Category Archives: environment

Reflections on building my own solar panels

Over the last decade solar energy has gone from the hobby of oddball engineers and rich eccentrics to a viable way of generating energy for millions of people. Unfortunately, I live in Bolivia, a country where almost nobody uses solar electricity and it is difficult and expensive to import solar panels. Out of curiosity, I wondered whether I could get solar energy by building my own solar panels. I spent a couple weeks investigating how to make my own solar panels online and I would like to share what I found with anyone else who is thinking of building do-it-yourself (DIY) panels.

The idea of being able to generate my own carbon-free energy is very enticing. I live in a country where solar energy only comprises 0.25% of the national grid’s electrical capacity and bad public policy is currently deepening the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. Perhaps my desire to build a solar panel are born out of my sense of frustration at the powerless I feel to change the dirty development and environmentally-destructive policies being promulgated by the Bolivian government. I feel like I have to do something, however small it may be, to resist the relentless march toward the destruction of the planet and humanity’s role in that destruction. In this context, the idea of being able to build my own solar panels and participate in the democratization of energy is very empowering. Continue reading

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The ecological challenges of Tesla’s Gigafactory and the Model 3

Many electric car advocates are heralding the advent of Tesla’s enormous battery factory, known as the “Gigafactory,” and its new Model 3 electric sedan as great advances for the environment.  What they are overlooking are the large quantities of energy and resources that are consumed in lithium-ion battery manufacturing and how these quantities might increase in the future as the production of electric vehicles (EVs) and battery storage ramps up.

Most of the credible life cycle assessment (LCA) studies for different lithium-ion chemistries find large large greenhouse gas emissions per kWh of battery. Here are the CO2-eq emissions per kWh with the battery chemistry listed in parentheses:
Hao et al. (2017): 110 kg (LFP), 104 kg (NMC), 97 kg (LMO)
Ellingsen et al. (2014): 170 kg (NMC)
Dunn et al. (2012): 40 kg (LMO)
Majeau-Bettez et al. (2011): 200 kg (NMC), 240 kg (LFP)
Ou et al (2010): 290 kg (NMC)
Zackrisson et al (2010): 440 kg (LFP)

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Bolivia invierte menos en energía renovable que otros países sudamericanos

Bolivia ha invertido menos en las energías renovables que los otros países sudamericanos en la última década, a pesar de que el articulo 379 de la constitución boliviana especifica que “el Estado desarrollará y promoverá la investigación y el uso de nuevas formas de producción de energías alternativas, compatibles con la conservación del ambiente.”

La gran mayoría de la electricidad de Bolivia viene de la quema de gas natural en termoeléctricas y este porcentaje ha crecido rápidamente durante la administración del MAS. La capacidad de las termoeléctricas bolivianas ha crecido de 958.39 megavatios al final del año 2006 a aproximadamente 1999 megavatios al final del 2016 (todavía no tenemos datos oficiales del Ministerio de Energía para el año pasado).  La administración del MAS sólo ha agregado 13 MW de energía solar, 27 MW de energía eólica,  60 MW de bioenergía y 12 MW de energía hidroeléctrica en la última década. En total, 112 MW de energía renovable fueron agradados en comparación a 1040 MW de energía sucia de combustibles fósiles. Continue reading

Obama’s mediocre record on the environment

Obama was both good and bad on the environment, and we should be honest about his record, rather than mindlessly praising him, since he appears so much better than the Republican administration that followed him.

On the one hand, Obama did some good things:

  1. Got additional funding for renewables and clean tech in the 2009 stimulus bill,
  2. Talked a lot about a Green Jobs program at beginning of his term, but only got it partially funded by the stimulus, because Republicans blocked it afterwards, so he gave up on it after 2 years.
  3. Worked hard to extend the incentives for renewables and had to negotiate with intransigent Republicans to do it,
  4. Dramatically increased the fleet fuel efficiency standards,
  5. Drafted the Clean Power Plan and tried to get it implemented despite Republican obstructionism,
  6. Implemented a hiatus on leasing coal on federal lands,
  7. Drafted new rules to prevent contamination of streams by coal mining,
  8. Negotiated bilateral deals with China and Canada/Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  9. Signed the Paris Agreement and did not work behind the scenes to block it.
  10. Appointed smart Secretaries of Energy and other administrators, who helped promote alternative energy, clean transport and clean tech and approve the infrastructure for clean tech.
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Questioning the rosy predictions about the transition to autonomous electric vehicles

The Stanford economist Tony Seba and tech investor James Arbib just released a report entitled “Rethinking Transportation,” which makes an number of predictions about the impact that autonomous electric vehicles will have on the demand for vehicles and petroleum. Many of these predictions are based on faulty assumptions about human behavior and a misunderstanding of the auto supply chain.
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My struggle for an adequate ideology

I often struggle to name a political or economic philosophy which defines my beliefs. In Bolivia, where I reside, I don’t like to call myself a “socialist,” because that would align me with the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party and I strongly disagree with a number of their policies. I agree in some concepts of anarchism on a local level, especially the anarcho-syndicalism of Latin America a century ago, but I see anarchism as a hopeless ideology for governing. Anarchists essentially assume that humans are good by nature and will do the right thing if freed from the coercive power of the state. I don’t see this as a viable philosophy for confronting the concentration of wealth and power that governs today’s society. Noam Chomsky, who is probably the world’s most renowned anarchist, observes that dismantling the state in the face of concentrated corporate power is suicide and we currently need an organization like the state to protect against organized corporate interests.
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Questioning the moral authority of the Catholic church

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas recently decided to sever its ties with the Girl Scouts. Instead, the Archdiocese will support the American Heritage Girls troops, which is a Christian-based scouting program. It is decisions like this which alienate me from my Catholic faith and make me question why I should invest much time or energy in organized religion in general.

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