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 email@example.com and I will answer you promptly. Thank you for your participation.
Jordan M. Kincaid
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.
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.
We at CARBONOCRACY pride ourselves on providing news and analysis relating to the deployment of energy technologies of all types. It is in this spirit that we link today to a fascinating article in the Huffington Post about a crematorium in the UK that is seeking to save money by selling excess energy from its gas burners back to the national power grid.
Here’s how it works: before we start throwing around terms like “body power,” or “zombie energy,” or anything of the sort, it’s important to clarify that very little, if any, of the energy being spun back into the UK power grid will be coming from the patrons, for lack of a better word, of the crematorium. Instead, the facility plans to install turbines in two of the burners that perform its cremating. In total, the turbines will generate roughly 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Although the power being generated here isn’t necessarily clean, it is an interesting example, should it go forward, of local self-reliance and energy efficiency. The crematorium knows it uses machines that generate a lot of heat, so why not find a way to maximize the output of those machines while turning an extra profit?
An uncertain energy future demands creative solutions, and while no one is suggesting that crematoriums begin accounting on their own for Britain’s power needs, this is an interesting spinoff on the local solar concept (putting up solar panels on your home or business and selling the excess power back to the grid). The bottom line is that in addition to their environmental merits, many alternative energy technologies can turn almost anyone into an energy producer, which is good for the economy and can provide enterprising people with another way to get ahead. Something tells me this crematorium is in it for the long haul.
If you have a clever pun to describe the energy-producing function of a facility that is, er, not generally used for this purpose, the comments section awaits.
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.
Did you hear the one about the marine colonel and the environmental studies professor?
That’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s the basis for an unlikely alliance that has brought the United States Military together with a small liberal arts college in tiny Oberlin, Ohio.
The story begins with the Oberlin Project, an integrated approach toward transforming a town representing the Midwest’s industrial past into a laboratory and model for sustainable development in the future. The Oberlin Project is almost two years old and was originally conceived of by Oberlin College professor David Orr, who described its full range of objectives in his recent book:
Specifically the goals of the Oberlin Project are to (1) rebuild a 13- acre block in the downtown to U.S. Green Building Platinum Standards as a driver for economic revitalization; (2) transition to carbon neutrality by a combination of radically improved efficiency and deployment of renewable energy; (3) develop a 20,000 acre greenbelt for agriculture and forestry; and (4) do all of the above as a part of an educational venture that joins the public schools, the college, a community college, and a vocational educational school that equips young people for decent and creative lives in a post-cheap-fossil fuel economy.
Of course, there are those who would dismiss Orr’s work as a pathetic expression of “green ideology” by an out-of-touch, hippie dreamer. But their ranks may be dwindling. Enter Marine Col. Mark “Puck” Mykleby, with a military name out of central casting and a vision at least as forward-thinking as the one put forward by Orr. Mykleby, who serves as a special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, co-authored a paper this spring with Capt. Wayne Porter, a like-minded Navy colleague, calling on the United States to build a secure future by renewing its investments in education, fair social policies, and sustainable energy and agricultural development.
Mykleby and Orr teamed up recently to complete a tour of the Washington think tank circuit, and with overwhelming majorities of Americans supporting meaningful investments in clean technology, there may be an opening to continue to make their case. There is a pervasive feeling in the United States, evidenced by grassroots movements on both sides of the political spectrum (Tea Party/Occupy), that America cannot continue on its present course if it is going to continue being a world leader in the 21st century. The support of two seasoned military men for a localized and sustainable approach to American renewal demonstrates that this isn’t a left-right issue; it’s a matter of practicality, and how we can rebuild our economy and society to live in a world with more people, fewer nonrenewable resources, and environmental challenges that aren’t likely to go away any time soon.
Part of meeting these challenges is a commitment to relying on localized sources of energy. One feature of renewable energy is that most technologies can be deployed anywhere. That means technologies like tidal power (seen here) and grass pelleting (seen here), which aren’t necessarily ready for utility-scale primetime, could still have an important role to play in the energy mix. It also means that while large energy-producing installations might still be essential, the future of energy will look a lot more like promotional poster seen below:
At the moment, the push for more communities in the United States to “go local” remains a faint whisper in the political echo chamber. With a yearlong election campaign about to get underway, don’t expect to see that change much on the national level between now and November 2012. In communities across the country, however, this whisper is growing louder. The Oberlin Project shows that the tangible hopes of everyday Americans – a good job, a decent education, clean air, safe communities – can nourish the movement toward environmental sustainability rather than conflicting with it. If these priorities can be harnessed, the future for new and renewable sources of energy will be bright.
If the title to this post sounds like a full-throated defense of big government, it’s not. It’s merely an acknowledgment of reality.
There was a really interesting piece in Forbes the other day on Steven Chu, President Obama’s Secretary of Energy. Chu, the article asserts, “is likely to have greater influence over the world’s future energy economy than any other single person alive today.” Why? Because the energy secretary is literally presiding over a time of unprecedented research and development within his department.
Here’s one cutting-edge example from the Forbes article:
Last year, the Department of Energy awarded a $130 million in federal grants to a team or researchers led by Pennsylvania State University and United Technologies to establish the Energy Efficient Building Systems Regional Innovation Cluster in a 30,000-square-foot building in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. The hub is piloting a portfolio of advanced energy-efficient building technologies and designs using sophisticated sensors and modeling equipment with the goal of creating technologies capable of reducing energy use in existing buildings by 50% by 2015.
R&D is different from the other ways that the federal government invests in energy technology. We mostly think about this support as coming in the form of tax credits, various subsidies, and loan guarantees, which of course have been in the news recently in connection with the Solyndra controversy. But while most tax and subsidy provisions and loan guarantees go to companies developing proven technology, research and development projects focus on technologies that are either in their infancy, or haven’t even been invented yet.
As can be seen in this telling graph, the energy sector in the United States spends a smaller share of its profits (just 0.3 percent) on research and development than any other major industry. Right now, the federal government is stepping in to fill some of that void, and it’s doing it through an innovative approach based on a research platform that Chu himself pioneered while at Stanford University. The centerpieces of the Department of Energy’s program are called “Energy Innovation Hubs,” which bring leading scientists and engineers together to collaborate on developing next-generation energy technologies, like the efficiency systems mentioned above. After an ongoing process of trial, error, and feedback, technologies are eventually ready to be used on a commercial scale.
It’s an interesting concept, which will be even more interesting to follow as it begins to bear fruit in the coming years. Lest anyone dismiss the potential for government research to deliver tangible results, perhaps it might be instructive to review the list of technologies developed by NASA that now play an important role in our lives. Some highlights: LED lighting, artificial limbs, aircraft anti-icing technology (keeps your plane from crashing), tempur-pedic mattresses, consumer water filters, dustbusters, firefighting equipment, and those grooves in the highway that keep you from running off the road.
How does this relate to energy? In a functioning economy, government and private industry depend on one another – just as support from the private sector is the only means for a technology or product to become mainstream, the government is often the only source of capital for promising technologies that have yet to become commercially viable (see Internet, the). Under the current presidential administration, the energy technologies of the future are being given an unprecedented level of support. It’s true that not every one of these technologies will work out. It’s also true that the Department of Energy, in total, receives about 1 percent of our federal budget every year, which means the country should be able to afford to invest in systems that could transform the way we create and use energy in the United States.
This is why bureaucracies matter. President Obama isn’t pulling the strings on the DoE’s innovation hubs, but he is responsible for putting people like Steven Chu in positions where they can make a difference. Given the hard-line rhetoric of each of the president’s potential opponents next year, it’s unlikely we would see anywhere near the kind of energy innovation we’re seeing now in a Romney, Gingrich, Perry, or Cain administration.
We may still live in a society that is fundamentally powered by carbon-based fuels, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Steven Chu’s Gamble on Green Energy (Forbes)
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)
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.
Carbonocracy, formerly known as TidalPowerUS, first went live in the Spring of 2009. Since then it has received over 12,000 hits from over 115 countries! Now it’s 2011 and time to expand our focus to several top issues facing our society at this pivotal point in history. Starting now, c-cracy will cover all topics of sustainable energy and efficiency through constantly updated content. The blog will be curated by creator Libby Murphy but will contain writings by many experts in the field of law, politics, economics and technology. Thanks and stay tuned!