Oh, Now We’re Blushing
I read the Daily Grist of Jan. 9 and laughed out loud, was outraged, and laughed again. I was moved to finally contribute. I’ve been getting your newsletter for a couple of years and recommend it all the time. I’m a professional tree hugger, and literally have my head in the trees, so I need you to tell me what the rest of the environment looks like. Thanks for always doing it with such wit and heavy sarcasm. You guys are great.
Re: Enough to Make Your Lead Spin
Thank you, thank you for the story on lead poisoning as an environmental, not medical, problem. Of course it’s an environmental problem. Now, if we could only see cancer in the same light — another disease that is clearly an environmental problem. I’d love to see some articles which make that point.
San Francisco, Calif.
There Are No Mad Veggies
Left out of your article on mad cow disease is the best option for human health, the environment, and the animals: Go vegetarian. Major diseases such as heart disease and many types of cancer are highly connected to meat and dairy eating. Meat and dairy agriculture destroy the environment by using too much water and polluting soil and water. The animals suffer tremendously both while being raised and during the slaughter process. For more info go to GoVeg.com.
Delray Beach, Fla.
Even Madder Than You Thought
I take issue with the authors’ list of dangerous parts of a BSE-infected cow. They only mention nervous tissue; they fail to mention that the lymph system, eyes, and intestines are a demonstrated threat. In Britain, people who received blood transfusions from donors infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are now sick themselves. Obviously, blood contains prions too. Blood and lymph travel to every cell of the body, including muscle tissue (i.e., meat).
In addition to elk and deer, cats, minks, monkeys, and chimps have been infected with the disease, but regulations still allow cows to be fed to pigs. Pigs are similar to us biologically. Their organs can even be transplanted into our bodies. It is asinine, then, to believe that pigs would not be infected as well.
It is not known how the disease spreads so quickly in deer and elk populations, but the most frightening theory is that it spreads by way of saliva or urine. If urine or saliva can contain prions, then why would we assume milk is safe? Remember, the BSE-infected “Christmas Cow” was a dairy cow.
I would advise those truly concerned about this public heath threat to read Deadly Feasts, by Richard Rhodes.
Jersey City, N.J.
Re: Little Solar Houses for You and Me
This is info from a layperson: In the 1940s I lived in Miami Beach while my husband was stationed there as part of the armed services. Our apartment building had solar air-conditioning and water heating. It worked beautifully, except on cloudy days when we hooked into the electric grid. After retirement, we moved to Florida from New York. I wondered why solar power was not being used any longer, especially with the problem of global warming. It is efficient, clean, and effective. Could it be that the power companies had a say in the matter?
Delray Beach, Fla.
Solar Skeptic No. 1
The energy-efficiency work of the Vote Solar Initiative is a worthwhile use of revenue bond money, but photovoltaics usually can’t pay for themselves.
If we install a kilowatt of PV for $8,000, including the PV panels, mounts, inverters, and labor, and maybe generate in San Francisco some 1,500 kilowatt-hours per year at $0.13 per kWh retail, we get $195 per year to pay for an $8,000 capital cost. So we would pay off the system in 40 some years if we didn’t have to pay interest on the money. We can’t afford to pay the interest on the bonds unless we subsidize the PV with quick-return energy-efficiency projects.
That is fine with me as long as we are honest: Energy efficiency is just too plain for most people, so we sex it up with PV. Just remember that it is energy efficiency that will save the world, not PV, until the cost of PV panels drops by a factor of 5 or 10.
Moss Landing, Calif.
Solar Skeptic No. 2
I have been an advocate of solar power for many years, but, as Amanda Griscom indicates, the cost of solar is currently prohibitive for the average consumer. I would love to have a solar-powered home today! Just tell me where I need to go to get it at a price I can afford!
Barbara J. Barnes
Adam Browning replies:
Dear Bob and Barbara:
Bingo! You hit the nail on the head. Solar is expensive — that’s why we have to buy it. Let me explain: Solar is a mature technology in an immature industry. It hasn’t enjoyed quite the same level of government support and subsidies in the 50 years since its invention as the coal and petroleum industries. What’s necessary to bring down the cost of solar is to build economies of scale; the price history of solar shows that its price drops roughly 20 percent for every doubling of demand. Costs have come down more than 70 percent since 1980, but clearly we still have a ways to go. Vote Solar’s premise is to use whatever tricks we can — such as bundling solar with energy efficiency, which has a quick payback — to grow the market, increase demand, and allow the industry to build economies of scale. You are correct, Bob — energy efficiency does give the biggest bang for the buck, but we will always need to generate some electricity. If we want solar to be cheap in the future, we need to buy it now.
By the way, I noticed that both of you are writing from California, a state which has a very generous rebate program for photovoltaic systems. Check here for more information, especially the Clean Power Estimator, which will give you an idea of costs and payback scenarios for your locale.
Moffroid vs. Umbra, Round Two
Re: Tank You Kindly
I just read Umbra’s response to a letter regarding tankless water heating. I wrote a few weeks ago suggesting tankless water heating as an environmental alternative to putting a blanket on a storage tank water heater, and you were kind enough to publish that letter. I hope that this time the response can go a bit further so that Umbra can truly help educate (and not misinform) the American public on the pros and cons of tankless water heating.
1. “From what I understand, though, on-demand heaters do not thrash tank heaters when it comes to efficiency.” The term “efficiency” is used to determine the percentage of gas that is used to heat water vs. the percentage that is lost up the flue. Of course, this is roughly the same for all gas water heaters. However, it should be noted that storage tank water heaters decrease rapidly in efficiency as sediment accumulates on the burner, so in a few years the efficiency of a storage tank water heater can go from 80 percent to 50 percent (a tankless water heater maintains its 80+ percent efficiency for its lifetime). The “Energy Factor” is used to actually determine the efficiency of a water heater. This test is run by the U.S. Department of Energy and simulates a day’s use of hot water in an average home. Then it measures the amount of gas burned for producing the same amount of hot water. The most efficient storage tank models have an Energy Factor of .65. Tankless water heaters start at .69 and top out at about .87. Solar and heat-pump water heaters are much higher. Therefore, tankless water heaters do “thrash” tank heaters when it comes to efficiency.
2. “On-demand heaters may not suffice in homes where two hot water taps are running simultaneously.” This myth dates back to when European models of tankless water heaters were imported into America, although they were designed for European homes. For many years now, tankless water heaters have been produced in Europe and Japan specifically for the American market. One company in America sells a tankless water heater that can produce 13.2 gallons of hot water per minute. A typical shower is 2.5 gallons per minute. In other words, as long as people buy the right model for their home, they’ll have no problems. (It’s actually most storage tanks that can’t handle two hot water taps running simultaneously. If they could, people wouldn’t be able to relate to the idea of taking a cold shower.)
3. “Models where a pilot light burns constantly may be a gas-savings wash when compared with gas tube-tank heaters.” First of all, many gas tube-tank heaters also use pilot lights. Secondly, most tankless heaters do not (most have electronic ignition). And thirdly, a pilot light costs about $25-30 per year to operate. The average savings of switching from a 40-gallon natural gas water heater to a natural gas tankless water heater is $91 per year (according to DOE calculations).
Controlled Energy Corporation
Salute a Solar Patriot
Re: Tank You Kindly
I read your piece about tankless water heating and noticed you didn’t mention anything about geothermal water heating.
Our house is solar-powered, with electric geothermal heating and cooling. We elected to install a water heater jacket on our geothermal heat pump, which heats water from the geothermal heat pump cycle. We actually capture some of the waste heat of cooling the house and use it to heat water. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been monitoring our house and reports an average Coefficient of Performance of 1.6 for our electric hot water system. For those of you not familiar with COP, that means we get 160 percent of BTU output for the electric BTU input consumed by running the heat pump — heat pumps appear to violate the efficiency rules because they pump heat from one source to another. In other words, considering the 90 percent efficiency of electric water heaters, our geothermal assisted water heater is almost twice as efficient.
This saves our family about $100 per year (43 percent) compared to our water heating with standard electric water heaters. Furthermore, since we are a solar house we also use solar hot water panels to provide the bulk of our water heating and use the geothermal system as supplemental (backup) for those snowy, cloudy winter days. This saves us an additional $80.
All in all, we are saving about $180 per year for water heating. In other words, it costs us only about 12 cents per day to heat water, when it used to cost 65 cents per day.
The Solar Patriot House
Kerry: Environmental Heretic
Re: Kerry Forward
John Kerry’s hunting soured me on him as a candidate. How can such a man have compassion for God’s creatures when he goes out to kill them for fun? That is not the man I would want as president. Let’s find somebody else.
Florham Park, N.J.
Kerry Is No Kucinich
Re: Kerry Forward
While I respect Denis Hayes for starting Earth Day and raising American consciousness about our planet, he’s got to be kidding! “[N]o one has been a stronger, more consistent champion of peace over the last three decades than” Kerry? The man who voted to give Bush the power to prosecute the latest American aggression? Sorry, Mr. Hayes, but Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate who has stood up against this immoral war from the beginning when few else would, who would immediately bring American troops home where they belong, and who would immediately cut the bloated military budget by 15 percent (for starters).
On the environment, Kerry might have a 96 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters, but let’s analyze what this really means. First, the League of Conservation Voters is a very conservative environmental group, so it’s not hard to get a high rating. Senator Feinstein regularly scores in the 90s, and she’s a millionaire developer! (Technically, it’s her husband who’s the developer, but they both profit handsomely from it and she supports the developments.)
Meanwhile, Dennis Kucinich calls for a fundamental shift of public policy that will protect both our future on this planet and our tax dollars: zero cut, zero extraction on public lands. He is the only candidate who takes this strong of an environmental position — no one else is even close. Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate who would end public lands logging, the only one who would end the government-financed killing of wildlife (at the behest of ranchers), saving both public land ecosystems and millions of taxpayer dollars, the only candidate who would end public lands mining and demand that private corporations pay for the cleanup of toxics left by mining companies, the only candidate who would enact policies to encourage reuse and reduction of mined material and encourage “mining” of our landfills instead, and the only candidate who believes that complete protection of our public lands from exploitative industry is necessary for environmental, economic, and human health.
In conclusion, instead of complaining that his friend has not gotten the support he supposedly deserves, Mr. Hayes should be asking why Senator Kerry has not taken stronger environmental positions. If he wants my support and that of other real environmentalists, he must stand for an end to private exploitation of our public lands, immediate removal of American troops from Iraq, and significant cuts in the bloated military budget. Only then would Mr. Hayes’s contentions be somewhat correct, though that position would only make him as good as Dennis Kucinich, who is going to get my vote.
San Francisco, Calif.