Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Priming the New Energy Pump: Intel Supplies the Demand

Intel Corporation, the fabled designer and manufacturer of almost every processor in every computer in the land, has just put its very big foot on the e-pedal. The company's purchase of over a billion kilowatt hours of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) is a market-making maneuver that will boost the confidence, if not the fortunes, of many new energy suppliers.

RECs are a bit astract for some, but until demand expands dramatically, RECs are a transitional financial tool and a necessity. The following generation technologies qualify as producers of RECs:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Low Impact Hydropower
  • Biomass
  • Biodiesel
  • Fuel cells (only if powered by hydrogen produced by one of the above approved generators)

Let's see if Intel's bold move engenders competition not just among other high tech manufacturers, but Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies in every sector.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Steady Tailwind

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reports that wind blew it out this year: increasing total installed capacity by a record 45 percent and adding 5,244 megawatts (more than all the wind in Texas alone). What's more, the supply chain is thickening: at least fourteen new manufacturing facilities opened or were anounced in 2007. There's tangible evidence in Texas: blades manufactured by GE in Gainesville, stacked in the yard and visible from Interstate 35, and towers manufactured by Trinity Structural Towers, further south and also visible from Interstate 35.

The scourge of this effort is the intermittent Production Tax Credit, set to expire again this year. Here's a graph from AWEA that paints a pretty crisp picture:

What would the graph look like if the Production Tax Credit were enacted to accomodate a longer business horizon, say ten or twenty years?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Not the Solution ... Except maybe in Seattle

Don't want to be dark cloud, but raindrop power ?!? Need to charge your laptop ... or keep your fridge cold ... or recharge your electric car? Better commence a rain dance. I note this approach to point out that in our search for dramatic new ways to get away from coal and oil, there will be some "out of the box" projects that aren't going to make much sense. And we shouldn't spend any time on them once they've been demonstrated to produce too little energy to make an impact. Maybe I'm wrong, but I group rain power with dance floor and pedestrian foot step power in a long list of quirky ideas that could distract from otherwise constructive work in more potentially promising new energy fields.

Sorry, hope I didn't rain on anyone's parade.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cute Power: Inhabitat

Sometimes it's OK for attractive people to do things that are not necessarily related to their attractiveness. Not ones to rest on their laurels (so to speak), Brown grad and founder Jill Fehrenbacher and the women (and one guy) at have keen eyes for what's new and visually exciting in the alternative energy sphere. Check out their recent posts on energy developments here. These folks are tuned into the good stuff, so I've added them to the PowrTalk Tech Blogs sidebar cause I want to make it easy to check in on what they're writing about.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Electric Cars get Real in Israel (or, Shai Agassi Strikes Again !!!)

First, a statement of the obvious: Israel is not the United States. While gas here is high at $3 a gallon, it is well over $6 there. And another thing: the distances between its major cities can be measured in the dozens of miles, vs. our hundreds or thousands of miles.

So guess what? One way the two countries are very much alike is in their entrepreneurial spirit, and (depending on who's in charge) their support for bold new ideas and innovation. See today's NYT article about Israel's bold plan to move rapidly to electric cars and infrastructure. And for a little more detail on the young businessman/entrepreneur behind it all, see this recent Discovery Tech post on former SAP VP Shai Agassi.

You got to like it when our friends show us the way.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More on Net Zero Buildings

Here's some more on the plan to make buildings Net Zero by 2030. The alliance responsible for shepherding this plan is called the Commercial Buildings Initiative , a consortium of six heavy hitting organizations, including US Green Building Council (USGBC), the American Society of Heating and Refrigeration Engineers (ASHRAE) and as previously reported, the American Institute of Architects.

Net Zero in 22 years is a tall order. How do they intend to do this? Their plan is to reduce the buildings' energy use by 50 to 70 percent then provide the balance of their requirements from renewables like wind and solar.

A tall order indeed. Sign me up.


“If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."

--Gen. Eric Shinseki,former Army Chief of Staff

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Advanced Energy Initiative

When President Bush spoke to Johnson Controls employees after he rolled out the Advanced Energy Initiative in the 2006 State of the Union Address, he said some things that were hard to believe were coming out of his mouth (by his own admission it was a shock to some to hear a Texan admit that America is addicted to oil).

The foremost objective of his plan: "change the way we power our cars and trucks."

To do this he said we needed to:

"First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do.
Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil.
And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all."

He want on to talk up the plug in hybrid, saying "Eventually, plug-in hybrids with lithium ion batteries will be able to get 100 miles per gallon. And now all of a sudden you're beginning to see the effects of this important technology on our national security and on our economic security."

So this is old news. Who cares?
But it's interesting to mark the shift in thinking from, say, 2003, when few conservatives were publicly concerned about energy, to 2006, when Bush spoke these words, to last week, when at least two automakers announced intentions of manufacturing plug in hybrids in the near future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Six Bits

With Toyota promising plug in hybrids by 2010, consider this:

A plug in operating in all-electric mode is powered at the gas cost equivalent of $0.75 per gallon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Big Biofuel Blight

If there were no such things as wind turbines or solar power, aggressive pursuit of biofuels might make sense. But given the current superiority of (and ongoing improvements in) the aforementioned technologies, why the hell are biofuels being pushed so hard by pols when they bring so many attendant problems (e.g., environmental damage, increase in food prices, carbon-based energy (and emissions) required to produce biofuels, etc.) ?!? This recent ScienceDaily article "Some Biofuels Are Worse Environmentally Than Fossil Fuels" lays out the case.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mass (Finally) Kicks Energy Ass

The same "ultra progressive" state that can't get Cape Wind built has just passed some seriously far reaching legislation paving the way for all kinds of clean energy improvements and energy conservation. Wind, solar, LEED buildings and cleaner auto's will all benefit. I have an idea, let's make it a national movement. How about if Mass joins hands with California to form a nationwide clean energy scrum, and anybody who slips through gets a heap of whoop ass from any one of Texas' ten thousand turbines !!!???

Friday, January 11, 2008

Can the US Become Energy Independent? Denmark Did

Middelgrunden off-shore wind farm (Photo: René Seindal [Flickr])

In 1973, Denmark was 99 percent dependent on foreign oil. The '73 oil embargo pushed the Dutch to make a profound comittment to change. The result: Denmark is now energy independent, and in fact, exports electricity to neighboring European countries.

Some highlights of their efforts:
  • Wind supplies 21 percent of their energy
  • They now export wind technology, making 20,000 jobs for a country with half the population of the state of Maine
  • Cars are taxed at 105% of the cost of the vehicle
  • The government put up $1 billion to develop and integrate solar, tidal and fuel-cell technology

My original source is a email, but see this Fox News report on the Dutch.

Necessity mothered Danish energy indepenence, the same necessity is coming for the United States.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Already Green Military Getting Greener

Thanks to Earth2Tech's Katie Fehrenbacher for calling out the link between two worlds many would suppose have no contact with each other: the green energy innovators and the US military. Similar to the way the military took the lead on racial integration because it was a good idea and provided benefits to the military, the Army and the other service components are investigating solar, hybrid electrics, and other technologies because they could provide real benefit. Benefit to the Army that is.

Simply put, cleaner, greener power sources give the military multiple advantages over the largely oil-driven approach it's had since WW2:
  • On field power generation that markedly more quite - you can understand why that's a benefit right? And it's not just so the soldier can hear his/her iTunes more clearly!
  • Less smoke - for reasons that are similar to above, beyond the fact that soldiers don't have to breath as many fumes, it's easier to remain hidden from enemy forces.
  • Less dependence on oil - the world's most volatile energy source. Heck, it's probably what many if not most of the future wars are going to be about, anyway. Removing oil partially or fully from the logistic's tail would remove a ton (actually, thousands of tons) of risk for battlefield planners as well as make the combatant forces many times more agile.
Go Army !!!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Wall Street Journal on Why We Must Move Quickly @ $100 Oil

It's all here. Every problem you can possibly imagine is wrapped up in what's been going on with oil since 2000 or so. US economic decline, climate degradation, heightening international tensions and a steep drop in US prestige and power in the world. If anyone can help, in any way, now would be a damned good time to get started. Here's the comprehensive WSJ article from the cover this morning.

US Fed Goes Green

OMB - otherwise known as the Office of Management and Budget, has just issued new policy that guides the acquisition of new product and services, including IT equipment like PCs, designed to give energy efficient solutions an upper hand in competitive bids. This news may not be as titillating as a new X Prize for in-home solar/nuclear power plants, but it does mark a very substantial win for the good guys in the new energy battle. Read it here.

The $100 Question

This would be a good time, then, to take a look at Robert Hirsch's 2005 report for the Department of Energy, Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management.

It opens with this bold statement: "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem." If real, peak oil does represent an unprecedented challenge for a society thoroughly dependent on (a society whose foundation is) oil.
A vexing aspect is that peak oil is a risk, not a certainty. There isn't concensus that it is real. If it is real, it's hard to agree when it will, or did, occur. The report makes the case that the downside to doing something if "peaking is long delayed" is that we will mitigate prematurely. The flip side (failure to mitigate) has much heftier consequences.
Oil was $25 a barrel in 2003. It is $100 in 2008.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Oil Over $100 Today

This is a first in the history of black gold, Texas tea. Old Jed would be a billionaire at these prices. Note: oil hit $99 a barrel on November 21 and had backed down until now.

SO-LARge !!!

Cover of this month's Scientific American promotes a feature article on an all-solar solution to the majority of our indeed dire energy woes. Its primary thrusts are (1) using tolerably small parts of the southwest USA that receive 100 mega shiteloads of solar radiation every second, and (2) building out a DC based electricity distribution system to get the power from there to here ... and everyplace else it's needed. Objectives/benefits would be we'd free ourselves of depending on other countries to feed our energy appetite, we'd radically reduce global warming emissions, and we'd have millions of new jobs. There's a lot of detail here, and even more is referenced if you want to do a deep dive. The overall premise warmed my heart.