Nancy Pelosi thinks natural gas is “an alternative to fossil fuels.”

I often rant about the stupidity of Republicans when it comes to issues of global warming, but I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t point out when Democrats are stupid about it as well. There’s been a lot of news lately on Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s potential conflict of interest in regards to her position as Speaker of the House and the fact that she’s investing in a company that just so happens to be involved in an area of energy production that she’s been promoting in her clean energy policies. Legal experts seem to think that she’s not yet crossed the line into true conflict of interest territory, but that hasn’t stopped her critics from jumping all over her for it.

During a recent interview with Tom Brokaw she was asked about the investment and it was during her attempt to defend it that she made a pretty stupid statement (emphasis mine):

MR. BROKAW:  Oh, it’s what, between 100 and $200,000.

REP. PELOSI:  No, no, it was between 50 and $100,000, and it’s part of an, you know, entrepreneurial package.  This is the package we sign up for, this is what they invest in.  But that’s not the point.  I’m, I’m, I’m investing in something I believe in.  I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

Nancy, natural gas is a fossil fuel. True as it may be that a transition away from fossil fuels may benefit from a move towards the use of natural gas while we further develop the true alternative energies, that doesn’t make saying it isn’t a fossil fuel true. I suppose I’m picking nits here, but I’d feel a lot more confident in our leader’s ability to come up with a reasonable and achievable alternative energy plan if they actually know what is and isn’t a fossil fuel.

City of Ann Arbor, MI switches to LED lighting.

I live not far from Ann Arbor, it’s only about a 20 minute drive away, so it’s pretty cool to see them getting some attention for their efforts to switch all public lighting to LED bulbs:

The city strung its holiday cheer with about 114,000 LED lights and plans to convert all of its downtown public lighting starting with more than 1,000 LED streetlights. The effort is aligned with other North American cities like Raleigh, N.C., and Toronto, which have both started similar energy-saving efforts.

When Ann Arbor reaches its ambitious goal, city officials expect to see energy use for public lighting cut in half and a reduction of 2,425 tons CO2 annually. The city also expects a short payback of 3.8 years on its investment, which was funded in part with a $630,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

A pilot program on one city block with 25 LED lights helped bring the LED idea from theory to application with three years of research on how the technology saves the city about 50% on energy and maintenance costs. Based on their research, Ann Arbor city officials project an annual savings of over $100,000 on just the first 1,000 retrofits alone. The city plans to complete the conversion to LED over the next two years.

Hopefully more cities will be making the switch soon.

Guy who invented the Super Soaker has a new high efficiency solar power cell.

One of the problems with solar power has been the relatively low efficiency of the solar cells which keeps the cost of generating any reasonable amount of electricity from the sun rather high. The best of the solar power plants manage around 40% efficiency at this point, but Lonnie Johnson (inventor of the Super Soaker) has developed a new type of solar cell that could be up to 60% efficient:

Johnson, a nuclear engineer who holds more than 100 patents, calls his invention the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion System, or JTEC for short. This is not PV technology, in which semiconducting silicon converts light into electricity. And unlike a Stirling engine, in which pistons are powered by the expansion and compression of a contained gas, there are no moving parts in the JTEC. It’s sort of like a fuel cell: JTEC circulates hydrogen between two membrane-electrode assemblies (MEA). Unlike a fuel cell, however, JTEC is a closed system. No external hydrogen source. No oxygen input. No wastewater output. Other than a jolt of electricity that acts like the ignition spark in an internal-combustion engine, the only input is heat.

Here’s how it works: One MEA stack is coupled to a high- temperature heat source (such as solar heat concentrated by mirrors), and the other to a low-temperature heat sink (ambient air). The low-temperature stack acts as the compressor stage while the high-temperature stack functions as the power stage. Once the cycle is started by the electrical jolt, the resulting pressure differential produces voltage across each of the MEA stacks. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

“It’s like a conventional heat engine,” explains Paul Werbos, program director at the National Science Foundation, which has provided funding for JTEC. “It still uses temperature differences to create pressure gradients. Only instead of using those pressure gradients to move an axle or wheel, he’s using them to force ions through a membrane. It’s a totally new way of generating electricity from heat.”

If this invention works as it’s expected to it’ll be a major jump forward in solar power generation. Above and beyond that, however, is the potential to use this sort of collector for more than just solar heat:

This engine, Johnson says, can operate on tiny scales, or generate megawatts of power. If it proves feasible, drastically reducing the cost of solar power would only be a start. JTEC could potentially harvest waste heat from internal combustion engines and combustion turbines, perhaps even the human body. And no moving parts means no friction and fewer mechanical failures.

No word on how soon they hope to put this to the test or how far away a practical application might be if it works, but hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.


The days of the incandescent light bulb in the U.S. are numbered.

In the thread on the newly green New Years Eve countdown ball in another thread SEB member Webs mentioned that all we need to do now is get rid of other old lighting technologies. Apparently he’s not aware that the energy law recently passed by Congress will eventually do just that:

The incandescent light bulb, one of the most venerable inventions of its era but deemed too inefficient for our own, will be phased off the U.S. market beginning in 2012 under the new energy law just approved by Congress. Although this will reduce electricity costs and minimize new bulb purchases in every household in America, you may be feeling in the dark about the loss of your old, relatively reliable source of light. Here’s a primer on the light bulb phase-out and what will mean to you:

Why are they taking my light bulbs away? Moving to more efficient lighting is one of the lowest-cost ways for the nation to reduce electricity use and greenhouse gases. In fact, it actually will save households money because of lower utility bills. Ninety percent of the energy that an incandescent light bulb burns is wasted as heat. And yet, sales of the most common high-efficiency bulb available—the compact fluorescent (CFL)—amount to only 5 percent of the light bulb market. Earlier this year, Australia became the first country to announce an outright ban by 2010 on incandescent bulbs. The changeover in the United States will be more gradual, not mandated to begin until 2012 and phased out through 2014. However, don’t be surprised if some manufacturers phase out earlier.

How do I save money, when a CFL costs six times as much as an old-fashioned bulb? Each cone-shaped spiral CFL costs about $3, compared with 50 cents for a standard bulb. But a CFL uses about 75 percent less energy and lasts five years instead of a few months. A household that invested $90 in changing 30 fixtures to CFLs would save $440 to $1,500 over the five-year life of the bulbs, depending on your cost of electricity. Look at your utility bill and imagine a 12 percent discount to estimate the savings.

The rest of the FAQ lists off some information that even I wasn’t aware of—and I’ve already converted most of the lights here at my in-law’s house to CFLs—such as the fact that any CFL with the Energy Star symbol is required to have a two-year limited warranty so if they burn out prematurely you can get them replaced. So while it’ll be a few years yet the end of the incandescent bulb is on the horizon and may even arrive early if enough folks jump on the bandwagon.