Tag Archives: gas

Man To Man?

water-heaterA wise person once said, “I feel in need of a long, hot shower.” Yep, that’s the most recent comment on this blog as I sit down to work on this post and a fitting way to start. Yesterday’s topic decidedly left me wanting the same.

The key word in the opening statement is “hot.”

Q. What goes in the toaster?

A. Bread, you idiot.

Q. Do you sell any hot water heaters?

A. No, you idiot. You don’t need to heat water that’s already hot.

Ah. So we’ll need a water heater if we want our shower to be nice and toasty.

We’ve lived in the big city for eight months now. During that time the hot water has had a rosy hue. Kind of the like the candy apple red on the car in the movie Corvette Summer starring Mark Hamill. We’ve been showering in rust.

The water heater, circa 1985, was almost 30 years old. My wife finally convinced the property management company to put in a new one. They were sending over their man to install it.

The big day came and I listened out of the corner of my ear, working on my computer, safely ensconced in my office, as my wife met the guy and they set about the task. Everything seemed to be going fine.

Until…

I went to the kitchen to get a refill on my coffee. The man saw me. Oh shit.
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Foxy O’Reilly

How does bias color the advice and information we get from fair and balanced sources? This graphic might illuminate:
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Smog is car poop

Pollution!

Look away. Cartoon cars don't do this.

Cars 2 is billed as a movie where cartoon car characters save the world. I found myself wondering, “How will they do that, exactly?”

Scratch that. Actually I don’t give a shit. Whatever. I have to admit, it sounds like exactly the wrong message at exactly the wrong time.

Is your planet being killed by pollution? No worries, mate! All you need is more of the #1 thing that caused it – cars! And we got ’em incoming, full throttle. Here they come to save the day! *cough* *cough*

Bah! There’s gotta be some irony there. “I’ll save you by killing you!” If that’s the aim of the movie, then I for one say, “Job well done!”

Ever curious, I decided to do a little research into the characters in this movie. Here are my findings.

Lightning McQueen – A “generic” NASCAR with design influenced from the Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper. According to NASCAR their race cars can get about 4.2 miles per gallon. (Source.)

Mater – A tow truck inspired by a 1951 International Harvester but Mater looks more like a 1955-1957 Chevrolet or GMC. I can’t find fuel economy data but I’m guessing it was about 5 to 10 mpg.

Finn McMissile – Inspired by James Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin DB5. This one had a whopping 14.6 mpg.

Holley Shiftwell – Unknown vehicle type but she looks a lot like another race car to me. We’ll just go ahead and call this one 4.2 mpg, too.

Rod “Torque” Redline – a tough-as-nails Detroit muscle car. That’s a bit too ambiguous to nail down fuel economy but I’m guessing that isn’t was “muscle cars” are known for.

And now, at last, the plot of Cars 2 can be leaked. Remember, you heard it here first! Start your engines!

It is a dark time for the rebellion. The Empire, powered by a new Death Star (semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit) named “BP” is consuming the planetary fuel reserves at an alarming rate. Fuel that is desperately needed by our heroes for life and death stuff like winning the first-ever race to determine who is the world’s fastest car.

Darn it, wouldn’t you know that to win that race their gonna need fuel – and lots of it!

The gang speeds off to enlist the help of Emmit “Doc” Brown who has replaced Doc Hudson who has dimmed his high beams for the last time and is now parked in that great wrecking yard in the sky.

Doc Brown introduces Dicky DeLorean, a cocky stainless steel farm boy who’s the fastest ship in the fleet, and possesses doors that, when opened, allow him to fly and kill womprats just like he did at Beggar’s Canyon back home.

It’s a race against time to get the fuel they need to save the planet from, well, from cars. Just like them. Will they be able to stop the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur oxide, and volatile organic compounds that belch from their very own exhaust pipes before they run out of fuel and save the planet and make the atmosphere safe to breath again?

Fasten your seat belts! It’s the carbon-based thrill ride of the year!

Energetic energy extrapolations

Energy is that which makes us go. It’s fuel that makes our vehicles move, and electrical power that heats and cools our homes. And it’s electricity that powers industry and business.

By now, most Americans have heard statistics like the United States is 5 percent of the world’s population but responsible for 25% of global energy consumption. So I was little surprised to learn that the U.S. is 7th in “energy consumption per capita” behind Canada and a number of small countries. Even so, the U.S. is still the world’s largest consumer of energy.

Where does our energy come from? Approx. 40% from petroleum, 23% from coal, 23% from natural gas, 8.4% from nuclear power, and 7.3% from renewable, which includes mainly hydroelectric dams but also wind power, geothermal and solar.

US Energy Consumption Graph. Fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas) represent about 86 percent of the total.

Energy always seems to come with a price. It’s like a wish that comes true but carries a curse. Petroleum pollutes our atmosphere and cities. Coal mining is dangerous and also causes pollution. Natural gas is advertised as “cleaner” but it still adds to global carbon emissions. Nuclear power is high risk and produces toxic waste products. Even hydroelectric power has its problems like ecosystem damage, other environmental effects and risk. (They can fail.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy recently due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the hubris of us humans.

Japan is a country located in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” which is an area where large numbers of volcanic activity and earthquakes occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. Japan, in particular, is situated on the meeting point of two major tectonic plates. The Pacific Plate is moving westward against the younger and less dense Philippines Plate. Over time the Pacific Plate is pushing under the Philippines Plate. As we all know, the activity between tectonic plates is occasionally experienced by humans in the form of earthquakes.

U.S. Energy Consumption By Energy Resource 1635-2000 (in Quadrillion Btu)

Einstein said famously that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In our history we have accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Yet we still tell ourselves, “Yes, we can do this. We know what we’re doing.” We’re really good at failing to learn the lessons of history.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we think of those incidents as “accidents.” Perhaps our mindsets would be slightly different if we thought of them as “inevitables.”

I like to think of it like this. Imagine that the nuclear power industry is a home you want to build. But the only land you can afford is in a 100-year flood plain. Wikipedia says, “a 100-year flood has approximately a 63.4% chance of occurring in any 100-year period.” It could happen the year after you build your dream home. Or in a hundred years. Or in two hundred years or longer. The point being, it’s a random probability.

You took that land, of course, because, all other factors being equal, it was cheaper than land that wasn’t in a flood plain. In other words, you accepted the risk. We humans seem to lack the ability to effectively gauge or even imagine what isn’t right in front of our faces. If the dream home is built and then gets washed away next year, guess who will be crying crocodile tears about it? Too bad, so sad. Talk to the hand!

The nuclear power industry is a home built on a 100-year flood plain.

Worse, the nuclear reactors built in Japan were supposed to be the best of the best. They were supposedly engineered and constructed to the highest earthquake and disaster standards in the world. It turns out, though, that they didn’t even represent the best we humans could do. Reports are now saying that the reactors needed “upgrades” and stuff.

In other words, they were only built to withstand, perhaps, 80 percent of what might conceivably happen. And that’s perfectly analogous to a 100-year flood plain. So it’s no big surprise what happened. Most likely, it was inevitable.

And, I have a question. It might be a stupid one and expose that I know diddly squat about this entire topic. I’m willing to risk that ridicule because I want to know. Nuclear reactors contain fuel and water is used to control the heat, etc. So my question is this: After the earthquake, were the reactors still in operation? Was the fuel still in there doing its fuel type of stuff? So water and power were still needed to manage coolant to control the process?

Were the reactors shut down and the nuclear fuel completely removed as a safety precaution right after the earthquake so there would be absolutely no possibility of the reactors going out of control and overheating?

Were these types of tough decisions authorized to be made by personnel actually on site at the reactors? Or did “shut down” decisions have to come from elsewhere, which might have been a bit difficult and complicated right after a big earthquake? Were there procedures for shutdown and proactively be safe? You know, just in case something like a tsunami might follow? (It’s been known to happen.)

I have absolutely no idea. But I can imagine it would have been a big decision. Should we turn off the grid and affect millions of people? What if we’re wrong? How do we balance that against an unknown “if” that may or may not happen?

I’d be very curious to know.

This post is too long. I’ll probably have to continue it in a part 2. “To be continued.” Heh. Here are some final quickie thoughts.

Coal? I once saw a movie that claimed every time you flip on a light switch you blow up a mountain. I actually think about that when I turn on the lights.

Then I heard about the mayor of small town (pop. 200) in Texas that was surrounded by 18 natural gas wells. The company that profited from the wells assured the mayor that everything was safe. But the mayor’s kids had constant nose bleeds, and not just little dribbles. They were gushers. I heard him on The Story, a radio program on NPR. The mayor loved his town and fought the good fight, but eventually choose to move out of town to protect the health of his family. That was the right decision. The safety of his family had to come first. Along the way he fought the company and got little help from the state of Texas.

When it comes to energy, all I hear about is how we need, more, more, and more. Projections for energy use in the U.S. in the future show that demand will be going up. But what if less was more? What if the most powerful weapon we ever had (conservation) was already within our grasp? What if we figured out new ways to get by with less? Of course, we live in a culture where fuel economy in vehicles has barely moved a blip since the time the combustion engine was invented. This sort of approach seems to be of little interest to us.

We need energy. We crave energy. We demand energy. Our very lives and almost everything single thing we do depends on energy. But at the same time, energy production is one of the most destructive things that we humans can ever do.

How will we ever reconcile this? Is it even possible?

In part two I’ll try to answer the big question, “What if we found a limitless and perfectly safe form of energy?”

This is my “E” post for the April 2011 “A to Z Blogging Challenge.”

You call that mileage?

While watching the Super Bowl the other day, I caught a couple of car commercials bragging about fuel economy in the 40 mpg range. One of them was the 2011 Hyundai Elantra that claims to get 40 miles per gallon.

40 mpg? That’s it? This supposed to be what is considered good?

That got me thinking. I decided to build a graph.

First, where we were. The initial point on the graph. I picked the Ford Model T. Says Wikipedia: “According to Ford Motor Company, the Model T had fuel economy on the order of 13 to 21 mpg.”

To keep the graph fair, I used the lower value of 13 mpg. This will make the improvement over time that much more dramatic.

I then made a linear line showing the increase in MPG over time between those two points. The 13 mpg of 1908 and the approx. 40 mpg of 2008.

In other words, in about 90 years we’ve gone from 13 mpg to about 40 mpg. Think about that. With all of the advances in technology in the 20th century, that’s all we could do? Wow!

Of course, using only two data points leaves out a lot of interesting activity in between. Here’s a graph that shows detail activity from the 70’s to present day:

Source: PewFuelEfficiency.org (PDF)

This graph shows a nice increase across the board between 1975 and 1987 or so. Of course, you have to notice that in 1975 the average fuel economy was only about 15 mpg. What the hell?

This car from 1908 could beat the average car of 1975 in fuel economy

So yeah, the pricing crisis in the early 1970’s prompted that increase in fuel economy. But then look what happens. We get complacent. We have a short memory. For over 20 years fuel economy has remained as flat as a pancake. And that’s just pathetic.

Oil is a finite resource. Put simply, if we could double fuel economy we’d use half as much. (In theory. Of course, if that happened demand would go up, so it wouldn’t be quite that simple.) Even so, fuel economy is probably the single most important lever we could move at this moment in time – if we had the collective will to care.

I’m amazed that car commercials can tout 40 mpg as some sort of achievement when really it is nothing more than a pathetic reminder of how little we’ve done.