Dennis Houghton's Comments

March 29, 2015

2014 Record Year For Columbia River Salmon, Concerns Raised

All but 50 miles of the main stem Columbia river from near Portland Oregon to the Canadian border are slow moving impoundments behind major hydropower facilities. All of these dams have fish ladders except Grand Coulee dam. No migratory fish has passed this point naturally, except in the claws of an eagle, since the dam was built in the 1930's. Even the last 50 miles of free flowing river is the downhill boundary of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation's No.1 Superfund Site. Natural indeed.

More important to fish survival is the dramatic fluctuation in shoreline levels in spawning areas with varying power and irrigation requirements especially in a drought.

March 11, 2015

Is Energy Efficiency the More Persistent Threat to Utilities?

The flattening of the demand curve has been driven mostly by efficiency improvements in electric motor drives over past two decades. Many utilities have provided subsidies or rebates to support VFD installation. My local utility proves $40/HP which covers much of the equipment cost. Typical payback is about three years depending upon cost/kW-hr
About 50% of all electricity used globally is used by electric motors.
About 3/4 of the motor use is for pumping water or moving air.
These are ideal applications for installing VFDs, Variable Frequency Drives which typically reduce total consumption by @25-40% without reducing output performance.

Millions of VFDs are being installed annually on motors as small as one HP. VFDs are often used to power a 3 phase well pump replacement from single phase sources in the well house.

A VFD is the parent of the PV Inverter. Like a PV inverter it has a DC input filter section and an AC output section using electronic inverter devices. The VFD also has a full-wave rectifier AC input section ahead of the DC filter. A VFD varies both the voltage and frequency to a motor load allowing reduced speed operation without overheating

March 12, 2015

LED Outdoor Lighting: A $6 Billion Annual Savings Opportunity

I am a 70 year old retire electrician who has done a lot of free work for charities and food banks, including lighting retrofits.

I never claimed to be an expert, lobbyist or troll but at least I am not a jerk

I have removed my comments so no shade is cast on the brilliance of yours.

March 07, 2015

Can a State's Solar Market Start Without It?

Washington state receives over 60% of its power as hydropower at $0.07/kW-hr,retail. It is hard to promote solar PV except to true believers like me. Leasing would be silly.

February 22, 2015

Will Solar Plunge Off the Tax Credit Cliff?

Brian, My comments were drawn from the referenced Rocky Mountain Institute report comparing German and US "Soft Costs" which include installation labor. The report offers several points where US NEC requirements are not recognized. For example, no screws or threaded connection or continuous bonding conductor is required to ground/bond the modules and the racks to the system ground. Rooftop cables can be laid loose under the modules on the roof, they also show a cable support method of a few UV resistant Ty-Raps (which last about 10 years in service). The report cites rooftop conduit and temperature rated cables as an unnecessary material and labor expense. As an electrician I will claim that roof tops are hostile environments for many electrical products. The NEC suggests that the design ambient temperature is >150F and I have physically measured even higher surface temperatures on low slope asphalt and composition roofs. Cable insulation degrades, conductors short out and arc, sparks ignite asphalt. The last step will not happen on clay tile.

The tone of my comment is that the focus seems to be eliminating installer jobs as a way for the PV industry to survive the challenge of reduced subsidies. I also object to calling labor a soft cost like sales , engineering, procurement and profit. Labor can be more or less efficient, even from day-to-day. A good business person can also negotiate better prices on components, so module costs are a little soft too.

Job creation (in the US) was the core reason for the subsidies.

For the next 20 years, a PV module installed in Bangladesh has a greater value to the planet than the same module installed in Los Angeles.

March 01, 2015

Nuclear: Is It Clean and Green?

Having worked for decades on a nuclear weapons waste Superfund site adjacent to a commercial nuclear plant, it is clear to me that management and operations was and still is vastly better at the commercial facility than the weapons facility now being decommissioned. The clean-up will cost an additional $100 billion to complete, if it is possible to clean up at all. The commercial plant just received a multi-decade extension of operations without protest. The commercial plant will need clean-up after it is decommissioned but nothing like the groundwater and soil contamination from Plutonium production operations. The only real similarities, in the minds of many is that both facilities are NUCULER.

More than 10,000 people work at the Superfund site yet there are thousands of Washington state residents who will not even drive through the area. Primal fear is easy to cultivate and hard to dispel. The bass fishing is awesome in the Plutonium reactor forebays along the last free-flowing part of the Columbia river. The fish are healthy and tasty. Most boaters use the opposite side of the river and only keep migratory species, as if it is safer.
Until the fear of the consequences of continued carbon pollution somehow is close to the fear of radiation and all things nuclear, there will be little additional public motivation for more nuclear generation.

How to lose a PR argument.
(1) Hollywood releases “The China Syndrome”, a cheesy movie with a reviled star Hanoi Jane, on March 12, 1979
(2) Nuclear industry executives explode with derision for the next week. It can’t happen here you ignorant, anti-american pinko commie hippies (Hint: always insult those who disagree with you, they are so obviously wrong)
(3) The Three Mile Island event occurs on March 28, 1979
(4) The Nuclear power industry in the US spirals down rapidly i.e. WPPSS 1982

"Foolish consistencies are the hobgoblins of little minds" Emerson

For the sake of my great-grandchildren I hope that 20 years from now, solar PV and solar thermal are installed on millions of rooftops, electric cars are everywhere, wind turbines are installed where appropriate, and smaller next generation(not yet developed) nuclear plants are starting to replace the last coal-fired plants needed for a slowly shrinking baseload demand.
No energy source is “clean and green” it is how people develop and use it that creates the impact.

February 05, 2015

The Other War: Underreported but Not Insignificant

Continuous efficiency improvements in all electrical devices will continue to reduce baseload needs, in the U.S.
Efficiency is the true and implacable enemy of coal.
The war on efficiency will be hard for utilities to wage with a straight face.
Wind may kill birds, solar may kill tortoises but efficiency kills utility profits! Oh, the horror.

February 05, 2015

The Other War: Underreported but Not Insignificant

What do we care about efficiency if our power is cheap and brown?
Which, regrettably, it is and will be for many years into the future.
Cheap is what most people want. If you can convince them that green is cheap, they will love it.

January 29, 2015

What Solar Marketers Can Learn from Tesla’s “Insane” Mode

Electric motors deliver high torque at low RPM, gasoline engines require high RPM to deliver high torque. The performance curve is reversed in the two types of drive systems. Electric dragsters could win every race but produce little of the tire smoke and engine noise necessary to the motor sport experience. Three of the first five in the latest Peak's Peak race were electric; higher torque at lower speeds.

The first couple of years of the Prius demonstrated the extraordinary torque delivered by electric motors. Drivers who tried to accelerate the Prius in its unnamed "insane mode" aka "foot-to-the-floorboard", occasionally snapped the drive shaft. Customers were not impressed. Manufacturers quickly built in torque control to prevent the negative outcome. Tesla engineered a physical solution in a more robust drive train and allowed the driver to intentionally over ride torque control, a feature that is probably used mostly during the sales process and occasionally to show off to your envious friends

January 29, 2015

Climate Change: The Need for a More Consistent Baseline and Immediate Action

Fifty plus years ago the Beatles wrote a somewhat relevant lyric.

"Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun
If the sun don't come, you get a tan standing in the English rain."

At that time the industrial world was becoming aware of the link between industrial pollution and health. We have made great strides at reducing visible pollutants and some toxins from our collective air and water resources. We continue to ignore invisible dangers such as GHGs. Can't see or smell or taste so why worry. All we have are slow changes in observable conditions such as small changes in "heat content" (Donovan) or atmospheric chemistry which are revealed by measuring temperature and CO2 content of the oceans and atmosphere. Both measurements are "handy indexes" (Hallinan) and do not identify a cause of the incremental increases in heat content.

Personally, I "believe" that excess CO2 emissions are the culprit in the increasing heat content aka entropy. The interaction of the CO2 molecule with reflected infrared light energy has been demonstrated in controlled lab experiments. Of course methane, volcanic eruptions and water vapor are also contributors. It appears that we humans are performing a global scale experiment. Hope the experiment does not destroy the laboratory.

January 25, 2015

Proof in Numbers: Putting Solar Job Census & Home Value Study in Perspective

Another report on this website described the employment mix for the solar PV industry in the US. Approximately 175,000 FTE total with @95,000 installation, @ 23,000 manufacturing, some R&D, marketing and other non-installation jobs. These positive results show about as many PV installers as blue collar coal miners, both above and underground, in the US job market. An interesting inflection point.

Another report analyzed average installation costs by component and revealed an "unsustainable" cost of sales at $0.48/Watt. Efficiency in the PV market will require drastic reduction in cost of sales, especially when the tax credits expire.

New microinverter and racking systems will make the installations more homeowner friendly and further reduce installer job growth numbers.

The industry will continue to grow impressively but job growth can not track that project growth for much longer

Dennis Houghton

Dennis Houghton

Electrician instructor, Instrument technician, Electrical code inspector, Grid tied solar PV trainer, VFD application trainer

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