Written by Rob Perks

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The clean energy economy is upon us — but will the U.S. heed the call?

That’s the gist of today’s Washington Post story with this stark headline: Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy.

 

Excerpt:

President Obama has often described his push to fund “clean” energy technology as key to America’s drive for international competitiveness as well as a way to combat climate change.

“There’s no longer a question about whether the jobs and the industries of the 21st century will be centered around clean, renewable energy,” he said on June 25. “The only question is: Which country will create these jobs and these industries? And I want that answer to be the United States of America.”

But the leaders of India, South Korea, China and Japan may have different answers. Those Asian nations are pouring money into renewable energy industries, funding research and development and setting ambitious targets for renewable energy use. These plans could outpace the programs in Obama’s economic stimulus package or in the House climate bill sponsored by  Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and  Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

In due time fossil fuels will be gone — no one can dispute that.  So why is it that so many people — including an alarmingly high number of those serving in Congress — would rather waste time and energy denying the clear and present danger of climate change and resisting the solutions promised by a clean energy future?

[UPDATE: This just in…A new Harvard study finds that wind energy potential is considerably higher than previous estimates by both wind industry groups and government agencies.]

In my mind I can see a television commercial with just an hour glass on screen and this narration:

“Oil is running out.”

“Coal is running out.”

“Whether we like it or not, fossil fuels are going the way of the dinosaurs.”

“But we know that the wind and the sun will never run out.  And we can generate power from these natural, safe and limitless sources.”

“It’s time to move beyond the dirty energy of the past and embrace reliable clean power for the 21st century.”

“As a nation, we need to do this…before time runs out.”

Let’s all remember that America is a nation built on the foundation of freedom, independence and self-sufficiency — and those values must be at the heart of our strategy for energy policy.  We shouldn’t be losing ground in the world economy, buidling up massive trade deficits to pay for foreign oil.  It’s time we commit ourselves as a nation to develop clean, safe energy from the sun, wind and other natural sources that will create millions of jobs and rebuild our manufacturing base.

It just so happens that the best way to bring jobs and prosperity back to this country is also the way to end our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and protect the Earth we leave our children.  Let’s get back to building things again, starting with wind turbines, solar panels, and energy-efficient products that say ‘Made in America.’  After all, we have led every technological revolution of the last two centuries — electricity, railroads, the telephone, automobiles, the television, computers — and there’s no reason we can’t lead this one.

I have to question the logic (and patriotism!) of those politicians who would do the bidding of polluting industries — Big Oil, Big Coal, Nukes — when those dirty and unsafe technologies offer only short-term energy generation benefits at an extremely high cost to our heath, air and water, and climate.  The sun, the wind, and the geothermal energy at the core of the Earth provide a limitless supply of clean energy — our scientists can harness them and our workers can build them.  Our leaders should harness — not hamper — the greatest source of power we have in this country: American ingenuity.

The fact is, we already have wind and solar technologies that can dramatically cut our reliance on dirty coal plants that create most of the pollution that is poisoning our lungs and damaging our atmosphere.  What we need now are leaders who can build on this progress by partnering with business to develop and deploy innovative energy technologies that will recharge our economy and create jobs. 

As Thomas Friedman wrote in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”:  “[T]he ability to develop clean power and energy efficient technologies is going to become the defining measure of a country’s economic standing, environmental health, energy security, and national security over the next 50 years.”

The story in the Washington Post today is yet another wake-up call.  We shouldn’t need countries in Asia or Europe or South America to show us how to compete in the emerging markets for efficient appliances and alternative fuels.  We need leaders with vision and courage who will invest in technological breakthroughs that will once and for all end our reliance on oil and spur manufacturing jobs that can’t be outsourced.  That way, America can start exporting clean energy instead of jobs.

As a nation, we have a choice to make.  Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between clean, new energy sources and economic prosperity.  The choice is between accepting the status quo by holding tight to the dirty energy of the past or boldy embarking on the path to safe, reliable clean energy — an investment which promises both immediate and long-term gains. 

At this important juncture in our history, what choice will our elected leaders make?  It’s up to each and every one of us to help them make the right decision.

This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Written by John Porretto  July 14, 2009  AP

HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil Corp. said Tuesday it will make its first major investment in greenhouse-gas reducing biofuels in a $600 million partnership with biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. to develop transportation fuels from algae.

Despite record-breaking profits in recent years, the oil and gas giant has been criticized by environmental groups, members of Congress and even shareholders for not spending enough to explore alternative energy options.

One of the company’s requirements was finding a biofuel source that could be produced on a large scale. It says photosynthetic algae appears to be a viable, long-term candidate. If the alliance is successful, pumping algae-based gasoline at Exxon service stations is still several years away and will mean additional, multibillion-dollar investments for mass production.

“This is not going to be easy, and there are no guarantees of success,” Emil Jacobs, a vice president at Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering Co., said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But we’re combining Exxon Mobil’s technical and financial strength with a leader in bioscientific genomics.”

Jacobs said the project involves three critical steps: identifying algae strains that can produce suitable types of oil quickly and at low costs, determining the best way to grow the algae and developing systems to harvest enough for commercial purposes.

Besides the potential for large-scale production, algae has other benefits, Jacobs said. It can be grown using land and water unsuitable for other crop and food production; it consumes carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed for climate change; and it can produce an oil with molecular structures similar to the petroleum products _ gasoline, diesel, jet fuel _ Exxon already makes.

That means the Irving, Texas-based company will be able to convert the bio-oil into fuels at its own refineries and use existing pipelines and tanker trucks to get it to consumers.

The $600 million price tag includes $300 million for Exxon’s internal costs and $300 million or more to La Jolla, Calif.-based Synthetic Genomics _ if research and development milestones are successfully met.

“Even though this is a multiyear program, we both still consider it a very aggressive timetable, and it involves a lot of basic research,” said J. Craig Venter, founder and CEO of the privately held company. “As a result, you don’t know the answers until you’ve done these tests and experiments.”

Algae is considered a sustainable source for second-generation biofuels, which go beyond corn-based ethanol into nonfood sources such as switchgrass and wood chips.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said earlier this year it would scale back large investments in wind and solar in favor of next-generation biofuels. The European oil giant is working with Canadian company Iogen Corp. on a method to produce ethanol from wheat straw, and partnering with Germany-based Choren Industries to develop a synthetic biofuel from wood residue.

Another oil major, BP PLC, plans to team up with Verenium Corp. to build a $300 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Highlands County, Fla.

For Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, the biofuels investment is tiny compared with its spending to find new supplies of crude and natural gas.

CEO Rex Tillerson said earlier this year Exxon’s 2009 spending on capital and exploration projects is expected to reach $29 billion, up from the $26.1 billion it spent in 2008. The company said those levels are likely to remain in the $25 billion to $30 billion range through 2013.

Exxon Mobil shares rose 25 cents to $65.95 in trading Tuesday. They’ve traded in a range of $56.51 to $86.47 in the past year.

Written by H. Josef Hebert   AP 6/17/09

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would require greater use of renewable energy, make it easier to build power lines and allow oil and gas drilling near the Florida coastline advanced Wednesday in the Senate.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill by a 15-8 bipartisan vote. But both Democrats and Republicans expressed concerns about the bill and hoped to make major changes when it reaches the Senate floor, probably in the fall.

The measure’s primary thrust is to expand the use of renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal sources as well as deal with growing worries about the inadequacies of the nation’s high-voltage power grid.

But the bill also would remove the last congressional barrier to offshore oil and gas development, lifting a ban on drilling across a vast area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that Congress put off limits three years ago. Drilling would be allowed within 45 miles of most of Florida’s coast and as close as 10 miles off the state’s Panhandle area.

The Senate bill for the first time would establish a national requirement for utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, a contentious issue that is likely to attract heated debate.

Twenty-eight states currently have some renewable energy requirement for utilities, but supporters of the measure argue a national mandate is needed to spur such energy development.

The legislation also would give much wider authority to federal regulators over the nation’s electricity grid.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be given authority to approve the siting of high voltage power lines if states fail to act and would be given additional powers over cyber security on the grid.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he hopes to take up energy legislation after the August recess, although it’s uncertain whether it will be merged with separate legislation addressing climate change. The House is working on a climate bill that includes many of the same energy issues addressed by the Senate bill.

While the bill was approved by a safe margin in the committee its prospects in the full Senate are anything but certain. Several senators called it too weak in its support of renewable energy development, while others said it ignored nuclear energy and greater domestic oil and gas production.

“None of us got all we wanted,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the committee’s chairman, who was forced to agree to a variety of compromises to give the bill a chance of advancing. Nevertheless, he said the bill would help shift to cleaner, more secure sources of energy.

Bingaman and many of the panel’s other Democrats had wanted at least a 20 percent renewable energy requirement. The bill requires 15 percent renewable use by 2021, but also would allow utilities to avoid a fourth of that mandate by showing improvements in efficiency. Renewable energy use could be cut further for utilities that increase their use of nuclear energy either from a new reactor or increased reactor output.

“This is an extraordinary weak bill,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

But Sanders voted to advance the bill, as did Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Both senators said they hoped the bill will be strengthened.

“I suspect their definition of strengthening might be somewhat different,” quipped Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., whose own support of the bill came despite strong opposition to the federal renewable energy requirements on utilities.

Sanders wants the renewable energy requirement to be much higher, at 25 percent. Corker said the bill needs more to promote nuclear energy and domestic oil and gas production.

“We simply must do more to increase our domestic (oil and gas) production and use of nuclear energy,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the committee’s ranking Republican. Still, she voted for the bill which includes a commitment to increase loan guarantees for a natural gas pipeline in her state from $18 billion to $30 billion.

The bill also calls for establishing a new office to steer grants and loan guarantees to clean energy projects, including nuclear and those using technology to capture carbon dioxide; creating an oil products reserve to be used if there are supply problems; and creating federal standards for efficiency standards for new building.

The Chamber of Commerce said the bill shows progress toward crafting a comprehensive energy policy, but some environmentalists said it falls short of shifting the country away from fossil fuels. With its new offshore drilling, support for coal and nuclear energy “this bill fails to live up to the vision of a clean energy future,” complained Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth.

H. JOSEF HEBERT | June 6, 2009 10:30 PM EST | AP

WASHINGTON — Thomas Alva Edison, meet the Internet. More than a century after Edison invented a reliable light bulb, the nation’s electricity distribution system, an aging spider web of power lines, is poised to move into the digital age.

The “smart grid” has become the buzz of the electric power industry, at the White House and among members of Congress. President Barack Obama says it’s essential to boost development of wind and solar power, get people to use less energy and to tackle climate change.

What smart grid visionaries see coming are home thermostats and appliances that adjust automatically depending on the cost of power; where a water heater may get juice from a neighbor’s rooftop solar panel; and where on a scorching hot day a plug-in hybrid electric car charges one minute and the next sends electricity back to the grid to help head off a brownout

It is where utilities get instant feedback on a transformer outage, shift easily among energy sources, integrating wind and solar energy with electricity from coal-burning power plants, and go into homes and businesses to automatically adjust power use based on prearranged agreements.

“It’s the marriage of information technology and automation technology with the existing electricity network. This is the energy Internet,” said Bob Gilligan, vice president for transmission at GE Energy, which is aggressively pursuing smart grid development. “There are going to be applications 10 years from now that you and I have no idea that we’re going to want or need or think are essential to our lives.”

Hundreds of technology companies and almost every major electric utility company see smart grid as the future. That interest got a boost with the availability of $4.5 billion in federal economic recovery money for smart grid technology.

But smart grid won’t be cheap; cost estimates run as high as $75 billion. Who’s going to pay the bill? Will consumers get the payback they are promised? Might “smart meters” be too intrusive? Could an end-to-end computerization of the grid increase the risk of cyberattacks?

Today’s grid is seen by many as little different from one envisioned by Edison 127 years ago.

The hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines that crisscross the country have been compared to a river flowing down a hill: an inefficient one-way movement of electrons from power plant to consumer. There is little way to provide any feedback of information to the power company running the system or those buying the electricity.

“The heart of a smart grid is to make the grid more flexible, to more easily control the flow of electrons, and make it more efficient and reliable,” said Greg Scheu, head of the power production division at ABB North America, a leading grid technology provider.

“The meter is only the beginning,” said Alex Huang, director of a grid technology center at North Carolina State University. He said that instead of power flowing from a small number of power plants, the smart grid can usher in a system of distributed energy so electricity “will flow from homes and businesses into the grid, neighborhoods will use local power and not just power flowing from a single source.”

There are glimpses of what the future grid might look like.

On the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, the chancellor’s home has been turned into a smart grid showhouse as part of a citywide $100 million demonstration project spearheaded by Xcel Energy. The home has a laptop-controlled electricity management system that integrates a rooftop solar panel with grid-supplied power and tracks energy use as well as equipment to charge a plug-in hybrid electric car.

Florida Power & Light is planning to provide smart meters covering 1 million homes and businesses in the Miami area over the next two years in a $200 million project. Smart meters are being distributed by utilities from California to Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula.

“We’ve got about 70 (smart grid) pilots all over the country right now,” said Mike Oldak, an expert on smart grid at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned power companies.

Center Point Energy, which serves 2.2 million customers in the metropolitan Houston area, expects to spend $1 billion over the next five years on smart grid. Residential customers are seeing an additional $3.24 a month on their electric bills, but Center Point says that should be more than offset by energy savings.

An Energy Department study projects energy savings of 5 percent to 15 percent from smart grid.

“This pays for itself through efficiency and demand reduction and if you don’t look at it from that perspective you won’t get your money back,” said Thomas Standish, group president for regulated operations at Center Power Energy.

The cost and payback have some state regulators worried.

“We need to demonstrate to folks that there’s a benefit here before we ask them to pay for this stuff,” says Frederick Butler, chairman of New Jersey’s utility commission and president of NARUC, the national group that represents these state agencies.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said the current grid stands in the way of increasing the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar that “will need a system that can dispatch power here, there and everywhere on a very quick basis.”

But Chu and others also worry about security. “If you want to create mischief one very good way to create a great deal of mischief is to actually bring down a smart grid system. This system has to be incredibly secure.”

And there is the issue of intrusion.

“Is the average consumer willing to pay the upfront costs of a new system and then respond appropriately to price signals? Or will people view a utility’s ability to reach inside a home to turn down a thermostat as Orwellian?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said at a recent hearing on smart grid.

The following is a guest post by Chelsea Green‘s Makenna Goodman:

I remember a time when defenseless kids with hippie moms got made fun of for using wax sandwich bags (ehem). I remember a time when it was considered uncool to be packing carrot sticks in your tote bag. When yoga was what the weird naked guys did at the hot springs in Ouray, Colorado; you know downward-facing dogs splayed out by the pool. I remember a time, in other words, when trendy things used to be not-trendy. Like BIODIESEL. The wave of the future.

You’ve seen it station wagons clanking around town with a sign on the back window that says, “This Vehicle Runs on Veggie Oil I’m Awesome.” You probably drive by and think: Damn. Those hippies are self-important, but I’m repressing the fact that I want to be just like them. What is wrong with me? But here’s the first thing you should know about biodiesel: It’s not just white people with dreads who use vegetable oil to run their cars. It’s a movement. Dude, my boss does it.

Know this:
*Biodiesel can be made from virtually any vegetable oil
*It can be used in any modern diesel engine
*It’s America’s fastest growing alternative fuel

But really, biodiesel is a tricky thing to understand, which is why many people just plain don’t. Consider it worth your while to get versed on biodiesel, from the experts. And everything you need to know, Greg Pahl will tell you. He’s the author of Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy and The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis and knows the deal.

The following is an excerpt from The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis by Greg Pahl. It has been adapted for the Web.

Biodiesel 101

Biodiesel, a diverse group of diesel-like fuels, can be easily made through a simple chemical process known as transesterification from virtually any vegetable oil, including (but not limited to) soy, corn, rapeseed (canola), cottonseed, peanut, sunflower, mustard seed, and hemp. But biodiesel can also be made from recycled cooking oil (referred to as “yellow grease” in the rendering industry) or animal fats. One Vietnamese catfish processor is even using fish fat as a biofuel feedstock.30 There have even been some promising experiments with the use of algae as a biodiesel feedstock. As long as the resulting fuel meets the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) biodiesel standard (D-6751), it’s considered biodiesel in the United States, regardless of the feedstock used in its manufacture (in Europe, the standard is EN 14214). And the process is so simple that biodiesel can be made by virtually anyone, although the chemicals required (usually lye and methanol) are hazardous, and need to be handled with extreme caution.

Simply stated, here is how biodiesel is made. The transesterification process is initiated by adding carefully measured amounts of alcohol (methanol) mixed with a catalyst (sodium hydroxide lye the same chemical used to unclog kitchen or bathroom drains) to the vegetable oil. The mixture is stirred or agitated (and sometimes heated) for a specific length of time. If used cooking oil is the feedstock, the process requires a bit more testing, lye, and filtration, but is otherwise essentially the same. During the mixing, the oil molecules are split or “cracked” and the methyl esters (biodiesel) rise to the top of the settling/mixing tank, while the glycerin and catalyst settle to the bottom. After about eight hours, the glycerin and catalyst are drawn off the bottom, leaving biodiesel in the tank. The whole idea of the process is to remove the thick, sticky glycerin from the vegetable oil, so the remaining biodiesel will flow easily and combust properly in a modern diesel engine without leaving damaging deposits inside the engine.

In most cases the biodiesel needs to be washed with water to remove any remaining traces of alcohol, catalyst, and glycerin. In this procedure, water is mixed with the biodiesel, allowed to settle out for several days, and then removed. The wash process can be repeated if needed, but it is time-consuming. Not everyone agrees on whether the water wash is necessary. A few smaller producers who are making biodiesel for themselves skip the process, while commercial producers usually must do it to meet industry standards. In the case of some larger, more sophisticated manufacturing facilities, the transesterification process itself is so carefully controlled and refined that the water wash is not needed. There are, of course, quite a few technical variations on this entire process for large-scale industrial operations, but the general transesterification procedure is similar.31

As the amount of biodiesel being produced grows exponentially, the quantities of glycerin by-product grows apace. Glycerin has always been a niche market that is highly sensitive to oversupply, and the recent exponential growth of this commodity as a result of biodiesel production has caused the world glycerin market to collapse. As a result, traditional glycerin manufacturing plants around the world have been closing, while new ones that use glycerin as feedstocks for epoxy resins, propylene glycol, and other products have been opening. Recently, glycerin has even been used by one California company, InnovaTek Inc., as a source for the production of hydrogen.32 Trying to develop new uses for glycerin has been keeping a lot of people awake at night.

Our perspective:

Biofuels is the wave of the future. The federal and many state governments have provides great incentives to help start this process.  Biodiesel adds the needed lubrication to low sulpher diesel, that extends the life of the engine and help it to run more efficiently.

let us know your toughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com with any questions you may have.

ANGELA CHARLTON | May 28, 2009 05:01 PM EST | AP

PARIS — The top U.S. environment official says it’s time for the United States to shed its energy-wasting image and lead the world race for cleaner power sources instead.

After several years with a relatively low profile under President George W. Bush, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “is back on the job,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told The Associated Press on Thursday during a trip to Paris.

What the EPA does domestically this year will be watched closely overseas. Nations worldwide are working toward a major meeting in Copenhagen in December aimed at producing a new global climate pact. The U.S. position on curbing its own pollution and helping poor countries adapt to global warming is seen as key to any new pact.

Jackson was in Paris for international talks on how rich governments can include global climate concerns in overall development aid.

She dismissed worries that economic downturn was cutting into aid commitments or investment in new energy resources. She said the United States should take the lead on clean energy technology, recession or no.

“We have to get in the race now _ and win it,” she said. “I don’t expect a moving backwards because of recession.”

At climate talks in Paris earlier this week, European environment ministers welcomed greater U.S. commitment to environmental issues under the Obama administration _ but said it still wasn’t aiming high enough in its targets for cutting U.S. emissions.

Jackson said a shift in the American mindset is only beginning.

Talking about energy efficiency and saying companies should pay to pollute _ “that’s a revolutionary message for our country,” she said.

For a long time, she said, “People didn’t even expect the EPA to show up” at events, much less set policies that could be seen as examples for the rest of the world.

“Now it seems like every day we’re rolling back or reconsidering a Bush era policy on clean air,” she said.

She said it was time for the United States to take a more active role in limiting chemical pollutants, after falling behind Europe in that domain.

The U.S. also has lessons to learn from countries such as the Netherlands, she said, after visiting its low-lying, flood-prone lands to study ways cities like her native New Orleans can better manage water.

Our Perspective:

It is good to hear the administration making positive comments about our energy’s future. Alternative energy is a growth business and the correct path for insuring our future energy indepenence.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

Would you like to know more about the financial opportunities that drive this investment. Feel free to contct us.

JEAN H. LEE | May 18, 2009 12:57 PM EST |

SEOUL, South Korea — Urban visionaries in London and Seoul, two of the world’s busiest capital cities, foresee buses gliding through their streets with speed, ease and efficiency _ without emitting the exhaust fumes that scientists say are contributing to global warming.

Under Mayor Boris Johnson’s vision, London’s iconic red double-decker Routemaster buses would be back on the streets _ but powered by electricity, not gasoline.

Engineers at South Korea’s top-ranked KAIST university are meanwhile working on a novel prototype for an electric vehicle system: one that provides power on the go through induction strips laid into the roadway.

Cities _ which house 75 percent of the world’s population and generate 80 percent of its pollution _ must take leadership in tackling the problem of polluting emissions, Johnson said Monday in Seoul on the eve of the third C40 Large Cities Climate Summit.

“I think as a collective of cities, what we should be doing here in Seoul is agreeing that we are going to stop the endless addiction of mankind to the internal combustion engine,” he told reporters. “It’s time that we moved away from fossil fuels. It’s time that we went for low-carbon vehicles.”

“Cars form many problems that we see in Korea as well as other countries. We use hydrocarbon organic fuels, mostly petroleum, and that, in turn, creates environmental problems _ and Seoul is notorious,” said Suh Nam-pyo, president of KAIST in Daejeon, south of the South Korean capital.

Seoul, population 10 million, is getting warmer three times faster than the world average, the National Meteorological Administration said Monday.

The obvious solution, Suh said, is to “replace all these vehicles with vehicles that do not pollute the air and do not use oil.”

Back in March, Johnson zipped down a British highway in a U.S.-made electric car that he wrote marked “the beginning of a long-overdue revolution.”

He rhapsodized in a Telegraph newspaper editorial that the Tesla has no exhaust pipe, carburetor or fuel tank, and “while every other car on that motorway was a-parping and a-puttering, filling the air with fumes and particulates, this car was producing no more noxious vapours than a dandelion in an alpine meadow.”

Last month, he launched an ambitious plan to get 100,000 electric cars onto the streets of London by 2015. He pushed for the creation of 25,000 charging stations and vowed to convert some 1,000 city vehicles to make London the “electric car capital of Europe.”

“The age of the diesel-emitting bus has got to be over in London,” Johnson said.

He has promised electric motorists an exemption from the congestion charge imposed on drivers in central London, an annual saving of up to 1,700 pounds (about $2,600).

But that discount would barely make a dent in the eye-popping price tag of electric cars now on the market; the sleek Tesla that Johnson took for a spin costs more than $100,000.

And scientists are still grappling with the massive, sensitive, costly and fast-depleting batteries that take the place of international combustion engines and gasoline. Electric cars run between 40 and 120 miles (60 to 200 kilometers) on one charge, and it takes anywhere from two to seven hours to fully recharge, said Christian Mueller of the IHS Global Insight consulting firm.

“Everybody is frantically working on coming up with a viable electric car,” he said from Frankfurt, Germany.

Batteries “aren’t yet at a state where we can say they are cheap, they’re reliable and they’re easy to come by. They all still have their technical drawbacks,” said Mueller, who specializes in electrics and electronics.

The lithium supply for batteries is finite, and the question of where to charge them becomes complicated in cities where residents cannot easily plug their cars in overnight. A California company, Better Place, has introduced a promising battery-swapping technology.

Suh, an MIT-trained inventor with some 60 international patents to his name, approached the challenge from another angle.

“Why not have power transmitted on the ground and pick it up without using mechanical contact?” he said in an interview in his office overlooking the staging grounds for the university’s electric cars.

KAIST’s “online” vehicles pick up power from trips, or inverters, embedded into the road rather than transmitted through rails or overhead wires. A small battery, one-fifth the size of the bulky batteries typically used, would give the vehicle enough power for another 50 miles (80 kilometers), said Cho Dong-ho, the scientist in charge of the project.

South Korea produces its own nuclear power, meaning it can produce a continuous supply of energy to fuel such a plan.

President Lee Myung-bak, whose government gave KAIST $50 million for two major projects, including the “online” electric vehicle, took a spin in February.

Online buses are running at the KAIST campus and will begin test runs soon on the resort island of Jeju.

But Seoul, which has promised to set aside $2 million for the underground charging system, is within Suh’s sights. He said 9,000 gasoline-fueled buses now crisscross the capital, with 1,000 going out of commission each year. He envisions replacing those aging buses with electric models. Initial test runs are expected to take place this year.

Mueller, the consultant, called it a creative approach with potential.

“It sounds very intriguing; you don’t store your energy, you provide it on the go.” he said. “The (battery) storage problem is overcome instantly. That would be a very intriguing way of doing it.”

___

Associated Press writer Jae Hee Suh contributed to this report.

by Roberta Cruger, Los Angeles on 05.14.09

power strip pow wow photo
“Electronic billabong:” power strip supping up electrons. Photo via Flickr: by Stibbons

Electronic equipment, including cell phones, iPods, PCs, videogames, and plasma TVs have increased demand for residential energy use annually by 3.4 percent since 1990, according to the International Energy Agency. This trend leads the IEA to estimate that personal electrical energy usage in homes should triple by 2030 worldwide, hence more carbon emissions from coal and natural gas plants. It noted this trend is undoing efforts toward energy-efficiency.

The energy policy advisor to 28 governments (as well as tipsters for Russia, China and India), IEA recommends raising energy-efficiency standards on consumer devices. With energy improvements in home appliances, such as Energy Star refrigerators and washing machines, that usage has lowered. Findings also show that heating and air-conditioning has fallen.

One Billion PCs, Two Billion TVs, Three Billion cellphones.
But the study states that energy use has risen sharply over the past 10 years with the use of electronic gadgets. There are over two billion television sets in the world, close to one billion personal computers by the end of the year, and over half the global population subscribes to a mobile telephone service. These figures are on the rise.

The agency urged that consumers need to make smarter choices and change habits to conserve more energy. In analyzing the data, the report suggests that categories for “functions,” such as surfing the internet, need to be considered, in addition to improvements in products. The report recommended that people’s lifestyles – as well as government policies and manufacturers’ efficiency standards – require dramatic change for energy-efficiency to improve significantly to impact global warming.

Of course, there are other energy-suckers they make recommendations about, too, like oil. But these hidden power-guzzlers start at home. Alternative energy is a solution to greenhouse gas emissions, so perhaps a rise in electricity costs would make a difference.

Our perspective:

Instant gratification continues to rule our daily life. Electronics have made things more efficient, but with this efficiency comes higher energy demand.

What will we do in the future to address this issue?

Do you think our demand will oneday decrease?

Are we will to make tough decisions now to insure that the energy availability will be there for our grandchildren.

Let us know your thoughts?

You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 2:44 AM on 14th May 2009
As reported in Huffington Post Green

Climate change is the biggest health threat of the 21st century, leading academics claimed last night.

Those who fail to take the issue seriously are as morally reprehensible as 18th-century slave traders, they said.

A British report said rising global temperatures will trigger food shortages, droughts, wars and floods over the next 100 years, pushing billions into ill-health, disease and poverty.

Sea ice melting as a result of global warming

Health threat: The report said rising global temperatures will trigger food shortages, droughts, wars and floods over the next 100 years

If the world fails to act, future historians will view the current generation with ‘similar moral outrage to how we today look back on those who brought in and did nothing to stop slavery’, the authors said.

The report – commissioned by the Lancet medical journal and University College London – calls on doctors and health experts to take the threat of climate change more seriously.

Report author Professor Anthony Costello, of UCL, said: ‘The big message of this report is that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation.’

The team of scientists, lawyers, doctors, economists and engineers looked at the health implications of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s forecasts, including the most optimistic projection of a 2c rise in global temperatures and its ‘catastrophic’ forecast of a 6c rise.

In Britain, climate change will bring more frequent heatwaves – increasing the numbers of elderly dying in the summer, the report said.

In 2003, up to 70,000 extra deaths were caused by the freak summer heatwave across Europe.

Warmer weather will also increase the risk of diseases spread by insects and bacteria, including malaria and salmonella.

But the biggest health impacts will be in the poorest parts of the world.

Droughts and floods will make agriculture more vulnerable in developing countries and trigger food shortages and rising food prices, spreading malnutrition and disease, the report said.

This will increase the chances of wars over water, food and land and trigger ‘large-scale migration’, it added. More than a billion people could be forced to move from rising seas.

Professor Costello said: ‘The health lobby has come late to this debate and should have been saying more. Young people realise this is the great issue of our day.’

Our perspective:

This issue has been batted around for years. While we continue to debate the issue the polar caps are melting.

Some scientist say this is a natural phenomena, while other argue that we have been instrumental in the cause.

We should stop pointing fingers.

The facts is that it is happening and we should be making every effort to stop the abuses that may tend to effect the issue.

Sometimes I think that God just shakes his head.

What we call progress over the past 200 years have put a strain on our environment. Pollutants in our rivers and oceans. Gases released into our atmosphere.

How much is enough!

 This can not be rationized.

We are responsible to pass onto our children a better quality of life.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

By Chris Nelder | Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

A new battle is brewing over offshore oil drilling. Nine months ago, President Bush lifted a ban on new oil and gas leases off the nation’s coastlines, and the congressional moratorium on offshore leasing expired last September. 

Now Obama’s Department of Interior officials are considering reopening the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to leasing, and once again the oil industry is pitted against environmentalists, as well as California residents who remember the ugly mess that a 200,000 gallon crude spill made of the Santa Barbara coast in 1969 after an offshore rig blowout.

 I remember that mess. Some time in the mid-70s, when I was 10 years old or so, my family took a trip to California to visit relatives. After nine long hours in the car from our home in the Arizona desert, I wanted nothing except to frolic on the beach when we finally got there, and I wasn’t about to let my uncle talk me out of going there no matter how bad it was. 

It was nasty. The beach was covered in globs of black goo—so much of it you couldn’t avoid stepping in it—and the whole place reeked. (If you haven’t ever smelled crude oil, it’s smells like exactly what it is: a combination of asphalt and gasoline and everything in between.) We had our fun on the beach, but when we got home, we had to endure a good scrubbing down with turpentine (or maybe it was gasoline) to get the gunk off of our skin.

 So I have sympathy for those who don’t want to see that sort of thing happen ever again. I’ve also been an environmentalist all my life. 

On the other hand, I believe our energy predicament is shaping up to be so dire as to render all such ideology moot. Taking a principled stance on environmental grounds may soon seem like a luxury of a far-gone age. 

Outer Continental Shelf Potential 

Let’s take a look at the numbers. 

According to the EIA (2007 data rounded to billions), total US proven reserves of conventional oil are about 21 billion barrels, of which 4 billion are proved offshore reserves. 

US demand is currently about 6.7 billion barrels per year, so if we relied solely upon our proven reserves and were able to produce it as quickly as we like, we’d only have about a three-year supply. Fortunately, we are able to import more than two-thirds of our oil consumption from elsewhere. Nature limits the rate at which we can pump our domestic oil, a rate which has been in steady decline since US domestic oil production peaked in 1970.

Three years’ worth isn’t much, so we have turned to the difficult and expensive stuff that remains, some of which isn’t even oil: low-grade tar sands from Canada, thin seams of shale in the Midwest, and the OCS.

Energy and Capital readers are no doubt familiar with our articles on tar sands and the shales (Bakken, Barnett, Marcellus, and others), but an update on the OCS is probably in order.

The EIA estimates that “technically recoverable undiscovered” offshore oil in the US is in the range of 59 billion barrels—nearly three times as much as our remaining “proved reserves.” Most of it, about 45 billion barrels, is expected to lie in the Gulf of Mexico.

The remaining 31% is what was unavailable under the Congressional moratorium, but according to a testimony before the House last month by acting EIA administrator Dr. Howard Gruenspecht, only about 20% of the total technically recoverable oil in the OCS has been under moratoria.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) numbers are considerably larger, suggesting that some 85 billion barrels of technically recoverable undiscovered oil may remain offshore. (For the present article, I will avoid delving into the murky details of probabilistic reserve estimates and why they differ from source to source.)

In any case, it’s clear that the remaining oil prize in the US is offshore. So why aren’t we producing it?

Partisans like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) would have us believe that it is simply the politics of overzealous environmentalism, banging the drum loudly for offshore drilling and complaining that 85% of the OCS has been off-limits “leaving some of our greatest energy reserves untapped.” Indeed, the “Drill Baby Drill” crowd claims that if only we’d drill the OCS everywhere, we could achieve “energy independence.”

But if only 20-31% of the OCS has been off-limits, why hasn’t the rest been drilled yet?

Risky Business 

One part of the answer is that there simply isn’t any oil in some of those areas. Last July, John Hoffmeister, former CEO and president of Shell Oil’s US operations, told CNBC “The industry is pursuing the leases it has, but to be blunt, the prospective nature of many of those leases is very low. And you don’t go drill oil where you know it doesn’t exist.”

The second part of the answer is also simple: poor economics.

 Offshore oil is expensive, and deepwater oil—wells drilled in more than 1000 feet of water—is more expensive still. Leasing rates for high specification drillships able to produce oil from deepwater formations have run as high as $600,000 per day, which is why we have liked our deepwater drilling players for a long time now.

 Consider the economics of the Mars field as an example. At a water depth of 2,940 feet, it is believed to contain 500 million barrels of oil equivalent. The platform produces some 220,000 barrels per day, at a reported development cost of $100 million. Prior to the development of BPs Thunder Horse platform, it was the most advanced platform in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, where the best prospects for new US oil production are. The Mars platform was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and rebuilt by Shell at a reported cost of $200 million. Assuming those numbers are still correct, at a $300 million total cost the project would take 34 years to pay for itself at $40 a barrel. (By comparison, the Thunder Horse platform produces oil at about the same rate, but has a total cost of around $5 billion.)

Deepwater oil also remains a very risky enterprise, even with modern seismic imaging technology. This week Contango Oil & Gas Co. (AMEX: MCF) reported that it would take a $12.5 million write-off for drilling a dry hole in the Gulf of Mexico. It takes a fluid and committed credit market to sustain that kind of risk, but the world is still in the grips of a credit market freeze.

Morgan Stanley recently reported that enough deepwater projects have been scrapped in the global economic downturn to reduce future crude supplies by as much as 2.4 million barrels per day (mbpd) by 2011, a substantial chunk of anticipated supply. Since August 2008, the company reported that no new lease contracts had been awarded, but 11 orders were canceled and 46 more were delayed.

Perhaps the largest project to be delayed recently is the Manifa project in Saudi Arabia. With a $9 billion price tag and a possible 900,000 barrel per day flow rate, it would be the country’s largest offshore oil development, but progress has been delayed by six months, probably to take advantage of lower construction costs.

How Do We Reach Energy Independence?

Finally, we must also address the flow rate of any new domestic oil. True “energy independence” would mean producing 18 to 20 mbpd, not the roughly 5.5 mbpd we are producing today. Could we do that?

Through drilling alone, the answer is “not even close.” In total, I estimate that if all limits on drilling were removed, including the OCS and ANWR, we could only increase US oil production by a maximum of 2-3 mbpd. That new production would come online slowly, and the additional flow would be hardly noticeable as it compensated for the loss in conventional oil production due to sheer depletion. If it lowered prices at all, it would be by a few pennies per gallon, at best.

Now I have no doubt that Sen. Hutchison understands this, but within the parameters of politics, she must state her case as strongly as possible and try to overcome the resistance to offshore drilling.

Nor do I have any doubt that the hearts of anti-drilling environmentalists are in the right place. Why continue down the doomed path of oil dependency when renewables appear to be right around the corner? Why would the good people of Florida want to court the disaster of oil spills, or look at oil rigs in the distance of their beautiful beaches?

Both sides of the issue, unfortunately, are wrong-headed, and would lead to poor policy. If the public were successfully convinced that we could drill our way out of our energy dilemma, it would stifle development of a renewable-powered infrastructure that will survive in a future of declining oil. Conversely, large oil spills from offshore drilling are a thing of the past, and if we do not drill our remaining reserves with all possible haste we will undoubtedly find ourselves without sufficient oil at an acceptable price within just a few years.

The IEA’s warning in February should remain foremost in our minds: If oil demand recovers in 2010, global spare capacity would fall to zero by 2013. And as the world’s largest nation dependent on imported oil, we could be in for a very difficult time. The last thing we should do is pull the plug on the majority of our energy supply, which is oil, before we have new forms of energy to replace it. To do so would have terrible consequences on the economy, and hamstring our capability to continue evolving to a new energy regime.

Our only real path to energy independence is to pursue all options, within acceptable emissions limits, and gradually phase out fossil fuels as we ramp up renewables and the electric infrastructure to support them. But while renewables remain less than two percent of our energy mix, we should be careful not to expect too much of them. We will need oil and natural gas for decades to come, and in time we will need to develop our offshore resources or face the prospect of shortages.

Our perspective:

Oil is a finite fossil resource. As our demand for energy continues to increase, we must turn to alternative energy resources to support this growing demand.

There is no silver bullet.

We must look to implement multiple resources, weaning from fossil and reaching for the sun, wind, earth and water.

God placed them here, right in front of our eyes, yet we refuse to see.

Let us know your thoughts?

You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com