Global Warming Solutions

Global Warming Science

Global warming science is centered around the phenomenon of Carbon dioxide’s absorption of infrared energy.  Satellites are measuring less electromagnetic energy leaving the earth than is absorbed by it every day.  In a system in equilibrium the energy leaving the planet would equal the energy striking the planet.  We are constantly adding more capacity for absorbing two wavelengths of infrared energy as we spew more and more CO2 into the air as a consequence of our burning fossil fuels for electricity production, environmental heating, transportation, and industrial processes like producing steel.  Since equilibrium has not been reached, and more energy is absorbed than emitted, the global annual average temperature is rising.  This upward trend is corroborated by the temperature measurement data collected all over the planet.

So what can we do about it?

Global Warming Solutions

Essentially, we have to change the way we do things, and the way we think about everything we do.  I used to work with a guy who said, “No good decision can follow a fundamentally flawed assumption.”   I use that mindset to vet critiques and proposals to get to the root of it all.

For example, when you hear someone say “put solar panels on my house,” what do you think of?  I’d bet it’s the solar electric solutions that cost nearly $200,000 with a return-on-investment of 12 to 15 years.  Those systems are great for early adopters that can afford them, but there’s an assumption that is holding back an overall reduction in fossil fuel use.

Solar Thermal?

What about solar thermal?  Pre-heating water en route to the hot water heater in the house or building will save energy and money and avoid the emission of associated CO2.  If you can capture enough heat for all the hot water supply, great, but no matter where you are, you can capture some heat and lift the temperature of the water entering your hot water heater enough to make a significant impact on your electric, gas, or oil use.  These systems are a lot less expensive than solar electric systems too.  Of course, collected heat energy can be distributed throughout a house, and not just used on hot water heating. 

You may not know this, but the definition of a “calorie” is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree centigrade…
From engineering, their explanation:

  • the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water 1oC
  • the kilogram calorie, large calorie, food calorie, Calorie (capital C) or just calorie (lowercase c) is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius
  • 1 kcal = 4186.8 J = 426.9 kp.m = 1.163 10-3 kWh = 3.088 ft.lbf = 3.9683 Btu = 1000 cal

Low Voltage Solar Electric

Secondly, there’s low voltage solar electric.  The reason solar panel systems cost as much as they do is that the current mindset, or perspective with “fundamentally flawed assumptions” requires a total displacement of household electric usage… In other words, the designs call for providing enough electricity to power refrigerators and washing machines, water pumps, electric dryers, dishwashers…. and lights. Enough Direct Current (DC) electricity must be generated to be able to convert it (through the use of “inverters”) to 110V AC.

This results in producing excess capacity which can actually be sold back to the utility, but the lack of “net metering” standards across the country inhibit the proliferation of such high-powered systems as well. The local and long distance, high voltage distribution grid is not up to the task of coordinating distributed generation.  When I first started thinking about distributed generation, I learned of many of the challenges coordinating the phases and their voltage waves.  Without taking a deep technical dive, if the voltage waves are as little as 1/100th of a second out of sync with each other, systems (generators) will burn out.  Direct current, the energy format natural to solar electric generation, has to be converted to alternating current for use in houses.

I’ll base my next “argument” for a different way of doing things on the way I have seen large, live-aboard sailboats wired.  Since many systems in a boat run on 12V DC, the same voltage as every car battery and electrical system sold in the USA, some boat owners have installed dual wiring systems.  Low voltage lighting and radios run off a marine battery or two for a long time before a generator kicks on, if at all.  Small solar panels or small wind turbines charge the boats’  batteries when no shore power hookup is available.

Why can’t this approach be taken in US homes and businesses? Most of the time we use lighting after sundown just to make sure we don’t trip over that one toy that remains a fugitive from its rightful storage container, or to navigate a room. LED lighting costs have been held higher than they should simply because every lighting element must include a voltage converting circuit to adapt the “bulb” to the alternating current infrastructure. 

LED is an acronym for Light Emitting Diode.  A diode is an electrical switch that only allows current to flow once a minimum voltage threshold is reached.  You can think of it operating like a spillway for a dam on a reservoir or lake.  Low voltage Direct Current lighting-only circuits in houses can run all night off a couple of batteries about the size of ones typically used in cars.

Sure, Compact Fluorescent bulbs are saving tons of energy across the world, but they still use 10 times the power of an LED lightbulb, and still have to transform the energy into a much higher voltage to work.  They suffer the same challenges of adapting the 110 V infrastructure to work.  They each contain a “ballast” or transformer in their base. They also contain a small amount of mercury, which makes disposing them all that much more difficult. Despite their drawbacks, they are infinitely better than incandescent bulbs, which use three to four times the electricity to produce equivalent light.

We know LEDs are bright enough.  Nearly every traffic light in use in the US today uses LEDs instead of incandescent lights.  Brake lights in cars use LEDs, as do lighting accessories for tractor-trailer trucks.  LED flashlights occupy a spot at nearly every hardware store checkout.

However, the National Electric Code has nothing defined about LED lighting or separate lighting circuits and wiring. Separate, dedicated 12V DC circuits would be required for this to work safely.  There would have to be standards communicated so that no electrician or home owner would ever accidentally connect them. This isn’t too much to regulate, though, if you consider office and commercial space wiring. The florescent wiring circuits in office buildings are connected to 220 or 240V sources. Similarly, we don’t find it surprising there are standards for wiring high-current devices like electric stoves and hot water heaters. Low voltage wiring would require a wire type definition, and connection standards to an isolated circuit breaker panel.

There are thousands of municipal building and zoning departments across the country, so a revision to the NEC would be required to get all zoning and building departments in sync and up to speed on the standards required for the technology.

True, separate low-voltage LED lighting circuits would cost money to install. However, that cost would pale in comparison to a solar electric system designed to run the big inductive motor loads in our appliances.  And, with a smaller, but appropriately sized solar panel on the roof charging a car battery or two, virtually all lighting would be “free.”

Again, dedicated wiring would be required because these would be 12 Volt DC, direct current, circuits… very different from 110V AC.

Parallel wiring systems at first glance seem silly, but the amount of electricity we’d be able to save with LED lighting running off solar-charged batteries is stunning. All it takes is an administrative effort and communication, and some parts and labor.

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