Category Archives: environment

Questions about how to reform the electronics industry

A friend of mine asked me why I wrote a recent post about how capitalism has failed to produce a smartphone that I want to buy. Don’t I know that a socialist economy would produce far worse phones, so why am I complaining? Consumer electronics wasn’t exactly a strong point of the Soviet block countries or Maoist China.

I don’t want to live under pure socialism or pure Capitalism because they both lead to too much concentration of power in too few hands. Both are lovely in theory but both lead to dystopias in the real world, especially when practiced in their extremes. However, the vast majority of the world lives in a mixed economy. The real question in almost every society is what areas of the economy should be socialized and what areas should be run by private enterprise which are subject to governmental regulation and what should be the degree of that regulation.
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The planned obsolescence of smartphones

LG was the last major smartphone manufacturer to include replaceable batteries in its flagship phones, but it just joined the rest of the industry in pushing planned obsolescence when it recently released its G6 and V30 without replaceable batteries. Most people don’t buy the overpriced flagship phones, since they cost between $550 and $1150, but they are the reference where the industry is heading, since the features found in these phones will be commonplace in mid-priced phones in a couple years. Based on this year’s crop of flagships, we can expect most smartphones to have dual lens rear cameras, 9:18 OLED screens over 5.7 inches, bezel-less fronts with no physical buttons, glass backs, metal edge frames, and waterproof cases which enclose a non-replaceable battery.

A lithium ion battery lasts roughly 500 full charge and discharge cycles, before its capacity to hold a charge starts to noticeably degrade. If charged and discharged 100% every day, a cell phone’s battery will only last 1.3 years before it needs to be replaced. What degrades a battery is being kept at the extremes of 100% charge or discharge and being exposed to too much heat, which often happens when fast charging. A battery which is always kept between 80% and 20% of its full charge will last for 3000 recharge cycles or 6 times as long. Most people don’t charge and discharge their batteries 100% every day, but they do it enough so most phones batteries generally last around 2 years before the battery needs to be replaced because its ability to hold a charge starts to be significantly degraded. In other words, every high-end phone on the market today now has a life expectancy of roughly 2 years.
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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

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 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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