Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

* Sexing Up Home Appliances

Posted on February 9th, 2009 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Energy, Uncategorized.

A few days ago I questioned the cost effectiveness of vehicle electrification as a means to get petrol cars off the road in favour of their electric counterparts that use electricity generated from, in most cases, a fossil fuelled power plant. My thoughts on that still stand in terms of cost effectiveness since an electric hot water heater and furnace might set you back a thousand dollars and reduce emissions by the same order of magnitude as buying a electric car at > $20,000 a piece (not to mention the infrastructure requirements for “fuelling”).

@monkchips thought the post was skeptical but I like to think that it was pretty grounded in reality and if anything painted a more plausible, cheaper, environmentally friendlier and more society friendly than more [electric] cars.

Tom Raftery also commented on the synergies of electric vehicles and vehicle to grid technologies with the stabilization of the grid as well as demand management, which certainly cannot be argued with and I agree that electric vehicles can help with that. Both Tom and James are emminently knowledgeable in this area.

However, I am thinking why not just include a battery bank for your household electricity needs that could be used as local storage for distributed micro-renewable energy generation and, like the electric vehicle battery, help stabilize the grid by taking energy when there is a surplus and giving back when there is a deficit. That way you still avoid some of the high cost of an electric vehicle as well as the infrastructure required for charging and / or battery replacement stations. Electric home appliances can also take part in smart grid demand management through responding to dynamic pricing from utilities helping to stabilize the network and decrease consumption. They are also always plugged in so you don’t need any additional hardware nor do you ever have to remember to plug the car in when you get home. You also just need regular old lead acid batteries rather than super lightweight, high tech batteries made of carbon nanotubes.

I think in general it is a problem of perception. Electric vehicles are undeniably status symbols, as cars have traditionally been and still are in western society. You can’t show off how green you are to your suburban neighbours by buying electric appliances - unless you invite them in to take a look; and we all know that cars make lots of money for companies like Toyota. Therefore, a large part of the discussion is focusing on things that may be good but are not nearly the most effective. Of course now I am leaning dangerously close to a tirade about not just electrification but instead cutting our consumption by using more efficient means of transportation like buses / coaches and cycling. Years ago GM (and others) did of course buy up and dismantle many a railway to promote cars and we are still feeding into their ideas of city design and transportation networks!

I can appreciate the value in electric vehicles and of course in the smart grid and hope to see them rolling on the street soon but I am also hopeful that the influencers in our society start sexing up the image of lower impact transport solutions and other cost effective solutions - especially in this economic climate. However, efficiency or cost effectiveness does not always live up to the hype either as noted by the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate.

So who wants to start making not owning a car cool?

Photo credit:

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* Vehicle Electrification Cost Effectiveness

Posted on January 19th, 2009 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Energy.

Over the past few days my wife and I have been living without propane - due to a miscommunication between myself and the company that is supposed to take care of keeping our large propane tank filled with said propane - and subsequently there has been no stove, hot water, or heat. It was pretty tumultuous until I found a few spare 20lb propane tanks that we have since connected to our system. In case you were wondering just cooking one small meal and keeping the house at 15 degrees Celsius drained the one tank in under 24 hours.

Primary Energy Consumption

This interruption in energy flow to my house got me thinking about how much energy from fossil fuels is used in the home and that compares to fuel used for transportation. I found the numbers a little surprising.

A quick Google revealed the following stats for primary energy consumption by sector from 1949 to 2007 (in trillion Btu) in the US care of the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Residential Commercial Industrial Transportation Electricity
6,688 3,898 21,435 29,012 40,567

Or in pictures it looks more like this:

Of course the transportation number includes trains, planes and automobiles (including trucks) so what we should really look at is residential automobile usage. Again from the EIA data but approximating 2008 fuel consumption at 133 billion gallons of gasoline we arrive at about 15,000 trillion Btu’s of primary energy for only residential automobile usage. Updating the chart above we can see that the residential + commercial sector and residential transportation sector are much closer in size now:

What is the end use of the primary energy for the residential sector? The lions share of that energy is going towards oil or gas furnaces and water heaters. It is a similar situation for the commercial sector. But of course the industrial sector has a number of different uses for fossil fuels.

Energy Usage

The first thing that I notice about those numbers is that the total primary energy use in residential and commercial sectors commercial is almost 66% of the total primary energy used for residential automobiles. So if instead of buying a fancy new electric or hybrid car for over $30,000 people were to purchase an electric hot water heater, stove, and / or furnace, it would be equivalent to replacing about 66% of the cars on the road with all electrics. That is with no corporate bail outs, no huge incentive programs for companies or tax payers and no huge technological barriers like building new types of batteries. The problem is that people never see your electric furnace and you don’t get that added value of it being a status symbol like a green car.

I imagine the numbers look pretty similar in Canada and maybe in Europe too where gas is much more common in the home and car usage is lower. However, the lifecycle efficiency of generating electricity centrally from fossil fuels is sligtly higher than burning the fossil fuel in the automobile due to the relative low efficiency of the internal combustion engine.


Of course there are still other considerations to make before converting to electric cars such as shortages of materials used in magnets for motors such as dysprosium and, maybe more importantly, most electric cars will be charged with electricty generated from fossil fuels for the forseable future. The exception there is of course Better Place.

Looking at those numbers from the EIA if the US were to convert all vehicles over to pure electric it would mean increasing the current electricity generation capacity by something like 38%. That is about the increase in electricity generation from 1989 to 2007.

So if you are really thinking of getting an electric car, or even a hybrid first think about getting an electric appliance instead or, even better, get a bicycle and get some exercise :)

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* Nitobi Ajax Framework

Posted on December 12th, 2006 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Conference, Copyright, Energy, JavaScript, Patterns, Uncategorized, Web2.0, XML.

It has been a while since any serious blogging has taken place but I think that I should get some in over the upcoming holidays. Also, we have been very busy getting the final touches on Enterprise Ajax and getting started on new development plans.

As some will know from listening to the Nitobi podcast, we are currently building some new components such as a Tab, Tree and a Date Picker. For the start they will be fairly standard Ajax components but we have some cool new ideas for old patterns that should make some waves in the Ajax user-interface space.

At any rate, one of the first parts of our yet to be named Ajax user interface suite is going to be the Framework. The Framework is going to be where all the nuts and bolts are located that allow developers to build their own Ajax solutions using both our basic cross browser libraries as well as our component architecture.

For the most part, the Framework will have some important features such as:

  • XMLHttpRequest (Throttling, polling, timeout, events etc)
  • DOM Events
  • JavaScript Events (MVC)
  • DataSet / DataTable (ActiveRecord)
  • Object Serialization (XML and JSON)
  • Declaration Parsing
  • Back Button History
  • OOP Inheritance, Interfaces and Garbage Collection
  • Effects
  • Drag + Drop
  • Cross Browser HTML and DOM
  • Cross Browser CSS
  • Cross Browser XML

While many are similar to those things found in other frameworks out there (like the DOM events), we are keen to hear both what people think is lacking in other frameworks and what is a must have.

I am most excited about the serialization and declartive component stuff myself. It should really help developers build their own declarative components really easily.

One final note is that the Framework will be included in the suite but other than that we are not too sure what to do. Any ideas or comments on if, when, and how we might open source the Framework code would be more than welcome! :)
Oh crap, one more thing. What is important to people for a cross browser XHR object? What’s missing? I think that comet, throttling, timeouts and better events are a good start but what do you think? As the pipe gets bigger and more action is happening on the client we are thinking a lot about how the data is flowing from the server and how it gets handled by the client.


* Craigslist and Peak Oil?

Posted on July 15th, 2006 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Energy, Politics, Uncategorized, Web.

I haven’t blogged much as of late due to the unusually large (well maybe just normal) amount of work to be done around here. Grid 3.2 is getting dialed and we are really trying to make a big push to improve the stability and the our entire component platform.

Anyways, in a few spare moments this morning I was perusing Craigslist, as you do, in search of a few things ranging from a turntable to an old blender to a bike trailer … or anything in between. I haven’t been on for a while and generally ignore the links along the top of the posts trying to get people to download firefox or report bad posts etc. I looked at that today and noticed that one of the links there is to a Google search about Peak Oil. Of course for those that don’t know, peak oil is the idea that oil is a non-renewable resource and will therefore eventually be used up. This is destined to happen sooner than later and will really put a monkey wrench in the machinery of capitalism, which literally runs on oil.

It is nice to see that Craigslist is keeping it real! I sure hope that Craig either cycles to work at the very least uses a clean fuel car (and that does not include the ones that are charged with electricity generated by burning coal out in Nevada).

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* When Pigs Fly

Posted on November 24th, 2005 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Business, Energy, Politics, Uncategorized.

Climate talks in Montreal are starting today and Richard Black at the BBC seems to think that they will not get anywhere [1] …

Well of course they won’t get anywhere! When it comes down to weighing the livelihoods of some poor Bangladeshis against Americans who _need_ to heat their entire 3000 square foot homes to 23C in the dead of winter or wage wars in the name of oil I think we know who will come out on top. If George really cared about bringing “freedom” to oppressed people around the world then he could start by looking at how the merciless tyranny (blatantly unfair “globalisation” trade rules, climate change, war for oil, etc) of America keeps the world’s poor poor while the rich keep getting richer.

The whole idea of Kyoto is simply ridiculous. Yes, let’s make some outrageously low targets for greenhouse gas emissions that the largest emitters will not even sign up to and after which everyone will realize that the economics don’t work out and so we will all just emit even more to make up for the slow growth in GDP. When will the general public realize that the whole thing is a sham - oh that’s right they won’t.

Just like the “Make Poverty History” crap and Live8 which was deemed a great success by Geldof and made everyone feel warm and fuzzy so they don’t have to think about the poor little children who suffered making the next pair of shoes they buy. It is just like in the recent Dukes of Hazard movie - Hogg (aka George Bush, Tony Blair et al) is just using slight of hand damn it! In everything they do! “Yes we are abolishing $40 billion in debt to Africa” all the while they are just planning on making it actually benefit themselves and their own nations by not having to give that equivalent amount of money in aid and likely getting lucrative natural resource contracts etc. Boss Hogg was going to turn Hazard into a strip mine but the good people of Hazard were complacent and didn’t believe the armadillo helmet wearing crazy guy. Thanks to people like Luke and Bo, Hazard was not destroyed - the problem is that even though we have respectable scientists and campaigners telling everyone that the world is going to end up like a strip mine still no one is listening! Where is Daisy when you need her!

[1] Climate talks - hoops and hot air

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* Running Out of Gas

Posted on September 6th, 2005 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Energy, Uncategorized.

What To Do
In the wake of Katrina, many gas stations in the southern US last week either ran dry or had to stop selling gas because the price was rising so quickly [1]. With the price still near $70 a barrel many people in the US and Canada are crying foul and want the governments to step in and lower taxes on their precious fuel. It seems that the US government has tried to step in many times before and after their latest plan they are still trying to fight off insurgents and bring all the greatness that is democracy to Iraq.

In the recent weeks and months with fuel prices soaring, there has been no decrease in demand; in economic terms this is a trend indicative of an addictive substance, which is a trend also evident with crack addiction. In fact crack addiction and gasoline addiction have many things in common - not the least of which is that both have expensive, and generally ill-conceived, “wars” waged in their names. Sure it can be tough to kick an addiction but the oil addiction could well be the one perpetrating the problems in the Gulf of Mexico through the phenomena known as global warming [2]. And it appears that there are still more hurricanes in store [3].

I think that the people who made this lovely sign on a train bridge over Holloway Road said it best (sorry it’s a bit blurry).

[1] Some U.S. gas stations run dry - CBC, September 01, 2005
[2] Hurricanes getting worse with global warming - CNet News, August 03, 2005
[3] Scientists forecast more US Atlantic hurricanes in upcoming months - September 03, 2005

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* It’s Good to be Green

Posted on August 18th, 2005 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Energy, Uncategorized.

I noticed today on the CBC that the average price of gasoline (petrol) in Canada has risen to over $1 CAD a litre [1] for the first time ever (not sure if that is considering inflation or not). It is no wonder given that a barrel of crude oil costs nearly $66 USD these days.

I find it strange that Steven Harper (the leader of the official opposition party in the Canadian Parliament) seems to think that we need to reduce taxes on gasoline to help out Canadians … given that the trend of rising oil prices will likely continue due to Peak Oil [2], if he really wanted to help Canadians he would suggest increasing taxes to get people to ride their bikes or take the bus and then put any extra tax revenue towards helping people to kick their nasty gasoline habit. If fewer high flying executives, soccer moms and Internet tycoons would drive ridiculous cars like these (for the internet tycoons) or these (for the soccer moms) then we might be in a better situation both environmentally and economically. As fuel prices rise in the future it will increase the cost of everything that needs to be moved arround like food or products from Amazon. At least it will even the playing field for local food producers who traditionally cannot produce food as cheaply as you can in places further afield.

Given that transportation acounts for about 2/3 of our oil usage [3] it just seems silly reduce taxes or wage billion dollar wars for oil [4] rather than combatting consumption. Please Mr. Harper (and the rest of the Canadian Government) wake up and smell the reality of running out of oil.

[1] Gas Prices Soar Above $1 - CBC
[2] ‘Peak Oil’ Enters Mainstream Debate - BBC
[3] US Oil Demand by Sector - US Energy Information Administration
[4] Cost of War

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* Canadian Government Oil Subsidies

Posted on May 23rd, 2005 by Dave Johnson. Filed under Energy, Politics.

The Canadian government in 2003 decided to reduce the corporate tax rate for natural resource companies. This includes but is certainly not limited to oil and gas companies. The tax rate for these companies is going to be reduced from 28% in 2002 to 21% in 2007. Furthermore, they are going to introduce a 10% tax credit for exploration.

According to the Globe Investor, the top 10 oil and gas companies in Canada had revenue of over $86 billion while the top 300 companies on the Globe Investor’s list had revenue of over $115 billion - the industry wide numbers quoted by the Canadian Association of Pretroleum Producers of $77.5 billion. If we assume that these companies have profits of about 5% then profits are around 5 billion. So if the Canadian government is reducing the tax rate by 7%, that would be equivalent to a government subsidy of $300 million a year. Add on top of that the 10% tax credit for exploration costs and you are looking at nearly $1 billion government subsidy for the oil and gas industry.

Now if you look at the Canadian government climate change website website you see how this corporate climate criminals tax break pales in comparison to what they are committing to the Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative (REDI) - a mere $51 million - only 5% of the tax breaks given to big oil.

It seems quite ironic that the government climate change website says “Taking Action on Climate Change - Together, we can do it” when in fact while claiming that they are doing something to combat climate chaos the government is promoting the use of fossil fuels!

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