I was reading through an article in Politico today and was contemplating writing a response to some of the arguments and thoughts presented in the piece. Before putting together my thoughts on “paper,” I decided to check out my friend Chris’s blog – Mackerel Sky – online (I hadn’t been there in a few days). Wouldn’t ya know it – he’d just written a response to the same article!
While I don’t necessarily agree with all of Chris’s viewpoints when it comes to the future energy systems (though we largely agree) I respect his straight-shooting approach to things like the magnitude of our energy needs and how this increases the importance of conservation and prudent use of our existing resources.
Thanks for the post, Chris!
To view the Politico article that inspired this piece, go here.
via Mackerel Sky
The University of Texas will be adding their brand to energy via a sponsorship program that will raise funds for sustainability initiatives at UT by providing 100% renewable energy to alumni and fans of UT athletics.
These renewable energy credits will be provided by a Dallas-based company working as Texas Longhorn Energy (TLE).
The credits will be available only in deregulated regions of Texas.
The new service will be officially launched mid-August. While final rates will be announced at that time, costs are expected to be in line with other renewable electricity rates currently in the market. Branded Retail Energy first approached UT with the concept through IMG College, the multimedia and sponsorship sales partner for UT Athletics. BRE presented the industry’s first affinity marketing platform designed to activate alumni and sports fans’ passion for the Longhorns. TLE will exclusively utilize the UT brand and marketing resources available through IMG College’s contract with UT Athletics, which will result in cost-savings that would typically be spent on traditional marketing efforts. Those cost savings will help generate funding back to UT Athletics and the University.
Read more here.
Yesterday marked the day that Senate Democrats decided to cut their loses by abandoning a year’s worth of work toward a comprehensive energy and climate bill. Today, it is not clear if even the very limited climate and energy bill touted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be presented before the summer recess.
What IS clear is that the Senate has failed to grab the baton passed to it from the House of Representatives. In doing so, they have passed on a prime opportunity to move the nation forward in our drive for a sustainable energy future.
Last June, H.R. 2454 (better known as the Waxman-Markey bill) passed with a single-digit margin in the House of Representatives. This comprehensive climate and energy bill includes key attributes including a renewable energy standard (RES) and a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system that would regulation emissions from all stationary emitters (ex: power plants, petroleum refineries).
Since passing the responsibility on to their Senate counterparts, those who voted for Waxman-Markey have slowly seen their hopes for federal standards before the end of 2010 quickly fade. The force that pushed federal healthcare reform through Congress – a.k.a. President Obama’s political capital account – has been unable to grab hold in the climate and energy sphere.
After more than a year of debates and committee meetings in the Senate, the decision came through yesterday to dump any major energy and climate legislation from this year’s books. This decision has left Senate Democrats reeling and in apparent need of a strategic regrouping effort during the August recess.
Before then, Senator Harry Reid might still propose a small climate and energy bill (see my post yesterday). Rumors abound that the Senator has decided to add a renewable energy standard (RES) to the bill – if there is a bill, at all – though the Senator’s office denies these rumors.
This latest decision by Senate Democrats is another example of the partisan politics at play in Washington. The climate and energy debate draws straight down party lines, with only six Republicans sitting on the line: Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. The remainder of the Senate’s republicans are firmly united against any legislation – a black monolith, firmly set in its path.
The frustration felt by the environmental community in response to news that Senate Democrats were dropping their efforts was expressed perhaps no more clearly than by David Bookbinder, former chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club (he resigned in May):
What we have is a year of totally wasted effort by environmental groups that were either unable to do even a fairly simple vote count or ones who simply went along with the prevailing ideology even though they knew that there wasn’t going to be a bill at the end of the process…I think those that knew that there wasn’t going to be a bill and went along with it anyway did so for fear of being seen as not supporting climate legislation, and it wasn’t palatable to them to tell the truth to their members and the public.
Other members of the environmental community wonder if this change could be a blessing, preventing the passage of watered-down legislation that would have been able to achieve the desired outcomes. According to Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, the Senate bill was not able to drum-up excitement in the base – a fundamental problem that could be rectified if Senate Democrats returned to the drawing board.
What a week – lets recap:
- Oil stopped flowing into the Gulf of Mexico (temporarily) from the BP oil spill thanks to a new cap
- Controversy developed between BP and the US Coast Guard regarding opening the new cap, which would re-start the flow of oil into the surrounding ocean
- BP announced that it might be able to seal off the well using a process called “static kill“
- The Obama Administration announced new comprehensive federal Oceans policy, including the creation of a National Oceans Council and several measures designed to protect ocean ecosystems
- Senate Democrats, led by Senator Harry Reid, have pulled back on their more aggressive energy and climate bill carbon pricing program – the new plan will only regulation electric utilities
- Senator Reid announced that he will push for debate on the Senate energy and climate bill before the August recess.
The last of these events, the announcement that Senator Reid plans to start debate on a Senate energy and climate bill before the August recess, has caused quite a stir in Washington. A lot of skepticism exists on both sides of the climate change debate.
For those who support carbon regulation, the limitation of this new bill proposal to utilities (excluding the transportation sector completely) leads to grumblings that the legislation won’t do enough to curb national emissions levels. On the anti-regulation side, this bill will still put an economic burden on the American people.
The Senate bill is a conglomeration of many individual bills currently under discussion in Congress – a stone soup approach to policy-making. According to a story published by the Center for American Progress today, the bill will have four parts.
- oil spill response
- clean-energy and clean-jobs from the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee
- tax package from the Senate Finance Committee
- section dealing with carbon dioxide emissions from electric utilities
For more details on the bill, check out the Center for American Progress summary (here)
Today marks the day that oil stopped flowing into the Gulf of Mexico – at least temporarily. After nearly three months of hopelessly watching oil gush into the Gulf of Mexico, mud-slinging blame games, and attempts to find a silver lining to this environmental disaster we have finally been able to temporarily stop the root of the problem – up to 80,000 barrels of oil per day pouring into our ocean.
This achievement was reached via a new well cap installed by BP, which has the ability to seal the oil well as the original blowout preventer was designed to do. The cap uses a new transition pipe and three blowout-preventer-type valves to contain all of the oil, allowing the operator to either siphon all of the oil to waiting ships, or stop the flow entirely.
To see a video on how the new cap works, check out this video at CNN.com.
Today, BP closed the three valves on this cap, stopping the oil flow in its tracks. This action was a part of a 48 hour test by BP to gather data on the cap’s performance in order to determine the best next steps. The test is divided into 6-hour blocks and at any time in these stages the operator can decide to open the valves in order to prevent damage to the cap.
After the conclusion of this test, BP will take all the data gathered during the testing period and determine how to proceed.
What an amazing feeling – the end may be in sight.
This summer, Chris Mergerson and I – along with another friend and LBJ student, Mark – explored the intersection of the internet and energy as a part of a fabulous summer course taught by Gary Chapman on internet policy. Some of this work inspired a blog post, which I wanted to share with y’all.
When we send an e-mail or surf the web, we generally do not think about the energy it takes to complete our virtual actions – outside of how long our battery will be able to last if we are not tethered in.
Our activities “online” take require energy… where does the internet’s power come from? Chris Mergerson discusses in his recent blog post. Thanks for the thoughts, Chris!
via Mackerel Sky
CNN just published a pretty good explanation of how the new cap could improve oil recovery from the well by sealing off the oil leak itself.
Check it out here
A new cap has been put in place over the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. This newest effort was originally announced on July 2nd via a report in the Miami Herald (see my previous post on July 5th). This cap has the potential to contain all of the leaking oil and send it to ships waiting at the surface for transport. BP will test the cap this week to gauge its effectiveness.
At the end of last month, Time Magazine published a great piece written by Bryan Walsh on innovation in the United States. In it, Walsh discusses the past, present, and future of American innovation and highlights the importance of large-scale collaborative efforts. Below you will find some of my thoughts on the piece and ideas presented in it, but I hope that you will take a moment to read the entire article here.
According to Mr. Walsh…
Invention and innovation have been quintessentially American pursuits from the earliest days of the republic.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell – iconic Americans that I grew up learning about through books and my father, who has always been a techno-geek (love it!) and could talk for hours about the invention of this and that and the other thing (a.k.a. microwaves, telephones, and computers to name a few - the staples of modern American life).
Inventors like Edison helped build America’s unparalleled scientific and technological dominance, a dominance that, more than any other single factor, made the 20th century the American century. Of the more than 530 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry or medicine since 1901, more than 200 have been Americans. The ideas that were developed in the country’s leading universities and corporate research and development centers became the products that would underwrite economic titans like Ford, IBM, Boeing, Intel and Google.
Some of these inventions were the direct result of projects aimed to solve a certain issue of the day, for example how to get news of a forest fire to remote communities or how to best coordinate shipments of grain and beef to distant markets. Other technologies were discovered by accident, along the path to other goals – so-called “spillover benefits.”
…the federal government played an important role through its own research laboratories and investments in education. Even when America’s scientific pre-eminence was threatened by the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch in 1957, the U.S. only came back stronger. “The federal response to Sputnik was an overwhelming investment in science and engineering education,” says Teryn Norris, director of Americans for Energy Leadership. “That had spillover benefits across the board.”
But, the historic leadership of Americans in the innovation sphere is not guaranteed as we look toward the future. The federal government’s support of research & development activities has steadily declined since the 1980′s as a percent of total GDP. While the United States has invested less, east Asian nations are investing more in R&D activities.
China’s investments in R&D grew more than 20% a year between 1996 and 2007, compared with less than 6% annual growth in the U.S. At the same time, American students seem to be losing interest in science. Only about one-third of U.S. bachelor’s degrees are in science or engineering now, compared with 63% in Japan and 53% in China. Though the U.S. was once among the top countries in terms of the ratio of science and engineering degrees to its college-age population, it now ranks near the bottom among the 23 nations that collect that data. And while the U.S. awarded 22,500 doctorates in science and engineering in 2007, more than half of those went to foreign nationals, a proportion that has grown in recent years.
But, it’s not all bad news. Walsh’s article brings up a wonderful point – the powerful role of collaboration in our nation’s success as innovators.
Was a supportive environment important to Edison? Absolutely. He was a singular figure but not a lone genius. His immense gifts were nurtured by the society in which he flourished, one that reveled in the romance of scientific discovery. When he was still a small boy, his family moved from Milan, Ohio, to the bustling lumber town of Port Huron, Mich. For a budding inventor, it was the right place and the right time. The country was in the full grip of the Industrial Revolution. In Port Huron’s lumber mills and shipyards, which fed vessels plying the Great Lakes and beyond, Edison could get his first experience of the machinery that was transforming America from an agricultural nation into an industrial powerhouse.
In the face of concerns regarding our negative impact on our environment due to our current energy choices, I hope that we can again find the “right place and the right time” in America to again innovate and revolutionize this industry.
The first step… a dramatic increase in funding available for R&D.
Today, oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day.
As I wrote yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard has announced plans to place a cap over the leak well that could capture the entire stream of oil.
According to a CNN report published this evening, the cap could capture up to 80,000 barrels per day of oil, sending it to ships connected at the surface.
Crews are already working to position a vessel capable of containing 53,000 barrels of oil per day.
Lets do the math…
Rate of oil leak: 35,000 – 60,000 barrels per day
Potential rate of oil capture by cap: 80,000 barrels per day
(Rate of leak) – (Rate of capture) = - 45,000 to -20,000 barrels per day
(a.k.a. we’d have an excess of capture capacity)
Potential rate of oil capture at surface: 53,000 barrels per day (assuming no creative storage techniques such as siphoning oil to nearby ships)
(Rate of leak) – (Rate of capture) = -18,000 to +7,000
(a.k.a. we might capture it all, we might not)
Either way, this new set-up has the potential to vastly improve the situation in the Gulf of Mexico as BP works stopping the flow of oil using relief wells.