Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ Category

A Gradual Shift to Renewable Energy is the Best Path

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Lomborg is hitting the nail on the head in this article, as is Gürcan Gülen, the very intelligent researcher with a hilarious name.

Most renewable energy technologies are more expensive and less efficient than traditional fossil fuels. Attempting to roll out vast amounts of solar and wind power before they are competitive will increase costs to users, which will hurt our economy.

In the final paragraph he also makes a point that should have come much earlier: the best way to increase jobs and make these renewable technologies competitive is to invest in research and development.

Clean, domestic, renewable energy is the goal towards which we should strive, but jumping in with both feet before that technology is ready would be foolish. Those early adopters are helping to make these resources and technologies for affordable for all, so they should be applauded. But they are the people and the firms such as Google that can afford to make these investments even if they are not entirely economically efficient. Forcing everyday people across the country in to those forms of energy will cost taxpayer dollars and will increase utility bills. These are not good for America.

Patience and prudence are essential as we strive towards this important goal.

Green Smoke Screen

Supporters of “green energy” like to say it will create more jobs. They’re wrong.

By Bjørn LomborgPosted Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, at 6:46 AM ET

Phil Tussing installing  Phil Tussing installs photovoltaic solar panels. Click image to epxand.Political rhetoric has shifted away from the need to respond to the “generational challenge” of climate change. Investment in alternative energy technologies like solar and wind is no longer peddled on environmental grounds. Instead, we are being told of the purported economic payoffs—above all, the promise of so-called “green jobs.” Unfortunately, that does not measure up to economic reality.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center asked Gürcan Gülen, a senior energy economist at the Bureau for Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, to assess the state of the science in defining, measuring, and predicting the creation of green jobs. Gülen concluded that job creation “cannot be defended as another benefit” of well-meaning green policies. In fact, the number of jobs that these policies create is likely to be offset—or worse—by the number of jobs that they destroy.

Read the entire article here.

Sec Chu Slashes Budget, Increases Energy Tech Investments

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Obama’s efforts to appease Republican calls for decreased government spending are reaching in to the Department of Energy. That’s a good thing. Apparently Secretary Chu is striving towards all sorts of increased efficiency.

In addition to the $600M in cuts, however, he’s also seeking $8B in clean energy technology research. As I pointed out in an earlier post, as long as those investments are structured to provide returns to taxpayers and to the country in general, that’s positive. If those benefits are only extended to government or firms that do not pass them along to tax payers and energy users, then they are just another boondoggle.

Energy Department to seek $600 million in budget cuts

By Steven Mufson

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 11:37 PM

The Obama administration will call for deep cuts in the headquarters staff of the Energy Department next week but will seek $8 billion in investments in the research, development and deployment of what it calls “clean energy technology programs.”

Energy Secretary Steven Chu posted a note to “colleagues” on the department’s blog site Friday listing about $600 million in cuts, saying that the department will take “responsible steps to cut wasteful spending and reduce expenses.”

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 12th, 2011 at 11:44 am

Congressional Republicans Move in Two Directions at Once

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Neither of these effort is close to certain, but we are seeing one prominent Senator, Dick Lugar (R-IN), possibly moving towards federal renewable energy standards, while another group is seeking to gut the President’s ability to implement the same.

These aren’t necessarily contradictory, as the efforts could lead to similar results with less power held in the White House.

Sen. Lugar is drafting a bill that could include standards increasing vehicle efficiency, renewable electricity, waste-to-energy, and other measures throughout our energy matrix.

Meanwhile, in the article from Politico below, congressional Republicans would greatly reduce the President’s ability to mandate clean energy or climate change measures through the White House or the EPA. I like the decentralization of power they are working towards, but do see some value in letting the President use those tools that have traditionally been at his disposal.

It will be interesting to see if either or both efforts is successful, and if Obama attempts to fight it by replacing Carol Browner, or concedes the point and dissolves her office.

It’s still a fascinating time to be alive.

Sen. Lugar Prepping Bill That Could Include ‘Clean Energy’ Standard

By KATIE HOWELL AND JEAN CHEMNICK of Greenwire
Published: February 11, 2011

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar is crafting broad energy legislation that could include a “clean energy” mandate similar to the one President Obama called for in his State of the Union address.

The Indiana Republican this week said his bill, which is still “weeks away,” could include a clean energy standard as well as “energy efficiency in many, many facets.”

Read this entire article here.

CR would slash EPA, White House energy office

By ROBIN BRAVENDER & PATRICK REIS & DAN BERMAN | 2/11/11 8:46 PM EST

House Republicans threw down the gauntlet at the Obama administration’s energy and environmental agenda Friday night, proposing to defund the White House energy adviser’s office and block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by $3 billion – nearly twice as much as they originally proposed – GOP lawmakers included language in the continuing resolution to strip the agency of its ability to implement climate change rules.

Read this entire article here.

Colorado Senate Attempts to Strike Delicate Energy Balance

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Yikes. Once again I’m conflicted between an awareness that we need to move towards domestic, renewable energy, and an understanding that this move is expensive.

I am more than willing, and fortunate to be able, to pay 20% more in my power bill to support these efforts, but there are plenty of people who are not so inclined, and even if they were, cannot afford to do so.

One solution is energy efficiency. Homes and businesses that are properly insulated, have efficient appliances and machinery, and that use energy wisely can reduce their energy costs, thus enabling slightly higher bills per unit of energy used.

Hopefully our state legislature can succeed in striking this delicate balance.

The Associated Press February 10, 2011, 8:32AM ET

Colo. renewable energy rules survive GOP offensive

DENVER

Colorado Democrats slammed the door Wednesday on Republican plans to undo clean-energy policies adopted in recent years.

A Democrat-controlled Senate committee narrowly rejected three Republican proposals to lower consumer utility bills.

Democrats said they sympathized with residents paying steeper power bills but insisted the proposed changes would be short-sighted.

Read the entire article here.

Patience, Efficiency Are Key to Safe, Profitable Use of Brazil’s Oil

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There are a lot of people with a lot to gain from drilling this “presal” oil off Brazil’s coast as quickly as possible. I have worked with some of them and understand their desire to move forward with the extraction now, not later. I also understand their many good intentions as well as their confidence that the oil can be extracted safely using existing technology, even if I don’t agree.

I can also attest, from personal experience, to the truth of the article’s contention that government bureaucracy will be as inefficient at getting the job done as it will be at distributing any public funds to Brazilians and much needed government services. The barrier however, is not the Brazilian government, but existing technology.

And yes, prices at the pump are rising with no sign of abating, but it’s hard to see how speeding this oil drilling ahead in the next few years will do much to ease those prices in anything but the longest term. Plus, oil is a great example for supply creating its own demand. Increase the supply of oil and the lowered prices will drive us to use enough gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to keep demand and prices high.

The first paragraph in the article below describes a process that is every bit as difficult, and as dangerous, as the one employed for the Deepwater Horizon platform formerly situated in the Gulf of Mexico. These processes and others like them can be and have been done safely, though recent experience tells us that not only is this safety far from ensured, but also that if something goes wrong, the consequences remind us exactly what the word “disaster” means.

The pressure to drill now is exacerbated by the high current demand for oil in the face of growing constraints. Some are reluctant to continue drilling off U.S. shores while the people and economies of Louisiana and other Gulf states are still reeling from last summer’s spill. Regardless of your political stripe, Middle East politics make us all a bit uneasy, especially when we think of how much of our oil comes from despotic and unstable regimes there.

Slowing our demand for oil, first by increasing efficiency and reducing use of transportation fuels, and then by continuing to develop viable alternatives to petroleum, will decrease the drive to rush drilling in places like the oil fields over 7000m beneath the ocean’s surface, through 3000m of rock and another 2000m of salt.

Given time, companies such as Petrobras will certainly improve technologies so that this oil can be reached more safely, with more effective failsafes in the event something does go wrong, and likely it will all be doable at lower costs, to the companies doing the drilling and to the consumer.

The additional time will also allow Brazil to continue eliminating corruption and streamlining its bureaucracy so that the permitting process is more efficient, as are the avenues through which the government spends its revenues and improves infrastructure.

These factors combine to create win-win-win situations for people, profit, and ecological health. Patience and efficiency are key.

Brazil’s offshore oil

In deep waters

Extracting the black gold buried beneath the South Atlantic will be hard. Spending the profits wisely will be harder

Feb 3rd 2011 | CIDADE DE ANGRA DOS REIS | From The Economist print edition

THE coast of Rio de Janeiro is 290km and 70 minutes away as the helicopter flies. High overhead, gas is flaring; underfoot, enough oil to fill 330,000 barrels is waiting to be offloaded. The ocean floor is 2,150 metres beneath. Drill past 3,000 metres of rock and you will hit a layer of salt 2,140m thick. Only after boring through that fossilised ocean will you strike oil—6.5 billion barrels’ worth in the “Lula” field alone. (Supposedly, it is named for the Portuguese word for squid, not the former president called Lula for his curly hair.)

[…]

More hopeful is the prospect that technological progress, led by Petrobras, can diversify Brazil’s economy. The company employs more than 1,600 people in research and development, says Carlos Fraga, who leads these efforts. It also works with 85 Brazilian universities and research institutes, and for every one of its own researchers, another ten outside the company are working on its projects full-time. A technology cluster is springing up around Petrobras’s research labs in Rio, with university facilities alongside new $50m laboratories built by the likes of General Electric and Schlumberger.

From this perspective, the technical obstacles of sub-salt drilling look like an opportunity. Exploiting offshore oil, says Mr Fraga, could spur Brazilian innovation just as the space race did in the United States. “Just extracting the oil is not enough to move Brazil on in technological development,” says Segen Estefan of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “These are finite resources. Brazil must seize the moment to lead in technology, not just in extracting and exporting raw materials.”

Read the entire article here.

Waste to Energy Technology, Today and Tomorrow

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Good stuff, and it’s not the promise of tomorrow, but a practice increasingly used today. The energy harnessed from landfills belonging to one company alone, Waste Management, produces enough electricity to power 1.1 million homes, more than all of the U.S. solar industry (read more here).

The article below chronicles more efforts to take something we don’t want, garbage, and turn it into something we need very much, electricity.

If this cost effective, even if it’s not completely energetically efficient, it can go a long way to solving several problems at once. As the article points out, even the solid by-products of the process can be made into brick or pavement, further increasing its advantages.

In an increasingly resource-constrained world, technologies like these are beneficial, and hopefully can be made to be profitable.

It’s a fascinating time to be alive.

Waste disposal

Turning garbage into gas

Atomising trash eliminates the need to dump it, and generates useful power too

Feb 3rd 2011 | From The Economist print edition

DISPOSING of household rubbish is not, at first glance, a task that looks amenable to high-tech solutions. But Hilburn Hillestad of Geoplasma, a firm based in Atlanta, Georgia, begs to differ. Burying trash—the usual way of disposing of the stuff—is old-fashioned and polluting. Instead, Geoplasma, part of a conglomerate called the Jacoby Group, proposes to tear it into its constituent atoms with electricity. It is clean. It is modern. And, what is more, it might even be profitable.

Read the entire article here.

US Military Works on Waste to Energy Conversion

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Following up on a post from last year, the U.S. Military continues to increase use of renewable fuels.

I recently had the chance to speak with an Air Force pilot about other measures they’re taking to reduce their fuel consumption. While he said it’s sometimes a bit of a headache, he was glad that they were taking steps to decrease the massive, and I mean MASSIVE amounts of fuel they use.

For example, they used to idle on runways for as much as a few hours, waiting for a runway to clear or their orders to take off. Now they have a limit for how long they can sit with engines running. Apparently jets don’t just start with the turn of a key like my Subey does, so when they need to power down it takes quite a while to get back up and ready again. He admitted this was sometimes frustrating, but also said that considering the amount of fuel those jets burn even when standing still, the savings, in fuel and money, are substantial.

I was glad to hear they’re thinking about this stuff, glad to hear he and most of his colleagues are generally positive towards the changes, and also very glad that I had a chance to thank him for his service to our country.

Thanks again.

January 28, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Air Force base to gasify waste for energy

WALTHAM, Mass.–In the quest for renewable sources of energy, the military is giving garbage a go.

The Edwards Air Force base in Southern California will test out a shipping container-sized trash-to-energy unit from IST Energy. The Air Force will be the first customer for IST Energy’s Green Energy Machine (GEM), which is designed to convert waste into electricity and heat, according to the company.

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20029787-54.html#ixzz1HToslyuV

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

January 28th, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Determining the Benefits of Biomass-Based Energy

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There are two important points to consider here: 1.Establishing the appropriate methods for the Life Cycle Analysis, and 2. Determining the definition of “Waste.”

1. Life Cycle Analysis:

Will it really take three years for life cycle carbon emissions of biomass-based electricity to be established? It shouldn’t.

It’s important to be careful, but private, public, and academic researchers can provide clear, comprehensive studies in a much shorter time frame, certainly less than a year, unless we let them stick to the typical academic and government calendars where there are no deadlines or consequences for being slow.
Fortunately, some industry folks are optimistic about the recent ruling.

Bob Cleaves, CEO and president of the Biomass Power Association (BPA), the largest U.S. biomass trade group, said the decision “provides a lot of regulatory certainty at the moment.”

“Three years is a long time,” he told SolveClimate News. “During that period, projects that are viable and are ready to be permitted, will be permitted.”

Industry believes its arguments will win out in the EPA review process. “The science is very clearly on our side. Biogenic emissions are far different than fossil fuels, and they’re beneficial to the climate,” Whiting said.

To shorten this from three years to less than one, let the private firms involved produce their own studies. They’ll be fast, and tell the academics and bureaucrats that if they want to be a part of the conversation, and they will, they need to be close behind their industry counterparts, and they will again.

There will be different results produced, but it shouldn’t take three years to analyze these results objectively and decide what is the most accurate method of accounting.

2. “Waste”:

Another important issue is the common use of the term “waste” both for agriculture and forestry (really just another form of agriculture). When the term “waste” used, they are referring to biomass that is not directly used in the industrial processes, such as food, paper, or pulp production.

But these materials, such as corn stover (corn stalks and leaves) or wood chips, are essential to soil health, which is in turn necessary for the future production of the desired products, as well as for the health of the overall ecosystem.

In naturally occurring ecological systems, there is no such thing as waste, as all materials and energy are used in the processes and entities involved.

If all biomass, or waste, is removed from the soil and used for energy or any other purposes, this is not a sustainable system in the most literal definitions of the word “sustainability”: the ability to continue the process for generations to come.

Biomass-based energy provides much promise, so long as we realize that the Earth’s biomass serves essential purposes—namely the sustenance of life and other processes that guarantee clean, healthy air, water, and soil for generations to come—beyond our immediate needs.

No, it’s not simple, but it’s also not beyond our comprehension. We need to be thoughtful.

Relax, then let’s get to work. We can do this.

Is Biomass Clean or Dirty Energy? We Won’t Know for 3 Years

content by SolveClimate

By Stacy Feldman              Thu Jan 13, 2011 3:34pm EST

A recent study out of the University of Washington supported that pint of view. Called Unintended Consequences of the Tailoring Rule’s Treatment of Biomass,  a compilation of previous research, the study concluded that “new investment in bioenergy development will be discouraged and existing biofuel facilities may be motivated to shut down or use more fossil fuels.”

The resource is seen as a particularly valuable in Southern states, which lack wind and solar opportunities available in other states.

For Sheehan and other advocates, the game plan now is to try to put the industry a freeze on growth of the industry until 2014.

“We will be calling for a moratorium on all permitting for biomass plants during this three-year period,” she said.

Cleaves of BPA said “the idea of a moratorium has no basis in law” under the Clean Air Act, which “certainly doesn’t prohibit biomass plants from being constructed.”

Read the entire article here.

Projections for U.S. Shale Gas Continue to Rise

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This is potentially excellent news, so long as the companies that explore for and extract this gas are willing to cover the costs for any damage to human health or the environment.

Read more about shale gas here.

Shale-Gas Output May Double by 2035, Reducing Energy Imports, U.S. Says

By Simon Lomax – Dec 16, 2010 3:41 PM MT

Production forecasts for natural gas locked in shale have doubled, which will help the U.S. become less reliant on imported energy, according to a federal agency.

[…]

The Annual Energy Outlook predicts imports will meet 18 percent of U.S. demand by 2035, down from 24 percent last year. Higher prices will spur fuel production, including natural gas, oil and coal, the agency said. Tougher energy-saving rules, such as fuel-economy mandates for new cars, and a boost in biofuel production from crops such as corn also will make the U.S. less reliant on imports by 2035, according to the forecast.

Overall U.S. energy consumption will jump 21 percent by 2035. Coal will remain the “dominant energy source for electricity generation,” although more natural-gas fired plants will be built because of higher supplies of the cleaner-burning fuel, according to the outlook.

The agency forecasts construction of five nuclear plants by 2035, contributing to a 10 percent increase in electricity generated from atomic power. The share of electricity from renewable sources such as hydroelectric dams and solar panels will rise to 14 percent in 2035 from 11 percent last year, according to the outlook.

Read the entire article here.

More Concrete Positives for the New Energy Economy

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Two of the authors of the articles below wrote another article several years back, The Death of Environmentalism, that I liked very much. There has been much written both for and against this article, but in it I found confirmation for a long held belief that protection of ecological health has been and still is in need of a much more positive advocate than the typical voices we hear shouting and whining that the end is near and that its avoidance will require toil or austerity.

Yes, it is true that thinking long term about being ecologically responsible, particularly in terms of energy, will require some sacrifice, but nothing worth attaining comes easily.

It is also true that the budding, new energy matrix has great potential to be far less costly and much more reliable than our current system.

The articles below focus more on these positives, and more on solutions, than what we hear most of the time in the current energy discussion. There are so many reasons why this positive focus is important, and why it is much more likely to produce the intended results than gloomy predictions or nanny state-style sermonizing about the licentious luxuries we must forgo. There is also the acknowledgment that passing the buck to developing nations is not only ineffective, it is immoral. These articles hit on these and many more topics.

The new energy economy presents abundant benefits today and for generations to come. Atkinson et al. provide insightful, tangible examples and strategies for this new economy, and the discussion that will form it.

  • NOVEMBER 29, 2010

How to Change the Global Energy Conversation

Forcing countries to agree to emissions caps will never work, argue Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. Instead, they say, the focus should be on technology innovations.

By TED NORDHAUS and MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER

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It’s time for a rethink on climate change.

For two decades, world leaders have been trying—and failing—to hammer out a workable deal on global warming. Now they’re meeting once again, this time in Cancún, Mexico, to kick around the same issues one more time—and, inevitably, stumble over all of the same roadblocks.

[…]

There is a better way. Nations should focus on lowering the cost of clean energy, not raising the cost of fossil energy. The goal? Make clean energy cheap enough to become a viable option for poor as well as rich nations. Until that happens, emissions will continue to rise, and no effort to regulate carbon can succeed.

[…]

At the same time, the military heavily invested in government, university and industrial research labs to deliberately create knowledge spillover—the sharing of intellectual property—which is crucial to rapid innovation.

Read the entire article here.

The New Energy Conversation

By Rob Atkinson, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Shellenberger

For forty years, presidents and policymakers have promised and planned for a new energy future just over the horizon. While the rationales have varied – reducing dependence on imported oil, stopping global warming, reducing air pollution, creating clean energy jobs – the song has largely remained the same: America has most, if not all, of the the technologies needed today to make a quick and relatively painless transition away from fossil fuels.

Read this entire article here.