Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ tag

Regulating gas drilling & fracturing

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Internalize the externalities. That’s the job of government in this situation. If there are external or indirect costs from drilling for natural gas, particularly with technologies such as hydraulic fracturing that involve greater risk, the companies performing the drilling, and people like us who then buy the finished product by lighting our homes, pay those costs.

For example, if the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing leak into drinking water and make people sick, the economic costs such as hospital bills and lost work are paid by the company who was doing the drilling involved with the leak. Of course this doesn’t solve all the problems caused when people get sick from bad water, but it motivates the companies to prevent such accidents, as opposed to setting up government funds to fix them, which motivates neither prevention nor the guilty parties taking responsibility for their actions. Then, as these costs are passed along to we the consumers, we’re motivated to pay more attention to the companies that provide our electricity, further enforcing the cycle.

Yes, it may seem shallow or even vulgar to think about issues of human health only in monetary terms, but it presents a set of very efficient tools for solving so many of the problems that go much deeper than money.

PA senator says US should regulate gas drilling

August 20, 2010, 8:13AM ET



U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Thursday that Pennsylvania’s emerging natural gas industry has the potential to create jobs and wealth, but also carries environmental risks that must be addressed.

The Pennsylvania Democrat told a forum in Scranton that the “gas rush” taking place in the vast Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania “can create a great economic boost” in a state where nearly 600,000 people are unemployed. But he added: “We must not fail to protect our people, our land, our water and our future.”

Read the entire article here.

A Nobelist’s Energy Pitch for Obama: Slow down, Stay Simple

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There are several portions to these comments from the 1976 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Burton Richter, that are so clear, so brilliant, so obvious once we read them:

1. Focus on vehicles, electricity generation, and efficiency. Taking on too much at once is counter-productive.

2. Tell the free market what is needed, then let the people there figure out how to do it. The market gets jobs done much more efficiently than government, so provide the vision, but not the micro-management on how to arrive there.

3. Don’t stop renewables, but realize that there is still much work to be done until they are cost-effective.

There’s a lot more there, but these are the big three points in my mind.

June 28, 2010, 10:17 am


President Obama is preparing to take another stab at seeking consensus in the Senate on energy legislation with components that could rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.


Last week, I sent a query to a variety of smart people who’ve spent a long time assessing the tangled interface of energy technology, climate science, politics and economics to collect their “pitches” — made as if they had 30 seconds or so to present their prime points to the president at a fantasy White House energy summit. (It sure would be nice to see the White House host a real one, with varied informed voices.) One who has weighed in is Burton Richter.

Richter’s comments:

We do not have to run everything on solar cells and windmills tomorrow to make fast progress in reducing energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. The  Waxman-Markey energy bill in the House is a huge brick of paper and seeks to do everything at once. The  Kerry-Lieberman bill in the Senate is nearly as complicated.

I would start with those parts of the economy where the way to make progress is clear, the potential gains are large, and the required regulations are relatively simple. To me this says: Start by focusing on cars, electricity generation and efficiency. The industrial sector is complicated and we should stay away from most of it until we know better what we are doing. Also, tell the private sector what you want done, not how they must do it. There is a huge amount of brain power in our society directed toward making money and tilting the playing field so that more money could be made by doing the right things will unleash it.

Read the entire article here.

Energy Realities: The oil spill is my fault

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Well, this definitely isn’t getting any less interesting. Unfortunately, the energy situation in the U.S. is also not getting any clearer or easier to solve, even with pundits on all sides hurling dissatisfaction and vitriol at BP, Obama, Jimmy Carter, each other, seagulls, volunteers, parish presidents, and anyone else who happens to enter their field of vision.

This will not be easy. We will be using petroleum, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power for decades to come, and accidents like this will happen. Yes, there is much we can do to lessen our use and the related risks, and more we can do to mitigate the impact in the event they occur, but there is nothing, not a thing, to which anyone can point that will eliminate this risk, not even in the next 15 years. Maybe more.

We demand these resources. I demand them. And as long as we refuse to stop, we’re putting government or industry into the position of a parent, asking them to put out of reach the fix we know is there and that we very much want, even though we know it’s not good for us. Then we become petulant children when we get sick, and demand… What?

Some sort of methadone? There is no methadone, and every day we participate in and perpetuate a system, a habit, that has risks.

Once we face this reality, we can push past the questions for how we can end offshore oil drilling next week, and can put into proper, long term context the technologies for safer drilling, alternative fuels, vehicle fleets, and others that we’re now somehow hoping will materialize later this afternoon, after Keith Olbermann and Glen Beck, President Obama and Sarah Palin, Tony Hayward and Billy Nungesser have traded a few more punches.

When the topics of this oil spill or our energy use comes up in conversations with friends or colleagues, there’s often someone who insists technology is out there to clean up the spill or end our addiction to oil, but the powers that be either haven’t watched that particular show on the Discovery Channel, or those powers have some vested interest in letting these problems persist and keeping out competing solutions. Maybe I’m naive, but I just don’t see it.

I think part of the reason we insist on believing in these fairy tales, why we wait for our leaders–be they industry, government, or otherwise–to hand down our salvation is because it relieves us of any personal responsibility.

At the same time that I haven’t commuted to work or school since I was 17, riding my bike, walking, or taking the bus instead, I still put about 10,000 miles per year on my car and fly about that many miles as well.

The oil spill is my fault. I accept this reality and will continue to work towards greater independence from imported, nonrenewable sources of energy, focusing on all the healthy externalities derived from saving money on fuel and electricity, exercise and stress relief instead of frustration and smog in traffic, and all those silly pleasures so rarely discussed in the context of our current debacle.

The article below is one of dozens I’ve read in the last few weeks that criticizes Obama for his lack of a definitive response to the spill. Mr. Taranto, as usual, makes several excellent points. But like many on different sides of the debate, he foolishly uses the spill to decry a certain political ideology, as if any ideology has offered a concrete solution beyond the bland reality laid out in this post: It will take time; it will require sacrifice; it will require substantial investments from industry and government and citizenry to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and protect ourselves against the risks of dependence on nonrenewable, foreign sources for our energy.

Yes, we should formulate a comprehensive energy strategy, the one that has been promised by Republican and Democratic presidents for decades, that will work towards energy independence and bolster our economic and political security. And we should realize that this will require some sacrifices, sacrifices that will be better for us in the long run. And we will need to accept the reality that it will not eliminate the problems or drastically change our lives, our world, or our energy matrix, next week or even next year.

Maybe this is the leadership that government and industry have been providing. It’s not exciting. It doesn’t offer a quick solution. It’s just the reality. The oil spill is our fault.

JUNE 21, 2010

Keith Olbermann’s Wisdom

Obama, BP and the crisis of American liberalism.


“What has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny–our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.”–President Barack Obama, June 15, 2010

Or, as Harry Truman might have put it: There is as yet no consensus on where the buck stops. And so I’ve established a national commission to understand the buck’s velocity and the degree of kinetic friction between the buck and the surface across which it is traveling. Even if we don’t know precisely where the buck is going to stop, we know it’ll get there.

On the Democratic left, Obama’s oil-spill speech last week has escalated what the mainstream media would call a civil war if it were being waged on the Republican right instead.

Read the entire article here.

More for funding for Efficiency rather than Renewables?

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This is an interesting article from last year that came to me through a LinkedIn discussion.

I agree that the most cost effective way for us to reduce the negative impacts of our energy consumption and work towards energy independence is through efficiency and reducing our overall energy consumption.

There is certainly a role for renewable and alternative technologies, though it does not seem to me that many of these technologies are currently market ready on a large scale.

Let me know what you think.

Before Adding, Try Reducing

The U.S. government offers a lot of subsidies to expand renewable energy. Should it be doing more to subsidize conservation?


(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)

The U.S. government is committing billions of dollars to support renewable energy such as wind- and solar-power plants. Some say it should use more of that financial clout to encourage less energy consumption in the first place.

Advocates of conservation, including businesses that help homeowners and companies save energy, think there should be more subsidies and tax incentives for basics like insulation and window shading, and for newer, more costly products like light-emitting-diode lamps and building-automation systems. LEDs cost more but use less energy than incandescent bulbs. The new automation systems help buildings waste less energy on cooling, heating and lighting.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

May 25th, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Excellent Explanation of Smart Grid Technology

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Here is a very clear, accessible explanation of smart grid technology, including its capabilities and some of the barriers involved.

Smarter Design

May 05, 2010

Warren Causey

Electrical network design is a complex, continuously evolving process. Energy Central’s Sierra Energy Group says that as many as 150,000 people are working on this arcane pursuit.

Many of these people have engineering degrees that enable them to deal with the complex mathematical and scientific calculations necessary to deal with America’s complex and constantly growing electrical grids. Whenever a new generation source comes online, engineers have to design the system that will take the power from the station, get it to the correct voltages for the transmission system, specify all the proper equipment and supervise the construction. At the other end of the grid, when a new subdivision — or even one house — is added, similar steps are taken at lower voltages.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

May 6th, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Natural Gas Could Ease the Path to a Low-Carbon Future

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Even Worldwatch is getting on board that natural gas, a non-renewable fossil fuel, is a useful transition towards a cleaner future for our energy consumption.

I like it.

The Worldwatch Institute has launched an initiative designed to explore and communicate the potential of natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency to work together to build a low-carbon economy.  The project provides a forum to examine potential environmental, social, and political obstacles that must be addressed if natural gas is to accelerate, rather than delay, a low-carbon energy transformation.  Partnering with leading NGOs, academic institutions, industry, and the public sector, the initiative will propose needed actions, with a focus initially on the United States. The initiative will later focus on energy policies internationally, in particular in India, China, Europe and Africa.

Read the entire article here.

Five myths about green energy

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Mr. Bryce raises several very important points here. While some of his numbers may be debatable, the fact that some of the technologies we often paint with a green brush have some rather unsightly flaws beneath the veneer.

Energy storage technology that does not rely on rare materials, metals and others that are not only rare but highly toxic, is a major hurdle that will have to be overcome. Efficiencies of solar and wind will need substantial improvement if they are to grow beyond the 1-2% of U.S. energy they currently supply.

These and many other factors lead me to call for an energy strategy that relies first on increased energy efficiency–using less energy reduces costs, exposure to risk, and environmental damages associated with ALL energy resources–and then on further, market-led development of a wide variety of energy technologies.

By Robert Bryce

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Americans are being inundated with claims about renewable and alternative energy. Advocates for these technologies say that if we jettison fossil fuels, we’ll breathe easier, stop global warming and revolutionize our economy. Yes, “green” energy has great emotional and political appeal. But before we wrap all our hopes — and subsidies — in it, let’s take a hard look at some common misconceptions about what “green” means.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 25th, 2010 at 9:39 am

Posted in Efficiency,Policy,Renewables,The Economy,The Environment,U.S.

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Energy ministers: $25 trillion investment by 2030 to meet rising demand

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It’s important to note that this is not investment in clean or alternative energy research, only the investment needed to meet rising demand.

(AP) – 2 days ago

CANCUN, Mexico — Energy ministers gathered at an international forum Wednesday estimated the world will have to invest $25 trillion over the next two decades to satisfy energy demand.

“The projected global investment needs to amount to over $25 trillion up to 2030, a huge challenge in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and volatility,” according to a statement from the 12th International Energy Forum being held in the Caribbean coastal resort of Cancun.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 4th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Efficiency,International,The Economy,The Environment,Traditional Energy Resources

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America’s economy: Hope at last

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Clearly there are many factors to both the Great Recession and our recovery from it–whether that recovery is happening now, or, as some of my smartest buddies believe, will not happen until after a second dip occurs.

Either way, it’s no surprise to this observer that energy is a central issue at the heart of any economic activity.

In addition to the typical energy issues typically discussed on this site, I hope you can forgive the inclusion of macroeconomics included below. It’s important. And interesting. And energy is also certainly related.

The world’s biggest economy has begun a much-needed transition. Barack Obama could do more to help

Mar 31st 2010 | From The Economist print edition

GREAT storms and floods have a way of altering landscapes. Once the waters recede, some of the changes are obvious: uprooted trees, damaged property, wrecked roads. Later come further changes, as people seek to avoid a repeat, erecting new flood walls or rebuilding elsewhere.

As in the physical world, so in the economic one. The financial deluge that broke over America has passed and the recession it caused, the worst since the 1930s, is ebbing. This year the American economy is expected to grow by around 3%, after shrinking by 2.4% in 2009. Rainbow-spotters hope that employment is at last beginning to grow again. And the economy emerging from recession is not the same as the one that went in. There is obvious damage: high unemployment, millions of foreclosed homes and a huge hole in the public finances. Less obviously, a “rebalancing” is under way: from consumption, housing and debt to exports, investment and saving. As our special report this week argues, this is enormously promising for America and the world; but it is far from assured. A lot depends on politicians—and not just the ones in Washington.


Dearer, scarcer credit is not the only reason. Energy, though not as frighteningly expensive as in 2008, is also no longer cheap. Americans are choosing cars over light trucks, utilities are being told to use more renewable fuel, and domestic deposits of oil and gas locked deep beneath the sea or in dense rock are suddenly profitable to extract. If these trends continue (admittedly, a big if), America could import barely half as much oil in 2025 as seemed likely just five years ago.


Put crudely, if Americans save more and spend less while other big countries do the opposite, the world economy will prosper. If Americans become thriftier while foreigners fail to spend more, it will stagnate.


Plenty of microeconomic reforms could also help with rebalancing. America taxes income and investment too much and consumption too little. So far Mr Obama’s policies have mostly worsened the tilt. Health-care reform applies for the first time a payroll tax (for Medicare) to investment income. His administration has rejected a tax linked to the carbon content of fuel. It has also increased the subsidies, guarantees and preferences for mortgages that helped inflate the housing bubble. The federal government now stands behind 60% of residential mortgages and seems open to the idea of creating a permanently expanded backstop.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 1st, 2010 at 8:02 am

Posted in Efficiency,International,Policy,The Economy,Traditional Energy Resources,U.S.

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Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity

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This is an excellent report. It’s very well researched, full of informative figures, and, perhaps best of all, is extremely concise (less than 20 pages of text, over half of which is tables and graphs). RMI has taken a very progressive approach towards changing the energy system in the U.S. At times, I have to say, they can verge on the kind of fear mongering that is rarely helpful and usually does more to polarize and discourage people from thinking constructively about how we should move forward with our energy use.

This report, however, is more typical of RMI’s stance, with plenty of positive evidence and constructive thinking. Good stuff.

It is commonly known that energy efficiency implementation has not achieved its technical or economically feasible potential in the United States, and many have attempted to quantify how much electricity the U.S. can save in the future. However, few have compared states to each other to determine why some states have been much more effective at using efficiency as a resource. This paper explores one aspect of the energy efficiency solution: how effectively has the United States used its electricity? RMI conducted this analysis on state-level electric productivity (measured in dollars of gross domestic product divided by kilowatt-hours consumed, or $GDP/kWh) to determine which states are the most productive with their electricity.

You can access this page here, and can download the full report.

Written by Jason

March 31st, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Colorado,Efficiency,Policy,Renewables,Smart Grid Technology,The Economy,The Environment,Traditional Energy Resources,U.S.

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