Wednesday, April 30, 2008
You’re probably asking yourself the question: what does Africa have to do with the US? In fact, Africa and the US, in regards to climate change, don’t have much if anything in common but the African case studies provide an opportunity to look at extremes and extremes are an excellent way to assess something – be it a theory, an equation or an implementation as in this case.
Most clean energy investments in Africa are focused on solar and the logic is that sub-Saharan Africa has no electricity (<5% of the people have access to electricity) so let’s give them electricity. Yes electricity is good and I’m not saying let’s not give them electricity but how many people are asking – what does Africa REALLY need? Perhaps sub-Saharan Africa needs something else. That something else is income generating clean energy like micro and pico hydro or cleaner biomass etc…The main point to get out of this is that not every “clean” option is the right option. Today we are seeing the same thing with corn ethanol in the US!
What does that mean for the US? Well in the US we’re looking at all these different forms of clean energy like wind, solar, ethanol (first and second generation) and the logic is we need to go rid of dirty coal and imported Saudi oil. Billions of dollars are being invested towards that effort and I’m not saying that that is a bad thing. However, maybe that’s not the problem we need to be solving! To me, it seems that we’re doing exactly what the grocery store does: Paper or plastic? Paper is the new clean energy (you fill in whatever new technology you want) and plastic is coal/oil/gas etc… What about the canvas bag?
There is a question that is rarely, if ever asked: why are we searching for alternative fuel sources? Really, what are we trying to do? Most people would say we’re looking for alternative fuels to replace carbon emitting fuels because of the adverse effects of carbon. However, how many people have asked themselves whether we really need all the energy we are currently consuming in the first place. The canvas bag option, in this context, involves a change of how we interact with energy and the role that energy plays in our lives. I use the African case studies to show that in some instances, in the name of doing the right thing, the wrong solution is provided.
Some of the changes that I advocate for in the paper involve a reversal of city expansion into suburbs (basically increased dense urban living – similar to what Austin is doing), home construction using concrete as opposed to wood and sheetrock to increase air tightness and another one involves the design of the electricity system (design for a portion of the peak and not the peak itself – similar to highways). I recognize that these are drastic measures and they’re somewhat different from the basket of solutions that are offered right now but who knows we might not have the luxury to choose whether to do these things or not…
There are curricula for basic environmental education, water resource and management education and solar energy education to name a few. There are also grants, called GreenWorks! grants to fund environmentally focused projects for school age children.
Also, magazines and websites are hopping on the green trend too. I think they have finally realized that if the adult population is interested in environmental issues, their kids are going to want to know what is going on as well. National Geographic for Kids has interactive recycling games, and green tips from funny characters. Highlights for Children, that magazine I loved as a child, includes a lot of articles about saving energy and doing your part for the environment.
I am really glad I did research on this topic because it gives me a lot of hope for our future. I know that they will be able to be the generation that takes action on our environmental issues.
It starts by giving background on oil and gas basics, such as petroleum geology, leasing mineral rights, and drilling and producing oil. I felt that an introduction to these concepts and terms would be important so the investor would be able to hold an intelligent conversation with the operations people.
It then goes on to discuss the different types of financing vehicles available, such as energy sector funds, individual stocks, drilling, completion, royalty, and lease acquisistion funds. It then goes on to discuss common financing structures for direct participation such as "third for a quarter" and "an eighth back".
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A solution for the long-term disposal of high-level radioactive waste continues to be a hotly debated topic. The current projected method of deep burial in the Yucca Mountain would have dramatic impacts to U.S. nuclear waste transportation. A substantial increase in cross-country shipments of spent nuclear fuel would significantly raise the risk exposure of radioactive waste accidents to Americans and the environment. Accordingly, significant levels of political opposition to the proposed plan continue to retard the implementation of a long-term solution. Proponents for the Yucca facility argue that opposition to the plan is based merely on Not-In-My-Backyard politics, rather than scientific assessments. Alternatively, opponents point to scientific studies that indicate an inordinate amount of risk associated with frequent long distance transportation of nuclear waste.
While my paper does not attempt to assess the scientific feasibility of Yucca Mountain, the risks, financial concerns, and politics associated with transportation of spent nuclear fuel is addressed. Under this framework the following recommendations are given:
Thorough assessment of the effects of severe accidents and acts of sabotage/terrorism on the performance of the shipping containers – The global political climate has changed since 9/11. Under this reality a more thorough risk assessment of the ability of shipping containers to perform under a security breach needs to be made.
Assessment of the risk exposure to urban areas – The implementation of a central repository would heavily rely on the nation’s rail system to deliver the nuclear waste thus exposing U.S. urban areas and its residents to potential dangers of radioactive waste. A similar study to that made by The State of Nevada of the SNF transportation risks to Las Vegas needs to be made for all U.S. urban areas potentially affected.
Reevaluation of the financial and budgetary issues – Given continued political opposition, project delays, and public backlash experienced in Europe, the DOE should revise its project budget to consider these possible/likely effects. Additionally, the DOE should consider the drop in property values and ensuing lawsuits that will likely occur once a transportation route structure is agreed upon.
As we watch energy prices climb to record levels and forecasts of supply and demand predict an oil shortage in the coming decades, the energy industry is approaching an inflection point where currently unviable solutions will soon begin to substitute traditional energy sources in a meaningful way. In order to adapt to this evolving marketplace, both the United States government and large oil and gas companies are well served to begin to develop a knowledge base and infrastructure around these alternative technologies which have the potential to significantly disrupt the existing market. Because many of these technologies are relatively immature and new concepts emerge frequently, companies would be wise to develop a portfolio of alternative energy solutions. Economics will drive any potential energy solution regardless of the excitement and hype that may surround an alternative technology. However, if energy prices continue to rise at their recent pace it will not be long before substitutes will be viable.
To date the government seems to be focusing its attention on the issues whose risk matches the risk tolerance and time horizon for government projects. The best examples are research into very long time-horizon technologies such as fusion and fission, and national-scale infrastructure technologies such as transmission and efficiency. As technologies mature out of the lab and towards commercialization, I believe that the DOE has done a good job of reducing spending and allowing private industry to take the reins and brings these technologies to market. I expect future research spending to correlate to energy prices, as they did in the past 30 years. As the public bears the burden of higher energy prices there has begun to be an outcry for the government to do something to reduce energy related costs. In the face of this political pressure, I expect non-weapons DOE research spending to increase so that elected officials can at least appear to be addressing an important issue to the constituency.
Going forward I predict that the level and breadth of alternative energy technology investments will increase among major oil and gas companies. As previously stated, I believe these companies will do so primarily in anticipation of near-term greenhouse gas regulation by the U.S. government and to attempt to create goodwill with the government and consumer base. Additionally, large oil and gas companies are exploring ways to use these technologies to more cost-effectively run their existing core businesses. Finally, these companies are well served to at least begin to consider how they fit into the macroeconomic landscape in a world that might reduce its dependence on oil and gas. To accomplish these goals I predict a similar pattern of investment to what has been witnessed recently: companies will form strategic alliances and joint ventures to develop and test new technologies, followed by companies going through a wave of acquisitions to bring technologies in-house once they mature and approach viability. This has already been witnessed in the wind and solar areas, and I expect this to one day happen to other technologies as they improve. The culture of each company plays a huge role in their decision to invest in these technologies to date. Companies that view themselves as oil companies, ExxonMobil for example, have refused to invest thus far. On the other end of the spectrum, companies like BP and Shell have made it clear that they view themselves as diversified energy companies and are actively investing over a wide base of technologies and with a large number of partners. Our group predicts that it is only a matter of time until the “oil companies” are forced to diversify in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Another reason I predict increased interest and investment into alternative energy technology is due to the fact that the demographics of the engineering and management base in the major oil and gas companies in the U.S. is set to shift dramatically in the near future. Analysts predict that roughly 50% of the engineers and managers at major oil and gas companies will retire within the next decade. Due to the cyclicality of the energy industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s, companies had been hesitant to hire significant numbers of new employees for fear of future lay-offs. Because of the current staffing situation energy companies are hiring furiously. However, because all of the energy companies are in similar situations, the hiring has become more competitive than normal. Companies understand that young engineers are more interested in cutting edge technologies. The result of this is that companies with a presence in the alternative energy space have found they potentially have a competitive advantage in the recruiting process if they can offer young engineers the opportunity to work on these new and exciting projects.
The energy industry is entering period of rapid change due to pricing pressure on traditional fuel sources, the coming viability of substitute fuels, and a major shift in the demographics of the engineering and management ranks. In order to deal with these issues major oil and gas companies are using a variety of corporate structures and vehicles to assist in the development of alternative energy technologies. From successful partnership projects companies are beginning and will continue to institutionalize this knowledge and bring the technology refinement in-house once the technologies mature. Energy companies are beginning to signal through these actions that a major shift in their business will occur at some point, the only remaining question is when.
 Crisis in the Oil and Gas Industry by Peter Parry, Varya Davidson, and Andrew Clark. http://www.strategy-business.com/li/leadingideas/li00003#authors
As a result of the recent dramatic increases in oil prices, the allure of oil shale resources in the Western United States has increased greatly. The promise an inexpensive energy source, tax revenues, employment, and domestic energy security has long been targeted by producers, consumers and policy makers. Legislation in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 attempts to encourage the development of oil shale resources with provisions to expedite the leasing process.
Four companies have subsequently taken advantage of the new legislation and been granted six RD&D leases; five of which are located in Colorado’s Piceance Basin, the most prospective region containing oil shale resources, and intend to utilize variations on in-situ retorting.
Despite the recent flurry of legislative and leasing activities, oil shale extraction still fails to address the environmental concerns which have historically hindered development. Water is the most integral and controversial aspect of oil shale extraction in the western United States of which the impact from oil shale development reaches far beyond production consumption requirements. Groundwater, surface water, and alternative uses will all be impacted by oil shale development.
Until water issues and the interest of Colorado’s people can be reconciled, oil shale extraction lacks local support; a key provision of the Energy Policy Act for the development of federal lands containing oil shale resources.
The article describes how the "cowboy capitalism" of the Texas oil economy, exemplified by the show, had worldwide implications for the spread of capitalism during the Cold War. It is an interesting testament to the impact Texas had, and still has, on the world. Although the Texas Railroad Commission had long since lost its control over world oil prices by the 1980s, the ethos of the Texas oil economy still had a large cultural effect. Hey, "what starts here changes the world," right?
Monday, April 28, 2008
I propose the answer is some change. Retail stores should charge people a small fee (~ $0.10) for every plastic and paper bag used at checkout. I think this would provide enough motivation for people to make the switch. To prove this, I surveyed people outside of Barton Creek Square Mall (As a side note, surveying people is very hard. I thought that most people would be willing to take a 30 SEC SURVEY, but most people just gave me a glare like I ran over their family dog)
I would have wanted to conduct the survey ideally outside a grocery store, but both HEB and Randalls refused my request. The mall security guard told me to leave after about an hour when he found out I didn't ask for permission from the mall.
In the survey, I found that 88 % of the people who currently use plastic bags would switch to canvas if charged $0.10. 8 % would continue buying the plastic/paper and 4 % would shop at another store. With numbers like this, I don't see why a store would not charge for plastic/paper bags. It would help the environment and be of economic benefit to the store. As a side note, Ireland charges about $0.25 for plastic and paper bag used at checkout. They cited that this charge has reduced usage by 90 %.
Austin has recently been looking into ways to reduce plastic bag consumption. The city council has decreed that plastic bag consumption will be cut by 50 % by July 2009 or they will take other steps to reduce consumption. They are requiring that six voluntary retailers, who include the big stores HEB and Randells, provide detailed reports of their bag consumption for the next year. I went to the press conference to announce Austin's Bag the Bag campaign and interviewed some of the retailers for my podcast. They basically feel that for now an educational and recycle, not a charge campaign is best to reduce plastic bag consumption.
If we want people to stop using plastic/paper bags, let's MAKE THEM STOP, not pretend to care about the problem by educating people. When I was in first grade I was told how many thousands of dolphins a year are killed by plastic, yet up until about 2 weeks ago I still used plastic bags! I personally think that only until charged will a majority of people be motivated enough to stop using plastic/paper bags. If you want a lot more info I invite you to watch my podcast.
The benefits of CHP are severalfold, broken down like this:
• Efficiency – Captured waste heat can be reused for various applications, including heating and cooling and other on-site energy requirements.
• Flexibility – Systems can be adapted to provide various energy delivery services.
• Reliability – On-site control improves energy delivery, self-sufficiency, and security.
• Environmental benefits – Produces lower emissions than conventional separate systems.
My report uses the local Dell Children's Hospital as a case study, which has been instructive because CHP, although cool and all, does have its drawbacks. In addition to high startup costs, CHP installation requires a crapload of advance planning, tight design integration, on-site expertise, and ongoing optimization. On top off that, the CHP system doesn't provide the cost-savings as advertised -- it costs about the same as a conventional power generator would.
Having said that, the net benefits for CHP are positive, provided a building meets a certain profile -- long hours of operation, desire for 24/7 energy reliability/security, coinciding power and thermal loads -- which makes hospitals a good match.
Tidal energy has fascinated me since the beginning of this course because tidal energy is the only form of energy which comes from the gravitational forces by the moon and the rotation of the Earth. Although, even though some small percent of tidal power comes from solar tidal forcing, tidal energy is different from other energy resources because the energy is not derived from the sun. For instance, fossil fuels (yes, even fossil fuels), wind, biofuels, hydroelectric, geothermal, and many more energy sources come from the sun. Therefore, research on tidal power seemed like an area of study that was unique and, like most renewable technologies, still had vast amount of research left to uncover & unveil.
Wave energy is different form tidal energy in that it refers to the energy of ocean surface waves. The energy of the surface waves is largely determined by wave height, wave speed, water density, and wavelength. Buoys are placed offshore and the ocean surface waves make the buoys travel up and down and in a horizontal direction. This motion results in the buoy travelling in an elliptical motion. The energy of the elliptically travelling buoys is captured and converted into useful mechanical energy work, and thereby converted into electricity, all of which is within the buoy. The buoys transmit their electricity by power lines, which lay on the bottom of the ocean floor, to land.
Thus, my research project analyzes tidal energy and wave energy technologies as well as discusses the feasibility of select technologies based upon current energy needs and requirements as well as projects in the future. Conclusions have not yet been made, as I haven’t finished the paper yet, but I will post my findings after Thursday. As of now, I have found many interesting technologies concerning wave energy that are easy to implement from both economic and policy oriented standpoints.
However, despite all the talk on the energy crunch and the need to reduce dependence on conventional energy sources (on account of their depletion as well as the environmental degradation they cause), the renewable scenario in US has not exhibited the kind of growth it should have. Why hasn’t US replicated the German scenario in the use of renewables? Is the reason lack of comparable technical feasibility or policy issues?
Lack of governmental policy support is indeed the culprit. I researched the scenario in Germany which is the global leader in harnessing wind energy with 32% of the total world capacity and the evidence was conclusive. “In Germany, the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) guarantees for 20 years a specified minimum fee for electricity from renewable energies. This system of feed-in –tariff commits grid operators to the priority purchase of electricity from renewables. The costs of the higher feed-in rates are distributed among all electricity consumers. This system gives incentive to people setting up renewable energy plants. To keep those entrepreneurs on their toes, there are different design options including tariff degression; this reduces the rates each year -- meaning for example that a wind farm gets a lower rate if you install next year than if you install this year. this encourages swift take-up; two, it encourages manufacturers indirectly to increase design efficiency. If you are going to receive a lower rate, you want to generate more electricity. This drives innovation, making renewable energy a more rapidly evolving field”( Miguel Mendonca, World Future Council. Energy, Ethics and Feed-in Tariffs. Available at: www.renewableenergyaccess.com)
In US, there are a few schemes to promote renewables. One of them is called Purchasing Green Power Products. Many utilities are now offering their customers the ability to support wind power without constructing your own wind turbine. If your power provider offers a "green power" program, for a small surcharge on your monthly utility bill, you can ensure that the utility is purchasing renewable resources . (http://www.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/windpoweringamerica) On December 13th, the key vote on the Reid Substitute Energy Bill Amendment that would have extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for an additional 2-years and created a small wind tax credit thru the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) fell 1 vote short of reaching the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster[AWEA News releases and Statements (AWEA 3rd quarter 2007 market report). Available at: www.awea.org]. Instead of giving more policy support for renewables, the government is taking away even the little support that exists.
There is quite a lot of awareness generated on the need to amend US energy policies and I’m sure the next president will go the green way, no matter if he/she is a democrat or republican!!
I wonder what continued speculation will do to the market. To date, there has been no rice shortage in the U.S., but amazingly, prices have risen and risen. Every time that I read a article like the one linked above, I get frustrated, there's no supply shortage, but since a few people decided to walk in a different direction (enter Costco and Sam's Club) the whole of the New York Stock Exchange Yuppiedum is in a buying frenzy that upsets supply distribution around the world. Are they doing this because they are worried that Americans won't have enough food?
No, they're buying like mad men because they think that on the short they can turn a few dollars and make money off of people's mania. (Exit Supply and Demand Theory) Resource allocation is a one of the most basic elements of a stable society. Just what is it that we're letting those crazies do to people around the world? Sooner or later we'll need to fess up to the fact that turning that cool million on Wall Street has far more dire impact in the world market than the difference we see here in America, like who can afford the Yukon XL vs. who drives the Hummer without a care.
Let's think America. And get to know you Congressmen by the way!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Many of the qualified analyses report a negative Net Energy Balance for Corn Ethanol. However, various assumptions have to be made during the analysis process. Some values are considered and some aren’t. The USDA article, The 2001 Net Energy Balance of Corn-Ethanol by Dave Shapouri et al., indicates that the output to input ratio of corn-ethanol is in fact positive. The report compares the most recent literature focused on the plausibility of using corn-ethanol as fuel. The results of this analysis show an output to input ratio of 1.06 without credits. Yet byproducts may be harvested from the manufacturing process of corn-ethanol. With these adjusted credits, the output to input ratio becomes 1.67.
There are other processes being researched that may sway the opinions of the educated. In the report, Recovery of Corn Oil from Ethanol Extracts of Ground Corn Using Membrane Technology by Kwiatkowski et al., the major finding was that, using nanofiltration membranes during the ethanol production permits the ability to recover a large quantity of corn oil and other proteins. As corn oil is a highly valued product in the food industry, this may add anywhere between thirty to fifty cents per bushel of corn.
The above is an important find. Corn-ethanol currently only exists because of a 51 cent per bushel government subsidy. With an added value to the ethanol manufacturing process of 30 to 50 cents could almost wean the corn-ethanol industry off of the subsidy. Simultaneously, that value may be applied to the food industry which would experience a decrease in corn byproducts because of the increased manufacture of the ethanol derived.
Corn-ethanol still has a long way to go before it may be fully accepted as a viable fuel source. However, since research is now producing smart methods to get around our problems, corn-ethanol may soon find it’s acceptance.
Other than scoring points with voters, what effects will a fuel tax suspension actually have?
The federal gas tax serves a pretty important purpose, functioning as a "user fee" for America's highways and roads, where those who use the most gasoline on them contribute the most towards their maintenance. Suspending the gas tax for any period of time means cutting off support for infrastructure at a time when state governments are bemoaning the lack of federal support for highway and bridge renovations. MSNBC ran a story last fall, stating that the Highway Trust Fund, the repository for monies collected from the federal gas tax and which allocates funds for highway projects nationwide, is due to run dry in 2009. While the nominal value of the gas tax has grown four-fold since 1970, the real value of the tax has been declining (i.e., not keeping up with inflation or increased fuel efficiency, which undercuts the mechanism of the tax), currently at about 3/4 its value in 1970.
If Senators McCain and Clinton want to push the U.S. towards a mass transit economy, this feels like a backhanded way to do it, where highways and roads will fall into disrepair and drivers will look for other ways to complete their commutes. If the goal is to save American taxpayers money, it looks like another "rob Paul to pay Peter" example, where taxpayers will save a little money now only to have to pay it later in the form of higher taxes to support infrastructure improvements... ones that will have to be performed as emergencies occur (as with the bridge collapse in Minnesota last year) because repair work wasn't being performed on schedule.
My wife has to gas up our car roughly once a week -- she commutes from East Austin to NW Austin. Given a weekly fill-up for our Honda Civic (which has a 10-gallon tank), costing roughly $3.50/gallon, each fill-up costs us in the neighborhood of $30-35 (assuming current prices). The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cents per gallon. If the gas tax were lifted for the summer (June-August), we would save $1.84 per fill-up, or $22.08 for three months (12 fill-ups).
Personally, I'd rather the government keep collecting those pennies for infrastructure rehabilitation than granting me savings that will barely cover the cost of a tank of gas. Those pennies will do us all more good in the long run.
My belief is based on personal communication that I had with the head of research and development at Eastman Corporation, as well as recognition of the amount of funding that companies like ExxonMobile have channeled into “climate change contrarians.” As of last November, the head of R&D at Eastman Corp. did not believe in climate change, stating that he recently saw a talk that suggested that solar flares were largely responsible (somehow ignoring the incredible consensus that exists in the scientific community and focusing on the “evidence” from groups the likes of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine). Eastman management was clearly paying such an institution to help provide “facts” that the company employees could use to maintain their beliefs.
As for ExxonMobile, their tactics in combating climate change to prevent government regulation is well-documented by the Union of Concerned Scientists (please see: www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/exxon_report.pdf). Interestingly, in some cases ExxonMobile not only applied the same tactics that Big Tobacco used in denying the link between smoking and cancer, they even employed the same people. How can we expect a wealthy corporation to even think about climate change when they are busy manufacturing evidence against it?
This sort of ideological indoctrination is common in America, though not generally quite so explicit as the two examples above. Together, they suggest a very strong tendency among important decision-makers in Texas to deny the current energy and environmental situation. Creativity and action are difficult in such cases. Hopefully, when the oldest generation of managers retires they will be replaced by those who are more capable of recognizing the problems that exist today and able to respond in ways that generate both profit and social benefit.
about stuff like this:
April 23, 2008 -- Pine beetles that have already destroyed huge swathes of Canadian forest are on pace to release 270 megatons of carbon dioxide (C02) into the atmosphere by 2020, says a study released Wednesday.
That is the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions that Canada is committed to reducing by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol, and would effectively doom that effort to failure, the study says.
By the end of 2006, the mountain pine beetle -- Dendroctonus ponderosae -- had ravaged more than 50,000 square miles of forests in western Canada.
While not the first outbreak in the last decade, the latest is 10 times larger than any previous attacks.
The tiny beetle, the shape and size of a grain of rice and native to the western part of North America, lays its eggs under the bark of mature lodge-pole pine and jack pine trees.
Once the insects are embedded, a tree's fate is sealed.
Healthy forests are normally carbon sinks, meaning that they absorb more carbon dioxide -- the number one greenhouse gas -- than they give off.
We know about certain types of positive feedback loops associated with climate change (Snow reflects more energy than water. When snow melts because it warms, warming is more severe. There's others...). But I'm sure there's a host of other positive feedback loops that people either haven't considered, or couldn't possibly predict. Think about these beetles. Maybe the recent 10X worse than normal outbreak is a product of warmer average temperatures in Canada. It will continue to warm and these outbreaks may become more significant and frequent, causing even more warming through the massive CO2 release.
This is just a reminder not to get too comfortable about our energy/global warming problem. As much as the imperfect science bolsters arguments from the global warming nonbelievers, it also presents the dangerous possibility that reality will be much worse than we expect. Read here for more on this subject.
Karl McGarvey, Boyden employee, presented the current situation of the Oil Industry. 73% of the people working nowadays is older than 40 years old, and 50% of this group is older than 55 years old. This means that there is a lack of young professionals, and, therefore, future directors are going to be younger than today's.
Also Mr. McGarvey mentioned that according to the surveys, generations between ´77-´94 are orientated to Team Working, Techno-Savvies, Proactive, looking for Instant Gratification, and Working to live.
As consequences, it is thought that salaries and compensation for young professional may increase, trainee programs are going to be a key factor to develop the future directors for the companies.
A quick disclaimer: Although I thoroughly agree with Allen Demling’s views on city transportation and many of this other goals for city council, I am still undecided for whom I will vote. Mr. Demling is running for Place 1 against the Lee Leffingwell, who is an experienced, principled incumbent, and I have not yet seen a convincing reason to vote him out of office. Even if I decide to vote against Mr. Leffingwell, the other challenger for this position, Jason Meeker, is a very good candidate in his own regard. There are three good candidates vying for one position. On a more personal note, Allen Demling graduate UT with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, which is something that appeals to me. Furthermore, the guy’s got a sweet beard.
Allen Demling supports the general goal of diversifying transportation in our cities. Currently, our society is centered around the automobile. Just a few of the ramification of this are that (a) automotive traffic and pollution are recurring and growing problems, (b) our productivity and happiness is very sensitive to petroleum prices and availability, and (c) our cities are spread out over large areas to accommodate our automobile-centric lifestyles. If more options existed for transportation, especially in and around downtown, and if people used these options because they were affordable and reasonably convenient, then (a) traffic and pollution would be reduced, (b) our society would better able to absorb high costs of fuel, and (c) our cities would tend to become more concentrated closer to town, resulting in shorter commutes for most people and a less-energy-intensive way of life for the city. The way to achieve this is through the creation of the infrastructure to support various forms of transportation.
Alternative transportation infrastructure includes sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes and paths, innovative bus systems, and well-planned local train systems. This costs money up front, sometimes a huge amount of money, but it has enormous benefits in the long term. Cities grow around transportation, and transportation infrastructure goes a long way to define a society. Allen Demling is one of a rapidly growing group of citizens who realize this and put alternative transportation high on the list of priorities for our government. These are long-term projects that effect the growth of our cities over generations. Our society has neglected transportation diversity for too long, and we are seeing the symptoms of this. It is urgent that our society makes substantial steps towards diversifying our transportation system.
There were many speakers and I encourage you to check out any transcripts, presentations, or video that they will eventually put up on the website (http://www.texassolarforum.com/).
Since I work for a wind developer, I was most interested in the final panel discussion, which featured representatives from Austin Energy, CPS (San Antonio's municipal utility), and executives from major solar manufacturers and developers including industry major First Solar and trailblazing concentrated solar startup Ausra.
I wasn't the only one to raise my eyebrows at hearing that Ausra is now able to offer long-term PPAs for electricity priced at 9 cents/kWh!!! That's on par with peak natural gas prices here in Texas and actually beats Arizona Public Service's peaker prices by a factor of 2...
Key takeaway: solar still has a long way to go, but grid parity is right around the corner for some technologies. And where better to launch a revolution in the U.S. than in the only state that can legally suceed from the union any time it chooses!
I find it almost astounding that a deal cannot be struck when the profits from upstream production are so lucrative at the moment. I don't know how much Exxon would stand to lose by giving in to employee demands, but I can't imagine it would be greater than the amount they're losing by not producing in Nigeria at all. It's also interesting how much bigger a deal this is than if it happened a year or two ago- whereas then it would almost be an afterthought with the assumption that something will be worked out eventually, the fact that we're losing that much oil on the market is another factor that I'm sure will lead to an even greater hike in oil prices.
In the New York Times, I am reading an article titled by Bernie Becker, "Bicycle-Sharing Program to Be First of Kind in U.S." and I am currently thinking, "You, Mr. Becker are incorrect."
The Yellow Bike Project allows you to learn how to build/repair your own bike and provides free bikes for public use. They even have bikes for sale and bikes available at their warehouse to fix. The latter two require a little bit of money, but it is most definitely worth it. If you have the time to dedicate to it, you get the best of both worlds.
The SmartBike DC, "private-public venture," will open up 10 areas around the Washington DC area with bikes which you can check out for 3 hours at a time for a small fee of $40 a year. This is really great idea, but I wonder if it will actually work.
"Similar programs have proved successful in Europe. The Vélib program in Paris and Bicing in Barcelona, Spain, both started around a year ago and already offer thousands of bicycles."
I think this is probably a good way get people into the mode of riding bicycles quickly, but the educational part is lacking. Maybe this company can expand itself to provide what the Yellow Bike Project offers. The capability to fix your own bike is essential, but SmartBike DC rids you of having to worry about the basic problems which arise from owning a bike. I know many people would find this very useful, but I would personally find the 3 hour time limit very inconvenient.
Granted, the Yellow Bike Project is a non-profit and the SmartBike venture is not. Austin did implement the "bicycle-sharing" program before Washington DC. The execution of SmartBike is slightly different from the Austin Yellow Bike Project, but I think credit should be given to the Yellow Bike Austin project.
Even though I believe that there is no one way in solving the energy problem, I see a very great contribution of nuclear energy toward US overall energy use. The main drawback in using nuclear energy as a source of energy is the public perception of this source of energy. At the same time, it offers many advantages. Today, with all the great effort in reduction of CO2, nuclear energy becomes very attractive since it emits no CO2. It is also not dependent on resources from countries who hate us. It can be very reliable in feeding the baseline electricity demand while sources such as wind and solar don’t give the same stability in production. Today, with very high oil prices, electricity generation from nuclear resources hits the record high. According to EIA the total national nuclear electricity generation in 2007 was 2.4 percent higher than in 2006. Today, with even higher energy costs I am expecting even greater use of nuclear energy this year and in coming years. For more information and accessing exact number on nuclear energy generation visit : http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/nuc_generation/gensum.html
I had the opportunity to attend a field trip to the Pickle Research Center last Friday. I was able to observe the distillation columns, pumps, and exchangers at the CRT laboratory. I learned the university is currently conducting research on carbon sequestration and how to use solvent that feeds into the distillation column and capture carbon dioxide releases from the overhead column. I also learned the University of Texas is the only institution doing research on that topic.
Dr. Eldridge stated while we were in the control room looking at the carbon sequestration computer system, if Obama gets elected, there will be policy on carbon very soon. However, if McCain is elected, we will not know how long it will take to have a policy on carbon. As an engineering student, this is critical for us. Therefore, I am glad I had the opportunity to be in Dr. Webber’s class and learn about energy technology and policy. It broadened my scope of work and I was able to understand the current event of what is happening.
Although it may be easy for many of us to find alternative means of transportation around campus, it is not representative of our suburban counterparts. My parents live in San Antonio, a city that is growing dramatically in size due to urban sprawl. My mom told me my parents now spend over $400 a month on gas, mostly to commute to and from work. Yikes! During our conversation, I asked her about alternative transportation options. Her solution to the problem, rather than conservation, trip consolidation, or taking the extra time to ride the bus, is to buy a new house in neighborhood closer to their jobs. This sounded ridiculous to me, and after reading Linda Passaniti's blog "Conserve More Consume Less," it really struck me that buying a new house to save money on gas is not only illogical, but ultimately is more harmful than beneficial on a larger scale.
For me, I become more unsatisfied the more I learn about energy. Not just policy, but mostly public opinion and use. Hopefully I'll be less pessimistic next time it's time to hit the pumps.
In an article in May’s Energy Economics, a team of two
“Results suggest the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) supply forecasts for
Our numbers show the DOE forecasts are usually better than a 5-year-old’s.
“Across the four markets examined—crude oil, natural gas, coal and electricity—there was not a particular sector where the EIA is clearly excelling or lacking.”
The EIA forecasts may, perhaps, be a waste of time.
“So, it would appear that there is a room for improvement in the crude oil supply forecasts.”
Please learn to do a better job in crude forecasting.
“Overall, the results shed a positive light on the forecasting ability of the EIA.”
The EIA forecasts are not completely useless like we had imagined.
“Indeed, the evidence presented here implies that the EIA generally does an admirable job of forecasting energy supplies at a one-quarter-horizon.”
We can reasonably say with some bit of certainty that the EIA forecasts are somewhat decent enough to rely on for budgeting for your summer vacation.
Source: Sanders, Manfredo and Boris, 2008. Accuracy and efficiency in the U.S. Department of Energy's short-term supply forecasts, Energy Economics 30 (2008), pp. 1192-1207.
This article is only one of many, I am sure, that discusses how kids are getting involved in the green movement. They are even being called generation green. I think it is great because these kids have a huge influence on their parents. What dad is going to throw his coke can in the trash when his children have set up recycling bins in his house? This school the article talks about even has a conservation club set up. The club is in charge of the recycling program at their school. I think the generation coming up through primary schools right now has the ability to do what everyone has been talking about doing. These kids will be the ones to inherit this earth.
The article, “The Cheapest Way to Save the Earth” gives examples of how our consumer-oriented society feels it has to buy more things in order to conserve. This may lead some people to feel they can’t contribute to conservation because they can’t afford to. This is actually very counter intuitive. The point of “conservation” should be to conserve – to use less. And even someone on a tight budget can do that. We don’t have to buy organic food or a hybrid car to make a difference. We can turn off lights, take public transportation and take better care of what we already have (like our cars). But if you can afford it, and plan to buy fruits and veggies anyway, you may as well go organic.
I feel the article says something significant about our society. It seems we try to solve a lot of problems by consuming and spending money. It’s probably one reason why our country consumes so much energy.
1) Return of the Kurile Islands taken by Russia in WWII (delicious fish for the Japanese and energy access for the Russians)
2) Backing a better Climate Change initiative at the G8
Most articles seemed to be more interested in the touchy subject of land. But I was interested in the Energy issues, of course. So I found the list of possible issues on Reuters. They listed 7 separate key issues, 4 were fuel related, 2 more were energy related (if you count the islands as being useful for energy) and the final key was Japan's endeavour to make their hosting of the G8 Summit in July a success by creating a successful Kyoto Protocal.
We might remember some of the fuel issues from a previous post I made about pirates. Sakhalin Energy has sold almost 60% of it's energy to Japana, the rest going to the N. American West Coast and South Korea. Reuters says Japan wants more of Sakhalin-2 and Gazprom wants all of the gas export from Sakhalin-1. Both sites are joint projects between Japanese partners and Gazprom as well as companies like Shell and Exxon. However, Russia has already pressured sale of part of the Sakhalin-2 project from Japan and Shell. (I think Gazprom is a big bully. Russia likes to pressure people into selling things. In case you didn't see the latest rule for the Sochi Olympic Games.)
Also, there was mention of Japan is in competition with China for oil to come from Siberia in the next decade. Today, Bloomberg reported that Japan has made a deal to explore and transport the oil from Siberia to East Asia.
Japan said it wanted to strengthen ties with Russia, but it looks fairly tilted towards energy resources. Additionally, in regards to the G8. Japan may just want to cut some pre-deals with Russia. Currently, according to Reuters, Russia has a surplus of carbon credits under the current Kyoto protocol- credits that Japan needs to meet their targets.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
There is an article on the WWF website (no, not wresting) about this.
I’m certain that there are other reasons for high food prices in addition to the four listed, and I look forward to reading your comments. In the mean time, I’m going to be stocking up (which will probably, ironically, increase food prices by increasing demand; it’s a full circle, isn’t it?).
I would specifically like to thank Majors Michaelis, Montgomery and Calhoun for coming to speak with us and their service to our nation.
There is a consequence and link to carbon emissions that the international shippers would like you to not know about. The European Commission announced that freight carrying flights into and out of the EU would be included in the bloc's emissions trading program. This has many in the industry worried and becoming more vocal about costs increases being passed on to the consumer.
Further, as fuel costs go higher, the transporters are having to get more creative in keeping costs down, and the specter of having to use low-sulfur fuel is cause for even more change in the industry. Remember that article about freighters testing giant sails? My guess is we will see a lot more of those "ancient" innovations.
So, there is a link to a local news item I saw this week on television. Local small and mostly organic farmers have become more competitive and are able to make a profit and sell out of their goods nowadays. I can remember going to these markets and thinking the prices were pretty high. But the competitive nature of being local and not having tremendous shipping costs other than having to drive to town from maybe 40 miles away has shifted their fortunes. So, if there is a silver lining in anything happening with higher fuel prices, maybe this is it. If I had the time and did not have finals, I would go down and talk to these guys about their very simple business model that is working. I would also like to know if their's is a business that is thriving and paying off. The number of small farms has dwindled in this country since the 1930s, and perhaps a sea change in that trend is underway. That would certainly change the landscape of agri-business.
Friday, April 25, 2008
This is a huge step in the right direction, but the ruralZED has some big flaws. The price tag associated with a solar array big enough to provide all of a particular house's energy needs is laughable. The optional turbine has a 5 foot diameter, so I can't see much power coming from them. Actually building one of these homes off-grid would be a huge gamble, especially in the not so sunny latitudes of the world. (Maybe I shouldn't take "off-grid" so seriously.) Anyway, it's great that companies are working on these ideas and that they are already making some available now. It seems to me, however, that the money you could invest in a ruralZED would be better spent making energy improvements to your current home. As for the "off-grid" part, I'm not sure that is an attainable reality. What is attainable is the construction of new homes from only thermally efficient materials and polymeric sealants. Improved efficiencies are the key to quick carbon emission decreases. Only after that should we look to completely replace our source of residential power.
Here are some of the questions I have been asking bike enthusiasts:
How long have you been riding? How many bikes do you own? Do you ride for pleasure or transportation? What are the pros and cons of biking?
How do you think most American's view biking? How about that of most people in the World? Why are these opinions different? How could we change these views?
What would you say to people that claim biking is poor man's transportation? A toy for kids? Impractical and unsafe? If you ever thought these things, what changed your mind?
What do you think of gas prices today? How about climate change? What makes you decide to drive your car over riding your bike?
What do you think of America's obesity problem? Why have kids stopped riding their bikes to school? How safe is your bike when you lock it up in public areas?
What is your view on urban sprawl? Do you think we are entering a natural reversal? Would you be happier living closer to where you work and shop?
Do you think increasing bike use could help answer any of these issues? How do we implement this increase - incentives? fines? programs? education? specific policy? other ideas?
Thank you for your time and consideration :)
Peru has recently opened its country to oil and gas explorartion granting 80 exploration permits (with many more to come) encompassing an area roughly the size of France. Peru has also encouraged the modernization of a state-owned refinery valued at 1bn and the construction of a new LNG export terminal.
The Economist reports that Peru's President Alan Garcia envisions Peru becoming a net energy exporter and petrochemical industry center. By mid 2011 Garcia hopes that oil and gas industries in Peru will have attracted over 3bn in invenstment and created thousands of new jobs.
Per the norm, the Peruvian government has been accused of cutting corners in its attempt to attract investment, ignoring the environmental risks associated with exploration and development, and clashed with indigenous groups.
The article attached talks about some of the future trends that we could expect in this regard and how are lifestyles would radically change. The IEA reportedly predicts that US oil demand would drop by 2% this year. It goes on to say that even with a possible recession and declining dollar prices, the price of oil is not expected to drop. Quoting Loren Steffy , " $120 isn't a spike, it's just another milestone on oil's upward journey."
This study is interesting in that I feel that any geoengineering scheme is completely ludicrous. I really hope that we never come to the point where we are going to try and play god and control the environment. If the earth is warming, we need to adapt like every other animal is trying do and change our habits to reduce our effect on the warming trend. Pumping sulfur into the atmosphere may help lower the temperature of the earth by a degree but what other effects will this have on the earth and on the health of humans? We dont know. No models will be able to tell us. I would rather have the government force me to change my habits than to have a group of scientists try and alter the environment on a large scale. If a volcano explodes and sends a huge plume of sulfur into the atmosphere we deal with it because it is a natural phenomenon. Nobody is to blame if negative consequences emerge from a volcano but if a human causes the consequences, someone is to blame. Can you imagine what the US would do if Russia starts sending plumes of sulfur into the air and American health is endangered? We need to stop doing things that are contributing to the human element of global warming instead engineering the earth to be a perfect place. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, volcanoes, death are all things that are part of life and we cannot and should not try and stop them from happening.
SunChips has also teamed up with Wal-Mart for a "commitment to the planet." They support renewable energy and these green energy credits will help more renewable energy development. They claim that if every Wal-Mart customer buys one bag of SunChips, the energy credits produced would match the amount of electricity needed to power over half a million homes in the country for one day. Not bad. Plus, they had an attractive woman pitching the idea in their commercial with a beautiful green meadow and bright sunlight.
Excuse me while I go buy 10 bags.
In particular, the competition with food has been making headlines lately, and we're not immune to this in Texas. The price of feed is going up, which translates to higher costs down the line. Creating fuel from food isn't a smart practice. While the mandate to increase biofuels production is nice, at it's current state, it's not working out.
This is not to say biofuels are a bad idea. I wholeheartedly believe that 2nd and 3rd (yes, we're already talking about those) biofuels will be the interim solution for transportation. Feedstocks such as cellulose for ethanol and algae for pretty much everything (biodiesel, ethanol, JP8, hydrogen,..) will be important in the next few years.
Contrary to what Mr. Dickerson of EERE said yesterday, I believe that food vs. fuel is a real problem, and I laud Gov. Perry for taking this on. This may be one of the few times where I actually agree with Gov. Rick Perry. Go ahead and quote me on that. He was Ag. Commissioner at one time, so it would make sense for him to be on this.
For once it's not California raising a big stink about Federal programs.
1. The United States consumes 408 billion gallons of water per day.
2. In the last 50 years there has been movement toward public supply. In 1950, 62% of US populaiton was served by public supply, while in 2000, 85% of US populaiton was served by public supply.
3. In 2000, 43.5 million people in the US (approx. 15 of the populaiton), supplied their own water.
4. Out of the 50 states, Texas is the 2nd largest water consumer behind California. Texas uses 30 billion gallons of water per day.
5. California, Texas, and Florida consume 25% of the water used by the US.
6. City of Austin uses 140 million gallons of water a day.
7. The per capita water use in austin is about 165 gallons per day.
More on water, next week.
The message in this article is that government and the citizenry are concerned about biofuels' effect on food prices and are not prepared to give up nutrition to fill up their gas tank. This is a logical response. Paul Dickerson touched on this issue in his talk in class this Thursday. He seemed to play down people's concerns about the effect of biofuels on the food supply, yet he gave no concrete justification for his belief. Of course their are other events that have compounded the food shortage the world is now facing (such as Australia's drought and decrease of rice production), but I think it is obvious that our first attempts to alter our energy supply from fossil fuels to food based biofuels have caused a disturbance in the world's food balance that cannot be ignored. I really wish Mr. Dickerson could have elaborated on his views in regards to this issue. I am still convinced that the food crisis we are seeing today has a strong correlation with the West's attempts to use food for biofuel production.
Can anyone support Mr. Dickerson's views on this issue?
"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." –April 30, 2001
I have seen this ‘ethic’ displayed by many Republicans in the past and present, but I simply cannot believe that this is an official party line. I found the following excerpt on energy on the House Republican Conference (GOP) website:
Republicans are committed to a balanced, common sense energy security policy that makes our energy more affordable and reliable. An innovative, 21st century energy policy should make renewable and alternative fuels much more accessible to ordinary Americans, and it should apply cutting-edge technologies to the environmentally conscious exploration of traditional American energy. In expanding the supply of available energy, we must also focus on energy conservation and efficiency, and we should make the necessary long-term investments in the fuels of the future.
The GOP appears to support energy conservation, although this excerpt does emphasize the expansion of domestic energy supplies over energy conservation. Finally, I pulled up the Mission statement of the Office of EERE:
The EERE mission is to strengthen America's energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality in public-private partnerships that:
Enhance energy efficiency and productivity;
Bring clean, reliable and affordable energy technologies to the marketplace; and
Make a difference in the everyday lives of Americans by enhancing their energy choices and their quality of life.
Suprisingly, the word ‘conservation’ is never mentioned in the mission statement. Expanding renewable energy and improving energy efficiency without conserving energy and reducing overall demand is terrible policy. The age old idea that economic growth is predicated upon increased energy consumption should be laid to rest. Again, I enjoyed Paul’s talk and the way he engaged the class, but his refusal to see the major role that conservation measures should and need to play in solving climate and energy challenges is disappointing.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
This plant is a just one of the many which have begun to sprout due to the US's growing energy demand. There will be more in the future unless the US becomes more efficient with its energy uses and/or the US begins to conserve more.