Friday, July 23, 2010

Ten Million Roofs USA - a joke, as usual

Over at his blog, my colleague Sebastian Göres tries to figure out the numbers behind the new 10 Million Roofs policy proposal in the US. Coming at it from the angle of system size, he finds that the US would have 70 gigawatts of solar by 2021 instead of the 40 gigawatts talked about in the bill -- but, more importantly, the policy would then cost 122 billion dollars instead of around 250 million, roughly 500 times more than is budgeted.
Since that doesn't work, he takes the opposite approach and tries to see how many systems he can get out of the budget. He comes up with around 20,000 solar roofs instead of 10 million -- which, again, is off by a factor of 500 because he simply reversed the math.

Personally, I think Sebastian should stop taking Americans seriously. The bill he takes apart clearly demonstrates that there is no thinking behind it, and there is nothing new about brainless US energy policy.

But there is one thing I don't want to leave standing:

According to Senator Sanders, the legislation would help finance the installation of up to 40,000 Megawatts [sic] of new solar energy [by 2021]. He says that in the process, the cost of generating solar power would fall and the US would become the world's leading market for electricity generated from the sun.

Somebody needs to tell America how far behind they are. Germany had nearly 10,000 megawatts installed last year, and they will probably have far in excess of 15,000 installed by the end of this year. Growing at a rate of 5,000 megawatts a year, Germany would reach the US target for 2021 by 2015.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yes, the Guardian again...

The Guardian writes:

The world's first molten salt concentrating solar power plant
'Archimede' demonstration solar plant in Sicily becomes the first to use molten salts to store energy overnight

Here's Wikipedia on Solar Two from 1995:

Solar Two used molten salt, a combination of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate, as an energy storage medium instead of oil or water as with Solar One. This helped in energy storage during brief interruptions in sunlight due to clouds. The molten salt also allowed the energy to be stored in large tanks for future use such as night time.Solar Two proved it could run continuously around the clock producing power.

[Update: Carlo, the author, responds. It's the Guardian's fault, not his ;-) I'm not surprised.]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can't buy my own book

A friend just wrote and said he has purchased my book for his Kindle. I took a look at the Kindle website myself and could not even find that my book was available. I told my friend that he had probably bought the wrong book, but he sent me back a different link, and I suddenly saw the problem:

"This title is not available for customers from your location in: Europe"

So we have this digital world where we can send around little bits of light everywhere, but we have copyright restrictions that prevent us from doing so. In this case, I cannot get my own book. (I own a Kindle.)

The iTunes store is also a blast. Because I only have credit cards with German banks, I can only sign into the German store. The German store sells movies that always have the German soundtrack but do not necessarily have the English. I cannot access the store in the US at all (nor the one from the UK, Spain, France, or anywhere else), so I simply cannot buy a legal digital copy of any number of movies with the English soundtrack.

Of course, I can always buy a DVD (and sit through the parts warning me not to steal the DVD I just purchased; if I want to skip over such bits, I have to get a pirated version) and switch languages, but if I want the movie as a file when I am traveling, I'm out of luck.

Essentially, they do not want my money. But they do get pissed off if you pirate something.

And before I forget, Ken Silverstein, one of the main writers over at Harper's, said he would try to help me get a paid (!) subscription, but I haven't heard back from him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another brainless article at the Guardian

The Guardian has published another completely misleading article, this time conflating "solar power" with concentrated solar power. The former is simply any electricity generated from solar energy (photovoltaics and solar thermal), whereas the latter are only systems that use solar heat to boil water to drive a conventional turbine (no photovoltaic cells are needed).

The author himself seems to have no idea what he's talking about when he writes:

Last year, solar energy met 2.8% of demand out a total of 12.9% for all renewables.

The author puts the figure or CSP at just over 400 MW, whereas Spain has around 3,400 MW of photovoltaics installed. Obviously, we are getting more electricity from photovoltaics than from CSP in Spain.

And in case you are thinking that the 50 MW Spanish CSP plant the British author refers to as the largest in the world is a far bigger than anything that could be done with photovoltaics, take a look at this list, which shows that Spain already has 60 MW photovoltaic plant.

A recent press release from Germany is more insightful. This week, Germany was producing up to eight gigawatts of electricity from photovoltaics, compared to 14.5 gigawatts from nuclear plants. Germany has 17 nuclear power plants, but four of them are currently off-line for scheduled and unscheduled repairs; furthermore, they are currently slightly being throttled because the waste heat would otherwise heat up rivers too much.

It is possible that photovoltaic electricity production will peak at levels above nuclear power production as soon as next year in Germany. And if you are focusing on large systems, keep in mind that Germany is mainly doing this with small rooftops.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Credit where credit is due

I have been on a business trip, but before everyone forgets all about the World Cup I wanted to congratulate Spain on a well deserved victory. The Dutch were lucky to still have 11 people on the field at half, and de Jong's foul was probably the worst I have ever seen. Frankly, it wouldn't have been right for the Dutch to win.

It is worth noting that Spain got the fewest number of penalty cards during the World Cup, while simultaneously being fouled the most by its opponents.

When the final goal was scored, I noticed that the Spanish striker pulled off his jersey to send a message to the world and wondered what it meant: Daniel Jarque, always with us. It was a poetic moment. Think about it -- the guy had written this message on his undershirt before the game and played the whole game hoping to be able to show it. And then he scores the winning goal in the 117th minute.

And then I remembered the great Spanish movies I know that deal with sadness in life: Talk to her, Take my eyes, and The Sea Inside to name just three.

Right now, the Spanish do two things better than anyone: football and movies.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dutch national anthem

(Kudos to Jan)

Tonight, the Dutch will once again be singing their national anthem, and it's a quite interesting one. For the full story, see the anthem's Wikipedia entry.

Fascinatingly, the lyrics are in the first person, so the Dutch sing as though they were William of Nassau himself -- and the first two lines are especially interesting for the Germans, who are used to being hated by the Netherlands (what with the bombing of Rotterdam and all):

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
Ben ick van Duytschen bloet

Translation: I, William of Nassau, am of "Duytsch" blood. As Wikipedia explains, the Dutch anthem is arguably the oldest in the world, and Wikipedia gives the text not only in the original Dutch, but in a more modern version. Back when the text was originally written, "Duytsch" would not have referred to any kind of Germany, of which there was none (up to Napoleon's days, the various Germanic states were collectively still referred to as the Holy Roman Empire, though with the attribute "of the German nation"). Indeed, we see today that the word "Dutch" itself is close to the word "deutsch," and the Pennsylvania Dutch in the US are generally from the Low German-speaking world, of which northern Germany is part.

During the heyday of the Hanseatic League, the part of Europe that became the Netherlands was closely connected to what became northern Germany and northern Poland, and people in Amsterdam would have spoken language very close to the dialect in Hamburg, for instance.

While we have come to see Germany as consisting of an eastern and western part, historically (since the Reformation) it consisted of a North and the South -- Protestant and Catholic, but also Low German and High German in terms of dialects. In fact, when Bismarck first united the various German states to create what became the Wilhelmine Empire, he united the North and the South (from the old Hanseatic towns into Prussia and down to the Bavarian world, so to speak) in the Protestant-Catholic conflict know as the Kulturkampf, not the east and west. So when the Dutch sing that they are of "Duytsch" blood, they are really just saying they are Low German (from the "nether lands") -- as opposed to Spanish.

Spain had been messing around in the Netherlands back then, and William tells the Spanish (while also pointing out he has always respected the King of Spain):

Dat van de Spaengiaerts crencken
O Edel Neerlandt soet,
Als ick daer aen ghedencke
Mijn Edel hert dat bloet.

So Spain was exploiting the Netherlands, and it broke William's heart.

The Dutch anthem has an incredible number of stanzas (15!), so the whole story will not be sung before the game tonight, but you can bet your klompen that the Dutch will know they are singing an apology to Spain -- "sorry, Spain, no disrespect intended, but we do choose liberty over subjugation." It's as though the Dutch sang "give me liberty, or give me death" as their national anthem.

The Spanish national anthem is also a bit unique in that it has no lyrics, the lyrics adopted under the Franco regime having fallen out of fashion in the late 1970s, much as the Germans no longer sing the first of three stanzas in their national anthem -- the one beginning "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles". Now, the Germans focus on "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (unity, justice, and freedom -- sort of the German trilogy for France's liberty, equality, and brotherhood). It is interesting to note that Spain has dealt with its fascist past in the same way it dealt with the lyrics to its national anthem; they don't sing their lyrics, and they don't talk about their past -- whereas Germany simply dropped one of its three stanzas, still sings the other two, and has done an exemplary job of dealing with its past.

For those of you thinking that Spain is going to win tonight, keep in mind that the Dutch have not lost once in the past 25 matches. Yet another reason why the Dutch are going to beat Spain 1-0 tonight. And if the Dutch don't win? Als ick daer aen ghedencke, mijn edel hert dat bloet...

Friday, July 9, 2010

The 1990s - when Germany was unbearable

It is nice to have two new teams in the finals. As you can see here, Brazil and Italy have both come in first more often (five and four times, respectively) than Germany, but no team has been in the final four more often than Germany at 12 times (followed by Brazil and Italy with 10 and 8 times). Furthermore, three countries have won 12 of the 18 finals, which is too high of a concentration if you ask me. Sunday night, we get a new winner.

The German performance is all the more impressive if you consider that their first appearance was in 1954. By that time, Brazil and Italy had already been in the final four twice. So actually, Germany is almost always in the final four, whereas Brazil and Italy are only there half the time.

Since 1954, Germany only missed the final four in two consecutive world cups once, in 1994 and 1998. In 1990, Germany won the World Cup for the last time as West Germany, with a separate team still playing for East Germany. Back then, Frank Beckenbauer spoke the infamous words:

Es tut mir leid für den Rest der Welt, aber wir werden in den nächsten Jahren nicht zu besiegen sein.

Translation: I feel sorry for the rest of the world, but we will be unbeatable in the next few years.

Beckenbauer the Unbeatable was himself unbearable in the press conference ("we were fantastic in all seven games"), insisting that things would only get better when the players from East Germany started playing for a united German team:

Tiny Denmark, which had planned to spend the summer at the beach after not even qualifying for the European Cup in 1992, ended up playing when Yugoslavia crumbled (leaving the tournament without a Yugoslavian team), and Denmark beat Beckenbauer's unbea(t/r)able German team to win the cup.

I moved back to Germany in 1992, and it was during this era that I began following football (the World Cup was also played in the US in 1994, which helped keep my attention). It was with great pleasure that I watched those arrogant Germans eat their hats throughout the 90s.

This year, there is none of that arrogance. The general feeling is that we have this really young team with a lot of players who were not even well known within Germany, and while we may not have a Ronaldo, Messi, or Rooney, we do have 11 guys who play as a team. The sentiment has been expressed over and over at the games, as (German) friends of mine looked over to me with a look of pleasant surprise (bordering on shock) and the words: "We are good!" Yes, we are. And because the team is still young, we're going to be good for some time to come. So as the surprise wears off, let's watch the wording: we're good, not unbeatable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Germany is a good loser

Sadly, I have been proven wrong. But the nice thing about Germany's loss to Spain last night is that the public reaction shows everyone here takes it for what it is -- a game. Overall, everyone from fans to TV moderators and the press agree that Spain that simply played better and deserved to win:

Manchmal gewinnt im Fußball der Glücklichere, aber an diesem WM-Abend gewann mit Spanien die bessere Mannschaft.
Or, as the game blogger over at Die Zeit put it:

Über die zwei diskutablen Entscheidungen (Foul an Özil in der ersten Halbzeit? Foul an Schweinsteiger in der zweiten?) diskutiert in Deutschland niemand. Gute Verlierer.

Translation: Nobody in Germany is talking about two questionable calls (a foul on Özil in the first half? And a foul on Schweinsteiger in the second?). Good losers.

So now, Spain and Holland face off in the finals, whereas Germany and Uruguay go toe to toe for third place. Now that Germany can't be number one, I realize I actually have a soft spot for Uruguay and wish them well on Saturday, though I will still be rooting for Germany.

On Sunday, two pretty boring teams will be battling it out, and it will probably be a nail-biter, but I will be rooting for Holland. Not that Spain that doesn't deserve a break these days, with its incredibly high unemployment among 20-year-olds, it's crumbling real estate sector, etc. etc. But I find myself having little sympathy for Spain because, having spent quite a bit of time down there myself in 2007-2008, I could actually see all of this coming. And since then, Spain has only further proven how irresponsible it is by screwing up solar policy in ways no one else had even thought of before, such as by retroactively reducing rates paid for systems already installed.

A lot of us have worked very hard to make feed-in tariffs understood worldwide, Spain, and you do a unique disservice to an otherwise sound policy.

Because of that, and because your soccer team is boring, I hope the equally unexciting Dutch team manages to squeak past you on Sunday 1-0.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

German figures for solar in Q1 published

In the midst of my blogging on soccer (and as we wait for my new energy website to go on line at the beginning of September), I wanted to report the latest figures on solar in Germany, especially because there seems to be a misconception in the English-speaking world that Germany has changed its solar policy like Spain did, with the expectation being that the German market will not grow in 2010. For instance, in May this guy forecast no growth for Germany in 2010 and claimed in his title, "Germany No Longer Critical To PV Market Growth." Also at Renewable Energy World, an editor claimed in May that Germany has used up "the allocated budget" for solar (actually, there is no budget) and added, "even under earlier scenarios for feed-in tariff reduction, the growth of the German market was expected to slow in 2010."

Actually, the German market was only expected to slow down in English. In German, I have seen nothing but expectations of record growth.

Now, the official figures are slowly coming in. Germany's Network Agency reports at SolarServer that 714 MW was installed in the first quarter - far more than the US installed all of last year (estimated at 435 MW). In fact, that performance alone would make Germany a leader (probably in second place behind Italy) in 2010 if nothing else were installed for the rest of the year. As the Network Agency points out, the figure is 10 times greater than for Q1 2009, when a total of 3.8 GW was eventually installed.

The report quotes EuPD as estimating that Germany will install 5.5 GW this year, a figure that is at the bottom of what is seriously being floated. iSuppli believes (PDF) that Germany will install 6.6 GW in 2010. Other estimates go up to 10 GW.

The breakdown of array size is also interesting. According to the report, 55 percent of installed capacity and 91 percent of installed systems were smaller than 50 kilowatts, with the average arrays size being 23.2 kilowatts in Q1 2010, only slightly below the average size of 23.8 kilowatts in 2009. Clearly, small systems are driving the world's solar leader.

Journalism in the age of Wikipedia

Over at the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg has something interesting to say about interruptions in soccer:

Compared with its established rivals, big-time soccer is ill suited to televisual exploitation. The game’s continuous, almost uninterrupted flow of action denies it a steady supply of intervals for the advertising of beer and the fetching of same from the refrigerator.

I didn't mention that when I recently discussed how video reviews of referee decisions would interrupt the game, but the incompatibility of soccer with the commercial aspect of US sports has occurred to me. Having said that, it should be possible for soccer to be broadcast on publicly funded (PBS, BBC, etc.) or pay-per-view/ subscribed channels, which is basically what happens in Europe, where public television broadcasts some games alongside the premium channels. And of course, Europeans do not insist on having their beer that cold, so getting a beer from the fridge is not really a problem (and is one beer every 45 minutes not enough?).

What I found most interesting about his article, however, was the way Hendrik seems to have cobbled together a bunch of information from Wikipedia. At the beginning, he speaks of a game:

... that the rest of the world calls “football,” except when it’s called (for example) futbal, futball, fútbol, futebol, fotball, fótbolti, fußball, or (as in Finland) jalkapallo, which translates literally as “football.”

As a translator, I can assure you that, just 15 years ago, few people would have been able to line up
a list of equivalent terms like that across nine languages, but look up "football" today in Wikipedia, and you get a list of far more languages in the column to the left.

The rest of the article also contains things that seem too close to Wikipedia for comfort, such as the reference to Jack Kemp's comment that soccer is un-American, which (Hendrik/Wikipedia points out) was a comment apparently made in jest.

Does that overlapping matter? Somehow it bothers me. I suppose I expect a journalist to have deeper knowledge than Wikipedia and to do research that I can't do just surfing around Wikipedia at home. I also cannot be sure that his article is based on Wikipedia as much as it seems. Who knows, maybe he actually remembers Kemp making that statement? And maybe it just doesn't matter anyway in this age of cut & paste.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Germany's coach Joachim Löw

The German coach is currently renegotiating his contract, which normally would have expired on June 30 (I assume it will simply the tacitly extended for the rest of this World Cup). Certainly, with the German team playing the way it is, he can probably dictate his terms at this point (during negotiations in late winter, no compromise could be reached). But there is one thing I would like to see -- he should have some coaching himself on basic etiquette on the sidelines.

Coaches, like a lot of other celebrities, are constantly under video scrutiny, and Löw seems to have some habits he should restrict to his own four walls (incidentally, part of this video was the Moment of Zen on the Daily Show last week, so probably tens of millions of Americans have seen it).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Klose's flip

I certainly thought Argentina was going to be a real opponent for Germany and was honestly concerned, but the Argentinians only played like Argentina for the first 20 minutes of the second half. Otherwise, even the first half (Germany led 1-0 at halftime) was a rout.

Overall, the referees seemed to be focused on not determining the outcome of the game themselves, which is laudable, and they did an excellent job overall, but it is worth pointing out that the yellow card that Thomas Müller got for a handball would not have been given had the referees seen that the ball bounced off of Messi's arm and onto Müller's -- so Messi should have got the card.

A truly unfair game, this soccer.

But it was the most enjoyable match in this year's World Cup from where I am sitting. Klose, known for his post-goal flips, has come under criticism in recent years for not being more effective and reacted by not flipping any longer. It was therefore good to see him let one fly on Saturday (see pics).

The German team has been quite modest overall, and modesty becomes Germany very well (because they basically kick everyone's ass), but because of the fight between the Argentinian and the German team in 2006, some of the German players warned Argentina before the game to be prepared for the worst. The German press at least partly responded by telling the German team to go back to being modest before they get their butts kicked. The comments below this article before and after the game are quite entertaining if you read German.

Did I mention that Germany is going to win the World Cup this year? If they keep playing like themselves (and do not turn into a completely different team like the French and Italians did -- or like the Argentinians did for 70 minutes on Saturday), they will be unstoppable. But don't hold your breath. Germany has played like Germany for five games running.

Friday, July 2, 2010

No "public viewing" for Robert Byrd

Over in Germany, there has been some discussion about the term "public viewing" for events where a large group of people gather to watch the World Cup on large screens. Apparently, "public viewing" can be used in English for a wake if the person who dies is prominent and a lot of people come. Thus, "public viewing" is now understood in Germany as yet another supposed Anglicism that actually doesn't exist in English as such -- like the word "Handy" for "cell phone" or "Shooting Star" (mispronounced with the stress on SHOOTingstar, as though it were one word) to mean "rising star."

But frankly, I didn't think "public viewing" sounded wrong for soccer because I had never heard of a wake being called a public viewing before it became the official term for a public soccer screening over here, and most reports about late Senator Byrd's wake also do not use the term. The Associated Press states that "his body will lie in repose," for instance. But you can find examples of it, such as here:

The public viewing starts at 9 p.m. in the Rotunda of the State Capitol, and continues until 9 a.m. Friday.

Like most other very long-serving Senators (one thinks of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond), Byrd had an extremely racist background; in his case, he was once a member of the KKK. He also is behind the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, in which the Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto protocol as it was being prepared. Interestingly, he also opposed the Iraq war and was a fierce opponent of George W. Bush at a time when few other senators dared speak out.

Overall, we've got a pretty lame Senate.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Retrofitting suburbia

In this interesting video over at TED, Ellen Dunham-Jones discusses how suburbia could gradually be converted into more energy-efficient, healthier dense developments. I don't agree with everything she says. For instance, she complains about gasoline being too expensive, whereas the answer to our problems is constantly increasing the price of finite energy. I am also not convinced that we need all of that densely packed area, but she does also talk about re-greening.

The examples she gives are also not that radical. Simply converting the post office into a restaurant is not that exciting. I would be more interested in seeing shopping malls converted into mixed-use areas -- housing alongside businesses, with public spaces where people can just hang out without having to buy anything.

She nonetheless has some interesting ideas.