Our own Onya Cycles is teaming up with Betabrand to put together the world’s first 100% sustainable stunt: Eco-Knievel will perform a death-defying jump of an electric bicycle over a bio-diesel monster truck this May at Maker Faire.  Get excited!

XKCD inspired energy consumption visualization

This was a great illustration (thanks XKCD) / graphic to put radiation doses in perspective.

Here’s a couple of experiments in doing something similar for energy: xkcd-energy-1pc-blocks

and xkcd-energy-100W-blocks

Speaking at Green:Net 2011 – slides.


Spoke this morning at the Green:net conference (GigaOm) in San Francisco. Experimented with some new visuals on how to present the comprehensive view of energy consumption for an individual and data on city (San Francisco) energy use. Tried to give a different talk about what Energy Literacy would actually mean for various people.

Slides are here (thanks slideshare):

Green net-2011-show

View more presentations from energyliteracy.

Uncle Sam’s Dinner


We found this humorous and original way to look at the U.S. energy diet through a friend of, Henry Reich. Nice work, Henry!



Technology Diffusion Curves

Earlier this week, we wrote about embodied energy of buildings, and the concerns it poses when we think about legislating building efficiency measures. Today we take a broader view, examining economic limitations of any technology replacement effort, from rebuilding houses to replacing lightbulbs.

Suppose that high-efficiency washing machines are a necessary part of a low-carbon economy (as we believe they must be). Government tax write-offs are an effective way to encourage consumers to spend the extra money on these energy-saving machines. If the U.S. started an incentive program so effective that every consumer chose a high-efficiency machine over a conventional one, however, it would still take quite some time to replace all the energy-hogging washers in the country. Because they are such a large purchase, the vast majority of consumers replace their washing machine only when forced to do so by problems with the old machine’s operation. If you […]

Embodied Energy in Buildings

It’s been a while since you’ve heard anything from us at Energy Literacy, but rest assured, our minds are still on energy issues. Lately, we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about methodologies for doing reasonably accurate whole-picture energy audits using limited data (Think Saul’s energy project, but for any scale). Working with something as complex as the total set of energy flows through the city of San Francisco, for example, we’re bound to rack up all kinds of uncertainty in our estimates. We’re convinced, however, that these calculations are still helpful, even if only to determine the relative orders of magnitude of sources of energy consumption. Just these ballpark estimates can have a remarkable effect on policy conversations, directing focus towards the lowest-hanging fruit and dispelling arguments that have little long-term relevancy.

In that vein, today we talk about the embodied energy of buildings, a topic which is […] energy database

This site seems to have good statistics, good basic graphing functionality, and listed sources, quite comprehensive.

I was surprised that China produced almost 1/2 of the world’s coal in 2005:

United Nations Energy Statistics Database

The Energy Statistics Database contains comprehensive energy statistics on the production, trade, conversion and final consumption of primary and secondary; conventional and non-conventional; and new and renewable sources of energy. The Energy Statistics dataset, covering the period from 1990 on, is available at UNdata. For data prior to 1990, please refer to

Green But Still Feeling Guilty – from the NYT

I used cloth (with diaper service) for 6 months with my kid. We switched to compostable. Diaper’s are still a tough question…

Presentation from Global Gridwise Forum.


This is the link to the presentation at the Global Gridwise Forum in Washington DC, 9/23/2010 – GRIDwise.pdf

I was asked to discuss where we need to go in terms of a real smart grid by 2030 to hit the types of energy security and environmental goals one could imagine wanting to hit.

Investing in an empire of illusion (from

Someone pointed me at this end of year article at get realist. Quite sobering. The general conclusion is that government, or cap-and-trade, or international agreements are not on track to succeed in the face of climate change, and that individuals need to take more personal responsibility in making change. I agree. As a friend of mine said “we are all trying to learn how to live the life we need everyone else to live”. We need many innovations, some technical, most social. We need to expand the people working on solving these problems to a group that includes everyone. Every small business owner, every individual.

Heirloom Design (from Good Magazine)


Good magazine asked me to write something about Heirloom Products. I must have said the words too many times publicly. If you want to read the article at a fancy website with nice pictures and good design layout go here:

Or, here are the words:

As an inventor, Saul Griffith has spent a lot of time thinking about how to make useful things. Griffith developed innovative designs for low-cost prescription glasses and energy-producing kites, founded the DIY website Instructables, and created a comprehensive carbon calculator called WattzOn. He was also awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2007. Recently, onstage at high-profile conferences such as TED and PopTech, Griffith has been arguing that we need to stop buying things and then throwing them away so quickly. In short, we need more “heirloom design.”

GOOD: What do you mean by “heirloom design?”

SAUL GRIFFITH: An object with “heirloom design” is something […]

Design Predictions for 2010 (from Inhabitat)

Inhabitat asked me to give my design predictions for 2010.

Here’s the link:

Here’s my words, and yes, I was fairly depressed by Copenhagen result, and it might have tainted my writings:

Green Design 2010:

Given that no binding agreement was reached in Copenhagen, there will likely be no national or international pressure to do real green-house reductions, and hence it is very likely that 2010 green design will be an undertaking of those trying to greenwash their companies. Very likely we’ll see many people misusuing terminology and physical units to overmarket products that aren’t really going to cut the mustard. Remember that a climate friendly world means a reduction in carbon of 80%, that means 5 X less carbon that we produce today, by 2050 or probably even earlier. Given that, we’ll see lots of designs begging you to buy this or that thing because it’s twice as […]

Peak Cars?

Peak Cars, or Just a Car Sales Trough? New vehicles vs. scrappage 1991-2009

Although with BYD and TATA doing their thing, this is probably only a local, (US) effect.

Social Barriers to reducing embodied energy consumption

This Onion article wonderfully represents the sociological challenge to an heirloom product culture where we make things that last longer, such that we don’t use the extra energy every time we re-make them (or their replacements).

Bicycles. Like comfort food in the time of accords.

While some people claim victory in Copenhagen with an “accord” (as far as i can tell an agreement to agree about something we might agree upon at some time in the future) I’m pretty saddened by the Copenhagen result. At times like these I turn to comfort foods. In this case a beautiful photo series on a chinese bicycle factory. Bicycles are still the highest technology in low emission vehicles.

Lovely solar mapping project at NREL.

They are seeking more data on PV solar installations for this map. It’s fascinating to see the progression over time of installations, and I was startled at just how active California is compared to the rest of the nation.

578.5 MW to date ! only another 500GW to do !

State Installed Capacity (MW) CA 422.828 NJ 62.43 CO 17.363 CT 14.904 AZ 8.252 MA 7.502 MD 1.229 NM 0.753 HI 0.324 MN 0.274 MO 0.003

Making art of renewable energy.


I love this, and couldn’t resist posting it. The future could be beautiful.

Open letter to Dr Levitt (super-freakonomics)

This is really quite lovely. Congratulations to Raymond T. Pierrehumbert for using reason, good logic, and real numbers to refute some of the insanity around regarding climate issues. A lovely example of numbers in defense of sanity.

I think the solar power area numbers he uses might be a little optimistic, but only by a factor of 2 or so, and not that it would drastically change the conclusion of the article.

Give us this day our daily energy.


We fill our cars with gas regularly, but don’t even see the liquid go into the tank. If we were to imagine that we had to fill a backpack with the fuels required for a day of our lives, what would we be filling our energy back-pack with each day?

Each day the average american sets out with:

OIL = 10.81 L/Person/day COAL = 9.54 kg/person/day NATURAL GAS = 5.88 m^3/person/day

Which roughly converted to those other units is around 22 Pints of oil per day (one per hour!), 22 pounds of coal (another per hour) and 180 cubic feet of natural gas.

I used the annual consumption of coal and natural gas, and the daily consumption of oil, and converted it to the daily average by dividing it out by the population of the US.

The data is here:


Obama, at MIT, on Energy.

The president’s speech:

And even better, my friend Alex Slocum’s post visit interview:

America’s Low “Energy IQ”

In the summer of 2001, The National Environmental Education Foundation conducted a survey of 1,503 American adults about energy. Although 75% of those surveyed said they knew “A Fair Amount” or “A Lot” about energy, only 12% could correctly answer 7 or more questions on a 10 question energy quiz. The quiz is on pages 4 and 5 of the report (pages 15 and 16 of the PDF). So what’s your “energy IQ”?

What would a price on carbon get us?


The discussions about a carbon tax, or a cap-and-trade system, tend to revolve around “putting a price on carbon,” which is to say, charging polluters money for dumping carbon into the atmosphere. But how should that money be used? Here’s a graph from Vattenfall, the Swedish power company, showing which solutions become cost-effective at a price of €40 per ton of carbon dioxide.

The yellow section has improvements that pay for themselves, since they’re generally based around not burning fuel to begin with. The green section has the improvements that will be cost-effective at the €40 price, and the blue section has the more expensive solutions.

I haven’t verified any data that went into this graph, which is based on McKinsey’s greenhouse gas abatement cost curves, so I can’t comment on how realistic the numbers are. But from an energy literacy point of view, it gives a nice graphical […]

The Short List of Effective Actions

Part of The Short List of Effective ACtions

This list of action items for individual energy savings is the most focused and quantitative I’ve seen. It comes from an October 2008 article in Environment Magazine by Gerald Gardner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Paul Stern from the National Research Council.

The actions in the list are grouped by whether they’re for transportation or inside the home, immediate or longer-term, and no-cost/low-cost or higher-cost. Each item also includes an estimated percentage savings of total energy use. Here’s an example of an immediate, no-cost action for everyone:

Space conditioning:

Heat: Turn down thermostat from 72°F to 68°F during the day and to 65°F at night

A/C: Turn up thermostat from 73°F to 78°F

Energy saved: 3.4 percent

Compare that to the language from the Department of Energy’s “Tips to Save Energy Today: Easy low-cost and no-cost ways to save energy,” from their Energy Saver’s […]

Spaghetti diagrams, part 2 — “Spaghetti box”


In earlier years of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s spaghetti diagrams, such as the above example from 1976, the ends of the swaths were more like the simpler energy flow diagrams. On the above diagram it’s easier to see that the height of the lines on one side would end up around the height of the lines on the other side than it is on some of the newer versions with oversized boxes that serve as labels. But the boxes are a useful tool, and can let us think about embedding another diagram form — box diagrams — into the spaghetti diagram.

Box diagrams are used for teaching electricity, and were developed by Peter Cheng and David Shipstone in the UK. The picture below is from part 1 (Word doc) of their introductory paper (here’s the Word doc part 2). Since power is the voltage across a bulb multiplied by […]

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.