Solar panels, batteries, and the grid

Last weekend I attended a training exercise of the emergency communications hub at Neighborhood House in West Seattle. During an emergency, like a huge earthquake that knocks out landlines and cell phones, volunteers will jump into action, creating a communications network across the city using ham radios. These hubs will provide information to citizens (e.g. where to find food, shelter, medical care) and back to city officials (e.g. what is needed, status of roads and bridges, status of gas and electricity).

Continue reading “Solar panels, batteries, and the grid”

1978 vs. 2010: What’s changed, what hasn’t

This post was originally published in 2010 on the 1Sky blog. I didn’t foresee fracing, so my predictions related to Peak Oil haven’t come to pass. Most of the rest (e.g. the challenges of nuclear, the growth of EVs, wind, and solar) have been on the mark. Even most of the links were still good.

“The West Wing” and renewable energy


As part of my post-election therapy I’m watching every episode of The West Wing. For those who don’t remember the show, it’s a soap opera set in the White House of President Jeb Barrlett, a Nobel-prize winning economist played by Martin Sheen. His White House is filled with smart, hard-working, dedicated public servants just trying to keep the wheels on the bus while dealing with budgets, terrorist attacks, and unspoken love. It’s reassuring to listen to the President talk in complete sentences and actually hear intelligent discussions of important policies. Even the Republicans are smart and doing what they believe to be believe to be the best for the country.

Continue reading ““The West Wing” and renewable energy”

Making the Case for Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century: an evening of pro-nuclear discussions

On April 4th, 2017 I attended a forum presented by Energy Northwest, the operators of the Columbia Generating station (the Northwest’s only nuclear power plant), and Seattle Friends of Fission at Town Hall. The panel was exclusively pro-nuclear and included:

  • James Conca, contributor on energy and environmental issues
  • Nick Touran, advanced nuclear reactor physicist, TerraPower
  • Kristin Zaitz, senior consulting engineer, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant
  • Moderator: Scott Montgomery, nationally acclaimed writer, and adjunct faculty, UW Jackson School of Intl. Studies

Continue reading “Making the Case for Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century: an evening of pro-nuclear discussions”

NW Wind Power – Too Much of a Good Thing?

This is a repost of an  article I wrote for Sustainable West Seattle in May, 2011. Given the heavy snow pack that the Pacific coast got this winter, we’re likely to see a repeat of the situation we saw in 2011.

The Challenges of Wind Development in the Northwest

It was recently reported that the Northwest power grid operators (primarily the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)) plan to instruct wind farm operators to turn their turbines off occasionally this spring, because our grid can’t handle all of the power. Why are we turning off wind farms now and not shutting down Washington’s only coal power plant until 2025?

Continue reading “NW Wind Power – Too Much of a Good Thing?”

The Poorest County in the Country is in the middle of the Saudi Arabia of Wind

This post was originally published with Sustainable West Seattle in February 2011. 

The latest rankings show that the poorest county in the Country is Ziebach County, South Dakota. Two Indian Reservations make up this very rural county with a population density of 1.3 people per square mile (as compared to  816 people per square mile for King County). This is a place where more than 60% of the people live at or below the poverty line (a family of four making less than $22,000 a year).

Continue reading “The Poorest County in the Country is in the middle of the Saudi Arabia of Wind”

Land Use: Ethanol vs Solar

This post was originally posted to Sustainable West Seattle’s web site in August of 2013

On a recent trip to Minneapolis, I looked out the window of the plane and saw a vast expanse of land growing corn. It had me thinking about ethanol, since much of that corn is being grown to feed not man nor beast, but cars and trucks. I wondered if we wouldn’t be better off covering that land with solar panels. On my return, I looked up some numbers and my suspicions were confirmed: we could produce about 4 times the electricity consumed in the US by covering the land now used to grow corn for ethanol with solar panels.

Continue reading “Land Use: Ethanol vs Solar”

The Energy Blog – War of the Currents Round 2

This posting was originally published with Sustainable West Seattle  in June 2010

The War of the Currents was fairly fought over 100 years ago and the winner was the undisputed better technology; a technology that has served us well. Electricity has worked its way into every facet of our lives and into almost every corner of the country. To be off-the-grid practically means to be Amish or The Unabomber. It’s so critical that when we had an extended power outage here in Seattle in 2006 eight people died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. So what has changed to make we want to take up arms and fight for the discredited Direct Current?

Continue reading “The Energy Blog – War of the Currents Round 2”

The Energy Blog – War of the Currents

This posting was originally published with Sustainable West Seattle  in June 2010

War of the Currents: Round 1

Before there was HD-DVD vs. BlueRay, Mac vs. PC, or Beta vs. VHS there was AC vs. DC. And if you think that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had a rivalry, check out Edison and Tesla, two of the greatest innovators ever and bitter foes in the War of the Currents.  This posting will be a bit more technical than I usually get, but I won’t assume you know anything about electricity and there will be no math.

Continue reading “The Energy Blog – War of the Currents”