Month: January 2009

The Costly Compromises of Oil From Sand

The New York Times prints a summary of the issues facing Canada’s Oil Sands. Of course, most people are well aware of the huge environmental impacts, water pollution, strip mining, destruction of avian habitats, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, you name it, they got it. The NY Times waits till the penultimate paragraph to get to the most important point:

Even if Canadian producers dislike American climate change policies, they will be hard-pressed to sell their oil elsewhere. Canada’s pipeline network takes oil sands production south and offers no routes to ports for export to other countries.

The Costly Compromises of Oil From Sand – NYTimes.com

In essence, any meaningful climate change regulation in the United States directly affects the viability of these projects. Canada is already trying to lobby against existing US regulation that explicitly forbids the use of fuels with higher lifecycle carbon emissions that conventional fuels by the military.

Nothing new in the article, just a reminder that any noises you hear emanating from Canada about US climate change regulation are driven by this issue.

Solar plant cheaper than conventional plants

Generating clean electricity that's as cheap as power from fossil fuels is the Holy Grail of green-energy companies. A new solar project powering California homes appears to be closing in on that prize.

Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy in San Diego, just took the wraps off a 10-megawatt solar farm in Nevada. That's small by industry standards, enough to light just 6,400 homes. But the ramifications are potentially huge.

A veteran analyst has calculated that the facility can produce power at a cost of 7.5 cents a kilowatt-hour, less than the 9-cent benchmark for conventional electricity.If that’s so, it marks a milestone that renewable fans have longed for: “grid parity,” in which electricity from the sun, wind or other green sources can meet or beat the price performance of such carbon-based fuels as coal and natural gas.

via Los Angeles Times: Sempra solar energy project makes advances in costs.

This is great as long as the math is real. The company has made quite a few changes from conventional solar, including using cadmium telluride as the semiconductor instead of the more expensive polycrystalline silicon and fashioning them into thinner films.

I am not a big fan of unverified claims, especially when so much money is likely to be involved. But the exact number is not important. This installation appears to get close to or greater than grid parity without the externalities of fossil fuel power generation (carbon costs, mercury mitigation, etc.) being accounted for on the “conventional” side.

The future appears to be sunny!

One small, niggling issue, can we stop calling coal “conventional”? Coal comes from the remains of prehistoric plants that made all their biomass by using the sun as a fuel source, got buried way underground, and, after millions of years at high pressure and no oxygen, formed a carbon rich material that if burned, releases a small fraction of the energy that the sun put in it! As such, using the sun directly as a power source is about as conventional as it gets, everything else is 2nd order, derivative and fairly inefficient.

XKCD Does Metric

Xkcd metric

converting_to_metric.png (PNG Image, 740×554 pixels).

One of the nicest things about moving to a metric country is, well, the metric system! Of course, my brain now does a weird mixture of metric and non-metric for a lot of things. I have, in general, lost the ability to figure out fuel efficiency in anything other than mies per gallon, even though the inverse relationship, litres per 100 km does a much better job of actually telling you what your fuel costs are (hint, multiplication is easier than division!). But, I am getting back distance in metric, weight in metric, and best of all, volume, goodbye quarts, pints, gallons, hello litre. Finally, 0C is freezing, not 32F, makes no sense at all.

Blog Resolutions for 2009

  1. Umm, blog more, perhaps?
  2. Political rants belong on facebook. Yes, I tend to be better informed than most people I know, but the knowledge is derivative and gleaned from reading other blogs. Now unless I have some rare, personal insight, is there any point in venting on a blog, as opposed to just putting it on facebook so your friends can cluck along with you?
  3. Blogs are meant for sharing, if you don’t tell anyone about your blog, there is no point
  4. Science is supposed to be communicated. It behoves all scientists to try their utmost to speak and write in an easy to understand manner and assume no inside information or prior knowledge when speaking to the general public
  5. Did I say, blog more already?
  6. Media, pictures, more colour!
  7. Explore ways of capturing insights when away from a computer, as in, talking in the car into a recorder (yes, looks silly, but I’ve lost that battle a while back!)

We will see how that goes, anyway, Happy New Year!!