $2.2 million utility bill in half.

Peres lists the project's total cost at $23 million.

A look on the California Public Utilities Commission website shows a half dozen projects on its July 2012 project status update. Three totalling 45 megawatts are in Kings County, 40 megawatts in Sonoma and Lake counties, 5 megawatts in Mendota and 21 megawatts in Blythe.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Could solar flight or the Silver Surfer inspire a generation?

The Solar Impulse flew all the way from Switzerland to Morocco and back.

Compared to its fossil-fueled brethren, it didn't set any speed records. The plane, which has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 and 12,000 solar cells integrated into the wings to supply four electric motors, travels about as fast as most people in a residential 25 mph zone when they think nobody's looking.

The solar cells also charge the 400kg lithium polymer batteries so the aircraft can fly at night.

But the Solar Impulse is a one of a kind, a vanguard, something that could inspire a generation to believe in the power of the sun. I'd liken it to the Herald of Galactus in issue 48 of the Fantastic Four. Although the concept of the cosmic Silver Surfer was far different, his arrival made the citizens of earth (in the Marvel Comics universe) look to the sky.

There they saw unbridled power.

A new generation

I'd argue that power is there even without the Surfer. Every day the societies of this tiny planet of ours use about 15 terawatts of power. A terawatt is a trillion watts.