Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Yesterday at approximately 2:30pm, one of the managers of KW Energy Management in Nashua, NH threw the switch and we began producing our own electricity. Very shortly thereafter, the skies darkened and we are now in deep gloom with steady rain. Such is life. But in the hour or so when there was decent light we produced a couple of kilowatts of electricity.

I was very happy to see how compact and easy to monitor the equipment is that does all the work. To the right, the big vertical panel is our standard circuit breaker box. The three boxes on the left are all we need to make our own power and feed it into the Public Service of New Hampshire grid. DC electricity comes into the house through the main disconnect box on the lower left, moves up through the red inverter box on top where it's converted into AC current that then moves through the meter on the lower right and on into the PSNH system.

There’s a continuous display on the face of the inverter box that shows the amount of electricity we’re producing at any given moment and it is extremely sensitive—if a small cloud passes over the sun for a moment, the read-out shows the drop in power production, and then how it soars when the sun is again unobstructed. We also get a digital display to one decimal place on how much electricity we’ve generated in one day, and then how much we’ve generated in the life of the system. There are other readouts that pass by giving other technical information. The inverter is self-diagnostic and the entire system is easy to use.

Now as soon as we get some sun back, we’ll get an idea of what our system can produce. Fortunately, I’ve gotten one monthly bill from PSNH that, from beginning to end of the billing period, shows how much electricity we consume given the amount we typically use on a daily basis. As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t consume our own power, but buy electricity from PSNH, which then credits us for the amount we put into their grid.

Last week, highly relevant to what we’re attempting to do here (including working with the local school system to use this house as an educational opportunity in science classes) is this story about the work of a couple of my former MIT colleagues:

MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy. With Daniel Nocera's and Matthew Kanan's new catalyst, homeowners could use their solar panels during the day to power their home, while also using the energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for storage. At night, the stored hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined using a fuel cell to generate power while the solar panels are inactive.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.


Last weekend was great fun, the driving part of it made much more enjoyable than usual but the fact there were nowhere near as many cars on the road as in previous years.

Breezing out to Glimmerglass isn’t unusual because I go out earlyish in the day. But when I got there a little before dinnertime, I pulled right into a space in downtown Cooperstown, one of several open spaces I could have chosen from. That’s unheard of. The place is usually so jammed you have to settle for the out-of-town parking lots and take the shuttle bus to Main Street. It hit me that gas prices were reducing tourism to one of the great tourist sites in the Northeast—the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The trip home Sunday night clinched it. There were no back-ups at any of the toll booths from Albany all the way east; they’re usually a half-mile to two miles long. Most remarkably, there was no back-up at Exit 9 on the Mass Pike, the big bad merge where everybody coming up from New York joins everybody from the west and five lanes of traffic funnels into three. Not only no back-up, no traffic. I left Cooperstown at 6:10 and arrived home at 10:30, four hours and twenty minutes on the road, including one fifteen minute pit stop. Remarkable.

Anyway, after I left the Bard College area on Friday morning, I drove up to Albany for a long hoped-for meeting with blogger Alan Bennett Ilagan. Alan had picked a delightful restaurant that was literally at the foot of an exit ramp from the highway and super-convenient for me. The handsome, creative, witty guy from the blog was, if possible even more so in person and before I realized it, we’d spent almost two hours talking and laughing together.

Alan’s pretty happy right now in anticipation of the opening of his first solo show of his photography. In addition to his day job and writing, he’ll also assume directorship of the gallery this fall. Alan (undergrad) and I (graduate) both have Brandeis University in common and I’ll hope to see him again on one of his trips back to Boston. And if you’re anywhere near Albany in September starting on the 5th, stop by the Romaine Brooks Gallery, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY to see his work.

The rolling farm land and unspoiled villages of the Cooperstown area are always a great place to spend two or three days. Among the attractions are the antique barns and the Ommegang Brewery, which makes Belgian-style beers that are given a secondary fermentation in the bottle, exactly like champagne. A tour of the place is fascinating, particularly the demo of the various spice and flavoring mixes that go into the first fermentation. Ommegang makes a wide line of dark, light and wheat beers in the European style that are head and shoulders above standard U.S. beers and even trump most of the micro-breweries, good as many of them are.

For the record, I have indeed visited the Baseball Hall of Fame, after its recentish renovation, and enjoyed every minute of it. The fact that they have a couple of billboard-sized prints of Jim Palmer’s underwear ads MIGHT have something to do with it, however.

Highlights at the Glimmerglass Opera were Handel’s Giulio Cesare, set in the 1930s, which meant that the Romans got to wear some really sensational uniforms and Cleopatra had a whole wardrobe of bias-cut gowns including a gorgeous silk confection in peacock feather print, and the Kiss Me, Kate production that was smart, fast-paced and which featured Lisa Vroman and Brad Little as the on-stage and off-stage adversaries who get together at the end, and look just great doing it.

There were some problems with Wagner’s early opera Das Liebesverbot. Part of the problem is that Wagner significantly changed Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, weakening it somewhat but at least producing a libretto that is consistent within itself. Director Nicholas Muni, however, chose to eliminate one vital plot line in his cutting of the admittedly very long score, and he invented an action for the finale that contradicts Wagner to no real point. As this production was the first time the opera has been staged in North America (there have been a very few concert performances), many of us in the audience felt strongly it should have been played without changes so that Wagner’s plot could be seen as intended.

The stage was dominated by tenor Ryan MacPherson’s vibrant, charismatic performance as Luzio, and by the superb Claudia Waite in the long, dramatically and vocally demanding role of Isabella. The production was updated to the 1950s which worked very well, but did no favors to the leading lady by placing her in a short, tight, unattractive cerise-colored dress for the opera’s big central scene.

Bellini’s take on Romeo and Juliet, I Capuletti e I Monteccchi, was ravishingly beautiful vocally, even if Sandra Piques Eddy had to drop out because of illness after Act 1 to be replaced by the excellently prepared and valiant young stand-by Emily Righter who received an ovation for her rock-steady work in act two. Many , if not most, in the audience disliked Ann Bogart’s production but I insist that oper5a is theater and I thought she made something very exciting of the piece on stage. Sarah Coburn was the excellent Julietta.

On Sunday at 11:30 am, Ms Vroman and Mr Little returned to provide the lines of various characters for a performance of the complete incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn, along with a small chorus and two vocal soloists. Unlike any other performance of this music I’ve heard before, we didn’t just get the music from the main plot, but also the incidental music from the play within the play, the farcical Pyramus and Thisbe. There may not be all that much of it, but it’s very funny and gave Lisa Vroman the opportunity for a witty pantomime that she did to a turn.


The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?

(Clearly, some of them a great deal less than others)

Producing your own electricity? Now that's something cool. Very much so!
I have very, very fond memories of the Jim Palmer underwear ads. Put some facial hair on him and he'd be perfect.
congratulations on becoming part of the solution--and yeah, i saw that article regarding those mit boys and their discovery the other day; if they've really solved the problem of storage, that's incalculably huge.
I remember seeing a really wonderful production of I Capuletti e I Monteccchi at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the mid 80s. I don't remember who the vocalists were; but I think one was well established, the other relatively new. They were very good. It was certainly unexpected to have the lead roles both played by women.
I think its great you guys are taking it upon yourself to produce your own clean energy source in your home.

The idea of using your home for educational purposes is a great idea.

I can't get into opera. We had a music cultures course in high school that all students were required to take. Maybe when I'm older and actually have the opportunity to see an opera in person, I may change my mind. It's obvious you have a real passion for it though...which is awesome!
Lewis--it would be even cooler if we could get some sun here. We've got your weather!

Doug--yeah, he was always the clean-cut mid-western boy. I like a little hair on my men!

Mike--I'm hoping, but the guys from my solar energy company, while interested and impressed, said that there's a LONG way to go before their process can become practical and affordable.

Songster--yes, it's not what you'd expect in Italy except as a substitute for a castrato. Having a teenaged boy played by a woman is more in the French or the Richard Strauss-from-the-French tradition. I suspect Bellini was just so crazy to write duets for soprano and mezzo that he just said what the hell.

Of course, most 17 year old boys you run into these days are distinctly baritonal!

Matt--I got hooked on opera really young; I was seven. The whole art form just sucked me in with the size of the emotion, the combination of all the arts, and the invitation to get lost in a story or in a different world for a couple of hours (things were really bad at home). It's become a huge part of my personal and professional life. I'm also completely aware that it's an acquired taste that many people will never get and that's fine. I never got basketball, which I find incredibly boring.
I'm so glad you had a great weekend in Cooperstown! I really enjoyed reading your descriptions of the performances, especially after I had seen two of them (and I just LOVED Lisa Vroman as Lilly/Kate, especially in the first dressing room scene Lilly was a little more vulnerable than she often is portrayed. It was really nice to see a softer side to Lilly so early in the show. And she's just stunning to look at and listen to!).
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