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Thomas Casten of Recycled Energy Development spoke at MIT on September 9, 2008.  He's the author of Turning Off the Heat: Why America Must Double Energy Efficiency to Save Money and Reduce Global Warming and has been working on efficiency and local energy generation for thirty years.

What he had to say was hopeful and exciting.  It wasn't sexy.  It wasn't new technology.  It was nuts and bolts and common sense. He talked about efficiency, specifically efficiency in electrical generation.  He believes, based upon thirty years of successful business practice, that the USA can significantly reduce costs and carbon emissions by applying already available technology to existing power plants today.  

This is not a fantasy by a theorist but a business proposal from someone with a long track record.  The only reasons we haven't done it already are regulatory barriers, a failure of imagination, and a cultural prejudice towards the new and sexy over the old and boring.

Thomas Casten was talking about Second Law energy economics.  I loved it because he used the word "exergy" but that was only because he was at MIT.

According to Casten, energy waste is pervasive and endemic throughout our electrical system but invisible in our policy discussions.  The average US power plant operates at 33% efficiency and throws away 66% of the energy it produces through waste heat, transmission and distribution losses, and other inefficiencies.  There are even greater losses before you get to the end use of that electricity.  For instance, an incandescent light has an end use efficiency of about 3%.  Furthermore, the level of electricity efficiency stagnated in 1960.  For the last 50 years, there has been no growth in average efficiency in our power plants and the conversion of energy to useful work (exergy, exergy, exergy) actually began declining in 2000.

This is not how it has to be.  In fact, Thomas Edison's first power plants operated at 50% efficiency because they used the waste heat from generation, an early example of combined heat and power (CHP), a technology that he tried to introduce on the household scale in a failed joint venture with Henry Ford in 1914.  More recently, Denmark has increased its electrical generation efficiency from 33% to 60% over the last two decades.  Our power plants today could save the US $70 billion annually merely by returning to the efficiencies we achieved in the 1920s.

Electricity generation accounts for 42% of CO2 emissions in the US today, up from 12% in 1950.  Thermal energy production, the heat used in industrial, commercial, and residential buildings, is 27% of our CO2 emissions.  Thus 69% of our CO2 emissions are attributable to heat and power yet we spend almost all of our time discussing the CO2 footprint of cars, only 19% of those emissions.  The opportunity to reduce CO2 from improving the efficiency of heat and power generation, of combining heat and power are enormous but essentially ignored.

Casten's company has captured waste heat and improved efficiency on an industrial scale.  In a steel smelter in northwestern Indiana, his company converted the waste heat from coke ovens to generate 220 MW of electricity and 400 MW of thermal energy, process heat and steam.  He calls this clean energy as it doesn't burn any additional fuel or emit any additional pollutants but simply captures what was once waste.  This saves 916,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, the equivalent of removing 166,000 cars from the road.  This also results in lower energy costs for the plants involved and a saving of almost $100 million annually.

Another project involved recapturing waste energy from an 80 year old silicon processing plant in Alloy, West Virginia.  Recycled Energy is investing $84 million to turn the furnace heat into 45 MW of clean energy, reducing CO2 emissions by 290,000 metric tons per year and lowering energy costs so that this plant will become the world's lowest cost producer of silicon.  The silicon manufacturer will use the savings to open another furnace and add 30 more industrial jobs.  This attention to reducing CO2 reduces costs, increases productivity, and creates jobs.  Somebody please tell that to Senator Imhofe.

Why haven't we increased our electricity efficiencies?  Casten believes that we have developed a regulatory system which selects against efficiency.  Utilities have not been rewarded for efficiency since 1920.  In fact they've been penalized for it.  In addition, the 1970 Clean Air Act ignored efficiency and increased parasitic loads in order to reduce pollution.  New Source Review has resulted in delaying the updating of equipment.  1970 coal plants were on average 10 years old and by 2007 were 35 years old.  Regulation also blocks local generation.  If you want to send electricity (or heat?) across a city street, you have to go through the utility.  A business which has a factory on one side of the road cannot distribute waste heat or power to its offices on the other side of the road without paying the utility to distribute the energy it has produced itself.  In addition, only 8 states count cogeneration, clean energy, as part of their Renewable Portfolio Standards.

[Casten specifically noted that he was not against the Clean Air Act or against other environmental regulation.  He is a passionate environmentalist and a leading industrial ecologist.  He is merely pointing out the unintended negative consequences of some of our laws and regulations.  He firmly believes that "Efficiency is a pollution control device."]

Thomas Casten proposes that we remove the regulatory barriers to efficiency by

  1.  allowing recycled energy and CHP, "clean energy," to qualify for Renewable Portfolio Standards
  1.  adopt Clean Energy Standard Offer Programs (CESOP) - long-term contracts for the purchase of clean energy at 85% of the cost of building the best new electric-only central power plants
  1.  convert the Clean Air Act to an Output Pollution Standard where each emitter has an allowance equal to the production of their annual emission of pollution, to be lowered over time, and create a market to trade those pollution permits between polluters on an equal basis, one carrot of clean energy equalling one stick of dirty power
  1.  allowing local generators to recoup the value of the benefits they create such as avoiding new wires and line losses
  1.  have the federal government purchase all of its power from clean energy sources

Casten is not in favor of carbon taxes as "Losers always scream louder than winners cheer."  He doesn't believe that politicians can determine the long-term price of carbon accurately nor allocate the funds generated by a carbon tax effectively.  As an inveterate viewer of CSPAN, I tend to agree.

These regulatory reforms could generate $400 to $800 billion of investment in clean heat and power, cut US CO2 emissions by 20%, and save consumers $70 to $150 billion per year.  It would increase the demand and use of local, decentralized combined heat and power.  Casten believes we should remove monopoly protection for electrical generation but keep it for distribution as all local power producers should be able to feed into the grid on an equitable basis.

These regulatory reforms would be zero dollar cost and do a great deal toward reducing our carbon footprint, increasing our efficiency and global competitiveness, and revitalizing our economy.

Casten is featured in a recent Forbes article and Grist interviewed him in 2007.

More information on his policy proposals is available from dmunson@recycled-energy.com with supporting papers at Recycled Energy Development.  The World Alliance for Decentralized Energy is an international clearinghouse for information on local generation and CHP.

PS:  I wasn't going to go to this lecture as it came the day after a talk by the Danish ambassador to the US on energy and the day before a panel discussion with Ray Kurzweil and others on energy innovation.  I thought there was already too much on my plate.  Then my friend Marsha Gorden recommended Tom Casten and his expertise.  I am so glad she kicked me in the shins.  This was one of the best presentations on practical solutions for the climate and energy problems I've ever seen.  Casten makes more sense than just about anybody I've seen in the thirty years I've followed this issue.  It was a privilege to be part  of his audience.  Thanks, Thomas Casten and thanks, Marsha.

Originally posted to gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 09:53 AM PDT.

Poll

Is this really a zero cost solution to energy and climate change?

37%42 votes
14%16 votes
5%6 votes
7%8 votes
5%6 votes
26%29 votes
3%4 votes

| 111 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  thanks for this! (13+ / 0-)

    excellent reporting.  

    I don't think this is a "solution."  It ought to be a component, for sure, but long term we need to reduce production of CO2 and other energy production by-products.  Making the best of what we're doing is clearly smart.  If there's a solution, it has to be from the sun.  That's the only input to the system.

    (-8.00,-7.85) 'My God! It's full of falme!'

    by bubbanomics on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:00:37 AM PDT

    •  Short Term Solution (23+ / 0-)

      Building efficiency is a short term solution that can work on an industrial scale today.  It will provide us the time and the money and the resources (that silicon processor is producing the raw material for solar cells) to make the transition to a renewable economy.

      Casten agrees with you.  Renewables are ultimately the way to go.  However, efficiency is the way to get there.  If we spend all our time and energy working only towards renewables, we will still be emitting and wasting the resources we are currently using.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:03:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Respect him highly (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus, gmoke, JeffW

        and, again, one of those times when one of us wrote earlier than the other.  Excellent write-up, thank you.

        While not 100% on board with Casten, ideas like him give me great confidence that -- if we do so -- we could make major advances with energy efficiency quickly.  An overall 20% improvement in the electricity sector, including economic growth/reasons for increased demand, over the next decade is a low target ... again, if we make the decisions to act.

        RE CHP and RPS ... Probably should figure out either how CHP (and pure efficiency/reduced demand) is counted at some discounted percentage or, on the other hand, if counted -- push the RPS upward quickly.

    •  A solution equals A component. (7+ / 0-)

      It ought to go without saying that this is not the solution, but often what ought to go without saying really does need to be said.

      There are no silver bullets ... even harvesting solar power from wind and sunshine and biomass and wave power will be complemented by gravity power from geothermal and tidal power. But its definitely a silver BB. A component. A solution.

      Indeed, establishing the framework to encourage co-generation will be even more important as we expand our sustainable energy portfolio, as the greater the diversity of localized co-generation we encourage the more robust our regional energy economies will be.

      •  "A Zero Cost...." (8+ / 0-)

        That's my title.  However, I do think that this solution is a foundation for the transition to a renewable economy.  If we don't follow his regulatory advice, it's gonna be a long, slow haul.

        Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

        by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:12:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is true conservatism (9+ / 0-)

          Conserving, preserving, saving define conservatism.

          I am actually a conservative myself - it is a shame these fascists have perverted this beautiful concept and rendered it meaningless.

          I balance my checkbook and eliminate as much waste as I can from my life.  That makes me an actual conservative.  Investing in efficiency, infrastructure, education, healthcare, the general well-being of the populace - those are conservative ideas.

          Reckless waste, credit card government, overthrow of constitutional government, corporate welfare (zero mention of corporations in the constitution) police state surveillance - nothing conservative about it.

          It's fascism - and it's time we true conservatives, (modern day progressives) call it what it is and claim the good, sound conservative principles we all believe in as our own.  Then we mix in progressive ideas and take ownership of them too.

          Paying 30% of our health care costs to insurance companies is inefficient!

          Filling landfills with waste instead of capturing the methane it generates is inefficient!

          Wasting over 90% (all things considered) of the energy we generate is inefficient!

          The diarist has a point - tipped and recced.

          "A noun, a verb..." and P.O.W Thanks, Joe Biden

          by UneasyOne on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 11:05:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  agreed. there needs to be (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gmoke, BruceMcF, BYw

        systems thinking on this issue.  Many things have to work together.  Synchronization as new technologies come on line, as old technologies enjoy enhancements, and as behaviors change, needs to be carefully considered.

        (-8.00,-7.85) 'My God! It's full of falme!'

        by bubbanomics on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:14:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Regulation rewards big producers not efficiency. (9+ / 0-)

    Small distributed wind and solar need regulatory help as do conservation & efficiency.

    Regulators have been working for big energy companies, not the common good.

    e.g. look at what Enron got away with.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:02:47 AM PDT

  •  Good diary. A very interesting read and something (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, gmoke, slksfca

    I will look into for more information. It could definitely be part of the solution.

    John McCain: pro-war, pro-lobbyist, anti-middle class, pro-W. More of the same.

    by ryan81 on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:03:37 AM PDT

  •  Not zero cost but an excellent relatively low ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, gmoke

    ... cost approach.

    Another policy plank that would add to this is allowing co-generation to qualify for Connie Mae finance ... of course, have to establish Connie Mae first.

  •  "Everything but the squeal." (7+ / 0-)

    In the old days, folks said that when a hog was butchered, you would use "everything but the squeal."  The real definition of efficiency.

    We should use such things as waste heat to heat water and turn a steam turbine--even if it is just enough to power the manager's office at the factory. We should install timers to turn off the lights in public restrooms when no one is using the facility.  We should heat a greenhouse with waste energy from some other process.

    Very good to throw thought at a problem, instead of money!

    To say my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking."--Hugh Downs

    by Dar Nirron on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:12:37 AM PDT

    •  The War Against Imagination (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, zett, JayDean, NoMoreLies, slksfca, BYw

      Diane di Prima wrote an anti-war poem in the 60s™ called "Rant" in which she said,

      The only war that matters is the war against the imagination
      The only war that matters is the war against the imagination
      The only war that matters is the war against the imagination

      We've been engaged in that war all my life and, at least since the Reagan Revolution, the forces of unimagination have been winning.  It's way past time to take back our dreams.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:16:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Waste heat has been and is frequently used (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, gmoke, Simplify, kurt, BYw

      as described in this diary. I have numerous books on industrial technology, written from the late Victorian ear to the 1990s.  You can read one of them without falling over several mentions of the use of byproducts and waste heat.

      The steel industry in the U.S. has lagged in this regard. Back in the later 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. industry had fallen behind the rest of the world in steel making technology, sales of U.S. produced ferrous alloys was dropping.

      The industry and the steel worker unions lobbied for protective tariffs, "to give them a chance to modernize." Tariffs were imposed in 1974 However, they did little modernization, but increased profits instead.

      This caught up with them in the later 1980s ind 1990s.  Failure to modernize combined with high labor cost, in part due to that failure of updating and to unions resisting improvements that would reduce manpower needs, priced the big U.S. steel producers out of the market. Note that in this period Europe, with its high wages and tax systems, was the major external supplier of steel to the U.S. Tariffs were reinstated in 2002, again due to union and industry pressure, but dropped the next year when found illegal under international agreements.

      Note that two of the examples gmoke gives are steel industry - coke plants and metallurgical grade silicon for silicon steel.

      Part of the newer technologies included continuous casting and the use of electric arc furnaces for recycling scrap, as well as better use of waste heat.  This lead to the growth of "mini-mills", at first exclusively scrap recyclers, that were much more efficient the the older plants in the U.S. The established U.S. manufactures choose not to improve their plants, make them more efficient, because it cost money up front and because the unions fought such improvements.

      •  Silicon (0+ / 0-)

        The silicon plant is for refined silicon, the raw material for computer and solar chips not steel but you put your finger on the nub of the issue:  these are technologies and techniques that we know how to use.  The problem is that we don't use them.  The question is how to do we change that pattern and begin to improve the efficiency of our systems all the way down the line.

        Casten had other examples of CHP that had to do with district heating (and cooling) in Trenton, for instance.

        Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

        by gmoke on Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:16:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  excellent diary, very useful, and I agree (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke

    with several comments, there is no one single answer. We need to use every tool at our disposal, small or large, old or new, and slowly but surely we can and will reach energy independence. Sooner or later, depending on how many innovative solutions like this we use to help us get there. Thanks!

  •  some doubts (6+ / 0-)

    First, I think that average thermal plant operates at higher efficiency than 33%.  For gas fired plants, this is something like 60%, and coal is probably not much less.  Then you should subtract 1/10 for transmission/distribution.

    Using the waste heat would most probably boost the efficiency, but one would need to describe how to do it.  In some countries, steam is distributed by pipes in cities to provide heating for homes, including hot water.  However, this requires building steam distribution networks, plus making smaller thermal plants which are less efficient.  It seems less simple to me.

    One can probably reduce end-use of electricity quite a bit, 20%? without much detriment to the consumers.  Again, some investments are needed, but on much smaller scale.

    We need to have a realistic plan how to half our carbon consumption, and it is open question if this is "free or not".  In any calculation, one has to compute the humungous cost of doing nothing -- bills for fuel, hurricane destruction, crop damage etc.

    Also, developing countries like China and India will do what we do, not what we say (if we decide to spend the last penny on the last drop of oil, they will be bidding against us for that drop, if we switch to carbon-free energy generation and electric vehicles, they will probably follow that example as well.  So what we will choose to do will be followed not by 300 millions but by a few billion people, for better or worse.

    •  Doubts Are Good (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, silence, JayDean, kurt, slksfca, BYw

      I wonder at the 33% number as well given the growth in combined cycle gas electricity but Casten is a pro.  You can probably check his references in the link at the bottom of my diary if you are so inclined.  33% efficiency is something I've heard for years as a measure of average electrical efficiency.

      District heating was covered a little by Casten who said that it is economic only within a two to four mile radius of a power source.  The Danes are especially good at this and there are some district heating projects starting up in NE now but it has been difficult and expensive to do, in part because of the regulations.  There used to be a lot more district heating and district steam in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century but as we got fat and lazy (and regulated) many of those systems went away.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:35:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Chilled Beam/Radiant Cooling project (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus, mataliandy, gmoke, kurt, JeffW, BYw

        attached to a district cooling (CW Plant) at a nearby university building I'm commissioning.  Rare for us here in the colonies, but I worked on a similar radiant cooling system in a Miami data center 10 years ago...still going strong, classical music pumped in 'cuz the space is so quiet without the Lieberts.

        The Chilled Beam project is aiming for LEED Platinum, we're designing for outstanding energy reduction.  Stay tuned, still in design-phase.

      •  efficiency (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gmoke, kurt, JeffW, NRG Guy, BYw

        I've been pulling together info on power source efficiencies, for a some-day diary on heat engines and efficiency.

        Standard Rankine cycle plants, boiler feed steam turbines that coal or oil fired, run 15-20 percent efficient for 1 MW plants on up to 30-35 percent for 100 MW on up plants. That's roughly half the energy production in the US.  Nuclear and natural gas fired turbines are next with each providing about a fifth of the power generation. Older nuclear plants such are common in the US run in the low to mid 30s in efficiency, due to temperature constraints on the core.  Gas turbines run 20-25 percent for microturbines on up to 35-40 percent for the big 100 MW jobs.

        All those numbers are for single cycle plants.  The newer combined cycle plants are better, coal reaching 50% and gas turbines hitting 60%, but they are newer plants and there are a lot of older plants in the US. Many if not most of the newer gas turbine plants are run as topping power providers, meaning they have less impact on the total power generation in the country as they do not operate much of the time.

        Part of the reason district heating went away is the reluctance to having a power plant as a neighbor, more recently because of air quality regulations that lead to distant siting of plant.  The drop in density as a result of the growth of suburbs is another, the heat loses are too high for the small customer base. And the convenience and quickness of central forced air and electric baseboard heat as compared to slow and sometimes noisy and leaky radiators was yet another impetus away from district heating.  The lower power generation efficiencies of smaller and older power plants was another.

        •  District Heating (0+ / 0-)

          My understanding is that many utilities walked away from district heating when they could.  Boston Edison, for instance, seems to have done just that, leaving a bad taste in the commercial market.  District heating projects are coming back in favor as a friend tells me he is consulting on three in NE right now.  Europe is far ahead and most of the equipment will come from them, again according to my friend.

          Casten was clear about the need for decentralization of energy production and Amory Lovins believes that small-scale decentralized energy production is already a winner.

          Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

          by gmoke on Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:20:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Casten is right (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, gmoke, kurt, JeffW, BYw

      Typical coal fired power plants are around 33% efficient. That report is a bit old (2000) but not that much has changed in single cycle technology. What is interesting is that 33% is slightly higher than that for all FF power generation -- and that the only other significant FF source is NG.

      60% real world efficiency would be astonishing. We need to be careful about measured vs modeled. Power generation NG fuel cells are running in the middle-high 40% range though theoretically they could be over 80% efficient.

      What I don't understand is that we've been talking combined cycle and cogeneration for a decade or more, and penetration is still very low. If I were a cynic I might even say that there's a game on involving tax incentives. Because from thermodynamic and economic POVs this is a no-brainer.

  •  Not the Whole Answer But a Start (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, NoMoreLies, gmoke, kurt

    I say, mandatory 3 day weekends. Nothing needs to be invented, nothing needs to be refined, no retrofitting, probably save us 5-10% easy if painfully.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:26:40 AM PDT

    •  Three Day Weeks (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, silence, JayDean, NoMoreLies, BYw

      Well, I'm on permanent vacation as nobody pays me to do anything.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 10:45:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  works good until you walk to deal with (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, gmoke

      someplace that is closed for the weekend.  Dealing with companies that are closed on the standard 2 day weekend is bad enough.  On top of that US industry would get its shorts eaten by countries that have 2 or even 1 day weekends.  Last place I worked that had much international business lost a noticeable amount of business because potential customers couldn't deal with us on Saturdays or Sundays.

      •  Shifts (0+ / 0-)

        That's why you have different shifts.  No reason why you can't have one team work one three day week, a second work another three day week, and even a third work another three day week with extreme coordination.

        Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

        by gmoke on Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:22:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  glad to see you were (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke, nzanne

    diary rescued. When I saw the post this am with nearly any activity I thought about recommending it, but didn't know how. There is a lot of potential for "free" energy and new jobs.

    •  How to Recommend (0+ / 0-)

      Look at the top of the page on the right hand column:  Menu/Tools/Diary Drafts/Recommend Diary

      See it?  Click on "recommend" and you've got it.

      Thanks for reading.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 09:19:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  absolutely - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke

    I missed this this morning and am delighted to read and pass it on...

  •  Good diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, gmoke, BYw

    Good to hear what Casten (and you) had to say.

    Have you read Greg Pahl's The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis? After I read it, I really "got" how all of these pieces need to fit together, since none of them will do it alone. I also understood the importance of local effort. Basically, Pahl thinks that the energy system we currently have will fall apart on the large scale, but the communities that work out for themselves how to build their own sustainable energy systems will survive. Scary but worth thinking about.

    John McCain: no health insurance for kids.

    by AlanF on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 08:58:45 PM PDT

    •  Resilience and Passive Survivability (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AlanF, mataliandy, JeffW, BYw

      The buzzword for local systems that can stand when the larger scale systems fall apart is resilience.  John Robb of globalguerrillas is finishing a book on the concept and is writing about it consistently on his blog.  

      Alex Wilson of Environmental Building News has been on this subject for years but calls it passive survivability.  I did a diary this year and last on the notes I took at the panels he set up on the subject at the NESEA Building Energy conferences.  There's a lot of good stuff going on.  There are a couple of Connecticut legislators who are working on regulatory reform to increase resilience and passive survivability measures.  

      Energy is one piece.  Food is another.  We are going to have to rethink a lot of things from the ground up in the next few years but there are individuals and groups here and there who have been thinking and working on the necessary steps for decades now.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 09:09:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for an excellent post. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, gmoke, JeffW

    I've been advocate of the method of reducing personal consumption to lower energy costs and its impact on the environment, but this was such an insightful article to let us know about how inefficient electrical generation is in the US and the laws and regulations that are holding it back . . . and the hope there might be for the future. I don't place much faith on biofuels and wind and new energy resources being the end-all-be-all, and I've wondered for a long time why there isn't more emphasis on reclaiming energy. EVERY plant that produces steam and heat (and therefore motion) should be outfitted with the facilities to reclaim and reuse that lost energy. Even such a thing as a simple air conditioner has waste heat which could be reused.

    Reminds me of the bicycle-powered battery charger I cooked up once: using an existing motion to capture and store excess energy. It just . . . seems so simple. And maybe that's the problem? The simple solutions don't always spell profits to anybody except the people reclaiming the energy (and more than likely they're not in the business of making energy-efficient equipment).

    •  Thanks for Reading (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, kurt

      Simple (or small scale) solutions do tend to be overlooked and for electrical generation Casten is right that the current regulatory regime discourages greater efficiencies in many ways.  One story he told was about a plan to refit industrial blowers in one generating plant so that they were variable rather than fixed speed to match the variations in the heat output of the boilers.  It was a technique that would pay for itself in less than a year but the plant manager said it would take four years or so to go through the regulatory process in order to realize the savings through the rate base and there was no guarantee that the regulators wouldn't just turn the savings over to the ratepayers.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 09:16:59 PM PDT

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  •  This is hardly zero cost (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke

    You're totally neglecting the investment.  Low temperature waste heat from a power plant is waste heat for a reason;  you can't afford the investment to generate a trickle of power from it.  Using the waste heat for heating is a good idea, and has been done in New York City, among other places.  But if you have to run insulated water lines from an isolated power plant to other locations you quickly find you can't do it.

    (A lot of capital) + (small efficiency gains) = not going to happen in most cases.  Always check the ROI.

    •  District Heating (0+ / 0-)

      Casten says that district heating works only within a two to four mile radius of the source.

      The zero cost is the change in the regulations that allow people to make the investment without the regulatory hurdles they have to jump through now and the regulatory roadblocks that make such investment practically impossible in some cases.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

      by gmoke on Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 08:25:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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