Share Your Insight with the Hydro Audience - Call for Abstracts Deadline Extended to Mon. Oct. 27 ×

Joel Fairstein's Comments

April 05, 2013

Nevada Utility to Shut Out Coal, Embrace Renewables

I agree with Ms Feldman of the Sierra club but would go one step further. For every dollar spent on future power projects, states and utilities should match it with a dollar spent on energy efficiency. In addition to improving the environment, freeing up money wasted on energy by end users would be a positive driver in local and state economies.

There are existing utility-based programs in place for energy efficiency, but in my area in Tennessee, the program involves a spaghetti of forms and energy audits. I wonder what the situation is like for energy efficiency programs in other areas of the country?

March 20, 2013

Energy Storage Series: Making the Case for Batteries

Battery and capacitors are expensive options for grid-level storage. I've seen a proposal for a mag-lev rail system where massive weights on rail cars progress up and down inclines. As a gravity storage concept, a MAPS facility would require less time to implement than a pumped hydro station. If the hills are there, such as in California, why not take advantage of them for energy storage?

March 23, 2013

Energy Storage Series: Making the Case for Batteries

The MagLev concept is based on solid theory and engineering by some of the same folks involved in the underlying design of MagLev trains in Japan and elsewhere. I think you are rejecting it without having looked into it, Carlos.

March 23, 2013

Energy Storage Series: Making the Case for Batteries

Carlos, with the mass we're talking about, wear and tear on tracks, axles, and bearings, plus the friction deficit would rule out wheeled rail cars.

The weights employed for a mag-lev system would be concrete, a relatively cheap material. Dinorwig is pumped hydro but required 1.2 million tones of concrete and cement, plus a huge energy cost excavating the mountain. Less concrete could have been used for a mag-lev system and at much lower capital expenditure. Note that mag-lev system rail cars only transport the concrete loads, which are loaded or unloaded at either end of the incline. Quite ingenious. There's a video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE92_Ds6XvI

March 06, 2013

Solar Startup Alta Devices Sets Efficiency Record, Works on New Cell Design

Which efficiency record was broken, by the way? Certainly not the multi-junction record, which is around 44%. (It was actually the dual-junction record, but that's not stated in the article). If the single junction record is at 28.2%, does the extra 2.6% in dual-junction efficiency justify the extra costs of the second layer?

"Manufacturers measure their production costs in terms of cents or dollars per watt, so a solar cell with a higher wattage will be cheaper than the one with a lower wattage." I think the author meant to say higher efficiency cells are cheaper to manufacturer per watt. But that assumes there are no required changes in production between lower and higher efficiency cells.

February 22, 2013

Commission Report Features Financing Recommendations to Double U.S. Energy Efficiency

The measures suggested in the article are excellent regarding utilities making energy usage more visible. That said, I believe the proposed financing programs are adding a layer of expense and red tape.

A more efficient model would mandate public utilities send an energy auditor and installer to seal each leaky home or business in one step. (The current model involves complicated forms and multiple visits to the site by auditors and third-party installers).

A one-step efficiency makeover program would be a much better utility investment than new power installations for the utility. Financing would not be necessary.

If the average home utility bill can be decreased by 10% with low-level measures, the energy savings over 10 years would likely range from $2000 to $4000 per home.

That leaves the issue of upgrading to more efficient HVAC systems, windows, and seldom-mentioned solar awnings. Since the large rental market would complicate financing options (why should renters be stuck with the bill?) the onus for big-ticket improvements should be on the property owner. The utilities can provide the impetus through better energy usage information as suggested in the article. Financing instruments already exists via home equity loans and lines of credit for businesses, but banks would need to be persuaded energy efficiency loans are smart investments.

February 06, 2013

Secretary Steven Chu Announces Departure, Accomplishments in a Letter to Energy Department Employees

The ARPA-E program requires of its applicants that they produce disruptive technologies in short time spans, an expectation DOE does not follow internally. In this light, Stephen Chu's strongest legacy will be ARPA-E and perhaps his lesser-known promotion of energy conservation. These are eclipsed, though, by his failure to articulate an energy policy that involves the American people. Instead, he has promoted big-science energy solutions that have not significantly improved our energy portfolio. Results that are years away, mega-expensive, and that generally fail to materialize. There have been some incremental advances on Dr. Chu's watch, but no game-changing technologies. In much of the world, frugal innovation, often by uneducated citizens, is producing results and empowering communities to conserve resources and create renewable systems. A ground-swell approach, citizens are invested in every step of this process. DOE, on the other hand, systematically ignores simple, economical energy solutions in favor of expensive, highly technical one with citizens playing no role in energy policy unless highly-credentialed. The failure of our top-down, mega-expensive, big science energy policy is the eclipsing of passive solar and energy conservation. These two areas could easily have the largest impact on reducing energy needs. It's ironic that Dr. Chu once referred to energy conservation, somewhat quietly, as 'not just low-hanging fruit, but fruit lying on the ground.' Shouldn't that be trumpeted as a national theme?

February 06, 2013

Secretary Steven Chu Announces Departure, Accomplishments in a Letter to Energy Department Employees

energy4all, bear in mind, 1-2 years is an allotment for each distinct phase of funding, so the total timeline could run four or more years. The development timeline for ARPA-E just doesn't fit the facts regarding other DOE programs, especially legacy programs. I applied to ARPA-E's first funding opportunity, and although I wasn't among the 1% that received funding, I have been paying close attention. I've participated or presented in ORNL events, am the son of a Manhattan project engineer, and have interacted/debated issues with many other ORNL scientists and engineers through the years. I've seen programs up close that were sponsored by DOE that never deserved a dollar of funding, based on poor efficiencies and outcomes. Fusion energy, in particular, has long outlived public resources. Battery technology also comes to mind as another legacy program that has shown only incremental results. At least, ARPA-E is a step in the right direction, especially regarding battery tech. So, energy4all, I suggest you dig a little deeper into DOE's culture and legacy programs and gauge the outcomes for yourself.

February 06, 2013

Secretary Steven Chu Announces Departure, Accomplishments in a Letter to Energy Department Employees

energy4all, there is indeed conceptual overlap between ARPA-E and DARPA programs, one modeled after the other, but they exist in separate agencies with different missions and personnel. Regarding product development timelines, there is no consistency between 'finished products' within the DOE and those funded by ARPA-E, who are often in the private sector. Product development is not really the province of DOE anyway. Maybe you were referring to intellectual property. I read the fusion article, but the mystery has not been unlocked, only understood a little better. As the authors themselves point out, 'We hope that our finding will inspire future theoretical and experimental work...' As a child, I knew one of the fusion pioneers working with the bumpy torus configuration back in the 1960s and later abandoned. Since 1953, fusion research has been a long time brewing, and we spend an average of a half billion dollars a year on it. Imagine that investment applied to energy efficiency and smarter building design?

February 06, 2013

Secretary Steven Chu Announces Departure, Accomplishments in a Letter to Energy Department Employees

Finally, let's give some overdue recognition to the early environmentalists, the long-haired folks who back in the 60s and 70s created a movement from nothing and moved energy efficiency and renewables into public consciousness. Some of them were able to receive funding, but the vast majority have been ignored by government funders because they proffered low-tech solutions or were not associated with research institutions. These frugal innovators are still on the fringe doing great work.

January 26, 2013

Solar Cell Efficiency Round-Up: Thin Film Closing the Gap with Silicon

It would be interesting to have a comparison of efficiency versus temperature among these latest developments. Thin film usually has the advantage here over silicon. This knowledge would impact low and medium concentrated systems. Also, organic multi-junction PV could be a boon for CPV, depending on its durability.

Joel Fairstein

Joel Fairstein

Designer of a patented solar concentrating system and unique solar air heaters.

Total Access Partners

Growing Your Business? Learn More about Total Access