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!



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…

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.

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:

My view on zero-point energy.


This cartoon pretty much sums it up. Let’s plan on the stuff we know works, and invest in the research we know might lead somewhere. Not hold out for alien finger’s crossed we don’t understand it technology.

Contemplating my daily shower, during my daily shower.


I love a hot shower in the morning. While it’s not a human right just yet, occasionally it feels like one. So how much energy does it take to have a hot shower?

The simple version looks like this:

First we establish the conversion units…

liters_in_gallon=3.78541178 H2O_heat_capacity=4.18 (J/g/K) seconds_in_day = 60*60*24 density_water = 1 (g/cm^3)

Now assume 2 gallons per minute of shower from my low flow shower head and assume 5 minute hot showers at 40 degrees celsius (about 100F).

showers_per_day =1 gallons_per_minute =2 minutes_per_shower =5 liters_per_shower = liters_in_gallon * gallons_per_minute * minutes_per_shower grams_per_shower = liters_per_shower * 1000 * density_water shower_Temperature=40 ambient_Temperature=8 shower_heat_Joules=showers_per_day *(grams_per_shower * H2O_heat_capacity *(shower_Temperature-ambient_Temperature)) daily_shower_Watts = shower_heat_Joules/seconds_in_day

shower_heat_Joules = 5063400 daily_shower_Watts = 58.6038 Which is of course just the energy or power that my water heater consumes. The above estimate is probably low because I assumed 100% efficient water heater, and no losses in the […]

Transcript and unanswered questions from O’Reilly Media Energy Literacy Webcast.

I’ve cut and pasted in the chat room chat below from today’s webcast. Blue is who. Black is what they asked/said. Red is answers and pointers from me.

from O’Reilly Media to All Participants: Hi Everyone, thanks for joining us today. We’ll begin at 10 am PT. There will be silence or faint music until then. from O’Reilly Media to All Participants: Hi Everyone—thanks for joining us today. The presentation will begin at 10 am PT. There will be silence or faint music until then. from Pat Walsh to All Participants: for the streaming audio: should I be hearing background music of any sort or any other noise at this time? or is silence correct at this point? from O’Reilly Media to All Participants:

If you’re a twitter user, we’re using the hashtag #energyliteracy for this webcast from Pat Walsh to All Participants: thank you from Raju Varghese to All […]

When we build, let us think that we build forever.

When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our father did for us.”

—John Ruskin

I love this quote. It captures more comprehensively what I have been trying to say when I describe “Heirloom technologies”. Amortising the embodied energy of the things we make and use over a much longer period, by making them robust and beautiful.

Solar roadways – a good or a bad idea?

Solar Roadway

At first blush, this looks like a fabulous idea:

Turn roadways into an enormous solar cell and get lots of other advantages like better new infrastructure. A long while ago, I looked at making solar roadways (and parking lots and driveways and footpaths and….) under contract when I was at Squid-Labs :

The very difficult thing about making a road is making it structurally sound enough to carry vehicles. That means it has to take very high loads, and be very durable for up to 50 years.

So putting a solar cell there is completely possible, but then you’ll need to put some protective material on top that has some texture (so the roads are not slippery) and enough resilience to last a long time. The problem is that that protective material uses A LOT of energy to produce. Perhaps the company pitching this idea has some […]

US Energy Flow Chart, 2008


Pouring over the EIA energy report for the US for 2008 and reprocessing data. Here’s some useful charts, and they are all vector based and creative commons for your pleasure:

US energy flow QUADS (PDF)

US energy flow GW (PDF)

Nuclear Power, Surfing, and Sharks

I was just thinking about my relationship with Nuclear Power. I think we need to apply it at a much larger scale if we are to practically hit reasonable climate and energy targets, but i still have that irrational fear that says that I’d prefer to get there without it. I resolved this by thinking about my relationship with sharks when I go surfing or kitesurfing or windsurfing. The risk associated with shark attack is much much smaller than the risk of a car accident getting to the beach, yet some days that risk scares the willies out of me. I still do go surfing, of course, but I can’t take all those sharp little teeth off my mind. Most of the time I’m really comfortable with the idea of nuclear power, and it’s inherent risks (very low), yet there are some days where I am just spooked by the […]

Preparing for next agenda “clean grid” conversation.


Spending the day preparing for the Next Agenda “clean the grid” conversation to be held in San Francisco this thursday – 17 Sep 2009.

Anyway, pouring over this data:

And the fascinating conversion tables and historical use data and future forecast data for energy consumption.

Here’s a PDF vector file that you are welcome to use Electricity Generation and Use flow diagram 2008

here’s the data:

NASA energy day. Steve Koonin and infrastructure inertia.

Western Energy Summit, Accelerating Energy Innovation: Spurring the Development and Commercialization of New Energy Technologies.

The Summit: July 30, 2009, at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Steve Koonin gave a fantastic speech that gave me real hope about the people in the DOE. He’s the Under Secretary for Science.

I particularly liked the way he looked at the time scale issues for energy infrastructure.

100 years is the lifetime of buildings.

50 years is the lifetime of power plants.

20 years is the lifetime of automobiles.

Which speaks to the issue of the inertia in the required infrastructure changes to get to a clean energy economy.

Furthermore, put those in the context of these time frames:

10-1000 years for naturally sequestering carbon.

10-100 years for infrastructure

2-4 years for governments

3 month business cycle and quarterly reporting

1 day – news media.

How to talk to climate change skeptics.

This is an excellent review (via Grist Mill) of the misconceptions and arguments used by climate skeptics with solid answers to them all:

Giving talks about energy and climate change I get dozens of these arguments by skeptics presented back at me. The challenge I find is that I can never remember all the data and counter arguments for every single one off the top of my head, and hence the skeptics feel they win a point or two. What I’d really like is a “denialist cheat sheet” to carry around so that I have the referenced data and peer-reviewed science on every possible counter point, every time. Congratulations to Grist Mill for compiling a good portion of that cheat sheet.

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