Celebrate Earth Day 2011 at HMNS!

Atlas, it's time for your bath
Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks

How would you show our beautiful planet Earth how we appreciate the resources that she provides for us?

Write a song or create a dance to teach others about conservation?
Plant a garden or tree – or both?
Pledge to conserve energy and resources?

Send your ideas to ecc@hmns.org and we will share them on the Energy Conservation Club website and at the HMNS Earth Day celebration on April 30.

Earth Day 2011
Saturday, April 30
10 am – 2 pm

Celebrate Earth Day at HMNS with fun activities to learn about energy and natural resource conservation and honor Mother Earth for what nature provides us.

Earth Day is not just one day of thinking about being a responsible citizen of Earth. It is a day to create new habits that will make an impact on our future.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in the US to promote learning about the environment. It is now coordinated by the Earth Day Network and celebrated in 175 countries.

For more ideas on how to celebrate Earth Day this year visit the HMNS Energy Conservation Club website. Also check out “A Billion Acts of Green” at act.earthday.org for ideas on how you can play your part as a steward of the Earth.

Sponsored by the HMNS Energy Conservation Club, generously supported by Marathon Oil.

The Times, they are a Changing

There is an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” For the past few months that seems to be a motto of the world.

The unrest in Libya that started with protest has now proceeded into a full civil war. The group of protesters formed a National Council on Feb 26th to give course to the now rebels. It took less than a month for the new national council to become recognized as the legitimate authority in Libya by both a western nation France (which was the first to recognize another regime change in another county, Go France!) and the Arab League, an organization of Arab nations that stretch from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. A few days after that, the UN passed a resolution to establish a no fly zone in Libyan airspace. This means that UN air forces (United States, France, Britain, Quarter, etc) will take any and all action to help protect civilians in the country. This has led to a cease fire which both sides have mostly observed.

Colorful Old Oil Barrels
Creative Commons License photo credit: L.C.Nøttaasen

All this has led not only to tragedy, but also to a sharp decrease in crude oil production. Libya’s production is down from 1,400,000 barrels a day to 400,000 barrels a day. Remember that the world consumes 80,000,000,000 barrels each day and the amount we use goes up by 2% annually.

Is Libya the only reason that energy prices are going up?

No, our times are far too interesting to have just one event going on.

In addition to the ongoing protests in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, Mother Nature has added her own 2 cents.

On March 11th an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred off the eastern coast of Japan followed closely by a tsunami. The earthquake was the most powerful to hit Japan and the tsunami crested at 33 feet inside Japan (by the time it reached Chili the waves where down to 6 feet). The damage has caused tens of billions of dollars in damages and tens of thousands of casualties. It also caused major damage to the Fukushima I and II Nuclear Power Plants.

Vogtle nuclear power plant, Georgia, USA
Creative Commons License photo credit: BlatantWorld.com

A fission reactor works by having fuel rods made of uranium, which radiate neutrons and photons. Neutrons bombarding the fuel also helps to accelerate the reaction. Control rods are made of neutron absorbing elements like cadmium. Lowering the control rods closer to the fuel rods slows down the reaction. One type of energy given off by the reaction is heat. Water is used to control the reaction and to transfer the heat to another system to create steam which turns the turbine. The water inside the reactor is kept under pressure to raise its boiling point. If the water, or other coolant/moderator, can not transfer the heat away, it will eventual boil into steam. If the rods are no longer being cooled, then a meltdown (or a core melt accident) can occur. If the core is breached, radioactive steam can be emitted into the atmosphere, where it will be spread by the winds.

All nuclear power plants have back ups to power the cooling cycle. However, the tsunami washed away the emergency diesel generators at Fukushima I and II Nuclear Power Plants. Reactors at Fukushima I have undergone a partial melt down.

So how does all this affect you? (I’m glad you asked)

All the instability and stoppage of crude oil makes the price go up (less supply, more demand). In the short term the price of crude oil has gone down a little because of the disaster in Japan. Japan used its nuclear power plants to generate 11 Gigawatts of electricity (a third of their electricity) so in the near future it will have to import more coal and natural gas to make up the shortfall.

The disaster has also had repercussions around the world. It has caused the United States to put on hold some nuclear plans and reevaluate others. Other countries are also reevaluating their nuclear plans. The Germans have decided to accelerate the decommissioning of their nuclear plants.

So what can you do about it?

The first step, as always to understand the situation, which is one of the reasons you read this blog (the other of course being my good looks and charming personality). The next step is action which you can do by creating an energy plan for your self (what do you leave plugged in, what do you leave on, etc.). There are also innumerable places to help with disaster relief in Japan. Some of which can be found here.

The Numbers Are In: Texas Power Consumption in 2010

People love award ceremonies.  There is something fun about seeing people all decked out in finery and regalia to receive awards of merit.  There are a few which are near and dear to my heart.  At my high school graduation, we walked proudly across the stage, accepted our diplomas, and secretly palmed off our marbles to our principal.  I haven’t lost my marbles; I know right where I left them.

My Eagle Scout ceremony was very nice with the bagpipes playing, a review of my scouting accomplishments, and a little roasting by the officials in my troop.  I skipped out on my college graduation, but I have happily attended those of my family and friends (you should know which ones you are).

We are quickly approaching the Academy Awards, and I’m looking forward to the lesser-known Raspberries.  We all like to see people of merit receive the appropriate honors for their accomplishments, whether in movies, scouts or education.

Well we have our own category to add.

Wayne National Forest Solar Panel Construction
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wayne National Forest

Congratulations! The numbers are in for electrical generation in Texas for 2010.

Everyone who was holding their breath may now let it out.  So who are the winners this year?

Total power generation went up by 3.5% last year.  In 2009, we produced 308,278 gigawatt hours and in 2010 it went up to 319,097 gigawatt hours.  Wind energy went up 1.6% from last year to account for nearly 8% of total power generation.  Never let it be said that we are running out of hot air in Texas! Coal went up by 8% in 2010.  Hydro generated power also went up in 2010.  All the other forms of power generation went done.  Nuclear dropped by 3.6%.  Natural gas was down by about 9 %.  And all the others (PV solar, Solar thermal, bio, etc) were down by 0.1%.

Wind turbine
Creative Commons License photo credit: alancleaver_2000

August 23, 2010 was the day Texans produced the most electricity (and used it as well).  January 8 was the winter high for electrical production. January 8 was also a very, very cold day.

But how will things look in 2011?

I’ll make a few predictions.  First the amount of electricity that Texas uses will go up.  In a state with an upward population curve the amount of electricity usually goes up unless something unusual happens (like an economic downturn). Over the next few years we should see an increase in the amount of electricity generated by the new solar plants. Wind energy will also go up, again because of all the hot air in Texas. Even with this increase in solar, coal will remain the dominate electrical source in Texas.  I hope that natural gas use would go up and cause coal use to go down, but it would take a large change in the price of coal and coal plants vs. natural gas and natural gas plants.

It will be fun to look back in 2012 and see if my energy predictions came true.

Solar Energy in Texas

“Surely some wiseacre is on record observing that there are two things Texas has plenty of: hot air and hot sun.” (Ronnie Crocker, Houston Chronicle, November 6)

Future
Creative Commons License photo credit: nosha

Texas has led the nation in electricity from wind production for the past 4 years. Now we have another bright idea. Duke Energy’s Blue Wing Solar Array has started turning the sun’s radiation into electricity for residents of San Antonio. The new solar power generator is rated at 14.4 megawatts (14,400 kilowatts).

There are more solar power generation stations in store for Texas. RRE Austin Solar has plans for one outside of Pflugerville.

Currently California leads the nation in solar electricity production, but with the new Blue Wing plant Texas might have been propelled into the top ten solar electricity producing states. As a proud Texan, I have little doubt that in the years to come, we will slowly overtake California and become number one in solar.

With all that bright sun deep in the heart of Texas, why hasn’t Texas taken advantage of solar yet?

Well, there are a couple reasons, mostly economic.

Port of San Diego's Green Port Program
Creative Commons License photo credit: Port of San Diego

Electricity generated from solar power costs far more then the same electricity generated by any of the fossil fuels. Making a solar cell is highly dependent on refined silicon. Refined silicon is used to make semiconductors and therefore it is in high demand in a number of industries, which include solar cells and computers. There are tax incentives, both federal and state, that can bring the price down, but it has to bring it down enough so it can compete with fossil and nuclear fuels.

There are concerns that an attempt to bring in solar generated electricity would cause the amount you pay for electricity to rise.

“We have concerns with energy projects that are based on government mandates and are ultimately funded by captive ratepayers,” executive director Luke Bellsnyder said in a statement. “Projects that are only financially possible because the costs will be passed on to customers — through above-market rates – are not a good deal for consumers and businesses.” (Crocker)

Even with the all the new Texas solar projects coming online, the state will still be mostly dependent on fuels such as coal. Texas uses 84,000 megawatts of electricity. All the new solar projects would bring the amount of solar produced electricity to 194 megawatts, or .2%. In contrast, wind generates 9,300 megawatts of electricity for Texas (11%).

California has 724 megawatts of solar generated electricity already installed. California has received a large amount of money from the federal government to help build a new solar plant that would be capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

So what should we do?

In this case we can afford to wait. Every year the cost of the solar panels decreases, the efficiency of those same panels increases, and more and more people want their electricity to be generated from solar power.

Does that mean we should do nothing while we wait? May it never be! The very first thing to do is to educate ourselves about solar energy. I recommend reading the wonderful blogs on this site that are about solar energy. They have a plethora of profitable links. The next thing is to check your local library for information and your city for local projects. You might also want to take a drive out on I37 and take a look at the new Blue Wing array near San Antonio.

After that, have some fun experimenting with solar. I built a small 1 ft squared solar car using a motor, 4 wheels, plywood, and a solar cell. What can you do?