On Energy and Geometric Progression

The following video has been labeled “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See.” Hyperbole? It’s just a lecture on math, given by a Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. It explains how just a 7% annual growth in energy use equals a 100% growth in 10 years. After a few decades, you’ve got a really big number. And a tremendously enormous problem. Watch and learn, please.

[H/T Peter Hufnagel]

Vow What?

After several reports of its demise, the Climate Bill is back on the burner. The president made a speech in its support today at Carnegie Mellon University . If Obama passes this one, he will be known as the President of reanimated zombie bills. Speaking of familiar, Republican support for the bill is no where to be found since Sen. Lindsey Graham backed off from Sen. Kerry’s shadow, but there are a pack of moderates targeted for swinging sides. Mentioning them, Obama said, “The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,”

While he had the microphone, he took the time to outline some of his ideas for the legislation. The President said he would like to roll back the oil tax breaks and use that money to invest in our energy independence. This is something that has been talked about during drum circles for over four decades, but this time the talk may become law in the wake of the disaster in the Gulf.

Here is an excerpt from his speech,

And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition.  The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.  (Applause.)  Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient.  It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.  It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.
But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future — if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed.  And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.
No, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future.  And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust.  But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction — if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs — we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.
The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate — a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans — that would achieve the same goal.  And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.  (Applause.)  I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can.  (Applause.)  I will work with anyone to get this done — and we will get it done.

read more at the Atlantic

The Bloom Box: The Holy Grail of Energy?

Would you like to make a billion dollars and save the planet?

K.R. Sridhar is a NASA scientist who was working on a project to terraform Mars. He invented a machine that would produce oxygen in the Martian atmosphere and make the Red Planet habitable for humans.

But the budget got cut. The program got cancelled. So K.R. Sridhar took the invention and reversed it to suck in oxygen. He created an entirely new kind of fuel cell, which is far more compact and more efficient than anything now producing electricity. It is designed to replace the grid. And it’s coming.

Continue reading “The Bloom Box: The Holy Grail of Energy?”

Leave That Poor Mountain Alone!

Renee Schoof writes for McClatchy

The consequences of this mining in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia are “”pervasive and irreversible,” the article finds. Companies are required by law to take steps to reduce the damages, but their efforts don’t compensate for lost streams nor do they prevent lasting water pollution, it says.

The article is a summary of recent scientific studies of the consequences of blasting the tops off mountains to obtain coal and dumping the excess rock into streams in valleys. The authors also studied new water-quality data from West Virginia streams and found that mining polluted them, reducing their biological health and diversity.

Surprisingly little attention has been paid to this growing scientific evidence of the damages, they wrote, adding: “Regulators should no longer ignore rigorous science.”

New permits shouldn’t be granted, they argued, “unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer review and shown to remedy these problems.”

The Science article cites a number of potential health risks from removing mountaintops and filling in valleys, including contaminated well water, toxic dust and fish that are tainted with the chemical selenium. It also looked at environmental damage to the mining and fill areas and to streams below them, the reasons that forests are difficult to re-establish on mined areas and increased risks of downstream flooding.

“The reason we’re willing to make a policy recommendation is that the evidence is so clear-cut,” said Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland, the lead author of the Science study and a specialist on the ecology of streams. Her co-authors were experts on chemistry, biology, engineering and health from Duke University, West Virginia University and other institutions.

Palmer said she started studying mountaintop mining’s effects on streams in Appalachia, then sought help from the others to pull together scattered studies. Her family is from western North Carolina, and she spent much of her childhood there.

The assessment came days after the Environmental Protection Agency approved a permit under the Clean Water Act for Patriot Coal Corp.’s mountaintop Hobet 45 mine in West Virginia. The EPA reached a deal with Patriot to change the original plans. Instead of burying six miles of streams, the company will bury three. The EPA said that other changes would reduce stream contamination and protect public health.

At the same time, the agency acknowledged the environmental costs.

Mountaintop-removal mining has destroyed roughly 2,040 square miles of land in Appalachia and buried more than 2,000 miles of streams, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said in an e-mail.

In a statement about the Science article, the EPA said: “This report underscores EPA’s own scientific analysis regarding the substantial environmental, water and health impacts that result from mountaintop mining operations. EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Water Act is to ensure that mining activities do not degrade the quality of water used by communities, and we intend to ensure this requirement is met.

“EPA will continue to rely on the latest scientific information to inform our Clean Water Act review of mountaintop mining permits. We look forward to reviewing the details of this latest study and considering carefully its recommendations.”

The EPA’s approval of the Hobet 45 mine, announced Tuesday, was the first major mountaintop mining permit the agency has approved from a batch of 79 that it said raised concerns. The mine is expected to employ 460 unionized miners.

Environmental groups condemned the decision and said that even with the changes, the mine would destroy forests and streams.

read more at McClatchy


Cold in the Wintertime: UK Gas Shortage

Terry Macalister writes for the Guardian,

Vauxhall’s car plant at Ellesmere Port on Merseyside and British Sugar’s refineries at Bury St Edmunds and Newark are among nearly 100 factories that have had their gas cut as Britain’s energy infrastructure creaks under the strain of the great freeze.

The National Grid has told British Gas and other power firms to cut the supply to major corporate customers, in an attempt to preserve gas supply for households as the weather causes a surge in demand.

Opposition MPs said inadequate planning by the government in previous years had left the country heading towards an “energy crisis” that could only dent the UK’s fragile economic recovery.

But the government maintained last night that gas cuts were now only affecting 27 factories, and that all these had signed up to discount contracts allowing suppliers to interrupt their supplies in periods of high demand.

Energy minister Lord Hunt said: “This is a period of exceptionally high demand. The system is coping as it should. These sort of arrangements have been commercially entered into.”

Factories in the north-west of England and east Midlands are worst hit out of the 94 customers who have had gas supplies axed for the first time in up to 20 years, in some cases in a response to severe weather and creaking power infrastructure.

In the first tangible sign that fears over energy shortages are translating into supply disruption, the grid has demanded cuts to those customers who signed “interruptible” contracts.

In addition the grid issued a second “gas balancing alert” in four days – the first time it has had to issue two such warnings in quick succession. The call to customers to voluntarily reduce usage wherever possible came as the supply squeeze was made worse by production problems at Troll, a Norwegian North Sea gas field.

“There are some customers in the north-west and east Midlands who have had supplies interrupted because they are on interruptible contracts and we are facing high demand,” said a grid spokeswoman.

Well-known manufacturers at locations around the country, including the south and east of England, confirmed they were experiencing power supply problems but most asked for their names to be kept private to avoid panicking shareholders. Vauxhall and British Sugar both confirmed gas had been cut off but said production was being kept up by use of stand-by generators fired by oil.

“From 6pm on Monday British Gas asked us to stop using gas, so ever since we have used oil; and we will do that until they tell us we can start using gas,” said a spokesman for Vauxhall.

British Gas could not immediately confirm it had cut off some customers in line with grid demands, but said the problems were caused by transmission overload rather than supply shortages.

“If anything there is an oversupply of gas and certainly no shortage at this time. This [the current problem] is about moving it around the country,” said a spokesman.

read more at the Guardian

This Doesn’t Look Productive

MARIANNE LAVELLE & M.B. PELL write for Politico

The next round of the battle over climate change policy on Capitol Hill will involve more than the usual suspects — way more.

Watch soup makers face off against steel companies. Witness the folks who pump gas from the ground fight back against those who dig up rock. And watch the venture capitalists who have money riding on new technology try to gain advantage in a game that so far has been deftly controlled by the old machine.

An analysis of the latest federal records by the Center for Public Integrity shows that the overall number of businesses and groups lobbying on climate legislation has essentially held steady at about 1,160, thanks in part to a variety of interests that have left the fray. But a close look at the 140 or so interests that jumped into the debate for the first time in the third quarter shows a marked trend: Companies and organizations that feel they’ve been overlooked are fighting for a place at the table.

The amount of money involved quite likely rose as well. Although amounts spent on lobbying by issue are not disclosed, if the groups involved spent just 10 percent of their lobbying budgets on climate issues, they shelled out $30.5 million in the third quarter — up nearly 13 percent over the previous quarter.

Of course, the framework for climate change legislation developed by a trio of senators — Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman — already makes clear that the climate debate will expand into new realms. Incentives for nuclear power construction and more offshore oil and gas production are key proposals they’ve floated for gaining Republican and moderate Democratic votes for a climate change package. But beyond what are sure to be high-profile battles over those issues, the lobbying records also reveal that a host of smaller battles are brewing — sure to greatly complicate the already immense challenge of writing a successful bill. It’s one of the reasons that — despite the pledge by President Barack Obama and other world leaders to exhibit “strong political will” on climate — it most likely will be months before the Senate moves on a measure to curb fossil fuel emissions.

read more at Politico