Carl Sagan's message to future explorers

Before he passed away Sagan recorded a message to future explorers of the cosmos, solar system, and Earth. Here is a snippet that went around the internet the other day after NASA successfully landed the rover Curiosity:

maybe we're on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there - the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we're on Mars because we have to be, because there's a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process, we come after all, from hunter gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we've been wanderers. And, the next place to wander to, is Mars. But whatever the reason you're on Mars is, I'm glad you're there. And I wish I was with you.

Sagan, we wish you were with us.

Welcome to 3991 C.E. aka hell

I love this Reddit post: Lycerious has been playing Sid Meier's Civilization II for 10 years (not everyday) and has ended up in a nightmarish, apocalyptic world of perpetual nuclear and conventional war, global warming with oceans covering most of the land, only three mega empires left, and the remaining land is devastated and cannot support agriculture or urban civilization.


I was forced to do away with democracy roughly a thousand years ago because it was endangering my empire.

You've heard of the 100 year war? Try the 1700 year war. The three remaining nations have been locked in an eternal death struggle for almost 2000 years. Peace seems to be impossible. Every time a cease fire is signed, the Vikings will surprise attack me or the Americans the very next turn, often with nuclear weapons.

As a result, big cities are a thing of the distant past. Roughly 90% of the worlds population (at it's peak 2000 years ago) has died either from nuclear annihilation or famine caused by the global warming that has left absolutely zero arable land to farm. Engineers (late game worker units) are always busy continuously building roads so that new armies can reach the front lines. Roads that are destroyed the very next turn when the enemy goes. So there isn't any time to clear swamps or clean up the nuclear fallout. 

Take That Honeywell

Nest Labs officially responds to Honeywell's patent infringement lawsuit:

Nest's new legal council Richard Lutton Jr. says,

As reported in prior litigations, Honeywell has a pattern of trying to stifle new market entrants with unfounded legal action. Instead of filing lawsuits, Honeywell should use its wealth and resources to bring innovative products to market. Nest will defend itself vigorously in court and we’ll keep our company’s focus where it should be – on developing and delivering great products for our customers.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell says, "Honeywell is worse than a patent troll," because instead of trying to get money out of Nest, Honeywell is trying to kill the competition [via The Verge].  

Solar Rising

According to new reports by the solar industry (ok, that's problematic) the solar industry had a record year in 2011. Lori Zimmer, posting on Inhabit, writes, 

The study, released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association showed that the solar industry pulled in $8.4 billion last year. Installation of photovoltaic panels continues to grow, with solar projects totaling 1,855 megawatts in 2011 alone, compared to just 887 megawatts the year before. These projects ranked the United States as the fourth largest solar market in the world, a jump that just a few years ago did not seem possible.

Do We Need to Talk About Climate Change, In Order to Talk About Energy?

I am looking forward to reading  provocative sounding new book Before the Lights Go Out. Koerth-Baker's short answer to the question above: no we do not; we do not have to agree on the "whys" in order to reach the same solutions. We'll see. The book comes out in April.

Not time to cut

Richard Harris at NPR reports that Congress might be planning to cut subsidies to the wind industry. 37,000 jobs could be lost and a nascent industry set back. 

When the tax credit last expired in 2003, wind farms took a big hit. But in those days, the wind turbines were largely imported. Now, the domestic manufacturing industry is growing rapidly. And that changes the politics.

and Gamesa VP says,

As the technology improves, wind becomes cheaper. Rosenberg says his company only needs four more years of tax credits, and it will be ready to compete without further federal help.

Heritage Foundation wants them ended,

We're $15 trillion in debt," says Nick Loris at The Heritage Foundation. "We have a robust energy market. And electricity demand and the demand to transport our vehicles back and forth is always going to be there. And I think that profit motive is incentive enough.

We're in debt, yes. But it is not time to cut clean energy subsidies. We need to find more ways to scale these projects and roll out new ones. At the moment, subsidies for producers and consumers help this goal. 

If you can't compete, sue

Via Matt Macari at The Verge, Honeywell International sues Nest Labs over the Nest Learning Thermostat, claiming patent infringements. Honeywell lists a number of patents it contends Nest violates. To me, they read like very very basic concepts related to UI and usability features, nothing extraordinary. How can other companies compete when they could be prohibited from using these features? Here is a sample:

U.S. Patent No. 7,634,504 - this patent was filed in 2006 (issued 2009) and covers displaying grammatically complete sentences while programming a thermostat.

U.S. Patent No. 7,142,948 - this patent was filed in 2004 (issued 2006) and covers a thermostat figuring out and displaying how long it will take to get to a specific setting, like temperature. The Nest definitely has this feature; it's a main selling point of the device.

U.S. Patent No. 6,975,958 - this patent was filed in 2003 (issued 2005) and covers a method of controlling an environmental control system from a remote to adjust the settings of the system.

Read the whole story over at The Verge.

Sustainable Death and Destruction

This really pushes the concepts of "sustainability" and "green" right off a cliff:

But while some branches of government have displayed a penchant for caution, the United States Department of Defense has been more assertive in its intentions. One DoD researchrequest, for example, asks synthetic biologists to create greener explosives and rocket fuels. In the "statement of need," the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), which seeks to green the military, argues that microbes could eliminate the heavy-metal and toxic solvents in conventional explosives production.

Does not sound "benign" or "benefitial"; sounds like BS:

On the surface, greening weapons of war sounds like a project that we might dismiss as benign, even beneficial, if a little incongruous. But this application treads a step closer to the line drawn by the BWC in 1975 and reaffirmed by the U.S. government many times since.Article 1 of the BWC states that signatories must never produce or possess microbial or other biological agents "that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes." Because explosives-producing microbes in themselves would not be weapons, they would not appear to violate the convention. That said, as part of the production chain and a means for making weapons components, they wouldn't qualify as having “peaceful purposes,” either.

"Scotland Guns for 100% Renewable by 2020"

United States: "Let's builds a giant oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for international export, and continue to drill in precarious locations (deep-water horizon). Let's demonize the clean energy industry and cut all government support."

Scotland: "Let's get to 100% renewables by 2020."

2020 is only eight years from now. That's not the distant future.


The Next Big Thing

Mathew L. Wald, NY Times:

If solar energy is eventually going to matter — that is, generate a significant portion of the nation’s electricity — the industry must overcome a major stumbling block, experts say: finding a way to store it for use when the sun isn’t shining (italics added).

Very true.

Times Are Changing

Anecdotal: both High Schools in Chico have solar arrays covering their parking lots, Butte Community College is one of the first colleges to be grid positive, a farm in rural Butte county has four wind turbines and a solar roof, and a farm along side I-5 in Northern California is deploying a solar array on some of its farmland. Couple this with David Roberts post on Grist last week showing the above maps, and renewables are appearing more and more in daily life. First one 1970, second one 2011.


Apple's New Headquarters Will Have the Largest Solar Roof in US

Seth Weintraub:

Today’s updated Apple Headquarters Spaceship campus plans include a roof made almost entirely out of solar cells, according to details released today. With a building as large as Apple’s, that puts it in the top corporate solar installations in the world and the biggest in the US.  The current title holder is the 4.26 MW system in Edison New Jersey and another being built by ToysRus in sunny NJ is rated 5.38W

Clearly, this won’t be enough power to power all of operations, but as Steve Jobs mentioned in his case to the Cupertino City council, Apple will be able to generate a lot of its own power and will run from an on-site power facility.

(Via The Loop)

Renewables: Growing Fast but Still a Rounding Error

Great article by David Roberts on GRIST. Roberts breaks down the National Renewable Energy Laboratory 2010 Renewable Energy Data Book. Great graphics to go with his report. 

Non-hydro renewables remain a small part of the U.S. energy story. More to the point, the sexy renewables -- solar, wind, and geothermal -- are a rounding error. Of the total energy consumed in the U.S. in 2010, solar was 0.1 percent and wind was 0.9 percent. Even with biomass, hydropower, and nuclear thrown in, low-carbon energy amounts to just 17 percent of energy consumed in the U.S.

And yet!

Seen from another angle, growth in renewables has been crazy-fast. From 2000 to 2010 in the U.S., non-hydro renewables have grown at a compounded annual average of almost 14 percent, even faster recently.

NREL: 2010 Renewable Energy Data Book

You can find the original report here.

R&D Is Good, Deployment Is Even Better

Google Phases Out Clean Energy R&D in Favor of Deployment

Buried at the bottom of an innocuous “spring cleaning” post on Google’s blog yesterday, the internet giant made a very important announcement: it will stop funding its Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) initiative.

But that’s not the whole story. And if you believe the headlines — “Google Abandons Renewable Energy Push”or “Are Google’s Green Days Over?” — you might think this is a negative development. But if you look at the details, it’s a story about how the company is adapting to a changing market and actually increasing investments in renewables.

Interesting article by Stephen Lacey on that clarifies Google's announcement that it is shutting down it's renewable R&D initiative. Google is not getting out of renewables but is instead shifting focus to deployment. R&D is good, deployment is even better. 

Windwashing or energy revolution?


WindMade is the first global consumer label
identifying organisations and products that use wind power
in their operations or production

We need an energy revolution not a new branding campaign that replicates Fair Trade Coffee by adding value to a product in a niche market. We are not trying to make renewable energy the Fair Trade Coffee of energy production (value added niche market); we're trying to make it the coffee that hundreds of millions of people drink everyday.

Like the organic label and the Fair Trade label this looks likely to only further product differentiation rather than changing the relationship of mass market production/consumption of energy.

"When capital becomes labour"

Interesting article discussing long-term unemployment and its relationship to technicological labor. Computers, the internet, and machines are increasingly displacing some forms of labor, thus making some jobs obsolete. 

i.e., new forms of relative surplus-value. 

Also, see this interview on Techcrunch

Scaling up

Solyndra might be making the headlines (on page A10 by now) but the overlooked larger story: the solar industry is booming.

There are a few emerging conversations:

1. Should the government be subsidizing the industry?

2. Can US solar manufacturers compete with Chinese ones?

3. Can the US link production and consumption of solar technology, or will we import cheaper Chinese panels for construction of mega solar facilities for domestic consumption?

4. Should we focus on large-scale solar "plants" or should we take Germany's lead (and Jeremy Rifkin's) and push for lateral power, small scale deployment on homes, neighborhoods, and businesses and scale that way?

These centralized, large-scale projects tend to favor the big established corporations, which has the potential to undermine any sort of democratization of energy production, and replicate the energy hierarchies we've known for centuries. The billions in subsidies will go to the big guys, same as with coal and oil.

Lateral deployment seems the way to go.