Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Climate Crash?

Going into 2009, there will be many changes in U.S. climate policy.  That is welcome news.  What is NOT welcome news is that so far, many of these changes seem to be driving the issue right off another ideological cliff - only this time, a liberal one.

I'm the first to admit that Republicans, by and large, have mishandled the climate issue in particular and the issue of the environment in general.  But just because one party is behaving badly does not by ANY means indicate that the other party is "good" on the issue.  

I had hoped that the Obama message of "change" would mean a break in the partisan way of doing business, but it is shaping up to look like that, unfortunately, will not be the case with climate change.  

Looking at the new leadership in the influential House Commerce & Energy Committee as well as the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, we can get a glimpse of the new desired approach - one that caters almost exclusively to the most strident environmental groups desire to "punish industry".  It remains to be seen whether the Obama environment/climate appointments will also follow in this path -- one that will guarantee no bill passes through a still mostly divided Congress (on this issue at least), or whether they chart a brave direction toward bi-partisanship and compromise -- the ONLY way anything EVER passes through the U.S. legislative process.

I hope for the best, but would alert people following this issue to the need to impress on the new leaders the dangers -- TO THE ENVIRONMENT of giving in to the feel good approach of partisan idealism.  We are rapidly running out of time to get started on a climate regime that will allow us to reduce emissions by the needed levels to avoid irreversible affects on our planet.  We can not afford to waste another 2 years - this time by sounding good and getting nothing done.

I would also alert those who have been less engaged than they should have been on this issue for many years -- WAKE UP!  The window is rapidly closing on the ability to get sound policy that is sustainable for both the economy and the environment.  

The only test for the next Congress on this issue -- is what they get DONE - NOT what is proposed and how much grandstanding occurs.  In the end, that's just more hot air emissions.

Below is a story from the Wall Street Journal discussing some of the inside baseball changes happening -- and proof of what I'm referring to.

At the end of the day, members who represent coal states and oil states and car states -- will need to see a climate plan that is a pragmatic, steady transition toward a carbon constrained economy -- regardless of whether there is a D or an R behind their name.  The sooner we all realize this reality and work with it, the faster we can get started saving the planet . . . and ourselves.
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The Climate Purge

Coup d'etat at the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Henry Waxman moved to consolidate his coup d'etat at the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee just hours after he was installed as the new chairman this week. It appears that the California liberal, with his customary subtlety, is plotting a night of the climate-change long knives.

[Bart Stupak]

Democrats dumped the current Chairman John Dingell because he does not favor global-warming action aggressive enough to suit the party's green wing. Now his lieutenants, who've been known to share his views, are targets too. Gene Green, an oil-patch Democrat who chairs the subcommittee on environmental issues, sent out a panicked Dear Colleague letter that called for "healing" and volunteered that he has enjoyed working "with Chairman Waxman on a number of other issues and I would hope to continue it."

Then Bart Stupak -- Mr. Dingell's chief deputy, head of the investigations subcommittee and resident FDA demagogue -- chimed in that he, too, looks forward to carrying on "the important work Chairman Dingell and I began."

But the Dingell ally who should be looking over his shoulder most nervously is Rick Boucher, chairman of the energy subcommittee. Mr. Boucher has been a friend to the coal industry and hardly finds himself in a comfortable position now when his incoming boss supports a moratorium on coal-fired power. Mr. Boucher's likely replacement is Ed Markey, Nancy Pelosi's climate-change point man, now head of the telecom subcommittee. In a fit of anti-Dingell pique, Speaker Pelosi last year stripped Mr. Dingell of jurisdiction over climate change, giving the portfolio to a special panel run by Mr. Markey. Never mind that the new panel, under House rules, lacks the power to mark up legislation. Mr. Dingell called the committee "as useless as feathers on a fish" and "an embarrassment to everybody."

No doubt Mr. Dingell's comments were among the many sins he's now paying for. Soon taxpayers will be paying a stiff price too if Mr. Waxman and company succeed in their plans to use federal money to subsidize all kinds of "green" energy interest groups.


Friday, October 10, 2008

The Green Bubble

Well, as I was just saying . . . the economy is going to force the "green" movement to either become practical and intertwined with energy policy in a constructive way, or it will become last year's "fad" that fades away as just another part of the excesses of the 90s and the oughts.  Unless environmental groups want to be remembered by history as a "luxury issue"-- fun to indulge in when money was easy, but not considered essential, then they had better start re-defining what it is they are "for" and "against" away from the environmental, anti-human activity, anti-industry rants of the past and toward the pragmatic problem-solving entities needed for our new energy future.

If what is happening to our economy right now is not a huge wake-up call for environmentalists of all stripes, then there is no hope for them.

But I think there IS hope for some.  And crisis does offer opportunity for great advancement, if taken.  If the technical knowledge and passion that exists in many environmental organizations can be tapped in the larger service of securing our energy future -- recognizing the need to reign in costs and go step-by-step, then amazing things can happen. 
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L.A. Times

OPINION

The green bubble bursts


Amid the energy crisis, Democrats are losing the high ground on the environment to a GOP that is pushing oil drilling.
By Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger 
September 30, 2008
As the election enters its endgame, Democrats and their environmental allies face a political challenge they could hardly have imagined just a few months ago. America's growing dependence on fossil fuels, once viewed as a Democratic trump card held alongside the Iraq war and the deflating economy, has become a lodestone instead. Republicans stole the energy issue from Democrats by proposing expanded drilling -- particularly lifting bans on offshore oil drilling -- to bring down gasoline prices. Whereas Barack Obama told Americans to properly inflate their tires, Republicans at their convention gleefully chanted "Drill, baby, drill!" Obama's point on conservation and efficiency was lost on an electorate eager for a solution to what they perceive as a supply crisis.

Democrats and greens ended up in this predicament because they believed their own press clippings -- or, perhaps more accurately, Al Gore's. After the release of the documentary film and book "An Inconvenient Truth," greens convinced themselves that U.S. public opinion on climate change had shifted dramatically, despite having no empirical evidence that was the case. In fact, public concern about global warming was about the same before the movie -- 65% told a Gallup poll in 2007 that global warming was a somewhat or very important concern in comparison to 63% in 1989. Global warming remains a low-priority issue, hovering near the bottom of the Pew Center for People and the Press' top 20 priorities. 

By contrast, public concern about gasoline and energy prices has shifted dramatically. While liberals and environmentalists were congratulating themselves on the triumph of climate science over fossil-fuel-funded ignorance, planning inauguration parties and writing legislation for the next Democratic president and Congress, gas prices became the second-highest concern after the economy, according to Gallup.

This summer, elite opinion ran headlong into American popular opinion. The train wreck happened in the Senate and went by the name of the Climate Security Act. That bill to cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would have, by all accounts (even the authors'), increased gasoline and energy prices. Despite clear evidence that energy-price anxiety was rising, Democrats brought the bill to the Senate floor in June when gas prices were well over $4 a gallon in most of the country. Republicans were all too happy to join that fight.

Indeed, they so relished the opportunity to accuse Democrats of raising gasoline prices in the midst of an energy crisis, they insisted that the 500-page bill be read into the Senate record in its entirety in order to prolong the debate. Within days, Senate Democrats started jumping ship. Democratic leaders finally killed the debate to avert an embarrassing defeat, but by then they had handed Republicans a powerful political club. 

Republicans have been bludgeoning Democrats with it ever since. They held dramatic "hearings," unauthorized by the Democratic leadership, on the need for expanded oil drilling to lower gas prices. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich quickly announced a book, "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less," a movie and a petition drive. And Republican presidential candidate John McCain stopped making speeches about his support for bipartisan climate action, which is how he had started his campaign, and attacked Obama and congressional Democrats for opposing drilling instead. 

On June 9, three days after the emissions cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate, Obama led McCain by eight points, according to Gallup. By June 24, the race was in a dead heat, a shift owed in no small part to Republicans battering Democrats on energy. Seeing the writing on the wall, Obama reversed his opposition to drilling in August, and congressional Democrats quickly followed suit. 

But the damage has largely been done. In following greens, Democrats allowed McCain and Republicans to cast them as the party out of touch with the pocketbook concerns of middle-class Americans and captive to special interests that prioritize remote wilderness over economic prosperity. 

In a tacit acknowledgment of their defeat, some green leaders, such as the Sierra Club's Carl Pope, have endorsed the Democrats' pro-drilling strategy. But few of them seem to realize the political implications. The most influential environmental groups in Washington -- the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund -- are continuing to bet the farm on a strategy that relies on emissions limits and other regulations aimed at making fossil fuels more expensive in order to encourage conservation, efficiency and renewable energy. But with an economic recession likely, and energy prices sure to remain high for years to come thanks to expanding demand in China and other developing countries, any strategy predicated centrally on making fossil fuels more expensive is doomed to failure.

A better approach is to make clean energy cheap through technology innovation funded directly by the federal government. In contrast to raising energy prices, investing somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion annually in technology R&D, infrastructure and transmission lines to bring power from windy and sunny places to cities is overwhelmingly popular with voters. Instead of embracing this big investment, greens and Democrats push instead for tiny tax credits for renewable energy -- nothing approaching the national commitment that's needed.

With just six weeks before the election, the bursting of the green bubble is a wake-up call for Democrats. Environmental groups, perpetually certain that a new ecological age is about to dawn in America, have serially overestimated their strength and misread public opinion. Democrats must break once and for all from green orthodoxy that focuses primarily on making dirty energy more expensive and instead embrace a strategy to make clean energy cheap. 

By continuing to hew to the green agenda, Democrats have not only put in jeopardy their chance of taking back the White House and growing their majority in Congress, they also have set back the prospects of establishing policies that might effectively address the climate and energy crises.



Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are authors of "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" and co-founders of the Breakthrough Institute.






Monday, September 15, 2008

Why the Greens Need Pragmatism

One of my favorite books on environmental policy is Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.  Although I don't agree with all of their policy solutions, that's the beauty of being a pragmatist - take the good, leave the rest.  What I think they do an amazing job of is laying out the problem with the modern environmentalist movement today -- and its focus on limiting people rather than empowering them as a means to deal with pollution.  

This book also gives a great explanation for how funders - with the best intentions, often end up creating a market force FOR conflict and high rhetoric, rather than a reward for pragmatic bridge-building.  

I checked back in on the BreakThrough website and saw a number of articles worth looking at.  
Click the following link to check out the latest at The BreakThrough Institute.  In particular, there was an article about the rapid change in politics on the oil drilling/climate issue that made me think.  The point of that article was to chronicle how fast the politics changed this past summer.  It quotes Democratic leaders as confident about passing comprehensive climate legislation, only to end the summer by looking for ways to expand drilling opportunities as a means to appease the public on high gas prices.

There are several interesting points of discussion in this article.  But the one that really struck me was how this recent history should be a big piece of proof to green groups everywhere that you MUST adopt a more pragmatic, solution-based focus if you want the environmental issue to survive high energy prices and an economy in turmoil.

It may be that the green groups were able to get away with partisan Bush-bashing (I'm not saying I'm a fan of Bush's environmental policies here - I'm definitely not!) and the rhetoric of the pure while times were good and people had disposable income to spend on organic, everything-free products that are sustainably made and only grown by farmers dedicated to not making a profit.  But times have changed - and we are likely to be dealing with a bad economy and high energy prices for some time now.  If enviros want their issue to have staying power beyond being the latest yuppie fad, they have to be willing to Gasp, compromise and work with people that don't already agree with them.  

Now I know many of the green groups claim to have this as a goal.  But preaching to people who don't agree with you doesn't count.  And for groups that are really trying to reach out, it must be recognized that you need to be willing to speak the other side's language -- to recognize their concerns from time to time (i.e. the concern about the cost to the economy of a climate change plan).  Green groups need to understand that they are largely comprised of people who have nothing in common with those who don't agree with them -- and certainly the language they use on this issue is far from objective and carries baggage that many well-meaning enviros don't even realize they are inflicting.  

The point is, recognize this weakness and recruit guides to help make the transition.  Reach out to people that walk in both worlds (trust me, they DO exist) and ask them to help you formulate messaging that will not get the figurative door closed on your group before you even get through the first meeting.  

I know this is a long shot -- because by and large, people LIKE to feel superior far more than they like getting things done.  It seems to be a sad bi-partisan truth about us humans.  

But just maybe if we recognize the problem, we can begin to fix it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Finding Green Balance

A good friend sent me a link to an interesting article I recommend to you.  The article is titled It's Not Crazy Being Green" and you can read it by clicking on the title.  The article talks about the needless differentiation between "the environment" and "the people" and how the modern environmentalist movement has become a partisan battle over purity rather than what it always should have been:  an understanding that the environment and the people are irrevocably linked.  

The health of a people IS in large part due to the health of the environment in which they live. If you have any doubt about this -- take a look at developing country that has not yet dealt with environmental pollution to any real degree.  Would you want to live there?

So how do you go from a relatively non-controversial point -- like saying we all live in our environment, so of course we care about its pollution, into the partisan divide we see before us today where nearly every environmentalist group is a liberal one and conservative groups take turns highlighting the latest infringement of freedom that the environmentalists are proposing?  

I don't have all the answers -- but it seems to me that part of the problem is that we allow issues to be too easily defined by others with agendas that have little to do with the named issue.  The problem is fed by the human tendency to gather in groups that are alike.  My rule of thumb these days in evaluating an advocacy organization -- is this:  How much are they really trying to reach out to those who don't agree with them?  For many groups working on the environment, the answer is, they aren't!  

One way to begin to change this dynamic is through the "marketplace" if you will for non-profits that work on environmental issues.  In your personal giving, make it clear that you are giving to organizations that are working to bridge the divide.  And on the larger front, write to foundations that give large amounts of money to environmental groups encouraging them to fund cooperative, educational, bridge-building work rather than partisan, feel-good attack dogs.

One thing is for sure, if funders demand results rather than rhetoric, they will start getting it.  And then the environment would truly be better off.




Thursday, August 28, 2008

Power to the People

Below is a good article from Greenwire about promising developments in the "smart grid" -- or the ability to make the electrical grid that controls access to power more efficient and flexible. When we provide more information to consumers and tie that information with market incentives for using power more efficiently, we can begin to build an electrical system that meets our needs while avoiding waste. Even more important, we can begin to build up an electrical power system that is capable of taking on renewable energy from disbursed sites and use electric power to fuel our transportation system (think plug-in hybrids or electric cars).

Its good to see a utility moving forward on this. And again, it just points to the fact that solutions only come from working WITH the folks in the industry of making the power -- not just suing them and protesting against their pollution!
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UTILITIES: Xcel starts turning Boulder, Colo., into a 'smart grid' Skinner Box (08/22/2008)

Jenny Mandel, Greenwire reporter

Part three of a series.

If you can think of electricity as a chain that connects the power plant to your portable music player, you can grasp the notion of "smart grid."

Broadly, smart grid means applying modern, digital technology to the analog world of electricity infrastructure. But what makes a grid smart is anybody's guess right now.

Xcel Energy, a utility serving eight states -- Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin -- aims to firm up the definition. With a pilot program called Smart Grid City, the company is installing a network of technologies it says will serve as a "living laboratory" to test smart-grid components.

Some of those components will be put into the hands of the company's customers. Xcel plans to install 15,000 so-called smart meters at homes and businesses in Boulder, Colo., by the end of the year.

Roy Palmer, Xcel's managing director of government and regulatory affairs, said the first group of meters will be relatively simple, though more sophisticated than the familiar counting machines with the row of clock faces. The new digital meters will provide second-to-second data on power use, a vast improvement over the static, cumulative meters they will replace.

And unlike traditional meters, the new ones can be read by machines via built-in communications technology. Xcel is installing an arterial system of Internet technologies, including fiber optics and broadband over power line, that will reach across the entire grid and into individual meters and give engineers unprecedented insight into what is happening on the grid in real time.

"Today, we have a first look into customer meters that we've never had at Xcel Energy," Palmer said.

What advanced meters will not do is offer customers control over how individual appliances or outlets draw power, although models being tested by other utilities have that capability.

For the first stage of Xcel's test, the utility has installed just one bells-and-whistles system. At the University of Colorado chancellor's residence, a mansion that offers abundant opportunity for energy efficiency, Palmer said, Xcel will install an advanced metering system manufactured by GridPoint, a Virginia-based technology company.

Energy Meter
A computer-based "dashboard" lets users of GridPoint's system monitor and control electricity use in the home. Photo courtesy of GridPoint.

The GridPoint setup includes a command center, installed by the main circuit breaker, that takes over operation of key loads. Karl Lewis, GridPoint's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said that in a typical installation the command center would control a home's hot water heater, air conditioning, refrigerator and other energy hogs.

A consumer dashboard is designed to receive signals from the utility about the cost of energy throughout the day.

Energy dashboard

Many grid experts see a switch to time-of-use pricing as an important way to rationalize energy use, allowing utilities to pass along the higher cost of running an extra generation plant to handle peak afternoon load, for example.

Through GridPoint's energy dashboard, a homeowner can assign set-it-and-forget-it settings to reflect how his or her house should perform throughout the day -- maybe adjusting the thermostat a few degrees if the cost of power rises or charging battery-based appliances if it falls.

At the University of Colorado's site, the setup will also include GridPoint's system to support distributed power generation. A large battery will store electricity generated by in-home solar panels, allowing the house to draw on homemade power even when the sun doesn't shine.

The system will also include support for a plug-in electric vehicle, a technology that GridPoint sees as potentially transforming the electric industry.

"We're pretty excited about the car," GridPoint's Lewis said. He noted that General Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have each expressed intentions to put at least 100,000 plug-in cars on the road by the end of 2011.

Charging those vehicles would represent a significant new market for utilities. Those that are prepared could see 15 percent to 30 percent revenue increases, Lewis estimated, while those unprepared could find themselves in a bind as their legal obligation to supply customers with power bumps up against capacity constraints.

"The utilities are scared to death [of the prospect of pluggable cars]," Lewis said. "We like that."

GridPoint sees technologies like its own, which give both the customer and the utility greater control over when cars might charge, as crucial to managing such a transition.

In Boulder, the control system will let the chancellor fuel his plug-in electric car overnight, when electric demand is low, rather than starting to draw power the second a driver arrives at the house and plugs it in.

Telegraph technology in a broadband world

While the university serves as a test bed for the high end of consumer systems, the part of Boulder wired with digital meters will provide valuable data to feed into the wider grid network, Palmer said.

That larger system includes a huge number of sensors and communication nodes that most people might assume already exist.

Today's electric grid is, in many respects, hardly changed from the system that first grew up in the 1920s, according to Phillip Schewe, author of "The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World."

The original electric system first entered homes in significant numbers in the early 1900s and by the end of the 1950s reached into virtually every corner of the country, Schewe said.

Most early electricity was powered by coal, Schewe said, and the country saw steady efficiency gains in the amount of power generated per ton of coal between 1900 and 1960, with accompanying cost decreases.

Similarly, utilities learned to increase the voltage of the transmission lines carrying electrons from power plants to city streets, allowing more electricity to be moved more efficiently. Starting at a few hundred volts, companies gradually increased that into the thousands, and today some lines carry power at 500,000 volts or more.

But Schewe describes the 1970s as a "depressing decade" for the grid. Advances stagnated, the first rumblings of deregulation surfaced with new companies that generated power but owned no transmission lines, and a long period of an uncertain investment climate began.

Today, confusion continues to reign over long-distance transmission authority and investments (Greenwire, Aug. 14), and the technologies that undergird the grid remain largely unchanged.

"A lot of companies live or die on their research. But the power company is one that, strangely ... largely does not rely on new technology," Schewe said. "That's partly because the nature of electricity hasn't much changed."

But data collection has changed.

Today, utilities largely rely on customers to call when the power is out and devices fail without warning. But part of the Smart Grid City project, and the larger conception of a comprehensive smart grid, is to bring new communication and data handling technologies into play to give utilities better insight into what is happening on their networks.

In Boulder, Excel will install sensors and automation on the city's five electric substations. By this time next year, the substations will communicate among themselves about power flows, and engineers at an operations center will be able to see what is happening at each. They will also have data on, for example, the current temperature of various devices, which can serve as a warning of imminent failure and allow them to take proactive steps to avoid it.

"We believe the distribution system digitalization will pay for itself," Palmer said. "But because these assets generally aren't linked in a smart grid-enabled fashion, the benefits of horizontal integration across the whole system, from generation to consumption, are best guesses."

Beyond the substations, the company will add similar sensors and Internet-enabled devices at other points in the network. "Everything that can have a sensor, whether switches or transformers or other [equipment], will be monitored and recorded," Palmer said.

The massive new flows of data will require new software and data analysis, of course, making full implementation of the system a challenge much bigger than just plugging it all in.

Closer bond with customers

Xcel's goal in all of this: a combination of financial and environmental benefits.

"If we can presume that our system is much more reliable and has distributed generation backup -- say that we had 10,000 [plug-in cars] plugged in at any one time -- then if we had a power event, if we had a smart grid, then we would instantly be able to access the power from those 10,000 batteries," Palmer said.

A half-hour of backup storage would cut down on inefficient "spinning reserves" that utilities run in case of need and could prevent the need to run an expensive plant, or even build a new one.

In addition to reliability and efficiency savings, though, Palmer sees potential benefits on the environmental side. If customers have real-time data on the balance of "green" and conventional power on the grid, they can make decisions to use more energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is generating juice.

The utility also aims to ensure that any customer who wants to take advantage of a solar subsidy can. Today the city has a program to foster home solar energy systems, but the number of people who use it is small, from a grid reliability standpoint. Palmer wants to know that as more people sign up, problems will not be triggered when a cloud passes over the city and all those power inputs suddenly go dark.

The program focuses on testing many different technologies and working with multiple partners.

"We don't know how good this is," Palmer said, echoing a utility refrain that they understand some elements of the project will fail to perform. "Part of what we want to demonstrate here, and measure, and tinker with a little bit, [is] to see how many megawatts we would save."

In two or three years, Palmer said, the company will have enough data from its living laboratory to know what works and what misses the mark.

'Creative power menu'

The utility has an unusual degree of flexibility in its program, in part because it relies on partners to cost-share their contributions and in part because Xcel has not sought a rate hike to pay for it. Officials hope that as data arrive, they can use Smart Grid City to make arguments with regulators and lawmakers on how such innovation should be paid for down the road.

The company estimates that the whole program will cost a bit more than $100 million, of which Xcel will contribute about $15 million. The list of partners currently includes Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, GridPoint and Ventyx.

Schere, the grid historian, believes the time has not yet come for smart grid. Most utilities are too risk-averse, he said, and the federal government has not pushed the issue.

But American consumers have seen the provision of some services -- especially telecommunications -- evolve from a minimal fee-for-service relationship to one in which users can select from a menu of options and pricing plans to suit their individual needs.

Such a "creative power menu" could be on the horizon for electrons, too, Schere said, with choices to make about when and how power is delivered, and with varied pay rates. The whole thing could start with smart metering, he believes, because "the average consumer can wrap his or her mind around it."

If so, the power industry could show some of the "Prius effect" -- named for Toyota's popular hybrid vehicle -- whereby consumers are pushed by mileage feedback from the fuel-efficient cars to drive even more conservatively.

If that virtuous cycle shows itself in the tests, Xcel's gamble will look like a very smart one.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Running on Scum!

I just love stories about emerging feedstocks for biofuels and new technology making renewable power production less expensive and more efficient. The story below discusses the promise of scum -- and for once, not the political kind :)

Imagine - being able to take something that can cause so many problems (think algae blooms that upset the balance of a pond/waterbody) and turn it into a feedstock for energy production?! These and many more amazing opportunities await us all -- if we can focus on them and send the right market signals.

The research grant given here is very important -- and we need more of this type of targeted research investment. But after that, there is often a temptation to simply subsidize promising technology -- thinking it will then magically make the transition into the marketplace. History shows us time and again that this is not what happens. We don't need a subsidy for algae -- WE NEED A MARKET FOR IT!! A GHG cap-trade system would reward this type of fuel precisely because of its low pollution properties. If we want energy security and environmental protection, we MUST make sure our market asks for these attributes and rewards them!

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August 27, 2008

Algae: Biofuel of the Future?

by Brevy Cannon, University of Virginia
Virginia, United States [RenewableEnergyWorld.com]

In the world of alternative fuels, there may be nothing greener than pond scum. Algae are tiny biological factories that use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day.

"The main principle of industrial ecology is to try and use our waste products to produce something of value." -- Lisa Colosi, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, U.Va.

As part of the photosynthesis process algae produce oil and can generate 15 times more oil per acre than other plants used for biofuels, such as corn and switchgrass. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

On top of those advantages, algae — at least in theory — should grow even better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) and organic material like sewage. If so, algae could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems.

"We have to prove these two things to show that we really are getting a free lunch," said Lisa Colosi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who is part of an interdisciplinary University of Virginia research team, recently funded by a new U.Va. Collaborative Sustainable Energy Seed Grant worth about US $30,000.

With the grant, the team will try to determine exactly how promising algae biofuel production can be by tweaking the inputs of carbon dioxide and organic matter to increase algae oil yields.

Scientific interest in producing fuel from algae has been around since the 1950s, Colosi said. The U.S. Department of Energy did pioneering research on it from 1978 to 1996. Most previous and current research on algae biofuel, she said, has used the algae in a manner similar to its natural state — essentially letting it grow in water with just the naturally occurring inputs of atmospheric carbon dioxide and sunlight. This approach results in a rather low yield of oil — about 1 percent by weight of the algae.

The U.Va. team hypothesizes that feeding the algae more carbon dioxide and organic material could boost the oil yield to as much as 40 percent by weight, Colosi said.

Proving that the algae can thrive with increased inputs of either carbon dioxide or untreated sewage solids will confirm its industrial ecology possibilities — to help with wastewater treatment, where dealing with solids is one of the most expensive challenges, or to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, such as coal power-plant flue gas, which contains about 10 to 30 times as much carbon dioxide as normal air.

"The main principle of industrial ecology is to try and use our waste products to produce something of value," Colosi said.

Research partner Mark White, a professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, will help the team quantify the big-picture environmental and economic benefits of algae biofuel compared to soy-based biodiesel, under three different sets of assumptions.

White will examine the economic benefits of algae fuel if the nation instituted a carbon cap-and-trade system, which would increase the monetary value of algae's ability to dispose of carbon dioxide. He will also consider how algae fuel economics would be impacted if there were increased nitrogen regulations (since algae can also remove nitrogen from air or water), or if oil prices rise to a prohibitive level.

The third team member is Andres Clarens, a professor of civil and environmental engineering with expertise in separating the oil produced by the algae.

The team will experiment on a very small scale — a few liters of algae at a time. They will seek to optimize the oil output by using a pragmatic engineering approach, testing basic issues like whether it makes a difference to grind up the organic material before feeding it to the algae.

Wastewater solids and algae, either dead or alive, are on the menu. "We're looking at dumping the whole dinner on top of them and seeing what happens," Colosi said.

Some of these pragmatic issues may have been tackled already by the various private companies, including oil industry giants Chevron and Shell, which are already researching algae fuel, but a published scientific report on these fundamentals will be a major benefit to other researchers looking into algae biofuel.

Published evidence of improved algae oil output might spur significant follow-up efforts by public and private sectors, since the fundamentals of this technology are so appealing, Colosi said. Research successes would also open the door to larger grants from agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy, and could be immediately applicable to the handful of pilot-scale algae biofuel facilities recently funded by Shell and start-up firms.

Brevy Cannon is a general assignment writer in the media relations department at the University of Virginia.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cool New Solar Stuff

I always love reading about cool new breakthroughs allowing renewable energy to be produced in ways that are more flexible and less costly. The fact that there are so many such advancements on a fairly regular basis these days speaks to the strong market signals that are being sent.

As we have talked about here before, getting energy is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult. The upside of that unfortunate fact, is that the market signals are finally being sent and the market is responding.

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August 12, 2008

Flexible Nanoantenna Arrays Capture Solar Energy

by Roberta Kwok, Idaho National Laboratory
Florida, United States [RenewableEnergyWorld.com]

Researchers have devised an inexpensive way to produce plastic sheets containing billions of nanoantennas that collect heat energy generated by the sun and other sources. The researchers say that the technology, developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL), is the first step toward a solar energy collector that could be mass-produced on flexible materials.

While methods to convert the energy into usable electricity still need to be developed, it is envisioned that the sheets could one day be manufactured as lightweight "skins" that power products such as hybrid cars or iPods with potentially higher efficiency than traditional solar cells. The nanoantennas also have the potential to act as cooling devices that draw waste heat from buildings or electronics without using electricity.

The nanoantennas target mid-infrared rays, which the Earth continuously radiates as heat after absorbing energy from the sun during the day. In contrast, traditional solar cells can only use visible light, rendering them idle after dark. Infrared radiation is an especially rich energy source because it also is generated by industrial processes such as coal-fired plants.

"Every process in our industrial world creates waste heat," says INL physicist Steven Novack. "It's energy that we just throw away." Novack led the research team, which included INL engineer Dale Kotter, W. Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum Inc. and Patrick Pinhero, now at the University of Missouri.

The nanoantennas are tiny gold squares or spirals set in a specially treated form of polyethylene, a material used in plastic bags. While others have successfully invented antennas that collect energy from lower-frequency regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as microwaves, infrared rays have proven more elusive. Part of the reason is that materials' properties change drastically at high-frequency wavelengths, Kotter says.

The researchers studied the behavior of various materials — including gold, manganese and copper — under infrared rays and used the resulting data to build computer models of nanoantennas. They found that with the right materials, shape and size, the simulated nanoantennas could harvest up to 92 percent of the energy at infrared wavelengths.

The team then created real-life prototypes to test their computer models. First, they used conventional production methods to etch a silicon wafer with the nanoantenna pattern. The silicon-based nanoantennas matched the computer simulations, absorbing more than 80 percent of the energy over the intended wavelength range. Next, they used a stamp-and-repeat process to emboss the nanoantennas on thin sheets of plastic. While the plastic prototype is still being tested, initial experiments suggest that it also captures energy at the expected infrared wavelengths.

The nanoantennas' ability to absorb infrared radiation makes them promising cooling devices. Since objects give off heat as infrared rays, the nanoantennas could collect those rays and re-emit the energy at harmless wavelengths. Such a system could cool down buildings and computers without the external power source required by air-conditioners and fans.

More technological advances are needed before the nanoantennas can funnel their energy into usable electricity. The infrared rays create alternating currents in the nanoantennas that oscillate trillions of times per second, requiring a component called a rectifier to convert the alternating current to direct current. Today's rectifiers can't handle such high frequencies.

"We need to design nanorectifiers that go with our nanoantennas," says Kotter, noting that a nanoscale rectifier would need to be about 1,000 times smaller than current commercial devices and will require new manufacturing methods. Another possibility is to develop electrical circuitry that might slow down the current to usable frequencies.

If these technical hurdles can be overcome, nanoantennas have the potential to be efficient harvesters of solar energy. Because they can be tweaked to pick up specific wavelengths depending on their shape and size, it may be possible to create double-sided nanoantenna sheets that harvest energy from different parts of the sun's spectrum, Novack says.

The team's stamp-and-repeat process could also be extended to large-scale roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques that could print the arrays at a rate of several yards per minute.

The researchers will be reporting their findings on August 13 at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2008 2nd International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Jacksonville, Florida.

Roberta Kwok is a Research Communications Fellow at Idaho National Laboratory.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The New Century Farm


Iowa State University is launching what it calls "The New Century Farm" which ISU says will be "the first integrated, sustainable biofuel feedstock demonstration farm in the U.S. Research on the farm will be conducted in the areas of new feedstock development, processing, and increasing the utilization for biomass feedstocks into biofuel.

One of the main focuses of the farm will be on biomass breeding and new means for processing biomass into biofuel. The effort seems to be providing a promising boost to finding ways to make much more biofuel from non-feed resources. This fuel would also have the added bonus of being lower in its energy-intensity and pollution impact. Under a climate cap-trade system, these kinds of fuels are likely to command a market premium.

It is great to see this kind of massive, coordinated effort underway in America's heartland. To read more about the New Century Farm, click here.

More from Russia

The Georgian tragedy continues as Russia continues to blatantly violate the cease fire agreement it signed a few days ago. Russian troops remain in much of Georgia and human rights groups are reporting numerous executions, looting and burning of homes by Russian forces.

Again - we must keep our eyes on this vivid and heartbreaking example of what the world will be like so long as the West remains addicted to the fossil fuels that fuel the despicable actions on display by Russia. America is lucky in that it has far more natural resources than the Europeans, but even we are stymied in the response we might otherwise have to this issue because of the world's need for fossil energy and Russia, the Middle East, and Venezuela's control over much of that resource.

Below is a good op-ed from today's Wall Street Journal that makes some important points about what we are seeing. We can not allow our need for energy systematically dismantle the freedom we so enjoy -- and that other parts of the world so desire.

The price of our continued partisan bickering . . . is furthering the ability of Russia and the Middle East to get away with these power plays that destroy so many lives -- and ultimately, will aid in the destruction of our own country.
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The Wall Street Journal
The Kremlin's 'Protection' Racket
By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and LEE A. CASEY
August 15, 2008; Page A15

Russia's invasion of Georgia will be a defining moment for America's credibility and global stability. If the Medvedev (or, rather, Putin) regime succeeds in using force to topple a democratic and pro-Western government, based on spurious claims of "protecting" Georgia's population against its own government, the stage will be set for similar aggression against the other states -- from the Baltics to Ukraine -- that border Russia but look to the free West. The dangers of the post-September 11 World will be combined with the challenge of a new Cold War.

Russia is fully aware of these ominous implications. It has accordingly sought to cloak this act of aggression in the raiment of modern international justice. Its officials and surrogates (including Mikhail Gorbachev) have falsely accused Georgian leaders of violating international law in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, which have "Russian" populations on account of Russia's extralegal issuance of its passports in those areas.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called for the "criminal prosecution" of the perpetrators of these supposed abuses and Vladimir Putin has alleged that if "Saddam Hussein [was hanged] for destroying several Shiite villages," Georgian leaders are guilty of much more. Ruthless Kremlin realists have learned the language of global humanitarianism.

The language of "protection" was once a favorite pretext for Tsarist expansion in the 19th century. It is also the same rationale that Germany offered for absorbing the Sudetenland in 1938. The Kremlin's current claims are no more credible than its tattered justifications for invading Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. Russian assertions that Georgian forces provoked the conflict by attacking Russian troops call to mind Hitler's story that his 1939 invasion of Poland was justified by Polish attacks on Germans. This is particularly ironic, given the Kremlin's penchant for comparing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Adolf Hitler.

Moscow's sudden embrace of a "limited sovereignty" for Georgia doesn't square with Russia's own previous protestations about the sanctity of its sovereignty and stubborn insistence that it was free to act on its own soil as it saw fit. Moscow's concern about alleged atrocities and genocide is also preposterous in light of the Russian government's callous indifference to the very real genocides conducted by its allies in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda and Darfur -- not to mention Moscow's own exceptionally brutal military campaigns in Chechnya.

Predictably, Messrs. Putin and Medvedev also assert that their actions in Georgia are no different from Western behavior vis-à-vis Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. Accordingly, they have demanded Mr. Saakashvili's resignation.

Moscow's clear goal is to replace a pro-Western government with a new Russian satellite, both through military action and by discrediting Georgia's leadership through false war crimes and genocide accusations. Behind the hypocrisy, Russia may be trying to lock in a new set of international rules, by which Moscow will be free to intervene at will in its "near abroad" while the United States looks on. These claims, reminiscent of the Brezhnev doctrine which posited that Moscow had a right to use force to preserve its empire, ring particularly hollow in the 21st century.

Moscow's attack on Georgia is only part of a broader campaign against its real and perceived enemies, a mission that has been conducted without the least regard for settled principles of international law. This campaign includes the de facto annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- which must now be considered "Russia-occupied territory" protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also encompasses cyber attacks against the Baltic states, state-ordered assassinations of individuals in Western countries, and economic intimidation, as in the recent cutoffs of Russian oil and gas shipments to Ukraine or the Czech Republic.

It is important that Moscow pays a concrete and tangible price for its latest aggression, at least comparable to the price it paid for the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Visa denials to all individuals connected to the Russian government and vigorous oversight and enforcement activities against Moscow's state-owned companies would be a good way to start. Given Russia's historic insecurities, and the desire of Russian plutocrats to travel freely throughout the world, educate their children in the West, and own property overseas, such modest measures would be quite effective. Russia's WTO membership should be blocked and its G-8 participation suspended.

The Bush administration should also make an assertive effort to deny the legitimacy of all Moscow's legal and policy claims, and defend Mr. Saakashvili without reservations. We should draw a sharp contrast between the American leadership in securing Kosovo's independence -- an infringement of Serbian sovereignty brought about by Belgrade's real genocide and war crimes -- and Moscow's cynical encouragement of secessionist movements in countries formerly a part of the Soviet Union, which was designed to reconstitute Russian imperial control. John McCain has already taken the lead on this, quickly reaching out to the Georgian president and condemning Russia's actions as a new form of empire building.

While rebutting Moscow's claims of today, the U.S. should also press for a historical accounting. Russia's history goes directly to its credibility. We should remind the world that Russia remains unrepentant for the sins of its past, not the least of which are its previous 1803 and 1922 invasions and annexation of Georgia, its 1939 partition of Poland with Hitler's Germany, and the Katyn massacre that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of captured Polish officers (which Moscow still falsely blames on Germany). Russia refuses to take responsibility for its past oppression of numerous non-Russian "captive nations" -- among them, of course, the Georgians.

American credibility is very much at stake here. If a true friend of the United States -- an ancient country already twice annexed by Moscow in the past two centuries, a democracy that has enthusiastically reached out to NATO and the European Union, and even sent troops to fight in Iraq -- can be snuffed out without concrete action by Washington, America's friendship will quickly lose its value and America's displeasure would matter even less. The repercussions would be felt world-wide, from the capitals of New Europe, to Jerusalem, Kabul and Baghdad.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey are Washington lawyers who served from 2004-2007 as members of the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russia's Energy Lesson

What a sad set of events have unfolded over the past few days. You may not know it from the news coverage, but there is a new war in town -- Russia has been bombing and has troops on the ground in the small nation of Georgia (a former part of the Soviet Union by force that broke away in 1991).

This development is very serious and deserves far more attention than it has received. Russia is using force to restore its control over countries and resources that it lost with the fall of the Soviet Union. We are seeing no less than the beginning of an effort to re-construct the "Evil Empire".

And everything about this move has to do with energy. Georgia has access to important oil pipeline infrastructure and Russia is bent on controlling it and squeezing off energy supplies to Europe whenever it wants anything from them.

If this is not a clear sign of our need to develop our own secure, domestic energy infrastructure, I don't know what is! I hear over and over the pundits of AM radio screaming about how "oil is freedom" Well, take a good look at what 'freedom' is doing to the independent state of Georgia!

I'm sorry, but oil - as efficient of a fuel as it is, is located in ALL THE WRONG PLACES in this world. Isn't that a hint that we should depend more on our own ingenuity and less on the graces of the greedy?

I know my blog is about pragmatism -- and this topic is not an exception. I'm not saying we should turn our backs on drilling and finding new domestic sources of energy. Clearly, we must. But we CAN NOT continue to delude ourselves into thinking that we can continue to make deals with the devil AND be a free people. It doesn't work that way. It never has.

So just maybe Paris Hilton has it right? We need to drill AND we need to massively develop alternative energy -- all of it (nuclear, wind, solar, geo-thermal, biogas, etc) so that we do not have to continue to stand by and watch Russia eat up surrounding nations, watch the Saudis continue to hand out $ for extremist terrorists and fund the very empire that will hold us hostage for energy.

Would Luke Skywalker fund the construction of the Death Star? No. And neither should we!!

Below is a terrific excerpt from a blog I found that provides detailed background on the whole Russia, Georgia history and the role of oil. I highly recommend reading the entire post -- which you can see by clicking on the blue entry listing below.
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From 'green with a gun' blog, entry: "Georgia, Russia, the West - checkmate"
Russia, Gazprom and oil
Russia has aspirations to return to the Great Power status it once had, both under the Tsars and under the Communists. As I described in talking about India and nuclear weapons, a "Great Power" is a country whose economic and military might is such that it cannot be ignored in world affairs. Australia or Belgium can be ignored; the US or China cannot. For most of the 1990s Russia had effectively lost its Great Power status. It is now reclaiming it. Part of this is waving a stick at its neighbours, neighbours who were once part of Mother Russia - or the Soviet Union.

But this is not mere prestige we're talking about. Being a Great Power lets your people have more than their fair share of world resources. The US, for example, has 4.5% of the world's population but consumes about 24% its oil - the USA's Great Power status means that Americans can eat burgers, drive SUVs, and watch lots of tv. Russia was never as well-off as that, but it's better-off now than it was in the 1990s, and its people and government aspire to more.

So these two things tie in with each-other, the military and the economic. And they mean that control over resources and where they flow to is very important. Russia's shown itself adept at manipulating this. For example, the Russia energy company Gazprom supplies something like three-quarters of Eastern Europe's natural gas, and overall about a quarter of the EU's natural gas. If the EU pisses off Russia, Europeans face a cold winter. Russia has already shown itself ready to turn off the tap, as it did with the Ukraine and Belarus.

You can see, then, that the US and EU are rather keen not to have to rely on Russian goodwill to keep the oil flowing out of Central Asia. If they rely on Russia for oil or for natural gas, then if Russia switches one off it hurts a lot but they can change to the other, but if Russia controls both, they're stuck. Russia has them not merely by the balls but also the throat. Russia can then dictate not only prices, but to some degree foreign policy. "Yes, dear EU, you can support airstrikes on our friends in Iran, but you will gain a new appreciation of your white Christmas, as you're walking out in the cold past your unfuelled cars."


Chokepoint #2, Georgia
The EU and the US have looked for a way out. From the Central Asian republics the oil - and any gas they find with it - can flow four ways.
  • through Russia, which option they cannot accept
  • through China, which would be technically difficult and extraordinarily expensive (it'd have to go through desert western China, and then on tankers all the way round to Europe again), and anyway by the time the pipeline got built the Chinese would want the oil for themselves, their consumption is increasing madly
  • through Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was part of the motivation for the US/NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but those two countries are simply too unstable for pipelines to be built or survive - the Afghans cannot even secure their main prison in their capital, with several hundred prisoners escaping
  • through Azerbaijan, and then by some route to the Mediterranean.
Having no other option, they chose the last. From Azerbaijan the pipeline could go south to Iran, but this just transfers the problem from Russia to Iran - one country controlling a huge chunk of the EU's oil supply. It could go west to Armenia, but Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war over an Azerbaijaini enclave within Armenia for six years, and though they've signed a ceasefire, they've not signed a peace treaty, and are still technically at war (like North and South Korea).

That left going northwest to Georgia, and then into Turkey and thus to the Mediterranean through the port of Ceyhan. Of course Georgia faces two armed insurrections, one in Abkhazia and the other in South Ossetia. Russia supports the insurgents essentially to keep a country which used to be part of Mother Russia under its thumb. But until recently there'd been no major fighting for a few years. It also passes through Turkish Kurdistan, where the Kurds have been fighting for independence for decades (and they have it in fact but not in name in Iraqi Kurdistan, thanks the West's two wars against Iraq). Altogether, not brilliant, but... really that route seemed the best of a bad lot. Better than any of the alternatives, and better than nothing. And so we have the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.


The BTC pipeline
This was built just last year. It can carry about 1.5 million barrels a day of oil, but currently carries just 800,000 bbl/day. It was built with extra capacity because the Azerbaijainis hope to increase production, and in any case the EU - who with Japan and the US paid for it - hope to get oil from the Central Asian republics in future years.

With the background so far, you can see why the BTC pipeline is so important to the West. With oil exports from the Persian Gulf declining over the next decade or so, Nigeria in a mess, Venezuela unfriendly, that leaves the Central Asian republics.

The BTC pipeline was already damaged last week, probably in an attack by Turk-Kurdish rebels, as discussed here.

On an oil pipeline, the most place most vulnerable to attack is the pipe itself, which can be ruptured with relative ease, and of course it's impossible to protect 1,700km of pipeline. However, while easy to rupture it's also easy to repair - you'd get a loss of pressure for half an hour until they found where the rupture was, then it'd be down for a few hours until they repaired it. Little effort, but little gain for the saboteur. But pipelines have pumping stations, these are large, relatively easier to defend, but if struck the line will be down for days at least, depending on the level of damage.

As for saboteurs, so for conventional warfighting. If in the course of the conflict pumping stations are destroyed, the oil flow stops. And while the fighting's still going on, nothing will be rebuilt - just ask the Iraqis, where more than five years after the invasion Baghdadis reckon they're doing well if they get six hours of electricity a day.


What's Russia up to?
Nothing more nor less than asserting and creating its Great Power status. It's not for nothing that last year they resumed patrols of nuclear bombers, flying close to Britain and to Guam.

There are many ethnic and historical issues behind the Georgia-Russia conflict. The Ossetians feel a kinship with Russia more than with Georgia, Georgia was set for NATO membership next year, putting a NATO country directly on Russia's border, and Russia has long held sway over the entire Caucasus. And since the West went to war with a Russian ally in Serbia to secure the independence and self-determination of the Kosovar Albanians, they can hardly complain if Russia goes to war with Georgia to secure the same for the Ossetians. But really that is not important: for the world and for Russia it all comes down to energy, to controlling the flow of it. Russia has chosen an effective means of controlling the flow of oil from the Central Asian republics.

Russia has accomplished a strategic coup de main. The aim of most warfare is to present your enemy with a dilemma. For example, achieve air superiority against his land forces, and his forces can either sit still in bunkers and be encircled by your troops, or move and be bombed - either way they're screwed, it's a dilemma. Russia has presented the West with a dilemma - do nothing to help Georgia and lose BTC, or go to war against Russia and in the course of the conflict lose BTC.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Paradigm Shift on Natural Gas

The investment message boards are often filled with good insight and analysis. This post from
Investor Village.com caught my eye and I wanted to share it with you. You can visit the post directly by clicking here
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A Paradigm Shift in the Highest and Best Use of NG [Natural Gas]
posted by: seethefuture06

I am convinced that T Boon has it right, that the only way to wean this country off foreign oil dependency is the full scale conversion to a NG powered light transportation country.
Oil will fire heavy transportation, planes, trains, and long haul trucking.
Wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, hydroelectric, and clean coal will generate the electrical needs of the US.
Compressed natural gas will power our cars and small trucks of tomorrow.
Reasons for NG to emerge the victor among the many competing technologies:
1. Huge domestic reserves. We're finding huge NG reserves (like the 10-20 Tcf Haynesville play) at a frequency similar to the discovery rate of giant oil fields a hundred years ago. Peak oil occurred in the US in the 1970. Peak gas is many years in front of us such that as the 20th century was oil driven, the 21st century will be gas driven.
2. Natural Gas Vehicle technology is proved and available today. Many cities, counties, and state transportation programs are driven by NG because a. their vehicles are generally kept in one or a few central locations where fueling can take place, and b. they are not driven very far away from their fueling facility.
3. NGV can be retrofitted (at a cost of $1,500 to $2,000) to existing gasoline combustion engines with the added benefit that the retrofitted car can be dual fuel meaning your existing retrofitted vehicle (assuming you retain your gasoline fuel tank) will still operate perfectly well on gasoline. Someone will probably invent the detachable gasoline tank so that for a 700-800 mile non stop trip, you might fill with CNG and gasoline, and around town, run exclusively on NG with you gas tank hanging in your garage.
4. The infrastructure in already in place for home refueling. Fuelmaker makes an in-home trickle fill fueling station (called Phill) which will fill at a gasoline equivalent rate of about a half gallon per hour. A 10 hour overnight fill puts about 5 gallons gasoline equivalent (GE) in your CNG tank, which will be about 70% of a full tank. CNG tanks will hold 7-8 gallons GE. At 30 mpg that's 200-250 miles between refueling and a 10 hour Phill fueling puts about 150 miles into your tank. Fuelink takes place at night when gas and electricity consumption is at it's lowest (Phill requires 6-8 amps (check this) to compress the gas which is like running a room air conditioner.).
5. It's the cleanest of the fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the by product. No Nox, Sox, CO. If however you were planning suicide by running your vehicle inside your garage, pack a lunch. It'll take days.
6. No, (well minimal) refining, no mining. NG is normally flows ready to use from a simple well. Compared to strip mining coal, its like athroscopic heart surgery vs open heart surgery. Plug and go. Land is repaired quickly and cheaply.
7. No other fuel source offers the potential for fast (high pressure) refueling at a commercial fueling station and low flow refueling at home with the safety of NG. Because NG flows from the meter to the compressor and into the car, there is no CNG stored anywhere in the garage except the cars tank. These tanks are very safe, on par with gasoline tanks. There is less danger of gas leakage and fire from Phill than any other NG fired appliance in your house. Risk is much higher will gas whether heater, gas stove, etc. Not som much with the Hydrogen car.
8. NG can flow from drill bit to spark plug safely without trucks (in home refueling, at least). Oil to gas obviously has the oil going from the well to pipe to refinery to truck to filling station to their tank to yours.
9. NG has a wide and localized distribution. NG is in the gulf, Texas, the midwest, the Rocky mountains, and Columbia basin and more to be found. We do not need to go to ANWAR or offshore in the foreseeable future. Adequate NG reserves can be proved up in the lower continental US for some time to come.
10. So why is there so much talk about the hydrogen economy, biofuels, ethanol, hybrids (btw, electric cars will likely be successful along side the CNG vehicles), electric vehicles? If it's so obvious (well to me anyway, so I got to be prepared for this question) why hasn't it caught on?
A. People don't understand two basic things about energy; 1, energy density and 2. energy volume. To most, a solar panel or a wind turbine and a gallon of gas are equivalent energy sources. The don't understand that the energy concentrated in that gallon jug of gas is enormous compared to the size of the alternative energy sourcing and storage infrastructure. Wind turbines, solar cells, batteries, etc are, from a power to weight and power to cost ratio, orders of magnitude apart. They also don't understand the sheer volume of energy that powers our economy. 20 million barrels of oil a day. The amount of energy, metal, and real estate, and human effort necessary to replace the incredible energy density of gasoline and its (now receding) once tremendous availability, is staggering. Doing so will place huge stresses on natural resources to simply build the new infrastructure. People just take oil based energy for granted, what a unique and irreplaceable resource it is (was). NG (along with nuclear) are the only viable, existing technologies with the energy densities and volume options to allow the transition to a post oil world.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Environmentalists "Strategery" Problem

As if to reinforce the point I just made with the previous post, here is a story from Politico talking about some of the strategic flaws made by environmental groups. Unfortunately, most of the groups just chalk it up to a "perception problem" with the public -- meaning, they aren't wrong in their messaging, the public is just wrong in their perceptions. Ugh!

Please - for the sake of the planet, LEARN to work WITH people rather than PREACHING AT THEM!!
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Environmental groups faltered this year
By: Erika Lovley
August 4, 2008 05:47 PM EST

Former Vice President Al Gore may have made global warming a household term, but this year’s tactical mistakes by the green army may have set the cause back just when it seemed to be on the brink of a legislative breakthrough. While pushing for sharp emission reductions, a number of environmental groups failed to adapt their pitch to acknowledge rising energy costs, experts say, leaving voters to believe that saving the planet will mean unaffordable energy prices.

The Senate’s Climate Security Act — sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), John Warner (R-Va.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) — called for quick emission reductions that would have raised energy costs significantly for Americans. A handful of well-advertised studies by the business community painted the legislation as an economic apocalypse.

But Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups were pushing lawmakers to go even further to prevent irreversible environmental damage.

In a year when gasoline soared past $4 per gallon, the green message triggered populist anger and eventually drove away a core group of moderate and conservative Democrats.

When the legislation came to the Senate floor, 10 conservative Democratic senators who voted to debate the bill also vowed to oppose it later — even after it had been sweetened with billions of dollars in last-minute public energy assistance.

The group included Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who said he plans to offer his own legislation next year. He told Politico that environmentalists will be forced to compromise next year and support the development of clean coal, nuclear power and other alternative fuels.

“We need to be able to address a national energy strategy and then try to work on environmental efficiencies as part of that plan,” Webb said. “We can’t just start with things like emission standards at a time when we’re at a crisis with the entire national energy policy.”

Polls show that the public clearly sees global warming and high energy prices as separate issues, rather than one overall problem. Now more Americans than ever are urging politicians to solve the skyrocketing gas prices before finding a solution to climbing temperatures. And while support for offshore oil drilling has reached a record high, solving global warming is low on the list of voter priorities.

In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, global warming ranked seventh in a list of eight top voter priorities, behind the economy and energy at the top, and also following the war in Iraq, health care, terrorism and illegal immigration. It was ahead of only housing.

“There was not enough emphasis that if we move aggressively toward sustainable energy, we will transform our energy costs,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said he plans to offer his own global warming bill next year. “We were not as clear as we might have been.”

Still, Democrats who backed the legislation remain supportive of the greens’ agenda.

“I’m not discouraged at all,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.). “The environmental community understands that we have to have a starting point. The next bill should be modified with the greens but also with those in the business community.”

Boxer said environmental groups would continue to play a vital role in next year’s debate. “The vast majority of green groups support the targets that are necessary to avoid the most dangerous impact of global warming,” she said.

Greens deny that their policy push overlooked the energy crisis but acknowledge a public perception problem.

“The solution for us next year is connecting gas prices and global warming. We have to show voters that the solution to gas prices and the solution to global warming is the same,” said Greenpeace global warming expert Kate Smolski. “What’s been lost on decision makers is that the cost of inaction will far exceed any costs of dealing with the problem now.”

It’s a balancing act that plenty of others saw coming.

“You cannot have a system that emphasizes pain,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), whose American Solutions group opposed the global warming bill. “It is elitist. You’d have to be so wealthy you don’t notice the cost or so dedicated that the cost is irrelevant.”

A study by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity found that energy costs are disproportionally affecting lower and middle class minority families.

Sierra Club global warming lobbyist Dave Hamilton said the environmental community was partly a victim of timing. Despite efforts to educate the grass roots about the relationship between global warming and energy prices, news of the added energy assistance funding came too late and failed to resonate with key voting blocs.

“The problems with energy prices have really happened in the last few months,” he said. “We somehow failed in making that a priority, and I think we have a huge amount [of work] to do on energy policy.”

Environmentalists say Americans want immediate action on global warming but don’t want to pay for it. A recent study by the Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change showed that a large majority of Americans wanted serious government action on climate change but that only 14 percent were willing to pay more than $50 a month to help the cause.

“You cannot drive home environmental legislation without considering the cost on the economy,” said National Association of Manufacturers lobbyist Keith McCoy. “That message was already universally unacceptable.”

Leading policymakers suspect greens will continue to face hurdles if energy costs stay high.

“They’re defeating themselves and hurting all of us on an issue that hurts all of us,” said former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who was instrumental in implementing the Clean Air Act. “The trouble comes when people try to attribute everything to global warming. Then the public gets skeptical about the claims.”

Avi Zenilman contributed to this story.