Some great reporting by NYTimes on the climate controversy over clouds. The skeptics assert (read: hope) that clouds will save the day. The broader community of climate scientists assert (read: slap foreheads while exclaiming “Really? Again?”) that clouds will amplify warming.

I propose a simplistic experiment that may solve this debate. Look up in the morning sky. Spot the first and brightest object you see. Say hi to the Morning Star, Venus. Revel in Venus’ beautiful pearly white clouds. It’s covered in them. Now revel in Venus’ 460˚C surface temperature.

Clouds’ Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters –

Posted by: mayosten | May 2, 2012

Why Wind Farms Are Not Causing Global Warming

Well I was shocked–shocked I tell you–when I saw this sensational headline on Google News, courtesy of Fox News: Wind farms are warming the earth, researchers say. Actually, the study the article cites isn’t some quackery cooked up by the oil lobby. As far as I can tell, this is legitimate science, to be published in the journal Nature: Climate Change. But you give a study like this to the likes of Fox News and they love to run amok.

Here are the findings: satellite data of large wind farms show localized warming effects of 0.72˚C caused by the turbulence generated by the turbines. The media (and not just Fox, mind you, even Christian Science Monitor jumped on this one with somewhat sensational headlines) has basically translated these findings as follows:  haha, wind isn’t so green after all, and if we count on it as a carbon-free source of energy, we’ll just create more warming! Or as CSM put it, “Irony Alert!”

The following will probably fall on deaf ears for a lot of people because it looks like a green energy booster backtracking to defend his once benign and infallible wind power, but I’m really just going to point out some basic physics that the news media has conveniently left out of this story. (Caveat: I’m not a climatologist, merely an engineer.)

First off, wind energy is basically solar energy. The kinetic energy in the wind ultimately derives from the sun’s rays that are the main energy input in our climate system. That energy is often dissipated over long periods of time and over large distances, but in the case of wind farms, humans have erected machines to pull that energy out of thin air, as it were. The large turbine blades are shaped to produce lift forces, turning the rotors and generators and producing all that relatively cheap, green energy that we love.

But the wind conversion process isn’t perfect, and only part of the kinetic energy in a gust of wind can be harvested for electricity production. A portion of the energy simply gets converted into vibrations and noise (if you’ve ever seen a wind farm up close, you’d know what I’m talking about). Actually, the vibrations and sound waves can mostly be traced back to the generation of turbulence, mentioned in the above articles. The presence of all that equipment in the otherwise free-flowing wind creates swirls and eddies just like those seen around rocks in a stream. Those vortices dissipate some distance behind the turbine which is why wind turbines need to be spaced out about 1km apart: you need to provide space for vortices to die down so that each turbine has access to high quality wind. Anyway, the dissipation of turbulence represents another energy conversion process. In this case, kinetic energy in the turbulent swirls is being dissipated by frictional forces between the air particles. The end result is that the average energy of the surrounding air increases, and voila, we have a slight temperature increase. Phew.

In the end–I’m sorry to say Rupert Murdoch–wind turbines do not contribute any net energy to the climate system. They redirect small amounts of the energy already in the system (originally from the sun), converting some of it to heat which warms the air around the farm, but they are by no means slow-cooking the planet. If they were, we would really have something magical on our hands. Christian Science Monitor and Fox News and all the other papers would have to rerun the story with the following, equally sensational pseudo-science headline: “Wind Energy Found to Be Mysterious Source of Free Energy!”

Posted by: mayosten | April 26, 2012

Steven Colbert and Immigration and Climate Change

Steven Colbert cuts down to the pith on the insanity of pseudo science studies equating immigration to the US with climate change in this wonderful “the Word” segment. Satire is alive and well.

Posted by: mayosten | April 23, 2012

Jeff Berman Pushes for Cleaner Rural Energy

My current home of Durango, CO is in most ways an idyllic place. Mountains, sunshine, good food and drink, excellent outdoor recreation opportunities, and an overall warm community feel. But with that small, rural Colorado town feel comes the inevitable politics of rural Colorado, and so it goes with our local rural electric cooperative, La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), whose board consists mostly of ranchers with waxed mustaches and cowboy hats (read: it’s the Cheney energy policy booster club).

Jeff Berman is the outstanding exception to this rule. He is, as far as I know, the only LPEA board member prepared to do more than just talk about transforming the Durango region’s electric supply from one of coal coal and more coal to something – anything – cleaner. Come to think of it, he may actually be the only board member who even wants to talk about these issues, since he frequently is unable to have his motions seconded when attempting to raise such controversial topics as climate change and feed-in tariffs.

Recently, Jeff launched his own blog, the Energy Critic. It should be required reading for LPEA ratepayers, as it details the myriad ways in which LPEA has misled the public and greenwashed its image. For those outside the Durango community, the blog is still interesting as a microcosm of the kinds of clean energy battles that are being waged across the country by people like Jeff who simply want their governments to behave rationally in the face of devastating environmental, economic, and political pressures surrounding energy.

One of the frequent complaints voiced in green circles – well, amongst progressives in general – is that progress is impossible without eliminating corruption and high-stakes lobbying in Washington. We see reports and surveys like these all the time claiming that the majority of Americans broadly support “environmental causes.” If only corporations didn’t control Washington, the People would embrace meaningful environmental reforms. Unfortunately, according to a new white paper by Pike Research surveying Americans’ views on a variety of clean tech topics ranging from the LEED system to renewables, consumer attitudes are headed in absolutely the wrong direction for the planet. The survey of over 1,000 individuals shows that Americans have cooled to a variety of green technologies and policies, including hybrid vehicles, carbon offsets, and wind energy.

Now this survey may not be the most rigorous, probing, longitudinal studies of consumer attitudes, and accordingly I take it with a grain of salt when consumer “favorable” ratings drop 2% over a couple years, but two somewhat buried aspects of their data intrigued me the most. First, the overall rankings. The charts below show that Americans basically hold climate mitigation policies, namely cap and trade, in the same esteemed company as nuclear power – this less than a year since one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. People even think more highly of clean coal technology. Wow. That just stings. The world’s single best market-driven mechanism for placing reasonable constraints on carbon output, and it ranks near the bottom of the list. This is after Kyoto, after Copenhagen, after Katrina, after Inconvenient Truth, after years of freakish weather across the globe. I shudder to think at the responses they might have gotten if “carbon tax” had been a category.


But this brings me to the second big bombshell in the Pike survey: ignorance. We are apparently more familiar with clean coal, natural gas cars, and even smart meters than they are with concepts like cap and trade. The clean technology with which they were most familiar, solar, also happens to be the least controversial. Coincidence? (Actually, there are some cases of technologies that are non-controversial but NOT well understood, such as smart grid. People seem to love it almost as much as solar, they just have no idea what it is!)


Perhaps we’re not fighting willful, informed resistance here, we’re simply fighting a knowledge gap. The climate activist community isn’t going to be winning any policy battles in America’s stymied political environment anytime soon, but maybe some new thinking around public awareness is in order? Cap and trade ain’t sexy, but if over a third of respondents aren’t even familiar with the concept, it would appear the climate lobby could use some PR help.

In between clamor over Solyndra, “climategate”, and other clean energy “scandals” being hyped in the media, you might have missed a huge clean energy victory from Sacramento, California. Earlier this year, the California Energy Commission unanimously adopted battery charger efficiency standards under the auspices of California Title 20 that will collectively save the equivalent of over one power plant’s worth of electricity (a “Rosenfeld”) annually. Due to the size of California’s market, chances are US consumers in other states may feel the benefits as manufacturers simply update their products to comply with the most stringent standards in the land.

Rather than go into the specifics of the standards, I wanted to send a hearty congratulations to my friends at Ecova’s research and policy team, particularly Suzanne Foster Porter, whose tenacity, expertise, and vision for the standard won the day. Suzanne and Chris Calwell ginned up the vision for tackling power conversion losses in a horizontal manner nearly a decade ago, starting with power supplies and progressing to battery chargers. The strategy of horizontal efficiency standards was a brilliant one. Why create a Byzantine web of separate appliance efficiency standards – particularly when electronic devices proliferate and mutate at a dizzying pace – when you can address a common power delivery feature for those devices in a single standard? Now basically any device in California that charges a battery, from iPods up to forklifts, will have to ensure that a certain minimum fraction of the energy it pulls from the grid actually trickles down to the end product. When we used to test these devices, you would be amazed at the losses. Sometimes upwards of 70% of the energy the consumer paid for never made it out of the battery pack. That is all about to change.

And of course one hopes that the truism about environmental policy moving west to east will once again hold and that the federal government will see the eminent logic and practicality of California’s approach.


For those of you who missed it, the Wall Street Journal recently eliminated any illusion of objectivity on climate change issues by publishing a magical work of fiction entitled: “No Need to Panic on Global Warming.” The original piece, which all sane people who have been following climate issues will find immensely irksome and yet entertaining, maintains that climate change isn’t happening and that if it is, it will somehow be a magical economic elixir for the world. None of the authors are credible climatologists, all of them, from what I can tell, are blowhards funded by oil companies. Paid by big oil to misrepresent science. Published by Rupert Murdoch to protect the status quo.

(An amazing aside: when hundreds of leading National Academy of Science members approached WSJ with a recent letter calling for greater urgency and actions on climate issues? Shot down. That’s right, WSJ would not publish the opposing side of the debate, which had the backing of hundreds of credible climatologists and a secret ingredient often shunned by the Murdoch empire and climate deniers alike: FACTS.)

So kudos to Grist and also to Joe Romm, who published an even more thorough and worthwhile debunking of the letter, for the wonkiest among us.

Originally posted on Grist:

It wasn’t surprising that the Wall Street Journal published an error-riddled op-ed about climate change last week, essentially saying it was bunk and we shouldn’t “panic” about it. We’ve gotten used to that. But what has really started to amaze me about that newspaper’s editorial page and the far right is that they now venture beyond delusion or misinformation. They lie, and they know they are lying.

That’s a big claim, but how else do you account for the statement that “the earth hasn’t warmed for well over 10 years now” when it is well known by anyone working on climate that 2010 was the hottest year on record?

Despite the fact that many of the authors of the article are funded by ExxonMobil through the George C. Marshall Institute, and despite the fact that none of them are leading scientists, they, and the editor of the opinion…

View original 542 more words

Posted by: mayosten | January 26, 2012

NASA’s Mission to Earth

NASA Ames sustainability base

Anyone interested in high-performance, green buildings simply has to check out NASA’s new “sustainability base” at their Ames campus in California. The below article gives Bill McDonough all the credit because, well, he loves taking all the credit, but this facility represents a real achievement in integrated design across all trades. As Forbes correctly points out, they spared no expense and overlooked no detail. I will be very interested to see if the performance data and occupant satisfaction in the new facility live up to all the hype.

NASAs New Sensor-Driven, Ultra Green Building – Forbes.

Posted by: mayosten | December 6, 2011

Webinar: Operational Guidelines for Mixed Mode Buildings

I don’t often write about or plug my research here in any way, mainly because up until this year, it was really just a work in progress. After nearly three years of examining operational strategies for mixed mode buildings through model predictive control, it turns out there is actually quite a bit to say that may be of use to operators and designers of these types of facilities. Mixed mode buildings utilize a combination of traditional mechanical HVAC systems and natural ventilation to meet comfort and hygiene requirements. My research utilizes model predictive control (mathematical optimization of building energy models) to benchmark energy- and comfort-optimal strategies for operating these types of buildings, with the goal of informing better guidelines for the design and operator communities. We’ll be looking at questions such as: when do occupants operate windows in an energy-optimal manner, and when do they waste energy? When should operators switch between mechanical and natural cooling?

Next Tuesday, December 13th at 3PM ET, our research team will be giving a USGBC members-only webinar on the outcomes of our research to date. You can register for the event here. And yes, unfortunately you or your organization will need to have a USGBC membership to participate. I have no control over this.

Update: you can actually watch the recorded presentation here. Thanks USGBC!

Posted by: mayosten | November 22, 2011

Putting Solyndra in Perspective

I think the following column by syndicated journalist Froma Harrop of the Providence Journal is perhaps the best single piece I’ve read on the Solyndra debacle, letting us see the forest for the trees on the DOE’s clean energy “scandal.” Think clean energy financing is dirty? Let’s tick off the various sacrifices – financial, human, environmental – that the country has made in the name of subsidizing other forms of energy: huge tax breaks, feed-in tariffs (oh, my bad, they’re called “investments”), oil spills, mine drainage, sustained military presence in the middle east, incalculable public health impacts, and on and on.

But you know, the Obama admin blew a $500 million loan to a solar company, and you really can’t forgive people for that kind of outrageous frittering away of the public’s wealth, at least according to the GOP. In reality, Solyndra faced the same risks as any other solar company and succumbed to price pressure after China flooded the market with dirt-cheap solar panels. If anything, this should be a lesson in why the US needs to be doing even more to invest in its clean energy sector, not less.

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