As a follow up to the Science Progress article I co-authored with Dr. Adam Briggle earlier this July, we have written another short piece that again explains the subject of our study, Technology and Society: Fracking Ideology, and requests reader participation. You can find the article linked here and above.
Dear energy consumers,
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas plays an important role in the debate about our energy future. As an energy consumer, you may have beliefs about, or beliefs that relate to, the use of hydraulic fracturing technology. Given the prominence of natural gas in today’s energy discourse, I am using my Master’s thesis at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy to study the political and ideological dimensions of hydraulic fracturing. My goal is to develop a more thorough understanding of the relationships between socioeconomics, political alignments, philosophical beliefs, and support or lack thereof for the use of hydraulic fracturing technology – but my research depends on your participation. Here and below you will find a link that directs you to a survey with questions related to the current debate about hydraulic fracturing and natural gas:
To help me with my research, I ask that you complete the survey and then share this message and link with your friends, family, colleagues, coworkers, and other contacts so that they might do the same. If you have any questions please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer you promptly. Thank you for your participation.
Jordan M. Kincaid
Reblogged from the Urban Times – link available here
Interested in what it looks and sounds like when people who care about the earth put their money where their mouth is? In 1996, British entrepreneur Dale Vince founded a company built to provide clean electricity to its customers. Still operating on a not-for-dividend model 16 years later, today Vince’s company, Ecotricity, invests its customers’ energy bills into the construction of additional sources of clean energy.
You can read all about Ecotricity and its business model on their company website: http://www.ecotricity.co.uk. What I thought was really great about the interview with Mr. Vince, though, was the way he described his work as a businessperson:
Essentially we are environmentalists doing business as opposed to business people doing the environment. Sustainability always comes first – it’s in our DNA. Ecotricity’s missions is to change the way energy is made and used in the UK to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change. Electricity from fossil fuels is responsible for 30% of Britain’s carbon emissions – it’s our biggest single source of emissions as a nation – and therefore the biggest single thing we can change.
In a world where, despite considerable progress, too many corporate “greening” initiatives rely more on style than substance, the idea of “environmentalists doing business” is refreshing. Putting aside the fact that environmentalism itself is doomed unless it puts forward a compelling vision of its own for how people can live and prosper in the modern world, lost in the justifiable outrage within the environmental movement toward large industrial polluters (think BP with the oil spill) is the fact that business doesn’t have to be about raping and pillaging. Business, at its most basic level, is about something very simple: providing a product or service that people will pay for. This is a noble calling, and reflects the most fundamental human undertaking in a capitalist society.
What’s really exciting, then, about the notion of environmentalists doing business is that if you want to get something done that’s good for the planet, all you have to do is provide something that people want, and figure out how to do it in an efficient manner. Easier said than done, sure, but each person who succeeds makes a small contribution toward turning the conventional paradigm on its head simply by showing that it is possible, and even advantageous, to turn a profit treating the planet’s health as an asset rather than a cost.
Legislation and politics are important, no doubt. But if you’re an American like myself, you also live in a country where one of our two major political parties simply thumbs its nose at basic scientific evidence. So with all due respect to those who work hard each day within various governments to make the world a better place, what seems like a more effective strategy? Dale Vince didn’t wait for the world to sign an international treaty cutting carbon. He started a company that would do it and help him earn a living in the process.
By all means, those of us who care about the environment should continue pushing for a climate bill, and anything else that may make a difference. But we may be waiting a long time before our governments can get together on their own to do the right thing. The planet, however, can’t wait, and neither can an economy crying out for the creative infusion of new companies and ideas. So in the current political and economic landscape, what can those of us who want to make a positive difference do immediately to create new sources of opportunity and prosperity, while charting a more sustainable way forward?
Go out and become entrepreneurs. Our country needs us.
Admittedly, the Sun is my usual celestial body of interest, but today I feel compelled to mention the Moon. Or rather, the tides that the Moon’s gravity creates here on Earth. Tidal power is an almost entirely untapped source of renewable energy in the United States. Almost. For the first time in history, tidal energy is contributing to the US power grid. On Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, Ocean Renewable Power Company’s Maine Tidal Energy Project, using underwater turbines off the coast of Maine, delivered electricity to ~27 homes. Incremental developments in technology and our use of renewable energy like this are, I think, certainly cause for optimism re our evolution beyond fossil fuels. After all, small steps make for giant leaps. And we need a giant leap.
A colleague of Libby and mine from Bard CEP posted this TED Talk by Justin Hall-Tipping in reply to my post on Donald Sagoway’s liquid metal battery. Hall-Tipping presents on carbon nanotechnology and grid-free solar energy — a truly invigorating watch. It’s ingenuity and creativity of this kind that keeps my romanticizing primitivism in check. Cheers!
By Libby Murphy
Perhaps the world is not at Peak Oil. We may still have a long way to go. That is the good and bad news of Bloomberg’s recent article titled Everything You Know About Peak Oil is Wrong.
In college I took a seminar called “Oil”. We studied all aspects of the stuff- from the geology to the politics. We learned how John D. Rockefeller set the standards for modern capitalism through his ruthless pursuit of developing the world’s largest oil company. We spent a while studying the idea of Peak Oil. At the time it was still a somewhat little known theory outside of the industry but has since entered the general lexicon.
In the 1950′s, Marion King Hubbert first introduced the idea that fossil fuel production follows the shape of a bell curve. Production starts out small and then increases as demand and technology develops until it hits a peak and declines. Using this theory he correctly predicted US oil production to peak around 1970. The theory was extrapolated by Colin Cambpell who predicted a world oil production peak around 2008-2010. This estimate has been a topic of much debate. Around the time of expected peak, many regions, including the US, did witness a telling sign of Peak Oil known as the Bumpy Plateau. See, the curve of oil production does not always follow a smooth peak but rather a period of jagged ups and downs. This is thanks to the inverse relationship between demand and price: when prices go up, demand goes down, which spurs prices to drop again and demand to then increase. The cycle continues.
–From GOOD Magazine–
“Tidal and wave power do carry some environmental concerns: Early projects are studying how turbines affect fish, for instance. But because these projects live under the water, they could avoid complaints like those that dogged the offshore Cape Wind project about ruining scenic vistas. The East River project has been running turbines on and off as part of a pilot project for years, and New Yorkers, a grumbly bunch, have yet to kick up a major fuss. Most people driving over the Queensboro bridge and gazing down at the river probably never guessed that a power station lies quietly beneath the water.”
It wouldn’t surprise me to see these “environmental concerns” surrounding tidal begin to disappear as people become more acquainted with it. Many who imagine getting power from the motion of the ocean imagine the infrastructure as being something akin to a wind turbine in the water – this isn’t true. While there are many different turbine models, most don’t pose a danger to fish because the turbine blades spin faster than the water surrounding them, which creates a force directing fish away from, not toward, the turbine.
Either way it’s great to see tidal power continuing to get its due – with people realizing that the lack of visibility is also a huge and understated benefit.
Either the United States Department of Energy likes Carbonocracy, or we’ve just got some good timing. Shortly before we linked to this story in Bloomberg on the approval of the first United States commercial tidal power permit, the DOE released two reports that paint an encouraging picture of the long-term viability of tidal energy and its ocean-going companion, wave power. The Energy Department press release announcing the reports boasts that they “represent the most rigorous analysis undertaken to date to accurately define the magnitude and location of America’s ocean energy resources,” and given the overall dearth of mainstream information out there on ocean energy sources, they’re probably right.
In total, the reports estimate that when combined with hydropower and other water-based resources, tidal and wave could help to account for up to 15 percent of the US electricity supply by 2030. As we’ve been saying all along, while that won’t necessarily keep the lights on all by itself, when combined with growing solar and wind sectors, tidal and wave have the potential to add to a strong and expanding renewable energy portfolio. Of course, much of this depends on the ability of these early-stage technologies to attract enough private capital to get off the ground, which largely depends (at least in the initial stages) on continued federal support, which is not necessarily a guarantee.
Still, the DOE report is another indication of the United States’ vast potential to develop clean, home-grown energy (and attract that jobs that would come along with that development). 15 percent by 2030 sounds a long way off, but the decisions we make today will have a big impact on whether those figures constitute pure fantasy or legitimate reality tomorrow.
Read the Energy Department press release and find PDF links to the wave and tidal reports here.
DOE Reports Major Potential for US Wave and Tidal Energy Production (US Department of Energy)
A historic moment for tidal power in the US. Thank you, FERC, for issuing the first commercial license to a tidal power project. The lucky permit holder is Verdant Power. However, it is not really a question of luck but rather hard work. The company has been building its turbine design and East River project site for years. They first installed turbines at this site in 2002, 10 years ago. The turbines got mangled by the fierce tides so the company has been improving its design since then. The 1 Megawatt project is expected to sell enough energy to Con Edison to power almost 1,000 nearby homes. The first 5 turbines are expected to enter the water in late 2013. The renewable energy world will eagerly await the environmental results of this system, which I’m sure will influence the policy and regulation issues faced by future tidal companies.
Forbes is out today with a report that is certainly relevant in light of what I posted here a day ago (see below). At issue is the scheduled expiration of the Production and Incentive Tax Credits, which help make solar and wind energy more profitable and which are set to run out at the end of the year. I wrote yesterday about policy uncertainty strangling the potential of renewable energy to continue its private sector ascent; now, although these two tax credits have been routinely extended in the past, there is a real possibility that an industry which has continued to create jobs during the economic slowdown will be hung out to dry in 2012.
The question remains, in a time of continued economic uncertainty: why are some people so desperate to see the death of a fast growing and diverse industry with tremendous room for future expansion?
The Buffalo News has some excellent local coverage on an intense debate currently unfolding in upstate New York over whether or not to allow for expanded natural gas drilling using the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking, which involves using large quantities of water laced with chemicals to blast cracks in underground bedrock and allow formerly trapped natural gas to escape, carries with it the promise to recover previously inaccessible gas resources, but also the inconvenient reality that it may contaminate groundwater.
A lot has been made of the abundance of natural gas resources in the United States, and the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs diagonally across the Northeast region and includes a large portion of New York State, is estimated to contain up to 168 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Although natural gas is generally touted as a cleaner burning alternative to conventional fossil fuels, the environmental risks associated with fracking have put a serious wrinkle in efforts to expand its extraction from hard to reach places like the Marcellus Shale.
The Buffalo News piece paints a great picture of the divide over fracking in rural parts of New York, laid bare in a town meeting Wednesday night where supporters and opponents filled a middle school auditorium for the first of eight public comment sessions on new drilling rules proposed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Notes from the meeting reflect the same eternal questions frequently pored over during environmental debates, as participants balanced threats to water supplies and natural scenery against the jobs and economic development promised by fracking proponents.
What the latter arguments fail to take into account, however, is that if natural gas companies had to pay the price of the external damages caused by fracking – the environmental costs, the potential hazards to public health from unsafe drinking water, the beating that local roads would take from an increased volume in heavy trucking – the perceived economic benefits may begin to look a bit more illusory, and energy companies might just find it more expedient to leave all that natural gas where its rested comfortably for millions of years. Who pays the price when all of the energy resources have been extracted from the Marcellus Shale, the gas companies leave, and upstate New York bears an irredeemable scar where its rural scenery used to be? Who pays the health care costs of someone who drinks water that is only found to be contaminated years later? Who pays for the roads that get torn up from a projected 1,000 percent increase in heavy truck traffic?
If these costs went into the economic calculus of fracking, or the larger-scale debate between fossil fuels versus clean energy, we might have a significantly different energy situation on our hands. Can’t we just find an energy source that doesn’t present us with a phony either-or decision between preserving nature and bringing economic opportunities to people that need them?
To ‘frack’ or not? Public responds (The Buffalo News)
Tidal power is a highly promising source of energy for several reasons. To begin with, water is 1,000 times as dense as air – which means there is 1,000 times more potential energy to be gathered from the movement of the ocean than there is from the wind. Tides are also highly predictable: while we can’t always determine when exactly the sun will shine or the wind will blow, we know that the moon’s gravity controls the tide and that it will always come in and out when we think it will.
Of course, there’s nearly always a gap between potential and reality, as my defunct athletic career can attest. In practice, its hard to build utility-scale tidal turbines that will produce a sufficient amount of energy to make the idea worthwhile AND then get that energy back to the onshore electric transmission grid. Doable, but hard. In order to make tidal power work, there will need to be a sufficient amount of financial and regulatory commitment to making it happen.
This commitment is beginning to emerge in the United States, where a handful of companies have attracted investors, developed their own technology, and are prepared to show just how viable an energy source the tides can be. Turns out they might want to look across the pond for inspiration, where German manufacturing company Siemens has gotten behind a UK company’s plan to place several 2 megawatt tidal installations in strategic locations along the British coast.
Nobody is going to pretend that tidal will overtake fossil fuels, or even solar and wind, any time soon. But if the US and world are going to make a serious commitment to renewable energy, it’s going to take a plethora of technologies that take advantage of local resources to the extent that they are available. Just as there are sunny places, and windy places, there are places all over our country where tides are unbelievably strong, like Maine’s Bay of Fundy, where water flows in and out every day with the force of 8 locomotives and a tidal range of up to 50 feet. There communities have a clean, powerful, and predictable source of energy sitting right off their coasts.
Tidal power may not have arrived yet, but the groundwork is being laid. With a proper investment of research and resources, tidal could be an extremely valuable addition to the renewable energy portfolio moving forward.
To hear opponents of clean energy tell it, the Solyndra controversy represents the death knell for government investments in renewable technologies. Never mind that solar energy remains the fastest growing industry in a slow economy. Or that wind is also growing exponentially. Or that real support for renewable energy could turn countless other technologies into viable alternatives to conventional fuels.
Clean tech critics, however – at least those who occupy positions of elected office – might want to take note of some recent poll findings that show a sizeable gap between the priorities of average Americans and the people sent to Washington to represent us.
In a poll conducted by the Civil Society Institute, a non-partisan think tank, a whopping 77 percent of Americans agree that “the United States needs to be a clean energy technology leader and it should invest in the research and domestic manufacturing of wind, solar, and energy efficiency technologies.” Further, voters favor subsidies to green energy over fossil fuels by a 3 to 1 margin.
We made a big deal on here when Steven Chu asserted last week that solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels within 10 years, if not sooner. We also know that carbon’s stranglehold on US economic production is beginning to weaken. But the fact that overwhelming majorities of Americans want clean energy to be the rule rather than the exception is particularly significant – especially with a congressional leadership that has been openly hostile to investments in renewable technology.
What does this mean for the future? First, that Americans clearly support a clean energy agenda at least as aggressive as the one that’s been adopted by President Obama – which also places every current Republican presidential candidate on the wrong side of this issue.
If our elected representatives heed the will of the people, we should expect to see a lot more government support for both proven and emerging renewable energy technologies. A real clean energy-based economy is within this country’s grasp, but only if the people in power listen to the people who put them there.
Congress, White House focus on Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power is out of touch with mainstream America (Civil Society Institute)
Could it be? Citing data from the federal Energy Information Administration, a report by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) states that United States carbon emissions dropped by 7 percent between 2007 and 2011. The drop specifically relative to the coal and oil industries were even higher, at 10 and 11 percent, respectively. These cuts were offset by a 6 percent increase in emissions from natural gas, which, although it burns up to 80 percent cleaner than conventional fuels, still burns.
It is well-known that the economic crisis and its aftermath have been responsible for an expected dip in US carbon emissions; in a carbon-based economy, emissions are bound to be lower in a downturn. Still, with the economy growing again, albeit sluggishly, the continued dropoff is promising.
Significantly, the EPI report also shows wind and solar power steadily growing in their overall capacity. As we reported earlier today, the cost of solar energy may well drop below that of fossil fuels within ten years (need link); according to EPI, the US currently has 22,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar energy projects planned or underway. Yet even these numbers are nearly doubled by the amount of wind power that has already come online – as of October, according to data from both the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), wind turbines in the United States are producing nearly 45,000 MW of electricity, enough to power around 14 million homes. What’s even more impressive is the scale of the increase in wind energy production – the curve since 2000 is literally exponential.
We should definitely receive these figures with caution, particularly because global carbon emissions, driven by increases in the developing world, continue to rise at record levels. Additionally, much of the recent growth in the wind and solar industries has been aided by federal support that could meet its demise if one of the Republican presidential candidates beats President Obama next fall.
Still, the EPI report makes it clear that renewable energy, in addition to being a source for jobs, CAN present a viable, large-scale alternative to carbon-based fuels. Now imagine if we could match the expansion of wind and solar power with similar growth in other local and utility-scale technologies…
U.S. Carbon Emissions Down 7 Percent in Four Years: Even Bigger Drops Coming (Earth Policy Institute)
Ever since California-based solar cell maker Solyndra LLC went bankrupt on September 1 after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, congressional Republicans and grassroots conservatives have rushed to paint its collapse as a prime example of why tax dollars should not be allocated to support clean energy technology. Many prominent political figures including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have made the repeated charge that the government should not “pick winners and losers” through its investments in energy, or any other sector of the economy. The “winners and losers” line seems to be a favorite of Republicans, who claim to prefer that the free market determine which of our myriad sources of energy in the United States win out.
But it seems as though the winners and losers rhetoric stops as soon as many of these same politicians find an energy project or industry more in line with their priorities. In fact, multiple GOP members of Congress including Boehner himself petitioned the Energy Department in 2009 and 2010 for loan guarantees similar to the one given to Solyndra in order to fund nuclear and clean coal projects in their home states and districts. Although it’s not unusual for members of Congress to engage in such lobbying, it does cast a bit of doubt on the sincerity of claims that the government shouldn’t interfere with the market’s supposedly invisible hand.
The federal government has been picking a winner in energy for a long time, and it’s called the fossil fuel industry. With billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks, the oil and gas industry has been able to maintain its superiority, and take in record profits while doing so. Perhaps without those subsidies, the Big Five oil companies (Shell, Exxon, BP, Conoco Phillips, and Chevron) might spend less time trying to unlock new reserves in hard-to-reach places (the ocean floor, Arctic Circle, and Canadian tar sands come to mind) and more time beginning to legitimately support the new energy technologies in which Big Oil’s congressional backers currently deride the government for making piecemeal investments.
As for Solyndra, this is (was) a company that was initially touted for its innovation in producing silicon-free cells for solar panels; it was only after a global drop in silicon prices that Solyndra lost its ability to compete and had to shut its doors. There also seems to be some confusion over the government’s role in all of this. The Energy Department did not simply hand Solyndra $535 million; the money was part of a loan guarantee, which essentially means that the federal government agreed to underwrite any private loans that the company was given up to the $535 million amount. Imagine you’re taking out a loan on a car or a house, and you have your friend or parents cosign. That’s basically what the government did for Solyndra. In case anyone out there is wondering if this is a new thing, there’s another prominent energy industry that wouldn’t be here without federal loan guarantees – nuclear power, which met over 11 percent of US energy needs in 2009.
We’ll continue to talk in this space about Solyndra and energy subsidies in general. For the critics, however, who would use the Solyndra controversy as an argument against the federal government supporting any renewable energy at all, consider this: solar is currently America’s fastest growing industry. In a down economy, you’d hope this would be the sort of thing we’d find a way to make work.
For those of us who have toiled in marine energy startups, we know the challenges of converting the immense energy-producing potential of the oceans into a viable power resource. The ocean holds great promise – water is 1,000 times denser than air, and the technology already exists to harness this energy without harming fish or other marine species. The issue for ocean energy, absent a major financial or legislative push behind the industry, is a practical one: how to get all of that power from its source (the water) to the electric grid.
The potential payoff of a legitimate commitment to ocean energy, at least in the nation’s coastal areas where tides are strongest, should absolutely be considered as part of any truly comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century. In the meantime, however, and in a national legislative climate that is less-than-friendly to investments in the renewable energy sector (see Solyndra: stay tuned for more), it is up to creative individuals and organizations to make due with the resources that are currently available.
One of those such organizations is the United States Navy, which recently began using ocean waves to power vessel-detection buoys off the coast of New Jersey. The buoys, which are part of a more extensive maritime surveillance system that helps protect the country from terrorism, used to be powered by diesel generators. Now the Navy relies on the motion of the ocean to move hydraulic fluid inside the buoys, which spins the generators instead of diesel fuel. In total, one buoy can supply up to 50 kw of electricity, which is enough to power a dozen or more US homes. Instead of facing the logistical challenge of moving this energy to shore, however, it can be used where it is produced to benefit the Navy (no transport costs for diesel fuel to power the generators), the ocean (no leaked diesel fuel), and the air (no diesel fuel emissions).
One of the central questions for ocean-going energy systems – how they might fare in severe weather – appears to have been answered in August when several of the Navy’s New Jersey buoys survived a direct hit by Hurricane Irene and withstood the 50 foot swells that came with it.
Navy uses waves to power sensors (Scientific American)
Hudson Valley Grass Energy has developed a full-scale mobile grass pelleting mill, truly a first of its kind.
The mill took several years to research and develop but is now producing at one ton per hour. The company plans to ramp it up to two tons by the end of the year. The machine accepts raw agricultural materials- leftover hay and residues, to refine them into high-quality, transportable pellet heating fuel. These “grass pellets” can be burned in a variety of wood pellet and multi-fuel stoves and furnaces. Although they contain comparable BTUs they do have considerably higher ash (2-5%) than premium wood pellets (<1%).
Grass pellets are considered carbon-neutral because the carbon released during combustion is equal to that absorbed during growing season. Certain grasses that have deep roots are actually capable of sequestering additional carbon. Grasses used for biomass pellets can be leached thereby returning nutrients to the soil. Finally, ash can be spread back on farmlands in a managed way making grass pellets of little negative impact.
One of my favorite benefits of grass pellets is the opportunity for farmer’s to keep land open and productive, making their operations more economically viable. This in turn will help provide access to local food in the future. Let’s hope this technology catches on. Eat local, heat local.
Movie by Christopher Smith
Ocean Renewable Power Co. may be poised to have the first grid-tied tidal power turbine in the US. The projected site is Portland Ocean Terminal and will have a rated capacity of 150 kilowatts, which is equal to the energy demand of approximately 50 or more homes. Their Turbine Generator Unit (TGU) will measure at around 100 feet and comprise four of their ADCF (Advanced Design Cross Flow) turbines. The ADCF is a further evolved version of the horizontal-axis Gorlov Helical Turbine.