Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Technology marches on...

There was an interesting post about new Hybrid technology being used in UPS trucks:


UPS is buying seven new "Hydraulic Hybrid" trucks that use diesel motors to run hydraulic pumps that actually turn the wheels. Slowing the vehicle stores hydraulic pressure. Studies found the trucks use 40% less fuel and emit 1/3 less pollution. The biggest "complaint" is the motor is so quiet the drivers think it has stalled!

Now if only that could be reworked for taxis in big cities.

Everything old is new again...

Nope, not a Bob Fosse musical, but life repeating itself. For good or bad I've seen the same energy cycle repeat itself three time in the 70's, 80's and now again. Energy prices soar, become a noticeable part of the family budget, then crash back down. Each run-up in energy prices has been followed by a deep economic downturn that lasts several years.

So here we are today in RI with gas selling for $2.51 or lower. It's the first time that prices today are lower than they were a year ago too, so the fall has been fast and steep.

Now of course that is good news with winter around the corner. But --- the local utility is refusing to cut their budget breaking energy prices (already the highest in the nation and set to go up to $0.19 per KWh in two weeks). They want to wait to ensure the reductions "will last". And many oil customers have found themselves locked into oil prices of $4.50 to $5.00 a gallon, when the spot market price of home heating oil has dropped below $3. So the energy costs won't be reflected in anyone's bill except natural gas customers (projected to be about 40% lower than last winter).

Of course the relaxed energy costs have followed the loss of trillions of dollars in the financial system. I understand that the "core" of the financial meltdown was the housing market in North America -- a well intentioned social program that backfired when the Fed started raising interest rates and sub-prime borrowers could no longer pay off their loans. However, it appears that energy costs may have been grain of sand that tilted us over and caused everything to crash down.

That said, the real tragedy of this entire situation may be the focus will shift from America's long-term energy policy to short-term fixes for the financial system. Falling energy costs take pressure off our need to develop additional stop-gap traditional sources and newer emerging technologies. For the most part this guarantees that America will be ill positioned yet again a decade from now rather than being energy independent. More money is guaranteed to flow out of the country to balance the trade deficit, and more lives will be put in harms way as rouge nations are empowered to do harm as a result of their control of petro dollars.

I'm happy that people may pay less this year to stay warm, but I'm saddened to think that we will be in this same position in the year 2020.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alternatives to CFLs in the not-so-distant future

My 10 year old daughter did a science project on the real energy savings in a home by using CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) last year. She even covered the typical "anti-green" arguments against using CFLs (Mercury and Total Life Cycle Energy Costs). To no ones surprise, CFLs are the way to go.

The future looks bright (don't you hate lighting nerd puns) for emerging technology. About six month ago a milestone was passed when OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) efficiency surpassed that of the most energy efficient fluorescent lamps. While that article stressed energy efficiency, developments continue to be made on other fronts, namely utility and cost to produce.

In the not so distant future, our walls or ceilings may glow with gentle diffuse white light that can be adjusted for color or brightness on a whim, all the while producing that light efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way.

Maybe it is a good time to sell your stock in table lamp companies?

Monday, October 6, 2008

So your truck really IS bigger than mine...

And I thought my fuel consumption was high. Turns out the average 18 wheeler consumes about $9000 in fuel idling each year during rest stops to keep the cab cool. Turns out there is a gizmo (imagine that) out there to eliminate that. It's called 'Blue Cool' and it essentially chills a chemical mix (300 pounds of it) while the truck is going down the road -- when you pull off for a bite or a break, the engine goes off and the Blue Cool supplies the chill for 10 hours!

Similar solutions are starting to show up in commercial buildings which form ice during night hours (when it is cooler outside and power is MUCH cheaper). Then during office hours when there is peak power demand, the air conditioning comes from the ice, not electricity.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gasp -- Another rate increase for Rhode Island

At least RI continues to strive toward #1 in one area -- the utility announced another 4% rate increase for this November. That will bring our delivered rate to somewhere near 19 cents per KWh.

Rate increases are inevitable (sort of like death and taxes). However you can choose to reduce your demand. After calling 'battle stations' to the family this past month, our power bill was reduced by $120 off the peak of the month before. We are expecting similar reductions in use over the next few months as well.