Ride sharing for everyone coming out of Brussels


In light of our current Don’t Be Fuelish work, I wanted to mention another transportation effort to reduce vehicle fuel consumption.  The inventor of Uber taxi system, Travis Kalanick,  has been calling on  European Commission regulators to talk about solving urban  traffic and parking problems.  He’s been urging common residents to a phone app which leads to a proto-type cab service for  those who are in need of a ride. Kalanick has stated that “We’re making our case but also learning what it’s going to take to bring our kind of innovation to many cities here in Europe”.

Uber style of driving is serving many in  San Francisco and even a dozen and a half cities in China currently.  People  driving into work could conceivably  pick somebody up for a bit more gas money  while adding to less congestion, being less polluted and not having to spend a tax dollar to do it!

It has been popular enough to be valued at $62.5 billion dollars.  It isn’t so easy everywhere though….steep regulatory hurdles exist in Europe. Uber  has argued the service isn’t illegal and some of its proponents are adapting  it to the chauffeured transportation sector (larger than the taxi transportation services combined).  Some cities like Anchorage are passing municipal rules to keep Uber from operating (for a variety of reasons).  Yet if you travel to another large city, download the app and try it out to get your own impression!

Germany pushes the engineering envelope….


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Headlines in Bloomberg’s on Monday stated: ” Germany just got almost all of its power from renewable energy” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-16/germany-just-got-almost-all-of-its-power-from-renewable-energy).  Solar, wind  and hydro were supplying the energy used. As stated, 42.5 Gigawatts of it’s demanded 42.8 Gigawatts were taken care of at 2pm Sunday afternoon.   I don’t know if it was a particularly windy or bright day, but as the article alludes,  this is a very dynamic event and likely to not be reproduced on a regular basis for right now.  Since solar and wind are up and down in supplying energy throughout a 24 hour period, there always has to be other energy sources that can immediately be put online and metered- like coal as Germany has been largely dependent on the last couple years.  Some source has to be able to be the go between of high-low demand swings throughout the day, and between high-low production/generation hours.  Also, electrons are borrowed and siphoned off from/to other countries along the continental grid system.

So it is a mathematical representation that backs  Germany’s claim of  receiving all of it’s energy needs from renewables  at 2pm on May 15th.  As analyst Monte Depraetere stated, “If Germany was an island, with no export cables, this would be technically impossible because you always need to have some thermal generation running as a back up supply for when the wind or solar drops off”.

Don’t be fuelish is off to a bang….


We have about a dozen or so entries currently on this year’s Don’t Be Fuelish competition.  The Borough has been working of getting flyers which have calendars for you to mark your miles on.  The flyers will be available to all participants yet this week.

A few weeks ago I saw past Mayor Luke Hopkins at a workshop and he encouraged those present about the program.  It really is up to each participant how much they will carpool, bike, run/walk to work, etc…. And as long as there are others in the workplace interested in doing the same we can have them as an entry!

Call Art at 474-6366 if you know of other workplaces interested in competing.  While it runs from April 1- September 30 for a good half a year applicants can start later and have the miles adjusted for the amount of time they participated. Appreciated!

What is in the water??


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Following up on a call asking about the water composition at rural hot springs, there was related information to the local arsenic problem.  As a part of the drinking water section of the Extension Healthy Homes Partnership curricula I get calls about water quality coming out of wells.  Questions about Iron, Manganese, and more recently Arsenic are called in.

The hot springs call asked whether reports were around showing the water composition from analyses that might have been done in past years. From knowing what was in the water at what concentrations, it was hoped that there may be an answer as to what has prevented corrosion in the black iron pipes which port the hot water into the lodge.  (A co-worker told me that when operating, the ambient hot water was used for everything- even the commode which was very disconcerting!).

A local engineer who mitigates Arsenic mentioned that when exposed to Iron in well water form (at a ratio of 1:16) the Iron will cling to the Arsenic and the two then can be pulled out together when the Iron is filtered out.  In this case, a knowledgeable geologist who studies metal migrations in ground water mentioned that often hot springs waters have a high concentration of Manganese, Zinc and other chemicals which tend to snatch up the Oxygen up right away; thus it never gets to the iron piping freely to oxidize and create corrosion.  While most people are putting salts in their well water to ‘soften’ it, it is worth keeping in mind that finding the correct mineral combinations, you may be able to ‘take out’ roaming chemicals! There are a couple water treatment system vendors and two labs you can take water samples to in Fairbanks if you are interested in cleaning up your water!









Mining energy in Alaska



Mineral and energy source extraction for a cash asset has a relatively short history  (just over a century and a half) in the state, yet it has grown from largely individuals to industrial scale in the past century.  Recent popular stories in the news of sparing between government officials has been on both the individual level (Chicken area miners a few years back conflicted over water discharge) as well as the corporate level (Pebble Mine winning a court case against the EPA for withholding public documents).  Both courts and agencies have been active in Shell’s offshore exploration, and certainly Congress has been in the mix with ANWR which will be another lively topic most likely in this year’s elections!

Whether gold, copper, coal or oil corporate operations in Alaska are in the spotlight, off to the side are many individuals and partnerships who make a living (at least for half of the year) through efforts on working claims throughout the state.  The Alaska Miners Association had their bi-annual International Arctic Mining Symposium here in Fairbanks about a month ago, yet monthly they have a Friday breakfast at the same location (Carlson Center).  Today the topic being Practical Alaska Camp Energy Solutions.  These operations often need to have fuel and combustion implements for cooking, heating water and space heat.  Whether from traditional off grid sources like solar/wind or from masonry heaters there are solutions that can work for both seasonal as well as year round operations!  If you are curious, give a call to my office (474-6366) and I can send a copy of photos from this months presentation.

International Green Energy Conference

The first time in the U.S., Anchorage will sponsor the IGEC this Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton hotel.  Guests from Turkey, China, Malaysia, Canada and various universities in the U.S. will present on their topics of research.  Many will be catching the tour to Seward the day before, and others will be getting a tour of the UAF Experimental Farm on Tuesday afternoon before the final evening banquet.


The conference opens at 8am with an address from Sam Gingerich (UAA provost), Annie Zeng of the Confucius Center, and Sean Skaling of Alaska Energy Authority. Breakout sessions will go from there.  Many tech sessions follow.  If you are interested in attending, call Art at3220-2309.


Rural Energy Conference 2016

This week the UAF Alaska Center for Energy and Power will be hosting their every 16 month rural energy conference.  It begins tomorrow morning at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks.  It runs through to Thursday of this week and will have over 4 dozen unique speakers.  You can read more about it at: http://www.akruralenergy.org/program.html.  There has been focus the last year or two on grid vulnerability in the Lower 48 through possible cyber attacks and events from outside sources.

Alaska has the unique distinction of being its own ‘microgrid’ and that has some security, but also some challenges in electrical generation and distribution particularly when looking at the state as a whole.  The ‘railbelt’ has a type of coordinated workings, yet rural communities are often on to themselves when it comes to fuel transport and power balancing through a community.  If you can’t make it to the conference, be sure to see the videos that are put up each year at akruralenergy.org/past ;  and contact Max Frey at mefrey@alaska.edu with any other questions!

Don’t be fuelish!!

Here’s your chance to get to work while improving your cardiovascular system- and the community’s respiratory health!  Organizations around Fairbanks are competing with each other in the annual “Don’t be Fuelish” competition. Employees can save the most fuel traveling to and from work without driving alone in a motor vehicle. The organization with the best combination of saving fuel when ranked by a weighted average of total miles, miles per capita, and days per participating employee will receive the prestigious Fuel Can Award.

The competition began today (April 5) though people can log back to  April 1 through September 30.  To save fuel for your workplace, you can car pool with a co-worker or neighbor, take the bus, bike, walk or run to work. You can even use a combination of these methods to get to work. All you need to do is keep track of the number of miles you save by using a fuel-efficient commute and record those miles on the handy Don’t be Fuelish Calendar, and at the end of each month report your non-fuelish ways on the supplied form. To determine the winner of the competition, we will tally the results to determine which group has the least fuelish employees. Miles you save on your commute using the above mentioned methods helps your organization in pursuit of the prestigious Fuel Can Award.

So join us in this effort to save fuel this summer, keep the air cleaner, and keep you fit. Any effort you put into this will help. Keep in touch at https://wordpress.com/page/dontbefuelish.wordpress.com/1.

Indoor air quality in the Spring

I was in a village on the Yukon River last week assisting the Environmental Specialist on testing for Carbon Monoxide and Radon.  After flying in as the end of the line (due to volcanic ash diverted the plane back to Fairbanks rather than continuing on down river to its original destination) the tribal office truck picked me up and we were off home to home.  Most of the HUD homes had a HRV unit right inside the back entry way by the boiler rooms. A couple already had a carbon monoxide alarm in place, yet they were the style that would set off an audio beeping when the level was above a certain level.  (Typically, 30 parts per million (ppm) is the point at which someone should be concerned, leave the area, ventilate and check combustion sources).

We were instructing folks how to put into place continuous monitors which have a red LED light displayed with the current value. They are plugged in typically to a 110v outlet, yet if there is an outage, there is a back up 9v battery. These homes used propane cook stoves as well as fuel oil boilers.   We also were  putting into homes charcoal sashes that collect radon gas for analysis at a lab about a week later.

In the evening we had a session which was loaded with about a dozen and a half people.  We covered ventilation, moisture control and energy efficiency as well as the properties of Carbon Monoxide.  All in all, it was a good visit and chance to drop off home evaluations from a healthy homes perspective!






Today Brent crude oil went just above $40/ barrel.  Roughly, a barrel of #1 heating oil provides just over seven MBTUs (Million British Thermal Units).  A third of a cord of Birch, and a half a cord of Spruce would roughly be equivalent to a barrel of oil in raw BTU’s.  (This is not taking into account the moisture content of wood, or the size for the smooth feeding of wood into a furnace).  From a utilitarian view, processed fuel oil is quite a bit easier to deal with as it flows to the burn chamber uniformly (and you don’t need to worry about drying for optimal BTU value like wood).

On the road system, fuel oil is running as little as $1.53/gallon. Thus with about $85/barrel you can get the same rough BTU’s with an equivalent of $170/cord of Spruce and $255/cord of Birch.   Burning efficiency will not yield all those BTU’s.  It  depends on what you are burning in and how you have dried/handled the wood.  With oil, you have to get your own container, pump and haul it- yet if you were collecting wood you would probably have to get your own truck/trailer, chainsaw (running off gas) and haul it.  Spillage of oil can become a hazardous waste whereas spillage of cord wood is just a big pain to pick it all up and stack it again.

While fuel oil is a concern for some per carbon emissions (with wood being carbon ‘neutral’ in many accountant’s eyes) there are problems with wood smoke particularly with  incomplete combusted wood stoves which are a air quality concern for others due to the particulates.

So, one of the key factors for many Alaskan’s of whether they will heat with oil or wood comes down to location, available time and personal preference.  Those inland off the road system may be surrounded by wood that is an actual liability (as wildfire fuel) and may be looking at almost double the price of oil delivered to their tank due to the transportation cost to fly or barge in the fuel. There may also not be pressures to keep down emission levels from inefficient wood stoves in such rural places. Plus there may be unstructured time in the day to ‘tend fire’.  In the city, it is easier to trust the oil tap to keep the BTU’s flowing to the furnace during the day (or may also have natural gas to do the trick) as well as knowing that you may be contributing to the global carbon scene yet keeping the local air clean.

With the shifting fuel prices the last couple years, have you changed your heating source?  For any reasons give?


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