How much are the boats?

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For those baby boomers who grew up during the cold war and remember vividly WWII, a story came out this weekend that is sure to have people scratching their heads as they think back to the past and think to the future of possible geopolitical solutions involving the still vast oil and gas resources in the Middle East.  Haaretz newspaper published an article outlining how Germany initially retracted a $382 million discount for Israel in the purchase of three missile boats built to sell to Israel to protect its gas rigs.  Highly political, the reneging came about over breakdown in Palestinian/Israeli peace talks and EU sensibilities.  With diplomatic loops being played all the way up to the head of state on the German side, the discount was re-credited.

Those knowing basic history might remember that the mid 1940’s saw the official end of ownership not only to German oil fields of North Africa, but also of her occupied colonies.  (Fossil fuels were lean up to this point-  during the latter part of the war Germany was using wood biomass to keep some residential vehicles moving!). At the same time, the Soviets came rushing into Germany/Eastern Europe as an occupier.   And many Jewish immigrants coming from Germany went through a war of their own to settle into what has turned out to be a very fossil fuel rich region.

With almost three-quarters of a century of nationalistic developments since, and as diplomacy politics often go, the motives of Germany’s move this year to retract and then reassign the discount for Israel run the gamut in the comments section of the Haaretz article. Probably one of the more solid tidbits to go along with ideological EU ‘decolonization’ pressures being put on Israel is the idea that a recently aggressive Russia (i.e. Georgia and Ukraine) close to home may be prompting desires by EU/Germany to help keep Israel safe due to its natural gas reserves.   While Germany itself has dropped nuclear and gorged on solar and now offshore wind, it is the underpinning of the EU’s cohesion and may see Russia’s strong market position on gas pricing (at least in the short run) as a danger to Europe- especially going into abnormally cold winters for the continent.  And Israel’s generous gas position is in the context of an unpredictable Iran as a neighbor in the Gulf.

Read the article, and comments, and see what you think!  Feel free to make comments after the article or on this blog to promote discussion.  Along with the twists and turns of national relations having been astounding the last century, one of the more fun things of this speeding age, I think, is the ability for anyone (with a username and password) to put their brain noodling – regardless of understanding and background -up on comments after articles (and in blogs…)

Rocket Man, burning out your fuel up there alone …

For those of us who are Baby Boomers who grew up with Elton John music, this is a perfect line to apply to our next workshop- Rocket Stoves. (Actually, according to amiright.com, Elton sang ‘burning your fuse up here alone…’).

Anyway, on October 31 after supper,  from 5:30-9:00 p.m. you can get out of taking the kids trick-or-treating by coming on over to the Harper Building of UAF’s  Aleutian Interior Campus on Geist Ave. and building two rocket stoves to take home (as well as get a manufactured one to take as well).  We will look at some commercial models and a slide show from Jim Scott of Alaska Sustainable Agriculture of how one was made to heat a shop/home.  Rocket stoves are favorite devises for campers or shops where a person is present to reload small amounts of biomass which burn very efficiently by 1) burning just the tip of the fuel, 2) insulating the burn pot for a hotter burn 3) burn up the flue gasses before they exit the stove.  If you have any any questions on this workshop, call Carmen at 474-5854.  Registration is available online.

Oh – and if you have to take the kids out for Halloween, you can still catch the Saturday 9:30-1:00pm

‘House of Waste’ gives home building ideas for recyclers

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I was forwarded a nifty 8 minute YouTube from our Associate Director demonstrating ways in which repurposed building materials have been utilized in Britain. They have taken materials from deconstruction, as opposed to demolition, projects and found unique ways of using their composite properties in providing insulation and load bearing strength to a new building. Even using outdated materials that had a different purpose (such as VHS and Cassette plastic/tape), the demonstration gives hope that 1) seemingly obsolete materials may have a second purpose and extend their useful life and 2) less energy can be spent from landfill operations in burying old items. Here in Fairbanks the transfer stations have set aside areas for recycling, and old doors, hot water heaters, toilets, etc….. are often set aside specifically for a second user as people update and remodel their homes. And if you look online, there are even retail stores that have now begun with selling old style bricks with the mortar clipped off, old drywall already painted, insulation, and specialty door knobs/cabinet handles. The downside to collecting these materials in good shape is that much more time is used, and municipalities might incur more liability with a job site that remains open longer. So, often it is the cost of labor on tearing apart, sorting and delivering formerly used materials which makes deconstruction vs. demolition cost effective. Watch the video and see what you think of repurposing!

Rural energy conference completed

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This year’s Alaska Rural Energy Conference came to a close Thursday with a wide variety of topics covered and various policy leaders, vendors, tribal/municipal power workers, utilities and service agencies attending.  Cooperative Extension had a booth with various publications, as well as some working models of rocket stoves to display.  The conference started daily with a large session together, and then folks had a choice of one of two breakout sessions of panels before lunch with two slots of panels after lunch.  Topics ranged from how utilities price electricity, how waterplants use electricity in a community system to latest technologies in battery storage. Extension presented an overview of how oil displacing technologies and conservation measures are being employed in about 40% of the State’s school districts (this topic generated a good amount of discussion).  The conference occurs every 18 months and is run by Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) with assistance provided Alaska Energy Authority (AEA).  If you could not attend, keep your eyes open on ACEP’s website for videos of each session in the next couple months!

Japan and Alaska Gas

While efforts to build up infrastructure for North Slope natural gas to be distributed amongst Fairbanks residents is consuming much of the Borough commissioners’ time, State government has been busy strengthening ‘intentions and mutual cooperation’ about liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments with Japan through memorandum of agreements. Gov. Sean Parnell signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in September state positive terms per LNG exported from Alaska. Though this is not a contract it does keep things moving so that there are meetings and continued communications. Japan has had to diversify its fuel stocks since shutting its nuclear power plants down the last couple years since the Fukashima meltdown, and natural gas has been on the top of their list in replacing nuclear. Though not known by many, it is U.S./Japanese fuel exporting that large in part provoked Japan’s aggression against the U.S. almost three quarters a century ago when Dean Acheson pushed for barring exports of precious oil from Japan’s war machine in Asia (1940). Japanese Prime Minister Konoye even offered to secretly meet after the fact on behalf of Emperor Hirohito with a willing FDR in Juneau among other places to ease sanctions and remove Japanese troops out of China, but other American politicians -and ironically Chiang Kai-shek – foiled the effort. Tojo then replaced Konoye and headed the drive toward Pearl Harbor….. the rest is history. Fuel is important and moves nation’s destinies!

Air quality and wood energy discussed this weekend in Fairbanks!

For those in Fairbanks, there are free lectures this weekend by guest Utah Physician for a Healthy Environment, Dr Moench. He will address the health effects of wood-smoke and PM2.5. In light of Proposition 2 – “Home Heating Initiative” – on the ballot this October, this is one way to become informed about “the biggest public health concern facing our community at this time — our Air Quality”. The publicly open sessions will be at 2:00 PM Noel Wien Library Auditorium in Fairbanks, and then 6:30 PM – North Pole City Council Chambers. Join to learn and discuss, for your lungs’ sake!

Roads westward may deliver cheap energy in Alaska

The State AIEDC is currently working with communities that may be effected with a road built out to Ambler. Possible communities nearby the road are weighing in- Allakaket, Alatna, Bettles, etc… The main purpose of the road would not be citizen transportation but rather a route for mining minerals and delivering the extracted material to market. Yet probably the most appealing advantage, other than cheaper local goods, is cheaper energy available to villages that could be served from spur words off the main road. Communities see the bad as well as good that the culture and products that the riches of the Trans Alaska Pipeline brought in, and those effects are being debated in public sessions by locals as well as outside interest groups. Time will tell whether the road is built and whether the current plan to increase gas on the North Slope for the Interior may also make cheaper fuel available to the villages nearby this proposed road.

State Fair and disasters

Well, having gone down for the opening day of the State Fair in Palmer (mind you, there are several ‘State Fairs’ in Alaska by claim), there has been quite a few people who now have information about how the changing climate is effecting wildfire danger, how flooding damage can be prepared for and mitigated, and what to prepare for any evacuation that suddenly is required. Meeting many people, I was able to converse with many from out of state as well as residing in Alaska about basement flooding, mold issues, defensible space of vegetation around a home, etc…. If you haven’t gotten to the fair yet, stop by the 4H building on the red moose trail!

Utilization of geothermal power around the globe

To many it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the U.S. usurps the largest percentage of geothermal for energy when looking at the overall world utilization of the resource. Yet where would you expect the other four largest utilizers to be? Well, for overall use it would be: Germany, Spain, China, and then Brazil…Nations that are or were ‘superpowers’ in the world at one time, and the majority being from the Northern Hemisphere. Yet A co-worker here at the state Cooperative Extension office looked the five leading nations in terms of the largest share of their overall domestic energy production coming from geothermal, and surprisingly most came from the Southern hemisphere. Yes, Iceland with its small population and position sitting on a northern volcanic section led the way. But following were those in South or Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Equador, etc.. Its interesting to look at energy resource utilization (NOT necessarily the same as resource presence) from a Human Geography point of view. What hemispheres would you expect to dominate utilization of solar, wind, hydro, etc… from a world composite use or national domestic use point of view? One place to poke around and investigate is the Energy Information Administration http://www.eia.com- though this is a U.S. sponsored site, the front article this morning opens “Russia-China deal will supply Siberian gas…”. The World Bank looks at world figures at http://data.worldbank.org/news/eatlas-of-global-development-released and http://www.iea.org taps into the International Energy Agency data. Check these locations out and grab some impressive stats to impress your friends!

Potential power for small villages

Rural Alaska is not the only location with stranded resources, lack of gridded transportation routes or distribution challenges. In June I was able to meet folks at a conference on applied energy who have some of the same difficulties in getting power to their people. A teacher in South Africa spoke with me about the use of micro hydro electric components in the mountains where fresh snowmelt created creeks and rivers. A leader of a post secondary energy think tank in Pakistan spoke of efforts to provide heat and power in the mountains with biomass, and in many other parts of the nation with below surface hot water. Here is a photo another Extension colleague sent to me of some of the conditions up in the northern mountains (of Pakistan): http://www.voanews.com/content/pakistan-villagers-find-creative-energy-solutions/1870177.html. It’s interesting to see in this clip the style of community pooled turbine where a village is supplying for themselves what they can afford with their immediate resource (hyrdo here). Also the locally installed power distribution wires…. The solutions we consider for ‘off grid’ cabins and homes distanced from the railbelt/road system may just be what other rural places with similarities to rural Alaska call microgrid! The search is on for finding technology that matches the local resource and fuel capacity….

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