2011 Wind Market Report from LBNL

Lawrence Berkeley National Labs has put out a report on the state of the wind energy industry, as of the end of 2011.  I didn’t realize that the price trend had been so uneven over the last decade.  The cost of wind power was dropping in the early 2000s, and then rebounded, peaking in 2008/2009 due to shortages in the turbine supply chain, before again dropping in the last year or two.  I started looking into these prices because I’m reading a Renewable Energy Policy by Paul Komor (2004) and the prices he quotes ($40-$50/MWh) seem low, relative to the numbers from Xcel’s ERP and the recent bids I saw in Michigan (more like $60/MWh), but the book was written right at the wind price bottom.  I’m also shocked at how wide the spread in costs is, even in just the last couple of years.  California is paying $100/MWh for huge projects, and in the wind belt some projects are coming in more like $25/MWh.  That’s got to be largely policy driven, and it indicates we’ve got a woefully inefficient market for wind.

Timelapse Arctic Icebound Eyes

The human timescale isn’t appropriate for climate change.  We can’t see it minute to minute.  Day to day.  Year to year.  Like watching an analog clock, you never see the hands move, and yet time passes.  We need more time lapse eyes.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder automatically generates this plot of arctic sea ice extent (and many others) every day:

It’s probably not horrifying unless you’re a geoscientist.

Continue reading Timelapse Arctic Icebound Eyes

Rethinking the Economics of Traffic Congestion

The Atlantic Cities takes a look at the Economics of Traffic Congestion.  It turns out that congestion is positively correlated with per-capita GDP, and there’s little evidence to suggest that traffic congestion ends up inhibiting economic development significantly.  In their words it’s nothing more than a metric of how convenient it is to drive an automobile.  But many cities still insist on “Level of Service” as a metric of success in their transportation master planning process, under the assumption that congestion must necessarily be bad for the economy.

Google Street View for building energy efficiency

Essess is doing drive-by thermal imaging in high density urban areas across the US, hoping to target possible building energy efficiency opportunities.  Another company is using urban satellite imagery to choose the best rooftops for solar energy siting.  Big Brother may be watching you… but at least occasionally he’s got the right idea.

Parking Price Elasticity in San Francisco

Prices affect parking less than San Francisco expected, in its ongoing SFPark experiment, fully implementing dynamic parking prices with target occupancy rates.  Apparently people are willing to pay quite a bit more to be right next to their destination, instead of even one block away.  Either that, or they don’t realize how much parking prices vary block by block.  Perhaps each of the parking kiosks should have a prominent street-facing display, readable by drivers, advertizing the price they charge per hour?

Automotive Death Revealer

We hide many of the financial costs of our automobile culture, such as the exorbitant true price of parking, but just as much, we hide the cost in human lives.  By far, the most common source of violent traumatic injury and death in the developed world is our beloved motor vehicle.  In the US alone, every year 10 times as many people are killed by cars than were killed in the World Trade Center attacks, 10 times as many as have been killed in the Iraq war.  Every two years we kill more Americans with vehicles than we did in all of the Vietnam war.  Every three years, more than WWI, every ten, more than WWII.

Why do we deem these losses acceptable?  They aren’t inevitable.  The UK, Iceland, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland all have vehicular death rates less than half of our 12/100,000 people per year (which puts us on par with Bangladesh…).  We can re-design and re-build our cities and our streets to avoid this carnage, for a fraction of the cost of our ill-fated War on Terror, and many other governmental actions supposedly undertaken in the name of keeping us safe.  Safe from threats which do not really exist, in a statistical sense, but which loom large in our monkey minds.

Would it be different if we left the corpses out on the roads to rot?  If we hung the out skeletal remains as a ghastly reminder?  Some software developers in Moscow are trying to do just that, with a mobile augmented reality app called the Death Revealer:

(via Copenhagenize)

On the Economics of Mass Transit and the Value of Common Sense

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight thinks about what we ought to measure when comparing public transportation options.  Does Modesto, CA really have better public transit than New York City?  There are a lot of measurable quantities, but only some of them are interesting.  In particular, it’s not the absolute convenience of public transit that matters — rather, it’s transit’s relative convenience compared to driving alone that determines how people get around.

CycleTracks for iPhone and Android

The San Francisco Transportation Authority created a mobile app to collect bicycle route/usage data called CycleTracks.  It’s open source, and we’re thinking it might be fun to adapt for use here in Boulder (and elsewhere) to better understand how people really get around by bike.