Tuesday, July 21, 2009

hydrogen powerplant?

I'm tempted to start a "why, oh why" file just for this thing.

The details are sparse, but the general idea is that it takes electricity, uses it to produce hydrogen and oxygen from water via electrolysis, then burns the hydrogen to create electricity.

This is a notoriously wrong idea.

Electrolysis is notoriously inefficient, hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store, burning hydrogen is notoriously a waste of an expensive commodity.

I would be very surprised if they have a round trip efficiency of greater that 15%.

The good news is that they claim all of the funding is private, so at least their money isn't coming from taxes.

My favorite quote from the article:

"We're the first company that had the foresight to jump on creating a combinatory system and putting the pieces together to make it viable for the public and for electrical generation"

I'm not sure if "foresight" is quite the word I would have chosen. The "excess of money and dearth of sense" is closer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

wasted waste heat

Nearly every device that uses energy produces waste heat. In your house, most of this waste heat gets just ends up heating your rooms.

In warm climates where air conditioners are common, this is ridiculous. You're paying to pump the heat out of your refrigerator twice. First to pump the heat out of the fridge and into the kitchen, then to pump it out of your house and into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, you're putting energy into another device to heat cold water.

So, why not combine the two systems? Why not use the waste heat from major household appliances to preheat the cold incoming city water before it gets to your water heater?

Between your refrigerator, air conditioner and clothes dryer there is a fair amount of waste heat just going, well, to waste.

Friday, July 17, 2009

disruptive power tech?

I was thinking about what it'd take to put me out of a job and am not too worried.

The electric utility industry exists to take advantage of the efficiencies of large scale energy production. Small scale household or neighborhood based production could certainly have a future, but a fairly disruptive technology would have to be invented to make it worthwhile.

No domestic option today is remotely competitive on a cost basis, even with all of the state and federal tax credits. With enough unrealistically optimistic assumptions (like zero maintenance, rapidly escalating utility energy costs, and a 30 year service life), cost inefficient technologies like household solar panels can be sold. But even the vast majority of these systems require being connected to the power system in order to work.

I expect that one day some kind of combined cycle natural gas fuel cell plus solar panel plus batteries system could approach cost parity with the power system, but so what? Most people don't go to the trouble of having that kind of thing installed in order to achieve zero savings.

And I can't think of a system that would require less than two disruptive technologies in order to completely obviate a connection to the power system. The one I think of requires 1) virtually free truly maintenance-free solar panels and 2) ideal energy storage and conversion system(no fumes, no maintenance, no acids, no fire risk, minimal noise, 30 year lifetime, predictable failure).

The other possible source of job loss for me is if some clever exec decides to move my work overseas. The best reason why this is unlikely to happen is that the cost of engineering staff is minuscule compared to the cost of a mistake. I do projects where my time is 5-7% of the project cost. If the project were outsourced, the total project cost might be reduced by 2-3%. But if any mistakes are made and the project construction gets held up by a day or a piece of equipment fails prematurely because it was incorrectly specced or designed, any savings on engineering time would be greatly overcome by construction and maintenance cost overruns.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

when bad news is good news (for me)

I find myself cheering for global financial panic these days because I'm trying to buy a house and because I have acquired some Australian dollar debt.

Every time a bad economic report comes out, people run to the relative security of the USD and US gov't treasuries. This moves exchange rates in my favor. And mortgage rates are strongly correlated with treasury returns.

The only bad news that is bad for me right now is talk of excessive inflation, because inflation expectations also impact mortgage rates. At the moment, there is a lot of talk about USD inflation, but there is also a lot of talk about USD deflation. And that is fine by me. I expect deflation for the next several quarters followed by inflation above 5% for several years, but what do I know.

So, I say bring on the US stock market crash and let the freedom fighters in China prevail. Better yet, let another smallish currency turn into confetti like the Icelandic Kronor did. Imagine what that would do to exchange rates and treasuries.

And it would put an end to all this diversified reserve currency BS that some G8 leaders have been rambling about.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

re:one for the duh files

I was wrong about the recent climate change bill that barely passed through the House.

At the last minute, on the morning of the day the bill was passed, a provision much like what I discussed two posts ago was added.

I still think China's sulfur and arsenic outputs are bigger worries than CO2.

And, so long as we are passing tariffs based on the regulations imposed in other countries, maybe we should have a child labor tariff, a sweat shop tariff, a minimum wage tariff, and so on.

These are all things that impact our humanity at least as much as CO2 impacts our climate.

Friday, July 3, 2009

business idea

This may be an obvious one, but I think there should be a full line baby stuff rental company.

Baby doesn't use any stuff for more than about a month, so what is the sense in buying it?

Considering how ridiculously expensive some of the gear can be (like the $1200 Gap Stokke Xplory), it'd be a good way for people to exceed their means.

Plus you'd be able to assure people that you'd take the stuff back after the month or so useful life, so they wouldn't have to worry about where they're going to store it until it is old and moldy enough to throw away.