Book Review: The Power Surge

As I write about energy each day, I often wonder what the trade-offs or consequences will be if a technology takes off, or even if it fails. How will it, if at all, alter America’s energy landscape? From my point of view, we are a country in fear of change and in fear of taking The Power Surgeaction. We are a country that spends more time worrying about what celebrities wore to an award show and when the next iPhone will be hit the streets, then worrying about the underlying causes of recessions (many economists blame oil prices) and what the consequences are of the decisions made, or more often than not, not made, by our elected officials.

So I was very excited when I read, “The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future,” by Michael Levi who is the Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment and Director, Center for Geoeconomic Studies and Council on Foreign Relations. I have never read a book that does a better job of presenting various energy scenarios and the intended and unintended consequences of them and written and presented in a way based on research, economics and trends and not based on emotions.

There is no argument that there is a battle afoot over America’s, and quite frankly, the world’s energy future.

Our entire life is dependent on energy. We as a society can not function in our current “lifestyle” without energy. Period.

And despite what you personally believe, there are economic, security and environmental consequences and/or benefits to all decisions made and not made as eloquently demonstrated by Levi (and this includes those who believe climate change is a hoax). Levi begins the book with a three very probative and questions and one that he uses against all scenarios he presents in the book. In other words, how does the technology, legislation, or action fare against these three pillars?

  1. Does each energy source that has recently thrived offer important opportunities to improve the U.S. economy, strengthen national security or mitigate climate change while not causing intolerable damages on any of those fronts?
  2. Is is possible to seize those opportunities simultaneously- or would pursuing some of them severely undermine others?
  3. And can the United States take advantage of these opportunities without fundamentally altering the role of government in America?

The book begins with an in-depth discussion of all things oil and touches upon renewable energy sources such as biofuels. He also covers electricity and the role of natural gas in our current and energy future as well as technologies like wind and solar. He also points out that all sides of the issue overstate some of their claims and it was refreshing to see someone who doesn’t only call out claims on the side he/she is against. He writes, Continue reading

Book Review: Fractured Land

When is the last time you filled up your tank with a gallon of gas that was less than $2? For me, today. As oil prices have plummeted with gas prices falling suit, many people are attributing all the extra oil to fracking. But what is the cost, financially and environmentally speaking, of oil drilled in this manner?

Fractured Land by Lisa Westberg PetersA new book by Lisa Westberg Peters, Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil,” takes a look at these very issues. Interestingly, Peter is a self-proclaimed environmentalist who inherited land in North Dakota that is part of the state’s “fracking” oil boom. She acknowledges her discomfort with fracking technology, but attempted to keep an open mind during her educational journey to learn more.

When Peters father passes away and she is going through his things, she comes across all the documents related to his oil/fracking royalties that she will eventual inherit. The book follows her as she learns more about her family’s oil history, her research about fracking, which she is theoretically opposed to, and the family’s trip to North Dakota, where they have oil contracts, and spread her father’s ashes. The prose flows nicely as she weaves in and out between her family history and the information she learns about fracking.

From an energy perspective, despite being from the Midwest and current residing in Minnesota, she is opposed to the use of biofuels. She writes, “We don’t have petrochemicals in Minnesota, so we grow corn for ethanol. Homegrown alternative energy! I should be enthused about ethanol, but the production plants are water and energy hogs.”

Peters does address the chemicals and water used in fracking, albeit briefly and I feel she could have done a better job of addressing her environmental concerns over some of the issues brought on by fracking (potential for contaminated water, excessive water use that is much worse than other forms of alternative energy, mining of the frac sand, etc.).

Ultimately she chooses to keep her mineral rights when they come to her but she decides to donate a portion of them back to North Dakota to aid those who are struggling with high rents or the natural areas threatened by oil development. She concludes that while she will benefit financially from oil drilling, it brings her little joy.

Click here to purchase the book.

Book Review: Flight Behavior

I recently read the novel Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, a book about climate change. When I first began reading the book I had no intentions of doing a review, but as I got deeper into the book, and the characters voiced their opinions, about media in general, my intentions changed.

The premise of the book is that millions of monarch butterflies migrate to a rural area in Tennessee for the winter instead of going to their usual location in Mexico. After they are Flight Behaviordiscovered by Dellarobia on her family’s land, and the media gets involved with a news story, people from around the world begin showing up including a scientist. The next several months the scientist, Dr. Ovid Byron, and his team attempt to ascertain why the monarch butterflies wintered in Tennessee.

There have been discussions in the media and scientific journals about how monarchs are decreasing in population. While some believe the cause is climate change, others believe it is the use of pesticides and some believe it is a combination of both. For example, Andre Leu, IFOAM President and author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides, quotes in his book, “Herbicide-resistant plants….have increased the use of glyphosate, which kills all other plants including milkweed, the only type of plant that monarch butterflies use for laying their eggs.” The author cites that milkweed has declined by 60 percent and monarchs in the U.S. that winter in the forests of Mexico has dropped from 1 billion in 1997 to 33.5 million. The milkweed fact above was mentioned in Flight Behavior.

I”m not going to use this space to debate climate change; rather, I’m going to use this space to discuss the role of media in the conversation. Today, media is quoting “experts” about climate change (and other issues) that are in fact not experts at all. Where are the credible scientists and researchers who are doing the work around climate change in this conversation?

Many scientists do not like how they are portrayed in and by the media. Reporters often spend more time being skeptical about the facts being delivered by a respected scientist then they do when speaking to a person who uses social media to get his/her word out effectively but has no basis in training or education to be discussing the scientific merits of an issue. (In other words, scientists don’t speak sexy talk).

Dellarobia and her husband Cub, give us an example: “Here’s the thing,” she said. “Why would we believe Johnny Midgeon about something scientific, and not the scientists?” Continue reading

Book Review: Build Your Own PHEV

This week I went techie and read “Build Your Own Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle,” by Seth Leitman. I chose this book because I drive an EV – the Ford C-Max, and when I purchased my vehicle, I opted against the plug-in component because I didn’t have a place to charge my car (I live in an apartment complex). In the back of my mind I always wondered if I shouldn’t have planned for the future and purchased the PHEV version. Well now, I’ve discovered with Leitman’s help, it didn’t matter – I can covert my EV to  PHEV.

Build Your Own PHEVLeitman is a quite an expert. He writes for several publications including Mother Earth News and Huffington Post and is a consulting editor for the McGraw-Hill Green Guru Guides. He also runs the blog Green Living Guy.

For those that may be new to the terminology, an electric vehicle consists of a battery that provides energy, an electric motor that drives the wheels and a controller that regulates energy flow to the motor. The only difference between an EV and a PHEV is that the EV battery is recharged through regenerative energy (apply the brakes) while the battery in a PHEV can also be recharged by plugging it in to an outlet.

So the goal of the book is both to educate people on converting their gasoline cars to PHEVs – this is where the real fuel efficiency gains come – as well as to show people that the country can move to PHEVs quickly.

One area that Leitman explains well is how much it costs, or doesn’t cost to drive an PHEV. When using the average U.S. electricity rate of 9 cents per kilowatt (using 2009 numbers) 30 miles of electric driving will cost 81 cents. Assuming that the average fuel economy in the United States is 25 miles per gallon, at $3.00 per gallon, this equates to 75 cents a gallon for the equivalent electricity. Other factors he accounts for: the environmental cost of electricity production.

I don’t have any mechanical skills, but this book is so well-written and easy to use I could actually figure out how to convert my hybrid (or a friend’s car). Granted, I would probably need some professional help but it is amazing how relatively simple and inexpensive this is especially when you factor in higher gas prices and more renewable energy being produced by utilities. My only suggestion is to update the book based on 2014 technologies because with the billions of gas cars on the road, this book will be valuable for years to come. You can purchase the book here.

Book Review: Renewable Energy- Following the Money

Rainy Iowa days make it a nice time to spend the night reading and this week I finished “Renewable Energy- Following the Money,” by Craig Shields who is the editor of 2GreenEnergy.com, a great “greencentric” blog. I had mixed emotions on the book and let me explain why.

follow_the_money-front-coverThe book consists of a series of interviews with various energy expects infused with comments and commentary from Shields. I enjoyed this aspect of the book. It was very interesting to hear how various expects in various fields from electric vehicles to climate change to energy to investments felt about renewable/green energy, sustainability and policy as well as how they predict the renewable energy landscape will look like in the future. Oftentimes the experts disagreed with where energy was going and often Shields disagreed with the experts. I respect him for pushing on them in areas he didn’t agree and for explaining why and what he thought.

So the purpose of the book was to follow the money and this is where I struggled. I didn’t have a good handle on where the money was in fact, going. It would have been helpful for Shields to have created a roadmap based on the expert interviews and his own insights.

One of the interviews I found particularly interesting was with Tom Konrad, Ph.D. with Alternative Energy Stocks. Shield’s interview focused on Konrad’s ideas associated with the migration to renewables vis-a-vis finance, mathematics and more. Shields first noted in the interview that is a tough conversation because there are great and vocal fores that oppose renewable energy and they are spending millions of dollars, “convincing people that global warming is a hoax, renewable energy is a job killer, and there is nothing the matter with fossil fuels, i.e. that there is nothing wrong with ‘business as usual’.” Konrad agreed.

But what really struck me (and I happen to agree with) is that Konrad said the world needs both a physiological change and cultural change. “I think certainly in America, we have a culture of waste- a culture opposed to the economics of Rifkins….I don’t agree technology will save us. I do believe in the potential of efficiency on and changing structures of how we do things. There are much more effective ways…”

He noted that people don’t like change and they liken it to capitalism. “And it doesn’t have to be anti-capitalist. Much of what we need to do is improve markets. Improving markets is about as capitalistic and you can get…The problem is that the way most Republicans seem to view capitalism is really a confusion between ‘capitalism’ and the ‘status quo’. This is wrong in many, many ways. First of all, markets in and of themselves are not efficient because humans are not rational actors. Second of all, we have all these structures that are built up over time that interfere with market efficiencies such as companies doing regulatory capture.”

I believe this supports not only the crutch of the problem across the board for renewable energy but also supports the industry-wide campaign that consumers need choice and when choice is given, markets will work properly or to use Konrad’s term, capitalism. And when capitalism is working, then the investment work and the winning technologies will come to the surface. I challenge people as they follow this industry to note how many companies and associations stress the need for choice and for hijacked markets to be set free.

I believe there is much more work to be done in the area of “following the money” and that Shields is on his way. In this context, I recommend the book. However, if you are simply looking for an outline, or white paper on the issue, then this book is not for you. You can purchase Renewable Energy- Following the Money by clicking here.

Book Review: A Bird on Water Street

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wake up, walk outside and there were no animals, livingA Bird on Water Street things others than humans and nothing was green but all brown? Well this is the world of Jack, growing up in a Southern Appalachian copper mining town. The environment is so bad that the air eats through a pair of pantyhose in a matter of minutes. “A Bird on Water Street” is a young adult (and adult) story about the environmental turn-around of Tennessee town, “Coppertown”.

Based on a true story, author Elizabeth O. Dulemba explores the relationship between the environmental devastation due to copper mining and how the efforts of one boy, Jake, can turn a city around and make a difference.

Bird on Water Street explores several key environment and advocacy issues including:

  • Issues around copper mining and the devastating effects it has on the local environment.
  • How taking small actions to better our surroundings can make a big difference.
  • The challenges that many young people face, including bullying, death, pregnancy, and drugs and how they can navigate the issues.
  • Why having a sense of community is so important, especially for the growth and development of the community’s youngest members.

It’s hard to imagine living in a world with a “dead” environment, wide-spread disease, death and other health issues, but through the voice of Jack, you not only imagine it, you are both sad for him, his friends and his town. And you can’t help but cheer for him when he begins to discover elements of the environment that he realizes he is missing and he takes small steps to make change: growing a garden and planting a tree. Eventually, the whole town, after a strike and the closing of the mine, bands together on reclamation efforts and a new town is “reborn”.

I enjoyed the book and the authenticity of the voices of Jack and his friends and families. For parents who are looking for ways to encourage their children to become an active player in environmental efforts or young adults looking for inspiration and ideas, this is a great book to begin that journey.

Book Review- Three Green Rats: An Eco Tale

Three Green Rats An Eco Tale book coverTru dat rat. Ok, so if you don’t have kids or hang out with kids, you may not have any idea what I just said. But the three green rat brothers of Tintown’s Broken Bottle Lane encourage us to walk softly and reduce, reuse and recycle in the children’s tale, “Three Green Rats: An Eco Tale“. Written by Linda Mason Hunter and illustrated by Suzanne Summersgill this rat tale is both fun and educational and the perfect book to review on Earth Day (April 22, 2014).

This wonderfully illustrated and highly clever book takes place in Tintown where the protagonist, Uppity Ethel Misrington, the richest rat in town, wants to build a big box store to sell stuff. Her itty, bitty niece Maybelline Burlingame Helena Stu discovers the green pastures and projects of the green brothers (Oliver, Wilbur and Tom, each with unique green skills) and becomes hooked on nature and green health. As a result, she starts to grow. When catastrophe strikes sickly Ethel, with the help of Maybelline and the green brothers, the day is saved and Ethel becomes a convert to living with less stuff and the city follows suit.

With the town saved, and the brothers heroes, shy brother Tom sums up the direction the town needs to take. “Look around, citizens. You are knee-deep in your own trash, held captive by technology, and so caught up in the rat race you don’t have time to think.”

“We are ruining our corner of Mother Earth, creating a place where no living being can thrive. We’ve cut down our tress, poisoned our air, and dumped sewage in our rivers and streams. Three Green Rats An Eco Tale book imageIt’s time to step back and ask ourselves, ‘Is this what we really want for our children?’ We must learn to live simply. We must walk softly upon Mother Earth and stop talking more than we need to survive.”

I luv it people! L-O-V-E it.

I highly recommend this book. Take some advice from the three green rats this Earth Day and learn to walk softly. This is a must read book for both children and adults to get you on the forward thinking path about how to reduce your impact and live more simply. In celebration of Earth Day, win an e-copy of Three Green Rats: An Eco tale. Email me your contact information with the subject line: Three Green Rats and the winner will be announced next week in the energy.agwired.com newsletter.

Book Review: How Are You Mother Earth?

Calling people of all ages. I’ve finally found a truly entertaining and educational book about climate change and the environment. “How are you Mother Earth?” written by Gordon Hunter, a scientist, takes the reader on the journey with Katie, her boyfriend Mike and her father when they take Mother Earth to the doctor for a check-up.

Well, it turns out that Mother Earth can’t fit in the door and she doesn’t have the same structure as us humans so they work with Nurse Re Corder and a host of other scientists and How Are You Mother Earth?doctors to develop a check-up just for Mother Earth. While the team hunts down the experts, Mother Earth takes a rest on the lawn outside of the doctors office.

During her physical, they test her age and weight, pressure, respiration and air quailty, dermatology and temperature. Along the way not only are you learning about science in a fun way, but you are also learning about humans’ relationship with Mother Earth.

The health report: Mother Earth is very sick.

The cure? “…a cure would be turning away from fossil fuels and turning to alternate sources of energy such as solar and wind.”

The prescription. Each and every one of us.

How Are You Mother Earth? Is cleverly written, the science is easily understood and the illustrations nicely done. This is definitely a book to read to better understand climate change and the health of Mother Earth.

Listen to my interview with Gordon Hunter here: How Are You Mother Earth?

Win a free copy of How Are You Mother Earth? Send me an email or a tweet with the title “How Are You Mother Earth?” and you contact info. The winner will be announced in next week’s DomesticFuel newsletter.

Book Review – Ruminations on the Distortion of Oil

I recently finished reading the book, “Ruminations on the Distortion of Oil Prices & Crony Capitalism,” by Raymond J. Learsy. The book was a historical review of his writings dealing with Big Oil and why oil prices are so high. In other words, “an overview of…our enslavement to oil and the money inextricably tied to it.”

Ruminations-Book-CoverA former commodity trader, Learsy noted that oil prices are gamed and have little to do with market discipline of supply and demand. He explains in the book how commodity markets work (you really have no idea until you read the book and listen to his interview). In fact, Learsy writes that “This administration [Obama administration] has a profound lack of understanding of how oil markets function.” He also says there is no real oversight by our government over the oil industry or over the workings of the OPEC Cartel (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

He notes that no global industry is wealthier than the oil industry and the countries that produce the oil. He explains that the oil industry and traders play the commodity market in a way that maximizes the price for oil. He said that a barrel of oil should not be hovering around $100. Rather, according to the CEO of Exxon/Mobil Rex Tillerson who stated during Congressional testimony in 2011, speculation was adding $30 to $40 to the price of each barrel.

“Six hundred million dollars a day is going from consumers to oil interests each day. This is money that is being stolen out of consumers’ pockets everyday,” said Learsy.

He also points out that in President Obama’s diversified energy strategy, natural gas is not included. Today he explains the U.S. has an abundance of affordable natural gas that is being burned off because there are not enough pipelines to transport it.

This book specifically focuses and on uncovering who is responsible for soaring gas prices. If you want to know as well, then read this book. It is available on Amazon.

Listen to my in-depth interview with Raymond Learsy. BTW – You will enjoy what Learsy would do if he were president for a day to fix the oil price situation. Interview with Author Raymond Learsy

Win a copy of Ruminations on the Distortions of Oil Prices & Crony Capitalism. Email me with the subject line “Ruminations Book Giveaway” by Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The winner will be announced in the DF newsletter on December 11th.

Book Review – Solar Photovoltaics Business Briefing

Every day you hear more and more about solar photovoltaics (PV). But what exactly are they? Is the technology good? Why should a business adopt solar PV? All of these questions are explained in the DoShort: “Solar Photovoltaics Business Briefing,” by David Thorpe. I actually read the brief in an airport between flights and came away with a better understanding of solar PV technology and what is on the horizon for emerging solar PV technologies.

DS_Thorpe_LRThis was interesting: a study done by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) concludes that less than 1 percent of suitable land would be needed to cover the current electricity consumption of the region, as well as Europe. According to Thorpe, Desertec has estimated the cost of achieving this by 2050 at $400 bn. Much of this will be investment in the grid connection infrastructure. Others believe that it would be cheaper to generate the same amount of power closer to home. Although Thorpe presents the arguments for both sides, he doesn’t pick a winner.

There were several things I particularly liked about the book. One was Thorpe included a formula for calculating output. This varies by country and project. In addition, he included specific advice to installers, general design advice, ideas on where a solar PV project should be situation (roof versus ground mounted), costs, how to estimate cost savings (once again this may vary by project and country) and also gives advice on sourcing and how to talk to suppliers.

While the majority of the book is focused on European projects, legislation and funding schemes, the basic information is applicable no matter where your business resides. For those looking for a basic understanding of solar PV and enough information to research a project of your own, then this business brief is definitely for you.

Win a free copy of this DoShort. Email Joanna Schroeder with the book title in the subject line. Include your full contact information in the body of the email. The winner will be announced in next week’s energy.agwired.com newsletter.