Monday, June 29, 2009

Electricity Load Reduction

I am just reposting an article from Penn State Newswire about Electricity Load Reduction tests conducted on campus. Penn State is a large commercial facility, with several thousand employees and tens of thousands of students on campus. In that sense, a 10% reduction (details below) is a fairly large amount if it can be sustained on a regular basis.
Electricity load reduction test a success

Last week, employees and students across Penn State's University Park campus were asked to simultaneously turn off all unnecessary electrical devices for one hour as a part of a regional electricity load reduction test. The test was a success -- the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) recorded an average reduction in electricity usage of 10 percent (3,700 kw).
The success was attributed to the many employees and students who cooperated by turning off unnecessary equipment and to OPP workers who made system-wide adjustments behind the scenes. The peak reduction for the hour was an impressive 15 percent (5000 kw) at 4 p.m.

Read the full story on Live: http://live.psu.edu/story/40286/nw63

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Guest post: Is public transportation (or the lack of it) a CATAstrophe?

The following is a guest post by Bhaskar, who authors the Speak Out blog. An unabridged version of this article can be found there.

In this economic downturn, and automotive industries taking such a hard hit, many people are talking about alternative sources of energy, hybrid vehicles, solar panels etc. I understand it is necessary to invest more in this resource. I find it really hard to digest the fact that the automakers-GM, Chevy who once ruled the market and profits in America are now really on the debacle, filing for bankruptcy. Obama government is doing all possible things to save this industry.
However, the idea of this post was not to discuss possibilities and changes that could be brought out. I am trying to focus on the public transportation system in my city- State College, the home of the Pennsylvania State University, a highly acclaimed university.

Its better to invest in public transportation, mass transit facilities, rail lines etc, than to focus on bringing newer cars into the market. We do have a buses in State college that helps people travel from place to place. However, we need to realize that State college is merely an university town and most people staying here are students.
CATA, as they call it,stands for Center Area Transportation Authority. The best part of this system is that the buses run clean, burning compressed natural gas. Hence, I feel that in a small way, we are trying to be eco-conscious. However, I am against this system for the fact that its too expensive to ride the bus.

I tried working out a balance sheet for the month and this is what I found.

Buying a pass for the month on the CATA line : $ 49
If you own a car and drive to school daily, (You anyways pay for the car insurance even if you do not drive to school), then
cost of fuel for the entire month= $25
Parking cost at the univ = $8 /month
Total= $ 33

This results in a saving of $16 a month. Which on an annual basis reflects to about $185.

This just goes to show that CATA bus service is really expensive. For a transit system that is funded by the county or the state, these services must be cheap. Infact, in many universities, local bus rides are free if you flash your ID.

So what motivates me against taking the bus?

If I drive to school, I can leave home at the time I want. This means that my schedule does not depend on the bus timings. Also, I get to save 15 to 20 bucks a month, depending on how much i drive.

If you are a staff at PSU, you definitely earn more than students, and CATA charges them just 5 bucks a month on the monthly pass. How logical is this?

I'd rather burn more fuel on my car (which I feel sad to say since I am an automotive engineer), but then I am justified in doing so.

Is there a solution to this?

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Monday, June 1, 2009

The role of energy in organic farming

I love listening to NPR. One article featured in their Morning Edition related to Indian farmers going organic in Punjab, the "breadbowl" of India. You can download the mp3 here. This post presents some of my comments on the article.

The farmer who the reporter talked to reportedly switched to organic farming because he was getting marginally diminishing returns with each application of pesticides and fertilizers. This means that to maintain crop yields, one must use more pesticides and fertilizers every year. Now, I do not find anything wrong with using fertilizers and pesticides, as long as they are used wisely. However, farmer literacy about agrochemical use in India is sorely lacking. Moreover, the government subsidizes fertilizer prices for the farmers, thereby indirectly contributing to their overuse. Additionally, because the cost to the farmer varies directly with both unit cost of fertilizer (which has not been changed for many years, despite the wild swings in energy prices over the past 9 years) and the quantity consumed, even an increase in the amount of fertilizer/pesticide used per unit area can be a financial burden to the farmer. Therefore, in some cases, it makes sense to go organic altogether.


However, as the Punjab State Farmers' Association report noted, widespread adoption of organic farming will likely lead to short-term food shortages, because of reduced yields in the most productive farms. Therefore, I think that India should slowly shift away from farm subsidies, promote organic farming -but not to the extent that it would lead to short-term food shortages, and finally promote smarter use of resources, both agrochemicals as well as water. Examples include growing crops which fix nitrogen along with crops which require nitrogen, such as beans with wheat, and soybeans with corn.


"Environmental groups in India estimate that more than 300,000 farmers like Sharma have switched to organic growing methods in recent years, or have started the transition from conventional to organic farming. Comparisons between India and the U.S. are difficult because their economies and cultures are so different. But consider this: India has about three times the population of the U.S., but 30 times more organic farmers than the U.S."

The average farm size in India is a fraction of that in the U.S.

Nitrogen fertilizers are a double edged sword because firstly, the production of ammonia (from which most urea-based fertilizers are made) emits CO2 (by processes such as naphtha steam reforming). Moreover, after the nitrogen fertilizers are applied to the soil, the urea is oxidized to nitrates and nitrites. When fertilizers are over-applied, these nitrates are washed off into rivers, causing algal blooms and utrophication. On the other hand, the Haber process for the manufacture of ammonia is credited with increasing the crop productivity in many parts of the world. This is a question for future world leaders: How do we balance the need to feed our growing population with the need to promote smarter use of resources and prevent unintended consequences?


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