Sunday, July 27, 2014

Climate change, desal and astronaut water

As Eli points out, California has a water crisis, and much of the rest of the country needs to be much more water efficient. Water efficiency is the obvious place to start but then the next-step question comes up.


While plenty of people don't live near the ocean, lots do. Oceanside areas with large populations are going to have wastewater treatment plants (in developed countries, anyway).  These places therefore have two potential sources of new water supply:  ocean desalination or potable reuse of recycled wastewater.

Potable reuse of wastewater is nothing new. Almost any city drawing water from a river which has another city upstream is already doing it; the question is can we do it without lying to ourselves. In the case of astronauts and the International Space Station, they can do it outright, but the rest of us have to catch up.

Or not. Ocean desal actually uses the same technologies that potable reuse requires, either distillation or more commonly through reverse osmosis. The difference is that ocean water has a lot more stuff in it (mainly salt) than wastewater which already has to go through some purification before it reaches your reverse-osmosis system. That means a lot more energy and cost is involved in ocean desalination than potable reuse, so we've got a climate change issue.

The other climate change issue is that the lack of water currently stops a lot of unwise sprawl development, but ocean desal could change that, or maybe even mandate it - a very expensive desal system could be built on the expectation that there will be a lot more development to pay for it. I suppose there's some sprawl risk from potable reuse as well, but because it functions best in an existing populated area, starting at the wastewater treatment plan and then spreading from there, the risk is lower.

Many other factors involved of course, but these are the main climate issues. All but one of the factors weigh in favor of potable reuse. The one factor favoring ocean desal is psychology and political acceptance. People hesitate to drink this water, and that hesitation killed an earlier potable reuse project in San Diego (p. 17).

I view desal and portable reuse as being in a race. Money is limited so communities are going to prioritize. As much as I can I've supported potable reuse and opposed desal.

First step for potable reuse is Indirect Potable Reuse, achieving psychological acceptance by making the treated water sit somewhere for a while before reuse, either in a reservoir or underground. It's good but maximum flexibility and less cost require Direct Potable Reuse, shunting the water to your drinking water plants.

At my water district we've set up a reverse osmosis system. Currently it's just to improve the quality of non-potable recycled water which will help with certain types of uses, but the goal is potable, if we can get public acceptance.



Note:  stumbled across this - Los Angeles actually constructed an indirect potable reuse plant in the 1930s, but shut it down when they acquired Colorado River water. Back to the future, like with electric cars.

Also, desalination sometimes refers to desal of brackish water, usually groundwater. This water is much less salty than ocean water so a lot of the energy concerns are reduced with brackish desal. But brackish water and even potable reuse require a fair amount of energy, just nowhere near as much as ocean desal.


Tweeting science over the last few thousand years

Twitter conversations by scientists, beginning with one of Pythagoras' tweets. Be sure to read the ones from Jonas Salk.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meeting Michelle yesterday

(Not very substantive post on meeting Michelle Obama, click here to read if you're idly curious....)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Future Today

Over at ATTP, Rachel, playing while Wotts is away, asks about community driven solutions to climate change.  Pekka misses the point in one comment (there are others in the thread which is worth reading, by Pekka and others)

Governments have had some role in those technologies as well, but what has made exactly these fields to grow at an exceptional rate, has not been the government. It’s worthwhile to ponder, what leads to the huge success of some developments, but not of the others. One factor is certainly that technology development has revolutionized data and signal processing, while most other technologies have not shown potential for anything comparable.
Eli was not as nice as he could be, pointing out that government is a vital player in anything that has to do with anything
Government had nothing to do with the coming of the railroads, road traffic or air travel. OK Pekka?
You could add electrical distribution networks and pipelines to that.  In this regard Eli would like to point to a map of the future today


More than there are gas stations inside the Périphérique.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Stigma for fossil fuel companies, the reverse for the churches that dump them

World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, United Church of Christ, and many smaller/regional church denominations and affiliated organizations have established climate divestment policies. Others are percolating - the Methodists are studying their investment policy, the Presbyterians are first going to try to persuade the companies to give up their core business model (good luck with that!)* and then we'll see them and others consider this issue.


People involved in climate divestment and had also been involved in South Africa divestment a generation ago say that climate divestment is moving faster. An Oxford study backs that up (p. 11).

The same study acknowledges limited direct financial impacts of divestment except for coal industry, but then focuses on the stigma issue:

As with individuals, a stigma can produce negative consequences for an organisation. For example, firms heavily criticised in the media suffer from a bad image that scares away suppliers, subcontractors, potential employees, and customers. Governments and politicians prefer to engage with ‘clean’ firms to prevent adverse spill-overs that could taint their reputation or jeopardise their re-election. Shareholders can demand changes in management or the composition of the board of directors of stigmatised companies. Stigmatised firms may be barred from competing for public tenders, acquiring licences or property rights for business expansion, or be weakened in negotiations with suppliers. Negative consequences of stigma also include cancellation of multibillion-dollar contracts or mergers/ acquisitions. Stigma attached to merely one small area of a large company may threaten sales across the board.
(p. 14, citations removed)

The stigmatization from divestment will have financial consequences. These companies will have to pay more for employees and for other businesses to work with them. Companies with a toe-hold in the fossil fuel sector will find it better for them to get out.

Most important is that stigmatized industries will find it tougher to manipulate the political sector. That's one reason why they disguise their funding, but the disguise is imperfect, and the difficulty gets worse with the stigma.

Two other points. The study acknowledges political restrictions resulting from the climate divestment effort could destroy the perceived value of reserves that end up staying in the ground. When the carbon bubble pops is hard to predict, but any downward pressure increases the possibility of it happening soon.

Second, when companies divested from South Africa they weren't required to physically blow up the businesses they left behind - they sold them. The argument that it had no financial impact was around then, but we see what happened in the end.


*I think there is a business case that fossil fuel companies should 1. stop wasting money exploring for new reserves, 2. sell the reserves they're not going to be allowed to develop before the carbon bubble bursts, 3. play out the remaining and cheapest reserves and 4. either distribute the profits and wind down their companies, or invest in another business model. Not bloody likely to happen, though.

I'm ignoring the complications of when natural gas can substitute for coal. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Down the Drain

Eli has long been an advocate of the five fold way
  • Adaptation to deal with the damage already done
  • Amelioration, eliminating harmful effects of our actions
  • Conservation with needed and desired but not wasteful usage
  • Substitution of green systems for destructive ones
  • Mitigation reversing our thoughtless abuse
and not just for dealing with climate change.  Neat and tidy are two virtues Mom Rabett was strong on, and Ms. Rabett, well at times she is just plain cheap, Eli being thrifty.  Thus waste offends.

There has been considerable noise in the climate set about leaks from natural gas pipes and wells.  An  article in the NYTimes by David Bornstein points out that water systems are sieves. 
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates (pdf) that public water systems lose, on average, one-sixth of their water — mainly from leaks in pipes. The E.P.A. asserts that 75 percent of that water is recoverable. (In truth, the volume of leakage in the nation’s 55,000 drinking-water systems is unknown, because few conduct water audits.
with loads of consequences
It’s been widely reported that California is experiencing its worst drought in history. But take a look at the United States Drought Monitor: much of the country is abnormally dry or in drought. Internationally, the problem is even more serious. The World Bank reports that, over the next decade and a half, water availability may fall 40 percent short of global need (pdf).

Meanwhile, utilities in the developing world are hemorrhaging water. The World Bank estimates that water systems have real losses (leakages) of 8.6 trillion gallons per year, about half in developing countries (pdf, 11MB, p.6). That’s enough to serve 150 million Americans (and we use a lot of water!)
Bornstein describes how the Bahamas are dealing with the problem in collaboration with a consulting firm Miya and the obvious progress they are making

Sealing up systems can not only save money, but because water systems are often limited by water supply, it can insure delivery.  Doing so requires commitment, technology and funding, but pays multiple dividends.
One study (pdf) conducted for the California Public Utilities Commission examined audits done by 17 water utilities and found that losses were 1.6 to 6.6 times higher than optimum levels.  Assuming that 40 percent of the losses could be recovered economically, the study’s lead author, Reinhard Sturm, estimated potential savings at 113 billion gallons per year — equivalent to the annual production of six Carlsbad projects.

It’s vital to consider the impact on energy use and the environment. Water is often lost between the main pipe and the customer, which means it has already been extracted, treated and transported a very long way. That’s expensive. All that energy is lost — and more has to be used — and that, of course, increases carbon emissions. California’s water system is already the state’s largest single energy user. At the same time, desalination plants are energy intensive. Electricity accounts for roughly half the cost of their water.
Oh yeah 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Suderman meets Tojo

Japanese citizens reading their newspapers during World War II noticed that the reports of unending series of Japanese victories in the Pacific had a pattern - each time that the Japanese smashed Allied forces, it was closer to the home islands than the previous time the Allies had been smashed.

Peter Suderman's critique of Obamacare over time follows a similar eerie pattern.

After losing Saipan, Imperial Japan did start to come clean about what was happening, somewhat. We'll see when that happens with the Republican leadership.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eli is on vacation




Eli is on vacation, a little surfing now and again.  Back eventually, till then there is this to ponder

Statistical mathterbation has broken out everywhere, Beenstock is back, Force X is out there, and Eli was reading Andrew Gelman who posted a useful comment from George Box on models
It is widely recognized that the advancement of learning does not proceed by conjecture alone, nor by observation alone, but by an iteration involving both. Certainly, scientific investigation proceeds by such iteration. Examination of empirical data inspires a tentative explanation which, when further exposed to reality, may lead to its modification. . . .
Now, since scientific advance, to which all statisticians must accommodate, takes place by the alternation of two different kinds of reasoning, we would expect also that two different kinds of inferential process would be re- quired to put it into effect.
The first, used in estimating parameters from data conditional on the truth of some tentative model, is appropriately called Estimation. The second, used in checking whether, in the light of the data, any model of the kind proposed is plausible, has been aptly named by Cuthbert Daniel Criticism.
In the comments, Corey refers to a paper which purports to show that Kepler's model was a worse fit to the data than the Ptolemaic model, however that paper had some problems
In brief, Spanos shows that the residuals of the Keplerian model fit to Kepler’s original n = 28 data set are indistinguishable from white noise, while the residuals of the Ptolemaic model fit to a data set of one Martian year (~2 Earth years) of *daily observations from the US Navy Observatory* (n = 687) show unmistakable autocorrelation. I don’t mind telling you that my jaw literally dropped when I realized that Spanos was checking the statistical adequacy of the two models on *two different data sets*.
 This, however, to Eli was unimportant, because physics, chemistry and increasingly biology are built upon the principle of parsimony, and this is something that need be made much more explicit in teaching science at all levels.  Realizing this, the epicycles were roadkill.  Kuhn, Popper and the rest never really came to terms with the two bedrocks of science, parsimony and consistency to understand the world.

The developments of the last thirty years have provided such models for biology and climate science, but the stamp collectors have not caught up.  Cladistics is useful when simplicity is lacking.  Pattern recognition can be powerful, but it also masks understanding.  Neural nets have no sense of guilt.

Enjoy