Sunday, May 6, 2012

Electric Genes

I am a frequent poster on Seeking Alpha on energy subjects, especially about batteries, renewable energy, and the follies of (most) electric vehicles. I have been fascinated with energy projects my whole life; pre-high school I was inspired by a project in  Engineers Dreams to siphon the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea and make huge amounts of electricity. Forty five years later, Dead Sea Power is still active, still a great idea, but still not built.

Electricity is in my genes. I have occasional fantasies of running a PV-powered vehicle on Criehaven island, which is not totally crazy. Trying to propel EVs (electric vehicles) at 70 mph over 200 miles per charge is crazy and pure hopium; investors falling for that fairy tale will lose.

On the other hand, occasionally driving a small vehicle slowly over short distances on an island with difficult (and expensive) access to fossil fuels is an example of a (very) small niche that might be suitable for EVs. Electric off-road vehicles ("4-wheelers"),  off-road motorcycles, and some utility vehicles do exist.

My great-grandfather, George Krementz, was an electric aficionado.  He electrified his jewelry factory, one of the largest in the country, before AC power was available; he generated his own DC power in Newark NJ in the 1890s. When the factory was closed in the 1980s, some of the original 19th century equipment still had their original DC motors, which had huge, ancient AC-DC converters so they could run off todays' grid.

One of my great grandfather's prides was his electric delivery car. Well, I actually have no idea if he was proud of it or even how well it worked; all I know there is an old family photo of the car, emblazoned with "Krementz", which was used for deliveries in New York. Electric taxis came to NYC in 1897.

Krementz was known then, beside uncompromising quality, for complete vertical integration. I smile thinking that he had his own coal powered generator to run his car.  A century later today's EVangelists still run their EVs from coal, too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Trivial but Very Important News

Usually the idea of the government reducing waste is a good thing. The Post Office, the black hole of losses that "makes money" by delivering junk mail you don't want, is a prime example of incompetence. FedEx and UPS usually work better, cheaper, faster, and is profitable so it pays taxes.

My alma mater, Harvard Business School, has it own post office - even though it is just a few hundred yards from the Harvard University post office, and another 0.3 miles in the other direction. No news if this waste will be shuttered.

However, the bureaucracies ashore have rightfully decided that Matinicus deserves to live. Hip, Hip, Hooray! Our post office is much than mail. With our own zip code, UPS and FEdEx can deliver to Criehaven and Matinicus. It give our lifeline airline a steady cashflow, helping to ensure its continued viability. Our trivial little post office's survival is Very Important News for islanders - and shows how hard it is too reduce government.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Goodby, Ammonia

This posting is the obituary for

It has been a long time since I posted about the island wind-to-fishing-boat-fuel project. I do not see any way for this project to move forward. A few of the reasons:

1 ) Technical Risk - There are three times the technological risk investors might be interested is.

1 - The technology for running internal combustion engines well with NH3 is still quite aways away. I do not see any fundamental obstacle, but it will need several million dollars of engineering.
2 - The technology of solid state NH3 synthesis is still very early. Will it scale, will it be robust, will it be economic, and most important, will it work? All unanswered questions. Some physicists doubt the process will work anywhere close to being effective.
3 - Can wind, not supported by a grid connection, be stable enough to provide sole power to both the communities and NH3 production facility? Large wind turbines are designed to attach to the grid, and cannot generate power without a grid connection.
2 ) Bureaucratic Risk - This project would have required tremendous efforts to overcome bureaucratic inertia, so-called do-gooders, NIMBYs, BANANAs*, and random naysayers. Cape Wind has been battling for a decade to put a few turbines in the water near Cape Cod, and still has not started construction. There is a ruckus about the Vinalhaven turbines; right or wrong it creates uncertainty in the approval process. Getting community acceptance and governmental approval of a significant NH3 storage facility would be problematic.

3 ) Financial Risk - Funding for many green projects is getting ever more difficult. Convincing investors than our offshore communities are stable enough to service the debt will be challenging. There has not been strong enthusiasm for the project, which further increase the perceived financial risk of the project.

In summary - risk, risk, risk.

RIP, sustainable local energy self-reliance. But who knows what the future will bring.

* NIMBY - not in my back yard
BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Making waves

I had a very interesting visit this week to Ohmsett, a huge wave testing facility in New Jersey. Resolute Marine Energy, who I mentioned about a year ago, is testing one of their wave energy conversion (WEC) devices there.

Ohmsett is four times a long as an Olympic swimming pool, and generates controlled waves at varying sizes and frequencies. Repetitively measuring output of their WEC with different waves, and adjusting parameters on the device itself produces reams of data. A little (or rather, a lot of) number-crunching later, they should have a pretty good model for some real in-the-water prototypes.

The first in-water tests should be next summer (2012) in North Carolina. We had discussed possibly doing some tests off Criehaven, but NC looks like a better opportunity for them. There definitely will not be any Criehaven tests in 2011; no plans have yet been made for 2012.

Resolute's shallow water design is meant for a water depth (MLW) about 10 to 40 feet - one of the tank testing goals is to decide an optimal depth. It is completely underwater, with a vertical "paddle" that oscillates with every wave. Since it is invisible from the surface, there should be little resistance from beach-goers and landowners, and deep enough to be a non-issue for recreational boaters. I think it will be a very useful technology for islands and some other off-grid situations. The Navy is quite interested for some of their island bases; they have a mandate to supply 50% of their shore-side power from renewable resources.

The obvious question: would this wave energy be appropriate for Matinicus? Maybe. The waving paddle clearly would not work tangled with lobster gear, so a dedicated "no-fish" zone would be needed, and respected. The no-fish zone to produce a useful amount of electricity might be 50 feet by 100 feet, parallel to the shore, in 20-40 foot depths, in an area with good wave action. It would not completely replace the diesel generators, but since waves don't "disappear" instantly (unlike wind), there would always be time to start the generator. My very rough guess (without wave data or design data) is that it could produce 90% of the winter electricity demand and 50-75% of the summer demand. However, unless the fishing community is 100% behind it, there is no point in pursuing it.

Does anyone have any estimates on how often we have no surf, winter or summer? Love to hear from anybody.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Televisions. So 20th century.

The Pew Research Center just published a survey of "luxuries" and "necessities". I still marvel at how small a minority I am. They listed the top 12 necessities, as reported in a telephone survey of 3000 adults. The list included a landline telephone (62%), microwave (45%), TV set (42%), and flatscreen TV (10%). The percentages refer to the number of people who consider these items a necessity. I don't own any of them, either on-island or on the mainland.

A car was considered the most essential (86%) necessity. However, of my five children, nephews and niece over age 20, none of them have a car or consider it a necessity.

A decade ago ago I had a TV, microwave and a landline. I don't miss them.

The New York Times write up is about the decline in interest in televisions, but also noted that 54% of Americans have three or more televisions; zero percent have zero televisions, according to Nielsen. I love being part of the zero minority.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This is a rather depressing view of the oceans. I hope this guy is wrong.

If the above video doesn't work, you may click on this:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Keep warm and save money with renewable energy!

Looks like a good idea happening on Vinalhaven by using the excess electricity for heating houses and saving money.  See for a summary.

Finally, the first in-water wind turbines were approved. The Department of the Interior approved the plan for Cape Wind, the wind farm in Nantucket Sound, to move forward. See