Category Archives: 1 – One in a Billion in posts

A post-by-post version of the current One in a Billion action plan.

Micro wind turbines

micro wind turbineEven though micro wind turbines can be used to cut your personal carbon footprint, there are good reasons why they are much less popular than solar panels. Here we will briefly look at the three most important of these.

The first and most important reason is the effect that an urban environment has on the wind. Due to all the man-made obstructions in an average neighbourhood, winds are usually weak and gusty at levels where one would normally install a micro wind turbine. Wind turbines need strong and steady winds to operate effectively and these kinds of winds are simply not available in town.

Secondly, a wind turbine has numerous moving parts, implying a substantially shorter lifetime and more maintenance troubles than you would get from solar panels. The last thing you want from a small electricity generator on your roof is constant hassle and unforeseen costs.

Thirdly, wind turbines can create noise that bothers yourself and your neighbours. People’s sensitivity to wind turbine noise has been shown to vary greatly, but the potential CO2 cuts from a micro wind turbine on your roof is probably not worth risking the wrath of your neighbour.

vertical axis wind turbineThere have been some interesting developments in vertical axis wind turbines that could overcome these problems to some extent. These turbines are reportedly more adept at handling gusty urban winds, face smaller mechanical loads and operate much more quietly. However, this comes at a trade-off for more complex blade design  and lower efficiencies (therefore higher costs). We will have to wait and see if this trade-off is worth it.

One area where micro wind turbines can be a good idea is for those who live out on the countryside in a windy country. In such places, winds are not obstructed by urban structures and there are no neighbours to annoy. In addition, it is possible to install somewhat larger ground-mounted units in order to benefit from economies of scale.

Aside from this small niche application, however, there are not any obviously attractive applications for micro wind turbines. Your carbon footprint can be cut much more effectively in numerous other ways discussed on this blog.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Rooftop solar – Part 2: When is it a good idea?

The previous post discussed some hard realities about much-loved rooftop solar panels. Despite this necessary reality check, however, rooftop solar can still be a good way in which to cut your personal carbon footprint in a socially just manner. Two important factors are covered: location and subsidies.

The first factor, location, has a very large influence on the value of solar power. For example, if you live in a location at high latitudes where electricity demand is highest in the winter when solar power generation is close to zero, rooftop solar is not a good idea. If, in addition, cloudy weather is common, it becomes and even worse idea. Check out this page for a more technical study finding that almost no solar PV should be deployed in north-west Europe even if technology costs fall by another 60% and the CO2 price rises to €20/ton.

On the other hand, if you live in a very hot location where solar insolation is very high and very well aligned with peak demand from air conditioning, rooftop solar becomes a much better idea. Although it is doubtful whether solar power will actually close any thermal power plants, it may be able to partially defer investment in future expensive natural gas peaker plants. It can also help protect the electricity system against demand overshoot stemming from air conditioning during extreme heat waves.

Palmer - Solar alignment with peak

In the longer term, the value of long-lived solar PV systems in very sunny regions could potentially be enhanced with an hour or two of affordable battery storage shifting output from the noon peak to the afternoon/evening when demand is typically highest. The example above clearly shows why this would be beneficial.

Battery technology is not yet affordable for this purpose, but could be within a decade or so. However, if storage remains uneconomical and too much solar PV is subsidized into existence, it could cause substantial problems for the electricity system via the rapid evening ramp required by the so-called “duck graph” (below).

California duck graph

When considering the second factor, subsidies, it is important to consider that any subsidy payment that you receive must be taken from someone else and this wealth transfer can sometimes be very unfair. Overly generous subsidy programs can be badly exploited by wealthy homeowners plastering their entire roofs full of solar panels, ultimately driving up electricity prices for poor families that spend a sizable chunk of their disposable income on energy (e.g. Germany).

It is also important to remember that net-metering (where your meter runs backwards when your solar panels produce more electricity than you consume) is also a form of subsidy because the value of rooftop solar is much less than the value of retail electricity. Since solar power (without large amounts of energy storage) displaces little, if any, power generation or distribution infrastructure, increases in net-metering forces utilities to distribute these fixed capital costs over fewer units of electricity sold. In this way, net-metering forces people without solar power (who now have to buy more expensive electricity) to subsidize people with solar power (who now consume less grid electricity).

Doing the math behind subsidization can be tedious, but it is a good rule of thumb that you should not exploit subsidies to install solar power if your country/state gets more than 1% of its electricity from solar PV. Below 1% the effect of solar PV on the entire system is negligibly small and can be safely ignored. Currently, only a few countries in Europe together with Australia and California get more than 1% of their electricity from solar PV.

So, in summary, rooftop solar is a good idea only in sunny locations where subsidies (investment tax credits, feed-in tariffs or net-metering) are either completely absent or where solar PV penetration remains below 1%. As shown in the map below, this still leaves many opportunities for the deployment of rooftop solar by environmentally conscious individuals.


Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Overwork: Preventing burnout

Rules-of-ProductivityAs discussed in the previous post, overwork can easily lock you into a vicious cycle leading to complete burnout (even if it is related to a subject that really inspires you). Burnout is a terribly frustrating experience, especially if you are used to being highly productive. It destroys inspiration and natural interest and, if not properly dealt with, can lead to months of grinding below-par productivity. It is certainly to be avoided at any cost.

This post will therefore discuss a few ways in which you can build an environment in which burnout is automatically prevented. As with all other guidelines given on this blog, the central principle is constructing a micro-environment where doing the right thing happens automatically and naturally.

The first and most important guideline is to set up a range of relaxing activities which you have no choice other than to attend. Regular sports practices, music practices, poker evenings or family outings fall in this category. These are typical events which you might resist going to at first, but, when you are actually there, you suddenly become very glad that you actually went. A fixed schedule of such activities will give your mind a welcome (and automatically enforced) break from your primary occupation and will definitely have a significant positive influence on your productivity (and your general life satisfaction).

Secondly, it really helps to ensure that your immediate working environment contains some healthy distractions such as a musical instrument, a pair of free-weights or just a fairly quiet walking path where you can stretch your legs and get some fresh air. Whenever you feel like your focus is waning, it can be very helpful to take a break and make use of one of these distractions. And no, Facebook or YouTube don’t count as healthy distractions.

Finally, it is very helpful to ensure that your environment contains some opportunities for quiet time whenever your mind becomes overburdened. Just a few minutes on a quiet rooftop, in a quality massage chair or following a slow yoga routine can really provide a very welcome rebalancing of your internal chemistry after a period of sustained effort. Taking a few minutes to just decouple and take a step back can also lead to valuable productivity-boosting insights. 

I again have to emphasize that it is vital to build these guidelines into your environment. If you just make a new-year’s resolution that you will maintain a better work-life balance, but leave your environment unchanged, I can guarantee you that nothing will come of it. Invest the little bit of effort necessary to set up this intelligent micro-environment. It is definitely worth it.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Overwork: The vicious cycle

work-vs-inspirationThe vicious cycle of overwork is one of the biggest enemies of highly productive people. It goes like this: the more overworked you become, the less productive you become, the longer hours you feel you have to work, the more overworked you become. This is frustrating, demoralizing and unhealthy and can kill your healthy obsession before you ever get the chance to really produce something of note.

Breaking the vicious cycle of overwork is quite simple really (in theory): You simply have to realize that there exists an optimum number of hours you can work in a given week, month or year before your productivity (and various other areas in life) start to suffer. The less simple part is finding out where that number lies and sticking to it in daily life.

One thing that really helps in this regard is to actually work all the time you work. It is amazing how many people think that working and going to work is exactly the same thing. It’s not. Two people can be at the office for exactly the same number of hours, but have vastly different outputs, simply because the one allows himself to be constantly distracted by everything imaginable, while the other puts his head down, really gets into the job and then allows the brain’s natural interest in the subject to drive him forward, forgetting about time, forgetting about eating and never even thinking about the myriad of distractions that plague the working man of today.

If you really have found your healthy obsession, it will take only a few minutes of conscious focus to kick-start a long period of near-optimal productivity. In fact, this is one of the most natural tests of a healthy obsession. If you repeatedly fail to get your brain to naturally focus on the subject matter at hand, you really should carefully consider whether this really is your calling. And remember; you always have the option of shifting down instead of shifting up.

If you have truly found your healthy obsession, however, one of the best skills you can develop is the skill of recognizing the vicious cycle of overwork already at an early stage and taking corrective action regardless of how difficult it might be. Ignoring these warning signals can bring only grief and frustration. The next post will look at some strategies for preventing the vicious cycle of overwork and get out quick if it starts to suck you in.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Overwork: Too much of a good thing

UpwardsSuccessfully developing a healthy obsession and shifting your life into top gear is wonderful both for yourself and for society, but it does have a potential downside…

The problem is this: While doing something stupid like constantly increasing your intake of McDonald’s “happy” meals will eventually make you fat and unhealthy and thereby create some forces opposing this behavior,  doing something smart like allowing yourself to become totally immersed in a creative subject area that really interests you will stimulate further interest, strengthen your self-esteem, bring you a nice pay raise and win you the respect of many people, thereby further reinforcing this trend. This is very cool except for one little problem: you will soon find yourself regularly working 70 or 80 hour weeks. And that is not sustainable.

burn-outOverwork has several rather serious consequences. Firstly, it can easily lead to something called burnout. This is when the brain is simply pressed beyond what it can take and just becomes totally useless, robbing you of any creativity and energy that you might have thought you had left. You simply cannot get any work done in this state and, if you are used to being highly productive, this is terribly frustrating. Someone who does not respect her own limits actually ends up working more and more inefficiently as she pushes her brain further and further past its healthy operating point. Thus, she is constantly working harder and producing less. That is very much not cool.

Secondly, if you push yourself far enough, it can actually make you physically ill. In the life expectancy calculator on the top right, overwork subtracts about three years from an average lifespan. OK, it’s not nearly as bad as smoking, but still; that’s more than a thousand good days down the drain. Also, if you are ill, you cannot work and therefore, by driving yourself past your limits, you will simply be reducing your productivity.

Thirdly, it can have a very negative effect on your family and social life. Strong social networks and regular social contact is fun, emotionally fulfilling, stimulating to your creativity and a source of an additional five years to your life. A strong and real (not Facebook) social network is also an excellent rainy day insurance policy. Friends and family can be of immeasurable value during hard times – both practically and emotionally.

tortoise and hareAll three of these factors have the potential to really hurt your productivity (value added per hour worked). This is the total opposite of what we want and can lead to a very demoralizing spiral of reducing output despite longer working hours (discussed further in the following post). Such a vicious cycle is a real motivation-killer and should be avoided at all costs by any individual with ambitions to really do something special in this world.

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. From personal experience, I know that this is very hard to do, but if you get it right consistently, wonderful things can happen.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Taking mental control to the top level

There is this old saying: “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” Earning the title of the busiest person – the person whose time is constantly in high demand – is not easy, especially in the tough economic times we face today. Doing this requires a sustainable shift up in performance as described in the previous section of this mental control category, but even this is not quite enough. The following few posts will therefore discuss the last few details necessary for complete mental control.

OverwhelmIn particular,  two primary “busy person” challenges will be discussed in quite some detail over the following posts: overwork and overwhelm. If not managed well, these two factors can completely ruin potentially great contributions to society by sapping energy, enthusiasm and focus. However, if you manage to set up your working environment in such a way that you can capitalize on the most lucrative opportunities coming your way without burning out or getting lost in a marsh of multitasking, some very cool things can happen.

Making a truly meaningful contribution without falling prey to overwork and overwhelm is very challenging though. It requires a good deal of discipline, some honest prioritizing and regular, but polite use of the word “no”. Most importantly, however, it requires an intelligent micro-environment where a healthy balance and sufficient focus happens automatically. We will build such an environment in this section.

the brainFinally, to put the next few posts in the correct perspective, it can be useful to quickly summarize the mental control philosophy followed in this category of the One in a Billion project. Mental control is about using your limited willpower to set up intelligent micro-environments where the desired behavior happens automatically (basic control), harnessing the brain’s most powerful drivers for good and productive purposes (intermediate control), and taking good care of your brain when you reach that high performance zone (advanced control).

Such a brain can sustain remarkably high performance and creativity almost effortlessly and, frankly speaking, is quite possibly the most valuable thing in the world. If you want to become truly wealthy (in every sense of the word), developing such a brain is the best place to start.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Artificial hell manipulation

OK, this will be the last weird heading for quite some time, I promise.

Let’s briefly recap from a previous post: our brains are hardwired to magnify both the potential pleasure and potential pain from any future event – something I like to call mythical utopias or artificial hells. The resulting instinctive drive towards instant pleasure and away from instant pain has a very powerful influence on our day-to-day actions and is responsible for a large portion of the vast array of long-term problems we face today.

However, if we can manipulate these very strong natural drives to result in day-to-day behavior which will be beneficial in the long-run both to ourselves and to our planet, the future suddenly looks a lot rosier. The previous four posts (1, 2, 3, 4) discussed how this could be done for mythical utopias and this post will strive to attain the same outcome for artificial hells.

So, wfear-of-public-speaking-cartoonhat do you think our most common fears are? Well, this mostly depends on which poll you read, but two fears that often come out on top are the fear of spiders and the fear of public speaking. The really scary long-term trends in our society today – things like resource depletion, climate change, the degenerative disease epidemic and rapidly growing global economic imbalances – are not even on the radar for most people.

For reference, spiders kill less than 10 people per year and public speaking is even more harmless. By comparison, climate change is already killing 100000-500000 people yearly (again depending on who you believe), while cigarettes kill about 5 million. One in ten tobacco-related deaths result from second-hand smoke, implying that, if you’re a non-smoker, your chances of being killed by a spider are 50000 times less than being killed by smoker.

So, why mention these numbers? Well, in short, it is simply meant to demonstrate that our drive away from instant pain is completely screwed up. Yes, it worked very well for the vast majority of human history in order to motivate us to avoid dangerous animals or rejection from the tribe, but in our modern fossil fuel-powered world of material affluence, it has become completely outdated.

OK, so how do we then upgrade our instinctive drive away from instant pain? Well, that is quite simple really. One simply needs to educate oneself about the real threats to our society to the point where any personal actions that will worsen these trends evoke about the same feelings as a big tarantula crawling up your leg.

This really is much easier than you might expect, primarily because a large amount of high-quality information about the real threats to our society is available today. Three good videos are attached below this post. Please take the time to view them. Correctly shaping your brain’s perception of instant pain can contribute greatly to automatically shaping your actions towards sustainability – something which not only brings great gains to the planet, but also to yourself.

An excellent documentary about the limits of our finite planet:

A quick documentary on climate change:

An excellent presentation series about the lack of sustainability in our social systems starts here:

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control