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Comment: Re:Your backyard (Score 2) 401

The Hoover Dam cost $824 million in 2013 dollars to build and averages 4,200,000 mWhs of electricity per year.

The Ivanpah Solar Plant cost $2,200 million and may generate 493,110 mWhs of electricity per year.

So, this plant cost nearly three times as much in constant dollars while generating one tenth as much energy. To get to Hoover Dam scales, we need to build another 29 Ivanpahs at a cost of $63.8 billion dollars. Which gives us one more Hoover Dam worth of energy, which is 1/1000th of total US energy use (Hoover Dam is about 4.2 billion kWhs while the US used about 4,095 billion kWhs last year.)

So, for the low, low price of $68.8 trillion , we can supply the electricity for the US via Ivanpah style power. That just might hamstring our economy...

Comment: Re:Is no one else concerned? (Score 1) 161

by brianerst (#46129025) Attached to: World's First Magma-Based Geothermal Energy System

There's a certain ahistoric view of energy development that drives me nuts (not necessarily your comment, but it triggers my rant...)

We have switched energy resources over the years not just because it was cheaper but because it was cleaner and more sustainable. We went from burning trees (deforesting entire countries and enveloping the land in smoke and soot), using animal power (leaving billions of metric tons of shit strewn throughout our cities, towns and villages) and using animal fat (nearly wiping out all cetaceans in under a century) to burning coal (land destruction was minimized vs trees), then petroleum (getting rid of the shit and the soot), then natural gas (lowering our CO2 emissions).

At every point since technology became an important part of human existence, we've ramped up the existing technology to pull as many people as possible out of abject poverty (mainly as a side-effect of economic development, but nonetheless). Then, when we realize that that technology is unsustainable (prices shoot up), we develop the next technology and ramp that one up - using the new-found wealth to clean up the old messes and finding new side-effects that are generally more benign than the last but that become bad due to the increased scale. Rinse, lather, repeat...

This is a nerd site - we'll figure out the next step eventually and use our expanded wealth and energy to clean up the bad effects of the previous technology. Our focus should be on accelerating that process - using price pressures (like carbon taxes) to encourage research and deployment of cleaner technologies. We also need to be ready to remediate the damage we've done so we can use some of our next tranche of new wealth to restore ecologies and species as best we can.

Comment: Re:Pollution from China (Score 1) 259

by brianerst (#46051255) Attached to: Up To a Quarter of California Smog Comes From China

If Mises counts as a libertarian, he'd say that the problem is that the government has specifically foreclosed a solution to the problem - class action lawsuits on pollution. When written in 1983, the Libertarian Manifesto claimed that class action lawsuits over pollution were impossible to file. I think that's changed since - EPA rules and whatnot - but that's probably the libertarian basis for negotiated pollution rates.

Comment: Re:Freakin' Riders. (Score 1) 767

by brianerst (#46024833) Attached to: Incandescent Bulbs Get a Reprieve

I'm pretty sure the CFL gods hate me, because after I wrote that, my wife knocked over a lamp and shattered a CFL. Time to trot out another downside to CFLs - the hazmat nature of cleaning up after one breaks. I don't got to the extremes (I'm not driving to a recycling center for one broken bulb) but the recommended way to clean up a broken CFL is almost comically fear inducing - open windows for 5-10 minutes, use gloves, sticky tape, a glass jar with a sealable lid, avoid vacuums at all cost, make sure to keep children and pets away from "breathing distance", check your local jurisdiction for approved disposal methods...

I'm not insane enough to do more than the basic safety steps but I can imagine what someone who is slightly paranoid about life in general would do...

Comment: Re:Freakin' Riders. (Score 1) 767

by brianerst (#45961093) Attached to: Incandescent Bulbs Get a Reprieve

I use CFLs exclusively (sitting under one right now), but the CFL side repeatedly lies about how long CFLs last. In my experience using CFLs in two different residences (condo and house) over 15 years, CFLs last no longer than incandescent bulbs - they're good for about a year, tops.

And I've used every brand out there - they all die pretty quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I'm not sure that the carbon lifecycle is significantly different between the two types. Sure, CFLs use less energy to light up a room, but they're pretty complex to manufacture and have a lot of embedded energy within them. Plus, you have to recycle them afterward.

Incandescents, on the other hand, are pretty simple - a little glass, a filament and some brass. The embedded energy is probably mostly in making the tungsten filament. Recycling is optional (lots of inert material) but pretty straighforward (only three main bits).

I try to convince myself that the CFLs are still a good thing, but I'm probably deluding myself.

Can't wait to delude myself about LEDs...

Comment: Re:Something has to give, buddy (Score 1) 466

by brianerst (#45633439) Attached to: US Issues 30-Year Eagle-Killing Permits To Wind Industry

Of course, wind power only provides about 4% of the US electricity supply. And the eagle deaths are only the industry-reported ones. The study also excluded the well known eagle death trap - Altamont Pass in California - because its 60 eagle deaths per year swamp the rest.

The takeaway here is probably "be careful about siting". I doubt the massive wind farms in flat, rural Indiana kill many eagles.

Comment: Lamarck (Score 1) 118

by brianerst (#45578167) Attached to: Scientists Find Olfactory "Memory" Passed Between Generations In Mice

See, Lamarck was just like Tesla - a genius ahead of his time! Darwin/Edison gets all the glory but finally science catches up to the genius of Lamarck/Tesla.

I predict Rube Goldberg is next - his designs just seem insanely complicated, but it will turn out that a mousetrap really is a required step in every mechanical process...

Comment: Re:Global Warming vs. Terrorism (Score 4, Insightful) 534

by brianerst (#45433607) Attached to: Global Warming Since 1997 Underestimated By Half

There's a couple of reasons:

1. Intrusiveness. The War on Terrorism hardly affects most people in their day-to-day lives - they have to take off their shoes at airports, nameless bureaucracies have computers read thru their humdrum emails and it was a very defined subset of Americans who were shipped off to war. The War on Carbon potentially affects everything because it makes day to day life so much more expensive and restricts normal consumer choice (you want a filament lightbulb? Too bad - buy a CFL! Don't like them for some reason? Buy an LED for 10x as much! Oh, and did we tell you that your yearly trip to Grandma in Arizona is killing the planet? Stop doing that!).

2. The sheer cost. Most mitigation schemes for global warming are in the ludicrous number range - trillions of dollars a year for 100 or more years. On top of that drag, most are designed to destroy economic growth (you almost have to in order to ratchet down energy use fast enough). This isn't a boo-hoo First World Problem - it's mostly a tragic Third World Problem. Germany gives up a few percentages of economic growth for 50 years - that's a hit (and the government would fall). Ethiopia gives up economic growth for 50 years and you're consigning millions to abject poverty and breeds radicalism.

3. The perception gap. The War on Terror seems to affect the rich and powerful in the same ways it affects the poor and the hoi-polloi - maybe a little less (they're rich!) but it seems somewhat similar. Even Mitt Romney has to take his shoes off at the airport. AGW mitigation, however, seems to be a problem that only the poor and middle class need to sacrifice for - Al Gore has numerous mansions, jets all over the world, uses more energy in a day than most families do in a week. AGW "solutions" seem to nicely dovetail with the natural desires of the elite - less upward mobility, pricier and/or more organic food, paternalism toward their lessers.

The optics on AGW are terrible - which is one reason there's such resistance. Killing bad guys, however expensive and destructive that may be, appeals to a lot of folks. If there were better optics - and a range of policy choices that didn't seem to favor the technocratic elite - you might not have such hostility.

Comment: Re:Gaddaffi did something similar in Libya (Score 1) 178

by brianerst (#45400195) Attached to: Desert Farming Experiment Yields Good Initial Results

I forget all the details at this point, but I remember that the Israelis had a huge number of similar greenhouses in Gaza - thousands of them - that were responsible for something like 15% of total Israeli agricultural output. Fresh vegetables grow well in greenhouses. (Taste may be a different matter...)

The person who's taking you to lunch has no intention of paying.