Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We must be the change we wish to see

The BP/Gulf disaster was a watershed moment for me. It broke my tenuous belief that companies and governments would generally do the right thing. Clearly no oil company was ready to drill below 5,000 feet, and future leases should reflect that reality. BP has done the world a favor by consistently using phrases like "Never before has this been attempted at depths below 5,000 feet" to reduce the public expectations for positive outcomes. Logically if that is true, then why the heck are we allowing oil exploration to continue below those depths?

"We must be the change we wish to see", said Gandhi. Not only does this point out that change must begin within each of us -- our actions and attitudes must change before we can expect others (companies and governments too) to change. But it also implies that each of us, as an individual, holds incredible power to change the world.

Be the change you wish to be. Turn up your AC temperature this summer, or simply open the windows and use a fan. Change out your lights to more efficient CFL or LED lamps. Drive less. Change yourself first, then demand that our government change its energy policy to one that is clean and sustainable.

Monday, May 10, 2010

L-Prize about to be won?

Maybe you have heard of the X-Prize -- a contest to spur the public to get involved with space flight (not just governments)? Burt Rutan won that prize in 2004 with his SpaceShipOne.

Well there is a similar prize for Lighting called the L-Prize. It was designed to "spur lighting manufacturers to develop high-quality, high-efficiency solid-state lighting products to replace the common light bulb". Philips applied for the prize late last year. The competition continues, but they have already won the Time "The 50 best inventions of 2009" award. Philips isn't selling this lamp at the moment, nor do they even have a name for it, but Philips is a recognized leader in LED lighting technology.

The key requirement for the L-Prize is "solid-state" -- in other words LED. There is an fantastic potential for these devices. They last a long time (75,000+ hours), have higher energy efficiency than the best available CFL lamps, come in colors (many 'shades' of white as well), and can be dimmable through a full range (1% is no problem).

They do suffer from three key disadvantages (at the moment). Heat management is an issue (hard to believe since they draw a total of about 6 to 10 watts compared to 'burn-your-fingers-off incandescent lamps' at 40 to 100 watts). Totally spherical light output is hard to achieve (light mostly comes from the top of the lamp, not the bottom). And the killer is cost, which ranges from about $20 to $60. Those prices are what early adopters will pay, and will become lower over time, just as CFLs once sold for $30 and now can be bought in Walmart for $2.

However, even at crazy high prices, the lamps tend to pay for themselves in about 2-3 years due to increased energy efficiency and relamping savings. And prices are already on the way down. Enter the LSG A19 429 lumen (40 watt equivalent) lamp, soon to be marketed through Home Depot, lamp for $20.

Another entry at a much higher price point in that same market is the Pharox III marketed through Amazon.com as a '60 watt' equivalent. That 60-watt equivalent is a technical specification error on Amazon's part (the lamp efficiency is 60 lumens per watt, not 60 watts). Note that the rated 336 lumen output it doesn't even stack up to the light output of a 35 watt equivalent, let alone 500 lumens for a 40 watt, or the 850 lumen for a 60 watt incandescent lamp).

GE, never to be outdone in the lighting marketplace, is introducing their 40-watt replacement GE Energy Smart® LED bulb later this year at $40 to $50. They are marketing their lamp as closer to the spherical light output characteristics than other manufacturers. GE is wonderful at marketing their name and has the retail shelf space to prove it. That means they can most likely beat a no-name brand sold at half the price, even if it that brand is made in the USA (GE lighting products are often not made in the USA). How well they will stack up against the more useful Philips product (there are a lot more 60 watt lamps sold each year than 40 watt lamps), given that companies reputation as a leader in LED technology remains to be seen.

A few words of caution, with the exception of the LSG lamp listed above, if it costs less than $30, you can bet it is NOT DIMMABLE. Always check for this key ability if you need it. If it doesn't say dimmable, it isn't!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

There is hope...

In 10 years time, America has increased wind generation capacity by a factor of almost 13, one third of that coming in the last year alone. With cheaper and more abundant sources of equipment and expertise, this trend will certainly continue. With 35 GW of capacity at the end of 2009, that represents about 22% of the world's total installed wind power (about 160 GW), so we are catching up fast. We are now #1 on the list of countries (unless you consider the entire EU a single country, in which case they generate twice as much in total). America's total power generation capacity is 101,050 GW, so that means wind has increased from about 0.25% to 3.3% of our total capacity in the last decade. If the trend continues over the next decade, wind power could represent 30% of our total electrical capacity. Who says renewable energy is just a dream?!?

Visual aspects of wind power generation aside, we can't continue our reliance on fossil fuels to generate power for us. It is bad for the air we breath, the water we drink, and the fish we eat. Far too many people die defending the supply line, mining the earth, or in well explosions -- and the disasters of late simply drive this home. Yet our political leaders both current and past have done NOTHING to move us forward. Please just give us a Kennedy-like challenge to become green and sustainable by the end of this decade. This is a solvable problem if we just have the courage to accept it and bear the pain for the short time that will be required to move us to a better place.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Insane Energy Policy?

This isn't my usual sort of blog entry, but the recent mining deaths in W VA, and the pending environmental disaster (and deaths) due to the BP oil-well failure in the Gulf really just points out that America's energy policy is out of touch with reality.

Forty years ago, we could have taken a much cleaner and safer path to nuclear energy, but instead we listened to fear-mongers and their dire predictions of nuclear disaster. That has kept us forever tied to fossil fuels. The irony of all of this is the real disasters that have befallen the planet over and over again as oil is spilled, wells fail, and coal mines explode.

Our lakes and rivers are so polluted with mercury (byproduct of burning coal) that people are warned not to eat fish more than once per week and pregnant women are told not to eat it at all.

Compare the growing stack of bodies lost harvesting traditional energy sources to the number of people that have died in nuclear incidents and the imagined damage to the environment planet wide that simply didn't happen to the magnitude of what appears to be acceptable collateral damage caused by our current energy policy.

All energy sources pose some danger, some just have far less than others. America got hood-winked into picking the worst of the lot.

But there is hope. Renewable energy supplies are poking their heads above the ground and attempting to spring to life. If we keep going, maybe 40 years from now we might be in a sane place.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How much does your cable box suck?

I did some power monitoring our our entertainment equipment. I had been concerned about the "vampire" load of our high-def cable box, and was not surprised to find that it pulls 68 watts in BOTH the on and off state (my only surprise was that they bothered to put a power button on it at all since it appears to do nothing of value). At our current electrical rate the set-top box costs us $107 per year to operate.

Unfortunately, it is a particularly bad candidate for turning off because it takes many hours to recover all the channel information after a power-cut.

Also in the "ungood" news department, our 50 inch HDTV is pulling 225 watts, well above the 153 watt Energy Star 4 rating which goes into effect in May. "Honey, we are killing the environment, can I buy a new TV that will save us 72 watts per hour?" (AYOOYM? It will take us
139,000 hours of viewing just to break-even. That's 16 years if we leave it on 24/7.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Desktop used HOW much power last year?

Well it shouldn't come as a surprise, but I left a power monitor attached to my primary computer (a high-end quad core beast, with a large 26 inch LCD display). I remembered to check the meter today and discovered I had been logging power use for 9,500 hours (which is almost exactly 13 months). The figures worked out like this:
  • 9,500 hours of monitoring
  • 1,440 KWH of power consumed
  • $262 expended
  • Average of 152 watts/hour
So this one PC, that sometimes might go for weeks at a time without being turned on, was responsible for about $242 in charges per year -- a bit more than I pay for an average month. Now the sad thing is this PC is off more than it is on, but two other machines that are used for my work, run pretty much 24/7.

So why do I bring this up? Pretty much to make the point that PCs need to be turned off when not in use -- especially high-end desktops, which consume huge amounts of power. It also makes me ponder the viability of a desktops in the first place.

My new MacBook Pro consumes less than 85 watts of power when it is on, and has pretty impressive graphic performance (good enough for all but the leading-edge games). If I were to simply dock that to a large monitor I would have a computing experience that was almost identical at a fraction of the power (probably 1/5). So that would be $190 a year in my pocket in terms of power savings.

Now the power consumption I am reporting is for the Monitor and Desktop itself. I did NOT measure the power consumed by the UPS, which as I have mentioned before, depending on model, can be quite inefficient -- especially on stand-by. Another advantage of a laptop is that a UPS is no longer required (the battery in the laptop performs that roll). So the laptop avoids the first cost of purchase of a UPS and saves just about another $50 a year.