Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ tag

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.

Amory-4

 

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:

EFFICIENCY IS ACCELERATING

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.

Cooperation on Biofuels Increasing between Brazil and US

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With the US ending both the tariff on imported ethanol and the tax credit for domestic blenders, cooperation between the US and Brazil on biofuel technology is increasing, as well as efforts to trade renewable fuels on global markets. (See my post at the end of last year)

Yes, we need to be ever vigilant on the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food availability and prices as well as on land use, soil and water quality, and related issues. In my doctoral dissertation, however, I examined these issues in depth and contend that increased production can occur along with protection of ecological health.

The cooperation discussed in the article below can lead to greater efficiency of renewable fuel production, using less land and less water to produce more fuel.

Energy is fundamental to economic growth, and as countries in Latin America and Africa increase their ability to produce renewable energy domestically, they create more jobs and better the lives of their people in ways that will improve economic as well as environmental conditions for generations. These are undoubtedly positive.

It is a fascinating time to be alive.

Insight: U.S. and Brazil – At last, friends on ethanol

A gas station worker fills a car's tank with ethanol in Rio de Janeiro April 30, 2008. Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter of ethanol. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

By Brian Winter

BRASILIA | Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:21pm IST

(Reuters) – After years at each other’s throats, Brazil and the United States are working together to promote the use of ethanol in a collaboration that could revolutionize global markets and the makeup of the biofuel itself.

The breakthrough came in January when Washington allowed a three-decade-old subsidy for U.S. ethanol producers to expire and ended a steep tariff on foreign biofuels. The tariff, in particular, had poisoned diplomatic relations between the world’s top two ethanol-producing countries for years.

Continue reading this article here.

Efficiency, Innovation, Natural Gas are Keys to Energy Security

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Former Presidents Bush and Clinton are walking a fine line, balancing between taking advantage of the cost effective resources we have now, such as oil and gas, and the need to protect our energy security and natural environment for generations to come.

Two former presidents share many energy views

By JENNIFER A. DLOUHY and TOM FOWLER
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

March 12, 2011, 2:28AM

Oil will be essential for fueling the U.S. for decades to come, but low-emission natural gas and improved efficiency will bridge the transition to cleaner alternative fuels, business leaders, two former presidents and energy analysts said Friday.

Former President George W. Bush told a packed ballroom of energy executives at the CERAWeek conference that while the U.S. has a vision of new technologies to power our homes and propel our cars, the nation needs to be prosperous to afford them. And that prosperity, Bush said, is tied to oil and natural gas.

Although they have been political adversaries, Bush and former President Bill Clinton agreed that the U.S. should do more to harness the promise of natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal and oil.

[…]

But he cautioned that the nation needs to make sure that the hydraulic fracturing process, used to unlock vast stores of gas in shale formations, doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies or create an accident that shuts down the industry the way last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill stopped most offshore drilling.

[…]

‘We’ve got to take action’

Big energy consumers said they are scrambling to offset spikes in crude prices and eke out more per barrel by boosting efficiency.

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

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.

China Meets Energy Efficiency Goals, Improves Economic Edge

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Moves like this could only be achieved by a command economy, or by handing over the electricity grid to a company like Enron, so I’m not arguing for rolling blackouts to increase efficiency.

The point is that China has pushed its economy towards wiser use of energy, reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20% in just five years. That means those firms, and the economy as a whole, is spending less money and expending fewer resources while continuing to grow.

Smart.

China improves energy efficiency 20 pct in 5 years

(AP) – Jan 6, 2011

BEIJING (AP) — China met a five-year target to improve energy efficiency by cutting power to industry and imposing rolling blackouts, even though a massive economic stimulus increased energy use.

Energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product was reduced by 20 percent from 2005 levels by the end of 2010, said Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission. It is China’s top economic planning body.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

January 8th, 2011 at 8:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Steven Chu Walks the Walk, or Rides

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It’s excellent that the head of our Department of Energy is so knowledgeable about the technologies with which he’s working. One might think this is par for the course, but as the article discusses it has not often been the case.

Riding his bike to work is a great touch that lends even more credence to his leadership.

None of this changes the fact, however, that one person should not be making decisions about which technologies or firms receive government investment. While Dr. Chu’s integrity may be unassailable, in order to ensure our energy future is as efficient as possible there need to be greater checks and balances on doling out these funds.

Overcoming old habits in terms of building materials and power systems is indeed a challenge. Chu would be wise to let the free market be his guide as makes his decisions and encourages the movement to a cleaner, renewable, domestically-powered energy future.

For energy chief, race is on to find fuel alternatives

Concerns about climate change and the economy have intensified Energy Secretary Steven Chu's focus on new technologies and greater energy efficiency.

Concerns about climate change and the economy have intensified Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s focus on new technologies and greater energy efficiency. (Alex Wong)

By Steven Mufson

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It’s a stunning fall morning in Washington, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, clad in bike shorts and a snug Stanford University biking shirt, climbs onto his Colnago bicycle and rolls down his leafy street and onto the Capital Crescent Trail. Then it’s a 20-minute sprint – breaking the trail’s speed limit – to downtown Washington. A Secret Service agent keeps close behind, with the help of a small electric motor. The trees are ablaze across the Potomac as he drops into Georgetown.

[…]

Aides say Chu’s ability to understand and absorb technical information sets him apart from the previous 11 energy secretaries – a financier, three business executives, an admiral, two governors, a U.S. senator and other politicians.

[…]

Chu’s talk spans environmental history, deep-water drilling and energy efficiency. Explaining why electric car batteries are large and heavy, he uses a common measurement of energy and notes that a lithium ion battery stores 0.54 megajoules per kilogram. Body fat has 38 megajoules per kilogram, and kerosene has 43.

[…]

Chu’s scientific bent was unexpectedly useful over the summer, when the Obama administration was desperate to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Chu was dispatched to BP’s Houston offices to see what could be done.

He recommended that BP use gamma rays to see into the blowout preventer; its several inches of steel were obscuring other methods of figuring out whether the shear rams were clamping into the drill pipe.

He also tapped into his Stanford network to get names of engineers who could give advice, and he told Obama early on that the flow rate of oil pouring into the gulf might be greater than what BP was letting on. Weeks later, he marveled about how little innovation there was in the deep-water drilling business and how few gauges and backup mechanisms were installed on the blowout preventer.

Read the entire article here.

China, Oil Will Dominate Energy Matrix for Decades

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These are predictable, and not necessarily disappointing. Petroleum is an abundant (for now) and relatively inexpensive energy resource. China is also leading the charge in research and development of clean, renewable energy technologies.

Our best bets here in the U.S. are to increase our efforts in energy innovation so that we can maintain our current position as global leaders in such positive and economically advantageous efforts. Foremost among these objectives should be increasing our efficiency, especially in transportation. This will give us a competitive edge as we are less dependent on imported petroleum, improving our balance of trade as well as environmental health, and will ensure that petroleum is available for generations to come.

A final point on petroleum, as we saw this past summer, is that more and more of petroleum reserves are in places that are difficult to access safely. As we reduce our dependence, we allow time for further innovation, meaning the technologies to access those reserves are less expensive and more reliable.

Energy in 2035: China and oil dominate

By Aaron Smith, staff writerNovember 9, 2010: 8:05 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — China will continue lead the charge as the No. 1 energy consumer over the next quarter-century, and oil will remain the dominant fuel despite huge investment in alternatives, according to a International Energy Agency report released Tuesday.

The agency forecasts that China’s demand will soar by 75% between 2008 and 2035, compared to an overall surge of 36% in international energy use. While Americans still lead the world in per capita energy use, China overtook the United States last year as the primary energy user.

Read the entire article here.

Many Americans Are Still Clueless on How to Save Energy

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I’m guilty. I feel good about using less hot water or eating (slightly) less meat, and then drive and fly all over creation. We should definitely set our sights on taking down the major energy-consuming aspects of our lives–reducing transportation both for ourselves and what we buy; more efficient homes that require less electricity to heat, cool, and light; etc.–but I still think there’s value in the little things. It provides opportunities for us to think about our daily activities and how we can use less energy.

This article provides several points to direct immediate, practical action. For example, tuning up our cars twice a year is much more effective from an energy efficiency perspective than driving more slowly or even driving a more fuel efficient car.

A glaring omission, I think, is the lack of attention paid to food. Meat is much more energy and land intensive than fruits and vegetables, and when we eat local foods that are in season they are generally much less energy-intensive than buying apples from New Zealand. There are exceptions to the local food maxims, such as with greenhouses or certain kinds of livestock that thrive in certain places much better than others and therefore require less energy inputs, less exotic food than what is available in their native habitats and similar lands.

A paper by Vaclav Smil (2002) provides an in depth and very reliable examination of the precise figures regarding use of nitrogen fertilizer, which can be viewed basically as powdered energy, for human food consumption. One clear point is that beef is much more energy-intensive than pork, with chicken, eggs, carp, and milk rounding out his list (see figure at right).

The absence of food as a major energy user, one we consume, or most of us would like to, several times each day, is perhaps just a choice of focus for the authors of the article below. That fault notwithstanding, the article is worth the read. Beneficial, easily actionable information is something else many of us like to consume several times each day.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

Thanks for your time.

ScienceDaily (Aug. 17, 2010) — Many Americans believe they can save energy with small behavior changes that actually achieve very little, and severely underestimate the major effects of switching to efficient, currently available technologies, says a new survey of Americans in 34 states. The study, which quizzed people on what they perceived as the most effective way to save energy, appears in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The largest group, nearly 20 percent, cited turning off lights as the best approach — an action that affects energy budgets relatively little. Very few cited buying decisions that experts say would cut U.S. energy consumption dramatically, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8 percent), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2 percent) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1 percent). Previous researchers have concluded that households could reduce their energy consumption some 30 percent by making such choices — all without waiting for new technologies, making big economic sacrifices or losing their sense of well-being.

[…]

Previous studies have indicated that if Americans switched to better household and vehicle technologies, U.S. energy consumption would decline substantially within a decade. Some of the highest-impact decisions, consistently underrated by people surveyed, include driving higher-mileage vehicles, and switching from central air conditioning to room air conditioners. In addition to turning off lights, overrated behaviors included driving more slowly on the highway or unplugging chargers and appliances when not in use. In one of the more egregious misperceptions, according to the survey, people commonly think that using and recycling glass bottles saves a lot of energy; in fact, making a glass container from virgin material uses 40 percent more energy than making an aluminum one — and 2,000 percent more when recycled material is used.

Many side factors may complicate people’s perceptions. For instance, those who identified themselves in the survey as pro-environment tended to have more accurate perceptions. But people who engaged in more energy-conserving behaviors were actually less accurate — possibly a reflection of unrealistic optimism about the actions they personally were choosing to take. On the communications end, one previous study from Duke University has shown that conventional vehicle miles-per-gallon ratings do not really convey how switching from one vehicle to another affects gas consumption (contrary to popular perception, if you do the math, modest mileage improvements to very low-mileage vehicles will save far more gas than inventing vehicles that get astronomically high mileage). Also, said Attari, people typically are willing to take one or two actions to address a perceived problem, but after that, they start to believe they have done all they can, and attention begins to fade. Behavior researchers call this the “single-action bias.” “Of course we should be doing everything we can. But if we’re going to do just one or two things, we should focus on the big energy-saving behaviors,” said Attari. “People are still not aware of what the big savers are.”

Read the summary article and access the full report here.