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Solutions & sustainability - Nov 30

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


An interview with Travis Bradford, author of "Solar Revolution"
The Revolution Will Be Solarized

David Roberts, Grist
Solar power has been the Next Big Thing for decades now, yet it remains a niche player in the energy world. The problem of intermittency is unsolved, up-front capital costs remain high, and surging demand for polysilicon, a key component of solar panels, has recently outstripped supply, stifling production.

So when someone claims that within decades solar photovoltaic technology will come to dominate the world's energy portfolio -- with or without subsidies, with or without rising fossil-fuel prices, with or without new environmental legislation -- one could be forgiven a degree of skepticism.

But Travis Bradford is no hippie idealist. The author of Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry spent the early years of his career in corporate acquisitions and private equity funds -- not fields that reward irrational exuberance. His book is based on research and analyses done at his Massachusetts think tank, the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, working from what he claims are conservative assumptions about market and capital trends.

Those trends, he says, are inexorable: Just as revolutions have transformed the information and communication sectors, solar power will break the hold of sclerotic, centralized power companies.
(30 Nov 2006)


Surprise: Not-so-glamorous conservation works best

Moises Velasquez-Manoff, The Christian Science Monitor
Efficient appliances and flourescent bulbs are easy upgrades that make a big difference, experts say.
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When high school science teacher Ray Janke bought a home in Chicopee, Mass., he decided to see how much he could save on his electric bill.

He exchanged incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents, put switches and surge protectors on his electronic equipment to reduce the "phantom load" - the trickle consumption even when electronic equipment is off - and bought energy-efficient appliances.

Two things happened: He saw a two-thirds reduction in his electric bill, and he found himself under audit by Mass Electric. The company thought he'd tampered with his meter. "They couldn't believe I was using so little," he says.

Mr. Janke had hit on what experts say is perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective place to reduce one's energy consumption: home.

Moving closer to public transportation or riding a bike instead of driving is not an option for many, but changing incandescent bulbs for fluorescent and buying more efficient appliances is not only possible, it quickly pays for itself with savings.

In the end, not-very-glamorous changes like these as well as obsessively sealing and insulating your home will save more than, in the words of one expert, "greenie weenie" additions like green roofs and solar panels
(30 Nov 2006)
Related at WorldChanging by Joel Makower: Can Energy Efficiency Be as Sexy as Solar?.


For $150, Third-World Laptop Stirs Big Debate

John Markoff, NY Times
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - When computer industry executives heard about a plan to build a $100 laptop for the developing world’s children, they generally ridiculed the idea. How could you build such a computer, they asked, when screens alone cost about $100?

Mary Lou Jepsen, the chief technologist for the project, likes to refer to the insight that transformed the machine from utopian dream to working prototype as “a really wacky idea.”

Ms. Jepsen, a former Intel chip designer, found a way to modify conventional laptop displays, cutting the screen’s manufacturing cost to $40 while reducing its power consumption by more than 80 percent. As a bonus, the display is clearly visible in sunlight.

That advance and others have allowed the nonprofit project, One Laptop Per Child, to win over many skeptics over the last two and a half years. Five countries - Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria and Thailand - have made tentative commitments to put the computers into the hands of millions of students, with production in Taiwan expected to begin by mid-2007.

The laptop does not come with a Microsoft Windows operating system or even a hard drive, and the screen is small. And the cost is now closer to $150 than $100. But the price tag, even compared with low-end $500 laptops now widely available, transforms the economic equation for developing countries.
(30 Nov 2006)
Low-cost computering power and access to information via the Web - this could transfrom Third World communities. -BA


Goff swears off traditional Marxism, looks to local communities

Stan Goff, Feral Scholar (blog)
With some sadness and with not the least desire to devalue the experiences I have had with comrades, nor to minimize the hard work, nor the consciousness and concience, nor the friendship of many comrades, I am herein announcing and explaining my definitive rejection of Marxism in its current organizational forms, be they called Marxist-Leninist or Trotskyist or Maoist.

This decision comes after months of intense reflection. I will not attempt to separate the personal from the political reasons. My personal life, as a spouse, father, grandfather, friend, and member of local and poltical communities, is my most direct window on the world, and the experience against which I have to measure any political belief or organizational theory. Even more so, as I now find myself indefinitely caring again for an infant; and thereby bound to the house in the same way as many women, constantly being confronted with the most immediate and practical necessities. The kind of politics that does not take these constraints as the starting point of all politics is what I am now taking under long review.

...It is only possible ... to effect the basis for any genuine and sustainable resistance movement in the United States by first attending to the question of local community independence, beginning with the material basics: food security, water security, energy security, acess to learning, and a health infrastructure.

We have mostly ignored the laboratories for exactly these things, calling the “utopian,” i.e., intentional communities; and we have looked on locally organized efforts to impact local politics as somehow less developed than we are… when these formations are often well advanced of anything being done by the [Marxist-Leninist] and Trotskyist left. They don’t need a line. Their practice is always responding to things immediate and concrete; and their leadership, though this practice, is very very smart, in very very practical ways.

... we remain trapped in the development paradigm, which still fails to grasp energy physics as the zero-sum game that it is, and establishes goals that would leave the masses at the mercy of machines and bureaucrats.

...Any revolutionary movement that has a prayer of taking hold in the US must be organic, that is, self-organizing… and consist of small and many independent, but networked, practical efforts. The larger any organization is, in personnel or in scope or in geography, the more the institutional tail begins to wag the mission dog. This is no longer pop science. With increased scale, the tooth-to-tail, operations-to-adminstration/management ratio of any organization shifts correspondingly. Larger scale, smaller ration of energy invested in operations, higher into management. The average human is only bio-psychologically equipped to handle around 150 relationships in the absence of administration (Dunbar’s number), and a bunch of those people are already family and friends.
(29 Nov 2006)
This long post by Stan Goff may appear bewildering to those without exposure to the Old Left. I think it's interesting for several reasons:

  • Stan Goff has been one of the few Marxist thinkers to delve deeply into the implications of Peak Oil.
  • Goff has an unusual background for a leftist - he was a professional soldier in the U.S. military.
  • Unlike most Marxist writing, his articles have been fresh and full of surprises.
  • He seems to have broken definitively with the doctrines of the Marxist-Leninist left, and taken up ideas of community and relocalization. This is a huge shift, like a Catholic becoming a Hare Krishna.
  • Further evidence that the old political categories are breaking down.

-BA


What we can do about passing the energy tipping point

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change Letter #145
...Most of us have been feeling the world in changes. Drawing upon a discipline with a heavy price, I'm an oil-industry and energy analyst long concerned about petroleum's effects on the environment. I am convinced we have passed the tipping point: we cannot, as a huge population dependent on a sophisticated petroleum infrastructure, stop using these technological resources abruptly without inducing mass starvation and general violent disruption. However, very little is under anyone's control when we've past critical tipping points of climate and energy.

This has spurred people on to trying to secure more energy supplies, instead of reverting to our past traditions of living simply and in harmony with nature.

...Funny enough, what we need to do to deal with climate change is almost identical to what needs to be done in recognition of petrocollapse. The Pledge for Climate Protection's ten steps were listed on a tree-free postcard our office produced in 2000

...1. Cut down on driving my vehicle, or carpool. I will walk or bike, and not buy a car if I do not have one (best of all). I will support and use mass transit. I may work closer to my home.

2. Cut down on working just for money: I can thereby barter more, and cut down on commuting.

3. Depave my driveway, or help others’ depave their driveways, or depave parking lots, and grow food in depaved land.

4. Unplug or retire my television, and perhaps go off the electricity grid. I will reduce energy for heating, and share appliances such as my oven with neighbors, and not buy or use power tools or jet skis, etc. ...
(27-29 Nov 2006)

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