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By Russ Finley on Sep 27, 2015 with 12 responses

Thoughts on the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal


Photo Credit The Environmental Blog

Volkswagen was just caught cheating on emissions tests for some of its diesel-powered cars. As a result, their stock price has plummeted. I no longer have to deal with emissions tests because we own a 2006 Prius and a 2011 Leaf, neither of which require testing because one has a SULE (Super Ultra Low Emissions) rating and the the other doesn’t have a tail pipe.

You can’t fake acceleration or gas mileage, but apparently you can fake out emissions tests by installing software capable of detecting when an emissions test is being conducted (via the diagnostic plug in your dash board) that will lean out the fuel mixture and alter the timing (among other things) so the car will pass the test, returning it to normal when the test ends.

I was fooled. Following is a comment I made last year on this subject:

These are all valid points but controlling pollution is mostly a matter of innovation and engineering. You are not necessarily limited by thermodynamics. For example, compare the mileage of the very dirty 2006 diesel Jetta to the very clean 2014 diesel Jetta.


By Russ Finley on Aug 20, 2015 with 14 responses

EV Update: Chevy Bolt, Tesla’s Ludicrous Mode, Speed Record

The July announcement from Chevy of its upcoming $38K, 200-mile range Bolt electric car may be of similar historical importance to Nissan’s announcement back in 2011 of the Leaf.

By Russ Finley on Jul 22, 2015 with 29 responses

Everything Old is New Again; Biofuels, Still a Bad Idea

Gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo

Gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo

I recently recieved two emails on the same day; one about more palm oil plantations usurping yet another tropical ecosystem, this time for highly endangered African Gorillas instead of Indonesian Orangutans, and the other from my local Sierra Club asking me to urge my elected representatives to reject a transportation funding bill that would not allow our Governor to mandate the consumption of biofuels. Instead, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times expressing my opposition to a biofuel mandate (which, of course, wasn’t published). I put a copy of that rejected submission at the end of this post as an example of what not to send to the Seattle Times Op Ed department. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Jun 14, 2015 with 31 responses

The Death of the Florescent Shop Light


I’ve recently discovered the reasonably priced LED shop light. “Big whoop” you may be thinking. It’s a bigger whoop than many realize, especially for me. Just for the fun of it, I measured the current draw of one of my old shop lights and one of the new LED versions. The LED lights use 66% less energy. This won’t make a meaningful, or possibly even a measurable difference in my electric bill but to put this into perspective, if you could achieve that level of efficiency improvement for all lighting in the country, from a CO2 emission perspective, it would be roughly equivalent to replacing about 7% of our fossil fuel power plants with renewable green lower CO2 emitting electrical energy sources, without having to build a single nuclear, wind, hydro, or solar power plant. That’s more than today’s total for wind and solar combined. Put yet another way, that is equivalent to about 1,000 utility scale wind projects (48,000 wind turbines), or about 36 nuclear power plants. But before you toss back that shot of whiskey in celebration, understand that the 66% reduction I achieved with my shop lights would not apply to all lighting across the country.

Just last year the Nobel Prize was awarded to the three Japanese scientists responsible for creating the version of diodes that is used for lighting today.

The only downsides of note I found (and I’m sure there are more) are the fact that insects are more attracted to diode lights and that they don’t generate enough heat to melt the snow when used as traffic lights (easily resolved by not using diodes). The insect problem appears to be potentially serious because insects are the key to nature’s food webs and I would hope that laws could be made to minimize their use outdoors where that is a concern.


By Russ Finley on May 27, 2015 with 65 responses

Did Tesla Just Kill Hydro Electric Power?

Thanks to Tesla’s new battery packs, Russ Finley asks if we can not only stop building more hydro electric dams, but also remove the existing ones to save what remains of the last river ecosystems, restore the world’s salmon runs.

By Russ Finley on May 3, 2015 with 38 responses

The Corrections to Joe Romm’s Corrections–Part I

Climate Hawk

In his article, The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen’s Deeply Irresponsible Climate Change Article, Joe Romm, climate hawk, uses the nonsensical graphic shown below borrowed from U.S.News & World Report (also used here) in an attempt to stifle criticism of renewable energy.


Screenshot from Climate Progress

One could predict that Franzen’s blasphemous epiphany in the New Yorker that we are not going to stop climate change by blighting “…every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines” would light Romm’s hair on fire. However, it was Franzen’s suggestion that conservation organizations like the Audubon society should be doubling down on what they do best, preservation of what remains, instead of diverting resources to climate change issues which they can’t do anything about, that got the Audubon society’s feathers in a bunch.

  1. Franzen is probably right about it being too late to stop climate change, although there is always hope.
  2. Because conservation groups tend to take their cues from the most vociferous climate hawks, who are also anti-nuclear energy, they are under the false impression that renewable energy can save the day.


By Russ Finley on Apr 13, 2015 with 84 responses

Nissan Leaf Drive Train is 25 Times More Reliable than Conventional Cars

[Updated 5/4/2015 to delete potentially incorrect information about storage space and battery size.]


My Leaf parked in front of a seventies vintage Ford Pinto (my first car was a Pinto). Car technology has come a long way.

Nissan recently released the results of a five year study that found 99.99 percent of its battery packs are still operating as warrantied (battery not having less than 80 percent capacity after five years). Using that information, a study conducted by Warranty Direct (an independent British insurance specialist) found that the Leaf drive train is 0.255/0.01 =25 times more reliable than internal combustion engines. This is, however, somewhat misleading because today’s conventional cars are amazingly reliable, especially compared to a 1973 Pinto. They found that out of 50,000 conventional cars aged 3-6 years old, only a quarter of one percent “had an issue that led to an immobilization of the internal combustion engine.” This finding appears to have led Glass’s (Britain’s used car guide) to conclude:

“They [Leafs] are good enough that, as an expert in this field, we will be looking again at our residual value forecasts for LEAF and probably revising them upwards. Long-term battery life has been a definite concern for used EV buyers but the new figures from Nissan effectively remove this worry.

“Really, Nissan has gone through a process with the LEAF similar to Toyota with the first generation Prius several years ago, where the cars had to be proven in real life conditions before used buyers could feel confident. Now, the Prius enjoys excellent residuals and the LEAF should start to find a similar level of market acceptance.”


By Russ Finley on Mar 3, 2015 with 18 responses

Turkey Point Power Station and its Ecosystem


Photo Credit Nina Finley

I recently took a trip to Florida, which is home to both the American alligator and the American crocodile.  Thanks to effective laws and effective enforcement of those laws, the alligator population has rebounded into the millions. They’re all over the place. In comparison, the crocodile population has rebounded from an estimated low of about two or three hundred to about 1,500. Crocodiles were never as common in North America as the cold-adapted alligator. The opposite is true in South America where there are no alligators. Click here to see a video I took several years ago of crocodiles in Costa Rica.


By Russ Finley on Jan 26, 2015 with 119 responses

Google Engineers Conclude that Renewable Energy Will Not Result in Significant Emissions Reductions


Graphic from Stockholm Resilience Centre Study Combined with Pie Chart of WWF Study

Back in 2007, Google assembled a team of engineers to investigate the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The effort ended in 2011 with the conclusion that it can’t be done with existing technology. Two of the engineers on that team wrote about their efforts in Spectrum Some excerpts from that article:

Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known as RE<C [Renewables less than Coal], which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do. The company announced that Google would help promising technologies mature by investing in start-ups and conducting its own internal R&D.

At the start of  RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope—but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed.

As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.

So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.

We’re glad that Google tried something ambitious with the RE<C initiative, and we’re proud to have been part of the project. But with 20/20 hindsight, we see that it didn’t go far enough, and that truly disruptive technologies are what our planet needs. To reverse climate change, our society requires something beyond today’s renewable energy technologies. Fortunately, new discoveries are changing the way we think about physics, nanotechnology, and biology all the time. While humanity is currently on a trajectory to severe climate change, this disaster can be averted if researchers aim for goals that seem nearly impossible.

The key is that as yet invented sources have to be cheaper than fossil fuels. The problem is that existing scalable low carbon energy sources (nuclear and renewables) are all more expensive than fossil fuels, which I’ve been pointing out for years. They make a stab at explaining why wind and solar are more expensive but trust me, their explanation will largely fall on deaf ears when presented to renewable energy enthusiasts who either don’t want to hear it or are incapable of comprehending it. They argue that subsidies for renewables and nuclear to compete with fossil fuels are essentially a financial penalty to fossil fuels which simply shift their use to another part of the planet (export of oil, gas, and coal, along with manufacturing jobs).


By Russ Finley on Nov 17, 2014 with 116 responses

New IEA Study: Least Cost Scenario has Nuclear as the World’s Largest Source of Electricity by 2050

An article in Grist about the same study had a different headline: “How solar can become the world’s largest source of electricity.” From the study:

The hi-Ren requires cumulative investments for power generation of USD 4.5 trillion more than in the 2DS, including notably PV but also wind power and STE (Solar Thermal Energy).

The study also notes that, in theory and given enough time, power systems that don’t burn fossil fuels should eventually pay for themselves with fuel cost savings (which is also a trait of nuclear). See Figure 5 below.


Figure 5 from IEA Study