Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘energy’

Energy, Gas & Reality

From Nation of Change

The Energy Deficit
by Michael Spence

I have been surprised by the recent coverage in the American press of gasoline prices and politics. Political pundits agree that presidential approval ratings are highly correlated with gas prices: when prices go up, a president’s poll ratings go down. But, in view of America’s long history of neglect of energy security and resilience, the notion that Barack Obama’s administration is responsible for rising gas prices makes little sense.

Four decades have passed since the oil-price shocks of the 1970’s. We learned a lot from that experience. The short-run impact – as always occurs when oil prices rise quickly – was to reduce growth by reducing consumption of other goods, because oil consumption does not adjust as quickly as that of other goods and services.

But, given time, people can and do respond by lowering their consumption of oil. They buy more fuel-efficient cars and appliances, insulate their homes, and sometimes even use public transportation. The longer-run impact is thus different and much less negative. The more energy-efficient one is, the lower one’s vulnerability to price volatility.

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On the supply side, there is a similar difference between short-term and longer-run effects. In the short term, supply may be able to respond to the extent that there is reserve capacity (there isn’t much now). But the much larger, longer-run effect comes from increased oil exploration and extraction, owing to the incentive of higher prices.

All of this takes time, but, as it occurs, it mitigates the negative impact: the demand and supply curves shift in response to higher prices (or to anticipation of higher prices).

In terms of policy, there was a promising effort in the late 1970’s. Fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles were legislated, and car producers implemented them. In a more fragmented fashion, states established incentives for energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

But then oil and gas prices (adjusted for inflation) entered a multi-decade period of decline. Policies targeting energy efficiency and security largely lapsed. Two generations came to think of declining oil prices as normal, which accounts for the current sense of entitlement, the outrage at rising prices, and the search for villains: politicians, oil-producing countries, and oil companies are all targets of scorn in public-opinion surveys.

A substantial failure of education about non-renewable natural resources lies in the background of current public sentiment. And now, having underinvested in energy efficiency and security when the costs of doing so were lower, America is poorly positioned to face the prospect of rising real prices. Energy policy has been “pro-cyclical” – the opposite of saving for a rainy day. Given the upward pressure on prices implied by rising emerging-market demand and the global economy’s rapid increase in size, that day has arrived.

Read entire article at Nation of Change.

Paying for Clean Economy

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
25 January 2012

A Jump Start for the Clean Economy
by Maria Gallucci

A little-known source of clean energy funding could prove a crucial job-creation engine in the states, as federal support diminishes and they seek fresh growth drivers.

Every state can create clean energy funds, or CEFs, which are typically supported by a small surcharge on monthly electricity bills. So far 22 states have done so, generating $2.7 billion overall for the clean technology sector during the past decade. Most have used the money to install tens of thousands of solar panel arrays, wind turbines and biomass facilities.

But a few states have gone further by broadening investments to include technology research hubs, fledgling cleantech startups and green job training programs. The idea is to use the money, which today totals some $500 million a year, to help develop all the components of the clean economy and stimulate the creation of thousands of permanent local jobs.

The strategy is still experimental, but it could turn these CEFs into a major source of economic growth, according to new report published today by the Brookings Institution, a public policy group, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization. The report outlines a four-part policy strategy for every state to adopt this “next generation” of CEF spending.

Clean Energy Funds were originally set up more than 10 years ago to help decarbonize state energy systems in the face of climate change. According to the report, the funds have already helped bring forward 72,000 renewable energy installations the country urgently needs.

But times have changed, said Mark Muro, a report co-author and director of policy for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. “Economic development has emerged as a parallel and complementary interest to carbon reduction … There’s been a sharpening concern that the country really needs to look to supporting the emergence of cutting-edge technologies” as a way to start new industries and create jobs, he told InsideClimate News.

According to the report, retooling these state-level funds “could not be timelier at this moment of federal gridlock and market uncertainty.”

Congress isn’t expected to approve new funding for green technologies in 2012 after the 2009 stimulus—which poured tens of billions of dollars into clean energy projects—dries up. And policymakers won’t likely reinstate key federal subsidies that lapsed at the end of 2011, including the Energy Department’s 1705 loan guarantee program, whose bankrolling of the now-bankrupt California solar firm Solyndra sparked a Republican-led effort to scale back President Obama’s green agenda.

“We all need to be thinking about where we are going to get policy and finance support for further economic development in clean energy,” Muro said. “As it happens, the clean energy funds are there and in a position to innovate.”

The Evolution of CEFs

The country’s first CEFs popped up in places with aggressive renewable energy goals, like California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Other states gradually followed suit, namely in the East Coast and Midwest.

They used the cash to get more solar panels on rooftops and wind turbines in the ground, which they hoped would help make renewable electricity as cheap as coal. Affordable clean power would have another benefit: it would unleash consumer demand for solar and wind, and spur new jobs in installation, manufacturing, among other areas.

But some states saw that the high cost of renewable power generation wasn’t the only obstacle to realizing the promise of the green economy. In order to build lasting cleantech industries, they’d have to subsidize research and development for new technologies, like advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and highly efficient solar panels, and eventually build a ready workforce and supply chain for manufacturing.

And so, starting a few years ago, a handful of states began experimenting with ways to transform their CEFs by linking the money to strengths in their economies.

For New York, that has meant sending some of its CEF money into its growing number of regional clusters, where high-tech companies, universities and research institutions that have similar industry focus share expertise. In 2009, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which administers the state’s CEF and other clean energy programs, saw a chance for those regional clusters to help a rising crop of clean energy startups become viable companies.

The Clean Energy Business Incubator program has given $1.5 million from the CEF to each of six business incubators, which assist cleantech entrepreneurs in organizing, staffing and funding new businesses. Together, the incubators work with around 70 companies, whose products range from analytical tools that measure wind energy resources to energy management systems and mounting devices for solar photovoltatic installations. The money gets doled out over the course of four years as companies pass certain milestones, like completing a business plan or attracting private investments.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Stop Talking About Clean Energy

It only takes me a few minutes to say out loud, “Here they go again.” Every time I hear a politician, commentator or policy wonk tout the need for our country to become energy independent and develop “future” technology that doesn’t pollute, reduces green house gasses and makes us less dependent on foreign oil (and all the conflict that creates), I want to choke on their oratory fumes. They talk about it like a religious mantra, but never put it into practice.

The “future” technology and know how is already here and has been for some time. What’s lacking is the awareness of its existence, the fear of changing the economy and the will to transform our present infrastructure and dream big. We’ve done it before at home, with The New Deal and the space program. We’ve done it abroad with The Marshall Plan. We’ve done it repeatedly for unnecessary wars and wasted billions in defense contracts, instead of creating new energy and life-giving technology.

Ten years ago, when our family put solar panels on our home, I thought we’d found the answer, but it turns out that that was small potatoes. Even though solar energy is dropping in price and there are rebates and incentives galore, not everyone can afford the initial costs, nor is it easy to convince people to do so. People in the northern half of the U.S. can’t always use solar because it’s difficult to store and save the energy produced for a cloudy day. By all means, I hope individuals and companies continue to put ever more efficient panels on their roofs, buildings and parking garages and have dispersed energy sources, but not that alone.

Photovoltaic solar energy (panels on your roof), combined with wind, hydro-electric and hydrothermal sources, are all a big step in the right direction, but could take half a century to spread and be adopted nationwide. If we stop and look in the mirror, there’s been another alternative all along and it’s about to light up the world.

While searching the web for photovoltaic solar companies, I happened upon some sites that spoke about thermal solar energy. Like most politicos and environmental junkies, I didn’t have a clue to their existence, let alone know what thermal solar was.

Solar thermal works by using special mirrors that reflect the sun on to long pipes filled with water. The heat from the sun boils the water, which produces steam to turn turbines. The energy from the turbines is then transmitted to the electric company. The companies that have developed this technology have also figured out a way to store the energy produced for future needs (a rainy day). It turns out that there are several companies already building these systems and is placing them in the Nevada desert and have contracted with Pacific, Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and other large power companies in the U.S.

By using a 90 mile by 90 mile square area, these systems could provide enough energy for most of the country. Solar thermal facilities in the North African desert could produce adequate amounts of energy for most of Europe. There are similar desert areas in Asia, Australia and South America. Since China, India, the U.S. and Europe are the leading emitters of green house gasses, it makes sense to first convert their energy sources (oil, nuclear and coal) to thermal solar so the rest of the planet can breathe and adapt the same technology for their countries social and material needs.

The beautiful thing is that there is no pollution, nor emission of green house gasses in the process. It works with our existing infrastructure and could be improved in the near future by building new transcontinental power lines. The parts for these power plants are being built now. They will be soon be up and running. Combined with the use of all-electric vehicles, which can (by this time next year) get up to 250 miles per charge and charge in minutes (due to recent battery advances), our nation could be oil free within a few decades.

These essential changes in how we produce and utilize energy can accelerate if (and the “if” is the part that is so maddening and beyond my control) politicians, media moguls and large businesses are willing to get fired up, transform the job market and put their financial and political will behind a new Marshall Plan for U.S. energy. It will take much less time to change the source of energy for a few power plants than it will to change the habits and availability of new energy sources for millions of Americans.

Having realized that photovoltaic energy is a drop in the bucket, compared to thermal solar, has given me hope and perspective. When I arise in the morning and look in the mirror, I am reminded that the simple combination of sun upon glass can literally save our planet. If we can only get the politicians and those running for office, to stop talking about “future” energy independence and start talking to those who already have the technology out on the table, we can make these dreams a present reality.

Erotic Geography

It is no easy task to study geology and geography, without becoming sexually aroused. Sex not only inundates the media and pervades human consciousness; it is intricately laced through college science textbooks. That is the wonderful secret I discovered when my sweetheart went to graduate school at San Francisco State years ago and majored in geography. It was an unexpected, but thrilling side dish to the usual graduate school fare.

As I helped my partner with her studies, it soon became apparent that the most innocent scientific phrase was brimming with sexual innuendo. She found it increasingly difficult to have my “help”, as it usually turned into fits of laughter or charged our libido to such volcanic heights, that any further study for the evening would focus on one another’s anatomy and not the required text.
She would innocently read aloud, “Sedimentary rocks may be horizontal, tilted, or folded, and together with igneous and metamorphic rocks may be divided by joints, broken by faults, or thrust vast distances horizontally. All of these varying conditions are reflected in local and regional landforms. Strong deformation of rock masses producing complex geologic structures is usually associated with present or past margins of interacting lithospheric plates and results from the sea-floor spreading process.”

This quote about geologic structure, from Essentials of Physical Geography Today by Theodore M. Oberlander and Robert A. Muller (1987), may sound innocuous and matter-of-fact to the casual reader, but it is chock full of sexual references and innuendos. “Rock . . . horizontal, tilted, or folded,” has numerous love-making connotations. “Thrust . . . strong . . . interacting” and “spreading” are intricately connected with the erotic.

“Heat energy is the energy resulting from the random motion of the atoms and molecules of substances. The hotter a substance is the more vigorous is the motion of its atoms.” (Oberlander & Muller). These references were, once again, quite amorous. “Heat energy . . . random motion . . . substances . . .” and “The hotter a substance is the more vigorous is the motion of its atoms” are aphrodisiacs of geological proportions.

Geologists, meteorologists and geographers have little knowledge of their sexual promiscuity. Take a gander at this statement from Nyle C. Brady in The Nature and Properties of Soils (MacMillan, 1984). “As water moves through the soil to plant roots, into the roots, across cells into stems, up the plant xylem to the leaves, and is evaporated from the leaf surfaces, its tendency to move is determined by differences in free energy levels of the water, or by the moisture tension.” Give that titillating sentence a repeat read, keeping in mind male and female anatomical response during intercourse and the sexual references drip off one’s tongue.

When I look at the world through desire and wanting, that is all I see. At the time my partner was in her geography program, my senses were fossilized on sex. I saw everything around me as acts of creation and gender. We were all atoms of various persuasions attempting to be absorbed and interconnected through sexual union, while we floated through space on a gigantic uterus called earth. Luckily, not everyone has their lens focused on sex all the time, but with some it would definitely be an improvement.

People, who believe life is essentially unsafe, random and bad, see everything and everyone they meet, as threats or problems. They find the negative, disparaging aspects in their environment and their relationships and are convinced that they are the ongoing victims of a cruel and unjust world.

Folks who think there are limited precious resources and that one can never have enough, experience life with a grave sense of fear and foreboding that supplies will run out before they “get theirs”. Instead of seeing that “limited” and “precious” does not mean “absent”, they scramble to horde and obtain all the material, emotional, intellectual and spiritual wealth possible and are convinced that they will be left high and dry.

Others, intent on obtaining “perfection” and wanting to belong, compare and judge themselves as better or worse than others and are never content to be who and where they are. They believe that so and so is ignorant, stupid or inconsequential, compared to what they themselves have accomplished or vice-a-versa, are envious of those they perceive as being “greater than” or more accomplished than themselves. These judgments fluctuate and change on an hourly, daily basis and leave one mired in the quick sand of separation and isolation.

If we are looking at human beings and the world in which we live, through the lens of hate, we despise everyone and everything. If we peer through the lens of love, we see goodness and beauty. When I maintained the narrow focus of sex, it was the only thing I saw. When I acknowledged my deepest intention and realized that it was not sex, but love and interpersonal connection that I desire, I began to see the love and perfection that already existed. The need to attract, hold and control others to fit my narrow view of love and “being complete” began to diminish.

There are times that I seemingly can’t resist to give simple words and phrases unexpected meaning and my wife and I still can’t read or think about the physical sciences without laughing about our past study experiences and erotic connotations, but somehow, in spite of myself, I can now see the big picture. Yes, the big picture includes the erotic, but it has changed from “nothing but sex” to “everything and communion”.

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