Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is There Anything New in Desalination?

We have seen that the world is at least 70% covered in water. We have also seen that only about 9% of that water is what is called “potable” (that’s drinkable, pure water.)

We have also seen that converting dirty, salty ocean water to potability is expensive and requires great quantities of heat from one energy source or another, usually electricity.

One thing is certain – there is so much raw water available that a great number of researchers and water scientists are concentrating on the possibilities of developing greater quantities of potable water – at greatly reduced cost. And the good news? They are succeeding.

From the United States and Canada to China there are all sorts of experiments being made and developments tested for reliability and feasibility.

In Canada, for instance, two university graduates in Vancouver have developed a solar process for desalination of sea water that they claim can reduce electricity requirements by up to 80%. They further state that the process can cut the high cost of desalination in half.

The two have started a company, Saltworks Technologies Inc., that is building desalination plants using commercially available components, saving time and money,

Across the Pacific, a group of researchers from Tsinghua University in Bejing have announced that water desalination can be achieved without electric energy or high water pressure using a source of biodegradable organic matter or bacteria as the fuel.

Their claim has been published in the Environmental Science Technology journal in August, 2009. According to the paper the researchers modified a microbial fuel cell by placing two membranes between an anode and a cathode, creating a middle desalination chamber between the membranes. When electricity was produced by bacteria on the anode, ionic species in the middle chamber were transferred into the two electrode chambers, thereby desalinating the water in the middle chapmber.

If this sounds confusing, don’t be concerned. It really is. But if the process can be made to handle large quantities of water it will certainly be a major step in the right direction – clean water for more people.

Earlier we looked at the use of geothermal heat sources to desalinate water and that process continues to be tested around the Pacific coasts, particularly in California. At UCLA a mobile desalination test has proved successful and will be reported on here in the near future.

Meanwhile, we must all continue to be careful not to waste water at any time in any way.

Is Water Really the New Oil?

This is a subject we’ve discussed before but under the current financial conditions around the world the most important things are the most basic – food, clothing and shelter. And as Jacques Cousteau often pointed out, “Air and Water, the two essentials for human life, have been thrown in the garbage.”

Today’s mission is to compare (1) the values, and (2) the costs of using these two naturally found substances.

Water covers at least 70% of the earth. Oil occurs underground in decreasing availability. As a result oil is much more expensive to obtain and use.

But the finding and producing petroleum, oil and gas, involve huge financial processes that, not surprisingly, wield huge political power. And huge profits.

OPEC, the “Big Five” International Oil companies (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips), and to a lesser degree the second-tier oil companies run pretty much out of control. There are few, if any, significant government controls that limit the actions of these giants. They are entrenched.

On the other hand, water companies are plentiful but most are public utilities rather than private corporations. And their product is carefully controlled, both as to purity and cost. Furthermore it has been shown that privately held water companies charge more for their product and are not in the business of developing water power in any respect.

So what is needed for water to replace oil? What is needed is investment in companies that will find and develop water sources for the generation of electricity. Oil can only be replaced as a burning fuel when hydro generated electricity can replace oil-generated power. And this would ultimately include the use of electric cars replacing gas fired vehicles.

So we must be very clear in separating (1) the water used for human consumption from (2) the water used to generate electricity. Water generated electricity is vastly cheaper than that generated by coal, oil or gas. As such hydropower companies can show very strong financial positions – attractive to investors.

So it follows that if and when water replaces the fossil fuels for power generation – it could be considered “the New Oil.” It would not compete with the water utilities that bring clean water to your home or business but could in fact ensure that power generation would no longer cause the air and water pollution of the Fossil Barons.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why is Money Called “Green”?

Well, since 1862, during the Civil War, when the United States Treasury Department developed a special green dye that would make counterfeiting more difficult, the back of US currency has been colored green. (Thus the term “greenbacks”) Another little historical note, the man responsible for the greenback development was US Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase.

Chase’s family name has continued in the financial world ever since. And it is in the hands of the financial world that the clean greenness of the country, perhaps the world rests. And how does that work?

As you know, any business, old or new, needs financing. Financing has many component parts but two major ones are Cash and Credit. Most businesses need both in reasonable quantities.

In normal times, investment cash is readily available for projects of reasonable risk. There is also some money available for relatively risky endeavors. Again, in “normal” times.However the financial conditions around the world 2008-09-10 are anything but normal and not yet even near what some would call stable.

As a result, there are literally trillions of dollars of investment capital sitting on the sidelines waiting for some certainty of returning stability (sanity?) following the now famous recession of 2008-09.

That capital could be put to good use in developing green hydropower to replace the coal burners and then the oil burners and finally the gas burners. Truly a green purpose for the green money.

And this is where capitalism must perform at its best. That’s because the cost of construction of hydropower generating plants is considerably higher than that of, say, coal or oil fired plants. Hydropower Capital investment must be on the long term basis.

However the long term benefits of hydropower are huge and far outweigh the start-up costs. Production costs that are minuscule compared to the coal-oil-gas costs and, most important, the impact on the ecology of the plants in operation is ZERO. Accordingly, profits far exceed that of the fossil investments – that’s capitalism at its best.

Finally, the World Health Organization has stated that every $1 spent on water and sanitation can bring economic benefits averaging between $7 and $12. There you are.

And that is why we have been preaching – and will continue to preach – the message that we must replace the homicidal fossil burners with clean water power!

Where Does Natural Gas Fit In?

As the feller says, “Where would you like it to fit in?”

Well it fits in a number of places. It is being used in many areas to generate electricity in addition to power plants where demand has exceeded maximum plant output. Some of those augmented power plants still burn coal and using natural gas certainly produces less harmful by-products than coal.

Actually converting the coal-fired plant to natural gas would be the best thing – As long as we understand that the use of natural gas should be only a temporary stop on the way to truly clean hydropower.

Contrary to the promotions that call natural gas a renewable energy, it is not renewable and while there is plenty still available – even here in the United States – it does not replace itself in the way that water does (covering 70% of the earth) or even solar whose switch is “on” all the time. More about that shortly.

Much as we dislike boring you with statistics, there are some that should not be ignored when comparing natural gas to oil and coal:

The main products of burning natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor – same as humans exhale when breathing. Coal and oil are much more complex with much higher carbon ratio and higher nitrogen and sulfur contents. Thus they release much higher levels of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Coal and oil also release ash particles, substances that don’t burn and are carried into the atmosphere causing more pollution.

With the combustion of natural gas there is very little amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, virtually no ash or particulate matter and lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other reactive hydrocarbons.

One might ask, “Why not just replace coal and oil with natural gas, isn’t that enough?” And the answer would be, “That would be an improvement, but natural gas still emits only thirty (30%) percent less carbon dioxide than oil – whereas hydropower emits no carbon dioxide, or any of the other offending products of burning coal, oil OR GAS.

So as a last resort, if there is no way to get to hydropower – natural gas is a distant fourth choice (solar is second, wind is third)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Did I Mention HYDRO?

If you are a regular reader, you will see the humor in that question. We have taken on the mission of making sure that everyone, sooner or later, preferably sooner, comes to realize that with the sun, hydro power is the one true and clean answer to solving all the problems that continue to accumulate by the burning of fossil fuels – Coal, Oil and Gas.

The message must be constantly repeated because there are some pretty powerful and rich people whose fortunes are tied to the Fossil Fuel Industries – and who would appear to care less about the future of the planet than their own status in the power structure.

This is why regular readers will recall our messages entitled, Hydropower 101, 102, 103, 104 and 105 as well as one entitled “Little Water, Big Energy.” We don’t take this lightly, and believe no one should take lightly, the misleading arguments that fossil fuels can be made clean and that there is no further hydropower developments possible.

Nothing could be farther from the truth and while we have called Hydro Power the Power of the People – it is the people who must insist that the elected powers realize that clean fossil fuel is an oxymoron and only water, and to a lesser degree solar, power is the answer. These elected officials must be constantly reminded of their duty to those who cannot vote for them.

Yes, I said cannot vote for them. Some are still children and in many more cases not yet born.

Even today there are areas on earth where ambient conditions are so bad they cause children to be born with all sorts of horrible defects if, in fact, they actually survive birth at all. These are areas where there is no clean water, no pure anything and, perhaps worse, no medical help available.

Of course, the worst of these areas are in “undeveloped” parts of the world. However that fact should not lull the more fortunate of us into thinking “it can’t happen here.”

Of course it can and while nature responds to the good and bad of human behavior rather slowly – it does react and by these bad examples it attempts to warn us that our future will be limited by our present behavior.

It is our mission to be certain that the deadly results of burning fossil fuels is ended in time to save the planet for its inhabitants and that water – pure for drinking and renewed for electricity generation - becomes the logical successor to the coal and oil energy sources

What is a Smart Grid? Are There Dumb Ones?

And those are not dumb questions.

The “national grid” which in theory is supposed to connect all parts of the American electric system, from coast to coast, is still a “work in progress.”

Falling under the category of Misleading Titles, it is unfortunate that an English Corporation calling itself National Grid has invaded our shores with unfortunate results. The firm intended to produce a real grid system for the U.S. and instead wound up purchasing a number of U.S. utilities, primarily in the Northeast.

So recognizing that the American Grid is really a few localized grids handling groups of states utilities the old grid (the not-so-smart one) is what has developed almost haphazardly over the years with sections added as needed.

The New, SMART Grid will be one that has the technological ability to sense where power is needed and, on an instant notice, get it there.

So you can see several things are required.

First the wire connections must be installed connecting all the parts, generators, distribution centers, lines to electric companies and lines to the ultimate consumers.

Second, the digital technology that will in turn do several things:

1. Control the delivery system, sensing and satisfying need

2. Allow bidirectional power flow (going in reverse directions when load requirements shift from one area to another)

3. With devices installed in consumer’s homes on their appliances, read times and amounts of use and charge extra for on-peak usage.

There are some still undeveloped (and controversial) programs proposed under which a consumer would let the electric company know what he would have plugged into his system and the electric company would be able to selectively turn off some devices in order to prevent blackouts or brownouts

This latter idea raises some pretty serious privacy issues since the electric company would know how private citizens use each of their appliances.

So, perhaps the earlier grid was not so much dumb as inert and civilly harmless.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What Does “Time-Of-Day” Billing Mean?

And can it aid in the fight against global warming?

To begin, Time-of-Day (TOD) electric rates, also known as Time-of-Use rates, are designed to induce consumers to use electricity during hours when the utility’s system is not at peak load. These times are called “off-peak” hours.

The inducement is created when the utility charges a premium during periods of high demand on the utility’s system and offers a discounted rate during off-peak hours.

So when are these peaks and off-peaks anyway? Well they occur pretty much as you would expect – the highest during the hottest summer days when air-conditioning demand is at its highest.

And before there was air-conditioning the highest peak was during a dark winter evening.

The off-peak hours would be, again as you would imagine, after working hours on work days and all day and night on weekends. And you might say, “what about air-conditioning on weekends?” And the answer would be that residential cooling loads are not anywhere near the total of commercial, industrial and residential on regular workdays.

You will also see that in addition to weekends, holidays are also given credit as totally off-peak times.

But some of our favorite utilities could not leave well enough alone. They decided that maybe too much off-peak credits were being given and so for some of the hours between peak and off-peak, they invented “Shoulder-Peak Hours.” In effect they said in answer to some of your residential air conditioning, “We gotcha”

These Shoulder Hours would be before and after work hours on weekdays and in some cases even on weekends. The Peak, Off-peak and Shoulder Hours vary from state to state and utility to utility. Your local supplier will be pleased to provide your local information.

Finally, to make life easier, there are computer programs designed to remind you when you should not run your washer, dryer, dishwasher or air conditioning. But being creatures of habit we can pretty much tell when the peak hours are.

And in following the TOD program we are all helping to ease some of the pressure on the grid that delivers electricity around the country. And lowering the peak also helps to “green” the ecology.

So you see – it’s not only the other guys who can help – it’s all of us!

Danger! Coal and Oil Commercials!

We’ve raised this issue before, as we have many other issues. But this one seems to us to be the most insidious. It is the use of dirty money – a lot of it – to continue the promotion of dirty energy and the end result- if not prevented- has to be the criminal neglect that will leave our world uninhabitable in less than a century.

You think that is paranoid sensationalism? Propaganda? Think again.

There is plenty of unquestionable proof that the burning of coal – regardless of how allegedly “clean” it is - coal will always be a problem in polluting air, water and land. It has been proven that to “clean” coal some pollutants, carbon, etc, can be removed – but that very waste must be disposed of and what do they propose to do with it? – Bury It In the Ground!

Well, the industry has formed an American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) which in turn has sponsored and these organizations have set about the business of convincing the American public, in the words of the King in Rogers and Hammerstein’s “King and I” that “what is not so – is so!”

There is just no miraculous way that coal can be suddenly, or ever, made truly clean.

So what is needed is concerted action by a great number of concern citizens such as those promoting the “Citizens’ Clean Energy Economy Investment Act of 2009.” We need groups of dedicated people – not politicians – to put constant pressure on all the applicable government departments and agencies at all levels.

That goes from the Department of Energy to the local Mayor’s energy advisor. Small local groups can have an immense impact at the Town and Village level and should not be dismissed offhand by the fossil folks.

And while we are working on these projects we had better also look out for subliminal advertising phrases like “clean, plentiful and economic coal” and add the words “deadly.”

And while we’re at it we had best pay attention to the natural gas folks who make sense by saying their fuel is cleaner than coal and should be its’ replacement.

Let’s agree that getting rid of coal using natural gas is a good temporary “stopgap” on the way to converting to totally clean, really plentiful and really inexpensive Hydropower.

Water Power will be proven to be the Power of the People!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Energy Changes We Can All Make

Energy changes can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So we’ll start with United States and Canada and go from there…..

Can you name the things that you do each day that use energy? And can you use them in a different and better way to reduce air and water pollution?

Let’s start with your car or cars. Are your filters and emission controls at their peak efficiency? Do you have to drive in rush-hour conditions where your engine runs in idle while you’re standing still? Are your tire pressures set properly for most efficient car operation? There’s more you can probably think of.

Meanwhile back at home – How is your home insulation? Have your windows been checked lately for leakage (summer and winter)? If you burn oil or natural gas to heat your home is your burner set at maximum efficiency? Do you know if your electric company has “time of use” or “time of day (TOD)” rates? If they do, do you know how your timely use of electricity can save you money and help the environment at the same time?

Then, leaving home, do you commute to work? Do you drive there? Do you know what a motor pool is? Are you in one? Can you take mass transit to work (railroad, bus, subway)?

Oh, and do you smoke? Cigarettes, cigars or pipe? Do you know how many tons of tobacco are consumed each year in the United States? … in the world? Do you think that adds to GHG pollution? (Did you know GHG stands for Green House Gas?)

Do you believe that global warming is caused by humans? If so, do you believe that humans can solve the problem?

It is suggested that as we study these questions, and our answers to them, we should also study how our friends and neighbors approach the questions.

Can you, or we, work together to reduce the human impact on the global warming, not only GHG but all other pollution causing activities?

It has been said that government at the local level is basic, most democratic so to say. If you believe that common action can have an impact on the causes of global warming – then, by all means, act with your neighbors and get your representatives to take real action at all levels of government.

Perhaps it is wise to remind the government people that our constitution has built-in term limitations – they are called elections!

Small Town Hydro Tools

Small towns and small hydro tools are beginning to make big news – slowly but surely. Let’s define a small town – Let’s say 10,000 people. Sound reasonable?

Now, where the town is located will also be important when considering whether hydropower is feasible. In a dessert, or very dry area with little running water (rivers or falls) and little annual rainfall, it’s not likely that hydropower will be an option.

And of course any area with plenty of flowing water and rainfall, hydro will be a natural. This is true whether the ultimate user is near a grid connection or not, Hydro is most certainly user friendly.

We all know what turbines are – or at least think we do. We see them on airplanes and powerful cars. We know they are used in generating electricity at the big dams.

We know they use the flow of air, gas or water, to create motion which in turns can cause a vehicle to move, or fly. We also know they can cause rotation that can be used to generate electricity – in a big or small way.

And it’s in the small way that hydro can generate electricity – even in your backyard if the flowing water is there.

There are three kinds of little turbines that can be used to make power: (1) Impulse or “high head” turbines, (2) Reaction or “low head” turbines, or (3) Submersible propeller turbines. Yes, we know, more definitions needed.

“Head” is the vertical distance between where the water enters above the turbine system (usually a pipe) and where it reaches the runners within the turbine. High head is defined to be a drop of 20 feet or more. Low head, of course, is lower.

Impulse turbines are ideal where a relatively small amount of water runs down a steep hill or a little waterfall.

Reaction type turbines require a much larger water flow than the Impulse types but can operate with as little as two feet of head.

The underwater propeller turbines are the least efficient but of the simplest design. With a propeller mounted on the front of the turbine, the unit looks like an outboard motor attached in reverse.

Care must be taken that the power be actually used when running turbines. If not used, the controlled power can cause damaging heat problems for the turbines.

And the good news is that all these units are now available in a number of sizes and at prices that truly compete with the local utility charges

Friday, November 6, 2009

Global Warming?

And NIMBY means what?

OK- “Not In My Back Yard”

So you would like to think that global warming doesn’t exist in your backyard – or especially that it doesn’t start in your backyard.

But, we’re sorry to report that you are wrong on both counts.

Well for one thing, you think that burning the fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere is done only by the big factories and power plants.

Do you have an oil burner? Or a gas fired water heater? Do you drive a gas-powered car? Oh, and have you used manure for your yard or garden?

Perhaps you live in the city. But if you moved to the suburbs and the lot where your new home was built was cleared of trees and plants – your backyard added to the global warming.

How did it do that? When the trees and plants were killed, they stopped storing carbon – which nature has them do – and they released all the carbon that had been accumulated over tens and maybe even hundreds of years.

All that released carbon from driving or heating or fertilizing or cutting down trees adds carbon dioxide (CO2) to the air. CO2 is one of the now famous “Greenhouse Gasses.”

Another major greenhouse gas is methane. While this gas is caused by nature, humanity adds to it to an unfavorable degree.

Methane is caused by nature when it is released from arctic tundra and wetlands. It is also released as the earth goes through a cycle of climate change. Even without human interference this climate change usually lasts about 40,000 years.

But it seems man can’t wait for nature to mess things up.

And finally for today, can you believe that eating supermarket meat adds methane to the atmosphere. You could Google it. Clearing the land to grow animal feed, using fossil fuel power equipment to process the food – and the meat - adds up quickly.

And the big sum is that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all global greenhouse gas emission. (Source: US Food and Agriculture Organization).

So we’re all guilty and we need to make some changes - Suggestions will follow.

Where is the Hydro in Your Town?

In a way, that would seem to be an easy question. Water comes to us in the pipes, is metered and clean. It also rains quite a bit. And then there’s the river and the lakes nearby. And for some there’s the ocean. And for some there are wells.

But that isn’t the real question is it?

And the answer is that we must clearly define HYDRO and logically, Hydropower.

The term ‘hydro” refers to electricity generated by the flow of water. And, no surprise, so does hydropower.

But hydropower includes more than the generation of electricity. It includes motion generated by falling water in a turbine or water wheel. That motion can be put to use in running machinery as well as dynamos. (Oops, what’s a dynamo?) Okay, while we’re defining things, a dynamo is a generator of electricity consisting of a coil that rotates between the poles of an electromagnet causing current to flow.

But the real message is that hydro is everywhere. Hydro power potential is in many back yards. Little flowing streams. Small waterfalls. These are not uncommon and are in many cases able to produce small but usable amounts of electricity.

And the small hydro technology is fast becoming a do-it-yourself project for those willing to learn the new techniques of power generation on the small (less than 500 Kilowatts) scale.

There are on the market even now small generation units that offer stable, inflation-proof sources of electricity. In addition while in the past small hydro installations have been cheap to run but expensive to install, that is changing with smaller, lighter and higher speed turbines and lower cost electronic controls, not to mention much cheaper plastic piping.

While capital required to develop hydro is still higher than, say, diesel equipment of equal capacity, hydro plants enjoy a much longer life and much lower operating costs.

British Columbia, Canada has for years developed and used small hydro in all its forms and today has installed many up-to-date plants in places such as Glacier Park (150Kw), Hoeya Hilton (37 Kw), Nimmo Bay(40 Kw), Klentu (650 Kw) and many others.

Their message is that there are business opportunities in small hydro all over and a number of people are catching on.

Why not learn more – we’ll try to help.