Wire rope transmission in 1896. Source: Stadtarchiv Schaffhausen.

Kris De Decker at  Low-tech Magazine has published a fascinating article discussing rope drives, a 19th-century technology that was used, especially in Europe, to transmit power over shorter distances. This method of transmission was actually “more efficient than electricity for distances up to 5 kilometres” and even today “would be more efficient than electricity over relatively short distances.”

De Decker makes an interesting connection to the spread of small-scale renewable energy production and suggests a possible role for a technology such as the endless rope drive:

“In spite of [some drawbacks discussed in the article], power transmission by ropes might have a place in our energy systems. Today, there is a trend towards small-scale, decentralized power production, based on renewable energy sources. These solar panels, water turbines or wind turbines generate electricity, but whenever we need to produce mechanical energy, eliminating the step of generating electricity could result in a somewhat less practical, but more efficient use of energy.”

De Decker thinks that “If we used modern materials for making ropes and pulleys, we could further improve this forgotten method.” He illustrates his article with many photos of 19th-century installations.

ARB — 4 April 2013

A very useful presentation on the world energy situation and its connection to economic activity. By Gail Tverberg, a researcher and actuary. Veers unnecessarily into darwinist ideology, but only briefly.

Our Finite World

A friend asked me to put together a presentation on our energy predicament. I am not certain all of the charts in this post will go into it, but I thought others might be interested in a not-so-difficult version of the story of the energy predicament we are reaching.

My friend also asked what characteristics a new fuel would need to have to solve our energy predicament. Because of this, I have included a section at the end on this subject, rather than the traditional, “How do we respond?” section. Given the timing involved, and the combination of limits we are reaching, it is not clear that a fuel suitable for mitigation is really feasible, however.


Energy makes the world go around

Energy literally makes the world turn on its axis and rotate around the sun.

Energy is what allows us to transform a set of raw materials…

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I’ve heard a lot of people say that we shouldn’t listen to the “deniers” of man-made global warming, and that the media shouldn’t give them “equal time.” I’m going to step out of line and say I think it’s good to pay attention to the arguments of those who disagree with the consensus view on climate change.

My thinking on this issue has partly arisen while participating in a discussion in the “Green Group” on LinkedIn. (Not sure whether a non-member can view the group and its discussions.) I’m here repeating some of my comments from that discussion.

Science has it own motivation for improving its work, but I think the contrarians, the misinformers, and the misinformed provide added incentive to make the science better. They also add incentive for science communicators and journalists to do a better job communicating with the public about the science and its inferences.

Just a little example from my own work. I’ve heard many of the misinformed raise the objection, How can CO2 as a trace gas cause such a problem? And isn’t CO2 beneficial for plants? I remembered studying this in earth system science, but I didn’t really know how to make the case for it, and I couldn’t find any really accessible article to refer people to. So I did some investigation and wrote an article for it on my own column: “Carbon Dioxide — How Can One Little Molecule Be Such a Big Troublemaker?

The point is that the misinformation gave me an incentive to do a better job of communicating.

ARB — 25 Dec 2012

I’ve discussed this question before over on ThomasNet Green & Clean — see my piece “The Climate Change Controversy — What’s It Really About?

However, I’m meditating on a somewhat different way to articulate it. I should say that I don’t think this controversy is essentially about science. I’m not persuaded by ill-informed or politically motivated assertions, but I don’t use terms like “hoax,” “anti-science,” “pseudo-science,” or “denialism” in connection with the argument.

My current thinking is the following:

The climate change controversy is about a high-stakes struggle between science in the service of eco-socialism and misinformation in the service of free-market fundamentalism.

I’m engaged in an ongoing development of my thinking on this topic and will no doubt circle back to it. But I just wanted to pin down that idea.

ARB — 2 Nov. 2012

Power plant in FinlandRecently I’ve been writing a series of columns on climate change over at ThomasNet Green & Clean. Although I do talk about the scientific arguments around human-caused global warming, I’m also interested in this issue as a social controversy, that is, what is it that drives people to one side or the other of the question? (Photo: Power plant, Finland. Credit:eutrophication&hypoxiaCC BY 2.0)

Here are links to each of the articles up to now:

Does the Public Really Believe Humans Are Causing Climate Change?

All This Wrangling Over Climate Change – What’s Up With That?

The Climate Change Controversy – What’s It Really About?

So, Have They Figured Out That Global Warming Is Real?

ARB — 19 Dec. 2011

I thought this was an interesting and useful infographic highlighting the growing U.S. solar manufacturing business. Right now, it shows a $5.6 billion industry that imports $3.75 billion, for a $1.9 billion trade surplus.

I wrote something about the growth of the solar industry recently for ThomasNet Green & Clean — see “How Will U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Affect Expansion of Solar Energy?

Infographic shows US solar industry trade surplus

AB — 15 September 2011


Tracey Schelmetic at ThomasNet Green & Clean today throws some much-needed cold water in the face of affluent consumers who think they are helping the environment by driving a hybrid SUV or building a 5,000-square-foot “green” house:

The Ford Escape Hybrid, considered the most fuel efficient hybrid SUV on the market, gets about 32 mpg combined. This is about the same as a Toyota Yaris with a traditional engine, and far below the efficiency of a Honda Civic Hybrid, which gets 42 mpg combined.

She also takes a swipe at Whole Foods, along with some comments that will please Trader Joe’s fans:

Sitting in opposition to Whole Foods is more environmentally minded chain Trader Joe’s, a company preferred by many eco-minded shoppers. Keeping an eye on the most important factor in a green business – building size – Trader Joe’s operates out of far smaller buildings. Stores tend to average between 8,000 and 12,000 square feet, compared to Whole Foods average store size of 50,000 to 80,000 square feet. Trader Joe’s also pledged to eliminate all GM foods from its shelves in 2001, and by next year will sell no seafood products that are not sustainably sourced.

AB — 2 August 2011