Archive for February, 2011

ARPA-E: Energy Innovation Summit (2/28-3/2, 2011)

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Today is the first day of ARPA-E’s Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, DC. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) funds innovative research projects in the energy arena with the hope that their support will be a catalyst in the U.S. move toward a sustainable energy future. Their Energy Innovation Summit will run for three days (February 28-March 2), bringing together key players in the United States’s energy innovation community, including: venture capital firms, technology entrepreneurs, large and small clean energy companies, policymakers, and government officials from the DoE and ARPA-E. The goal of this summit it to help develop networks that “will bring about the next Industrial Revolution in clean energy technologies, in the way the U.S. has led previous revolutions in life sciences and information technology.”

Summit Objectives

  • Showcase the next generation of clean energy technologies
  • Introduce ARPA-E’s leadership, program areas, and initial breakthrough technology projects
  • Connect technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors
  • Provide insights that will enable entrepreneurs to commercialize breakthrough technologies
Categories: Energy Policy

What if? Disruptions to world oil supplies

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

What if…?

What if the uprisings that are currently spreading across northern Africa and the Middle East affected world oil supplies?

How would the world’s oil markets respond to a temporary loss of Middle East oil production (1/5th of the world’s oil production and 70% of its spare production capacity)?

Yesterday, David Wogan published a thoughtful post about the potential consequences of disruptions to our oil supply. He has been studying alternative transportation fuels at The University of Texas at Austin as a graduate student researcher for the past 3 years and it acutely aware of the sensitivity of the U.S. to disruptions to our oil supply. And, in the face of recent uprisings and unrest in northern Africa and the Middle East, David took a moment to discuss world oil markets and their sensitivity to changes in oil production levels.

Oil is traded on a world market, with tankers of crude constantly moving across the world’s oceans. It has become a world market in part because of its portability – it can be easily pumped and stored in its liquid form, unlike natural gas that must be compressed and stored in pressurized containers. Refined petroleum products, such as jet fuel, are also traded between countries. The United States, while a net importer of oil, still exports billions of barrels of refined products every year.

In his post, David explores what might happen if unrest in Egypt expanded into the Middle East, which is home to 1/5 of the world’s oil production and 70% of its spare capacity. He discusses the world oil market’s sensitivity to even small production disruptions, while discussing the particular sensitivity of the United States, which depends on petroleum to power (almost) its entire transportation fleet.

Our vehicle fleet is almost entirely depended on liquid petroleum, leaving us vulnerable to political crises around the world – regardless of where the oil comes from. Some would point to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as an option, but it is a short-term solution, and even then its long-term viability is questionable. Natural gas is also a global commodity, andenvironmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing make domestic production a tough deal to sell.

Therefore, the United States is left in a predicament where even though it might like to see a change of power in the Middle East, it is ill-prepared to deal with the outcomes.

Check out David’s post here. You can also follow him on twitter @davidwogan.

Note: Map above is from Wikimedia Commons and was found using Creative Commons. Graph was also obtained via Creative Commons.

March 9: Energy at the Movies at KLRU Studios in Austin

February 24, 2011 2 comments

On March 9, KLRU studios will host Dr. Michael E. Webber for his presentation on “Energy at the Movies.” This 90-minute lecture and panel discussion will explore energy in movies over the past 70 years and how the portrayal of energy on the big screen has influenced energy policy and the energy industry.

From the gushing geysers of Giant, to the plutonium-powered time machine of Back to the Future, Hollywood has entertained us with unforgettable, often iconic images of energy. Whether intentional or not, films frequently serve as a snapshot of society, capturing sentiments of each time period. Many films have themes or scenes that memorialize collective optimism, fears, and observations about energy. Using film clips as a historical road map, eatmlrglogotext is an entertaining lecture that will enlighten audiences about the ways films influence how we think about energy, and in turn, how we influence energy policy.

Panel members will include:

  • Sheril Kirshenbaum: co-author of Unscientific America
  • Turk Pipkin: producer of Nobelity ProjectOne Peace at a Time
  • Matthew Chapman: great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, screenwriter and director of such films as Runaway Jury and 2011’s The Ledge
  • Charles Ramirez-Berg: film historian and distinguished UT Professor

Tickets are available for up to 250 participants and are expected to sell out quickly. The event will also be webcast live.

The Smart Grid in Texas – A Primer

February 23, 2011 3 comments

Over the past 6 months, I have been working with other students from The University of Texas to develop a short report (primer) on the smart grid in Texas. This project was a part of a competition sponsored by Power Across Texas, a nonprofit organization that works to provide information and education on energy. For this competition, we created a group  of policy, engineering and business students (4 in total) to explore what the smart grid is (and isn’t) and what it could mean for the future competitiveness of our state. Our findings revealed how, with intelligent investment and smart policies, the smart grid could provide a competitive advantage for the state.

Our final report “The Smart Grid in Texas: A Primer” can be viewed or downloaded for free here.

Climate Change Voices – Scientists vs. the Media

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Climate change, and the role of humans in it, was at the heart of carbon cap-and-trade bills in 2009 and 2010. It is also a substantial argument in support of the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide as a harmful greenhouse gas. But, there seems to be a disconnect between the main voices discussing the validity of climate change – specifically, between scientists and the media. And this disconnect has muddied the energy policy debate into a full-blown wrestling-match between those who believe that we should act to reduce climate change’s negative effects, and those who disagree with either the science or the response to it.

The result of this battle – policy that appears to ignore science.

Last Friday, I wrote about a session that I attended at the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, DC. Titled “Science Without Borders and Media Unbound,” this session pulled together scientists and science journalists to discuss the (lack of) acceptance of human factor in climate change by the public. According to members of the panel, while the vast majority of scientists (~98%) agree that climate change is real and humans contribute significantly to it, only about half of the public agrees. What is the root of this disconnect?

Throughout the session, there were discussions and debates on how the media had chosen to cover the topic of climate change (with a climategate, scandal focus) versus the calm, pragmatic (and at times, jargon-filled) approach to discussing the validity of climate change due to human actions, and the potential serious effects. The problem of the media as a truth-seeker versus the media as a ratings- and revenue-seeker came up throughout the discussion. But, more broadly, there seemed to be agreement that there was a disconnect between the two main climate change voices – scientists and the media.

According to David Wogan, who attended the same session, the disconnect might be due to a communication breakdown.

One of the benefits of climate change, as it turns out, is that it highlights how science communication leaves much to be desired. As discussed by the panelists, there are a lot of reasons why talking about science is a hard thing.

Scientists, for the most part, just aren’t good at explaining what they’re doing and why anyone else should care.

The lack of communication skills shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honor, as I’ve observed too many times, or awkwardly acknowledged then avoided. No, the modern scientist needs better communication skills. And stat.

On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget that, if adopted by the Senate and the President, could effectively eliminate the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases due to a severe lack of funding. This budget was passed with a majority of 249-177 despite the strong public support of the EPA’s actions under the Clean Air Act.  It was also passed in spite of the near-universal belief in our negative impact on global climate change.

How can we fix the disconnects in the energy and climate change debate and get these discussions back on track?

AAAS Annual Meeting – Day 1 Favorite Session

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment


Today was the first “full” day of the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This year, the meeting is being held in Washington, DC at the Washington Convention Center. It will run until Monday, hosting panel discussions and plenary speakers on a variety of science topics from sustainability to science and society aimed at giving scientists, engineers and journalists a chance to discuss not only the research topics that they explore, but the ways that they communicate their findings to the world.

Throughout the day, I attended portions of 6 sessions. My runaway favorite – “Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What comes next?” moderated by Bud Ward from Yale University’s Forum on Climate Change in the Media. The conference program provides the following summary for the discussion:

Climate science and “mainstream” journalism interests are undergoing what some call, in the case of journalism, an “epochal transformation.” The communications challenges facing climate science — manifested in part by widespread misunderstanding on the part of many in the public and their policy-makers — will play out against fundamental changes, shaking the very nature of journalism, communications, and science education communities, with blogs, list serves, and “tweets” increasingly complementing (or are they?) conventional journalism. Climate science and climate journalism in the end need each other if we’re to have a more informed and more engaged citizenry. Steps each sector takes during the coming months and years will help shape public and policy-makers’ understanding of the climate changes we all will face. In this session, one of the nation’s most respected students of modern journalism pairs with two journalism practitioners whose reporting frequently puts them in the public spotlight in responsibly informing the public about climate science and policy. The three share critical insights into navigating climate science communications in this “perfect storm” of an economic, geopolitical, scientific, and environmental issue. They serve up a feast for the climate science expert discussant to kick off an exchange with the audience.

Moderator: Bud Ward, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media
Discussant: Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1. Tom Rosensteil, Project for Excellence in Journalism
2. Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
Reporting on Climate Change for a Wire Service
The combination of journalists and scientists in the room for this 90-minute discussion made for an engaging (and insightful) discussion. After the conference ends, I will be posting about this discussion on climate change science vs. climate change science journalism. In the meantime, please check out my twitter feed @mclott, as well as  #aaasmtg. David Wogan also ran a great twitter feed today (@davidwogan).
Tomorrow, there are many presentations that look interesting to me – including the following:

Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Britain gets 90% of its energy from fossil fuels. When we talk about moving Britain into a sustainable energy future – one that is less dependent on fossil fuels – what does that look like? There is a fantastic video on YouTube that stars Cambridge University’s Dr. David MacKay, a physicist and pragmatic converser in energy systems. His 2009 book, Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air has received rave reviews and is the most recent addition to my “to-read” list (you can download this book for free on the book’s website or buy it via amazon).

For now… listen to Professor MacKay’s discussion of our energy use, in lightbulbs.