Monday, June 23, 2014

Keep Earth Colorful - because renewable energy preserves more colors than just green

The inspiration behind this project comes from an outdated term, "going green". The word has lost its meaning; perhaps it has gained new meaning as a utopian image that only the most naive or young hippies can adhere to. Going green meant keeping our blue marble the way it was.

Fortunately, the days of flower-headbanded hippies is past, and so are the days of longing for realistic potential for renewable energies. With technology and prices making strides unlike ever before, wind and solar energies are on a level playing field with coal power, and soon natural gas and nuclear. People across the world are starting to turn to renewable energy not because it's flashy, ethical, or cool, but rather because it makes sense.

Renewables won't just keep the earth green, they'll help keep the whole earth colorful. I present: the Keep Earth Colorful campaign.

To use these images, please contact Daniel Knuth at

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Arctic Blast -- Where's "Global Warming" Now?

Source: Wikipedia

The Polar Vortex

Turn on any news channel in early 2014, and aside from the apocalyptic threats and warnings, you'll hear another buzzword surrounding the terrible cold which brought temperatures well below 0°F for most of North America: The Polar Vortex. This sci-fi-sounding phenomenon sounds more like a minor-league hockey team than the driving force behind deathly cold weather, but don't let the name fool you. This vortex, although has had profound effects on the United States as far south as the Florida panhandle, is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the polar vortex always exists during the winter; it just normally stays in it home of the North Pole. So what gives, you may ask? How did this air make its way down well below 40°N latitude? This can be answered with another climactic index, the Arctic Oscillation.

Arctic Osciallation

Looking at the above picture, we can get a slight grasp of what this Arctic Oscillation (AO, for short) is. The AO is the general "shape" of the relative positions of semi-permanent high and low pressure sources in the northern latitudes. Over periods of anywhere from 3 to 20 years, these pressure balances greatly dictate the types of winters that we can expect.

In the positive phase (right), winter storms, which form over the northern Pacific/Atlatnic Oceans can be brought further north into Alaska and Scandinavia, making the winters there much more snowy. On the other hand, we can see that the jet stream does not dip as far south, meaning the winters most of us experience in the United States and central Europe are quite mild.

In the negative phase (left), the jet stream becomes amplified. This makes it possible to bring significantly warmer air to Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia, while the frigid arctic air down to the United States and central Europe. This is what brought the nasty weather we've seen in the first week of 2014. The negative phase can often bring with it more cold, wet, blizzard-like storms. Since in the late 1990s, we have been in the midst of a negative phase, with a record AO index set in the 2009-2010 winter.

So how about that "Global Warming"?

There are a few points that need to be addressed before any comments are made, whether they be for or against the idea of man-induced climate change:

  • Weather is not climate
This is by far the biggest confusion point you will see on both sides. Climate skeptics are laughing at the notion that the Earth is warming when in fact we are experiencing the coldest weather in roughly 20 years. On the other hand, if a climate advocate tries pointing to the record breaking warm winters we've had in the last 5 years, that too is merely weather. Our lives are simply not long enough to experience any change in our climate.

  • This weather was not all that abnormal
A classic argument advocating for climate change is that weather events will become more extreme. With the above information, although the cataclysmic news headlines and media firestorm suggested otherwise, we should note that what happened this week, although fascinating, is not new. The Polar Vortex has, and will continue to make shifts from the polar region down into the mid-latitudes that we call home. Also, there is a very good chance that the extreme cold was indeed a record-breaker. I therefore challenge you this: when was that record set? Chances are it was from a weather event dating back to 1988. On this date over 25 years ago, a similar storm, which started off by dumping more than a foot of snow in many parts of the country was followed by sub-zero temperatures that set the records that we now are beating today. But even that isn't that "extreme". Just 5 years ago today, it reached -20°F in Germany. Weather like this happens quite often, yes, but we should remember that again, weather is not climate.

  • Whether or not we're to blame, the Earth is always changing
Another key point to consider before engaging in a keyboard flame-war on the validity of the climate change theory is that the Earth is always changing. Climate is a tough issue to debate, as we have only been keeping formal weather records for around 150 years. Although things like ice cores have proven to be good sources of climactic history, there are well-documented concerns of factors which may make them inaccurate. Secondly, humans have only truly been affecting the Earth for about 300 years, since the days of the Industrial Revolution. With climate processes being on the scales of as much as 30,000 years, we can't be sure if what we're doing today is severely altering the course of naturally-occurring climate change. This time scale is the equivalent of a 1-year old baby eating an unknown food and wondering if it will make it unhealthy at the end of its life 100 years later. While evidence currently suggests that humans do have the ability to impact our Earth, not every single degree of change can nor should be blamed on a big oil company or a power company burning coal.

Making eco-friendly choices reduce a lot of the "what ifs" of climate change

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How conservative politics can help solve the energy question

Did a conservative politician just come to the table with a promising energy strategy? One that allows for both green and fossil fuels? Perhaps. Bob Inglis, who claims to represent "the reddest district in the reddest state of the nation" seems to have a plan that just might work. Inglis, a member of the Energy and Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank which claims to be a:
Campaign for Free-Enterprise
Campaign for Liberty
Campaign for Limited Government

Sounds pretty typical for a libertarian group, limit government and encourage a free market (which tends to not end well with energy). But with technology making the strides it has in recent years, their plan is starting to make sense.
The Reddest District of the Reddest State

The Plan

Inglis recently gave a TEDx talk in Jacksonville in which he outlined the key steps that he and the members of the Energy and Enterprise Institute believe would make for an effective energy future while limiting climate impact.

For those who choose not to watch, the plan of action can be summed up as:

  • Eliminates all subsidies for all fuels;
  • Attach all costs to all fuels; and
  • Ensures revenue neutrality to prevent the growth of government
  • Eliminate the EPA

While banning the EPA entirely seems irresponsible, the knee-jerk reaction to those involved in the energy debate might be an angry one. One would think that this is simply another oil-backed politician trying to make life more difficult for other forms of energy. But before the comments sections flare, let's take a look at the facts.


According to Bloomberg's Financial News, the governments worldwide appropriated approximately $45 billion for renewable energy. That number alone sounds insane, and could make for some great anti-renewable propaganda. But before attacking, let's play devil's advocate and ask if fossil fuels receive subsidies. The answer is yes, and according to the International Energy Agency, an autonomous organization of 28 developed nations, fossil fuels received approximately $410 billion in subsidies. An even more staggering number. But upon crunching some of the numbers, we see that these subsidies don't play favorite all that much.

Renewable receive roughly one-tenth the subsidies of fossil fuels because they represents roughly one-tenth of the United States' fuel sources (Institute for Energy Resource).

The discussion of the EPA could be left to an entire college course, but for starters, here are a few talking points to get the conversation started.

Inglis' support for policies addressing climate change costed him his seat on Capitol Hill in 2010, which he formed after spending time in Antarctica meeting and leraning with climate scientists there. A true shame too; Inglis appears to be a truly responsible and honest politician, something that D.C. can't seem to produce anymore.

Related: Warren Buffet making his voice heard with renewable energy

No one doubts that Warren Buffet is one of, if not the, greatest investors of all time. And as we learned in our basic economics classes, the best way to vote is to vote with your wallet. Given this, it may come as a surprise that Buffet recently invested $1 billion in wind turbines to be developed and used in Iowa, where wind is on the verge of becoming entirely profitable without subsidy. Buffet's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. is taking advantage of the natural resources in Iowa (read: flat land with nothing to block the wind) and improvements in technology made by Siemens and GE in one of the largest ever purchases of wind turbines, nearly 1000MW.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Free Market Fights Back in Arizona

As solar power takes off in Arizona, local utility companies loathe losing their share of the market

When photo-voltaic (solar panel) technology was first commercially made in the 1950's, Western Electric charged a cool $1500 per watt of energy for a cell that heralded an efficiency of 2%. It wasn't until the 1990s that solar power took off (related: Germany's 100,000 Roofs program), with much skepticism and opposition. Governments around the world took their respective routes in promoting the energy through subsidies, feed-in tariffs, and in the horrendous case of Solyndra, corporate backing.

Today, photo-voltaic technology looks to be the future of renewables as scientists make great strides in increasing its efficiency. From 2012 to 2013, the installation cost per watt dropped 25%. Germany, despite having the amount of solar potential as Anchorage Alaska, was able to get their over 50% of their total national energy demand from solar panels on a sunny day in May 2012.
Cloudy central Europe has made solar an integral component of their energy picture.
Today, individual rooftop solar systems in Arizona are capable of not only entirely satisfying their energy demands, but selling some energy BACK to the local grid. In the case of Arizona, the new "customer" is the Arizona Public Service (APS). This can be done through a process called net metering. As the idea gains popularity in some 40 states, critics cry out, saying that these rebate programs undermine the free market's ability to fix our energy needs.

APS, in order to preserve their funds, cut their net metered rates 3000%. Their newest plan is to charge its customers some $50 to $100 more per month to have access to the grid. Customers by the hundreds attended a town hall meeting voicing their concerns and pleas to keep the costs down and the rebates up. Some customers proposed organized attempts to remove themselves from the APS grid entirely, a move that ultimately hurts the utility's bottom line.
At current rates, the average Phoenix resident pays $1.40/month to fund the net metering program.
As the debate unfolds, I'll be keeping you updated on the APS decision and its impacts on U.S. Energy

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Welcome to Enlightened Energy

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” -Galileo

Welcome to Enlightened Energy, a blog dedicated to opening its readers' eyes to things they did not see before. While I am  studying Cartography and Atmospheric Sciences at Wisconsin, readers can expect to see and learn new things about our world, its people, and how we interact with it.


No one is denying the fact that there is only so much goal, oil, and gas in our Earth. The current strategy of the energy industry is search and exploit- find the new oil, "drill baby drill", then use it to our advantage. As time goes on, this strategy will become less and less effective and instability- economic, political, and possibly even geological- will rise.

Enlightened Energy is about discussing all types of energy: clean, dirty, and sometimes outright ugly.

Enlightened Energy will discuss the newest of the news in the energy industry, including everything from oil to nuclear, solar to politics, and prices to problems. Expect to learn the basics of how humanity's use of energy is changing in real time, including coverage on new policies, editorials on economic trends, and news of breakthroughs of the newest technologies.


Maps are pretty cool things. According to Penn State University, 80% of all information computers now process contains a location component. With maps, we can get a glimpse of where things are and hopefully get a better understanding. They also make for great complements to infographs.
Maps allow us to "see" numbered information. The Excel sheet this data came from would hardly mean anything to you, but in map form, you can see there is a definite cause for concern.

Not all maps are created equal. Both show temperature, but you can tell much more from the second map than the first.
You can expect lots of fun, interactive, and interesting maps covering a wide range of topics with Enlightened Energy. 


Agriculture is a $3 trillion industry. The most common crop loss is not insects or animals, but drought, frost, or rain. The weather affects our daily lives in numerous ways, from energy markets in the Middle East, to transport chains across the ocean and skies, and even down to Little League games in Smalltown, USA. Enlightened Energy will explore the quirks, trends, and news of atmospheric sciences.
If apples were as big as Earth, their peels would be twice as thick as the atmosphere.
Weather brings forth some of the most fascinating and terrifying parts of nature. It is also something we all as humans relate to. We all at times have the urge to tweet or post about the first snow, a crazy snow, or a prayer out to victims of a hurricane. Similarly, entire religions have been formed by humanity's fascination of what goes on above our heads.

With Enlightened Energy, I can only hope that what you read inspires you to view the world in a different light than you had before. So once again welcome and thank you for reading.