Kevin’s Daily Digest for 7/6/16

Meat is horrible, autonomous vehicles are a no-brainer, Jigar Shah on nuclear energy, electric lines for trucks?, one step closer to Elon’s killer robots, and more.

The Daily Digest, published Monday-Thursday plus a deep take weekend edition, focuses on the latest news and perspectives in climate, renewables, storage and electric vehicles. For more follow me on Twitter @kkchristy. The Digest archive and the rest of my Medium content is here.

OK, here comes the uncomfortable news: bacon and hamburgers are helping to wreck our climate. Don’t shoot the messenger.

And it seems now that unless we act to improve our agriculture practices — and our diets — emissions from the agricultural sector could alone absorb our entire estimated 2050 carbon budget. So clearly something has to change. Bleeding veggie burger, anyone?

And then there’s the coming Great Western Water Crisis, which alone will force major changes to agriculture.

Look at a city like San Jose, or even Rome, on Google Earth and it is astonishing how much land is occupied by car parks.

Truth. One of the benefits of transportation as a service — which autonomous vehicle technology will make so affordable that it will become almost ubiquitous — is that precious real estate can be freed up from wasteful and visually detracting car parking.

Shopping malls and sport stadiums, which now resemble islands surrounded by oceanic car parks, could be enclosed with greenery. Plants would clean the air and keep the heat down: the air temperature in a park is typically 2°C lower than in the surrounding streets. Other car parks could be turned into offices or flats. Designers might well revive an old architectural feature, known as the porte-cochère. These covered porticos, seen on grand old houses, protected passengers in horse-drawn coaches from the rain; in future people could alight from driverless cars under similar structures.

Can we have the future now, please?

My view on autonomous vehicles.

Bloomberg’s Meg McArdle makes my point for me: making roads safer means getting more autonomous vehicles on the road, not less:

“[T]he failure of human beings to make perfectly rational calculations is exactly why we’re trying to get them out of the business of driving in the first place.”

Jigar Shah captures a vital point about nuclear energy: if we are to be serious about minimizing greenhouse gases due to electrical generation, we shouldn’t welcome retirement of nuclear plants simply because natural gas is cheaper. This is shortsighted. Wherever nuclear plants are due to be decommissioned and would be replaced by any meaningful increase in natural gas or coal generation, such retirements clearly wouldn’t serve the cause of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Better to keep those plants in production, even at reduced capacity factors, and time their retirement to replacing that generation with renewable energy/energy efficiency/storage at the earliest feasible date (see PG&E’s Diablo Canyon retirement plan, for instance).

We’re a long way from building-integrated PV (BIPV) making sense. For every detractor of traditional solar modules (“They are horrible looking and would detract from the value of my house!”), there are many thousands of actual solar customers who don’t mind the look of solar modules on their homes. The visual impact of solar modules is not a non-zero problem, but it’s not a big enough problem to sustain a healthy BIPV industry. At least not yet.

Sweden is testing a two kilometer stretch of highway equipped with overhead electrical lines feeding diesel hybrid-electric trucks with energy as they move down the road. Once they exit, their trucks would revert to diesel mode.

This would be an intriguing addition to major long-haul U.S. interstate highways. Certainly the full stretch of I-5 between Los Angeles and Sacramento is sufficiently chock full of trucks for a system like this to make sense — not to mention that the air quality in the San Joaquin Valley could use a break from thousands of trucks dumping diesel fumes into the air seven days a week.

More evidence of the Fossil Fuel Megaphone in action, culled again from the Peabody bankruptcy.

A research center that has produced scores of reports dismissing the dangers of human-caused climate change was being paid by coal company Peabody Energy to produce reports about its greenhouse gas emissions. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (CSCDGC) is revealed as having historical financial ties to Peabody in the coal company’s bankruptcy papers.
Tweet of the Day.

Software designers have conceived an autonomous aircraft that is capable, in simulations, of consistently defeating a highly experienced fighter pilot. Here’s what the pilot had to say:

“I was surprised at how aware and reactive it was. It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed.”

This is an indication not just of the potential of autonomous technologies to outperform human beings at expert tasks, but of the potential for warfare to be radically changed in the very near future. When machines that don’t require humans to man them become better at fighting than humans themselves, military superiority becomes a matter of industrial production and software expertise more than manpower, will or determination. And more chillingly, we face the risk of losing control of our creations due to hacking or Elon Musk’s nightmare killer robot scenario.

Shock and Awe, future style.