Alberta’s Natural Gas – 100 years left

When talking about renewable energy, it’s often said that natural gas, especially in Alberta, is a fantastic transition fuel from coal. Being that Alberta uses a lot of both, it’s an inviting proposition. Natural gas is cleaner, and Alberta has a lot of it. Or so we think.

There are varying estimates on how much methane we have in our province, but it’s in the trillions of cubic feet. That’s a lot.  We extract a billions of cubic feet a day. That’s also a lot. I did the math to try and find out how long our reserves will last. I converted everything to metric, and gave the extraction rate an increase of 1% year over year to account for GDP growth.

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Alberta runs dry in 2104. That’s less than 100 years of reserves. If we assume that infrastructure has a 50 year lifespan, we only have two more generations of Natural Gas infrastructure until we have to import all that energy. With this in mind, doesn’t it make more sense to transition as soon as possible and try to extend our natural resources?
So far, we seem content to race towards a cliff.

 

You can buy a self-driving car – today

On October 19th, Tesla announced that every car it makes will now have the hardware to be able to drive it’s self. If you order a car today, that car has all the hardware needed to pick you up, drop you off, and drive it’s self home, with you in the back seat.  If you watch the video below, the proof of this is around the 2:30 mark, where the car parks all on it’s own.

This is really amazing tech, but it will have a profound impact on our society. An impact that grows in scope the more you think about it.

Parking Lots

They become obsolete.

Why do you need a large parking garage next to every office if every car is driving it’s self home after it drops you off at work? You get up in the morning, shower and get dressed. You take your morning coffee with you and get in your car. On the ride you start answering emails, because you aren’t driving. The car drops you off at work, then goes back home to pick up the kids and drops them off at school. Then it comes back because you have a 10am appointment you need to get to.

The idea that your car will stay where you left it no longer applies. Sure, there will be parking garages, but they won’t have to be close, they could be 5 mins away. No need to drive around looking for a spot at the mall, just get out and your car will drive down the road to an open space, then come back and get you when you are done. All that space can be re-used.

Car Dealers

The car dealership is dead.

Why do you need to keep a stock of cars on a lot, if the cars can drive from the factory to your door? What purpose do the serve? The whole idea is absurd when you think about it. The dealerships know it to, and they’ve been fighting to make it illegal to direct sell a Tesla. Walk by a Tesla store and ask yourself why all manufactures aren’t doing it that way.

Taxi

The Taxi industry will be destroyed in the next 25 years.

If you can summon a car from a ride share company like Uber or Car to Go, and have that car drive it’s self around, costs fall to the floor. Being that the major cost of any taxi service is paying the person, without a person driving, the cost is much less. That alone will change the entire experience of calling a cab, as there will be flocks of autonomous vehicles lining up near busy locations, all taking to each other in an orderly fashion.

Long Haul Truckers

No longer a human profession.

Speaking of industries that are on their way out, if you don’t have to pay someone to sit in a truck, why would you? Autonomous trucks never fall asleep, don’t need food, they can drive at any hour, and don’t need to be paid. Manufactures are already thinking about this and developing trucks with these capabilities.

The list goes on and on. The world is about to change rapidly, and these cars are on the road now. We just need the laws to catch up so the software can be turned on.

SpaceX is going to Mars

This last Tuesday at the 67th IAC conference being held this year in Guadalajara, Elon Musk announced his plans to send people to Mars. Musk’s intent on going to Mars is no surprise, he created SpaceX to do just that. But the “how” wasn’t disclosed until this week. Below is the computer rendition of the trip to Mars he is currently designing.

This is very exciting for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s a plan owned by SpaceX. There are many plans our there, and have been for 60 years. They all have their pros and cons, but the most important thing you could do is choose one, and run with it. This is the plan they have chosen.
  2. There were signs of engineering being done. There wasn’t too much new presented for those who know the field. But, Musk did say the rendering were build from CAD drawings and the engineering issues are being worked on. There is an effort being made to build the hardware.
  3. The size. This was the most amazing part by far. The rocket he is planing to build is HUGE! It will be the most powerful vehicle ever built. It will have 100 people per launch, with 42 main engines on it’s first stage.

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Here is a side by side comparison to the Saturn 5 rocket. It is over three times heavier with three times the power. Amazing is the only word for it. It’s so powerful that SpaceX changed it’s name from Mars Colonial Transporter to the Interplanetary Transport System, because they plan to fly it to Jupiter’s moons, asteroids and other planets in addition to Mars. This is the rail road for our solar system.

When this craft takes of for the first time, it will be like nothing humans have ever seen before.

I can’t wait.

Pokemon Go – What games are all about

Pokemon Go was recently released in Canada to much fan fare. The game takes place in augmented reality and is everything a game should be.

The hook of the game is that you have to move to play it. You can’t sit at home and play, you have to walk around. Thousands of people are getting off their ass and going outside to play a game, and they are having fun doing it.

On my train ride home I saw professionals of all stripes chasing virtual monsters instead of starting off into space as they usually do. On my running route, the same one that I’ve been running for years, I saw hundreds of people out in the park, walking around with their cellphones, catching pokemon. Not only that, but they are learning about their city. The locations in the game are tied to real locations in the world. Public art, important buildings, transit locations are all locations in the game. Today I found a fountain in a downtown park I didn’t know was there.

Health Canada can only dream of activity numbers like that. Imagine if Parks Canada had an app that had kids searching our national parks and playing games outside.

People having fun and sharing a common experience is why I play games. Augmented reality has a bright future ahead of it.

 

My Very Own Tesla

I’ve been a Tesla fan since the Roadster was unveiled in 2006. I’ve been an electric car fan since before that, but no one made a good electric car, or one that was easily accessible. I think with Tesla’s current success, the bit automakers are seeing that was a mistake on their part.

Electric is sexy. I should know, I’m an electrical engineer.

Many people push electric because it doesn’t produce exhaust, it’s quieter, it’s better for the environment… But not me. Those are all nice, but I want an electric car because they are better. An AC motor beats a gasoline engine hands down, every time. You know when you press the gas, and your car has to “rev up”? Electric doesn’t do that. You get 100% of the torque as soon as you need it.

No waiting until you are at 3,000 RPM, no turbos, no transmission to shift the torque… Electric gives you the full power of the car when you need it. And Tesla isn’t shy about showing this capability off. Their fastest Model S can go from 0-100km/h in 3 seconds, putting it in super-car territory. It’s that sort of engineering that tickles me where I love to be ticketed. Damn good engineering.

To that end, I got up early on March 31st and headed to the mall at 4:30 AM to line up to buy a car. I was 9th in line as some people had camped overnight to secure their spot. I estimate about 80 people were lined up behind me when the doors opened at 9:30 AM. As it turns out, a few hundred thousand people around the world also lined up to buy a car they had never seen and will have to wait 1.5 years to get.

Doors are open and pre sales for the #model3 are being sold. 80 in line #yyc #model3yyc

A photo posted by Zac Trolley (@zactrolley) on

So, now I play the waiting game. It’s been 8 years waiting for a Tesla model that I could afford, I think I can wait a little more. This time when I play with the online configurations, I won’t be dreaming, I’ll be choosing colors on my dream car.

I liked you better as a Minister

This is a post about the change of demeanor I’ve seen in The Honorable Michelle Rempel since the election. Michelle was the minster for Western Economic Diversification from 2013 until the election in 2015. The mandate of this department is to:

“Promote the development and diversification of the economy of Western Canada and to advance the interests of the West in national economic policy, program and project development and implementation.”

Her job was to diversify the western economy. That roughly translates to creating businesses that don’t deal in oil. To do this, she create the WINN, a $100 million fund available to small and medium enterprises. From the website:

Over the next five years, WINN will provide up to $100 million in repayable assistance to SMEs working to commercialize their products, processes, and services.

$20 million a year that a company would have to repay at some point. An loan basically. As a SME, a kickstarter campaign might get you more traction. That criticism aside, I enjoyed Michelle’s work. She was my local MP, and I enjoyed her (usually) straight talk and approachable manner. She routinely visited non-standard Albertan industries and opened some new facilities. All this changed when she became an opposition MP. Watch this video in this link.

To recap, her job from 2013 until 2015 was to diversify the western economy to remove it’s reliance on a single industry or commodity.

In the video, she says “The bottom line is that there are over 100,000 people out of work in my Province” Somehow completely skipping over the part where it was her job to provide opportunities for their employment.

“This is a major concern for the national economy” Yes it is. It was your mandate for two years to diversity the western economy to be more resilient, but you didn’t.

“We’ve got this industry that’s in crisis..” It was your job to make sure if a crisis happened, there would be other industries to keep us afloat. That’s what diversification means.

“We have to care about the people who are out of work, not just in Alberta but the ripple effect this is going to have across the country” Probably should have done something about shoring up the economy while you were the minster in charge. Take advantage of a sunny day to build a better foundation perhaps? Michelle, you were in charge of the economic safe guards to thwart unemployment in this very situation.

You get the idea. She is becoming a master at this type of Orwellian doublespeak. Pointing fingers and the very same problem she created.

 

There is no spin! Those are the facts! The Conservatives did nothing to protect Canada against falling oil prices. They are now pointing the finger at the Liberal government for not bolstering the very same industry that got us into this mess.

Yes, we need the Energy East pipeline. We should absolutely use Canadian resources for Canada. The application was filled in October 2014. These applications take time. In the meantime it would be nice to fall back on a few secondary industries… but someone didn’t create enough incentives for them to grow. In the interest of politics, Michelle is attacking with all her ammunition, regardless if her guns are pointed at the department she use to run.

Michelle, I liked you better as a minister. Please go back to positive politics. Work with the Liberals in creating real change and stop worrying about your reelection. Your country needs you.

Mining the Sky

When I’m involved in conversations about resources, there is a phrase that I love to use.

The Earth has a resource problem, but humans don’t

The theory behind this statement is that the universe is unimaginably abundant, yet we restrict our views to the ground. If we wanted, we could collect any resource we needed in infinite amounts from the solar system. Mining the sky isn’t a new idea, but it has yet to penetrate into venture capital thinking and investment. Individuals who want to exploit this resource have long lobbied for laws that allow a company to exploit resources from space.  These individuals have often put their own money and effort into companies to commercialize space mining, creating companies like Shackleton, Moon Express, Planetary Resources, and Deep Space Industries.

There are major hurdles before this becomes a reality. The perception is that technology may be the largest barrier, but in reality it is law holding back the commercial exploration our solar system. The Outer Space Treaty, brought into law in 1967, guides most if not all space activities today. This treaty was drafted before humans steeped on the moon and long before UAVs were children’s toys. We’ve come along way, but the principles of this treaty are still in effect. A few of those principals are:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Here’s the catch, the treaty says that object in space are the province of all mankind and cannot be owned by anyone. For example, under UN law, no one may own the moon. This has been interpreted that entities can’t mine these resources, since how can you mine something you don’t own? Also, how can you sell these metals once you mine them, if you can’t own them? If I have a mining machine in space, I can land on an asteroid. I can perform experiments, I can take samples and I can even bring these samples back to Earth. The samples remain the “province of all mankind” so I can’t sell them, I can only study them.

The Apollo missions is the only example we have of this behavior so far. The NASA astronauts returned with 842 pounds of moon rocks between 1969 and 1972. Many of these samples have gone missing over the years, and some have turned up for sale in black markets. You can’t legally own the moon rocks as a private citizen, because the Outer Space Treaty doesn’t allow for it. However, you don’t have to look far to get into grey territory. For example, if you find a meteorite on the ground on Earth, that originated from the moon, then you can keep it.

This grey area was recently given some contrast when the US government passed a law expanding what US companies are allowed to do. The law now says:

‘‘A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.’’.

The problem is that the applicable law forbids this action. Some agree, others don’t.

 

It’s true, that a company doesn’t own international waters, but can still use them to fish. In that way, space is an analogy for international waters. However, fish will grow back if responsible methods are used, not so much with rocks. The same boats can also fish in the same waters, different equipment can’t mine the same ore.

However, I also said that the resources exist in near infinite quantities. In that respect, there is room for everyone.

There was a Google Hangout on this very subject. I got a version of my question asked at the 13:50 mark.

The people involved are clearly passionate, and spent a lot of time working on this. This law is a fantastic step, don’t get me wrong. However, I don’t think it’s the slam dunk some are making it out to be. Many of our terrestrial notions of how we operate will need to be adapted for space, and the laws will change to suit this. The change will take time, and this is the ever important first step.

The next steps are going to be even more interesting, and I for one, can’t wait.

Blue Origin to Space! Sort of.

On November 23rd, Blue Origin launched a rocket to an altitude of 100 km (where space begins) and landed it. It’s the landing part that’s amazing. Rockets, historically have been built on missile technology. And missiles are not built to be retrieved after. That means 99% of all rockets are one use only. Imagine if every plane was one use only, how expensive flying would be. Well, that’s why getting to space is expensive. This is great news.

However, Blue Origin is only traveling at sub orbital speeds. Their craft, New Shepard, reached a speed of Mach 3.72, or 1.2 km/s. To get into LEO, you need to be going about 8 km/s. The ISS travels at 7.66 km/s, so you need to be going at least that fast to dock with it. Blue Origin isn’t going into space with the ability to stay there, it’s just going really really high.

So, articles with titles such as “Jeff Bezos 1-0 Elon Musk: Blue Origin New Shepard lands successfully” piss me off. These are two different things. SpaceX is going after the ISS and Mars, where Blue Origin is not leaving Earth. The propagation of misinformation  in the media is.. staggering. We should know this. People should understand what an orbit is. Elon thinks so as well.

So, this is a great step for space flight, no doubt about it. But it isn’t what the media is making it out to be.

So what if the Glaciers melt?

All change carries with it an element of risk. There is no shortage of estimated risk when it comes toa changing climate. It’s very easy to get caught up in one argument or another without making progress. Let’s simplify the discussion a little by removing the cause of the change. I want to be spesific. I want to talk about climate change in the context of the Athabasca Glacier. I want to talk about what we know and what we don’t know.

Simply put, regardless of the cause, our glaciers are melting. It’s a very real and extensively documented occurrence. The Athabasca Glacier is receding at a rate of about 5 meters per year, and has lost over half it’s volume in the past 125 years. I recently visited the glacier, and ran my hands in the water that’s melting off of it.

It’s the water I want to talk about. The glacier is melting, and its feeding our rivers. The glacier is a feed to the Athabasca River, a system that includes 94 rivers, 150 named creeks and 153 lakes. This glacier and the ice field accosiated with it has an important job. It’s runoff is providing water to this system. However, the glacier is retreating, leaving less ice to melt year after year. At some point, the glacier will run out of ice, stop melting and stop feeding water into this system. It’s simple math. We don’t know when but, if this trend continues, it will happen.

Water is a very important resource for life, and we use this river system for a lot of things. One use is industrial. Oil Sands operations licence water for use in their processes. What happens when the water runs out?

As I said earlier, let’s skip over the causation arguments and begin a dialog over the ramifications of this. The Athabasca river system is at risk of losing it’s source.

Water

Conclusion: In Alberta, we base our lively hood on oil. Currently, we use the Athabasca river to help us get at this oil. The river is slowing down it’s flow. The Athabasca glacier that feeds the river is shrinking, and won’t provide water forever. When the river drys up, so does a nessisary asset to the Albertan economy.

If we maintain the present course, this will happen. Lets have a climate conversation about this.

 

 

Our boxing PM and his criminal opponent

[cryout-button-color url=”#” color=”#47AFFF”][/cryout-button-color]Now that Justin Trudeau is our PM, international news outlets are showing pictures of him, including pics from his boxing match with Patrick Brazeau. While it’s all fun and games to post topless pictures of politicians, but I think it’s important to reminisce a little on this boxing match. I’m sure Justin hasn’t forgotten it. At the time he was a junior MP, pitted against a physically stronger Conservative Senate member. The parallels are numerous.
patrickbrazeau

To recap, Justin and Patrick were paired to fight in a boxing match to raise money for cancer. Tickets were $250, and Patrick was the favorite going into the fight. When the dust settled, Justin was the winner, Capital hill was all a buzz, and life went on. Justin was later elected the Liberal Leader and Brazeau started assaulting people outside the ring.

I don’t think anyone much cared about Brazeau after this boxing match. Then he went and committed a few crimes. He was charged with assault and sexual assault, and pleaded guilt to assault and possession of cocaine. He also has a fraud case scheduled to go before the courts in 2016. The way I see it, He’s a scum bag and has no business being in the Government. Now, my big issue here, is why isn’t he in jail? The Conservatives have a strong anti drug stance, so why don’t they make an example of this guy and put him in jail? The guy has prior convictions, and other court cases in his future, but he walks free.

As far as Senators on trail, Brazeau isn’t alone. There’s Duffy, Wallin, Harb… the list goes on.

There are plenty of arguments to be made.

The takeaway I want to leave you with, is Justin is now the leader of the country, and there is a lot of talk about the Senate. When he speaks to Parliament about the Senate, remember he’s not afraid to put on his[cryout-button-dark url=”#”][/cryout-button-dark] gloves and go toe to toe in an actual ring with these guys.