Vol. 11 #7 September 12, 2007: The Big Energy Equation
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Time with Thomas

The other day I flew home from Denver, jumped off the plane, grabbed my bag, and headed for the LA Flyaway. The bus was just pulling up, pretty cool. I get a particularly sick feeling in my stomach when forced to pay for airport parking, so I was determined to take the Flyaway.

The rather new Flyaway has been a great LA transit success, with four-dollar fares, two major routes, and lots of help with baggage. You can even check your bags to your final airport destination before boarding the bus.

I rode shotgun; front seat, passenger side. The driver guided the huge bus easily, his large hands in control, navigating through heavy airport traffic. I was struck by how polite and patient he was with anxious travelers. His cool was evident.

A striking black man, Thomas is an athlete well past his prime. He walks five miles a day to keep fit. Golf is a passion, but he's more passionate about staying productive and alive. After a few months of retirement, he needed to get out of the house. We talked transportation fuels, hybrid buses and cars, and the need to transform mobility in LA.

We talked about the meaning of his work. Thomas calls the airport route a "line." He prefers driving teams, orchestras, and other groups for special outings. He relishes driving the UCLA Trojans, and being part of the team on the sidelines during games. Work is clearly much more than supplemental income; he's rounded and wise.

At the end of the ride, I gave Thomas a tip, a handshake and thanks. He gave me a soulful handshake and to my surprise, a quick hug. We looked each other in the eye: "A pleasure talking to you," and he meant it. I walked away with such a great feeling thinking about two men who would otherwise have never met. We'd made a rewarding connection.

Mass transportation amazes me. Not all the time, it certainly can be a hassle. But people who use mass transit get the gift of routine interactions. These gifts range from quick hellos to profound discussions at high altitudes. I greet about 34 people every morning before getting to work. My train buddies are good friends.

When most people think of mass transit, they do not think of the interactions like the one I had with Thomas. Its a hidden benefit of socially responsible transportation.


Financing Solar in Santa Monica

The City's program now includes preferential financing for solar projects. Four institutions were selected after a competitive solicitation managed by EcoMotion: Electric and Gas Industries Association, National City Energy Capital, New Resource Bank, and Safe BIDCO. Solar Santa Monica now offers a wide range of financial products from signature loans to power purchase agreements.

Project Management Seminar Ted Flanigan facilitated a full-day seminar on project management at EcoMedia in Manhattan Beach, California in mid- August. The sessions and interactive exercises focused on building team spirit, tapping into group synergy (facilitated brainstorming, the practice of creativity), how to make meetings and e-mail effective, use of daily logs and time management tools, and earning the trust and appreciation of peers and supervisors. "The tone was fun and informal;" reported Ted, "but the seminar was jam-packed with solid concepts for heightened individual and group productivity."

High Sierra Energy Summit

EcoMotion's principals joined the faculty at Cerro Coso Community College to lecture at the High Sierra Energy Summit in Mammoth Lakes, California. Virginia Nicols presented an overview of California's electricity market, its key utilities, regulators, and policies. Russ Flanigan (above) presented two popular "nuts and bolts" sessions on solar and household energy efficiency. Ted Flanigan gave an opening address, "the Big Energy Equation." Research of recent global and national data re-opened his eyes to the predominance of oil.

German Solar Research Tour

In less than three weeks, EcoMotion will be on tour in Germany, visiting Berlin, Leipzeig, Munich, Stuttgart and Freiburg to gain a first-hand understanding of Germany's rise to solar preeminence. EcoMotion is indebted to many German professionals who have helped shape the tour, as well as our hosts at Berlin Partner, the German Solar Industries Association, Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research, the Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, SolarMarkt, ICLEI-Europe, and the Fraunhofer Institute. For more information on the tour, contact Tiffany Tay at (949) 450-7106.

"Your newsletter is compelling reading."
Keith Mesecher, San Diego

"Thank you, Ted, for a great leadership day!"
Courtney Brittingham, EcoMedia

Household Wind Systems

Just how much energy does our global society use? This first of three segments provides a snapshot of global energy use, taking a look at both primary fuels and electricity. The next segment will focus on national energy use. The third segment will examine the penetration of renewable energy nationally and around the world.

Oil continues to dominate global energy use, accounting for 35% of primary energy use. This includes all forms of energy used for transportation, industry, space and water heating of homes and buildings, and electricity generation. But let's back up. How is energy measured?

A kitchen match releases about a British Thermal Unit (BTU) of energy; a quadrillion BTUs is called a "quad." We currently use about 450 quads of energy each year globally.

Primary Energy Consumption

Worldwide, 443 quads were consumed in 2004. (The average world citizen consumes about 74 million BTUs a year.) Of this, oil is predominant, amounting to 155 quads (35%). Oil continues to outstrip coal and natural gas, each with 113 quads (26%) of annual use. Nuclear and hydro each provide about 27 quads (6%). Geothermal and other forms of renewables amount to 6 quads, 1.6% of total use.

Electricity Generation and Use

Most of us think of electricity in terms of kilowatt-hours. A 100-watt light bulb that operates for ten hours (100 watts * 10 hours = 1,000 watt-hours, or one kilowatt- hour) costs about 15 cents in Southern California. Power plants are measured in megawatts. A nuclear reactor is about 1,000 megawatts (MW), or a "gigawatt." We use some 50 GW of power on a very hot summer day in California.

The largest measure of power use is terawatt-hours (TWh). Currently our global community consumes about 16,000 TWh annually with a power plant fleet whose capacity is on the order of 4,000 gigawatts. The vast majority of this capacity - 68% (2,555 GW) is generated in "thermal" power plants that combust coal, natural gas, or oil, heating water, creating pressure and spinning turbines. The next biggest source of electricity is hydro, producing 20% of the total with 740 GW. Nuclear provides ten percent of global electricity capacity (368 GW); renewables provide about 2% (73 GW).

LEED for Neighborhood Development

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is taking another big step, this time LEED-certifying communities. (LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) USGBC reports that 238 new developments have signed up to participate in the pilot rating system called LEED for Neighborhood Development. The projects - located in six countries -- range from urban infill projects that are less than an acre in size to brand new communities that are more than 12,000 acres.

LEED thus far has focused on individual buildings. LEED for Neighborhood Development is being touted as "the next generation of green building thinking." It integrates the principles of green building, smart growth, and "new urbanism," a concept that involves a range of housing types in a compact neighborhood, incorporating mixed uses with well-designed streets that allow easy access for pedestrians, bicycles, transit vehicles, and other vehicles.

EcoMotion's Actual Prius Mileage

Over the past year EcoMotion has been keeping track of the mileage and gallons used for our 2001 Toyota Prius. The graph above conveys miles per gallon (mpg) on the vertical axis, calculated by miles driven and gallons filled at the pump, and the number of times we filled up the hybrid on the horizontal axis.

EPA suggests that the 2001 Prius gets an estimated 52/45/48 miles per gallon (city/hwy/combined). Our data reveals that on average the Prius achieved 43.77 mpg. That's 4.23 mpg less than EPA's estimated combined mpg, but we do use a lot of air conditioning. Without question, 43.77 miles per gallon is a lot more than most cars on the road!

When driving uphill we noticed that the mpg dropped to 38.59 and 35.81 on two different occasions, as denoted by the blue arrows. The maximum mpg our Prius managed was 50.21, in the range of the EPA estimations for mpg, but this was just one instance.

It is interesting to note that the Prius actually gets better mileage in the city than on the highway. (Our new Civic Hybrids are getting 46 mpg!) How consistent is your hybrid with EPA estimates?

What's in YOUR kitchen? Recycling plastic containers
- Virginia Nicols

I went directly to my kitchen counter to do research for this article. I pulled together items already sitting there, then checked the symbol on the bottom of each to see just what type of plastic I had. Here's the rundown:

Plastic food container - 5 (PP, Polypropylenene) Container lid - 4 (LDPE, Low Density Polyethylene) Dishwashing soap - 2 (HDPE, High Density Polyethylene) Handwashing soap - 1 (PET or PETE, Polyethylene Terephthalate) Hand sanitizer - also 1 (PET or PETE).

The Society of the Plastics Industry lists 35 different plastics (or resins), but from a recycling standpoint, there seem to be just seven: the ones listed above, plus numbers 3 (PVC, Polyvinyl Chloride), 6 (PS, Polystyrene) and 7, Other. And in most communities, only #'s 1 & 2 can be recycled.

Technically, all resins are recyclable. Recycled plastics are collected, chopped and washed, sorted in a floatation tank (some float, others sink), dried, melted, filtered, formed into strands, then chopped into pellets. Manufacturers buy the pellets to make new products like plastic lumber, carpet, and automobile parts.

But the process described above should give you an idea of the problem associated with recycling plastic - it's expensive! The Department of Energy says that the price of virgin resin is lower than that of recycled resin - typically about 40% lower!

Still, as consumer awareness picks up, and whenever there is a threat to the supply of oil, the demand for recycled resin grows. Local Southern California start- up Cal Plastics, Inc. counts on the industry analysts' projection that by 2009, 50% of all PET containers will be recycled. Cal Plastics plans to collect bales of PET bottles (already being collected but mostly being sold to China), melt and extrude the plastic as sheets and then thermoform it into clamshells, trays, and cartons for packaging for southern California fruit and vegetables. Local supply of feedstock, local labor, local market. It makes sense.

But for such a business plan to work, people like us need to help by recycling our plastics!

General guidelines:

1. REMOVE lids and caps. 2. RINSE containers, and triple rinse any that held cleaning products or hazardous materials. 3. SORT by type. (Melted plastic made of multiple resins turns out to be different from any of the original types, and its physical properties - strength, brittleness, temperature sensitivity, etc. - may vary with each batch.) 4. CRUSH the bottle or container to reduce its volume. 5. COMBINE same types in paper grocery bags and place in recycling bin.

Your own local recycling program may ask for slightly different steps, but you get the idea. If more plastics become readily available for recycling, enterprising citizens will come up with new ways to use them.

Cows, Diets, and Methane Emissions

The story is too colorful: OK, cows burp a lot, releasing lots of methane. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. So how to curb the problem? Diet.

Farmed ruminant animals may be responsible for up to a quarter of "man-made" methane emissions. As stated in a British newspaper, "contrary to common belief, most gas emerges from their front, not rear, ends." A single cow can produce between 100 and 200 litres of methane every day.

Researchers in the United Kingdon's Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth say the diet of farmed animals can be changed to make them produce less methane. This can be done with more digestible feedstuff. Farmers can switch to different grass varieties, particularly those with high sugar levels such as white clover and birdsfoot trefoil, a leafy legume.

Similar research in New Zealand finds that dietary changes could reduce methane emissions from sheep by up to 50%. In Stuttgart, Germany, researchers have developed a pill to reduce methane emissions from cattle. The plant-based pill, combined with a special diet and strict feeding times, is meant to reduce the methane produced by cows by converting it to glucose.