Have Your Social Benefit and Work off that Excess Energy

December 17th, 2008

A friend of mine turned me on to a company called One.  They sell bottled water and donate all the profits to a foundation that build playground-water pumps in southern Africa.

What on Earth, one might ask, is a playground-water pump?  It is an extremely clever device that harnesses a nearly

Image courtesy www.playpumps.org

Image courtesy www.playpumps.org

inexhaustible supply of energy to pump clean water from deep wells by turning the pump “engine” into a playground-style merry-go-round for kids.

This is very clever.  If my kids are any measure, this pump will have enough energy to run for hours on end, and at the same time the kids’ natural energy can be channeled to good effect bringing clean water to people who need it.

When my kids get hyperactive I threaten to install a giant hamster wheel in the house and putting them on it for an hour or so, but I’ve never followed through.  PlayPumps has done just that- in a much smarter way.  Kudos to them.

Image courtesy of www.playpumps.org
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Reblog Flowing Data: US Oil Doesn’t Come From Where You Think it Does

November 21st, 2008

Flowing Data has a map graphic this morning that makes two great points.

US Oil Doesn’t Come From Where You Think it Does | FlowingData

First is that most US oil comes not from the Middle East but from Canada.  Did you know that?  It may not be a geopolitical bombshell but it’s a fascinating tidbit nonetheless.

The second point is how easy it can be to find data, chart it and publish it on the web.  The post says the map came from Department of Energy data that one person dropped into an online database and cranked out into a map.  Good stuff- go web!

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Chinese Family Carbon Footprint from NPR

May 5th, 2008

There is a lot of talk, of course, about the facts that (i) the U.S. has the highest per-capita (and overall) rate of CO2 emission in the world, and (2) that China is catching up quickly.  This podcast from NPR puts some facts to the story.

NPR previously profiled a family in North Carolina that worked hard to reduce its CO2 output and succeeded in getting itself well below the North Carolina average.  For contrast, NPR then profiled an “upper middle class” family in Beijing with a 3 bedroom apartment, a car and a house in the country that makes no real effort to conserve.

The result?  Excluding air travel, the North Carolina family trying hard to conserve and the Beijing family that doesn’t are basically even on CO2 emissions.  The American family travels more and farther by plane, so factoring that in put the Chinese family in the lead (in the best sense) by a wide margin.

This kind of data, even though anecdotal, is really fascinating.

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Tidal Energy, Plug-in Hybrids and *Turning* *Off* the *Lights*

March 5th, 2008

Climate change begins at home for sure.  Putting a stop to it also requires lots of local effort.  Still, where’s the line between encouragement and pie-in-the-sky-ism (I just made up that term)? 

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is reportedly bullish on tidal energy, despite the fact that it is economically unfeasible for the near future, and would produce very little energy.

Newsom Waves On SF Tidal Energy « Earth2Tech

Someone last night also told me that San Francisco has an open purchase requisition out for a fleet of city plug-in hybrid vehicles.  The problem is that no one is making them as OEM and there have been only 150 or so plug-in conversions of hybrid vehicles nationwide (maybe worldwide) ever.  

I applaud San Francisco for moving to the vanguard in pursuing alternative energy.  Without taking away from that at all, I would also like to see practical initiatives such as getting commercial buildings to turn the lights out at night. Imagine how much coal it takes to light all those offices when no one is in them at night.

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The Yamas and Niyamas of Renewable Energy

January 25th, 2008

Journalist, journalism professor and media consultant Jeff Jarvis posted a couple of blog entries from the Davos Economic Forum comparing the approaches of Al Gore on one hand with Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin on the other.

Gore, says Jarvis, favors raising carbon taxes, while Google is pressing for investment in alternative energy to reduce its cost. “Tax versus investment” is how Jarvis describes it. This appears to be a common theme these days, but I think it is a false choice.

At the VLAB event I attended this week, I was amazed to hear Kleiner Perkins’ John Denniston saying in extremely strong terms that government policy is needed to get alternative energy businesses moving as quickly as they need to. It surprised me that a prominent VC would feel this need so strongly.

He’s right, though. Private capital is a drop in the bucket compared to what government incentives can do for industries. But for favorable privacy, publicity, tax and other regulations I bet the Internet would not have become the essential fabric of life that it currently is. Denniston’s argument was that government has the power to increase the attractiveness of renewable energy sources, and to decrease that of coal and oil energy.

The yogis figured out the need for this kind of balancing thousands of years ago and laid out a set of five “dos” and five “don’ts” for a healthy life- the yamas and niyamas. Balance is critical to keep us on the right path in life and business.

I’ll give credit to Jarvis for not having his thoughts completely together since he was liveblogging. If his point is that “the discussion is too much about what we should not do rather than what we can do” then ok. More yamas, fewer niyamas. If by “tax versus investment”, though, he means that we need to choose then he’s dead wrong. We need both. Investment (yama) by the Googles (and Wal-Marts) that have serious industry leverage, and tax policies (both yama and niyama) from government to run that lever as far out as it will go.

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Shortening the 800-mile Trip Between Hydrogen Filling Stations

January 16th, 2008

I stumbled across an article recently about Jonathan Goodwin (thanks Asher). A little more digging and I realized he is something like a cult hero in the “green car” field (fortunately he seems to spend more time in the shop than on his website).

Goodwin is a self-taught tinkerer, big-car loving environmentalist and alternative fuel afficionado. It’s a cool combination. The Fast Company article talks about a 600 horsepower, 60 mpg biodiesel-hybrid Hummer he is working on, which sounds interesting but expensive.

What is more interesting is his idea of “dual fuel” systems. I think the article refers to one of these as a $5000 bolt-on system that injects hydrogen into a diesel motor, doubling fuel efficiency and producing 80% fewer emissions.

Tinkerers abound in any field, of course. The question is whether their ideas can scale to the mass-production requirements of a major auto manufacturer. Goodwin’s $28,000+ conversions probably won’t make it onto any production lines any time soon.

The dual-fuel idea, though, is awfully interesting. The jury is still out on whether hydrogen has a future (wikipedia covers all the problems), and one of the sticking points is the chicken-and-egg issue of needing ubiquitous fuel stations to fill up before hydrogen cars become appealing, and needing a certain number of hydrogen cars on the road to justify investment in the hydrogen delivery infrastructure.

Enter the dual-fuel vehicle. Goodwin’s engines run cleaner and longer on hydrogen, but can run nicely on plain old diesel as well. Dual-fuel would allow a gradual transition to hydrogen (still assuming that is a desirable objective). Makes sense to me.

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