There Has Never Been a Better Time to Stop Using Non-Renewables, Ever

This is going to seem like a ramble, and I’m okay with that, but I think that something needs to be said. It’s time that we stop depending on the Middle East and despotic regimes like Libya for the oil we use to light our world. While we’re at it, we should also convert from using coal and natural gas to forms of energy that we’re not going to run out of to forms of energy that are essentially good forever. I mean, really – when solar power runs out, we’ve bigger problems to worry about then, don’t we.

Doesn’t this seem like such a no-brainer? Switching from a fuel that is going to run out to a fuel that will never run out?

In my perfect Utopian world that obviously only exists in my head, we harness solar fully in just three states, wind in just two states, tidal and wave on the coasts, and provide the necessary gear for people to very easily use solar and wind at home. I’m a lighting designer, and I imagine a world where every touring production travels with a truck that has a solar and battery setup to self-sustain the show’s power needs. Wouldn’t that be just awesome and amazing?

Those kind of systems exist now. Yep, that’s no bull.

You know what the really sick and creepy thing about all of this energy generation business is? We actually CAN do exactly what exists in my head. We have the technology, desire, and ability to turn our power from coal and oil to wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal, among other forms. But, as we live in a country (and on a planet) that is so addicted to non-renewables like oil and coal, a change like this can only come if we demand it. All of us. Together.

When a place like Libya undergoes a revolt like is experiencing now, everything goes to sh*t around the world. Gas prices skyrocket. Everything costs more because the price of oil goes nuts. I just heard on NPR a few days that a barrel of oil just hit $100 bucks on the market. It’s not expected to get much cheaper any time soon, either. How can we continue to keep doing this, folks? It’s not just our gas that’s going to continue to climb honed and higher, it’s going to be everything in our lives – electricity bills, heating and cooling costs, light and lighting, food, clothing, all of it.

Something that we cannot overlook now is the danger of nuclear power.  Our brothers and sisters in Japan are experiencing the repercussions of the dangers of nuclear power for light after this last unprecedented earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  Have you been watching the news about the fires happening at the Fukushima Daiishi and Daini plants outside Tokyo right now?  Wider protection zones are being requested and considered by high ranking officials around the nuclear power plants in Tokyo, we’re haring news about meltdowns, radioactive fallout, and radiation sickness dangers.  It’s not a secret that nuclear power plants are powerful – but if you compare the bi-products and danger considerations versus those for renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave, is the danger really that worth it?

When the earthquake and tsunami first hit, the stock market was all a buzz about how solar stocks would triumph in this moment of our time.  Now the same people are saying that oil, coal, and gas are making big leaps and bounds because of the earthquake.  How screwed up is it that people spend more time trying to profit from a disaster like the one that just happened and is growing ever stronger and worse, day by day?  Why aren’t we trying to get solar and wind power in there now to help people out?

Think of the amount of energy needed to harvest pretty much every single non-renewable – oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel – each of these methods requires several multiples of the energy actually gained just to make it in the first place.  Renewable energy sources require nearly no extra energy (or carbon footprint).  Why is this so hard for everyone to understand?

We cannot afford to rely on these non-renewables for our light any longer. We just cannot afford to be petroleum slaves anymore.  Our technological development in light is moving in the wrong direction when we base it on what coal, oil, and nuclear power are dictating.

There are so many advancements in solar technology happening right now, as well as with wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave power generation that it is staggering to think we’re not completely utilizing these sustainable sources of power. We are destroying our home with the mining of oil, coal, and natural gas.  Fracking, for example (fracture drilling for you Battlestar Galactica fans), has been proven to cause earthquakes.  Spent nuclear fuel (and live nuclear fuel for that matter) is so dangerous to humans that it must be buried deep underground to keep it away from us.  We have got to knock this stuff off and get involved in having a home that will be around for a long time. At our current rate, we are absolutely screwed.

Over the last few years as politicians have been lobbied by the CFL and LED manufacturers, we as lighting designers have all gotten our underwear in a bunch over being told we can’t use incandescents.  What sucks about that is that yes, it would be awesome to have a replacement for incandescent sources so that our light sources don’t draw a lot of power.  Well, my frank opinion is that if we were able to generate new electricity nearly free of cost, who cares what light sources we use?  Should we keep developing?  Of course.  Should we keep looking for an incandescent replacement?  Of course we should.  We should also work on improving our current power grid so that we have better distribution of power – it would stun your mind how many places across the country (and world for that matter) are operating on an industry-birth set of infrastructure that is as old as the industry is itself.  How much sense does that make?

Of course, what do I know – I only spend 8-12 hours a day looking at the advancement of light in our society.  I know we can do better, we just have to do it.  I want the best for us!  Most of all, I want us to start thinking sustainably – we’re not gonna make it if we don’t.  That is, of course, just my educated opinion.  But again, what do I know?

From the WTF File: Xcel Energy Drops Out of Colorado’s Solar Market

In a move that is less than popular, energy company Xcel Energy has pulled its support out of the Colorado solar energy market.  You might remember Xcel Energy from a story I wrote back in 2009 about how Xcel Energy was charging solar customers who were using their solar panels to make electricity but not drawing power from the power grid.  I thought that was kind of a pretty rude move.

This one is yet another unpopular decision by Xcel Energy.  I find it kind of hilarious that their catch phrase is “Responsible by Nature.”

So back in 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 37 – the amendment says that by 2015, Colorado’s energy market will have 10% of the total contribution be from renewable energy sources.  At the time in 2004, 95% of the energy coming to the grid was from fossil fuels (coal and gas), and only 2% was from renewable energy sources.  From an article at Inhabitat:

Ammendment 37 was passed by Colorado voters in 2004 and required that public utility companies set aside money for a renewable energy portfolio. A small percentage of that power needed to be installed on consumer roofs where demand was great. Many companies opened shop or grew as the price of solar was cut nearly in half. As prices for solar equipment fell, and Xcel Energy met Ammedments 37′s requirements, they have gradually been able to lower the rebate amount to balance the total cost, while still maintaining a predictable pricing scheme for customers. The rebate money comes from a 2% charge on rate payer bills.

Hmm.  So what exactly does the pulling out of Xcel Energy have to do with Colorado and its future?  Well, tons, actually.  Job losses are expected to be about half of the total renewable energy jobs in Colorado, which is about on par with the entire number of fossil fuel gigs in the state.  Again, from Inhabitat:

While the solar industry was relying on a stepped approach for reducing the rebates, their sudden elimination has put nearly every planned residential and commercial project on hold. Being a capital heavy industry many solar company’s cash flow will be severely restricted, limiting opportunities for distributed generation.

One such project that was finalized the day of the announcement puts solar panels on the Denver Rescue Mission by the nonprofit Atmosphere Conservancy in order to help them reduce energy costs. Executive Director Alex Blackmer said that three solar projects the Atmosphere Conservancy finalized would have to be renegotiated and may not go forward after the announcement. Hundreds of  halted projects  will result in real job losses for a workforce that today totals more than 5,300 people and growing. Early estimates reveal that half of these jobs will be gone – more than the total number of jobs in the coal industry in the state.

Energy companies across the world: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  One of these days soon, the population of the world is going to get its collective head together and bring you to task for this kind of bullsh*t.  It’s time for one of these corporations to stand up and man up in order to change our future.  Profits are just profits – you all already have more money than you can possibly spend in your lifetimes – how about helping the rest of us by changing the future of the planet Earth?

Where exactly is the disconnect here, Big Oil and Coal companies?  Don’t you realize that if you switched to renewable energy sources to push on the market that you would make unbelievable amounts of money that won’t run out?  Even my neighbor’s five year old daughter realizes this fact.

Perhaps we need to let companies like Xcel Energy know how displeased we are with their decisions.  After all, a corporation by definition has rights and privvies like US citizens do.  If we made poor decisions publicly, people would call us on them, or we go to jail.  If you are affected by this decision or if you want to let Xcel Energy know how it’s doing, you should send the company an email at inquire@xcelenergy.com.

Cree’s LMR-4 Modular LED

I have been so busy and accumulated so much content lately that I find myself playing catch up with some pretty great footage and images!

One such bunch of stuff is from LightFair 2010 in Las Vegas.  Tom Roberts gave me a pretty great introduction to Cree’s LMR-4 modular LED product.  I finally got the video cut together – check it out!  What a cool product!

And an update – Ginny from Cree made the following video about the LMR-4, which I recommend watching!

GOP Senate Tea Bagger Ron Johnson Thinks Sunspots Explain Climate Change

Wow.  This news is about a week and a half old or so, but have you heard what the Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson (also celebrated by the Tea Baggers) thinks the source of all of our climate change is in the world?

Sunspots.

Johnson thinks that there’s no way that man-made causes are to blame for climate change.  I mean, after all, he is supported by the party is named after something people do with balls.  He must be right on.  Here’s his quote from the Milwaukee Sentinel about the subject:

If you take a look at geologic time, we’ve had huge climate swings. We’re sitting here in Wisconsin. Had it not been for climate swings, we’d be sitting on a two or three hundred foot thick glacier. Man wasn’t around back then. So no, I absolutely do not believe that the science of man-caused climate change is proven. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity, or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.

The Middle Ages was an extremely warm period of time, too. It wasn’t like there were tons of cars on the road. So it always strikes me as a little absurd for anybody to think, Okay, this is the sweet spot in geologic time for climate. And it’s such a good place, that we have spent trillions of dollars, and do great harm to our economy, on a fool’s errand. I don’t think we can do anything about controlling what the climate is.

Amazing. I feel so much better about politicians now. The fact that he relates our economy to global climate change just kinda blows my mind.  If stupidity was a crime, this moron would be doing life in prison.

Here’s a couple of videos that you should watch to get a scoop on this craziness:

Also:

Damn.  If I were the Sun, I’d be horribly offended.  Seriously now – are we, as a collective population, REALLY stupid enough to be swayed by ridiculance like this?  Gosh, I sure hope not.

Thanks, Duke.

Crepuscular Rays. Know Them, Love Them.

My friend Millisa sent me this pic the other day, and it kinda blew my mind:

Those rays!  Holy crap!  SO BEAUTIFUL!  That’s the stuff that paintings are made of, right?  Funny enough, they actually have a real name and an explanation – they’re called crepuscular rays.  It’s kind of an unfortunate sounding name, don’t you think?  It sounds like something you’d find on the bottom of a ship cruising Lake Michigan.

Gross.

But the principle is very awesome – atmospheric optics dictates these crepuscular rays as beams of light that appear to emanate from one single point in the sky, from the sun.  A cloud, mountain top, or some other obstruction is what causes this phenomenon.  Honestly, it’s no different than the beam that comes out of a moving light, conventional light, or anything of the sort.  It’s a blockage – just like the aperture of a lighting fixture is a blockage to only allow enough beamage out of the light to make it diverge, or appear to diverge.  Like this:

There are also anticrepuscular rays, too – they are the opposite of crepuscular rays, and typically you have to have your back to the sun to see them.  Anticrepuscular rays appear to converge at the antisolar point, which is the exact opposite point in the sky from the sun.  Like this:

Cool.  I like to learn something new every day!

Thanks, APOD (1) and APOD (2)!

What is The “UV Index,” and Why Should I Care?

I was driving earlier this morning through Ontario on my way to Buffalo for a flight, and the sky was clear and cloudless.  It’s a little on the chilly side up there in the Buffalo area (at least it was at 7am when I was on the road), but on the CBC News I heard an anchor talk about a “very high UV index that will make being outside a little on the burny side.”

What?  I’m going to Dallas right now on a flight, and the UV Index is something that I’ve always just assumed was because we’ve polluted a hole in the ozone, and Nicolas Cage is going to have to deal with aliens like he did in that horrible movie about the sun burning up the Earth.

So what exactly IS the UV Index, how does it affect us, and why should we care?

Well, have you ever been sunburned?  How about melanoma?  Ever had a skin cancer scare?  Sun poisoning?  Blisters?  It’s the ultraviolet rays of the sun’s radiation that make our skin the color of a lobster when we’re out in it.  Did you know that overexposure to the sun can cause cataracts?!

Yeah.  I still love the sun.  That’s probably why I’ll look like a freaking leather catcher’s mitt when I’m 50.

There are three types of ultraviolet radiation:

  • UVA – makes it through the ozone layer
  • UVB – mostly absorbed by the ozone layer; some does reach the Earth’s surface
  • UVC – completely absorbed by the ozone layer and oxygen

Our Environmental Protection Agency has quantified the risk of the amount of UV exposure that we get on a certain day.  From the EPA’s website on sun exposure:

and something a little more helpful, from Wikipedia:

UV Index Description Media Graphic Color Recommended Protection
0–2 No danger to the average person Green Wear sunglasses on bright days; use sunscreen if there is snow on the ground, which reflects UV radiation, or if you have particularly fair skin.
3–5 Little risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Yellow Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with clothing and a hat, and seek shade around midday when the sun is most intense.
6–7 High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Orange Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen having SPF 15 or higher, cover the body with sun protective clothing and a wide-brim hat, and reduce time in the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon (roughly 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM during summer in zones that observe daylight saving time).
8–10 Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Red Wear sunscreen, a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat. Do not stay out in the sun for too long.
11+ Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Violet Take all precautions, including: wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with a long-sleeve shirt and trousers, wear a very broad hat, and avoid the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon.

I guess that extra four hours a day in the sun over a period of 30 years wasn’t so good for me after all, huh!

When you’re outside this summer, do yourself a favor, wouldja?  Put on some sunscreen!  I’m certainly not one to advocate for staying out of the sun – it’s my favorite source of light after fire!

Thanks, Dermis.net and J Grundy!

What Do You Think About the New “Lighting Facts” Labels?

So, the Federal Trade Commission (or the FTC, as we refer to it – or as Eminem says, “the FTC won’t let me be, let me be me, so let me see…”) has decided to add some “Lighting Facts” labels to lamps now.  Check these babies out – hopefully you say “hey, those are lighting nutrition labels!”

So obviously there are two labels here – one for lamps containing mercury, and one for lamps that do not contain mercury.

What do you think of these labels?  Quite frankly, I think there is some information missing, and I’m probably being overly anal about this – but it’s my blog, and I think it needs more stuff!  First, what happened to the colored “Light Appearance” graph?  Like this:

CRI, CCT, efficacy, maybe even the equation for people to figure out how to determine their own yearly energy usage cost per lamp based on their OWN kilowatt-hour price and usage hours per day.  Now these are things that I think would be important, no?  Granted I am a lighting nerd, but I really think that dumbing something like this down just drives down the intelligence level of our society.  What’s wrong with providing more information?  I mean, how many people actually give a damn about how much Selenium their McNuggets have?

My point exactly.  But we get to know about minute differences like that with food.  Why can’t we know about more detailed aspects of our illumination?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad that we have this now, being implemented in mid-2011, because it’s better than nothing.  From the FTC website on the matter:

Under direction from Congress to re-examine the current labels, the FTC is announcing a final rule that will require the new labels on light bulb packages. For the first time, the label on the front of the package will emphasize the bulbs’ brightness as measured in lumens, rather than a measurement of watts. The new front-of-package labels also will include the estimated yearly energy cost for the particular type of bulb.

Yeah.  It is definitely better measured in lumens, don’tcha think?  That’s my two cents.

Thanks to the Lighting Facts website and the FTC’s post on the subject.

Colin Rich is My Weather Balloon Photographer Hero

I just ran across this amazing video by a guy named Colin Rich – Colin has a great, cheap little weather balloon camera rig that he has launched twice now.  Colin’s rig, the Pacific Star, is a small box made of light material using two Canon point and shoots – one for stills and another for video.  The work is quite amazing – Colin was able to capture light from 125,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.

Beautiful.  Check out these two videos of the Pacific Star’s two launches – last one first:

Pacific Star II from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

Pacific Star I from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

David Gallo Talks Underwater Illumination at TED

Bio-luminescence in sea creatures is a phenomena that I have been interested in for some time – Mother Nature is an amazingly psychopathic mommy figure full of very interesting adaptations of human and animal behavior.  Things like bio-luminescence, Circadian Rhythm, and the body’s generation of Melatonin are all things that fall under this category.  Mother Nature,  you so crazy!

A scientist and underwater explorer named David Gallo talked at TED back in 2007 about this very phenomenon.  Check out the video below – you won’t be disappointed.  David says that we’ve discovered about 3% of our planet, and every time that we find a new place in the ocean, it is usually filled with exciting new discoveries.

Luminaire Efficiency Rating

This is not my typical Monday morning post type, but I cannot not share this article.

I just read a great article on Luminaire Efficiency by the awesome Craig Dilouie from the LightNOW Blog.  If you have any doubts on this subject, you should definitely read this article.  For those of you who don’t actually know who Craig Dilouie is, he’s the guy who’s written the Lighting Management Handbook, The Electrical Systems Design & Specification Handbook for Industrial Facilities, the Lighting Control Handbook, among many others. He’s also take a ride into writing horror stories!

Thanks for the great article, Craig!