April 25, 2008 – Volume 11, Issue 16
I N · T H I S · I S S U E



"On the Edge of Nowhere" by James Lawrence is an easy read that left a deep impression about the profound pace of evolution of our society. "Nowhere" takes you into the life of a trapper and his family in the Alaskan outback, only 50 years ago. How self-reliant these people were; building shelter, hunting for sustenance, and trekking miles across frozen tundra to trade and enjoy "modern" amenities like soap and shoes.

Our civilization is flourishing at a break-neck pace: From one to six billion people in our parents' generation: moon landings, telecom, mobile phones, the Internet. Remarkable advances in materials, biotechnologies, and synthetics of all kinds. There are few reminders for just how fast this has all taken place.

"Horsepower" is a vestige of a time not long ago. Motors are rated using this metric, the motors in cars (which really did take over for horses) to the electric motors in our clothes dryers. A "half a horse" weighs about 20 pounds, a remarkable technological feat. A typical horse - whose height is measured in "hands" not "feet" - weighs 700 pounds. (Englishmen I know still weigh themselves in "stones," about 12 pounds each.)

So where did horsepower come from? Is it what a horse can do? The term was developed by James Watt whose name we all know as the most basic unit of power, "the watt." Working with ponies in coal mines, Watt developed a unit of work over time. The horsepower, he decided, is the amount of material that a horse can lift one foot in a minute. He set a standard: A horsepower lifts 33,000 pounds one foot in one minute.

That's a lot of coal. And it's 745.699872 watts and 2,545 BTUs, or 1,055 joules, or about 600 calories. That defines how much you have to feed the horse to sustain that level of activity, assuming 100% efficiency. This can be taken full circle: A 20-watt lightbulb consumes 0.0268 horsepower.

Later the auto industry glommed onto the term. An automotive horsepower - versus mechanical horsepower -- is derived by taking the square of the diameter of the engine's cylinder and dividing it by 2.5. A 2001 Corvette "with 385 horses under the hood" is propelled by the equivalent of about 49 horses, still a lot of horses, hay, and oats at work.

Other Historical Units of Measurement


A Leonardo Da Vinci illustration shows nine historical units of measurement, including the span, cubit, various ells, fathom, yard, hand, and foot. And then there are rods, and chains, and yards. Some think the latter may have related to a man's single stride, or a person's girth. Barrels are also somewhat antiquated: Beer barrels are 31 gallons; barrels of oil are 42. Anyone heard of a "hogshead?" It's a 63-gallon cask of fluid.

Blowing in the Wind

Denmark: Denmark is a small country, about the size of West Virginia, with a population about the size of Wisconsin. Its five million people are modern-day Vikings in the harvest of energy; Denmark has become the world's wind superpower.

In 1990, Denmark developed a national energy plan that targeted a 20% CO2 reduction by 2005. By 2007, the country had installed 5,267 turbines with a combined output of 3,135 MW. Today, Denmark gets 20% of its electricity from the wind, 21,000 citizens are employed in the wind industry, and wind has become an export crop. Vestas, a company whose roots were in manufacture of farm implements, is among the world's leading wind turbine manufacturers.

The Danish Energy Authority is in charge of carrying out the nation's ambitious wind plan. It now intends to double wind capacity by 2025 to fulfill the goal of harvesting the wind to produce half the nation's electricity. Using strong North Sea winds, the Danes plan to deploy 500 -1,000 offshore wind turbines.

Bahrain World Trade Center: The Bahrain World Trade Centers twin towers will feature three embedded wind turbines, visible in the photo above, that will generate 15% of the building's power.

U.S. Wind Production: This past year was big for domestic wind production, with an increase of 5,000 MW of capacity bringing total U.S. wind production up to 16,000 MW. Texas not only leads the nation - with 4,446 MW of wind capacity - but added a whopping 1,618 MW in 2007.

California, in contrast, installed 63 MW of wind capacity bringing the Golden State's total to 2,439 MW. California's wind capacity has been constrained by the State's transmission system. With major upgrades planned, 2,000 MW of new wind capacity is projected by 2013. Currently, California gets 2.6% of its electricity from the wind; Iowa leads the nation with 5.5%.

Wind, Jobs and the PTC: Executives of the four largest manufacturers of wind turbines sold in the United States -- GE Energy, Gamesa, Siemens, and Vestas -- convened in Washington DC last week to lobby for the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) that is slated to expire at the end of 2008. The American Wind Energy Association claims that $19 billion of wind power investment and 116,000 jobs are at risk if the highly effective tax credit expires.

T. Boone Pickens: Investors would be foolish to overlook where T. Boone Pickens is placing his bets. Worth some $2.5 billion, Pickens is a natural trendsetter. Now the entrepreneur is planning to build a 4,000 MW wind farm in Pampa, Texas that could cost as much as $10 billion. Clearly Pickens is betting that the demand for clean environmentally sound energy will increase with concerns about carbon dioxide emissions. Over the next eight years, his company, Mesa Power, plans to erect as many as 1,500 turbines generating 1.5 - 3 MW each. And while wind is a good resource in Texas, in summer, the winds die down. Mesa plans to concurrently build 500 - 600 MW of "solid fuel" power plant capacity as well as a 300 MW "peaker" plant to augment the wind and shore up power purchase agreements.

Virginia Nicols and "Winning the Solar Race"

Editor's Note: It struck me this morning of the coincidence between this week's Eco-Logic focus on horsepower and the following feature on Virginia Nicols' account of who's winning the solar race. To all who know her, Virginia Nicols is a proven force, passionate about learning and eager to share. With graceful tenacity, she is untiring in her mission to inspire the public to take action.

Virginia's presentation probes: Why hasn't the United States been as successful as Germany in the solar policy arena? How can we - the public - demand a safe and sustainable energy future, and get it now? Look East friends. With Tiffany Tay, Virginia is now spearheading EcoMotion's Spanish Solar Research Tour scheduled for October 2008 to learn about Spain's remarkably successful renewable energy policies.

EcoMotion's Virginia Nicols recent presentation at the Municipal Green Building Conference & Expo held in Downey, California raised eyebrows and later drew many nods. Her presentation, "Why Germany is Winning the Solar Race," was based in large part on EcoMotion's October 2007 Study Tour, and centered on the German Feed-In Tariff. This policy, started in the early 1990s but revitalized in 2004, has led to Germany's having half the world's photovoltaic capacity.

Recently, a number of countries have come forward with feed-in tariffs of their own, including France, Spain, and Greece. Naturally, these tariffs get compared with the German model. Virginia highlighted the three main features of the German model which are useful in making such comparisons: simplicity, reliability, and rates. In brief:

1. Germany will accept all solar power fed into the grid, no matter who produces it - an individual, a group, an investment fund - and no matter how much is produced.
2. Once a system is producing, its owner will receive the same amount for every kWh produced for 20 years.
3. The tariff is high enough to be financially attractive. Even after three years of step-downs, the current tariff is approximately $0.65 per kWh, or about four times the cost of "regular" electricity.

As a result of these policies, Germany has not only installed systems on over 300,000 roofs, but it has developed a quarter million jobs in various aspects of solar and other renewable energy - from research and development to manufacturing, training, marketing and installation.

Given recent trends in the U.S., the economic development aspect of renewable energy may turn out to be even more compelling than the "clean" energy message. Entrepreneur and activist Van Jones, pictured with Virginia, was keynote speaker at the MGBE conference. In the face of global warming threats, Jones' Green for All movement connects the need for jobs and job training in urban centers in the U.S. with the need for massive "green" retrofits.

Earth Day: From Past to Present
- By EcoMotion Intern and UCI Student Khalid Khoudari

Earth Day was founded in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson to provide environmental teach-ins and to insure environmental issues were integrated into the national political agenda. He was shocked to see that the environment was not a topic of discussion in politics or the media. Also realizing the impact the anti-War demonstrations had on the national agenda, Sen. Nelson pushed for Earth Day from the grass-roots level. Events on the first Earth Day included rallies and sit-ins by millions of people throughout the country. In fact, 10% of the U.S. population - twenty million people - participated.

Years after the Clean Air Act was passed, years after the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, years after many other successes of Sen. Nelson's Earth Day, we still find ourselves entrenched in environmental concerns. For the 38th anniversary of Earth Day, environmentalists from all over the world hosted activities to educate and bring about attention to these environmental issues.

This year, thousands of cyclists gathered to advocate clean air and a pollution free environment for Earth Day celebrations in the Philippines. Green Apple Festival concerts for Earth Day took place in Washington D.C, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and five other major cities. At the same time, the Dalai Lama delivered a lecture titled "Earth Day Reflections" to the University of Michigan. The City of Los Angeles shut down part of Wilshire Boulevard for festivals of "Earth Day LA/Car Free Day 2008". Many other activities, campaigns, and educational programs revolving around Earth Day took place across the globe.

Despite the success of the environmental movement, there is still a long way to go. Energy crisis, global warming, diminishing oil supplies, and other concerns need to be dealt with. And even though we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, our actions must adhere to the code of global care everyday of our lives.

Wave Propulsion

What's going on in the high seas? Did you know that some tankers now use sails to run with the wind and augment their diesel engines and save fuel? Now there's a whole new form of energy conversion from Japan. Dr. Yutaka Terao developed the Suntory Mermaid II because, "fossil fuels will run out one day." The Mermaid is now crossing the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Japan without use of motors or sails. The catamaran uses wave propulsion power, a form of power that captures the energy in ocean swells, using flippers at the vessel's bow (in a "wave devouring" configuration) to paddle the boat at three knots for the long, two and a half month, 3,780 nautical mile voyage.

Big Hydro in the Congo

Plans are being made to build the largest hydroelectric plant in the world. Called the Grand Inga, the $80 billion project on the Congo river would be twice the size of China's Three Gorges Dam. The planned Grand Inga dam will be 205 meters high, will create a 15 kilometer long reservoir, and generate 320 TWh annually. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the dam will boost the African continent's electricity supply by a third and help address the 500 million Africans who lack access to electricity. In tandem, a new African transmission system will be required to shunt power to Egypt in the north, Nigeria in the west, and to South Africa.

Soaring Hybrid Sales
- By EcoMotion Intern and UCI Student Henna Zaidi

Gasoline in the high three dollar range has become an American fact of life, so more and more of us are looking to buy and lease more fuel efficient cars, hybrids in particular. And with oil prices hitting new record highs day by day, consumers are fed up and are have been forced to think and act green. New data shows that hybrid sales jumped 38 percent in 2007, even as overall vehicle sales dropped 3 percent. Analysts say that rising cost of gasoline, along with an increasing availability of different hybrid options, is prompting more Americans to buy hybrid cars, which combine gasoline with battery-powered electric motors. Driving a hybrid not only saves money at the pump, but also pollutes less, and best of all makes you feel good.