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Magical thinking

One of the aspects of the present-day environmental movement that gets up my nose is the tendency towards magical thinking that many of its followers engage in; notably, the belief that because doing something about climate change (and environmental degradation and peak oil and the whole dismal litany) is better than doing nothing, any particular something they can point to clearly must be done, however irrelevant it might be to dealing with the underlying problem. It generates make-work, an annoying wheel-spinning tail-chasing pursuit of distractions, at the cost of grappling with the very real and very serious problems we face. And when it's not based on numbers, advice about how we ought to tackle our power problem can actually be counter-productive, as Professor David MacKay of Cambridge University's Department of Physics points out. (Long article, that, and well worth reading — and the draft book on energy policy that it links to.)

I'm particularly exercised right now by the suggestion that we all ought to be unplugging our domestic appliances that run on "standby" mode, waiting to be activated by remote control, rather than leaving them sucking electricity the whole time. Take these folks, for example:

So many electrical items around the home have little 'standby' LED lights these days. Indeed it's shocking how much energy they use as well (apparently around 90% of the power needed to run the appliance - so there's another 'saving money' issue for you!). Does everything in your house really need to be permanently on standby? Plugging and unplugging electrical items is the work of but a moment and can make a difference to the environemt and your bank balance!

Er, no. Just how much juice does a standby appliance consume, really, and how much would we save if everybody in the UK religiously turned off appliances they weren't using? Let's try and come up with some numbers.

The first point I'd like to note is that, contra the well-meaning assertions of Shropshire Green Party, devices in standby mode do not all consume 90% of their maximum power drain. Take the laser printer sitting on the other side of my office; it's rated power drain in standby is 11 watts, but when in operation, peak drain is around 700 watts. It's a few years old; modern appliances tend to be a lot more parsimonious with their standby draw. Ditto items like LCD televisions or VCRs and PVRs; newer ones tend to run on single-digit watts when in standby, primarily to keep the infrared receiver powered up (so that they can come fully to life when you hit the "go" button).

The next item on the green hit list is items like mobile phone, PDA, or iPod chargers — wall warts, those blocky transformers that everything seems to come with these days. They're often warm to the touch; doesn't this mean they're consuming lots of power? Well, no. You'd be surprised how little power it takes to keep a small transformer warm; a couple of watts will do it, over time, because they've got chunky lumps of metal inside that hold heat efficiently, and they don't get hot enough to dissipate it through air convection -- so contact with your hand is the most effective way of cooling them. Typically we're talking 2-5 watts. (If it was on the order of 100 watts, you'd know about it — you'd burn your hand as soon as you touched the thing, just like a halogen spotlight.)

Now. Let us consider that there are about 15 million households in the UK. Let us postulate that each household contains no less than twenty such wall-warts or gizmos with a standby mode that could stand to be unplugged. How much juice can we save?

Taking as a rough guestimate five watts of standby power consumption for each device, multiplied by twenty, we get roughly 100 watts per household. That's not insignificant; it's equivalent to 2.4 kilowatt-hours per day, or about £0.25 in electricity. The same as leaving a single incandescent light bulb glowing 24 hours a day. Multiply by 15 million houses and we have 1.5Gw, the output of a full-sized power station. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

Yes, but: the UK's total power generation capacity is 40-60Gw (it varies over time), with a base load of roughly 40Gw. The base load is the power it takes to keep the country running all the time — its permanent power draw, basically. The best case for everyone turning off all their standby-mode devices all the time is a saving of 3% of the nation's base load. But that's equivalent to us not using these devices at all!. In practice, some of these devices are going to be in use for quite a lot of the time; for example, it takes a few hours to charge up a mobile phone or a laptop and they need charging at least once a day if they're in use. Other devices simply won't be turned off; given the headache of reprogramming your VCR when you first switch it on, are you actually going to unplug it? The real saving from the 'disconnect your wall-warts" campaign will be considerably less.

Moreover, electricity generation accounts for about 30-40% of the country's energy budget — it has virtually no impact on transport (only about 33% of the railway network is currently electrically powered). So we've saved, at a maximum, by completely turning off these devices, maybe 1% of our total base load power consumption. The true figure is probably considerably lower.

Now for the human cost of the plugging/unplugging gizmos, which for some reason the proponents of power parsimony never seem to talk about ...

It's like spam. Deleting an individual spam email takes a second or two. But given how many millions there are per day, it soon adds up.

It takes me roughly 10 seconds to disconnect a wall wart. I include in this the time it takes me to walk to the room it's in, locate the socket, identify it, and unplug it. It takes me the same time to plug it in again. Assuming one switch off/switch on cycle per day per wall wart, it therefore should take a household with ten of the things (see the normative assumptions above) 200 seconds per day, or just over 3 minutes. Multiplying this figure by 15 million for the participating households, and the human effort of observing this quasi-religious ritual is 3 billion seconds per day, or about 90 man-years, spread across the nation!

Valuing each person-year at a notional £20,000, each day we do this it costs us £1.8M, or two entire productive working lives. Another way of looking at it; using this costing technique, we lose 700 productive working lives per year, or the equivalent of £1.4 Billion in worker-productivity for the time spent turning wall warts on and off.

In other words, it's a lot cheaper just to buy another nuclear power station.

You may think I'm being unfair. Why not put all the wall warts in a house on one power block with a single switch, making it easy to turn them on and off? Well, if we do that we can reduce the cost by an order of magnitude. But it's still the same as the cost of a new nuclear power station, amortized over 7-8 years (rather than the 40-50 year running life of the plant).

The "unplug your standby gizmos" movement is trying to get us to observe a superstitious ritual, rather than contributing a practical measure to reduce the nation's carbon emissions. It will in any case be obsolete in the next few years, as gizmos with really low energy standby modes are mandated by law — so you'd be saving milliwatts rather than whole watts.

Back during the second world war, there was a drive in the UK to strip out railings and send pots and pans to metal works to be melted down and turned into weapons. It was seen as a patriotic duty; if you had railings outside your home, you weren't doing your bit for the war effort. Did this actually help the war effort? No it didn't; the total weight of railings and pans melted down for scrap probably wouldn't have built a single cruiser. But they kept urging people to do it anyway, because it made the public feel as if they were contributing and helping deal with the national emergency. It was, in other words, good for morale.

Trying to defeat global warming by unplugging phone chargers and gizmos with a standby mode is in the same league as sending your kitchenware to be melted down to make tanks; it's silly.

Want to save energy? Have a shower instead of a bath; heating water consumes a huge amount of energy. (But don't use an electrically-heated shower — it's much more efficient to use gas or even oil fired water heating.) Work from home, or find work that's close enough to home that you can commute on foot or by bicycle or bus. Turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees in winter by all means. (The rate of heat loss through a wall is proportional to the temperature differential across the wall — in other words, the cooler your house in winter, the more slowly it'll lose what heat it retains.) Switch from driving an SUV or a truck to driving a small, light car, and go easy on the gas pedal.

But unplugging wall warts? That's just plain silly.

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186 Comments

1:

The Thatcherite Syllogism:

Something must be done
This is Something
Therefore, this must be done

People want magic bullet solutions. "Turn off devices in standby mode" is easy to explain, and (modulo discussion above) doesn't affect your life that much. "Change jobs so you can bike to work", on the other hand, takes lots of effort. The problem is that all the things that actually make a difference are precisely like that: unpleasant and effortful. Which, unsurprisingly, is why the problems don't get solved much. People, and I include myself in this, are really really bad at dealing with the "litter problem" -- if just one person drops litter, it doesn't actually matter that much. The tragedy of the commons and Schneier's stuff about externalities are all part of this sort of line of thinking; I've never seen anyone come up with an actual way of dealing with it rather than just identify that the problem exists.

2:

I think you're being a bit disengenuous yourself Charlie (hey, it's your blog, you're allowed to *grin*), while I broadly agree with some of your points (such as the wooly thinking and the "about 90%" claim being used to tar all products), I feel you're missing a few issues and glossing over others.

Some old devices undoubtably do very inefficiently use 90% of full power when in "standby", some of these are also probably in service, the question then becomes: is it "better" to replace the inefficient item (with all the resultant cleanup costs and the cost of production of a new "more efficient" one), or is it better to educate the owners on how to use it so it isn't wasteful?

Again, yes the low-energy standby modes ought to happen and they'll gradually filter through, but it's best if that's at a normal rate of replacement from wear and tear rather than scrapping a nation's worth of otherwise perfectly fine gizmos, which is waste on a mammoth scale.

Writing it off as the cost of a nuclear power station is also reducing things simply to their monetary cost, nuclear isn't "clean" energy by any stretch of the imagination, it's just moving the environmental costs into a different area that has become "less scary" to the public than CO2 emissions. Long term storage of spent nuclear fuel is still like landfilling plastic rubbish: "out of sight, out of mind, maybe we'll figure it out what to do about this stuff before we run out of places to bury it."

Unplugging devices that you don't need is really only part of the point though, the real point is that you're only plugging them back in when you need them... and face it, I'm sure there's been at least a few people who've unplugged all their devices because of this, and then found that there's two or three things that they actually never plug back in again because they don't actually use them anymore, and hadn't really thought about that fact.

I know it's definitely happened to me and I'm quite aware of my "appliances".

3:

Sam: yes, I'm over-stating it to some extent. (Example: when I go on holiday I make a point of doing the turn-everything-off dance, and turning down the fridge, and so on. Because? A few weeks of spurious power consumption is a whole different matter from a few hours.)

On the nuclear waste disposal topic I have other things to say, which I didn't say here. (Nutshell version: the problem goes away if we stop trying to bury it in our own back yard and come up with a multinational framework for putting it in the most appropriate places on the whole planet, instead. And, oh, if we start actually working on using the stuff rather than simply piling it up.)

4:

If there are electrical appliances that use 90% of their power in standby then the campaign should say "Some items use lots of power on standby, why not find out what they are and turn them off thereby saving you money and the world resources", rather than "Turn off all appliances!".

As to the issue of nuclear waste, the solution, in my opinion, is pretty easy. All nuclear material is natural, we didn't make any of it, it's just dangerous because we put so much of it in one place at one time. So to dispose of it, just spread it all back out again. Fit a couple of large ships with grinders and set them to pootle about the oceans grinding up and dropping off small amounts of radioactive material as they go. The background radiation level won't change, no 3-eyed fish will be born, there won't be any dangerous large chunks of radioactive junk about.

Of course, no-one will like the idea, it sounds like we are polluting the environment, but all we're doing is redistributing the stuff we concentrated in the first place.

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5:

I'm into energy-saving and renewables and stuff, and you're right about this one. I favour turning off items that don't have a clock or need retuning, but the figures I see bandied around are just silly. My digital recorder, for instance, uses about 1 watt on standby. We won't win the argument by saying things that are easily disproved.
I disagree about the nuclear power tho.

6:

Hal @4: actually, we did make some of the radioactive waste. (You need to read up on neutron activation and transmutation.)

On the other hand, the high level waste is, by definition, the stuff that's decaying fastest, with the shortest half lives. And storing it for a couple of centuries -- or even a millennium -- isn't rocket science; it's pyramid science. (See? We've got an existence proof for how to build structures that could contain a chunk of radioactive waste for 1-5000 years; just stick 'em in a desert, preferably tectonically stable, and drop a half million tons of pyramid on top of them.)

The biggest problems with nuclear power are (a) the common association it shares with nuclear weapons (a whole different ball game) and (b) the nuclear power industry, as it currently exists.

7:

Hal @ 4: Sure, spread it around, no-one will notice. We spread CO2 (and other more toxic) emissions from coal-burning power-stations around a fair bit once we realised that the smogs were getting hazardous to our health. Then we "found out" that even spread out across the atmosphere of the entire planet, it still adds up if you're building it up faster than it's broken down, and then Bad Things happen.

Charlie @ 3: Getting the reactors built in the first place is an exercise in overcoming NIMBYism, I don't want to think of the "man-hours" involved in doing it on a global scale for the waste. Might be easier to get people to turn their gadgets off instead. ;) No, I'm not entirely serious.

I do wonder if there's a hidden agenda at play though: if we get people to feel understand that they need to be more efficient in power use and that it comes at a cost to them (effort to turn things off), then maybe they'll be lazy enough to say "Yes please, anything to save my back from bending over any more!" when they have the planning consultation about building a wind-farm next-door.

8:

According to Mackay's own figures, you're overstating the drain from phone chargers drastically - http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sustainable/charger/

There's also the association cost of advocating measures like this. Nearly everyone can see that turning off phone chargers is a bit silly and doesn't help much; the same people who advocate that advocate all sorts of other things that might well help a lot; if one's debunked, the other one tends to go with it.

Giving people a single specific task to do (ie. don't take that flight. Yes, that particular flight you were looking up just now) ends up being a lot easier than trying to change our general behaviour.

9:

Okay, so the "standby equals one or two power plants" my environmentalists bring forward is pretty much true. I agree that unplugging everything is quite uncomfortable, but where is the problem with

a. bring the industrie to producing machines that consume less and less in standby mode (11 Watt is pretty much, 2-3 Watt is much better),

b. use plugs with switches where possible (e.g., for my PC I have a switchable plug; with one switch the PC standby and the monitor standby are gone).

And of course you are right that one should look at the efficiency of energy saving proposals. But a movement towards household appliances and electronics that consume less power is something quite sensible, given the proportions of power consumption (1/3 households as a rule of thumb, IIRC).

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10:
On the nuclear waste disposal topic I have other things to say, which I didn't say here. (Nutshell version: the problem goes away if we stop trying to bury it in our own back yard and come up with a multinational framework for putting it in the most appropriate places on the whole planet, instead. And, oh, if we start actually working on using the stuff rather than simply piling it up.)

Posted by: Charlie Stross

Yes, the waste disposal problem has long been 'solved'. What kills me is that this is a _fantastic_ opportunity to make money. If I were living in one of the surrounding communities in Yucca Flats, I'd have no problem with storing nuclear waste there. And I would band together with my fellow residents to demand a hefty fee for doing so. A real hefty fee. But the Magic Capitalists of America haven't figured that one out yet . . . Anecdotally, I don't think the younger folks have the superstitious dread of the stuff that their parents and grandparents do.[1] Given the necessity, it's only a matter of time until the young-bloods demand more nuclear power.

I don't blame the DFH for this irrational fear, btw. They simply don't have that much power, and never had. I blame the giant spiders and the evil mutants that are the inevitable results of inadvertent exposure to radiation.

11:

I'm an engineer in a manufacturing environment, and did a similar analysis on shutting off equipment as part of the end-of-shift shutdown procedure. The calculated cost in worker-minutes didn't show much benefit. My manager pointed out that in this case the worker-minutes didn't count, as workers are integers rather than floating-point. Unless we added another person to the payroll, there would be ZERO real additional labour cost, and the savings would be pure profit on the bottom line.

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12:

A better campaign would be to get people to turn off their PCs, or at least set them to go into sleep mode. I know a bunch of people who just leave them running all day and night.

Some places have a reason for doing this -- my employer runs updates at night and backs up to a central server. But there's really no reason for personal computers to be left on all the time...

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13:

OK, it might not be a good thing in summer, but in winter that waste heat isn't wasted. Especially not if you have a properly insulated house. It's not the most efficient heat source, perhaps, but calling is waste is misleading.

Secondary heating?

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14:

And of course, observance of these rituals is a nice visible way of sorting the Us from the Them. Same old story. I wouldn't be surprised if the True Believers get (more) violent over the next couple decades.

And the point that really chafes is that the religious observers AREN'T the ones who solve the problems for good and all -- the orders of magnitude better solutions come from unsuperstitious rationalists who you can bet aren't doing the wall wart dance. In fact, the ability to actually solve problems and the unwillingness to do tribal dances are the same thing.

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15:

Charlie, I'm with you for the first half of the article. I bought a power meter to check how much my devices use in various modes and only one or two use more than a watt in standby - basically our old CRT TV and the cable TV box. What is much more important is for people to switch off equipment they aren't using, such as PCs at night or lights when you leave a room. [BTW, I suspect that the energy that went into making the power meter is more than I've saved as a result of using it].

As you say, the industry is making improvements in this area. I spoke last week at an ITU symposium on ICTs and Climate Change; the telecoms representatives were all full about how much they were doing in this area. (BT were awarded a Queen's award for sustainable enterprise).

I don't agree with your reasoning about people's time and another nuclear power station. Perhaps I'll revisit this idea when more than 90% of the world's electricity is produced by "low carbon" means. For now, I think the important point is that this advice about standby mode has reached the stage where people repeat it without checking the figures. It's even taught in primary schools.

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16:

Andrew G - there's no need to leave business PCs on overnight to do updates. "Wake-on-LAN" technology (or pre-programmed start times in the BIOS) can be used to switch the kit on when the server is ready to download updates.

In UK higher education, there is an exemplar project at Oxford Uni implementing this sort of thing across the campus. They expect to save £250,000 a year in electricity bills as a result. Search for the JISC "Low Carbon ICT" project for more details.

BTW, about six months ago you recommended I read "Domino" by Algis Budrys, as an example of someone who was writing about internet-like information flows during the 1960s. Thanks for that, I enjoyed it.

17:

but, but, but, if we turn off all the PCs at University, our @home-scores (Einstein, SETI, folding) are going to go down! bad! *SCNR*

18:

Charlie, great post. However, I'd take issue your premise re: "global warming" statement. This hasn't received a lot of press, but the data now show that there has been zero net global temperature change across the past 11 years, in spite of steadily rising CO2 levels. See http://wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/warming-on-11-year-hiatus/

For what it's worth, I'm a strongly left-leaning, biodiesel car driving socialist, but also a scientist/engineer very familiar with pathological science, and very skeptical of the AGW arguments & data.

I'm definitely in the minority among my other lefty friends.


Some of my other liberal friends are on record saying "it's ok to over-hype the dangers of global warming and lie to the public, as long as good results from it". When I point out that this is the same Straussian logic that the US's xian right/neocons uses, it seems to fall upon deaf ears.

One of my non-sheep friends jokes "If buying a Prius is so good for the environment, why not buy two!" I think Carbon Offsets are the new indulgences..

19:

Water conservation is power conservation. Withdrawing water, treating water, moving water, and treating wastewater all take a lot of juice.

It should show up on your water bill, but the water co. usually "borrows" from infrastructure maintainance so your rates don't go up during politician X's tenure. Let the next gen deal with leaky pipes...

When your neighbor is watering his sidewalk DURING THE DAY, he's pushing SO2 right into your kid's lungs and mercury into her food.

Conserve water, dammit! Is that so hard to understand?

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20:

Michael - this is debated seriously among University IT staff, because BOINC and Condor systems can do a lot of useful computation. The full calculation has to include the "embedded energy" used to create and install the PCs in the first place, an analysis of the benefit of the computation, and comparison against the cost of providing the compute power elsewhere.

It often uses less electricity to run this sort of task overnight on PCs rather than on dedicated compute clusters, because the dedicated clusters have airconditioning, UPS's and other equipment that uses more power again than the actual servers, whereas the PCs just sit in offices. It's quite possible (even without Wake-on-LAN) to schedule these jobs to run and then shut down the machines when no jobs are left in the queue.

As Charlie says, it's all about working out the actual numbers. Whether a given Uni would regard SETI@Home etc. as a worthwhile task to support is a matter for that organisation to decide.

I apologise for taking such a boring approach to your comment!

21:

(See? We've got an existence proof for how to build structures that could contain a chunk of radioactive waste for 1-5000 years; just stick 'em in a desert, preferably tectonically stable, and drop a half million tons of pyramid on top of them.)

Yes, but all except one of the prototypes got ransacked.

22:

xmd: This hasn't received a lot of press, but the data now show that there has been zero net global temperature change across the past 11 years, in spite of steadily rising CO2 levels.

This one has been thoroughly beaten to death. 1998 was a particularly hot year (due to El Nino) so the trend looks flat since that year. 1999 and 2000 were colder so the trend since them looks a lot steeper.

For example, see this graph:

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/trend1.jpg

from this page:

http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/01/24/giss-ncdc-hadcru/

Looking at the overall data, and realising that there is random variation on top of the underlying trend, it's really difficult to understand why anybody would think that the temperature is not continuing to increase.

23:

You're not alone over there Charlie. May I quote from my hometown newspaper, the Seattle P-I:

"According to a memo to the park board from the staff released Thursday, "The overall policy question for the Board is whether it is good policy for Seattle Parks to continue public beach fires when the carbon ... emissions produced by thousands of beach fires per year contributes to global warming.""

That's right, they were seriously proposing to ban bonfires on a city beach because of the impact on global warming. Sigh....

Oh and if people are so worried about the electricity they consume, move to lighting with compact fluorescents which take about 1/7th the electricity for the same illumination. Replacing all of your incandescent bulbs with those will make a much larger impact than unplugging items taking a few watts to remain on standby.

24:

Interesting. I think there's a resource argument that chargers should be standardised to avoid as much as possible the ridiculous proliferation of specialised transformers and connectors which have useful lives of only a few years, maybe a decade or two at best. Douglas Adams IIRC had a big gripe about that.

What would be an interesting idea, given the low amounts of power required is encouraging mobile phone companies to bundle solar or hand crank chargers as an alternative. I'm sure I could charge all the batteries I need using solar energy for most of the year, but it's just not simple enough to make the change when I get a wall wart bundled in my box. Perhaps taking these small elements of power off grid first would also encourage better energy usage too.

I also wonder why we're banning tungsten lamps before disposable batteries which would surely be a better victory.

Another way would be to start using power consumption ratings on phones themselves, it's notable that the latest Symbian s60 feature pack seems to lower power usage dramatically enough to reduce the size of battery required in the next generation of the Nokia N-Series, and now that people are far more conscious of their energy bills they're more likely than ever to adjust their habits when buying new equipment.

25:

xmd: further:

http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/11/4/175028/329

I should have thought of checking there before making my previous reply. They have answers to most of the "sceptical" ideas so are well worth a look in these sort of cases.

26:

rick @23: I've already gone the CFL route -- the only incandescent bulbs in the house are ones that are waiting to burn out and have CFL replacements sitting in a drawer, ready for the day.

An interesting point is that if an economy measure is going to save enough power to show up on the electricity bill, most people will make it voluntarily, and pat themselves on the back -- not for being a good environmentalist, but for saving money. (See also: the 38% drop in year-on-year sales of large SUVs in the US over the past year. It's not because of environmental concerns, it's because of gas costing $4 per gallon. Compared to the US $9 per gallon it is hereabouts ...)

27:

One nit to pick; that 90% figure they pulled out of their ass (and they did, I'm pretty sure that's not the right figure) refers to the total power consumption over time. ie, you cell phone charger sits idle most of the time drawing a few watts for the wart and is used for a few hours once or twice a week, meaning it's standby draw is x% of it's total power use.

That said, technological solutions like the are far more sensible than daily supplications to the gods.

28:

Ed # 21 Looting generally occur within one generation of the closing of tombs, because people have a good Idea what's in them, or they hate the dead guys guts. Other than that you need a culture light nosey enlightenment scholars with the idea that something 'good' is hidden in side to engender tomb robbery.

As for the railing/pan propaganda: The raw materials didn't get as far as the smelters. The railings were buried and the pots where made of a very soft aluminium alloy. We used a set of pre ware pans years that went oval through casual handling so you had to give them a good wack before you could fit the lid on. I guess with enough care and attention you could cook up a decent structural alloy from pan soup.

Alex # 24 Here's a scuzzy piece of detail. Wandering through the 3rd world end of Brick Lane Market today there were guys selling? random phone charger cables amongst the dodgy handsets, porn and tired charity shop reject clothing. What kind of market forces does that suggest.

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29:

I don't believe that consumers have the power to significantly change the amount of CO2 our (world) society produces. I could conceive that we could slightly change the rate at which our society produces it, but I think it will carry on producing CO2 at around the current rate or faster until someone very powerful takes draconian measures to stop it. This intervention, if it happens, will be motivated by observed costs of global warming, and our saving a bit of power now will only delay the intervention.

While I'm being negative, I don't see how transformers' containing big lumps of metal could make them feel any warmer. In the long term, the heat out of an idle transformer is equal to the energy in.

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30:

I measured it for the setup I'm currently sitting in front of. 24W when its all supposedly turned off.

So now its got a radio control switch on the plug in the wall which not only cuts the power without any effort at all, but also kills those damned power LEDs that otherwise annoy by lighting up the house.

Sure, its not in the least as important in energy terms as anything connected with heating, but its 105kWh a year with the added advantage of the blinkenlights effect when you press the radio control button to turn it all on again.

31:

Oh ghods, I've created a monster...

32:

Charlie, my phone charger doesn't pull anything. I have four things that are standby -- the microwave (which, since I don't keep the time on it, I should start pulling), and three powersquids. One powersquid has only it's own LED on standby (has recliner and lamp on it all the time, sometimes also shredder or heating pad). The other two go to computer stuff and TV stuff. I could certainly unplug the computer powersquid when I shut down for the day, but I *do* shut down, so it's just the powersquid LED and the LED of the speaker that stays up (I used to turn it off, but Giorgio knocked the control speaker off the desk so often that now it's very tricky to get it to turn on). So there's not a lot there, either. I'm not unplugging the TV powersquid -- it takes 20 minutes to retune, redate, and retime all of the things attached to it, plus, I frequently tape shows when I'm out or asleep.

I do leave a 4w CFL on in my bedroom after dark/before I go to bed so I can be sure there's no cat in the way and it's bright enough to do everything except read. There is also a nightlight over the litterbox because one of my cats is going blind and she had trouble finding the litterbox. I sure hope she can handle it when she loses all her sight.

theDAWG @19, our city uses smoke tests every year to find leaky pipes.

maggie @28, the feds had some SF authors in to talk about how to keep people away from dangerous areas centuries in the future. I recently reread an excellent Robert Reed story, The Dragons of Springplace, that has another idea -- put a new unbreakable glass all over it and weapons, etc., to make a giant plateau and on the top all the plants are poisonous, all the animals are poisonous or will kill you (the genetically-modified komodo dragons now have five-foot heads), the water is poisonous, and all the insects are poisonous. I looked to see if there was a free version of the story and didn't find one, but the collection it headlines is for sale on eBay. Here's my review, which is not too detailed.

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33:

I did measure the standby power of everything in my house with a plug in meter and found it was about 70 watts or about 1.7 kw a day. About an eighth of my usage. The worst offenders were the two computers and the two printers. Computing devices accounted for over half of all standby power.

Cheap home printers have external transformers and use around 5 watts when turned off or on - unless turned off at the socket. The mobile phone charger suggestion is a waste of space, but one targeting home computers and those disposable printers would appear to make some sense.

No need for a daily ritual though, timer plugs are dirt cheap, draw no measurable standby power and are much more reliable than humans at turning things off at unnecessary times.

34:

Most people are not engineers. Most people don't make decisions rationaly, we make them in the context of our own beliefs about ourselves. If you start by suggesting that people should change their entire lifestyle to avoid a vague, future problem, then most people will put it in the 'too hard' bucket.

The arguement that doing something is better than doing nothing is based on the idea that doing something makes people feel enabled. They can take baby steps and find their feet, start thinking of themselves as responsible global citizens, without suddenly sprouting dreads and herding lentils. Once they've done that, they can get on with actually reducing emissions by [insulating their houses|not flying|less meat|less driving|changing their whole lifestyle].

Of course, that's the theory. I don't know if it works or not, we'll have to leave that to the behavioural psychologists to find out.

35:

Ah, the "Politician's Fallacy". I first heard of this formula (something must be done...) via http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2007/02/26/1763692.aspx

36:

Charlie @26, I hope you read the fine print on the compact fluorescent light bulbs. They contain mercury. Not bad when one person dumps it in the trash, but everyone?

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7431198

Is this the next environmental emergency? What to do with all those nasty CLF's.

"There was an old lady that swallowed a fly..."

37:

hmmm. Am I doing something for the environment if I don't use the electric light in my bathroom when I go to the toilet during the night? The reason is that the charge-indicator LED on my electric toothbrush is so damn bright it almost gives me headaches on its own. yay!

38:

John @35: yes, I am indeed aware of the mercury problem. But this is probably the last generation of CFL bulbs I'll own -- LED bulbs are already available (if you don't mind paying £30+ per bulb) and that's the technology that'll render the CFL bulbs obsolete. At which point the whole concept of lamps with disposable bulbs will go out the window, as the LEDs should be good for 30 years ...

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39:

Charlie @ 26 & 37 .....
CFL lightbulbs are a giant con.
I refuse to have them.

They are DIM, they can flicker - and this can be VERY dangerous, especially if the flicker-frequency is 7.3Hz or a multiple thereof.
What ARE efficient, and COLD, and bright are LED bulbs.
Soon, they will (I hope) become the standard, and not the Hg-containing, flickering monsters, that WON'T EVEN FIT some of our existing light-fittings, because the bloody things are too large and clumsy.

A typical example of politicans (mostly lawyers) fucking-up a TECHNICAL decision.
And DON'T start me on why only 33% of our rail-system is electric, either .....

40:

ed @21: I bet the pyramids wouldn't have been ransacked if the curse of the pharoah actually worked. Make people start dropping dead as soon as they get to "reception" and they will take notice.

I suggest a healthy coating of arsenic dust in the access corridors, or maybe lighting provided by a couple of lumps of vitrified high level waste '-)

41:

G. Tingey,

I have a combined ceiling fan / light fixture in my living room* that was fitted out with CFLs by the previous owner. I keep them in the fixture out of a certain amount of environmental guilt, but almost never use them, because the color is simply awful, a sickly yellow-green that might not be out of place in an abode of the Old Ones.

Charlie's right about LEDs, they're a much better solution in terms of efficiency, life-time total cost, and amount of hazardous material (yes, there's nasty stuff like arsenic and such in some of them, but in very small quantities compared to the amount of mercury in CFLs). I'm not convinced about that 30 year lifetime; as I understand it we can't yet get ten years reliably out of mass-produced units. But that will come with time and engineering.


* Which now needs to be replaced anyway, as the fan has died. We're trying to find one that works well, looks nice, and fits the style of our house (mid-20th modern). Not so much luck so far.

42:

Actually, there's a fascinating book (by, IIRC, Gregory Benford -- in non-fiction mode) on the problems of communicating across deep time. Benford and others (scientists and futurologists and archaeologists) were invited to join a brainstorming process to work out exactly how the KEEP OUT signs at Yucca Flats should be designed ... to remain readable across upwards of ten kiloyears and a postulated total collapse of civilization including a loss of literary and linguistic continuity with the past (i.e. us).

They agreed up-front that the symbolism should be targeted on human beings (it's unlikely another intelligent tool-using species will show up before we go extinct), and then began working out how to design a vestibule that would push the WooWoo buttons hard for just about every known and imaginable human society. (Start with lots of skulls ...)

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43:

Woah, fascinating. Here's Part One of Benford's Deep Time - Ten Thousand Years of Solitude. See Dick Run From Radioactive Death ^_^. Plenty of classic SF references in there, too.

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44:

charlie@41 - I seem to remember an article on this in new scientist at some time over the past few years - a tough problem. brings back (fond) memories of "the mote in gods eye"...

CFL bulbs - they are not a con. cheap ones can flicker, or hum. this is not good, but the ones made by decent manufacturers are usually fine. to get the right colour of light, pick the right bulb (the colour of a bulb is measured as the equivalent temperature of a lump of metal (steel?) so an orange looking bulb is cool (700 i think, measured in kelvin), because a lump of steel would be relatively cool to glow orange. a bulb that is blue ish would be hot (1100K i think) because you would have to heat a lump of metal to a higher temperature to get a whiter light from it.

Light bulb manufacturers will soon have to accept back the old lights when they blow, to recycle them. this is newish legislation that may already be in force, if not then over the next year (european).

LEDs are indeed better than CFL bulbs, and I would love to light my house with them. they are expensive tho - but if you buy them in component form, and you have the urge, it's easy to cobble something together. you can buy small 3-LED stick on lights for a £5 from B&Q. good for mood lighting but you would need lots to light a room.

anyway, the carbon trust has a lot of good publications free to download (www.carbontrust.co.uk). Mostly geared to industry and business, but this technology tends to start there and then work it's way to the domestic side of things.

as to the "unplug NOW" argument - technically it doesn't do much, individually. large scale, maybe a small impact (2 nuclear power stations, or coal fired equivalents may not be massive in the global scheme of things, but in the local scheme of things it certainly is). what i think this is about, is awareness raising. I do some work for the carbon trust, and a reasonable amount of the savings a business can make (generally 10-20%) is changing how they think about energy. Individually, turning things off. as an organisation, an energy policy, eg in procurement, throughout the business. generally how things are done - think about energy from the start, and you can often significantly cut down on consumption and emissions. Monitoring what you are doing, then setting targets and making improvements. this all adds up (kWh, CO2, and most importantly for my clients, in money).

In order to get through the declining oil supply, as well as global warming, we need to get our act together. that's only really going to happen when people in general start thinking about how they live their lives and relating that to energy. getting people to unplug things may not make a massive difference, but it gets them started, gets them thinking.

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45:

Disposing of high-level radioactive waste.

ASSUMING that keeping it around, in case we think of a better use for it is a bad idea, that is .....

Simple.

Make up deep-penetration shapes, of about the same size and dimensions as a GRAND SLAM bomb, but optimised for water.
If necasseary fit them with small, reliable, cheap one-shot electric propulsion units.
Point them at any handy subduction trench, thus sending the radioactives back where they came from.

End of problem.

Why has no-one thought of this?

46:

I think there's a resource argument that chargers should be standardised to avoid as much as possible the ridiculous proliferation of specialised transformers and connectors which have useful lives of only a few years, maybe a decade or two at best. Douglas Adams IIRC had a big gripe about that.

ISTR the Chinese government wanted to standardise on mini-USB for mobiles a couple of years ago. I recommend and endorse this.

Meanwhile, I note that the charger for my E65 doesn't heat up perceptibly through being plugged in, although the phone does quite quickly charging. Draw your own conclusions.

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47:

A couple of months back, one of the NPR "Morning Edition" commentaries had the rather depressing notion that nearly all of the "feel good" measures we might make here in the West along these lines were completely abrogated by the industrial output of just two rather small-but-growing cities, one in India and one in China.

Both are going full-bore into industrial production, via coal-fired power plants. The estimate was that the output of greenhouse gases from these two cities alone would exceed any savings from all of our trash recycling, fluorescent light bulbs, hybrids, etc, etc.

We understand that China is planning to bring one new coal-fired power plant per WEEK online for the next decade or so.....

48:

Regarding your comment at the end about going "easy on the gas pedal", that could be interpreted in ways that actually increase gas usage, not decrease.

If you mean less speeding, then yes, that will decrease gas usage.

If you mean accelerate slower, that actually increases gas usage. It is better to accelerate quickly to the speed limit. See also this interesting article on a device to help teach drivers how to conserve fuel.

It'd be better to say go light on the brake - anytime you are using the brake, you're wasting momentum you built up using gas. It's more fuel efficient to slow down gradually, even better if the light changes before you get there so you avoid stopping entirely.

49:

I have an alternate suggestion for the best way to post keep out signs that will work for countless millennia.

Use non-Euclidean geometry in your design to deter casual visitors, install a really big Flying Spaghetti Monster puppet for religious symbolism, and sink the whole thing deep in the ocean to restrict site access.

I think this might have come up somewhere before though.

50:

Charlie: "It was, in other words, good for morale."

Don't underestimate morale. Even a silly ritual might be useful in reinforcing a consciousness about not wasting energy that might spill over into doing more meaningful things, like buying a fuel efficient car, insulating the house, etc, etc. Purely speculative, I know, but perhaps worth considering.

Now I trust you have planned your vacation on a low carbon emission basis? *wink*

51:

as gizmos with really low energy standby modes are mandated by law

That's probably the only way it'll happen. It costs money to design hardware to be low power. No company will do it voluntarily if their competition might not do it and sell products cheaper. Regulating it changes the game theory.

And I think we can design our consumer electronics to be a lot more efficient than they are now.

As for standard wall-warts, USB seems to be winning that one. The phones and devices that don't use USB seem to be using a custom connector because they can make money selling a wall-wart charger, car charger, travel charger, etc. But since they don't have to put the price of all those accessories in the total price, they look like their product is as cheap as the others, until you realize you need to buy all those chargers because none of your old ones work.


52:

Did not read all of the posts. I came from an energy summit in which the conservation efforts made some sense to me. I told my hubby and he pointed me at your article.
Ha ha, so I got both sides of the discussion.

As a techie, I can't turn off everything all the time.

My family can dial down the freezer and frig, we can get modern updated power strips and better efficiency appliances if the old are resource hogs, and consolidate what we know should be "off" when we don't need it to be on timers. That was a cool nifty trick I learned at the energy summit.

I mean, if I make my computer sleep between the "examine my inner eyeballs" hours, why should I let it draw power it doesn't need when I am not using it?


The situation isn't completely simple and there is no radical bullet.
All in all it will be a small pittance (compared to winterizing the attic and finding in thermal scans the leaks so we don't get icicles), yet it pointed out to me in all the so very small ways that maybe ...

I don't need to have certain things on all the time and that they can come on when needed (like night lights that sense when light is absent, or hall lights with a timer, etc)

53:

accelerationista@43, if what you're talking about is colour temperature it's got nothing to do with lumps of steel. It's the colour radiated by a black body at that temperature.

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54:

The thing that bothers me about the more irrational of the awareness drives is how backward-thinking they are. If there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that the future needs more power, not less. Sure, individual devices are becoming increasing efficient, but there'll be a LOT MORE of them. Hell, there's a developing world coming online -- a billion people here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking a lot of power. Nickel-and-diming our power needs just gets a lot of people focused on not-the-problem, leaving them with a set of priorities incompatible with the realities of the near future. Green Parties and awareness groups should be using their leverage to promote things like solar and nuclear power initiatives, not giving concerned citizens feel-good busy-work.

Like all the other serious problems facing humanity, scale is the demon with which we must grapple, and the solution is going to require Big Thinking with Broad Support. Superstitious wall-wart unpluggery shrinks peoples' notions of what's possible.

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55:

Bit of trivia (possibly an urban legend, but it sounds like an odd one). A decade or two ago, the U.S. Government _was_ worried about the extra juice all those wall-warts used. So they commissioned a lower-power AC/DC converter, and released the results for anybody to use, patent free, etc. They figured by doing that they could delay the need for another power plant or two.

56:

Back in the days of lore when I had a Saturday job at Rumbelows we used to have to spend a lot of time explaining to people that you really really shouldn't unplug your VCR at night or if you were going away, especially in winter. And, if you did, then leave it a few hours before you stick a tape in because you'd frequently get moisture build up on the tape heads that would glue itself to any tape you put in.

MiniUSB: The problem here is the phone companies make a fortune out of the connectors - just ask Samsung, so they tend to develop a range of unique connectors for each phone. The other sneaky trick is to change the pin settings in the AC charger so you get the case that while both RIM and Motorola use mini-USB the wall chargers don't fit each other's kit.

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57:

One interesting solution to the power problem involves carpeting the lunar surface with solar arrays, converting the energy to low-intensity microwaves which get beamed down to receiver stations on Earth where they're converted back into usable energy. While that seems far fetched, I don't think (CMIIW) it's due to any hard feasibility limits -- rather, we just don't expect that level of intergovernmental cooperation, forward-thought or general good will on the part of humanity. As far as alternative boondoggles, that would have been a nice purchase...

We could leap-frog centuries of needless hardship and toil if we just got everyone on the same page. Luckily, that seems to be one of the internet's strong suits. Of course, I tend to be a starry-eyed optimist.

58:

The 90% figure probably comes from TV sets; particularly "old" CRT 32" tubes, etc. For fast response their 'standby' modes frequently kept the tubes energised, consuming almost as much power as when on. Not so bad today with LCDs, etc.

PDAs, etc. are designed with battery life in mind, and consume a pittance. Ditto most wall warts (frequently around the 1W mark).

The stuff that can consume power on standby, etc are things like set-top boxes: I've added up all the power from the TV, DVD, etc around the TV, and it came to over 30W on standby. Cheapo chinese firmware, and updating the
EPGs comes to mind.

The solution was easy and safe: ONE powerstrip for TV and STBs with big red switch. Turn off at night. But then I live in a low-energy house to start with: getting the power consumption down below what PVs can produce in Ireland is feasible, and a target :-)

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59:

There's sometimes a value in symbolic gestures, so I wouldn't write this off completely. I'd rather, of course, direct people's energy into the most effective solutions available, but in fact the people in the position to engineer and deploy those solutions cannot get funded for political reasons. So we do what we can, and hope we get some real leadership and funding eventually. That's not so bad.

Last time I looked, LEDs did not have the efficacy or color quality to be adequate interior lighting. This may no longer be true; now they may just be unreasonably expensive. In a world where one of the simplest energy efficiency measures, the fluorescent light dimmer--a simple current regulator--is expensive, patented technology, don't look for inexpensive high-quality LEDs for interior lighting applications anytime soon.

Bruce--enter "mid-century modern ceiling fan" into Google for some choices. Casablanca Fan Company makes a model called "Astro" that's so 1950s it's funny, and a steampunk-looking one called "Scandia".

The efficacy of a CFL is roughly four times that of an incandescent of comparable wattage; buy on that rule and you'll get enough light. "Color temperature" is a psychophysical approximation used by photographers, lighting designers, and so forth; neither daylight nor fluorescent light have a black body radiation spectrum. Generally, 5500K CFLs have acceptable color quality, especially when used in conjunction with daylight. The light is much "cooler" than what one gets from typical incandescent lamps, however--closer to daylight at 10am, rather than the sunset glow of type A incandescents.

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60:

The recent implementation of the fourth basic circuitry element, the memristor, may significantly change the power-consumption landscape as well (amongst other things).

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61:

Colour temperature:

While our eyes adapt pretty well to the variations, neither fluorescents nor LEDs have a "clean" spectrum, and that makes anything involving colour-matching a bitch.

Different films had slightly different responses to colour. You could do a lot to tweak the colour in a darkroom, but one of the big things about the digital world is that you can add the particular looks to your images.

Kodachrome was reckoned good for human skin (and the de-facto standard for soft porn.)

Agfachrome was good for landscapes--the greens.

Ektachrome tended to a blue cast, and you would use an 81A filter instead of the usual UV-blocking filter.

And they all went horribly green under fluorescent lights.

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62:

You may think I'm being unfair. Why not put all the wall warts in a house on one power block with a single switch, making it easy to turn them on and off?
I put most of my charger warts on a single power strip, which in turn is on a timer for 2 hours per day. Perhaps it's not optimal for some of the battery technologies involved, but it involves less human time.


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63:

Re: Colour Temperature

There are now many full spectrum fluorescents. They've used them on feature films for years, and many newsrooms, as they produce less heat and make for a more comfortable set. Many companies are now developing full specture LED's.

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64:

As far as magical thinking in general, I honestly think the internet will save our hides. Reddit/Slashdot/BoingBoing/Digg etc. (and blogs like this) own all the mindshare of the wired generations. When we inherit the seats of power, and many policy debates take place in open online forums (does anyone honestly think it won't happen?), ridiculous, irrational policies stand less of a chance. Same goes for organized religions. They just don't stand up to scrutiny, especially when hard facts are just a click away. Put another way, "Given enough eyeballs, all bad ideas are transparent." It's traditional meritocracy mechanics applied to memes and Everything Else. And of course, there are already plenty of Open Government initiatives.

I sound evangelical, and I'm giving humans way too much smart cred, but it does seem to be the path of least resistance. And I also know this is very much Not a New Idea. It's just that we may have written off "Ender's"-style forums a little too early. Here's to hoping, at least.

65:

John4 @35, my city has us recycle CFLs -- they go to a company that takes them apart and recycles the materials.

G. Tingey @38, here, I can get CFLs in bright, soft white, or full spectrum. The dimness depends on the wattage; I have one that is the equivalent of 250W. Don't you live in the UK? You must have different CFLs than we do.

Dave @60, here in the US, I can buy bulbs with specific kelvin, so they do match.

Charlie, I had a post held for review yesterday (probably too many URLs) and it still isn't up.

66:

carpeting the lunar surface with solar arrays, converting the energy to low-intensity microwaves which get beamed down to receiver stations on Earth

Uh, you'd want it geosynchrnous so you can beam it down to the same spot on the surface. Also, there might be a slight problem with the entire idea not being "fail safe" in any sense of the phrase.

the memristor, may significantly change the power-consumption landscape

I have no idea why.

67:

I converted all my christmas lights to LED's last year. hey consumed something crazy like only 5 watts a strand, which was way less than the filimant bulbs. Only problem was they were dim, dim, dim, had a weird flicker to them, and the color just seemed... odd.

Hopefully by the time my mini-flourescent bulbs in the house burn out, they'll have better LED lights figured out.

The biggest consumers of electricity in the home, though, is the refrigerator, isn't it?

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68:

Greg@65: Heh, good points. Maybe you could do geosynchronous repeaters? The fail-safe could be good old fashioned fossil fuels planet-side. Also, you have the added advantage of no atmosphere gunking up the works. The idea's out there, at any rate.

The idea behind reduced power consumption with memristors is that memory is non-volatile, yet has DRAM access speeds, so devices boot instantaneously -- Standby is replaced with "off".

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69:

Taking as a rough guestimate five watts of standby power consumption for each device, multiplied by twenty, we get roughly 100 watts per household. That's not insignificant; it's equivalent to 2.4 kilowatt-hours per day, or about £0.25 in electricity. The same as leaving a single incandescent light bulb glowing 24 hours a day.

Hmm - I'm looking at a newspaper story with an energy audit. It cites a family with two televisions, DVD recorder, decoder box, stereo, fax, Wii console, two computers, home entertainment system, scanner, two printers, electronic keyboard, digital alam clocks and (God help us) lava lamps.

All appliances on standby = 275 watts continually, with a potential savings of $450 per year, and an estimate that it would be "fairly easy" to get half that.

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70:

For all that people bitch about China, their per capita energy consumption is still quite low, and saving both energy and water are things that the average person is very aware of (major public campaigns for both). Shanghai is an exception, but then Shanghai currently has a conspicuous consumption ethic.

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71:

I saw a figure today saying the energy consumption of the average chinese citizen is about 1/6th that of a US citizen, and about 1/3 that of a european citizen.

insect_hooves@63 - if you haven't already, you should read what this guy is doing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_P._Reed

72:

GregLondon @ 66
The biggest consumers of electricity in the home, though, is the refrigerator, isn't it?

Only if, per our host's recommendation, you have gas-fired water heating.

If you have electric water heating, that's the big one.

JHomes

73:

I like the idea of a big red button (BRB) in each room, for reasons including but not limited to economy.

But at work I try to arrange for a whole computer setup to run off one switch, so that having shut down the computer the rest can be turned off in one move.

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74:

Charlie @ 6

Deserts aren't actually needed, Newgrange in Ireland is about 500 years older than the Great Pyramid. The roof had remained watertight for 4,000 after the entrance was lost. Tectonic stability is a more important criterion, luckily a large part of the UK lies on the Midland Craton so that's not a big problem for us.

75:

Fantastic post! I recently came across the suggestion that everybody used the stairs instead of the lift to save power. It turns out that lifts don't use all that much electricity. And I've seen a sign asking me to measure out how much water I boil by pouring cold water into a mug and then into the kettle. Good grief, life is too short!

Your human cost arguments apply equally to recycling... Why do people recycle *glass* of all things? And they *wash up* the bottles first, too. It's a terrible waste (of human life).

76:

The biggest consumers of electricity in the home, though, is the refrigerator, isn't it?

Only if, per our host's recommendation, you have gas-fired water heating.

If you have electric water heating, that's the big one.

I think I would add electric cookers and laundry driers.

77:

I've speculated on why we don't add a heat pump to extract the heat from bath/shower water before it goes down the drain. I would have thought a unit would pay for itself fairly quickly, especially if included in new construction.

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78:

@45Why has no-one thought of this?

I imagine they have, but they probably figured that the process of being drawn down into a subduction zone might involve quite a lot of slow grinding and heat and water, and most of the soluble radioactives could end up just sort of wafting back out.

If you could drill far enough down in...but it's not a very friendly environment as I understand it.

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79:

I wash up my milk bottles for the same reasons that I trim my hedge.

I imagine that the greatest waste of electricity in my house comes from re-boiling the same kettle over and over again. so getting into the habit of only boiling what we need might be worthwhile if I put a higher value on electricity.

For me, this isn't really about money, or time, or even (I'm afraid) drowning fewer Bangladeshis. I just quite like the idea of not wasting things. Any fool can have a good time given unlimited resources: having a good time with just enough has an elegance to it that I find attractive.

The problem with this approach is that it's probably quite close to "I am greener and therefore better than you." On the other hand, the attitude that "I can do this efficiently and you could try to too" is common over a wide range of roles in the Western world.

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80:

Another factor to take into account: alternative power arrangements
www.energy-online.net/stories/articles/-/newsletter_stories/june_2/news_/uk_could_halve_gas_imports/

alex@77 - I had a think about this a while back. main drawback is dirty water at a low temperature, so low efficiency in the heat exchanger, which would drop as it became more clogged with dirt etc. possibly some sort of larger or self-cleaning assembly? in domestic situations, the amount of energy you recover would be fairly small (intermittent supply) but better potential in industrial settings. Something similar occurs with absorption cooling, but generally needs a higher temperature of waste heat.

81:

accelerationista @80: I use a very simple version of the heat exchanger: in winter, especially in cold weather, if I have a bath, I leave the water in the tub until it's cold before I drain it.

(Reason: in this rather elderly -- 176 year old -- flat, the gas-fired central heating also heats water for a tank. And the bathroom's internal, with no exterior wall. The heat from the bathwater has to go somewhere when it cools into equilibrium with its enironment, and I'd rather it ended up in the structure (walls and floor) of my flat, so I let it stand until it's down to room temperature. Given the specific heat capacity of water and the amount of energy locked up in forty or fifty litres at 40 celsius, leaving it for an hour before pulling the plug seems like a sensible thing to do. Especially when it's sub zero outside ...)

82:

Re: #70, #71

"It's open season on China, newly installed as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide.... But remember that 1 in every 5 of the planet's citizens is Chinese. Looked at in this light, the stats do not look half as bad. On average, the CO2 emissions of a Chinese person are half those of a European and a quarter those of an American or an Australian. Per capita, China's ecological footprint is below the world average...."

["The blame-China syndrome", editorial, New Scientist, 21 June 2008, p.5]

Around 2 a.m. California time, my teenaged son was playing with a cigarette lighter. "Hey," I said, "Global warming!"

He laughed. Then mentioned some speculations on flame structure. Congrats again to Charles Stross for making us laugh and think simultaneously.

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83:

charlie@81
a cunning plan - I spent some time living in edinburgh, and remember the cold winters/drafty flats well. interestingly... heard recently about thermal storage - using paraffin wax. basically a phase change material, in a tank about the size of a calor gas canister. use the boiler to heat it up (or solar, waste heat, whatever). the phase change material changes phase, stores the energy for later. this is good for solar, but also for boilers - reduces rapid cycling of the boiler, effectively acts as a hot water tank without the water.

84:

G Tingey #45- grand slam bombs for radioactive waste has been thought of before. The question is, how much do we want to leave stuff lying around the planet? Noticeably increasing our imprint upon the future is something that lots of people havn't really thought about.

Also, those of you who slag off CFL bulbs must be really old and crotchety- last CFL bulbs I noticed anything like their issues with was 8 or 9 years ago at least. All the ones I have used since then have been fine, except for a few seconds of warm up time.

And the LED ones are coming, the place I work supplies on company, Cree, with insulation. However what has taken so long is the invention of acceptably hued white light- LED's were usually very blue white and too bright due to the narrow bandgaps available. The other issue was something to do with the energy they could put out- I roget the technical words, but basically you couldn't put enough power into the LED's to make them bright enough for use as actual lights.

Brett #74 is quite right about Newgrange. See also Maes Howe in Orkney. All you need is some careful sculpting and placing of lumps of rock for the roof and you have a perfectly water tight structure.

Anyway, the number one easy peasy way the UK government could do some good right now would be to pass into law modern, tight, energy efficiency laws for new build houses, and indeed offices.
Offices are improving, in terms of energy use, because the companies have worked out just how much they can save by designing them properly and using all that waste heat from servers and computers and a glass fronted atrium to heat the building- it just has to be shifted around.
Of course smelly hippies knew all this 30 and 40 years ago, but who listens to them...

85:

Given the problems I have discussing climate change and other issues with even fairly well educated and intelligent people, I've realised that breaking things down into "Things you can do to help" is probably the only way to go for many people. And even then they'll bitch about it all.
Given the complexities of the problems facing us, from the shorter term high energy and food prices, overpopulation, and longer term climate change, ocean acidification etc, a startlingly high number of people of my acqaintance will just shrug and carry gaily on with their lives, pausing only to moan that something needs to be done, but they're busy with work or family or something.

86:

insect@68: reduced power consumption with memristors is

from that link: When power is restored to a D-RAM-based computer, a slow, energy-consuming "boot-up" process is necessary to retrieve data

That doesn't make any sense. I boot up in a couple of minutes. I might use my computer all day. Get rid of "boot" time, and you get rid of a fraction of the power consumed from usign a computer.

Getting rid of DDR and replacing it with memristors might reduce the amount of current that your gigabyte or more of memory will consume, but the processor chip can draw several amps, and that doesn't ahve DDR in it.

memristors might make some cool things happen as far as computer/electronic devices are concerned, and someone with some investment capital would be wise to investigate further, but I don't think it is much related to reducing power consumption.

87:

china's got a lot of CO2, but it's got a lot of people too.

CO2 Per Capita.

88:

China now being the world's largest emitter of CO2 is a big deal, regardless of how many Chinese there are. It's the absolute amount of CO2 China creates that matters, so one Chinese person or 20 billion is irrelevant. The atmosphere doesn't distinguish the number of emitters, just the amount emitted.

89:

accelerationista@80 main drawback is dirty water at a low temperature, so low efficiency in the heat exchanger, which would drop as it became more clogged with dirt etc

I don't think so. The hot water tank is 110-120F. Your bath/shower temp is 100-105F. Capturing even slightly cooled shower water suggests it will be 90-100F. (Who stays in the bath when the temp is below blood temp?).

So the efficiency of a heat exchanger should be quite good as the temp differential is relatively low - certainly better than heating water from ambient to hot.

As for dirt, this is not an issue. The heat exchange pipes would be no more like to get gunk on them than the drain pipes, and worst case could be exposed for cleaning.

Charlie makes a good point about letting the heat exchange with the room air in cold Scotland, but this is not so desirable in sunny California.

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90:

Most of these "little things you can do to save the Earth" make little to no sense (and are sometimes even harmful) from a scientific and / or economic standpoint. They do, however, have the psychological / sociological impact of getting people to "invest" in the need to "do something," be part of the cause, etc. This makes them less likely to oppose other measures in the future, as they will have to overcome the psychological hurdle of accepting that they may have been wrong or duped.

The other really sad / appalling fact is that the vast majority of people apply no critical thinking or cost / benefit analysis to any of this. Penn and Teller did a great experiment to see just how far people would go with recycling - to the point of convincing them to sort their trash into a dozen or so different (full-sized, color-coded) garbage bins that they would store on their property.

Even sadder is that now if you dare display the temerity to disagree with the High Priests of the Religion of Global Warming, you should be thrown in prison for crimes against humanity. Ah well, the Age of Enlightenment was nice while it lasted (actually, deep down I think it will survive this too, but every once and awhile I express the occasional whiny emo thought on the subject).

91:

I live in the same city as you Charlie, so my house needs heating for at least half the year, so I love the fact that all the devices I leave on standby heat my house.
Energy is only wasted when you don't need the heat! Put that in the equation.
Same applies for eco light bulbs, they're only saving energy when your heating isn't on.

92:

DaveL: it is not irrelevant at all.

1) China is the producer of lots of stuff (stuff is the best description), stuff bought all over the world, a sizeable part in the USA.

2) While it is not true that all human beings are created equal, it is morally unacceptable to withhold economic development to one group of people for the single reason that they didn't happen to have industrialized their society prior to some point in time. The Chinese are doing it now, it is their perfect right, they still emit only one fourth of the emissions of the USA on a per capita basis (while manufacturing stuff for industrialized countries that would add even more to their emissions, had they not outsourced manufacturing for the most part).

3) Living standards in the USA and Europe are on a comparable level. Yet, the USA emits twice as much CO2 on a per capita basis. In other words, the US is wasting fossil fuels without getting any returns to justify it. (Mostly for lack of sufficient taxation of energy in the past to a) provide incentives to save energy and b) have a buffer against price shocks - this works because those taxes are absolute and not relative taxes.) The US alone can reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% of the current emissions of China without doing anything extraordinary that is not currently being done in Europe and it has an obligation to do so. PERIOD. (And I'm not even talking about the planned reductions in the next few decades in Europe.)

Say goodbye to your SUVs, your flimsy uninsulated air-conditioned cardboard houses and cities without sidewalks. Welcome to the reality of the other 6 billion.

(Sorry, but I'm kinda fed up.)

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93:

@84: A lot of the development work now going on with LED lamps is not involved with the physics or even the production of the LED devices themselves but the ancillaries involved in their mass manufacture. What sort of framework or carrier do you mount the LED chips on to supply high currents and cool the very small semiconductor devices to prevent them from frying? How do you supply and regulate the power to the chips (high-power LEDs have a positive temperature coefficient which can lead to self-destructive runaway if not checked). Do you fit lots of lower-power chips to a "bulb" and allow for a few individual failures before replacement, or a few higher-power LED chips which will be cheaper per "bulb" but it will have a shorter lifespan? How do you design in a dimmer capability -- voltage controlled or using a signalling protocol or do you stick to no-dimmer designs? Do you plan for a 12V DC or a 110/230V AC lighting infrastructure in houses, now and in the future? How can you reduce the cost of assembly from a buck per unit to 20 cents per unit quantity one million?

The technical problems holding up rollout of LED bulbs are not always the obvious ones, and there are other problems further down the line -- with 30-year-life LED bulbs there will be a great demand to start with to fill existing sockets and replace filament and CFL bulbs but once that 200-billion bulb demand worldwide has been met the year-on-year production requirements are going to drop like a brick, leaving a lot of manufacturing lines idle. Who's going to pay for that?

94:

Erikthered- the age of enlightenment was never over, but things change. The only crime regarding commenting on global warmign is making stupid unscientific attacks on it. However if we made not knowing what you are talking about a crime punishable by prison time, we'll all be inside.

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95:

#91 aldo:
Resistive electric heat is not particularly efficient. The power plants themselves are 1/2 as efficient as a typical fossil fuel home heating system built in the last 20-30 years, plus transmission losses can be large.
In places where electricity is cheap (and typically hydro), e.g. the U.S. Pacific Northwest, many people heat their houses with electricity.
The big items in my house are:
* Electric clothes dryer. (Is this just an American thing?)
* Refrigerator
* The remaining incandescent lights, in a couple of chandelier-style fixtures.
* A pump that runs swimming pool water through a filter.
* Some computers, depending on how aggressive the power saving is. The computer serving the printer/fax/scanner is low-power and runs at about 10 watts idle even when not in standby.
* Another 100 or so watts of standby drains, measured with one of those "kill-a-watt" meters.
* Television when it's on.

Basic no-brainer power(energy)-saving actions include:
* Most lights converted to warm-white CFs. Some 100-Watt incandescents converted to CFs equivalent to 150 Watt incandescents. The additional brightness is a noticeable improvement over the incandescents, worth the splurge.
* Exterior lights on motion detectors.
* Computers all on power saving settings, or turned off
* Charger warts (including substantial warts for some garden tools with lead-acid batteries) on a timer.
* Oil heat on a night/day thermostat/timer

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96:

Mini-USB: The ITU, which is the international standards body for telecommunications, held two symposiums on ICTS and Climate Change this year (one in Tokyo and one in London). I was at the London one (it was also webcast; you might be able to find it online). The impression they gave was that MiniUSB was being widely adopted. (Of course this might be partly wishful thinking, or PR). The Chinese government were certainly mentioned as one of the promoters of this standard, but there are many other pressures on the industry to reduce the energy used in making devices.

But why stop there? Why not have a DC power circuit in every home, with a single efficient AC/DC convertor instead of one convertor for each gadget? There are researchers investigating the practicality of this.

97:

Charlie,

Maybe this is just a sign that I'm disconnected from the world of mainstream media, but my impression is that this "unplug all your wall warts!" campaign is a uniquely UK thing. I've heard of it here in the US, but the only place I've heard of it is from the BBC and various UK-related blogs.

Nobody else here in the states seems to have heard of such a thing. And it certainly struck me as pure lunacy the first time I heard of it online. A significant portion of the energy grid powering idle power blocks? What? I mean, come on, people are running air conditioners and refrigerators 24/7, and we're supposed to worry about power blocks?

I have a Kill-o-Watt energy meter (great fun for the whole family!), and according to it, my cell phone's power block pulls 0.0 watts when idle. Zero. It's unmeasurable.

Nevertheless, I was amused to find my new Nokia phone has a dire warning that I should unplug the power block, or risk ruining the planet. Magical thinking indeed.

98:

Erik@90: temerity to disagree with the High Priests of the Religion of Global Warming

temerity: reckless boldness; rashness.

Hm. Anyone who uses the phrase "High Priests of the Religion of Global Warming" is exhibiting recklessness.

Global warming isn't a religion. It's fact.

If you want to point out folks who are making recommendations that don't make sense from an engineering/numbers point of view, feel free, but try not to frame global warming as in the same barnyard as various handwavey topics when you do it.

99:

Why not have a DC power circuit in every home, with a single efficient AC/DC convertor instead of one convertor for each gadget?

I only had a couple engineering courses on how to design power supplies and such stuff. I'm a digital guy, not analog, so things may have changed since I was at the university.

But what I recall was that you get the best efficiency designing the circuit for just enough amps that the device will end up drawing. If you have a single supply for your house, and everything draws off that supply, then the load will vary greatly, and the efficiency won't be as good during light loads.

I didn't get to the point of designing switching power supplies, so things might be different for them. Switching power supplies are also more complex though, so I can't imagine them being an ideal solution either.

The reason that you don't see one per household, though is probably more a matter of the fact that power supplies break. Everything in your house, as far as electrical wiring goes, is passive. A power supply would be an active, rather complex, component between the pole and the cigarette lighter sockets you install throughout your house. It becomes like a water heater in your basement.

And given that your USB wall transformer power supply is pretty efficient, it'll be hard to convince homeowners to rewire their home. There's little direct win, and a huge upfront expense.

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100:

Eirk - I'm in favour of solidarity with political prisoners, so if you can give me the details of those who've been imprisoned for denying the reality of human-induced climate change, I'll be happy to write to them. You might have to include their prison numbers too: that tends to ensure that letters arrive. You can use this forum to give me the details - I'm sure that Charlie won't mind.

As for heat exchangers, we waste the water (got me thinking, though), but have heat exchange fans. They draw more power that yr average fan, though, so I'm not sure if there's much of a net energy saving or not.

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101:

waste water heat exchangers - there is a bit of energy to be had, but it's a big effort to go to, for a small gain. I use a shower every day, but a bath rarely. so the actual volume of energy available, averaged through the week, is relatively small. so you could spend £100 on a heat exchanger, and wait for years for the savings to pay for the investment. there are much more effective ways to invest that money - insulation, controls for my heating system, cake also.

another option is to seal up my house. make it airtight, stick a heat exchanger on the exit/inlet pipe, and a small heat pump in the garden. using all your excess heat, plus the sun will heat the building most of the time (assuming you use lots of insulation). use the heat pump to top it up, in the winter, or cool it off in the summer. now, if you can run the heat pump using a DC supply generated by your own wind turbine/solar array/X, then you could be mostly energy independent (not counting transport,manufacturing etc).

102:

Ah! My missing post is at 32! Thanks, Charlie!

Rob Fisher @75, glass saves lots of money by recycling -- 25.3% of all glass containers are recycled. The reason you rinse it first is so it doesn't draw bugs to your recycling bin.

103:

Justin @97,

The anti-wallwart campaign isn't unique to the UK - I've heard it here in the US as well although perhaps not quite as stridently. I've got a Kill-a-watt meter on order for curiosity's sake though.

Bill @95,

Yes, resistive heating is a horribly inefficient way to convert electricity into warmth. Here in the desert southwest many folks use heat pumps for both heating and cooling. That doesn't work so well in colder climates where the efficiency gets worse, but it's pretty nice here where a cold day is usually no worse than 0C and a hot one can approach 50C.

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104:

accelerationista@71: Interesting stuff. Thank for the reference!

Greg@86: Good thing portable devices don't exist =P

Charlie@81 & accelerationista@101: An oddly similar but body-related scenario -- I took an introductory wilderness survival course, and one of the points they hammered on was to empty our bladders as often as possible, especially before sleep, so as not to waste energy heating fluid we have to get rid of anyway. Random thought.

(accelerationista: cake. rofl)

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105:

insect_hooves
That's strange. A full bladder is already insulated by you and loses no heat to the outside world. Perhaps they mean that it's better not to haul the weight around, or make you get up in the middle of the night and lose heat to the environment?
Chris Williams
I think that they pass laws that act as if global warming is real and then punish you if you ignore those laws. I do believe global warming is real but I also believe that there are ridiculous laws in this world.

The 'do something, anything, about global warming' liberal movement is like the equivalent conservative 'marriage prevents poverty' talking point. Well, okay, the liberals are a little more realistic...

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106:

Wow, I'm surprised this isn't more known to some of you.

From The Guardian:

James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

...

In an interview with the Guardian he said: "When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime."

Nope, we must not disagree! That'd be a thought crime. Freedom of speech is just too inconvenient for our cause.

By the way, the last time Hansen made a specific climate prediction that came true was...? Help me out here. Please?

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107:

wkwillis @105: The body spends energy keeping fluids at 98.6 degrees, like the standing loss on a water heater.

108:

98.6? Your cover is blown, you are an unearthly one hiding among us to ... er, maybe just not using standard units, now I think about it...

109:

I wouldn't discount the "superstitious" aspect of this; it makes people aware of electricity usage rather than typical behavior where people make little connection to their electricity bill and device usage. Maybe if people do this, they'll also be more likely to realize that their $20 300W halogen lamp is costing them $100 a year in electricity. Furthermore, a lot of people have DC devices that they very rarely use plugged in, making the one-time effort of unplugging it worthwhile.

Anyway, the real problem here is a complete market failure connected to household transformers. The basic math goes something like this. Say typical cheap transformer that you leave plugged in uses 5 watts when not in use (i.e. not charging/powering anything). At US $.13/kWh (what i pay), that adds up to $5.70 a year. For large businesses, the cost is even higher, as they pay higher rates during the day, as well as peak power ($/max kW) charges.

For about $1 additional cost, transformers can be made to be intelligent, i.e. suck less than 1 watt when nothing is plugged in, saving you $4.70/year. The folks at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have done research on this, with their numbers showing that 10% of electricity in California is used by standby power!

There are a couple ways to fix this:
- Government legislation to ban inefficient crappy transformers
- Electricity cost labelling for products that use standby power. In the US, refrigerators have a label indicating how much you can expect them to cost yearly. If the same thing were done for other devices, we could make better purchasing decisions, get better products, save us money, and take some load off the grid.

In the US, i haven't seen any legislation regarding this go through. I don't know about the EU.

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110:

Erik, I'm a historian of criminal justice, so I may have an unfair advantage over you in ths discussion. While I'm not aware of every case, ever, I've done pretty well in the past taking it as read that there's a difference between:

(a) someone calling for something to be made illegal, and
(b) it being made illegal to the extent that people who deny that it exists are imprisoned.

Hope that helps.

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111:

105 & 107
heat losses from urine - the body expends energy to keep the urine at 37 degrees C (sorry - farenheit confuses me). but how does the urine lose heat? conduction, radiation, which would go directly to the body. so having urine inside you when it's cold outside doesn't actually lose you more energy - it acts as a thermal battery, storing heat. but then, when you pee, all this energy is lost to the atmosphere. also, when it's cold outside your bladder contracts, making you want to pee. hmmm. possibly biology knows more about it than i do.

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112:

#110:

I don't think we should be feeding the trolls.

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113:

Fair point, James. Sorry, Charlie.

114:

Apologies is this has already been linked to, but I just noticed the Caltech/Computation aspect...

Heavyweight physics prof weighs into climate/energy scrap
By Lewis Page
Published Friday 20th June 2008 12:01 GMT

A topflight science brainbox at Cambridge University has weighed into the ever-louder and more unruly climate/energy debate with several things that so far have been mostly lacking: hard numbers, willingness to upset all sides, and an attempt to see whether the various agendas put forward would actually stack up.

Professor David J C MacKay of the Cambridge University Department of Physics holds a PhD in computation from Cal Tech and a starred first in Physics, so we can take it that he knows his numbers. And, as he points out, numbers are typically lacking in current discussion around carbon emissions and energy use....

MacKay tells The Reg that he was first drawn into this field by the constant suggestion — from the Beeb, parts of the government etc — that we can seriously impact our personal energy consumption by doing such things as turning our TVs off standby or unplugging our mobile-phone chargers.

Anyone with even a slight grasp of energy units should know that this is madness....
[truncated]

115:

insect@104: Greg@86: Good thing portable devices don't exist =P

What's being portable got to do with power consumed during boot?

My PC takes an annoying long time to boot, but it's maybe a minute, and I might use it for an hour. That's one percent. At work, I use it for an entire day, so that's .001% of total power being consumed to boot the device.

If we want to talk about laptops, then boot time isn't much different, and usage time isn't much different, so it's about one percent.

My cell phone wakes up in about two seconds. It's just barely noticable, and when I'm really in a hurry, it's annoying. But I make even as short of a call as one minute, that's still down in the one-percent range.

If "time during boot up" is the only thing that a memristor saves, then we're talking about a sliver of the total power consumed by using the device.


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116:

accelerationista @111: I honestly don't know, and google isn't helping. This could be a textbook example of Magical Thinking, heh.

117:

105,107 A symptom of hypothermia is peeing a lot. This is because the capillaries in the skin close down in an attempt to keep the core temperature stable. This results in excess liquids…

re hiding nuclear fuel: You've mentioned Maes Howe which is full of Viking graffiti… (suggesting that it has been trashed regularly over the intervening 4Ky most lately [before the archaeologist found it] in the 12th century)
--I have in my mind the Wizards of the Unseen University and a button labeled do_not_press! --
Even with the piles of skull and things that go Grrr! scattered around your sensitive area the_grrr is only going to work as long as people decide what ever is living in the hills isn't worth the effort. As soon as your 'Irritating' Jones and the Nosey Nose Nose, spring up you've run out of luck.
I guess you want to be as low profile as possible so by the time any future proffesional archaeologists get round to doting eyes and crossing tees they'll look before they leap.
Most of the conspicuous pimples in this country were pillaged as soon The _Past was invented. (check out /wiki/Silbury_Hill for example or Moundbuilders in the US)
and they've been at it a long time http://www.sal.org.uk/
That's all I was trying to suggest.

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118:

Greg @115: You qualified that well -- the savings aren't just during boot. DRAM has speedy access, but is capacitor-based, requiring hundreds of expensive refreshes per second. Flash memory is non-volatile and high capacity, but at the expense of access speed. Memristors provide significant power savings (no refreshing), high capacity and DRAM access speeds, virtually flattening the storage landscape. I can haz 128GB of fast, efficient, non-volatile main memory?

119:

DRAM has speedy access, but is capacitor-based, requiring hundreds of expensive refreshes per second. Memristors provide significant power savings (no refreshing), high capacity and DRAM access speeds

If you're always accessing memory (and running an operating system, I think it's safe to say you always are), then you can't power it down, and it's a matter of leakage current plus the current drawn by clock toggling plus the current drawn by bit flipping. DDR has all that, plus the current drawn by refresh. And as you said, you have to refresh once in a while, but that's only a small fraction of the total time it is used.

The only savings is when you go into low power mode, at which point, you save boot time, that's it.

I'm not saying memristors aren't going to be great. I'm really not very familiar with them. But I am an electrical engineer, and I've seen all sorts of technological inovations that were introduced as some holy grail of one kind or another, only to have the real-world implementation turn out to be a lot less than the hype ever promised. Which is to say, I'll reserve jumping up and down until I see the spec of a OEM part.

Even if you eliminate DDR power completely with memristors, you still have the power drawn by the processor, which is a LOT. They put heatsinks and fans on processors, they don't usually put them on DDR.

120:

Charlie: Actually, there's a fascinating book (by, IIRC, Gregory Benford -- in non-fiction mode) on the problems of communicating across deep time. Benford and others (scientists and futurologists and archaeologists) were invited to join a brainstorming process to work out exactly how the KEEP OUT signs at Yucca Flats should be designed ...

As a friend of mine put it recently, "The real problem with Yucca Flats is figuring out how to make a sign that will--hundreds of thousands of years from now, and regardless of what languages or symbols may be in use by the cultures that come after ours--still be able to clearly and unambiguously convey the concept: 'WARNING: In twenty years there's going to be nuclear waste here.'"

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121:

A friend of mine works on computer power consumption at Red Hat. One of Intel's new moves is to add various extra commands to the memory controller in the chipset so that it can tell all the external devices to allocate their memory in the same memory module; at which point, if you're not using the rest of the memory, you can swap out and then power down 3/4 of the memory sticks in your computer.

Computer power consumption is a big economic issue - it's almost entirely a software problem, but getting software reliable and self-contained enough that fifteen companies will be happy running their product databases on the same OS on the same server, rather than having fifteen over-powerful servers sitting twiddling their thumbs 99% of the time, is much harder than mere engineering. It turned out to be logistically easier to virtualise the entire OS, so the consolidated computers believe they're perfectly alone, than to fix the software ...

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122:

But unplugging wall warts? That's just plain silly.

David McKay doesn't seem to agree with you Charlie:
http://withouthotair.blogspot.com/2008/06/i-do-advocate-switching-off-electrical.html
He reckons he halved his electrical usage (obviously being British, his heating/cooking/etc was gas). Hardly insignificant.

123:

Evan @120, that's great!

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124:

It's kind of ironic that, in a post on ostentatious and meaningless displays of personal privation at the expense of something useful, people unsmilingly advocate CFLs: a gigantic campaign at huge expense and costing considerable political and economic capital that can, at absolute best... reduce by less than 75% the lighting budget of, mainly, residences and some retail outlets (as almost all industrial/commercial and a not-insignificant number of retail outlets already use non-compact fluorescent bulbs).

CFLs are the ultimate example of what Charlie was talking about in his post. The savings may to some degree top what you could get out of unplugging your cell-phone charger, but even with 100% take-up, we'd still be talking, at absolute most, a percentage point or two of difference in total energy budget. Further, if they're half as good as their advocates claim, they'll win market share through sheer cost-effectiveness.

And yet, we apparently need to spend all of our time brow-beating anyone who doesn't use them/passing laws requiring them/behaving as though they were going to significantly affect the world instead of, you know, working on real problems.

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125:

If the memristor works out (and, remember, flash ram is cheaper per gigabyte than DRAM, so maybe we can get that too) and OS could do storage and memory management in pretty unusual ways.

First, some observations: Windows in a couple of gigabytes of RAM has a lot of RAM free (actually used as system cashe, it claims) and about a third of a gigabyte still paged. Let's say that we have 32 gig of memRAM. In current terms, you could run a RAMdisk as cache for a hard drive, big enough for OS, Open Office, web browser, and other routine stuff, and still have a huge amount of RAM free.

But the early MacOS might be a better starting point than Windows, with the key chunk of the OS in ROM. The memory management in a computer based on memRAM could set a big block of the memRAM in a read-only mode, and the OS could be written to run from that. Not shadowed from PROM or loaded from the hard drive, but running from memRAM with no need to copy to faster memory.

(CPU caching might need different features.)

Wishful thinking, but maybe memRAM would change PC hardware enough to destroy Microsoft's legacy advantage.

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126:

Here's a familiar meme:
"Why bother doing anything about [energy-use X]? After all, it only accounts for one or two percent of our total energy use." The problem is, that the majority our total CO2 emissions can be divided up into little one or two percent chunks: if we successfully invoke the "why bother?" for each of them, we're screwed.

I didn't buy CFLs because they were green. I bought them to save money.

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127:

Chris@126: Maybe the day will come when we've accomplished all the energy conservation we can get besides the 1-2% cases. But that day isn't today. There are plenty of areas where we use several multiples of the amount of energy that we use on residential lighting, whether it's building climate control, automobile engines, probably a wide variety of industrial processes, or, heck, straight up transmission or storage losses. And it's not like we don't know how to at least start to address those areas.

But, more to the point, the CFL fight has been fought and won. CFLs are easily accessible on the market today, consciousness has been raised, and they are in at least some ways cost efficient and technically superior to incandescent bulbs. However much power they could possibly save us -- I'd guess something along the lines of 0.5% of our total energy budget, but when I've tried to look for figures before, it's been frustratingly difficult to calculate -- we've attained it, or will naturally attain it without further work in the course of the next decade or so. The only thing that can possibly be achieved by pushing them further is, 1. spending money and alienating people, 2. Getting the last 5-10% of the the 0.5% (or whatever), 3. Further identify the environmental movement as the exclusive domain of the hairshirt crowd.

The best thing that any concerned online person can do for the environment is, whenever they're tempted to advocate CFLs in any way, advocate better house insulation or more efficient large trucks or better power grids or mass transit or, god, almost anything else.

I use CFLs for economic reasons, too.

128:

@126: I bought CFL's because I got fed up changing light bulbs every 10 months or so and never having the right ones handy. (When your ceiling is 3.50m / 11-12 feet high, you do get fed up with that.) I never had to change a CFL in 5 years. I actually don't know what their failure mode looks like. Here in Germany they are being advertised as "energy saving lightbulbs" using one 1/6th of the energy. Which of course is a lame argument to sell relatively expensive lightbulbs. Had they said that 1 CFL lasts 10 times as long as a traditional lightbulb - they would have sold a lot more.

Because THIS is the most tangible reason to pay 10 times the price for one. For most people energy saving is just a bonus. Because unfortunately people don't get electricity bills saying:

after 1 year

$0.70 lightbulb + 100 kWh = $0.70 + $15 = $15.70
$7 CFL + 16 kWh = $7 + $2.40 = $9.40

after 10 years:

10x $0.70 lightbulbs + 1000 kWh = $7 + $150 = $157
1x $7.00 CFL + 160 kWh = $7 + $24 = $31

So go get one, stupid. You are too poor to buy cheap lightbulbs.

(Calculation for ONE 100W lightbulb, electricity 1 kWh = $0.15 Most people have more than that. But who cares about having $400 in 10 years ... Same goes for insulation and air conditioning/heating, just with more money involved.)

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129:

Let's not gloat too much about the energy efficiency of burning fossil fuels in the home.

We might have renewable substitute fuels one day, but until we do, we're still using a limited resource and dumping fossil carbon into the atmosphere.

If we're competing with burning gas to generate electricity, gas heating in the home is a better option. But big non-carbon power projects can beat both.

If it comes to that, the same building patterns which benefit photo-voltaic panels benefit solar direct-to-heat systems. We're a bit short of south-facing roof here. But houses being built now need to be built with the post fossil-fuel world in mind. They need the right shape of roof. Do they need a structure that can support a small wind generator?

We need to be building the right new houses now. So do the Americans. And we're both stuck with a huge number of wrong houses. At least we've got some things right in recent years, but I'm not sure the Americans have even tried.

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130:

Two points:

CFL's - even IF you can get sufficiently bright ones, some light-fittings WON'T ACCEPT THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE TOO BIG.
And I DON'T want to change my nice repro 1930's Art Deco fittings, thank you!

"Memristors" huh?
Interesting - I just googled, and then quickly skimmed some relevant articles.
The important bit seems to be ..."Mimics the firing of neurons"
THIS (probably) is where true AI will come from, especially if massively parallel-connected.
Discuss.

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131:

I'm going to turn off my fridge while I'm not getting stuff out of it.

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132:

Late last year I decided to rewire my entertainment/media system so that all the stuff which could be switched off overnight ( the TV, amplifier, PS3, etc.) was on a single switched extension lead, and everything that absolutely had to stay on (Sky+HD, TiVo, mac mini, router, etc.) stayed on. This, I figured, would collectively make enough difference that I could feel slightly morally superior for making the effort.

It took two days of rewiring (I've a lot of kit, but I'm not boasting - too much of it is not *good* kit!). At the end of the process, I decided to use a meter and figure out the consumption. I was quite astonished to find that when the "daytime" stuff was all turned off, power usage went **UP** (yes, it increased) by 60 watts. I therefore leave it on all the time, and all that stress was wasted.

My father-in-law is an electrician, and explains this thus (his explanation was considerable more complex, but I'm giving the short version here): When most devices are powered up but in standby, a "not available" signal is active on the data connections (or a known resistance on analogue devices), and smarter devices therefore do not attempt to send any signals to the standby device. However, when the device is truly off, no such signal is sent. Other devices then detect that *something* is present and try to signal to it or handshake with it, thus costing power. To save the power, I'd need to actually unplug all the data/signal connections too - which given the almost 80kg (!) of copper spaghetti involved, I'm not about to do.

I'm not convinced. As a relatively technical person (though mainly software rather than hardware) I understand what he's saying, but it doesn't quite hang together for me.

Can anyone suggest a more believable or detailed explanation, or even better, a solution?

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133:

@129
the best plan is to build houses to accept district heating - this would make big savings (see the link at 80). if you build this in at construction it makes sense - but is horribly expensive to retrofit. you could then site a nuclear power station in your (relative) back yard, and use the hot water which is at present wasted. better yet, lots of small power stations (mixture, using biomass, gas, etc) distributed generation - then I don't have a massive ugly lump of concrete in my back yard. also much better from an electricity distribution point of view, as well as a quick construction time.

also, the roof top wind turbines - a study in bristol (IIRC) found that, of 40 small turbines (i think they were the "windsave" variety), anyway of these 40 installations, there were a number (more than 3) gable end collapses. sorry for the lack of good data - but I think the BRE have a report out on how the turbines perform (generally poor, from what i remember).

134:

Dave Bell #129:
If it comes to that, the same building patterns which benefit photo-voltaic panels benefit solar direct-to-heat systems. We're a bit short of south-facing roof here. But houses being built now need to be built with the post fossil-fuel world in mind.
We need to be building the right new houses now. So do the Americans. And we're both stuck with a huge number of wrong houses. At least we've got some things right in recent years, but I'm not sure the Americans have even tried.

Maybe depends on the locality? Where I live in central North Carolina, passive-solar design, with or without solar hot water, is becoming more common, though those houses tend to be built by small local builders. I don't think the big developers have been paying much attention.

When my wife and I were looking for a new house last summer, our realtor was able to find us a passive-solar house almost immediately. Since moving in, we've sealed up the crawlspace, another energy saver that is becoming more widely accepted. So, I don't think it's entirely true that the American's aren't even trying -- we're just a bit slower out of the gate.

For heating our house beyond what solar gain can do, an electric air-source heat pump seems to be less expensive than gas as long as the temperature is above freezing. Seems like that would be useful in southern Britain, at least. Are they used much there?

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135:

@134
heat pumps are starting to be used more widely in the UK, but are still not common. ground source heat pumps seem to be more common, compared to air source but this may change - some areas have seen the installation of a large number of air source heat pumps , in order to combat fuel poverty. air source heat pumps are much cheaper to install, as you don't need a ground based heat exchanger (needs a borehole or a big trench). the main problem for me, as you pointed out, is that air source heat pumps lose efficiency as the external air temperature goes down. so as you need more heat your efficiency goes down. however I have seen them in southern scotland, as well as northern england, so this is obviously not too much of a problem.

One of the advantages of heat pumps is that you can use them for heating and cooling - but in the uk, not many houses need cooling very often. This can reduce the appeal of heat pumps - however, if you live in an area not connected to the gas, a heat pump can still be the cheapest option for heating your house. commercial builders are starting to wake up to the potential for heat pumps, but mainly for commercial buildings and combining heating and cooling.

136:

@135:
the main problem for me, as you pointed out, is that air source heat pumps lose efficiency as the external air temperature goes down. so as you need more heat your efficiency goes down.

Yep, once the temperature drops to about 25 F (-4C), the heat pump runs almost constantly, and much below that, the supplemental resistance heating elements kick in -- that's when the electric meter really starts to spin. Even when the pump is running almost constantly, though, it seems less expensive than our friends' gas-fired heaters. To avoid using the resistance elements too much, we do use a wood stove in the really cold weather.

When the temperature is 32F (0C) or above, the heat pump is great. We very rarely have a winter day where the temperture doesn't rise to at least 32 F, and the coldest days are usually sunny, so the combination of heat pump and south facing windows/brick floor for solar gain seems ideal.

One of the advantages of heat pumps is that you can use them for heating and cooling - but in the uk, not many houses need cooling very often.

That's the big selling point here. If you have gas or oil heat, you'll want an air conditioner anyway, so why not combine heating and cooling.

I may consider a ground-source heat pump when ours needs replacing, but they're pretty rare here. If photovoltaics come down in price significantly, it might be better to keep the cheap air-source heat pump and invest in solar panels instead.

137:

Jeffery@132: when the "daytime" stuff was all turned off, power usage went **UP** by 60 watts.

Don't know why that would happen. I can imagine some odd things, but I don't know.

What I'd suggest is take a look at the always-on stuff (Sky+HD, TiVo, mac mini, router, etc.) and see what sort of connections are between them and the "off" stuff.

Actually, the first thing I'd do is... measure it again. Just to make sure you had everything in the correct configuration when reading it.

If you've got one of those wattmeters that let you clamp around a cord without unplugging, then you might go through the power cords of the individual "always on" components and see which one is drawing more power when the other stuff is off.

At least that way you can narrow it down to who is drawing more power and then look at the non-power connections that might be causing it.

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138:

I have CFLs and enjoy them. The newer spiral designs are very nice, better than the older ones they had a few years back. Last year I replaced all of the lightbulbs in my apartment, there was a big Earth Day sale and I got all the CFLs for around $1.50 each. So far only one of them failed, because of a problem with the light fixture.

I have noticed that the brand makes a difference -- I had some cheap IKEA ones for awhile and they were terrible. The GE bulbs I bought are much better.

139:

G. Tingey@130, that there are more similarities between memristors and neurons than there are between transistors and neurons is not particularly meaningful: they still are tremendously different.

Even if they were the same, you won't get AI by taking a pile of identical neurons and connecting them 'massively in parallel': or, rather, you might, but that's like saying you can make an AI by taking a bunch of silicon chips and adding 'some software': it's just vagued the hard part entirely under the carpet.

i.e., the hard part is *how* they are connected. Also, as previously mentioned, neurons are very, very different from memristors. There's much we don't understand about them even now, both cellular architecture and connectivity on both large and small scales, and if as now believed many types of glia can communicate with neurons --- diffuse-chemical, synaptic and direct electrical connections have all been seen --- you've just upped the number of cells to consider by a factor of about ten.

So, no, this won't help greatly with AI. If AI was that easy, we'd have done it decades ago, memristors or no memristors. But life is not a Heinlein novel and Mike will not be built by making a big enough computer and waiting for it to 'wake up'.

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140:

nick@136 - I had wondered exactly how bad the drop in efficiency would be (in terms of electricity consumption), so it's good to hear how you are finding it. give it a year or two and PV should be a bit cheaper - a company called nanosolar has just got their first factory up and running printing solar film (they claim their panels get 14% efficiency, which isn't bad). But because they can print it, they should be able to churn the stuff out, ideally at a low price.

on AI - there is some good information to be had here:
http://www.singinst.org/media/interviews

141:

Oh, cool, those Stirling engine based solar collectors in one of my earlier links... runs at 31% efficiency.

I can't find a good zoomable map that would show me average solar power for a particular location though. I'm trying to figure out how much power I could get on my house.

142:

GregL@ 141 try googling "insolation" and start with the third link down, after the wikis…

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143:

@141
there are some good maps of the pv potential of europe here:
http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/solelect/solelect2.htm

The solar stirling engine looks very nice. I saw something similar in spain, in a place called tabernas. seemed to be fairly similar, aside from the stirling engine (steam turbines mostly). Impressive though - and really big.

144:

Michael @124, it's not just the energy usage, it's the cost. I have four CFLs in each bathroom that are 19 years old. I've saved a lot of money in incandescents. (I have a very tight condo - my electricity bill for last month showed 555Kwh, which is less than most, so CFLs make a bigger difference for me.)

tp1024 @128, I pay $.105/KWh. Our city provides our own electricity via a rural co-op, and we don't make a profit.

Dave @129, the feds just approved a new coal-burning plant for SW Virginia. We've got two nuclear plants up for approval and I'd much rather have those.

G. Tingey @130, GE is making mini-CFLs and a candelabra cfls if that's what your Deco fittings take.

145:

Whoah, that's a cool solar map. Lets you select a bunch of different options. Nice.

146:

@135:
"the main problem for me, as you pointed out, is that air source heat pumps lose efficiency as the external air temperature goes down. so as you need more heat your efficiency goes down."

Back in the 1980's, I had a summer job working at a company in Brighton (Michigan). They made solar-assisted heat pump systems. They took a solar panel used for heating water, and connected that to a heat pump. This way, the effective ambient temperature for the pump was higher anytime there was sunlight. This pushed the break-even temp down, and increased the efficiency of the system.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen it more.

147:

@106:

Posted by: ErikTheRed

"In an interview with the Guardian he said: "When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime.

Nope, we must not disagree! That'd be a thought crime. Freedom of speech is just too inconvenient for our cause."

Please note that (from the quote), he's referring to actions consisting of deliberate misinformation, which sometimes (depending on the actions and the law) are called 'fraud'. Fraud is quite commonly an illegal act (whether provable or not).

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148:

Barry @ 146.
You are quite correct on misinformation and fraud.
Would the use of the discredited Hockey Stick Graph by the IPCC and Al Gore qualify as misinformation or fraud?

And if I am not mistaken I believe Mr.Hansen was recently forced to admit that he had got some of his figures wrong in calculating US land based temperatures for the last decade.
Misinformation?


tp@ 128.
You have convinced me- I am off to get CFL this week-end.
I will take your word that they have improved- I bought some several years ago and the light quality was dire.
I have also insulated my loft and stripped down and thermoboarded my exterior walls and installed double glazing.
I don't think anyone mentioned what must be one of the largest users of energy in the home- the tumble dryer.
(Of course most of the posters here are males and so may not have a lot of experience with laundry equipment)
Anyone have any ideas on how all that lovely hot air could be utilised?

149:

OK, so here's a question. According to the map, my geographic location combined with various different types of solar panels (fixed, moving, flat, concentrator, etc), I might get anywhere from 2 to 7 kwh/m**2/day based on annual averages. For ease of calculations, say 5 kwh/m*m/day

So, does that mean if those low-cost paint on photovoltaics are 20% efficient that I get
0.2 * 5 = 1 kwh/m*m/day
on average as an output of my panel?

That's 1 kilowatt hour per day for every square meter of photovoltaic I have. 365 kwh per square meter in a year.

these guys are selling home solar kits for around ten thousand american dollars. It's based off of photovoltaic modules rated to produce around 175 watts of power per module. Each module is 1.3 square meters. I can't find an "efficiecy" multiplier, but the datasheet for one of the modules sounds like it will produce 175 watts under "normal" test conditions and 125 watts under 800 w/m^2, NOCT, AM1.5 whatever that means. if 800 watts of sun gives 125 of electrical power in a 1.3 m*m package, that's 96 watts per square meter, then the pannel is 96/800= 12% efficient, which sounds in the ballpark.


So, the map says I get about 1 kwh per square meter of sunlight per day. And the panel is 12% efficient and 1.3 meters square. Thats back to 156 watts per pannel per day. According to their order page, a system with 10 panels costs around $14,000 american. at ten panels, that's 1560 watts per day, based on my geographic location. Or, about 569 kwh per year.

say electricity from the grid costs 15 cents per kilowatt hour. My $14k solar panel system will produce $85 worth of electricty in a year. The panels are guaranteed for 25 years and said to last 40 years. so, after 30 years, that's $2562 worth of electricty.

Did I do all those numbers right? Cause I'm trying to get a sense of what the current technology level is at in terms of cost versus monetary benefit. If so, that's a pretty hard sell based on money.

You can purchase the system with a battery back up, so it might make sense to purchase a unit like that just as some sort of loss of outside power generator, so I can still get some power for when the grid goes out for a while.

And there's the benefit of getting juice without making CO2, which can't be overlooked. But the economics aren't lining up quite yet.

Anyone selling that painted on, ultra low cost solar panels yet?

150:

OK, so these guys sell a personal wind turbine for 9,000 L's (pounds? if so, that's $18,000 american). It says it generates about 300 kWh per month at a typical UK 5m/s AMWS site.

300kwh per month = 3600 kwh per year,
15 cents per kilowatt => $540 of electricty per year.
Which means it pays for itself after 33 years.

crap!

151:

You can make nuclear waste disposal sites proof against tampering by people without a clue what they are dealing with simply by burying it such that it needs major earthmoving equipment to get at - If it needs bulldozers, only people with tech and capitial can get at it, and thus they can damm well read the sign saying "this facility contains these isotopes stored in this manner, with this predicted decay chain, buried in the year 2xxx AD. Dont dig 'em up unless you have a better clue what to use them for than we did. Not healthy stuff"

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152:

Maybe, but what happens if the people in the future can't read the signs anymore than a typical English-speaker today could read Beowulf?

153:

danger levels on a relative scale of 1 to 10,
the numbers don't mean anything other than
10 is the most dangerous and 1 is the safest.

society can't read: waste stored on surface: 10
society can read: waste stored on surface: 8
society can't read: waste buried in Yucca: 3
society can read: waste buried in Yucca: 1

Or something like that.

The only increased in danger from storage is extra transportation. When we're talking about the amount of time the waste is in transition versus the amount of time the waste remains dangerous and on the surface, I think we're looking at orders of magnatudes of differences.

There is danger in transportation, but it is for a short period of time. There is danger while the waste remains on the surface, and if there is no repository, we're talking a long, long, long, holy crap human society cant even read, long, long, long time.

154:

Apologies, I know this isn't the correct place for this, but your spam filter is bouncing the email/question I sent.

Any chance of white listing me?

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155:

GregLondon @ 148:

I think your math might be off. If you're getting 1 kwh per square meter that's around 6 kilowatts per day given 6 hours of usable sunlight. So a panel would be generating a bit over 900w per day, and a 10 panel set up would generate about 9kw per day. That's 3.2MW a year, or around $480 a year worth of electricity @ 15 cents per kw.

So the system would pay for itself in about 29 years, assuming that prices were static. In some places you can get tax credits or grants for installing green power too, which would reduce the cost further.

156:

If you're getting 1 kwh per square meter that's around 6 kilowatts per day given 6 hours of usable sunlight.

If you go to the solar map, select annual averages, flat fixed panel, it lists the light as 5 kwh/squaremeter/day.

That's five kilowatt hours per square meter of panel, per day on average over an entire year, if I'm reading it right.

You have to click on the link, then select annual averages and the panel type you want, and then it'll show a map. but it looks like the units already includes the "per day" piece.

157:

I know I know...
Jim Braiden #147- the hockey stick graph is still in the IPCC because a hockey stick is what you get when you plot the data. No fraud or suchlike involved.

Regarding wind turbines, my understanding is that the small 1 or 2 metre rooftop ones are pointless, that the site matters enormously, and that green energy is the new snake oil.

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158:

Gutherie,
You might want to Google the Wegman Report.
In fact the latest IPCC reports have pretty much dropped the Hockey Stick.

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159:

It's great that everyone's looking out for our unborn great, great, great, great, great grandchildren in a dire, illiterate future, but, seriously, who cares?

I mean, you've got two basic cases in which people might come across a nuclear disposal facility and not know what it is:

1. A super-advanced, accelerated future where we still have reasonable tech, but something has caused a break from the past. In which case, c'mon, they go into a big facility, get a little worried, break out geiger counters, and figure it out.

2. A post-apocalypse future in which people don't have high tech any more. In which case, sure, a nuclear disposal facility might kill a few dozen people before someone puts 2 and 2 together, but in the big view, that's kind of irrelevant compared to all the people who are dying of dysentery and childbirth and freaking huge mutant snails.

I mean, seriously folks, how much of a tizzy are we going to work ourselves up into considering the welfare of people so far in the future that we can't design warning signs that they'll understand? Surely even if you're very skeptical about global warming, everyone agrees that the amount of potential harm to FutureFolk is far greater through us messing up the environment and causing hurricanes or whatnot, than through giving some FutureFolk cancer because despite living thousands of years in the future, they have no way of telling that a big pile of radioactive waste is, uh... a big pile of radioactive waste.

160:

jim braiden @148, I used to have a bypass damper that fit into the exhaust hose and I opened it during the winter to heat the basement, but closed it in the summer. Here in the condo, the layout wouldn't work for that.

161:

Instead of unplugging wall-warts, how about replacing some 400W PCs with these: http://www.fit-pc.com/new/specifications.html.

You're not going to want to run your 3D shooters on it, but it looks you can run a basic Linux install at about 5W total consumption; IIRC, that's about what a typical ATX supply eats when sitting waiting to be turned on.

162:

Nix @ 139

Thank you for answering the perennial AI question; I've gotten terribly sick myself of reminding people that dumping a few hundred kilos of feathers in a pile does not result in a giant bird. Especially because they're horse feathers :-0

For those who aren't up on the tradeoffs of various memory technologies:

Static Ram: very fast, uses a lot of power, needs power to retain information, expensive.

Dynamic Ram: not as fast, uses less power, needs both power and constant refresh cycles to retain information, cheap.

Flash Ram: relatively slow, uses little power, retains information with the power off, but has a maximum number of writes per bit, very cheap.

insect_hooves @ 118,
What you say about memristers may be true, but is irrelevant for engineering purposes since we don't even know how to design circuits using them yet, let alone know how to manufacture them in large arrays the way we can silicon memory cells.


Greg London @ 99,

The complexity of switching power supplies was solved a couple of decades ago. All the control circuitry goes into a single IC, which costs a dollar or so, and that drives one or more high-current solid-state switches: power transisters, thyristors, or whatever. Like with most such products, a design engineer can usually just read the manufacturer's application note to get the design. So running 12 volts DC would make sense (see also Internet0, a design for digital communications riding on a single-wire low-voltage DC power line; every socket has a cheap processor to control it and report power drain and failures).

163:

Braiden #158- The wegman report carefully did not consider what happened if you used their statistics. Oddly enough, you end up with a hockey stick.
Indeed, the hockey stick is so abandoned, discarded and unusued that you can find 2 pages on it in Chapter 6, paloclimate, of the 4th IPCC report. Have a look at pages 467 and 468.
Next time, you shouldn't be so trusting of what people tell you.

164:

Bruce, good to know. I still don't see homes switching over to DC power in my lifetime. To make it worthwhile, every device would have to agree on a common voltage and connector (like a car cigarette lighter socket, or USB), and once you've gotten it that far, then everyoen could just get wall warts. I'm not sure how efficent wall warts are compared to switching power supplies, but if they're the same efficiency, then I don't see a gain anywhere.

165:

Greg,

Another way it could go (though I admit it doesn't seem likely) would be to suck the wall warts into the wall. If there were a standard connector, something as simple as the 2 or 3-prong AC plug (yeah, I know, there are a bunch of those, depending on whether you're talking about 110 volt 60 hz, 220 volt 50 hz (or 60 hz), or 36 volt 400 hz or whatever weirdness the airforce is into this year) with data carried on the power, a device could tell the plug what voltage it wanted, and even tell the plug to shut down, eliminating even minimal losses in standby mode. When a device unplugs, the socket reverts to the default, which won't supply power until something is plugged in and has told the socket what voltage it wants.

I know just how unlikely this is; I worked in standards for years.

166:

Clifton @161, Fit PC is very interesting and a good price, too. I'm waiting for the next Eee so I can use it as a desktop (USB hub for everything connected) and a laptop, but if I wasn't, I'd go for this now. I have a 10-year-old desktop and an outdated laptop and I fear collapse.

167:

Charles' point is well made, but is ulitmately irrelevant. We all, as a race, need to take a few steps back. Too many people view global warming as a black-and-white issue, depending on how it affects them directly. Do you live in a coastal flood-plain? I don't. Are you going to get burnt? I'm not. It rains too much in England, and I reckon I'm high enough up to avoid any flooding issues brought on by the melting ice-caps.

A lot of people think in those terms, even though it's public knowledge that the biggest scientific concern about icecaps melting is a change in the oceanic currents. Colder water dropping the temperature and fucking with the mixatability, or whatever you want to call it, would fuck with the weather and turn the whole world upside down economically: Yet the ovenight flooding of the Netherlands et al. would probably end up a small footnote in the later pages of the nations favourite newspaper, next to the economic front-page backlash of any sudden climate change.

So, Doom an gllom for the economy? Meanwhile, Oil is a finite resource. If there are say, a buzllion tonnes left, and we cut our consumption by >50% then what happens? We just take twice as long to use it all!

In the end, all of those terrible carbon emmisions are going to hit the atmoshphere. I can't help wondering if there's any point in delaying the inevitable. My suspicion is that even as a race united as one, our envronmental impact is so small as to be incapable of maniplating this climate change one way or the other.

As with all equilibriums, our atmoshpere will look after itself. Meanwhile, what we need to focus on is the resillience of humanity, our knowledge and values.

168:

Woetra- given that flooding the NEtherlands would destroy possibly the largest container ports in Europe, release pollution which would poison what remains of the north sea fisheries, destroy a great deal of fertile farmland, a chunck of Europes transport infrastructure, and throw millions of people onto the mercy of surrounding states, your statement that it would merely be a small thing in the newspapers is completely wrong. Especially as we are aren't expecting the weather to change very suddenly.

169:

I just ordered one of the Fit-PC boxes. It seems like the right thing, finally, to replace my home-brew BSD firewall which got fried last year, and $300 is only a little more than the cheapest I could get on building a system from parts. 5W makes it particularly handy for a PC I'll be leaving on all the time. If it works as great as it sounds, I'll probably blabber about it on a thread here, so you'll all get to hear about it eventually.

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170:

Marilee@166- Alas no basement- but I do have a greenouse- any garders out there know what the effect would be pumbing in warm, moist air?


Gutherie@163.
The problem is you tend to end up with a Hockey Stick whatever the input.

I know, I know.

You are quite right. Wegman and his group did not address Manns data or the science behind the paper.
That was not their task.
Wegmans remit was to examine the statistical methods behind the Hockey Stick- this was the area which had first been called into question.
Wegman and his team, which included some of the leading statisticians in the US, came to the conclusion that the statistical methods used by Mann et Al were so poor and so badly used that any results they produced were invalid.
I dont know about you but if a group of the worlds leading statisticians say someones work lacks statistical validity I tend to believe them.
In fact they went on to state that in their view far too many researchers in the climate sciences were using stastical methods which they were either not qualified to use or which were being used incorrectly.
They pointed out that although many of the climate science papers employed complex statistical methods not a single member of a recognised professional body such as the ASA had been consulted.
If as you say the IPCC is still using the Hockey Stick after such a verdict then perhaps they should reconsider before their next report.

171:

Jim, jim, jim.
Your argument fails, because of improper logic. It seems to be "These brilliant statisticians say the stats were wrong, so all hockey sticks must be wrong."

This does not logically follow at all. As I said before, when you actually follow the stats they want you to, you still get a hockey stick. In fact it is impossible for you to get anything other than a hockey stick, because, believe it or not, thats what the data shows. Have a look at the IPCC report.
In fact, just read this:
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/the-missing-piece-at-the-wegman-hearing/langswitch_lang/sk#more-328

The key quote being:

"So what would have happened to the MBH results if Wegman and his colleagues had been consulted on PC centering conventions at the time? Absolutely nothing.

Can we all get on with something more interesting now?"


If you do still think that the iPCC are out to fool you, and shouldn't use these graphs, then I expect you to submit your own statistical analysis as to why you disagree, failing that a peer reviewed paper on what is wrong with all the hockey sticks in the IPCC report will do. Heck, even a draft paper, I'm sure I can find people to review it for you.

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172:

Clifton, the Fit PC looks tempting, though it might be a little tight on RAM. Then again, one of the most popular multi-player games on the net of 1995 ran on a less powerful machine.

To be honest, it feels a little bit too geekish. It looks a little bit too network-dependent, out of the box. With just two USB ports, you can plug in keyboard and mouse and run it standalone, but it would work better with a powered USB hub. It looks more to be the general-purpose network-box that you control from a conventional PC.

Give it a couple of extra USB ports, and twice the RAM, and it would be a useful standalone machine. If it uses twice the power to do that, it's still a huge power saving.

Of course, there's also the desktop version of the Asus Eee, which might be a better choice, but what will the power consumption be?

Personally, I reckon as long as Microsoft are feeding the educational markets, Linux-based hardware is going to struggle.

173:

Dave, yeah, it's a bit of a geek box. It may say that you can run XP on it, and it's probably true in theory, but I can't imagine wanting to try any recent release in 256MB. My laptop was very unhappy with 512MB, until I finally stuck more RAM in it.

OTOH, last I tried you could run a Linux desktop machine pretty comfortably in that, even though Linux too gets more bloated daily. I think their target market is geeks wanting tiny, quiet, home servers, companies wanting to build some special-purpose appliances, and education - because educators will always believe that a little bit of suffering is good for the kiddies' souls.

174:

Clifton, I'm running XP Pro on 256MB. I didn't load Word, though; Notepad and Wordpad are all I need. While I was making sure I was right, I found the BIOS date was 1999, so it's only nine years old instead of 10.

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175:

I have an old laptop. Win2k, Open Office, Opera, and it will run adequately with 128MB. Task switching is horribly slow, and anti-virus software is uncomfortably bloated. Doubling the RAM would make a big difference.

If I could just get WiFi working under Linux--some of the WiFi hardware suppliers are lying bastards--I can see myself switching for that laptop.

Sometime, I ought to see how this desktop machine works out with a current version of WINE. The software which really locks me into Windows is getting a few good reports for running on Linux/WINE.

176:

Jim Braiden @ #147:

Not only were you, um, 'misinformed' about the hockey stick, but there's a bit of, um, 'incomprehension' about the concept of fraud (warning: IANAL, nor a solicitor nor a barrister).

When somebody makes a mistake, and promptly corrects it upon notification, that's one thing. When somebody pays for a large number of deliberate mistakes to be made, and continues to make those, ah, 'mistakes' even after correction, and those, ummmmm, 'mistakes' help that party's position, that's quite another.

Also, when somebody else repeats those mistakes without any awareness, their credibility suffers.

177:

Dave Bell @170: If your laptop has a pccard slot, you can always try an assortment of different wifi cards until you hit one that linux likes. Probably won't take many tries.

I've been using linux exclusively for a few years now, and I've yet to meet a wifi card I can't get to work (though I've had to jump through hoops a few times). There's no native linux driver for the card in my laptop, for instance, but there's a driver called "ndiswrapper" that will let you run the windows driver under linux. Works fine.

Of the two windows programs I care about, one runs flawlessly under WINE and the other in vmware.

I can't recommend the switch highly enough. There've been some hassles, some of them pretty large, but the total aggregate amount of hassle has declined precipitously.

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178:

Evan, I bought a WiFi card which was packaged as supporting Linux, as well as the usual suspects.

No drivers supplied or downloadable.

Mo chipset information supplied with the card, or available from the manufacturer.

If that card hadn't been a dud--didn't work under Windows--so I could get my money back, I would have been really annoyed.

179:

Dave: if your card didn't work under Windows ... then how do you know it didn't work under Linux? It was a dud, right? So how can you have determined whether a modern Linux kernel would recognize it?

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180:

If it really did work under Linux I'd expect a little more information on either the driver CD or the manufacturer's website.

Zero information for Linux. Not even a link to a How-To.

Several pages of instructions for Windows.

Yes, Windows Users are dumb. But why do they expect Linux Users to be mindreaders?

181:

Dave, if your card uses one of the common chipsets that has been supported by Linux since the year dot, there wouldn't be any need for a driver CD -- it should "just work": you shove it in and the kernel automagically loads and configures the correct driver from its library (helpfully stored under /lib/modules/[kernel-version-number]).

Given the huge number of different kernel versions kicking around out there, bolting together a driver CD a la Windows would be virtually impossible, anyway -- all you could really do is package the source code along some kind of generic build script, and hope the target platform has the right kernel sources and dev tools installed for a user to compile kernel modules and that they're not running an arcane homebrew. I suspect you're still thinking about how you go about installing devices "the Windows way", when there's one monolithic kernel that's too dumb to know how to talk to new hardware, but has fixed entrypoints so that everybody distributes binary drivers.

Linux don't work like that.

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182:

I have a suspicion my old laptop is being squeezed out at the bottom end of the range of usable RAM for current kernels.

But you talk about "common chipset".

"Zero information" includes a total lack of info about the chipset. Is it so hard to specify that? If the automatic functions don't work, it's the basic information to check. If you clearly state that it uses the Foo-Bar-1234 chipset, your protected against a customer complaining that it doesn't work with his Linux installation, which doesn't have the module for that chipset.

It does look as though I shall need to buy a new card with known Linux support. Linux Emporium looks a good source, and not too expensive.

But it needs something more than "Linux" printed on the box to convince me to part with any money.

184:

Bruce: (dunno if you're still checking this thread so far after publication, though) The intelligent wall warts you describe in 165 do exist, at least in the four-colour-glossy phase -- .

185:

Er...

http://www.greenplug.us

(I put angle brackets around the link, so of course it gets parsed as an HTML tag. Meh.)

186:

For those of you defending the Hockey Stick, you might want to note that no, the data they plotted wasn't really data, but predictions, and that it didn't match reality. There have also been some startling issues with NASA's released temperature figures - it turns out that they decided, starting with late-1990s figures, to add a degree or so to many of their measurements. They haven't gotten around to explaining why, they just did. They can't find the documents that support this move, either, despite US law on that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, the other organizations that look at global temperatures aren't seeing the warming that Hansen claims. That giant robotic ocean survey, that found no real warming (and some cooling)? Up until recently, all of the "missing" heat from AGW was supposed to be going into the oceans, and we were going to reach a tipping point of some sort.

No extra ocean heat + not much atmospheric heat? No real "scary" AGW. Remember how Greenland's ice sheet was supposed to be sliding into the sea because of subglacial melts? Turns out that wasn't actually happening, either.

When you take the "hockey stick" predictive model, and put ANYTHING into it, you get a similar graph. When you put pink noise into it, you get a hockey stick... and that's a MAJOR sign that someone screwed up (or faked it).

It's also fairly damning that scientists like Hansen take massive amounts of "award" money from organizations that promote the AGW idea - he's taken in over a million dollars in "awards" so far...