Energy Roundup and Other Miscellaneous Notes

Lots of fun little stories on the energy scene the last few days.

Item: MIT’s Technology Review wonders whether widespread adoption of electric cars could destabilize the grid, most of which may not be able to handle spikes in demand when everyone plugs in their cars at night to recharge (and when the sun goes down on all the solar panels):

Plugging in an electric vehicle is, in some cases, the equivalent of adding three houses to the grid. That has utilities in California—where the largest number of electric vehicles are sold—scrambling to upgrade the grid to avoid power outages. . .

The trouble arises when electric car owners install dedicated electric vehicle charging circuits. In most parts of California, charging an electric car at one of those is the equivalent of adding one house to the grid, which can be a significant additional burden, since a typical neighborhood circuit has only five to 10 houses. In San Francisco, where the weather is cool and air conditioning is rarely used, the peak demand of a house is much lower than in the hotter parts of California. As a result, the local grid is sized for a much smaller load. A house in San Francisco might only draw two kilowatts of power at times of peak demand, according to Pacific Gas & Electric. In comparison, a new electric vehicle on a dedicated circuit could draw 6.6 kilowatts—and up to 20 kilowatts in the case of an optional home fast charger for a Tesla Model S.

Item/Headline: Rochester Man Puts Solar Panels on Home to Show Waste.

The 20 solar panels Jeffrey Punton installed in the backyard of his Weldon Street home won’t ever generate enough electricity to cover their cost. Which is the whole point.

He means them as a cautionary tale, one that Punton said cost him $13,000 and received another $29,500 in state and federal subsidies and tax credits.

He installed the panels in 2009, and they work: he has generated about 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in four years, saving several hundred dollars a year on his energy bill.

That’s a lot of savings, but barely enough to recoup his initial investment over several decades, and not enough to cover the public money involved. It’s that public money that chafes him, evidence of governmental intrusion in the marketplace.

But I thought solar power was free?

Item: Your iPhone uses more energy than a refrigerator.  This story comes from my pal Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute:

The average iPhone uses more energy than a midsize refrigerator, says a new paper by Mark Mills, CEO of Digital Power Group, a tech investment advisory. A midsize refrigerator that qualifies for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star rating uses about 322 kW-h a year, while your iPhone uses about 361 kW-h if you stack up wireless connections, data usage, and battery charging.

The paper, rather ominously titled “The Cloud Begins With Coal: Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure, and Big Power,” details how the world’s Information Communication Technology (ITC) ecosystem — which includes smartphones, those high-powered Bloomberg terminals on trading floors, and server farms that span the size of seven football fields — are taking up a larger and larger slice of the world’s energy pie.

I ran this point by a college audience once, and they were very glum.  Then I asked for how many were willing to give up their smart phones.  Two hands went up.  So of course I said, “Hand them over, then; I’ll make sure they get properly recycled.”  They didn’t of course.

And now for something completely different:

Item: Noam Chomsky says Sarah Palin was right about Obama?!?!?  This must be some reverse-psychology trick I don’t get without an advance degree in Chomskyite semiotics.

Item: Joe Biden’s son Beau has been hospitalized for “disorientation.”  I’ve got to think this is hereditary.

Item: In the “what-took-them-so-long-department”: Carlos Danger wieners arrive on the market:

Described on the website as “the World’s Most Delicious Dogs With Mocking Salacious Fun,” the Carlos Danger Weiner site invites visitors to “Take a picture of yourself with your Carlos Danger Weiner and send it out to your friends, or even people you don’t know at all!”

Plus this:

According to Richards, the dogs are about twice the size of regular hot dogs.

And this:

The Weiner campaign did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Sorry, no Bob Filner update today.

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