Economics of Energy & The Environment

Ok everybody. It’s time to go back to school. Who has the time you think? Who has the money?  Who has a college campus near you? These are no longer valid excuses – the time is now to become energy literate.  There is a FREE online course called Economics of Energy & The Environment being taught by Dr. Ben Ho, Assistant Professor of Economics – Vassar College.  Ho believes that energy use and its impact on the environment will be two of the most important issues of the 21st century. I agree.

Ho explains that the large role of energy in geo-political relationships combined with the fact that a majority of greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause global climate change come from energy. This means the energy sector must change. This also means great opportunities for those who accept the mission of clean energy.

The class is designed as a primer for those interested in clean energy and its relationship with the environment.  Potential entrepreneurs, investors, managers and policy makers will all find the class beneficial. In addition, all of you folks running and working for energy companies (solar, geothermal, wind, biofuels, etc.) could learn a lot as well as those of us just interested and passionate about renewable energy. Topics will include environmental economics, energy economics, environmental ethics, oil sector, the electricity sector, alternative energy, sustainability, climate change, and climate policy.

I’ve checked it out and I’m going to take the class this summer, at my own pace. Everything is done online so you can hit the “Internet” when you have an hour or two of spare time and take as long as you need to complete the course. Dr. Ho answers questions so while it is not “real-time” per se, you can still get the one-on-one attention you may desire of the esteemed professor.

So, let’s take a DomesticFuel challenge and beef up our energy knowledge (a recent survey said most people were energy illiterate) and take the course. Write comments on the site as you go along. It would be great to get a good dialogue on the topics going. I will pull out some nuggets from each lesson as I take the course over the next few months and share them with you.  Ready…Set….Learn…my readers!

Trina Solar Donates Solar Panels to Lung Association

It’s good that not all things good for the environment happen on Earth Day only. Recently, Trina Solar announced that they will be donating 10.5 kW of solar modules for the offices of the American Lung Association of California.  Everyday Energy will install the cost-saving solar system, and solar distributor Sonepar will provide the balance of system equipment for the project.  The announcement came hand-in-hand with the Lung Association’s release of its State of the Air report.

“Clean renewable technologies like solar energy help reduce the serious health threat of air pollution,” said Jane Warner, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in California. “We thank Trina Solar for making this generous donation to help our organization put our energy use where our lungs are.”

The report shows that although clean air laws and investments have helped to decrease ozone and particulate matter, there is still work do be done – air pollution is still a problem for millions of Californians.  This message seems to be a good fit for Trina Solar, the company’s efforts to improve its manufacturing footprint have resulted in an approximately 60 percent reduction in energy and water use per unit of solar power manufactured.

Delette Olberg, U.S. Director of Public Affairs for Trina Solar said of the donation, “Solar power is an effective solution to the critical issues facing the nation’s population and environment. We are committed to developing high-quality panels that provide an alternative to fossil fuel energy and are proud to partner with Sonepar and Everyday Energy to help the American Lung Association fight for cleaner air.”

Movie Review – Carbon Nation

I took a brief break from my 2012 La Nina Reading list to watch a documentary on climate change.  Carbon Nation touts itself as a “climate change solutions movie that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change.” Yet this movie does care about climate change.  The narrator says, “We thought we had time to figure things out. Trouble is there is no more time. Climate change is happening now.”

The movie features many of the same players and same technologies as other films – Lester Brown, Van Jones (who just released Rebuild the Dream, which I will be reviewing soon), Amory Lovins, and Thomas Friedman.  In terms of technologies, it covers wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, and it also has sections that discuss land use, deforestation, transportation, and energy efficiency.

The movie was well done, interesting and had great graphics. In addition, I really liked some of the people who were interviewed – real down to earth people who are taking clean technologies into their own hands. The other thing I liked about the movie was the way it broke down how each technology or action will or can affect carbon.

What do I mean?

For example, globally, the world uses 16 terawatts (TWh) of energy each year. Of those, it is estimated that when fully developed, solar could produce 86,000 TWh, geothermal 32 THw, and wind 870 THw. In other words, these three technologies alone could replace all fossil fuel based energy and leave room for growth. This doesn’t even include the amount of energy saved and carbon reduced when you factor in gains from energy efficiency and land use strategies.

Continue reading

Book Review – Roosters of The Apocalypse

The second book in my  2012 La Nina Reading List was “Roosters of The Apocalypse,” by Rael Jean Isaac. This book could be a dictionary definition of “opposite” as compared to Climate Wars. Where Climate Wars is on the far right side of hysteria of the evils of climate change, Roosters of The Apocalypse is on the far left side of hysteria that it is a major, orchestrated hoax upon the world that is costing us billions upon billions of dollars.

So what is a rooster anyway? Isaac quotes Richard Landes who describes “those who initiate and build support for these movements as roosters (aka Al Gore) for they crow an exciting new message, and their opponents as owls, gloomsters counseling caution and skepticism (Real Issac).” Issac weaves the message of the Xhosa throughout the book, a parable about an orphan girl’s vision of truth. I can’t tell you her truth because I was unable to follow the thread. Rather than explain it in one section, she drops little nuggets of the story throughout the book and not in a clear, concise way.  I could have looked up the story on Google, but quite frankly, I’m far to lazy to go to the trouble.

Anyway, the key to building momentum is getting “elites” to join the cause. Al Gore, or U.S. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid would be considered rooster elites.  Once that happens, ordinary people will join in.  Isaac tells the story of how the prophecy of global climate change caught fire and spread around the world in breathtaking speed.  While doing this, she deconstructs all the “deceptive techniques” and fakery” used by organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I won’t rehash the scandal involved in their report but the bottom line was accusers claim they fudged the numbers to support climate change.

It is no doubt that those on the “right side of green” will make millions on global climate change.   Continue reading

Book Review – Climate Wars

The first book on my 2012 La Nina Reading List was “Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer. The premise of this book is that global warming is happening and will continue to happen and as the world overheats, the result will be a range of “climate wars”.  One of his hypotheses is that the climate will change and affect different regions and countries differently but all countries will be negatively affected in multiple ways.

First, claims Dyer, the globe will experience a crisis in the food supply. Dyer writes that another major factor in the world’s future is that today a number of great powers are already using climate change scenarios to plan military strategy. To prove his hypothesis Dyer created eight future scenarios based on published science and current or past events with each ranging from worst-case to moderate case.  Each scenario focuses on one or two countries and their reactions to climate change.  After each scenario is presented, and written as if the events had already occurred, he then reviews the science and events used to create the scenario.

A reader asked the question, “What does climate change have to do with DomesticFuel?”  Everything, I argue because of you buy into the concept of climate change or global warming, the largest contributor to warming is carbon.  The largest generator of carbon are fossil fuels and fossil fuels are used to create energy and electricity – the crux of this blog. The theory would then be, if you reduce or replace the carbon generated by fossil fuels with lower or no carbon alternative energy sources, then the reduction would help to help to stave off the heating of the planet.

So how does Dyer portray fossil fuels and alternative energy in his scenarios?

Not with much hope. Continue reading

The Mohave Desert Soon to Produce Golden Power

Google has gone far beyond “web searches” and delved into projects that would save “Google” earth. The company has invested in several high profile projects, one being the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS). Once completed, this project is being hailed as the largest solar project in the world and will use the lastest solar technologies to capitalize on converting the hot sun of California’s Mohave Desert into golden power.

Ivanpah is located on 3,600 acres of land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Once complete, it will produce 392 megawatts of power each year. The project is a joint effort between BrightSource Energy, who is developing the solar thermal power facility, Google and NRG Solar. In addition to the monies invested by the partners, the project has also received a U.S. Department of Energy Loan guarantee.

Here are some of the highlights of the project:

  • A 392 megawatt (gross) solar complex using mirrors to focus the power of the sun on solar receivers atop power towers.
  • The complex is comprised of three separate plants to be built in phases between 2010 and 2013, and will use BrightSource Energy’s LPT solar thermal technology.
  • The electricity generated by all three plants is enough to serve more than 140,000 homes in California during the peak hours of the day.
  • The project will provide power to Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

This project is experiencing large amounts of attention for two reasons. Continue reading

Low Carbon Fuel Standard Could Double Gas Prices

A new study released today by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) indicates that a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states could result in doubling gasoline prices and other negative economic impacts.

The study, “Analysis of the Economic Impact of a Regional Low Carbon Fuel Standard on Northeast/Mid-Atlantic States,” estimates that an LCFS over ten years would result in the loss of 147,000 jobs, decrease disposable income by $28.8 billion, and result in a combined negative economic impact of $306 billion.

Eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic (NE/MA) states have been evaluating the implementation of a LCFS through an initiative coordinated by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), which released a final report in August of last year – an analysis that CEA believes was “lacking in depth, methodology and analysis, and failed to account for the region’s energy needs.”

CEA Executive Vice President Michael Whatley said their study found that “NESCAUM relied on flawed assumptions about the market’s ability to secure an adequate supply of biofuels, the infrastructure needed to support that demand, and the projected replacement of existing vehicles. These findings further support an analysis conducted by IHS-CERA in October 2011 that found NESCAUM’s economic analysis to be deeply flawed and riddled with unrealistic assumptions regarding the availability and price of advanced biofuels, electric and natural gas powered vehicles during the timeframe of the potential LCFS mandate.”

Listen to or download comments from Whatley during a press conference this morning: CEA's Michael Whatley
Read the study here.

Environmental Groups Back Out of RFS Challenge

Environmental organizations have withdrawn their support of a challenge to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) brought by the National Chicken Council, National Meat Association, and National Turkey Federation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments today in the lawsuit that challenges RFS regulations issued on March 26, 2010. The challenge is focused on a provision in the rules addressing ethanol plants built in 2008 and 2009 and the requirements that they must meet to generate trading credits under the program.

While the lawsuit is proceeding on this relatively narrow aspect of the regulations, a broad-based challenge that had been brought by environmental advocacy groups Friends of the Earth and National Wildlife Federation was dismissed by the Court of Appeals on the eve of argument. With just one business day before argument and after full briefing had been completed, the environmental advocacy groups filed a motion with the Court to voluntarily end their challenge. Their withdrawal from the case leaves only the limited challenge of the Meat/Poultry groups.

Growth EnergyA major issue in the oral argument was whether these groups were properly before the Court. The ethanol industry through the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy intervened in the case to defend the rule and argued that the challenges must fail on both procedural and substantive grounds. “We are hopeful that the Court will act quickly to uphold this remaining element of the rules that is subject to legal challenge, given the policy underlying the provision to create a stable environment for investment in renewable fuel facilities,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.

RFA“We are pleased that the environmental group petitioners realized that their challenges were so unlikely to succeed that they dismissed their case. We only wish that they had come to this conclusion before wasting the resources of the government and biofuels producers who had to defend the challenges in briefing,” added RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen, who noted that the environmental groups decided to drop their claims on Friday.

“Quite frankly, had they prevailed, which we think is unlikely, they could potentially have taken down the entire Renewable Fuel Standard,” Dinneen said.

Post Office Goes Green for the Holidays

uspsThe U.S. Postal Service may be in the red but they’ve been promoting going green this holiday season.

“The Postal Service is one of the greenest mailing and shipping companies in the world,” said Thomas G. Day, chief sustainability officer. The eco-friendly options offered by USPS include mailing and shipping supplies, free package pickup and holiday cards printed on recycled paper available in 2,000 Post Offices.

“We have a ‘fleet of feet’ delivering mail the greenest way possible, by walking,” Day added. “Nearly 9,000 of our carriers will be delivering holiday mail on foot this season. And we also have nearly 80,000 ‘park and loop’ routes, where carriers will drive vehicles from the Post Office to neighborhoods and then deliver those holiday packages and cards on foot.”

The Postal Service will have delivered a total of 16.5 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve using various alternative fuel vehicles in the largest civilian fleet in the world of 215,000 vehicles. Alternatives utilized by USPS include three-wheeled electric vehicles with zero gas emissions that operate at a cost of only 2 cents a mile, as well as vehicles that can operate on compressed natural gas, propane, ethanol, and fuel cell. There’s also 30 large all-electric trucks delivering holiday mail in Manhattan.

Researchers Find More Pollution from Sugarcane Ethanol

University researchers from California, Iowa and Chile have found that sugarcane ethanol production creates up to seven times more air pollutants than previously estimated, according to news from the University of Iowa.

The research team used agricultural survey data from Brazil to calculate emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from the entire production, distribution, and lifecycle of sugarcane ethanol from 2000 to 2008.

The estimated pollutants were 1.5 to 7.3 times higher than those from satellite-based methods, according to lead author Elliott Campbell of the University of California, Merced.

Greg Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering in the UI College of Engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), and UI assistant professor Scott Spak note that the findings reflect continued practices and trends that are a part of the production of sugarcane ethanol. These include the practice of burning sugarcane fields before harvest, as well as the fact that sugarcane production in Brazil continues to grow.

“We found that the vast majority of emissions come from burning the sugarcane fields prior to harvesting, a practice the Brazilian government has been moving to end,” says Spak. “However, the sugarcane industry has been expanding rapidly and moving into more remote areas, which makes it much more difficult to enforce new regulations over this growing source of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

“As people try to determine how to integrate biofuels into the global economy, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol has often been considered a more environmentally friendly fuel source than U.S. corn ethanol. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers sugarcane ethanol an ‘advanced biofuel’ with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional biofuels like corn ethanol. These new findings help us refine those estimates and move closer to making more informed comparisons between different fuel sources, and ultimately make better decisions about how to grow and use biofuels,” Spak says.

The study, titled “Increased estimates of air-pollution emissions from Brazilian sugarcane ethanol,” is featured in the Nature Highlights section and published in the Dec. 11 Advance Online Publication of the journal Nature Climate Change.