* Six months of solar power (via Slashdot) – A nice writeup of the actual effects of a modern household solar panel system on electric bills (note that the installation cost isn’t mentioned). The past year makes a pretty good case for investing in alternative energy as a hedge against fluctuating fuel prices.
* AutoblogGreen shows us a vaguely steampunk-looking electric bicycle.
* Wired blogs about the rise of pervasive video surveillance in the US (via Instapundit). I’ve been against things like GPS or RFID tracking of children, and I’m against this for the same reason – no good can come from teaching people to live in a Big Brother world. At any rate, I guess we can’t give the Brits crap about their cameras anymore (“Remember remember the fifth of November…”)
* The new season of American Idol is starting, and as usual we’re watching the auditions. No William Hungs sofar, but bikini girl inspired this line: “She’s just clothes away from being average”
* John Kay in the Financial Times says something I’ve been thinking for years now: Telling people what they want to hear, or ‘going along to get along’ isn’t just lame, it’s dangerous and can lead people to ignore or even participate in everything from minor inefficiency to mass murder.
* Ann Althouse thinks reactions to Joe The Plumber as war correspondent in Gaza “will range from idiot to genius”. But mostly idiot.
* And speaking of teaching people to live in a Big Brother world…
* Glenn Reynolds likes to cruise Amazon.com clearances, and finds some neat stuff like the Eyeclops Bionicam. I like the concept. It’s basically a digital camera with a magnifying glass lens, that can take pictures. I can think of a lot of uses for that.
* And finally another link to Ann Althouse, this time to discuss Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, and how he is or isn’t like Archie Bunker. Interesting thoughts, if your religion doesn’t get in the way. Either way, you should definitely go see the movie!
“A senior economist at the Argonne National Laboratory has come to an interesting conclusion: vehicles that rely on internal combustion engines are superior to electric vehicles in terms of what consumers would buy and what would save significant fuel. . . . By relying less on batteries, the cost of the batteries becomes less of a factor, while having a combustion engine that uses an established distribution system as a backup gives the owner the freedom to drive wherever they want.” So plug-in or series hybrids make better transition vehicles than pure electrics. Makes sense to me.
I’ve been saying this all along, and it’s amazing (or maybe not) how many people don’t get that the economics are more important than technology or ultimate energy efficiency. Regular people can’t volunteer to pay extra or give up functionality just to “go green”. Your alternative-fuel vehicle has to accomplish all your mission requirements, and do it for about the same TCO as whatever it’s replacing.
A British company has developed an electrically driven supercharger intended to boost small engines without drawing power from the crankshaft to turn the impeller. I’ll take their word that using electricity from the alternator is more efficient than driving the impeller directly from the crankshaft, but I have trouble seeing how physics allows this method to be more efficient than turbocharging, where otherwise-wasted heat from the exhaust drives it.
Anyway, the bigger news here is that the electric supercharger a fuel cell stack needs to produce enough power to drive a car (or an airplane) is now an off-the-shelf part. Take that, hydrogen skeptics…
Car and Driver has a write-up on the ’09 Yaris, including the new 5-door version. My father-in-law owns an ’08 three-door, which I borrowed for three days of commuting this spring. Since my daily drivers are a WRX and a high-wheel scooter, I was destined to be let down by the handling and acceleration of a microcar with 14-inch wheels and a 1500cc motor.
But, but… it was impressive. Body roll aside, the handling could fairly be called go kart-like. It stuck to my chosen heading and the engine was smooth and tractable, if hardly powerful. Beltway cruising was effortless and even reasonably quiet. Best of all, even the base version comes with an aux stereo input (not iPod controls, just an RCA jack) and underfloor cubbies in the wayback – one of the features that makes me such a big Subaru fan. It meets all the mission requirements for dad’s commuter car – decent ride comfort with economical operating costs and enough space for school/sports pickup in a pinch.
This one is on my shortlist along with the Honda Fit, and the new Insight.
The family’s idea for summer 2009 is to travel the U.S. in a veggie-oil-powered VW Beetle and visit sustainable energy locations as well as EV makers like Tesla, Zenn, Poulsen and Aptera along the way. The trip website is currently pretty sparse, but expect daily blog posts and lots of videos from the happy campers once things get roling in May.
I’ll be especially interested to see what they find at Aptera, which looks to me to be the biggest piece of vaporware in alternative energy.
And on to a topic that doesn’t make me want to stick needles in my eyes – Zimride (just kidding in the title – I have no idea where they got the name from) apparently lets you check out your potential carpool partner on Facebook ahead of time. Interesting, and the Facebook angle might make it more useable (or it might just be gimmick to ride the iPhone wave) but why not just cut the crap and call it “carpool hookup”!
For the commenter the other day who wanted to ignore ethanol’s obvious, big problems because it’s a quick way to go green, here’s some evidence that I’m not making up the part about it destroying any fuel system into which it’s introduced:
MSNBC has an polled a handful of small engine mechanics and each of them cite internal engine damage, which they claim can be attributed to the use of alcohol fuels. We’ve heard about this problem for at least two years, and expect that this is an issue which will get even more attention as the government mandates more ethanol to replace petroleum.
My guess is that once the problem becomes too big to ignore, the response is likely to be more regulations that will end up taking small engine-powered tools off the market – whether or not there’s any feasible replacement available. Remember this when your only option for yard maintenance is to hire a service, because you can’t personally afford a decent lawnmower anymore.
Information Week is reporting that IBM will market consulting services to help companies manage their resource consumption, with an eye to finding ways of both cutting costs and earning “green” PR cred. This is a lot of the same stuff we could all do in our houses, and a lot of it is low-hanging fruit once you make the effort to keep track of what you use and how you use it:
Typically, IBM will use third-party technology to monitor and meter energy and water use, according to Lubowe. The Carbon and Water Management Dashboard, which measures water use and carbon output, can be displayed on anything from an IBM dashboard like WebSphere Monitor or dashboards from IBM’s Cognos to a third-party dashboard, which IBM can interface with through SOA techniques. By using dashboards, companies can pinpoint particular problem areas and start deciding what can be done about them.
IBM will take that data and, along with the client, determine things like where the water is going and how it is used. Then the companies work on solutions: can the water be recycled? Can it be used as gray water for irrigation on campus? What are the 22 places where water is most used in the building and what can be done to cut that usage? At that stage, IBM will present a company with ROI analysis of the possibilities and implement the changes.
Unsurprisingly, this approach fits in pretty well with the similar type of infrastructure monitoring IBM (and others) provide for IT resources. What’s nice about it is that companies have fairly strong economic and image reasons to want to pursue these strategies, and it’s exactly the kind of specialized expertise that makes sense to outsource. And of course, for a large organization the potential savings would cover a nice fee for the consultant!
I’m going to [try to] start a new category for easy and/or cost-effective and sensible ways to “go green” at home. Eventually, whenever I get it done, I’ll post about my rain-gutter irrigation system. For now, though, I can’t imagine a better way to start off than with miniature cows (link via Andrew Sullivan). They give a gallon of milk a day and mow the lawn for you! And unlike the goats Vicky‘s family once owned, they do all this without eating half the rest of the town, your fingernails, and head-butting holes in the walls.
Seriously though, I’m going to be carefully checking the HOA bylaws…