I plan to put solar panels on my new home when it gets built, which is bad for my wallet but good for the world. The world benefits because I will be generating about as much electric energy as I use, for once. I lose because if I could wait about three years before installing the system, the cost will probably drop so much that I will have a faster payoff. It's probably a difference of some tens of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately for me, but good for you, I'm obligated to start right away because solar panels were a condition of approval from the city, and that won't change. Nor should it. I'm helping to drive down the cost for the next person.

I was reminded of this when I heard about Al Gore's ambitious recommendation that we should attempt to generate all electricity from green sources in ten years. Many experts believe that timetable is too ambitious.

What do you think?

It is safe to assume the federal government will be more hindrance than help. Any real progress will come from brilliant individuals inventing things, funded by super rich investors. I can't see them cracking the full nut in ten years, no matter what gets invented.

Meanwhile, 99.99% of the general public is treating this as a spectator sport. It makes you wonder how you can help, since this might be the most important battle our species has known.

I can vote for the candidate who has the best energy policy, but none of them have plans ambitious enough to make a difference. And yes, I recycle. But let's face it: Recycling is the masturbation of energy policy. It might make you feel better, but it won't put a dent in global energy needs.

I wish some entrepreneur would create a way for citizens to invest in clean energy sources without having to gamble in abstractions such as the stock market or venture funds. I would love to invest in, for example, a particular windmill, or a piece of a solar farm that is generating a particular amount of energy each day. I would even invest in a few feet of new transmission cables in a specific place. I wouldn't care that it was a great investment if I knew it was directly helping save the planet.

If I could name my windmill, and see webcam pictures of it on the Internet to see how it is running, along with a widget on my desktop telling me how much power I am generating today, I would invest in it just to help save the planet, even if I knew the financial return was marginal. The same goes for investing in discrete parts of a solar farm, or any other clean energy source.

I realize windmills are expensive. But I'd be happy owning a share of a particular windmill with friends. We could name it together.

My prediction is that the brilliant scientists and the super rich investors working on clean energy can't meet the ten year goal by themselves. Some entrepreneur is going to have to figure out a way to get the other 99.99% of the country involved. If that happens, the ten year goal seems feasible to me, assuming the government stays out of the way.

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Jul 22, 2008
Getting the other 99.99% involved won't happen for several reasons. Gas is 4 bucks a gallon, Americans are struggling with mortgage payments on loans they shouldn't have gotten in the first place, and the number of people who are saving enough for retirement is too small. You might be able to snag 20% of the population, tops.

As far as naming your windmill, how about Wendy. Bad pun, I know, but I spent all of 15 seconds thinking on it.

If energy prices to continue to rise, investing in renewable energy will become more profitable. That will be the driving force behind renewable energy, nothing else will drive it. Money makes the world go round.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 22, 2008

There is a real world experience, with a lengthy discussion about this in Slashdot:

The way I see it, the energy problem can be solved in 10 years but not producing more energy, but consuming less.
This is where the real effort could go.
Where do you waste lots of energy in your house?
Are you sure your happiness depends on so many appliances?
If you reduce your consumptions by 40%, you'll need smaller panels.
How many years less will take to recover the panels costs?

Same with recycling.
It's good but not as effective as reducing and reusing.

Anyway, once more you deserve my congratulations for taking action, and in such a positive way.
Jul 22, 2008
Hi Scott!
Didn't you write something similar a while ago but involving some engines in the desert? (don't remember the name of the engine but the idea was that the natural heat of the desert will heat some air/water and move it and then the air/water will cool and the process begin again).
As for me I still think that if everyone makes a bit it will put a dent.
The responsibility stills fall in the more advanced countries they should be the example and not impose regulations to other countries.

0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 22, 2008
Unless you are particularly frugal, Scott, or have an ENORMOUS roof, I'm surprised you expect to generate as much electricity as you use.

According to a Cambridge Physics Professor, the typical (UK) person uses 46 kWh/day of energy (for domestic heating and electricity - ignoring transport, food production, energy to make all the "stuff" they own etc.). 10m2 of photovoltaic panels on a typical roof can generate about 5kWh of that - about 11% of the energy you need. Stick a windmill up as well and you may generate an additional 3%.

OK, you live in California, which tends to be a bit sunnier than Cambridge, so you may generate a bit more electricity. On the other hand, you probably have energy-hungry domestic air-con running most of the time in your house, not something we have much need of in the UK!

Fascinating free e-book, demonstrating that renewables cannot possibly supply current energy consumption, at least on a UK scale: www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sustainable/book/tex/cft.pdf
Jul 22, 2008
When JFK anounced a deadline to send a (living) human being to the moon (and bring him back, alive too), it seemed "mission impossible" to many of us, when we look back at the heavy computers they had, no hand calculator, no cellphone, no airconditioner, road computer and gprs in cheap japanese cars... it seems a miracle they didn't missed the tiny target. Today there is more technology in the cheapest sedan than there was in the Apollo spaceship, and still we get lost in town! I heard that the governement gets its investment paid back through the taxes collected after the civil sales of the technology that US firms created for the program. Will a JFK come back and do the same for energy? if all houses were to be equiped in Europe and US in a reasonnable short time, the price of the panels could drop even faster than the Intel processors do. The problem will only be the shares of the energy companies will drop as fast and a crack could follow. Let's dream about what a clean world should be.
Jul 22, 2008
The best way to save the planet may be to hasten the extinction of the human race. Al Gore might be a good place to start.
Jul 22, 2008
If there are intelligent evolved beings observing us earthlings I wonder what their reaction is to our actions and musings? Curiousity? Sadness? Disgust? Amusement? Confusion? Indifference? Maybe they Tivo our daily routines and schedule viewing parties on Friday nights with popcorn.
Jul 22, 2008
ahhh masturbation,, now that is a concept that i can relate to.. the rest of this stuff is wayyyyyy over my head!!!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 22, 2008
The plan is truly fantastic, I would suggest that windmills and solar panels get some tax rebate.
Similarly recycling waste water might be the next important thing. If communities could put in money (and even if they dont get adequate returns but assume it is like charity) and develop public transport, would be a good thing.

And as for naming Windmills goes, I can only remember Don Quixote, and him tilting the windmills. :)
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 22, 2008
Can be done in 10 years, but won't, since the first eight will be taken up by naysayers and heal draggers telling us why it can't be done.

The father of an old friend of mine lived in 1930's Czechoslovakia. He told me the CZ government had been trying for several years to get drivers to switch from the left side to the right side of the road. When Hitler took over, he announced that all Czechs will begin driving on the right side tomorrow morning. They did.

My friend's father, by the way, had an almost scary admiration for Hitler.
Jul 22, 2008
Hi Scott,
You CAN BUY a part of or a whole windmill. I read about this sort of investment happening in my country, India, where you can do so as private investor. The company name is Suzlon. I unfortunately do not have more details right now.
Also I would like to add here that all the discussion on energy consumed during constuction, !$%*!$%* and manufacture of so called "eco-friendly" products refers to the EMBODIED ENERGY of items and there are ways to calculate this.
Jul 21, 2008
There already is a perfectly good solution for renewable energy resources, better for the environment and more productive than anything solar, hydroelectric, etc., etc.: nuclear power.

Unfortunately, that requires addressing a huge amount of security concerns, both from accidents and from sabotage.

Oh, right, and the people most worried about the environment now are the same ones that forced all nuclear power development to come to a standstill decades ago. Idiots.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
Story that would be of extreme interest to you - :-) Enjoy


DARWIN (AUSTRALIA): Bizarre as it may sound, but chocolates, strawberries and various herbs are not the only aphrodisiacs that would provide your libido a boost, for the latest to join the list of such substances is — believe it or not — donkey skin.

As it turns out, donkey skin is used in traditional Chinese medicines that are designed to increase women's sex drive. And now, a Hong Kong company is trying to locate up to a million donkey skins every year to use them for making traditional medicines.

After a long time of sourcing the donkey skin from South America, the company has now set its gaze on Australia. Sydney-based exporter John Fleming wants to hunt feral donkeys in the Northern Territory to sell overseas. "They want the skins, but not for leather. Apparently there is a certain extract in the skin they can use for traditional medicine," the Northern Territory news quoted him, as saying.

Though, Fleming has no idea about the type of medicines that would be produced, it is believed that Chinese traditional healers use donkey skins to extract 'ejiao'. The 'ejiao' extract can be used to make Nu Bao, a traditional Chinese medicine which is meant to improve vitality, increase women's libido and help with menstruation pain.

"They're after a lot of donkey skins. As much as they can get their hands on," said Fleming.

There are an estimated 300,000 feral donkeys in the Northern Territory. And he is expecting that the donkey hides would be worth around $30 each. "We need to get a handle on how much they would pay. We need to make sure it would be cost effective," he said.
Jul 21, 2008
this comment isn't related to the blog, but rather the comic strip.
the "your genes are a dead end" quote from dogbert a couple weeks ago was probably the funniest
thing i have ever seen in my 25 years on this planet. that is going to be my favorite quote for a long time
Jul 21, 2008
Any government that relies on popularity to get elected won't make decisions that are good for the planet but unpopular. You can't have democracy and fix the big problems too, unless you live in a country in which the majority are smart. Unfortunately only Antarctica qualifies, and that's not a country.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
We are dancing around the real problem. To may people.
Anything we do to reduce energy use will be overcome by
an increase in population. I remember back in the 50s there
was a movement to encourage zero population growth.

Zero population growth, or even negative growth, along with
reduced energy use may save the human future on this planet.
Jul 21, 2008
Green power:

Scott, you may not have read my other comments about this.

You have to look closely at all the factors that go into making something "green". Renewable does not necessarily make "green". Why not, you ask? If someone installs a renewable resource power generator, say, wave power generation, and this facility costs 1,000,000$ to build, requiring lots of steel, concrete, and environmental losses (dead fish, dolphins, you name it). Additionally to that, the power generated is not continuous, it only works on days with big waves.

If you take the power output (low) and factor in the costs associated with building it (high, including more steel etc than required for a conventional power plant) and running power lines to the nearest consumer (probably high, as no one wants this in their nice city) the total result is not "green". As someone else mentioned, China will be building most of the components anyway, and they are one of the biggest polluters with the loosest environmental standards.

It may not even result in reduced carbon emissions, which seems to be the new buzz phrase.

Wind power is an excellent example of something that the manufacturers even realize isn't "green". Lots of steel, manufacturing plants, trucking, dead birds, long power lines, low utilization rates, you name it. If the payout period is 40 years, I would have a hard time believing that a wind generator will last for 40 years. If it doesn't then you have effectively polluted by choosing a power source that is not as efficient as others.

Dams on rivers: another example of power that is not "green". Destroys the natural environment. Look at the Mississippi river basin. The environment has been completely changed since the rivers were dammed. Louisiana is actually sinking into the water because there is no silt washing over the land to replace elevation lost to sinkage and erosion.

I agree that recycling is the equivalent of masturbation for many items. The most recycled item is steel, because it can be recycled in large !$%*!$%*!$ industrially, not just soup cans. There are uses for some recycled products, and if we can make use of them we should, but in many cases, that may also not be "green" but reduces the amount of landfill required.

I agree that something needs to be done. I think the first thing that everyone should do is just no buy excess crap, especially if it is manufactured in a country that has low environmental standards. Next, the US needs to impose environmental standards on all imports. If the item is not manufactured in an environmentally friendly facility, then no import.

Currently, shipping is a big target for environmentalists. Shipping is actually the most efficient means of transporation in the world as far as fuel burned per ton of cargo moved is concerned. Cars and planes would qualify as the least efficient. How many of you commute by ferry? Who just flew his dog on an airplane?

The whole picture has to be examined, not just whether the resource is renewable (looks free, it must be, right?).



Jul 21, 2008
Scott, you once said that your customers tell you what business you're in.

I say you're in the business of selling windmills.

Not in bulk, mind you, or even, as you suggest in your post, whole numbers. I think you should buy as much of a single windmill as you can stand and then hand the rest of the bill to us, your humble blog followers. We'd each pitch a buck or five, and before you know it we'd have a whole windmill. Maybe even 5/4s of a windmill. Then at every blog you can report how much energy we've all been saving just by reading your blog and tipping a meager amount. We'll feel like badasses when the price of green stuff plummets, even though it turns out the solution was actually stirling engines or genetically modified hamsters in giant wheels. I'd pay real money for the chance to say "told you so" later, and I think that economic principle can be applied on a broad scale.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
Penn & Teller have an excellent show about recycling - very entertaining, too. It seems only aluminum cans, and occasionally cardboard, are actually reasonable to recycle. All other recycling uses more energy/makes more waste than it is supposedly "saving." And most of the stuff you put in the "recycle bin" goes into the landfill, surprise surprise. I recommend it.

I don't support mandated anything when it comes to energy. Let everyone use the energy that makes the most sense to them. We don't need mom and dad telling us how best to heat our homes.
Jul 21, 2008
Good line about "the masturbation of energy policy". Until alternative energy sources are vastly improved, I could say that about essentially everything except more oil drilling and more coal mining.
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