Monday, January 31, 2011

A Sustainable Business...

...Is a Competitive and Profitable One Too

Siemens offshore wind farm
Sustainability isn't just good for the Earth. It's also good for business too, as German multi-national Siemens clearly understands very well.
Siemens (SI) Chief Executive Officer Peter Löscher still recalls the blank stares he received when he asked about the company's green strategy after his arrival three years ago... Löscher knew that Siemens had world-class researchers and lots of promising products in the pipeline... Löscher's solution: "We very early focused on mega-trends" such as green business to assure the company's future... Löscher has increased the chunk of Siemens that sells sustainability-focused customers everything from light bulbs to high-speed trains to factory control systems.
Siemens is also a global leader in utility-scale solar and wind. About 100,000 of its workers are "green collar" according to the company.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Uncloak the Kochs

Live Stream from Common Cause

A great line-up of speakers in Palm Springs (right now! 11:00—4:00 PST) to shed some needed light on the nefarious Koch Brothers, funders of climate change disinformation, astroturf organizations and numerous bagmen keeping our political class from dealing with fossil fuel reality.

Courtesy of the fantastic folks at Common Cause, we are pleased to be able to present a live feed of the panel discussion and the pro-democracy rally being held in Rancho Mirage today, literally right across the street from where the Kochs and their cronies are simultaneously plotting to further undermine our democracy and economy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Who Doesn't Take Public Transit?

It's Ubiquitous and Makes Sense

Sound Transit train in tranist tunnel
I grew up taking public transit in Toronto. I was getting around on my own before I was 10 and even after I got a driver's license I still rode the Red Rocket quite a bit. Going to college near Boston I started riding the T without giving it much thought.

Living in Phoenix in 1978 and moving to the Seattle area in 1982 I discovered that not all cities have as good public transit, and over the years I took it less. In the last few years as I have again moved back closer to downtown, and as Seattle's Metro and Sound Transit have added capacity and routes I've once again gotten back into it.

It's good. I like it. And of course I feel good about it, especially these days with the high cost of gas and the ever-present reminders of our carbon footprints and the broader implications for society and humankind.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Hubris of Whining

Can't They Oil That Squeak?

The oil companies, through their full-time propagandists at the American Petroleum Institute, continue to complain about everything connected with oil and gas policy from the Obama Administration.

Has oil and gas exploration and production suffered under Obama? Hardly. The pace of activity can be measured by the rig count, the number of well drilling apparatuses in active use. Take a look at the recent history of the rig count in the United States:

Baker Hughes US rig count

It appears that the rig count has been going up quite briskly since a pronounced trough in spring of 2009. While the graph ends in 2010, recent figures show the trend continues--as of a week ago the count was up to 1,713, a hefty increase over the 1,282 rigs of the year prior, and approaching its highest level over the past many years.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Climate Change Islecide

Island Time Comes to an End

Climate change is raising sea levels. Those seas have swallowed uninhabited islands, and now start to threaten populated ones too:

Carteret Island is part of Papua New Guinea, and one of many Pacific Island communities under threat.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XVIII

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...
Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

State of the Usual

The Future Foreshadowed

Obama frowning
Tomorrow President Obama gives the State of the Union address. Doubtless it will cover all the disparate bases of American domestic and foreign policy, be stuffed with the usual applause lines, and deftly navigate between the Scylla of American triumphalism and the Charybdis of looming dangers requiring the utmost of ingenuity, perseverance and purpose. He will deliver lines that will have Democrats standing and applauding even as Republicans sit, stone-faced. There will be a clutch of shout-outs to gallery attendees both ordinary and extraordinary. He will recap the travails of the economy over the past 2+ years and note that things are improving, although there's still a ways to go. Afterwards the utterly insipid punditocracy, drunk on their collectively self-appointed status as Very Serious People, will tell us What It All Means, which will of course be a mishmash of what the factions each represents want us to think it means.

It's all rather predictable. So why tune in? Three reasons:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting Cars Out of Idle

Stop-Start Technology Saves Gas, Emissions

Idling gets you nowhere
There are still a lot of ways to improve auto efficiency in the United States. Better fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards for cars, and also for trucks. Communicating what cars do better is also a good step. Electric cars are better still, and the fears about them unfounded. There's also a technology used in Europe for years that cuts down the wasted gas (and emissions) of pointless idling. It's similar to what's used in golf carts, but it works for regular gasoline-powered cars too. It's called stop-start, or microhybrid technology:
The microhybrid system centers on start-stop technology, which turns off engines at traffic stops. This has long been a feature of full-hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, but as a relatively inexpensive addition to purely internal combustion cars, it can improve fuel economy by 10 percent or more.

Ford is using high-performance batteries developed by Johnson Controls. “Stop-start technology is well-established on our cars in Europe, and so it’s only natural we would bring it to our home market in the U.S. for the fuel economy our customers expect,” said a Ford spokeswoman, Jennifer Moore.

Ford’s Auto Start-Stop technology combines the upgraded battery with a modified starter motor and a voltage-quality module to ensure that accessories function normally with the engine off.
When our leaders call for an "all-of-the-above" approach, they should embrace more than just generation technologies. Efficiency technologies like this must be adopted broadly as well.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Y. B. Normal

Shake It Up Sometimes

Chris Leyerle
Chris Leyerle, pointlessly pointillist
Like my Dad taught me, one shouldn't take oneself too seriously.

This is what happens when fooling around with BeFunky after drinking martinis on a Saturday night.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Threats to Certainty

Circle the Wagons

Cartoon of rider warning, Paul Revere-like, that the facts are coming

Can reason prevail over strident opinion? Maybe, but I doubt it. The conflict, ignored by too many, does not resemble a debate so much as a popularity contest. Most believe what they want to believe. Little wonder things aren't turning out as we would like.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Doing Nothing

You Can Pay Me Now, Or...

An interesting 5-minute video from the Florida Solar Energy Center. While some of the specifics pertain to Florida, the broad comparison applies everywhere. Investment today in renewable generation makes long-term economic sense in the same way that it pays to pony up now to put our kids through college. The cost of acting, while more up-front today perhaps, is a winner long-term over the cost of doing nothing.

Here in Washington we would perhaps not compare ourselves so directly to solar, but instead include bioenergy, wind and perhaps distributed hydropower or tidal/wave generation. The core points about grid parity, the importance of energy retrofits and other efficiency measures, and the value of energy independence are still compelling.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XVII

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Sustainable 2050

A Pathway Vision

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has produced a plan to get us all to a truly sustainable posture by 2050. The WBCSD is an organization of some of the largest global corporations and has the backing of their CEOs to tackle such issues as climate and energy. It's another tangible way that big business is taking meaningful steps to address climate change.

The plan is graphically detailed on a 14-foot long poster. The poster depicts the end vision and lays out a decade-by-decade plan, criteria used to measure success, and identifies both the most significant components and the largest risks to success. It is already an amazingly concise and impressively organized summary, so I shan't further recap it here. Check it out for yourself using the zoom button and click/drag to view:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Climate Change Acceleration

Faster and More Furious with Every Reassessment

No Drowning sign
It seems every time there's a revision to estimates of future effects from climate change, they are sooner and more extreme. The latest? More carbon, higher temperatures, and polar palm trees:
The US study predicted that if society continues burning fossil fuels at the current rate, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide could rise from the current level of 390 parts per million (ppm) to 1,000 by the end of this century.

The last time the world had such high levels of carbon dioxide temperatures were on average 29F(16C) above pre-industrial levels. Evidence has been found of crocodiles and palm trees at the Poles and only small mammals were able to survive.
It is increasingly tiresome to refute the fact-free foppotees obfuscating science with ideology, or excusing the destruction of our habitat because of supposed economic necessity. There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Author of the study Dr. Jeffrey Kiehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) also took issue with critics who claim to be making conservative arguments:
A truly conservative position is to conserve what we have, to not radically change things and if we do not want to radically change the environment then the conservative approach is to conserve the Earth as the human species has known it ever since we have been around on this planet.
I couldn't agree more. While some fight the evident reality of a rising tide, others are preparing for real sea change.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


More Eco-Friendly Printing

Ecofont logo and sample
Ecofont is a clever innovation that makes holes in fonts so printing uses less ink, saving money and providing sustainability benefits. The holes are small enough that they can't be seen without close scrutiny. I've been using the free sans-serif font for years on draft prints.

Now they also offer (for a fee) a program that creates holes in all of the standard fonts, or even in one's own custom fonts. The program comes in packages for home, small business and enterprise.

Download the free ecofont_vera_sans here.

Update: Also check out my older post on green printing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oil Spill Culpability

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Oil Spill Commission logo
The oil spill commission released its report on the horrific BP Macondo well last Tuesday, pointing to systemic failures pervasive in the industry and the regulatory structure. Fred Bartlit, the commission's chief counsel also indicated that he would release a supplemental report that will focus on the three companies principally involved (or at fault) in the disaster—BP, the operator of the well, Transocean, the rig's owner, and Halliburton, who was responsible for the cementing that failed, leading to the blowout.

It is interesting that there is a supplemental report, and doubly so that it comes from the top lawyer.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Solar-Powered Cinema

The world's smallest solar-powered movie theater:
The Sol Cinema is a micro movie house powered entirely by the Sun. We can accommodate 8 adults comfortably for a unique cinematic experience. We have a full library of comedy, quirky, music videos and short films with inspiring environment themes.


The Sol Cinema has been lavished with pride and style. We use an LED projector showing short movies in cinematic surroundings. We use lithium batteries to store the energy from the Sun to power the cinema all day and night. Our photovoltaic panels harness the sunlight, even as the films are being shown, so we never run out of power.

Who knew they got that much sun in the UK?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Time to Change

What Stops Us?

The failings of the status quo are evident everywhere one looks: our (lack of) energy policy, our political dysfunction, our bankster economy, our culture of violence. Each in its way represents a threat to the vitality of the United States, to the standard of living of most of its people, to its role in the world. Over time these failings have ossified and become structural. Left unaddressed much longer, these threats will become existential.
"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
      —W. Edwards Deming

cartoon about change

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XVI

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Vitro Innovation

Outsourcing: Not Just for Manufacturing Anymore

Irises of many colors in a garden
Over at the normally worthless and unreadable Forbes Osman Ozcanli has posted an insightful must-read article on how large companies can successful harness innovation. Most large companies are structurally and culturally unable to foster true innovation from idea to shipped product. Somewhere along that path some combonation of organizational inertia, ass-covering, or battles over fiefdoms will align to destroy the tender shoot of the idea long before it flowers and fruits.
Innovation is risky business... It is too much risk for its employees and the company itself. Shareholders and everybody else working there want predictability. They would rather get a predictable return then a high-risk move for what they have invested in. Nobody is to blame. This is just the nature of business.
(A handful of companies, e.g. Apple and 3M, are the rare exceptions that prove the rule.)

For almost all large companies it works better to outsource innovation to entrepreneurs, independent inventors and small companies. And turn them loose.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Lot of Spin

Spinning Building, Turbines, Stories

Proposed rotating tower in Dubai
Architects are enamored of integrating wind turbines into buildings, although it's still quite unclear whether it makes any financial sense. Making financial sense, however, is not much of a concern in over-the-top Dubai, site of a radically innovative proposed new building that not only has rotating wind turbines between each floor, but also has floors that rotate as well.

The proposal by Dynamic Architecture appears stylish but one can doubt whether it will ever be built. Searching the web, there are plenty of articles claiming that construction is set to begin and even one claiming it already has, but more than 2 years later there is no sign of any actual progress. Perhaps the economy did it in, but in Dubai that seems unlikely. More plausible is that it is impractical, and, at $3000 per square foot, too pricy even by the rarefied standards of the emirates.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moving Quickly on Trains

Critical and Appropriate Infrastructure

Chinese high-speed trains at the station
Even as the Eurostar has "fluffy" moisture problems, stranding people in the Chunnel for up to 16 hours, over in China people Saturday started taking trips on the fastest high-speed train in the world.

The new line is 664 miles long, connecting Guangzhou to Wuhan, and will eventually extend all the way to Beijing. Trains average 217 mph, faster even than France's TGV and Japan's Shinkansen.

Here in the United States high-speed rail remains a distant hope. It was 50 years ago that Japan started work on the original Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed train, at 130 mph slow by modern standards, but still faster then than anything built in the US since. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, the "Stimulus Bill") allocated starting funding, but it won't get much built. Washington, New York, California and other states are fighting over scraps of it and asking for funding well beyond the $8B specifically allocated by ARRA. California voters approved a visionary project with a currently estimated cost of $45B.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Things I Learned from my Mum

Mary Ellen Leyerle
at her cottage in PEI
My Mum taught me many things, including the importance of community. She was born and raised in upstate New York, but moved to Toronto, Canada in 1959. Downtown Toronto was her home thereafter, and she eventually became a Canadian citizen. My Mum was passionately committed to many causes—women's equality, the politically disenfranchised, the environment, social justice. She marched, she wrote letters, she contributed money, she volunteered.

My Mum taught me to get involved, and to take action where it mattered and where I could make a difference. It was her example that inspired me to join the group that Incorporated the City of Sammamish, to serve on non-profit boards, to volunteer on city commissions, and to be a charter member of a new Rotary Club. To this day I continue to donate my time and effort; I couldn't and wouldn't do otherwise.

Thank you Mum.

Mary Ellen Leyerle, 1/8/29 - 6/8/09, RIP

Friday, January 7, 2011

Renewable Promise

What Percentage of Generation Can Be Renewable?

Scotland could be run entirely on renewable energy by 2030 according to a report by the Scotland branches of WWF and Friends of the Earth. The country has already reached its aggressive target of 27%, plans to hit 31% by next year and 80% by 2020. It has the most ambitious renewable energy targets of any country in the world.

Scotland's renewable energy demonstration projects

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cloudy Outlook for Solar

Looming Supply Glut a Failure of Policy

Critics have long argued that feed-in-tarrifs (FiT) distort markets, leading to unsustainable growth. Are they right? The market for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules offers some clues.

Growth in solar PV 1995-2009
Demand for PV doubled in 2010, led by surging demand in those countries with attractive FiT. Solar PV manufacturers added 70% to production capacity in 2010 and are aggressively adding additional capacity in the expectation of continued robust demand in 2011.

Their expectations may not be fulfilled.
IMS Research forecasts that 35GW of annual capacity will be reached within the first half of 2011, despite installations in the same period being predicted to reach no more than one fifth of that amount. As a result, it is likely that there will be an oversupply of modules this year, leading to tougher competition and decreasing prices from suppliers.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XV

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lionfish... Yum

Invasive Species Threatens Atlantic, Caribbean

Pacific Lionfish
No one is quite sure how they arrived, but the Pacific Lionfish can now be found in the Bahamas and along the coast from Florida to the Carolinas. Sightings range even more widely. What were scattered sightings in the early 1990s are now confirmed and multiplying populations as these voracious carnivores devour local reef fish. Because the prey population is much larger in the Pacific there is great concern that the Atlantic reef population will not withstand the interlopers.

The solution? Turns out lionfish are rather tasty:

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Cost of Zombies

Sustainability is Good Business

Is sustainability costly? Some think so. Opponents give many reasons not to fund cleantech or renewable energy. Some reasons are little more than mere preferences for something else, but most are based on how cleantech is supposedly uneconomic.

Triple Bottom Line Venn diagram

The evergreen canard that we must always choose between social/environmental objectives and higher economic costs keeps coming back, zombie-like, no matter how many times it's seemingly flattened and left for dead. Good social policies make good business sense, and what's good for the environment turns out to be good for the economy too.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

60 Year Old Solar Panel

It Still Works

World's oldest solar panel
The antique device, built in 1950, generates 1.5V. It was purchased by an antique dealer from a relative of the inventor and displayed last spring at an antiques show in the UK.

I cannot find word on whether it was sold or remains in the dealer's collection.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blessed New Year

Eagle Medicine

This morning dawned sunny, crisp and beautiful.

Looking west to downtown Seattle and the Olympic Mountains from Bellevue's Somerset neighborhood

Looking west out my window I saw a bald eagle soaring 50 yards away. Majestic.

There are as many ideas on bald eagle symbolism as there are web sites espousing them, including concepts of community, opportunity, vision, focus, courage, action, strength and determination. But I especially liked this:
Visually, everything about the eagle's appearance is sharp. Streamlined, sleek, chiseled. This prompts our deeper minds to hone our thoughts and skills. The eagle commands us to tailor our intelligence and talents in a form that best suits our needs. We all have inner abilities, but when the eagle shows up - it's a clear sign it's time to use these abilities in a laser-like fashion to bring about focused change in our lives.
The perfect call to action for each and all of us. Our challenges are great; our opportunities now, our success limited only if we fail in our vision or in our resolve. Or in our faith:
The eagle, it is believed, works as a messenger for the Creator. It is tasked with the duty of carrying the prayers of human beings from the earth world to the spirit world where they believed the creator resides.
A blessed new year to you, and to us all.

Yes, several of you have noted the date on my camera is wrong. Not sure how that happened. Fixed now.