Tagged: problems

Denmark on track for 100% renewable energy

Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.

Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?

Anyone at the TIMES realize what a wonderful context requires a question like this?

Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.

The trouble, if it can be called that, is that renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed. That is potentially a huge benefit in the long run.

But as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day.

That can render conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining…

The governments have offered short-term subsidies, knowing that if they force companies to operate these plants at a loss, it will be a matter of time before the companies start going bankrupt.

Throughout Europe, governments have come to the realization that electricity markets are going to have to be redesigned for the new age, but they are not pursuing this task with urgency. A bad redesign could itself throw customers into the dark, after all, as happened in California a decade ago…

Amazing. An adult supposedly knowledgeable about power generation, pricing and, yes, price manipulation – who apparently never heard of Enron. The corrupt company with even more corrupt capitalists at the helm who deliberately induced many of California’s so-called power shortages.

The government is…well aware that it needs to find a way out of this box. Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago…

So the trick now is to get the market redesign right. A modest version of reform would essentially attach a market value, and thus a price, to standby capacity. But Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, told me he was tempted by a more ambitious approach. That would involve real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

As Denmark, like other countries, installs more smart meters and smart appliances able to track those prices with no human intervention, one can imagine a system in which demand would adjust smoothly to the available supply. Most people would not care if their water heater were conspiring with other water heaters to decide when to switch on and off, as long as hot water reliably came out of the tap.

Has Mr. Gillis ever traveled, lived among ordinary folks in Europe? First time I ran into tankless hot water heaters was in Switzerland – in 1971. Prices gave been coming down as efficiencies rose – even for electric models instead of gas-fired. We installed an on-demand electric hot water heater in our home this summer for less than $400 for the unit. Our household electric bill is down 20-30%. Payback in one year.

Yet, even if Denmark can figure out a proper design for the electric market, it has another big task to meet its 2050 goal: squeezing the fossil fuels out of transportation…Mr. Petersen told me he still felt electrification of cars was the way to go, but the cars themselves were not really ready.

“We need longer range and lower prices before this becomes a good option,” he said. “Technology needs to save us here.”

Fortunately, there are more than one or two automobile manufacturers dedicated to resolving that portion of the questions asked. Builders ranging from Volkswagen/Audi/Porsche to Mercedes, Nissan/Renault, target less expensive electric cars with ranges extending 250 to 550 miles decades before the 2050 renewable electrification target date.

At the mid-price point and up for big luxury cars Tesla is already there.

An important footnote BTW. Save the arguments about “manageable” small countries vs what is needed to change over the United States. It can be done one state at a time, one region at a time. Denmark is bigger than a number of states. So is the size of that nation’s population.

The important bit is that the citizens and politicians are also smarter, sensible and willing to change. That’s the significant comparison.

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Japan’s post-tsunami reconstruction efforts hampered by ghosts

Japan’s reconstruction following the devastating earthquake and tsunami nearly one year ago exactly is being delayed by an unlikely factor – ghosts.

Numerous reports of ghost sightings have reportedly been made by residents in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture, home to nearly a fifth of all tsunami fatalities.

Reconstruction and repair have been put on hold in some instances due to workers’ fears that the spirits of the dead who passed away a year ago will bring them bad luck if they continue…

A taxi driver, who did not want to be named, added that he was unwilling to stop in certain parts of the city that were badly damaged in the tsunami for fear of picking up a customer who is a spirit of the dead.

Meanwhile, another local woman described hearing stories of people seeing queues of people rushing towards the hills, a replay of their final moment as they attempted to escape the tsunami…

As the first anniversary of the disaster approaches, Ishinomaki appears, on the surface at least, to be returning to a new level of normality, with the tsunami debris cleared away in most areas and a growing number of businesses reopening…

However, experts described the city’s apparent widespread belief in ghosts as a “natural” side effect of a large-scale tragedy which wiped out vast swathes of the community and a potentially positive part of the healing process.

“Human beings find it very difficult to accept death, whether they are inclined by nature to superstition or are very scientifically minded,” said Takeo Funabiki, a cultural anthropologist…

When there are things that many people find difficult to accept, they can find expression in the form of rumours or rituals for the dead, among other things. The point is that it takes the shape of something that you can share with other people in your society.”

I can’t take ghosts – or angels – or some grayhead in the sky very seriously. Of course, I understand the reasons for denial, the pain and anguish over the loss of dear ones. I’ve been through it enough times myself.

I just settle down with simple psychological parameters. If you’re well balanced and sound within your self-understanding of reality, it takes six weeks max to reaccustom yourself to extreme loss. The other thing I always do is to skip having a touch of a single malt whiskey to “sooth” the pain. Crutches are as difficult to get rid of as the pain that brings them on.

Is it time for the FDA to revise their food colorings warning?

After staunchly defending the safety of artificial food colorings [for decades], the federal government is for the first time publicly reassessing whether foods like Jell-O, Lucky Charms cereal and Minute Maid Lemonade should carry warnings that the bright artificial colorings in them worsen behavior problems like hyperactivity in some children.

The Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that there was no definitive link between the colorings and behavior or health problems, and the agency is unlikely to change its mind any time soon. But on Wednesday and Thursday, the F.D.A. will ask a panel of experts to review the evidence and advise on possible policy changes, which could include warning labels on food.

The hearings signal that the growing list of studies suggesting a link between artificial colorings and behavioral changes in children has at least gotten regulators’ attention — and, for consumer advocates, that in itself is a victory…

There is no debate about the safety of natural food colorings, and manufacturers have long defended the safety of artificial ones as well. In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said, “All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children…”

The F.D.A. scientists suggest that problems associated with artificial coloring might be akin to a peanut allergy, or “a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties” of the dyes themselves. As it does for peanuts and other foods that can cause reactions, the F.D.A. already requires manufacturers to disclose on food labels the presence of artificial colorings…

The panel will almost certainly ask that more research on the subject be conducted, but such calls are routinely ignored. Research on pediatric behaviors can be difficult and expensive to conduct since it often involves regular and subjective assessments of children by parents and teachers who should be kept in the dark about the specifics of the test. And since the patents on the dyes expired long ago, manufacturers have little incentive to finance such research themselves.

… Some grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, refuse to sell foods with artificial coloring.

Since we do 99% of our food shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s – I guess this is a moot point in our family. Still, the FDA is missing an important point – one that consumer groups might pursue. How long ago were the tests devised that provided assurance for the FDA? Are they out-of-date?

There is no shortage of ailments previously not tracked to a point source – which have been revised over time as newer and more accurate testing technologies have been discovered. Maybe it’s time for the FDA to update their knowledge base, eh?