Posts tagged with: energy

One more note related to the week’s reflections on energy and the environment. This brief piece from Marketplace highlights coal’s newfound popularity, “Coal makes a comeback” (here’s an in-depth and more technical piece from the NYT. HT: Instapundit).

Marketplace reporter Jeremy Hobson notes the need for coal to be integrated into an energy policy oriented toward independence: “The U.S. has more coal than any other country. $27 billion worth is mined every year. That’s why everyone, from unions to politicians to scientists, is getting on the coal bandwagon.”

Some scientists are arguing that the negative environmental impact of coal-burning power plants can be significantly mitigated by the advent of new cleaning technologies, presumably including the use of “scrubbers” which divert CO2 emissions from smoke stacks.

Many of these technologies, such as scrubbers, are focused on limiting the input of GHGs into the atmosphere. But there is a shift that is beginning to focus much more on sequestration and removal of GHGs. That is, there are two elements to consider: how much CO2 or other GHGs are put into the atmosphere and how quickly they are taken out, through both natural and artificial means.

Robert O. Mendelsohn, of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, made this point in his comments at the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004. He writes, “Although the bulk of carbon emissions in the future come from burning fossil fuels, policy makers should consider more than just energy policies to reduce carbon emissions. Another important policy option is to include carbon sequestration in forests. By growing timber trees longer and by setting aside vast tracts of marginal forestland for conservation, land use policies can sequester a large stock of carbon in living forests.”

Well-planned and properly planned reforestation is indeed an important part of that second element by sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. But new technologies like carbon capture devices also will be an important feature of any attempts to manage the climate.

According to reports published last week (HT: Slashdot), Global Research Technologies, LLC (GRT) has announced the first successful “demonstration of a bold new technology to capture carbon from the air. The ‘air extraction’ prototype has successfully demonstrated that indeed carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured from the atmosphere. This is GRT’s first step toward a commercially viable air capture device.”

It’s an encouraging step to see that the media and politicians, but most especially commercial businesses, are beginning to pay attention to the possibilities for sequestration and GHG removal and not just focusing on consumption and emissions. There’s definitely going to be a commercial demand for carbon capture devices. Maybe someday we’ll all wear some sort of mask that mitigates the .3 tons per year of CO2 that a human being emits just by breathing.

John Stossel must have been on vacation last week.

I caught part of the 20/20 special offering for Earth Day on Friday night. Among the reports was one by Jay Schadler focusing on solar power as an alternative source of energy.

Schadler pointed out that even though the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s energy. It’s a typical canard trotted out by those who want to depict us ugly Americans as “energy hogs.”

But instead of taking a deeper look at these kinds of statistics, the stats usually appear at the intro of a news piece as a hook leading into some other point about alternative energy.

But let’s take a brief look at the implications of such statistics. Let’s even accept them at face value. What such conclusions about the wastefulness per capita of American energy consumption overlook is the inherent connection between economic productivity and energy usage.

Yes, let’s say America’s share of worldwide energy usage is 25%.

But what is America’s share of the global economy? Somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of gross world product. So just maybe there is in fact a link between economic output and energy consumption.

Another aspect of this relationship appears when you run a historical series comparing per capita CO2 emissions and income growth on Google’s Gapminder software.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

“The environment is begging for the Wal-Mart business model,” says H. Lee Scott Jr., CEO of Wal-Mart Stores in a NYT article, “Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart.”

The piece discusses Wal-Mart’s campaign to increase the sales of compact fluorescent bulbs, as compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. As Michael Barbaro writes, “A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.”

I’ve converted probably half of the bulbs in my home to CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), but have run into problems when trying to use them in some places. Lights that use dimmer switches, for instance, don’t work well with CFLs. And some CFLs won’t fit into light fixtures designed to accommodate incandescent bulbs.

Wal-Mart’s clout has begun to affect the light bulb manufacturing business, as producers like GE struggle to change their emphasis from production of incandescents to CFLs.

And on the demand side, what’s called for in convincing consumers to go with the CFLs is a basic economic lesson: you are sometimes better off spending more in the short-term for long-term gain: “Wal-Mart will have to persuade its traditional consumers that it is worth paying a bit more at the checkout counter to save a significant amount money down the line, a seemingly simple task that few companies ever accomplish. It is particularly difficult at a retailer that has long emphasized ‘always low prices.’”

As is so often the case, the best economic decision is the one that makes best use of both financial and environmental resources.

Update: This story is getting major attention across the blogosphere and MSM, including a NYT editorial here, and posts here and here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A debate about the future of energy policy is being held over at sp!ked, sponsored by Research Councils UK. From their notice:

THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
Expanding supply or managing demand?

In the opening articles, five commentators address the question from different viewpoints.

ADAM VAUGHAN, online editor, New Consumer magazine argues that saving energy is the way forward: ‘By taking a number of simple steps, consumers can save energy and money – and help save the planet.’

JOE KAPLINSKY, science writer, spiked, believes that we need to greatly expand energy supply: ‘The best thing that we could do for future generations is to build a new energy infrastructure, bigger and better than the old one.’

MALCOLM GRIMSTON, associate fellow at Chatham House, argues that we need to embrace nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy remains the only proven large-scale option that can deliver major saving in greenhouse gas emissions.’

MARK JACCARD, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver believes that fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain central to energy supply: ‘Zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least a century.’

JIM SKEA, research director, UK Energy Research Centre argues that renewables are not a panacea to all our energy problems, but ‘A variety of renewable technologies may play an important part in energy generation in the future.’

spiked is keen to find out what readers think, and you can respond to the debate here.

I would also briefly mention that you can read a related article by me here, and that in general I think the options posed in the debates subtitle (reduction of use or expansion of supply) is similar to the options posed by the problem greenhouse gas emissions (reduction of emissions or increase of sequestration).

Most of the policy recommendations I’ve seen regarding CO2 emissions have focused on reduction of emissions rather than an increases in the rate and amount of carbon sequestration (in forests and so on). There’s a lot of work to be done on that latter point, especially if largescale reduction of emissions is untenable both politically and economically for the foreseeable future.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Monday, August 21, 2006

In the midst of rising oil prices, massive energy bills, speculation about our supplies of oil – not to mention global warming – a small beacon lights up in Ireland. A technology company named Steorn has made an announcement that it has discovered free energy. I’ll admit, like most others probably will at this point, that I’m a little skeptical, but Steorn says that it has created “test-rigs” that use only magnetic fields (with no electromagnetic components) to create energy out of nothing. This, of course, breaks the first law of thermodynamics, and if this does turn out to be true, many hours that I spent studying physics will have turned out to be a waste of time, as one of the main premises of those hours was that the first law holds. (On the other hand, I can justify now why some of it didn’t make much sense to me.)

The company is proposing a panel of 12 skeptic phsyicists to test their rigs, to study the mathematics and physics, and tell the world whether or not the technology is actually real, or not. If it does turn out to be real, the technology is apparently scaleable, which means that it could power your car, or your cell phone. Much of the energy we use from day-to-day could be generated with this new technology which would have a tremendous impact on our economy.

Hat-tip to Slashdot. For more information, read this, this, and this, or google Steorn.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”

He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.

I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”

On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:

There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 3, 2006

Might these be the new “Cuisinarts of the sea”? This story, “Energy from the Restless Sea,” in today’s NYT examines the efforts of experimental inventors to find machines that excel in “harnessing the perpetual motion of the ocean and turning it into a commodity in high demand: energy.” There are a variety of designs and types of machines, so of course not all of them are a danger to chop up hapless fish.

Watermill of Braine-le-Château, Belgium (12th century). Photograph taken by Pierre 79.

These innovators are facing huge bureaucratic and regulatory burdens. Verdant Power, for example, “embarked on a new East River turbine project in 2003, but it has taken two and a half years to get regulatory approval for the project from environmental agencies and the United States Army Corp of Engineers.”

To comply with the concerns of regulators and environmental groups, Verdant “is installing $1.5 million in underwater sonar to watch for fish around the turbines ’24 hours a day, 7 days a week,’ and the data will be shown online.”

In some sense, these are just twenty-first century versions of innovations that are, shall we say, somewhat older. Watermills have been found at Cistercian abbeys dating from the twelfth century. See, for example, the Fountains Abbey Mill, opened in June 2001 at the Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.

Today in Washington:

Christian Newswire — Amid mounting controversy among evangelical Christians over global warming and climate policy, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance presented “A Call to Truth, Prudence and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming” at the National Press Club Tuesday morning. The paper is a refutation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” released last February, and a call to climate policies that will “better protect the world’s poor and promote their economic development.”

ISA’s 24-page paper has been endorsed by 130 leaders, including 111 evangelical theologians, pastors, climate scientists, environmental and developmental economists, and others, plus non-evangelical experts on climate change. The paper presents scientific, economic, ethical, and theological evidence that mandatory carbon-emissions reductions to mitigate global warming would “not only fail to achieve that end but would also have the unintended consequence of serious harm to the world’s poor, delaying for decades or generations their rise from poverty and its attendant high rates of disease and premature death, and robbing them of the very tools they need to protect themselves from catastrophes.” It argues that foreseeable warming will “probably be moderate, within the range of natural variation, and may on balance be more beneficial than harmful to humankind.”

Read the full news release here. Download ISA’s “A Call to Truth” here.

Today’s NYT editorializes: “a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply while holding only 3 percent of the reserves will never be able to drill its way to lower oil prices, much less oil independence.”

You’ll often hear the complaint that Americans use more than their fair share of the world’s oil. We’re addicted to it, some say. After all, so goes the reasoning, we have less than one-half of one percent of the world’s population, but we “consume one-quarter of the world’s oil supply.” Seems wildly out of proportion, doesn’t it?

That is, until you take into account that the United States economy represents somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of gross world product (depending on how you calculate it). So the US also produces wealth that is wildly out of proportion to our share of the world’s population.

There is a real correspondence between economic power and the use of fossil fuels. That’s part of the reality I was pointing to in this week’s Acton Commentary: “Fossil fuels would thus have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.”

And here’s just one more side note. Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, January 20, 2006
Subsidize this!

Richard Burr has an excellent commentary in the Weekly Standard on the growing — and for some reasons puzzling — popularity of hybrid vehicles. Puzzling because these things don’t get the promised gains in fuel economy and don’t seem to work very well.

Imagine buying a Chevy Impala or a Toyota Camry and being told that you can’t run the air conditioner on high. Or you need lessons from the dealer on how to brake the vehicle in order to recharge the battery more efficiently. No, you couldn’t imagine that.

Burr, who is associate editor of the Detroit News editorial page, points out that the hybrid owner is really making a statement about his or her environmental sensitivity. What’s more, the government is subsidizing these manifestoes on wheels.

Hybrids have become the environmental equivalent of driving an Escalade or Mustang. Who cares if they deliver on their promises as long as they make a social statement? Taxpayers should. The federal government subsidizes hybrid fashion statements with tax breaks that benefit the rich. The average household income of a Civic hybrid owner ranges between $65,000 to $85,000 a year; it’s more than $100,000 for the owner of an Accord. The median income of a Toyota Prius owner is $92,000; for a Highlander SUV owner $121,000; and for a luxury Lexus SUV owner it’s over $200,000.

If the government wants to subsidize automobile purchases, may I suggest it add the 2006 Camaro Concept just introduced at the Detroit Auto Show to its list of favored vehicles? It has a 400 horsepower engine with cyclinder deactivation technology that, General Motors says, gets 30 mph on the highway. A nice little government subsidy might persuade GM to put this gorgeous car into mass production all the sooner.