Today, I attended the AT&T Center on the corner of the UT campus at the 2010 Clean Energy Venture Summit. Twenty companies pitched their innovative ideas for energy efficiency, energy storage, and other energy technologies. Quite a day – more to come on individual companies and the event itself over the next few days.
Thanks to everyone at the Austin Technology Incubator for putting on such a great event.
Today, after a morning full of unexpected events on campus that resulted in my being locked inside for a bit, I came across a post by Daniel Goldfarb on the latest step in the energy saga. In his piece – titled “RES: Symbolism or Substance?” – Goldfarb discusses the pro’s and con’s of the renewable energy standard currently under consideration on the hill. This proposal includes a 15% federal renewable energy standard, where up to 4% coming from energy efficiency.
In Goldfarb’s words…
Amongst those who have fought for energy reform, the announcement that Senators Jeff Bingaman (D- N.M.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are pursuing a stand-alone renewable energy standard (RES) should be cause for both cautious celebration and deep concern. While a RES could be an effective tool to help catalyze a market for clean-energy, this particular bill falls short of the ambitious legislation needed to ensure that America is competitive in the global clean-energy economy. In talking about this piece of legislation it is important that we distinguish between the effects of the policy and the symbolism of its potential passage.
Check out the entire piece (originally published in the Huffington Post) here.
An addition to my bookshelf will be arriving in the mail this week – Peter Fox-Penner’s new book “Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities.”
I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Fox-Penner while working at CEQ last year when he met with us to discuss topics related to our work on federal energy and climate policy. I also worked with a colleague of his from the Brattle Group, a DC think-tank that is home to many grid experts. I was impressed by Mr. Fox-Penner’s quick and clear articulation of some of the issues we are facing as we work toward a smarter/cleaner/better electricity sector.
Fox-Penner’s latest book (published in April) discusses the challenges facing the industry in the face of increasing demand for green energy and energy efficiency.
For over a century, the electric utility industry has powered the American dream, creating the world’s largest grid and the power to supply our digital economy. Looking forward, however, the industry is beset by the forces of change. Utilities must respond to global climate change with unprecedented urgency by investing a trillion dollars or more in new sources of power and transmission. We must also implement much stronger energy efficiency policies than in the past, reducing the rate of power sales growth to nearly zero.
As if these challenges were not enough, the industry is also implementing the “smart grid” – an array of new technologies that will allow customers to control their own power usage and use local, renewable generators as never before. These opportunities will force a retooling of the century-old business model and “regulatory compact” that supports the current industry.
To read about the book and its author, check out this website.
More to follow once I have time to sit down and chew through all the bits and pieces that Fox-Penner is sure to present in his latest work.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who recently conceded the Alaska Republican Primary (See 9/1 post), will retain her seat as the ranking member of the Senate’s Energy and National Resources Committee – an unexpected outcome to the post-concession saga.
Senator Murkowski is a well-known player in the energy and environmental policy sphere in Washington – and has been for years. So perhaps it is no surprise that the Senate Republican conference decided today to keep Senator Murkowski as the ranking member on the Senate committee that has spent a large portion of its time over the last year debating the hottest energy and climate policy proposals.
According to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) -
“[Senator Murkowski] is the ranking member…We had a discussion in our conference about other matters, including that, but decided that we would take no action today.”
No action roughly translates into Senator Murkowski retaining her seat until after November’s mid-term elections, which she may enter as a write-in candidate, according to some sources. This does not mean that she will see much action on the committee, as mid-term elections have all but stalled work in Washington until November. But, this move by Senate Republicans could speak towards the party’s unhappiness with a TEA Party that is poised to come barreling into Washington in a very short period of time.
While I do not always agree with Senator Murkowski on her views on energy and climate legislation in Washington today, I respect her hard work and dedication to a task that would easily discourage and frustrate others. She is a strong woman from an oil-and-gas state who digs into policy proposals and issues of concern to her state and the nation with energy and rigor. I was sad on the day that she conceded the Alaskan primary. While I have mixed feelings on rumors of a write-in option for her candidacy, it would be pretty inspiring if the people of Alaska put her through to Washington again through such a gritty and difficult avenue.
Tomorrow, Senators Bingaman (D-NM) and Brownback (R-KS) will introduce a stand-alone renewable electricity standard measure. They claim that this standard has bi-partisan support, which will be supported by the large group of Democrats and Republicans who will be standing-by at the bill’s unveiling.
If passed, this renewable electricity standard (RES) would put a federal requirement that each utility supply a percentage of their electricity using renewable energy sources. According to reports, bill supporters hope to pass this legislation before the end of the year – in spite of looming mid-term elections.
Bingaman, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has long pushed for a renewable mandate. His committee passed an energy package last summer that included a 15 percent standard. Brownback was a key Republican vote for that measure and has repeatedly said he would support a modest RES.
“I think that the votes are present in the Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard,” Bingaman said in a statement. “I think that they are present in the House. I think that we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward.”
A requirement for fixed minimum levels of renewable electricity generation was “once considered a shoo-in for inclusion” in the cap & trade bill that died earlier this year. But, it could not gain traction and was subsequently put out to pasture when Reid eliminated the provision from a proposed energy and oil spill-response package.
The Edison2 Very Light Car won the prize for best “mainstream” car in the Progressive Automotive X Prize – while I would argue against its merits in the style department, the 100 mpg rating it boasts is pretty sweet.
The first Progressive Automotive X Prize was a one year race to design fuel-efficient cars that are “safe, affordable, and desirable” that ended last Friday. As reported in this NY Times piece , the competition produced a group of finalists with vehicles that could achieve 80, 100, or even 180 miles-per-gallon, while still looking stylish (at least to the designer) and being affordable.
The winner of this competition might surprise you because it wasn’t an all-electric car produced by one of big guys – that is Ford, Chevy, Toyota and their cousins – but instead was a gasoline-powered vehicle created by Virginia-based company Edison2, running on E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). The “Very Light Car” gets about 100 mpg and had the lowest carbon footprint of the cars in the competition. While I am personally not a fan of the car’s style, 100 mpg does sound pretty great.
According to David Friedman, Director of the Clean Vehicle Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is energy density that led to the Very Light Car’s triumph. The high density of energy in gasoline (or in this case gasoline/ethanol blend) has made it the king among transportation fuels – because, what fun is driving if you have to fill up every 50 miles?
More to come on the concept of energy density in future posts…
So, why do we care about fuel-efficient cars?
Money… air…. water… money….
About 2/3 of the petroleum used in the United States is dedicated to the transportation sector – our cars, buses, planes, and trains – which currently runs almost exclusively on this fossil fuel. Today, we require that the gasoline used to power a large portion of this sector be blended with ethanol, a biofuel derived from corn (at least in this country). But, this has done little to curb our total petroleum consumption.
Interestingly, the same fraction (2/3) of the petroleum that we use is imported from other countries.
With concerns about the economics and environmental impacts of our transportation sector, the efficiency of the transportation has gained focus – resulting in hybrid electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius and electric-only vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. The Progressive Automotive X Challenge was designed to bring the industry another leap forward. While I’m not sure it achieved that goal (i still can’t picture myself driving a Very Light Car down 6th street), the spirit behind the competition is still a great one… and maybe the $5 million prize will act as a good catalyst to push us into the future.
To read more about the competition and the reaction to the winner’s circle, check out the story here.
The phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is perhaps shown through my appreciation and, yes, affection for this flowchart. Literally hours can be spent getting lost in the data contained within this chart, yet in just minutes one can capture the overall picture – for example, solar power supplies very little of our electricity (at least directly), petroleum is largely used for transportation – though some goes to industrial processes.
For a larger version of this flowchart, see the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory website here.
Air has no prejudice.
It does not carry the opinions of a man faster than those of a woman.
It does not filter out an idea because I’m 16 and not 30.
Air is unaware if I am black or white and wouldn’t care if it knew.
So it stands to reason my ideas will be powerful if they are wise… infectious…if they are worthy.
If my thoughts have flawless delivery I can lead the army that will follow.
These words are actually from a Verizon commercial, but that is not what I thought about when I first heard them. This commercial, instead of making me think about coverage areas and competition, made me think about how our actions affect others. The pollutants that we put into the air here in Austin do not only affect Austin’s air – they travel all over the world. These pollutants will then go on to indiscriminately impact the health of Americans regardless of age or race – stage or political leaning.
Now we need the wise solutions that will become infectious throughout the world.
On Tuesday night I had the opportunity to be on a panel for the Austin Forum with John Volkman (AMD), Allyson Peerman (AMD), and Michael Webber (UT Austin) to discuss The Next Generation Engineer. It was a great panel, attracting a large audience in spite of the torrential downpour from Tropical Storm Hermine.
You can check out two articles written about Tuesday night’s Austin Forum…
1. The Austin Forum asks: “What is the Next Generation Engineer”? – a piece by David Wogan for the Austin Post.
2. Event Stresses Value of Engineering – a piece in The Daily Texas written by Yvonne Marquez.
Thanks to everyone who attended for your questions and input.
Tomorrow night, I will be joining a panel to discuss “The Next Generation Engineer” – and work being done by the AMD Foundation to help develop the engineers of the future. These engineers will work in interdisciplinary environments in order to optimize the solutions they develop to meet challenging world problems.
This topic speaks to my heart, perhaps because I am an engineer who works across boundaries – looking at economics, policy and culture when developing solutions to our energy and environmental challenges. It can be extended to all fields, not just engineering or the sciences.
Tomorrow night’s event – part of the Austin Forum – is free to the public and starts at 630pm (networking event at 545pm).
Here’s a blurb from an e-mail that was recently sent to the UT community -
In the next 10-20 years, engineers around the world will be motivated and challenged to solve some of the world’s most significant social, environmental, and technological challenges such as curing disease, improving global safety and security, conserving energy resources, and resolving the world’s food and water crises.
Undoubtedly, advances in these areas will become the frontier for innovation in which all technology companies will compete in the future. Are we preparing our next generation engineers to adequately tackle these massive challenges?
Noted experts* in the field of education believe tomorrow’s engineers may not be well prepared for the tasks ahead. They are concerned that today’s engineers-in-training are being taught to work in isolation to address technology problems without sufficient preparation for working in cross-disciplinary teams. In addition to strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, the experts emphasize that engineers across the globe will need to be multi-lingual and possess strong communications and advocacy skills to sell their ideas effectively.
These engineers represent the technology industry’s future labor force. As such, we have a vested interest in ensuring that our educational institutions align classroom learning and real world situations by infusing what are known as 21st century skills — leadership, the ability to work collaboratively, strategic planning, communication proficiencies, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovative thinking, and a broad exposure to the world.
In this talk, you will learn about key practices that are making changes in STEM education, engineering programs, and private sector company hiring and training activities.
*Ken Kay, President, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills; Charles Vest, President Emeritus of MIT; John Brooks Slaughter, President and CEO, Council of Minorities on Engineering; Anne Mulcahy, former CEO and Chairwoman of Xerox Corporation; Steven Janak, Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Albany Nanotech; Michael Webber, Professor of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin.
Tomorrow’s talk and panel are definitely not just for engineers. If you are in the Austin area, I would definitely encourage you to attend.