Jason Barton

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Amory Lovins’ Three Energy Trends to Watch

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Energy efficiency tops Lovins’ list of energy trends to watch, particularly automobile efficiency, which is excellent news. Efficiency is sometimes overlooked because it’s not as sexy as new energy technologies, but in my mind it’s the most important aspect of our energy future. Saving energy means saving money, which should make it an easy sell, as well as resources. Even if we increase renewable energy, those technologies still require resources in one form or another, so decreasing energy use is a more effective way to ensure the availability of essential resources for future generations.

His claim that the steepest increases in efficiency will be in automobiles is especially encouraging due to the resulting decrease in imported petroleum. There is often an odd connection made between renewables such as wind and solar, or even domestic natural gas, and decreased petroleum imports, but this is a fallacy. We use petroleum for less than 1% of our electricity generation (Yergin, 2012). The only ways to decrease petroleum imports are to decrease vehicle miles driven, increase vehicle efficiency, or power automobiles with something other than petroleum, a trend that is increasing, but so far still negligible.

His third point, on increasing distributed energy, is also important, and one I’ve written about before on this site. Moving away from large, centralized power plants to smaller units in neighborhoods, at large office parks, and other locations, provides two big benefits, among others. First, it can greatly increase efficiency as electricity travels far shorter distances, spending less time in transmission lines, meaning more of it arrives where it’s used, as opposed to dissipating in those lines. Smaller plants can also adapt much more quickly to changing energy technologies. Centralized plants that are 50 years old are difficult to modify, and too expensive to scrap to accommodate more renewables or different electricity feedstocks.



Though Lovins’ hardline conservationist stance is sometimes controversial, from his “Soft Energy Paths” in 1976, through his work with Rocky Mountain Institute, right up to today and this recent article, he’s been an important voice in the energy conversation.


Amory’s Angle: Three Major Energy Trends to Watch

By Amory B. Lovins

Popular media and political chatter are abuzz with a cacophony of energy news and opinion. Amid the chaos, some orderly strands can be discerned. Here are three themes that merit attention:


Government forecasts predict U.S. energy intensity (primary energy used per dollar of real GDP) will continue to decline roughly two percent annually through 2040, but that the drop will be steepest in automobiles.

Read the entire article here.

Navigant to Compare Community vs. Residential Energy Storage

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Distributed energy is the future of our electricity supply. Rather than our electricity coming from centralized providers straight to homes, offices, etc., electricity will be generated and/or stored at various locations closer to the end users. Determining the safest and most energy-efficient and cost-effective ways to do this is an enormous, on-going task. Navigant Consulting is one of many firms working with municipalities to continue development and innovation.

Read more in these two articles:

Smart Grid Today

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and Navigant will have a healthy list of the pros and cons of community energy storage (CES) versus residential energy storage (RES) by the time their battery-testing project is finished in September, Jay Paidipati, associate director in Navigant Consulting’s energy practice, told people attending a long-duration, distributed energy-storage project workshop at Storage Week in Austin, Texas, yesterday…

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Navigant Research

Distributed Energy Storage Systems for Voltage Support, Frequency Regulation,
Islanding, and Peak Shaving: Market Analysis and Forecasts

Community and residential energy storage systems are sited at the “end of the line” on the grid. These systems are typically much smaller than utility-scale or bulk energy storage and are either situated at the distribution transformer or at the customer premise. Of the varied application areas for energy storage systems, community and residential storage is one of the newest and least understood applications. Currently, utilities, vendors, and even governments are demonstrating community and residential energy storage systems with a goal of understanding the value of these small, distributed systems sited at the edge of the electrical grid. These groups are testing CRES for the purposes of smoothing peaks in electricity demand, enabling voltage support and frequency regulation, and providing islanding capabilities.

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Bloom Box Redux

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After a flurry of news earlier this year about Bloom Energy and its Bloom Box fuel cell technology, they’ve been fairly quiet since then. The reason, I’ve suspected, is due to problems with some of their early, highly-publicized deployments at places like Google. It’s to be expected with a new technology like this, so new home builders should not be holding their breath for the $3000 residential version. Even when that is released, just like its industrial predecessors, it will likely have to be tweaked after release to get rid of initial bugs.

All that said, it’s great that there are such substantive moves towards distributed power generation and away from the centralized grid that so inefficiently powers our country today. Viva la energy future.

Adobe Plugs in the Biggest Bloom Box Yet

BY Ariel SchwartzTue Sep 28, 2010

Bloom Box

Bloom Energy, the much-hyped startup behind the Bloom Energy Server fuel cell device (aka the Bloom Box), has mostly remained quiet since its February launch–until now. Software giant Adobe just installed 12 100-kilowatt Bloom Energy Servers at its San Jose headquarters, marking Bloom’s largest installation yet. The servers’ 1.2 megawatts of power will be enough to power one third of Adobe’s electricity.

Randall H. Knox III, senior director of Global Workplace Solutions at Adobe, explained: “Installing Bloom Energy fuel cells supports Adobe’s efforts to remain at the forefront of utilizing clean technologies.” That’s true enough–Adobe is using methane from a landfill as a feedstock for the fuel cells, so the company’s Bloom Boxes will produce net zero carbon emissions. And unlike solar and wind, the fuel cell boxes aren’t reliant on optimum weather conditions.

But Adobe is taking a risk with its massive Bloom Energy Server installation. Each server sells for up to $800,000, which means the company may have invested nearly $10 million on the technology. And the Bloom Boxes aren’t all that reliable–Bloom had to replace cells in eBay’s installation after just 7 months. In general, Bloom estimates that fuel cell stacks will have to be switched out twice during the box’s 10 year lifespan.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

September 30th, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Biomass Markets and Technologies

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It’s an exciting time to be working with biofuels and bioproducts. When American’s today think of biofuels, corn ethanol is the example that immediately jumps to mind (for those nerds who actually think about these issues), which is somewhat warranted in that it is the dominant bio-transportation fuel in the U.S. and the world (surpassing Brazilian sugarcane ethanol in 2005). But as we look to the future of bioenergy and bioproducts, there is almost limitless potential, including distributed electricity generation and products from biomass possibly replacing the vast and diverse products currently coming out of today’s petroleum refineries.

As we pursue this potential, it is important to realize that humans have been controlling more and more of the Earth’s biomass to serve our purposes. Monoculture certainly has its advantages, but biodiversity is key to ensure the healthy functioning of ecosystems, not just for camping and admiring, but for providing clean air, water, and soil that are essential to our survival, and essential to the feasibility, and profitability, of bioenergy. Many of the biomass feedstocks discussed today, such as corn stover (stalks and leaves), are described as “waste products,” though corn stover has  traditionally been left in the field to maintain soil structure and health. The same goes for many materials described as “timber residues,” which are important to forests and cannot be completely removed for use in bioproducts without potentially damaging the health of forests.

While the report below does not appear to be focusing on these issues, it definitely has some important and provocative insights towards this discussion.

Biomass Energy Generation, Biofuels, and Bioproducts:
Market Analysis and Forecasts

WoodpelletsBiomass, already a large percentage of total renewable energy sources, is poised for strong growth in the years to come within three key sectors: biopower, biofuels, and bioproducts. Significant investments continue to be made in biomass research and development, and the pace of commercializing new technologies will increase during the next decade.

Many different feedstocks can be classified as “biomass” including corn and grains, plants and forest resources, construction/industry waste, agricultural and food industry wastes, terrestrial and aquatic energy crops, municipal waste and manure. Applications for biomass range widely, from power generation to heating, transportation fuels, chemicals, and plastics. The development of the biomass industry is in large part driven by government policies and mandates and, while world governments are likely to back away from some of the aggressive targets set a few years ago, Pike Research anticipates that biomass will continue to be a significant focus for energy policymakers.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

September 5th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Denver Yard Harvest

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It’s been an exciting couple of seasons since we began operations in 2011. In these two years we have harvested and distributed over 5000 lbs of fresh produce, from residents in Denver, to local organizations that serve people in need in our community.

Learn more here: www.YardHarvest.org.

Apples, summer squash, tomatoes, peaches, and cherries are just a few of the types of produce that grow in and around Denver. Grow some, eat, share, and enjoy!

What We Do: Responding to homeowners’ requests to harvest their trees and gardens, our volunteers leave some fresh produce with Denverites, and deliver the rest to day care centers, homes for the elderly, community kitchens, and other organizations that serve Denver’s people in need.

Who We Are: A loose network of professionals, homeowners, health nuts, and other community-minded people who want to promote nutrition, reduce waste, and have some fun in the process.

Our Mission: To bring fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste to people who might otherwise go without it, while building community and local connections.

From the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project

The idea is simple. Each summer and fall, Denver residents contact us when their yards are producing more fruits and vegetables than they can use. Our volunteers harvest this produce, leave some with the residents, and deliver the rest to organizations in Denver that serve people in need, distributing the food either directly or through educational programs that help people prepare or preserve fresh produce. It’s a cliche, but we are all about working with organizations that provide a hand up, and not a hand out. We focus on those programs that provide job skills training, self-reliance, and other resources that help people help themselves.

Written by Jason

August 12th, 2010 at 7:21 am

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A Special Report on Water

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Many have pointed out the inextricable links between water and energy. Beyond the similarities in demand and scarcity mentioned in the first line of the article below, “Water, it is said, is the new oil,” there is also the need for water to produce biofuels, many forms of solar power, hydroelectricity, and water used for oil and gas extraction processes such as hydraulic fracturing.

Before I focused on bioenergy and agriculture, I was initially interested in the economics of water. While it’s important to focus in order to understand the intricate details of any of these essential areas, it is equally important to consider the others, the entire context, when examining any of them.

A special report on water

For want of a drink

Finite, vital, much wanted, little understood, water looks unmanageable. But it needn’t be, argues John Grimond (interviewed here)

May 20th 2010 | From The Economist print edition


WHEN the word water appears in print these days, crisis is rarely far behind. Water, it is said, is the new oil: a resource long squandered, now growing expensive and soon to be overwhelmed by insatiable demand. Aquifers are falling, glaciers vanishing, reservoirs drying up and rivers no longer flowing to the sea. Climate change threatens to make the problems worse. Everyone must use less water if famine, pestilence and mass migration are not to sweep the globe. As it is, wars are about to break out between countries squabbling over dams and rivers. If the apocalypse is still a little way off, it is only because the four horsemen and their steeds have stopped to search for something to drink.

The language is often overblown, and the remedies sometimes ill conceived, but the basic message is not wrong. Water is indeed scarce in many places, and will grow scarcer. Bringing supply and demand into equilibrium will be painful, and political disputes may increase in number and intensify in their capacity to cause trouble. To carry on with present practices would indeed be to invite disaster.


Soaked, parched, poached

Many of these conceptual difficulties arise from other unusual aspects of water. It is a commodity whose value varies according to locality, purpose and circumstance. Take locality first. Water is not evenly distributed—just nine countries account for 60% of all available fresh supplies—and among them only Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Congo, Indonesia and Russia have an abundance. America is relatively well off, but China and India, with over a third of the world’s population between them, have less than 10% of its water.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

May 21st, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Brazil Sugar Output Will Rise 19 Percent to Record, Unica Says

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March 31, 2010, 9:52 AM EDT

By Lucia Kassai

March 31 (Bloomberg) — Sugar output in Brazil’s Center South, the world’s largest producing region, will rise 19 percent to a record in the coming season as drier weather boosts yields and new mills come online.

Mills in the region, which makes 90 percent of Brazil’s sugar, will produce 34.1 million metric tons of the sweetener in the crop year starting tomorrow, up from 28.6 million a year earlier, Unica said in a report distributed today in Sao Paulo. Sugar-cane output will increase 10 percent to 595.9 million tons, Unica said.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 4th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Bloom and the coming energy convergence

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The Bloom Box has been all over energy news for the past couple of weeks, ever since the piece on 60 Minutes about their electricity generators. As the author of the article below points out, this distributed technology is not new, and it isn’t the first time it’s been written about on this site. In an earlier post I mentioned Community Power Corporation, a Denver area company that has also has distributed power generation technology. The advantages CPC has over Bloom is that their generators can run on a variety of feedstocks, including many types of waste, including agricultural wastes and even food waste. Their generators also generate heat, referred to as combined heat and power, or CHP, so placing them next to larger buildings provides a second way to save on energy coming off the grid.

What’s most exciting about these technologies, in addition to lowered emissions and diversifying fuel sources, is the decentralization of the energy grid. Rather than a regional system that, when disabled, means thousands of homes and businesses may be out of power for hours or even days, a unit or set of units can power a school, community center, hospital, or apartment building.

Yes, this is exciting. And the publicity surrounding Bloom Energy tells me that while a few of us have been thinking about the advantages of such a system for quite some time, investors and government officials are now catching on, just as the technology is coming on line. Good stuff.

By Tyler Hamilton
Energy and Technology Columnist

Published On Mon Mar 01 2010

You would think, based on the love-in at eBay headquarters in California last week, that start-up Bloom Energy had solved the world’s energy problems, with one simple pronouncement.



Bloom Energy CEO K. R. Sridhar holds fuel cell at eBay in San Jose, Calif. EBay and Google already use container-size Bloom cells to generate electricity. (Feb. 24, 2010)

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was all smiles and accolades. With him were Gen. Colin Powell, venture-capital icon John Doerr and top executives of high-profile American firms, including: Google, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and FedEx.

Silicon Valley was abuzz.

Read the entire article here.

Ice Energy rolling out utility-scale project

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Improvements in energy storage technology are extremely important to our 21st Century energy grid. It would enhance efforts at decentralization as well as energy security.

January 27, 2010 — WINDSOR – Ice Energy’s energy storage technology will be rolled out in Southern California in what the partners are calling the first cost-effective, utility-scale distributed energy project in the nation.

The Southern California Public Power Authority entered into an agreement with Windsor-based Ice Energy on the 53-megawatt project. Ice Energy’s Ice Bear energy storage system shifts demand on the electrical grid from air conditioning units from peak to off-peak hours. In simple terms, energy generation during off-peak, evening hours is more efficient due to lower temperatures and reduced transmission line-stress.

Read the entire story here.

Professional Experience

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Wow.In just a decade and a half I’ve benefited from a host of amazing experiences. While the path may appear random, I’ve been blessed to be working the entire time with some amazing people on some of our most basic needs: water, food, education, and energy. The list below is an attempt to give a concise version of my professional story.

Click on the name of an organization to be taken to their websites.

Instructor,  Bioenergy Systems (FSHN 595)

Center for Advanced Bioenergy Research (CABER)

University of Illinois, Urbana, IL

– Teaching Bioenergy Systems (FSHN 595), graduate level course

– Conducting classes on biochemistry of biofuel conversion processes, energetic and land use        efficiencies, soil science, crop production, policy, economics

Faculty of Land and Food Systems

PhD Candidate, 2006-present

University of British Columbia (formerly the Faculty of Agricultural Science)

Vancouver, Canada

Completing dissertation investigating the economics and ecology of Brazilian sugarcane ethanol production.

Teaching Assistant, 2006-’08

– Lectured, conducted labs, composed quizzes on university statistics course

– Administered course’s grades and web components

Energy Biosciences Institute

Research Assistant, 2008-’09

University of Illinois, Urbana, IL

– Performed life cycle analysis comparing U.S. corn and Brazilian cane ethanol

– Edited proceedings, assisted in organizing two conferences

Vancouver Fruit Tree Project

Director of Operations, 2007-2009

Registered charity, Vancouver, Canada

– Coordinated efforts to reorganize this program after two-year hiatus

– 11,000 lbs of fruit harvested from local trees and distributed to local charities

Graded School

High School English Teacher, 2002-’06

Independent school offering U.S., Brazilian, and International Baccalaureate diplomas, São Paulo, Brazil

– Students honed communications, critical thinking, and analysis skills

– Coordinated several programs, including 20-day trip in Amazon Rainforest to host conference for local teachers there

Glacier Wilderness Guides

Guide, 1998-’02

Backcountry rafting and backpacking outfitters, Glacier National Park, MT

– Guided river and trail trips of 1-6 days

– Increased self-reliance and flexible problem solving

Chez Folet, St Alban’s Boathouse

Manager, 1997-’98

Fine dining restaurants, Wayzata and Minnetonka, MN

– Supervised staff of over 30 fine-dining restaurant employees

– Created wine lists, maintained inventories

Written by Jason

November 8th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

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