Energy storage (dull but important)

by John Quiggin on February 3, 2014

OK, so energy storage isn’t the most exciting topic in the world, but it really matters. The problem of energy storage (or changes in energy use that make it unnecessary) is the biggest remaining obstacle to a transition to renewable energy. So, here are some observations, labelled for convenience and partly derived from this study by the US Department of Energy

(a) Any reversible energetic process represents a potential storage technology. Reversibility entails that some energy is stored (as potential or chemical energy) when the process goes one way, and released when it goes the other. Of course, the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that we will always add entropy (that is, lose useful energy) in this process
(b) Any technical or social change that shifts the time at which energy is finally used replicates the effects of storage
(c)Energy storage is in much the same position as renewable electricity generation was, say, 15 years ago.
(d) There are a lot of potential approaches, most of which have been developed in niches where particular characteristics are required. For example, car batteries need to store a lot of energy for given weight, household batteries need to store energy for a long time and so on. The needs of a renewable-dominated electricity system are very different and will require substantial modifications of these technologies
(e) With one big exception, there is currently no price incentive, in most jurisdictions to use storage technologies and therefore none are used
(f) The big exception is off-peak hot water. Coal and nuclear systems generate baseload supply when it is not needed for consumption. Price incentives are used to encourage people to store the resulting excess energy in the form of hot water
(g) There’s no technological obstacle, given the availability of smart meters, to changing the timing of hot water systems to reflect actual availability of excess electricity rather than reflecting the assumptions of a coal-based system
(h) All of this applies to electric cars. Even ignoring the possibility of feeding power back into the grid, the economics of electric cars would be drastically improved if they could be charged using low-cost power in times of excess supply (in the case of solar PV, around midday when lots of cars are sitting in parking lots)
(i) Something I just found out from the DoE study: Electric car batteries are considered unfit for services when they fall to 80 per cent of their original charge capacity (recall that energy density is critical for car batteries). But they still have a long potential life as static storage devices. This enhances both the economics of electric cars (since the battery has resale value) and of storage (since the opportunity cost is zero)

Here’s an older post, with a really simple example of how the argument works, once you get away from the fixation on replicating the characteristics of a coal-fired system.

C’mon Volkswagen

by Eszter Hargittai on February 3, 2014

The VW Super Bowl ad features German engineers. The story goes as such: every time a VW reaches 100,000 miles, one of the engineers in Germany gets “his wings”. I didn’t find the ad particularly interesting until I realized that none of the engineers getting wings were women. In fact, there were barely any women in the video. Most prominent was the one in the elevator getting slapped by a male engineer’s wings.

There were ten male engineers featured who clearly got wings. It looks like 13% of engineers in Germany are female. So even going just by that statistic, one of the 10 featured should have been a woman.

The agency responsible for the ad is San Francisco’s Argonaut. Who are they? It looks like they are a bunch of guys. That’s no excuse for the approach to women in the ad, but perhaps it explains it a bit.

Staff of Life

by Belle Waring on February 3, 2014

In comments below, godoggo suggested that no self-respecting Jew would give a damn about what was in plain white bread ever. This may be the wrongest thing ever said on the internet. (Probably not, though.) roy belmont also wishes us to note that there are two senses of trolling, that in which you…oh, read the postscript.

Step 1: get Belle’s dad to make it for you, in lovely Bluffton, S.C. Fallback Plan:
Belle’s Dad’s White Bread
1. boil 1 peeled baking potato, cut into 1-inch cubes, in enough water to cover, until potato is soft
2. sprinkle 2 1/2 t instant yeast (from a jar) over 1 c cooled, scalded milk mixed with 2 T white sugar (welp, they allus say “scald” and that but it just means warm the milk up but not too hot or it’ll kill the yeasties. You can use a bowl in the microwave. If you could give it to a baby, it’s an OK temp–so, use the same test: put some on the crook of your inner arm. It should feel blood-warm but not too hot.)
3. cover yeast/milk mixture with cloth and sing to yeast [TOTES CRUCE]. You should improvise here. “Oh, so happy yeasties all the time, making bread, we love you, full of life…etc.” Peek under cloth after 5-15 minutes depending on where you live, and if it’s bubbly then it’s ready. (Hot, moist places it goes faster, obvs.) Everyone in my family genuinely sings the “oh, so happy little yeasties all the time, we love you little joys, beloved creatures…etc” song every time we make yeast bread.
4. Pour water off potato into measuring cup. Discard all but 3/4 c. Return to potato and mash along with 2 T unsalted butter (please spend extra and buy President. We likes it.) Just with a fork, it can have small lumps. If you care put it through a potato ricer or food mill.
5. Mix milk/yeast mixture with potato. ADD 1 t SALT OMG I FORGOT THIS AT FIRST I HOPE NOBODY MADE THIS ALREADY! Add 2 c flour and mix well with a wire whisk.
6. Continue to add flour 1 c at a time, switching to a wooden spoon, but no more than 6 total. If it’s wet, knead it with the dough hook on a stand mixer (but for the love of God don’t tell my dad I told you this.)
7. IRL you guessed right about how much potato and water, and it’s not wet, and you knead it by hand for 10-15 minutes (this sounds like a pain but it’s literally child’s play: make them do it.) If there are no children, you have a round thing, right? And you fold the bottom over and press it with the heel of your hand, away from you. And then you turn it a quarter turn. And then you do it again. Wait, you should read that even if there are childrem, though letting them stand on the counter and throw the dough at the counter, hard, a billion times, is a totally legit way to knead dough. But have a clean floor. And no dogs.
8. Grease your largest bowl with butter, put the dough in it, cover with clean dishcloth, let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour, or until doubled in size (draft free for real. Put it in the closet with the hot water heater if it’s winter, or a room with all the doors and windows closed if not.)
9. Punch the dough down and let everyone smell the special smell. Mmmm. Alcohol.
10. Knead it some more. Eh 6 minutes. Divide with dough scraper, flatten with your hands into rectangles, roll them up, pinching to seal, and put one in each of two buttered loaf pans.
11. Again with the dishcloths and the draft-free, but only 45 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.
12. Just before you put the bread in, slash the tops three times diagonally with a razor.
13. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce to 375, then bake…eh? Like 45 mins more, till bread is nicely browned.
14. Take the pans out and put them on cooling racks briefly; then turn the loaves out. A properly cooked loaf will sound hollow when tapped with a knuckle on the bottom, sort of like a ripe watermelon should.

You must let them cool off a bit before slicing them. This will be difficult as everyone will be standing in front of the loaves (which traditionally rested atop the closed washing machine in my youth) and hopping from foot to foot going “now? Can we eat it now? Now?” Under ideal circumstances my dad will have made you whole figs preserved in syrup with paper-thin slices of lemon, or Concord grape jelly, but whatever.

P.S. roy, roy, roy, roy. Naturally there is a difference between attempting to catch something with scales for lunch and waiting under the bridge for the trippy tapp tap of the billy goats’ hooves. But unless you intend to travel back in time and prevent Skynet usenet from being invented then there is no reason to belabor the point now. And one can imagine humorous pastiches: perhaps sensei, oni-like in appearance to the uninitiate but resembling Tripitaka otherwise, is sitting below the bridge, fishing in the stream? He both demands payment and keeps an eye on the float down there, bobbling in a stiller pool? Fercryinoutloud.

P.P.S. Mebbe he has even side-baited it with a big ole hunk of stale bread? (But it ain’t my dad’s I will tell you what. I don’t think in the last 30 years anybody’s done that. Made breadcrumbs or croutons, maybe, but fish bait? No sir they have not.)

P.P.P.S. When I was little and my parents were sort of um…anarcho-syndicalist punk hippies running a communal-ish farm? I wanted hair that looked like the Sunbeam Bread Girl. My mom was just like, nope, no, no missy. She did let me dye my hair with henna, though, that was cool.