From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Insulate Britain Was a Bargain

Insulate Britain ( is an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion which demanded that the British government fund insulation for all public housing by 2025, and, by the end of 2021, the government must create a plan to fund retrofitting of insulation of all homes in Britain by 2030. Someone estimated that it would cost £5 billion to insulate all public housing by 2025, which I’m sure was “too much” for conventional wisdom. 

Insulate Britain demonstrated for these demands by blocking major highways around the UK, a dozen or more times, starting in September 2021 through February 2022 when the group announced "with a heavy heart" that the series of protests had failed in their aim to force the government into taking action. One poll from October 2021 showed that only 18% supported the protests while 72% of those surveyed opposed the protesters' actions, with 10% that "did not know." 

Energy prices are soaring in the UK and, according to columnist Caitlin Moran, "the present UK Energy Rebate Scheme will cost £9.1 billion for just one year"

and the Guardian reports that 
"UK must insulate homes or face a worse energy crisis in 2023, say experts 
Cutting heat loss from houses will be more effective in the long term than subsidising bills, according to analysis" 

 Looks like Insulate Britain was offering a bargain. 

Addendum: Other groups like Home Energy Efficiency Team [HEET] have done (and do) weatherization parties ( while back in the 1970s I was part of a group which did solar barnraisings ( 

 Incidentally, HEET has gone on to pioneer geothermal energy microgrids as a replacement for natural gas (

There is such a thing as positive protest too.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Energy as a System, Systems as Synergy

 MIT has designed a program which maximizes the production of wind farms by operating the wind farm as a system, not individual wind turbines.  Reducing downwind turbulence within the whole wind farm can increase energy production by 1.2% to 3%, a result validated by field trials in working wind farms.


When you think of these things as systems, there are previously hidden benefits that become apparent. When you don't, you have the present situation and BAU forever and ever amen.

Another example, from Edwin Black's book, Internal Combustion:  How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (NY:  St Martin's Press, 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-35907-2), about the Milwaukee Road, an electric rail system and the advantages thereof: 

"Sometimes electrified railways seemed to defy the laws of perpetual motion. For example, when the brakes were applied or the train traveled down a slope, the engine actually returned electricity to the grid. Regenerative braking and similar power returns helped the engines pay for themselves. In some mountain ranges, if timed correctly, a heavy downhill train could actually regenerate enough electricity to the grid to power another train passing it uphill. Thus both trains would travel in a minuet of seemingly energy-free motion. That might have seemed to violate the laws of physics, but not the rules of General Electric's wondrous workhorses, which were designed to observe this maxim: It is better to give than receive when it comes to electrical power. Those engines lasted not for years but for decades. Their endurance was measured in millions of miles. They were monumental vehicles that created economic prosperity and environmental balance everywhere they rolled."

Regenerative braking on electric trains is a technology that is over a century old and coming back to the fore, both on railways and with trucks.

Yet, thinking in systems is hard for most of us.

Donella Meadows' Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems [my comments] may help:

Get the beat of the system. [music and dance]
Expose your mental models to the light of day.
Honor, respect, and distribute information.
Use language with care and enrich it with systems concepts.
Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable. [system failure is too often the first clue to what’s important]
Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
Go for the good of the whole. [Sarvodaya, a concept from Gandhian economics*]
Listen to the wisdom of the system.
Locate responsibility within the system.
Stay humble - stay a learner.
Celebrate complexity. [and recognize simplicity]
Expand time horizons.
Defy the disciplines.
Expand the boundary of caring.
Don't erode the goal of goodness.

More in my notes to Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems at

* Sarvodaya, Swaraj, and Swadeshi
Part of a series of Notes on Gandhian Economics

As for getting the beat of the system, here are roughly detailed plans for 145 countries to go 100% renewable by 2035 or earlier from Mark Z Jacobson et alia: [pdf alert]

According to this carbon countdown clock (, at the current rate, the most CO2 we can emit to stay below 1.5ºC rise is 400 Gt, starting from 2020, and that carbon budget will be used up by about July/August 2029. 

We are at 290 Gts carbon budget left as I write [September 3, 2022]

Would be good to run the thought experiment of 100% renewable by that climate deadline, July/August 2029, now that we have the model for one by 2035.

That seems to me to be the beat of this system.  Imagine 100% renewable by summer 2029 and backcast from there to see what we have to do today, and all the other todays from now to then if we want a more livable planet.

Quite clearly, our task is predominantly metaphysical, for it is how to get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous behaviors that will avoid extinction.  
R. Buckminster Fuller

We don’t have much time and should get cracking.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Studying 100% Renewable Energy Studies

the war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it.
Diane di Prima, “Rant"

On the History and Future of 100% Renewable Energy Systems Research ( is a marvelous paper, a study of the peer-reviewed papers on 100% renewable energy systems from 1975 to date, a meta-study. It just might fire some imaginations and help us become realistic enough to demand the impossible, sooner rather than later.

"The main conclusion of the vast majority of 100% renewable energy systems studies is that such systems can power all energy in all regions of the world at low cost. As such, we do not need to rely on fossil fuels in the future. In the early 2020s, the consensus has increasingly become that solar PV and wind power will dominate the future energy system and new research increasingly shows that 100% renewable energy systems are not only feasible but also cost effective. This gives us the key to a sustainable civilization and the long-lasting prosperity of humankind."

The history of 100% renewable energy system analysis goes back to 1975 when the first study by Bent Sørensen was published in Science, using Denmark as a case study (

The next year, Amory Lovins published the second article on 100% renewables, for the United States, and became the first scholar to cite Sørensen (

In 1993, the Stockholm Environment Institute for Greenpeace International published a report on 100% RE for the target year 2100 ( with the intention of interesting the IPCC, IEA, IRENA and other energy and climate groups in the possibility. Unfortunately, these groups have begun to recognize the 100% RE goal only recently.

Three years later, Sørensen published the first global academic analysis of a 100% RE system for the target year 2050, 20 years after launching the field (

In 2004, Lund, Mathiesen, and Østergaard of Aalborg University develop the freeware energy system analysis tool EnergyPLAN, optimized for 100% RE system simulations (

Five years later, more than a decade after Sørensen’s first global paper, the second global 100% RE system analysis is published by Jacobson and Delucchi, their target year is 2030 (

In 2011, Denmark targets 100% renewables across all energy sectors by 2050 and now is aiming for more than 100% renewable power by 2027, Austria plans to be 100% renewable by 2030, and due to the present war in Ukraine, Germany has moved its target for 100% RE electricity up to 2035 from 2045 which I believe was their previous schedule.

At COP 22 in Marrakesh in 2016, 48 countries pledged 100% RE supply at least in the power sector, with more than 61 countries setting 100% RE targets, formally and informally.

As of 2021, there are 666 known peer-reviewed articles on 100% RE systems, 44 articles "discussing generic questions and 38 articles reviewing the field of 100% RE system analyses, totaling 739 articles known in the field. These articles do not include published reports in the field of 100% RE system analyses focused on non-scientific target audiences such as industry, policy makers and the general public.”

74% of all 100% RE studies are national or sub-national studies, 18% are regional and continental, only 8% are global.

The most affluent 3 billion are the most studied, the OECD and China: United States, Denmark, Germany, Australia, China, the United Kingdom, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Italy, and Greece. Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, where 5 billion people live, have yet to see many published studies.

In 2022, ten countries supply near or more than 100% of their electricity from renewables, mostly coming from hydropower: Albania, Bhutan, Congo, DR, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Iceland, Namibia, Nepal, Norway, Paraguay. Kenya, Scotland, Tajikistan, and Uruguay are in the 80-90% range.

100% renewable energy for electricity is a proven concept and 100% renewable energy for electricity plus everything else is a realistic goal, even, it seems, by 2030 if not earlier.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Grid Enhancing Technologies

This Brattle Group study ( found that in Kansas and Oklahoma Grid Enhancing Technologies [GETs] could double renewable energy generation on the grid, paying for themselves in just six months.

Rocky Mountain Institute describes Grid Enhancing Technologies (GETs) ( as

"Dynamic Line Ratings
Adjusting the carrying capacity of transmission lines based on real-time measurement of ambient conditions
Transit analogy: real-time adjusted speed limits

"Advanced Power Flow Controls
Hardware solutions that push power away from lines with capacity constraints and pull power to lines with spare capacity
Transit analogy: railroad switching stations that direct trains to free tracks

"Topology Optimization
Software solutions that automatically route power flows around congested areas
Transit analogy: re-uniting drivers around traffic"

As Pogo said, “We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities;”
but then
Pogo also said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Playing with Electric Trains as a Climate Tactic

From Edwin Black's book, Internal Combustion, about the Milwaukee Road, an electric rail system: "Sometimes electrified railways seemed to defy the laws of perpetual motion. For example, when the brakes were applied or the train traveled down a slope, the engine actually returned electricity to the grid. Regenerative braking and similar power returns helped the engines pay for themselves. In some mountain ranges, if timed correctly, a heavy downhill train could actually regenerate enough electricity to the grid to power another train passing it uphill. Thus both trains would travel in a minuet of seemingly energy-free motion. That might have seemed to violate the laws of physics, but not the rules of General Electric's wondrous workhorses, which were designed to observe this maxim: It is better to give than receive when it comes to electrical power. Those engines lasted not for years but for decades. Their endurance was measured in millions of miles. They were monumental vehicles that created economic prosperity and environmental balance everywhere they rolled."

Regenerative braking on electric trains is a technology that is over a century old.

Today, Fortescue Williams, a hard rock mining company, operates an "Infinity Train” in Australia that never needs charging using this idea. Eventually, they want to make all 54 of the trains “Infinity Trains."

Hybrid diesel electric trains with batteries charged by regenerative braking are also now available ( with a present model that reduces fuel use by 11% and a prospective model to be produced within the next two years that will reduce it by nearly a third. Less than 37% of global rail is electrified now ( so even without taking full advantage of the energy conservation or exergy maximizing potential of electrified railroads, there is quite a lot of room for improvement.

Some more electric train examples:
Germany’s first battery electric train - 61% of their rail system is electrified
A battery-powered electric train platform: put two together, set a standard shipping container on top of them, and you have an autonomous freight car with none of the emissions of a diesel locomotive.

In addition, companies like ARES North America ( are now designing grid-scale energy storage projects using electric trains as energy storage, "highly efficient electric motors drive mass cars uphill, converting electric power to mechanical potential energy. When needed, mass cars are deployed downhill delivering electric power to the grid quickly and efficiently.”

Regenerative braking can be used on most vehicles including cars, trucks, bicycles, scooters, skateboards, wheelchairs….

One of the largest electric vehicles on Earth, weighing in at 123 tons with a 65 ton payload capacity, is the fully electric eDumper, developed by eMining AG, using regenerative braking to charge the batteries, and in active use since 2018. Roger Miauton, the chief executive of eMining AG, says, “When you have a descent of 10 percent,* from top to bottom, you never need to recharge. You generate enough energy going downhill as you need to get back up again.” (

We should keep reminding ourselves that about 2/3rds of the energy we produce each and every year does no useful work, is dissipated as friction, transmission losses, inefficiencies throughout our energy systems. Recovering some of those losses is usually more affordable and easier than building new generation capacity. It is changing the lightbulbs writ large and can be done if we simply recognize that the opportunity is there.

But then, as Pogo says, “We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.”

* I wonder if we could use this 10% grade figure to maximize energy generation throughout a regional or national rail system and whether that would equal 100% of the energy needed for rail transportation or, just possibly, generate excess energy to the grid.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Mr Franklin's Folks

Preface: I originally wrote this a couple of decades ago, based upon my experiences working with a traveling energy show in the 1970s and 1980s and my own experiments with public displays of renewable energy at farmers’ markets ( I rewrote it for a new venture, Flourish Fiction which is trying to fill the need for “more hopeful stories to awaken imagination and help inspire the next generation of climate solutions.” It is also published there at


Mister Franklin's Folks began when a small group of people decided to bring a solar fountain to the local farmers market. A solar electric panel pumped water up from a tub into a little fountain that would splash and spray. The brighter the sunshine, the higher the water would go. Children loved to turn it on and off with their shadows, jumping into and out of the sunlight, making the water dance and themselves laugh. Older kids asked questions, and so did some of the adults. "What's it for? How does it work? Why are you doing this? So what?"

The exhibit was labeled "Solar Fountain/Wishing Well" and some coins lay at the bottom of the tub. Nearby, there was a table under the shade of an umbrella where one of Franklin's Folk sat with a collection of books, pamphlets, leaflets, cards, and stickers, along with a big can labeled “Donations.” The van parked behind them was full of working models and public experiments, product demos, and testing equipment. They shared guides with anyone who wanted them. For a small donation.

Each week, from Memorial Day to the week before Thanksgiving, throughout the farmers’ market season, they'd be there. Each week, they'd set up a little solar fountain and present a different example of solar ingenuity and practical power. When they said power to the people, they meant it.

They said, "A south-facing window is already a solar collector and we can show you how to use it. A south-facing porch is even better. It can become a sunspace or greenhouse and you can grow food all year long."

They provided designs and projects that began by caulking and sealing a window and ended with a complete one-room HVAC and electrical system for daily and/or emergency use.

"A few inches of solar panel, a hand or foot powered generator, and a set of rechargeable batteries is a perpetual source of personal electrical power. You can have power as long as the sun keeps shining and can turn the handle or push the pedal when it isn't. You can have power as long as the batteries hold a charge. And when the batteries die, recycle the old ones and buy some new. That is, unless we've changed to capacitors, flywheels, or fuel cells by then."

They had plans for many DIY solar projects and organized a bulk buying club so that people could save money on parts and supplies.

"Let your kids make their own battery power from sunlight and a little exercise. Power your electrical devices with a walk on the treadmill."

They called themselves Mister Franklin's Folks because, like Benjamin Franklin, they believed in ingenuity and thrift. They quoted from Poor Richard’s Almanac:
“A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have.”
“Every little makes a mickle.”
“A wise Man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly.”
“Spare and have is better than spend and crave.”

They updated these home truths by putting them into an ecologically regenerative context. Each week they offered practical lessons in real thrift or "how to save money while saving the environment, the community, and the world."

Like Mr Franklin, they were experimenting with electricity but instead of kites and lightning, they were looking at the sun for energy independence and building the idea of a renewable economy use by use, appliance by appliance, socket by socket, room by room.

“What would Mister Franklin do these days?" they asked. "Benjamin Franklin was one of the early researchers into the Gulf Stream. How would he deal with global warming?”

These were some of the things that Mr. Franklin’s Folks did at their table at the farmer's market, week after week, all that year.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Planning for Extreme Heat: NY, Phoenix, California, and Beyond

Boston University organized a talk on how Phoenix, New York, and the State of California are planning for extreme heat the other day.

As NOAA Weather Service reports, "More Americans die from heat every year than from all other extreme weather events combined."

Daphne Lundi, Deputy Director for Social Resiliency of NYC Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, spoke.  Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for the city and thus it has developed a long-term heat resiliency plan as part of their overall sustainability efforts. The city’s approach is "If we're in the 2080s and we're going to have triple the amount of extreme heat days, what are we doing now in terms of our buildings, in terms of our land use policy to get us to a better place decades from now."

NYC has been developing Cool Neighborhoods since 2017 including ideas like

Shading and tree canopies

White rooms or reflective surfaces like "cool roofs"

Cooling centers

Report available at [pdf alert]

They are constantly leading building preparedness and understanding of heat risk so that people know the tools available before a heat wave happens.

NYC also has building energy standards and the Office of Resiliency works on necessary legislation and regulation.  For instance, they are now looking at the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP] in relation to cooling as well as heating, which is where the bulk of funding goes.

David Hondula, Chief Heat Officer, City of Phoenix; Associate Professor, Arizona State University is in the new Office for Heat Response and Mitigation, started in just the last six months.  Phoenix's first heat response plan passed recently but no long-term cooling plan yet even though they set records for heat associated deaths in the last few years, up 450% since 2014.  65% of "heat associated deaths were among unsheltered" in Phoenix.  An unsheltered person is 200-300% more likely to suffer a heat associated death than a sheltered person.

Karen Smith, Partner at Healthy Community Ventures; former Director, California Department of Public Health provided a larger perspective and addressed how academia can help the public health community gather data during heat emergencies;  advocated more research into prolonged exposure to heat as a health risk, below the threshold of heat emergency, especially for outdoor workers,  and on what actually works in saving lives among the general public.

In most heat events, Karen Smith said, "The major distinguisher of people who died versus people who didn't had nothing to do with their diseases, had nothing to do with whether they had air conditioners or fans, it was social isolation."

It's getting hotter.  We have to learn how to deal with it.

The Environmental Resilience Institute at University of Indiana has a case study of how Chicago, which had a devastating heat emergency in 1995, has worked to reduce the dangers of extreme heat as well as a comparison to what NYC and Minnesota are doing:

The American Planning Association has just published a report entitled Planning for Urban Heat Resilience, available as a free download at