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Power Hungry by Robert Bryce

This week, I read Robert Bryce’s book, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. The book was published in January 2010 and for those who have grown tired of dated commentary that has lost its applicability, Bryce’s writing is a great find.  The ideas and analysis presented run head-on into the tangle of political ideologies, propoganda, and other qualitative discussions – refuting them not through more words, but through more quantitative analysis and discussion of results. All presented in a readable fashion that doesn’t require an advanced engineering degree to decipher.

That being said, I should add that I do not necessarily agree with all of the conclusions drawn in this book. But, these differences occur not because of a lack of quantitative data to support Bryce’s conclusions. Rather, I believe that in the energy debate and drive toward a sustainable energy future, there are many paths that we could take. Bryce refutes several currently held beliefs in the energy community and presents his ideas on how our energy systems can most successfully evolve. While I like certain aspects of his energy development plan, if I were queen for a day (as he is king for the purpose of his book), I would choose a slightly different path.

Over the next (probably) few weeks, I will write about different arguments and discussions presented in this book.

First up – Americans vs. the Danes: Who’s winning outside of the pitch?

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Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future

June 20, 2010 1 comment

This week, I’m diving into a book written by Austin-based author, Robert Bryce.

Of Bryce’s four books, I’ve decided to first dive into Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. This choice was ultimately made when this book was the first to become available via the Austin Public Library system. The book arrived at my local branch yesterday.

I’m currently on page 24 – my goal is to finish the book this week, while still finishing all required reading for my summer school classes, writing a chapter of my thesis, and meeting all of my research goals. Fingers crossed.

What I’ve learned (more accurately, what I’ve been told – I haven’t looked at the footnotes to check into the calculations yet) so far:

  1. Bryce puts a lot of emphasis on quantitative analysis – the data. (Sweet!)
  2. Quantitative analysis shows that a “green” energy future isn’t feasible unless we’re willing to forgo the cheap energy that has afforded the United States many of its opportunities for growth and advancement.
  3. The best option for the U.S. is to first transition to natural gas (short-term) on the way to nuclear power as the main energy source for the country (TBD how the transportation sector fits in here – assume Bryce will discuss this later in the book).

Longhorns, Long Wires, and Big Ideas in Green Energy

Check out the guest post I wrote for Discover Magazine’s blog, The Intersection.

As the nation moves toward a green energy future, it has found a leader in Texas. While Washington debates federal clean energy policies, the Lone Star State has taken up the reins in the renewable energy sphere. Should we be surprised that this iconic leader in our nation’s energy history is now uniquely positioned to lead us into our energy future?

As a University of Texas at Austin graduate student and a woman with deep hill countryroots I’m well acquainted with the state’s reputation as the home of big oil and gas. This image has been cultivated over the years through scenes with James Dean (Jett Rink) inGiant and Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) inDallas. Truth-be-told, much of the economic development in the past 100 years in Texas can trace its roots back to 1901 whenSpindletop came gushing in and the real-world Jetts and J.R.s found their strides.

Today, Texas is the nation’s leader in total energy consumption, using about 12 percent of the country’s total energy. If Texas was a nation, it would rank seventh in the world for carbon dioxide emissions – just ahead of Canada and a smidgeon behind Germany. Texas boasts some of the largest petroleum refineries in the United States and the Houston area, including its aptly namedEnergy Corridor, is home to many oil and gas giants including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP America, and Exxon Mobil. The Lone Star State is undeniably a principal in the traditional energy industry and at the same time is uniquely positioning itself to be the nation’s leader in the green energy movement, particularly green electricity.

Texas is not only rich in oil and gas reservoirs (good ole Texas Tea), but also has expansive renewable energy resources including solar and wind. Over the past decade, the state has cultivated its wind power industry with a set of progressive policies including a statewide renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that have driven Texas to be the nation’s leader in wind power. To date, almost 10 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity have been installed within the state’s borders – enough to power almost 3 million homes. On February 28, 2010 Texas hit another impressive benchmark when it supplied a jaw-dropping 22% of its total electricity demand using wind energy. In doing so, it demonstrated the state’s ability to be a model for adding renewable electricity to the grid throughout the nation.

Why Texas? What makes Texas unique?

I’d like to offer up what I believe is the main reason – Texas’s electricity grid.

In the continental United States, there are three grids (East, West and Texas) that serve as electricity pipelines to move electricity from power plants to our homes and businesses. The self-contained Texas grid (operated by ERCOT) is unique. It allows for regulation of transmission on a state basis, as intrastate activities are not overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (affectionately called FERC).  This means that, if Texans want to test the limits on how much renewable energy they put on the grid or see how a renewable energy technology performs in a grid system, they can do so without Washington’s approval. In other words, Texas is like a 100+ million acre test lab that the entire nation can benefit from.

A shining example of this is seen in the state’s capital. In Austin’s Mueller Development, the Pecan Street Project has taken on the role of America’s clean energy laboratory.  This laboratory spans over 711 acres and is home to approximately 10,000 residents that live in 4,600 single-family, condo, or apartment homes. Twenty-five percent of these homes are reserved for families that qualify for affordable housing programs. Also on the site are Dell Children’s Hospital, a Home Depot, and a town center full of cafes and shops. Not exactly your traditional Bunsen burner and vent hood, but rather a huge outdoor dynamic laboratory for real time feedback and data collection.

The Pecan Street Project is bringing together scientists (engineers, geologists, and chemists), politicians (from rural Republicans to urban Democrats), and Texas residents from all walks of life to see what we can achieve. This community, inspired by the smart grid concept, will test theories and technologies like advanced energy storage, real-time pricing, and an array of efficiency projects that not only target energy, but will also work to decrease water demand in the community. And the best part of this project is that the lessons we learn from this community will be shared with the rest of the nation.

Texas has a rich energy history and appears to have equally high prospects for its energy future. Because of its unique position – with rich resources and independence in its grid – it is able to pursue exciting opportunities in the energy arena that the nation (and the world) will benefit from in the future.

Greenest Universities: UCD ranked #4

My alma mater – the University of California, Davis – was just ranked #4 by the Princeton Review as one of the greenest colleges in the United States. Go Ags!!

Bike racks on UCD campus

The Princeton Review, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council evaluated aspects of the campus including how much of their budget was spent on local or organic food, what campus transportation alternatives were offered, the amount of the school budget spent on green cleaning products, and how much of the total energy used on campus comes from renewable energy resources. In the UCD case, it appears that the locally grown produce serves in the dining commons (or DCs as we used to call them) was the top reason for Davis’s high ranking. I suspect that the bike culture that infiltrates the entire town (the UCD campus is an entirely pedestrian campus and the town was ranked the #5 friendliest city in the world to bike in) and the Unitrans bus system also had something to do with it.

The three schools that topped UCD in the rankings were UC Berkeley (#3), Stanford University (#2) and California State University – Chico (#1). Only three universities from Texas appeared on the list of 286 U.S. schools – The University of Houston, Texas Christian University, and Texas A&M at College Station. The University of Texas at Austin was not on the list, though it is unclear if this was because it was not considered a green university, or because the scope for this first run of ranking was limited.

UCD Arboretum