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Green Scolding and Media Victim Blaming

Dracula Lurks in Your Set-Top Box –

Most Americans are guilty of a similar if less costly squandering of
energy when it comes to their cable or satellite TV boxes. A new study
released on Tuesday by the National Resources Defense Council shows that
set-top boxes in the United States consume nearly as much energy when
not in use as when they are on, costing a cumulative $2 billion a year.

Dear media, let’s break down the choices consumers have with regards to set top boxes:

  1. Not get one, and hence lose access to encrypted channels, digital cable, etc, which are now de rigueur
  2. Get one, and unplug it every time, which means reaching behind (as you kindly mention), unplugging, and waiting for restart, etc. My Telus box usually takes a couple of minutes at least to reinitialize, and behaves a bit weirdly for another minute afterwards. So how many people will do this?
  3. Be scolded by you for not being environmentally friendly.

Now, let’s see what would happen in a real, and properly regulated market.

  1. There would be little connection between the set top box and the content. You would get a box, or use your computer, and just put in a card from your cable company for decryption. While cablecards kinda exist, the reason you haven’t heard of them is because cable companies want you captured by their expensive hardware. separate the two, box manufacturers are free to sell you fancy boxes like this one that can manage all your media, have a friendly interface, cost less, look cool, and consume less energy, and can use all these as marketing points.
  2. There would be sensible regulation on ALL electric devices to include standby mode, with automatic sleep mode. So, if something is not in use, it shuts off in 15 minutes. Seems difficult? Computers do this all the time, routinely. A set top box is just an underpowered computer.

So, let’s not blame the consumer here, shall we? If anyone is guilty, it is media and telecommunication oligopolies that don’t let us actually have free choice, while simultaneously claiming that any regulation is anti-  free market.

FAQ: Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation

Environmentalists are more openly at odds over two goals: the preservation of wide open spaces vs. the use of public lands for renewable energy projects.

via Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation – Room for Debate Blog –

This is a question that gets asked a lot, so it is refreshing to see different perspectives on how to manage needs for more clean energy with the desire to preserve pristine land. Of course, given the diversity of opinions offered, some are better than others. I, for one, don’t see this as a dichotomy, so I prefer ideas that avoid the binary choice frame of the question and suggest real solutions that will try to optimize both “choices”.

I liked David Roberts’ and Ileene Anderson’s opinions quite a bit, plugging for getting away from the large scale, utility centric model to a distributed paradigm. Daniel Kammen pitches for aggressive efficiency measures. Vaclav Smil says “Use less”, amen! Randy Udall deals mostly in cliches and says nothing very meaningful other than “we should optimize” and “some people will always complain”. Winona LaDuke makes a very important point that this is a good opportunity for Native Americans shut out of the conventional energy process to be involved in the wise stewardship of wind and solar energy. She does not provide any policy suggestions to make it happen.

Anyway, it looks like most of the panelists chosen avoided the binarification of the problem, good job! Will preserve this for a link every time someone asks me about this.

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India goes solar

India, of course, gets a lot of sun, it is wasted in the sense that it makes us sweat, causes us to use increasing amounts of electricity for air conditioning, and all in all, is a pain. So, a plan to use that sun to generate solar energy, of course, is very welcome. Solar energy use obviously is not new in India, my best friend growing up had a solar water heater at home (his family business used to make them). Policy has never kept up because there has not been a push, is this one?

The Union Government has finalised the draft for the National Solar Mission. It aims to make India a global leader in solar energy and envisages an installed solar generation capacity of 20,000 MW by 2020, of 1,00,000 MW by 2030 and of 2,00,000 MW by 2050.

The total expected funding from the government for the 30-year period will run to Rs. 85,000 crore to Rs. 105,000 crore. The requirement during the current Five Year Plan is estimated to be Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 6,000 crore. It will rise to between Rs. 12,000 crore and Rs. 15,000 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan.

A crore, BTW, is 10 million. India still uses its own number multiplier system for money that goes in 100s, not thousands. So, a 100,000 is a lakh, and a 100 lakhs is a crore. I never understood why this was not changed when the country went metric. Lakhs and crores, of course, are metric, but can get confusing.

The plan will start off by mandating roof top solar panels for government and government owned industry buildings in an attempt to reduce costs by scaling up. It will be followed by mandated solar water heaters for all commercial buildings and apartment complexes, and use of solar panels for all in industrial buildings. All this is supposed to happen in the next three years, which appears to be wildly ambitious.

India is a federal country with delineation of jurisdictions between the central and state governments on regulation. Electricity happens to be on the concurrent list, meaning both the state and central governments can make laws, and the central government’s laws will always preempt the states. However, building appears to be a local government issue, so managing this huge transition could get tricky. They are all supposed to use the same building code, but given the unevenness of local governance, who knows what implementation will look like.

In Phase II, starting 2012, India will go solar thermal. India and Pakistan have 200,000 sq km of the Thar Desert, a typical dry tropical desert with oodles of space and sun. It would be a good place to site all kinds of capacity similar to efforts in North Africa and Spain.

Solar thermal, if combined with the right kind of transmission and storage technology, could power the world in 7000 sq km, so theoretical capacity may not be an issue. Of course, the storage and distribution are key. Molten salt batteries look very promising for solar energy storage and night use.

India’s electricity needs are daunting. This WolframAlpha search provides the following:


Note to Wolfram: your data presentation would result in a failing grade on a middle school term paper, where are the sources? Where did you get your numbers? BIG FAIL!

We in Canada use more electricity than India for about a billion fewer people. Clearly, if India was as profligate as Canada in energy consumption and got the power it needed to get there from coal, we would all be dead soon. India needs to go solar in a hurry and I am glad the government has released a policy that is more ambitious than the US or Canada. It needs the support and funding to make it happen and I for one will be very happy to see progress in this area. Solar power needs big up front costs and little ongoing costs.

Can Indian industry provide the money needed? We shall see. I am not too worried about the photovoltaic panel parts, they will muddle along in typical patchwork Indian fashion with the quality of governance being the controlling factor in success or failure. It is the capital and political will needed for solar thermal that strikes me as problematic. The coal and mining industries are entrenched in some population (and vote) rich states like Bihar based in the central and north east regions and there could be some big losers if India went away from coal (as it needs to in order to prevent catastrophic climate change) and toward solar thermal, which I assume would come out of Rajasthan (West).

Anyway, we live in interesting and sunshiny times, stay tuned for more.

h/t to my one of my favourite climate blogs, solve climate for bringing this article to my attention, love your blog folks!

Canada's Budget – FAIL on Renewables

Canada's Conservative government released a federal budget last week that would kill off the country's main program for developing renewables and channel most of the money from a new “Green Infrastructure Fund” into carbon capture and storage CCS technology, or so-called “clean” coal.

Of course, the carbon capture is not aimed at coal here specifically, but at the oil sands. More bad news –

The new pro-coal budget effectively killed all support for the nation’s ecoENERGY Program for Renewable Energy (equivalent to America’s Production Tax Credit for renewables). The program was the nation’s main support mechanism for developing renewable energy. The Pembina Institute, a Canada-based sustainable energy think tank, reacts to the budget defeat:

“The federal government’s failure to renew and expand this program has jeopardized at least 1,500 megawatts of “shovel read” wind energy projects across the country, while putting the brakes on billions of dollars of potential future investment.”

The renewable energy industry had hoped for a five-year extension of the program in the budget, which would have spurred over $6 billion of private investment in the Canadian economy and created 8,000 jobs, according to the Institute.

Note that this is not just the Conservatives. The Liberals are supporting this budget, and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has spoken glowingly about the oil sands industry.

At this point, we do not control our own environmental future. The Conservatives are an Alberta centred party and their motivation is not surprising. The Liberals clearly want back in power and do not have the money to fight another election next month. Canadians seem to not favour the most logical option, a coalition government of the left leaning parties which make up a majority of seats and voting percentages in parliament, so the Liberals have to support the Conservative budget or face an election soon.

With Ignatieff leading the Liberals, they know that all they need a little time to get money and reverse their losses from the previous election. His personal popularity advantage over previous Liberal leader Stephane Dion will most probably lead to better election results, especially if the Canadian economy continues to tank. A Liberal budget would have not killed the renewables, but would have not done anything to make the oil sands projects pay for all their externalities either.

With the two main parties objectively in favour of unproven boondoggles and greenwashing, only firm decisive action by the US administration to institute some kind of carbon controls will change the game in Canada. My fear is that by killing money support at a critical time, you kill the renewables industry and disperse its people elsewhere, and no reversing course in 3 years will get those people and companies back.

Obama, Oil and Canada

America's dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.

Obama’s speech on energy (Solveclimate)

A short, punchy, powerful speech. Two things – First, Obama stresses again and again the necessity to reduce oil consumption and “the dependence on foreign oil”. He mentions wind, solar and efficiency as the three best ways to get there. There is no mention of increasing imports from Canada, the US’ largest supplier. Of course, when he mentions “bankrolling dictators”, Stephen Harper does come to mind 🙂 But the rest of it is puzzling, look at this bar chart of The US’ top 15.


Really, not too many “unfriendly” countries on the list, It is dominated by the US neighbours Canada and Mexico, and friend, ally and vassal state Saudi Arabia. Yes, there is some Venezuela, but this whole oil imports from unfriendly dictators frame in inaccurate.

But from the Canadian side of the border, we see things differently. >99% of oil exported from Canada goes to the US, so in essence, our only customer. Any reduction in demand from the US could seriously derail Alberta’s economy. On the other hand, if the US is willing to overlook the seriously dirty nature of Canada’s oil, not that Canadian NGOs haven’t mentioned it to Obama recently, it will not have any problems shifting its buying patterns to favour Canadian oil over Saudi Arabian/Venezuelan oil, at least in theory.

The US has not attempted to do anything that drastic in many years, so all oil is bought and sold in the world market and price rules, but it will be interesting to see what happens. My view is that any serious carbon legislation will undermine the oil sands’ dirty oil. But we shall see.

Energy efficiency, electricity, power plants

Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that’s pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it’s able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.

Energy efficiency, electricity, power plants | Salon News

There are some things you wish you could have written, and the first paragraph is one of those. Romm nails it. Clearly, the most efficient MW of electricity is the one that was never used. But unless utilities are paid to conserve, not paid to produce, they will always build, build build.

Excellent summary of arguments he makes all the time over at the gristmill. Now to find out what BC does. Canada is one of the worst in terms of energy use per capita. Some of it can be linked to the cold climate, but Germany is plenty cold too, and uses a third less per person.

This article compares BC and California and finds BCHydro lacking in its incentives to save. The key is “decoupling”

Significantly, California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called “decoupling.”

BC’s per capita energy consumption is 0.26, well below the Canadian average and on the decline as Canada as a whole is getting worse. But more can be done.

The key value judgment to be made here is that reducing energy use benefits all of us. The system should be set up in such a way that it benefits the utility as well. This way, they’re on the same side.

Also, while a carbon tax is all well and good, it is not sufficient. Energy efficiency requires investment up front and people would rather pay 50 bucks a year in carbon tax than pay 300 bucks up front to insulate their homes better and save a 100 bucks a year in energy costs. Rebates only work if you have money up front. Giving people a $100 check is nice, but only if they spend it on improving energy efficiency. But, it’sjust money and we all know that money gets spent (beer, beer beer!) Subsidies work better as they reduce the cost of things. I would rather buy 10 compact fluorescent lamps for a buck each with the government chipping in the extra 10 bucks than get it back at the end of the year as a rebate, or pay 20c extra per incandescent lamp as a carbon tax.

All rambling aside, a really good article on the value of energy efficiency.