Energy News

Getting Off the Grid: IKEA Leads the Way in Wind Energy

(3BL Media and Just Means)-The Windy City is about to get windier. And hopefully, less reliant on fossil fuels.  IKEA recently announced their purchase of Hoopeston Wind, a wind farm of 49 wind turbines near Hoopeston in Vermilion County, two hours south of Chicago.  The purchase is the first wind power investment IKEA has made in the USA and their largest renewable energy project ever.

Coca Cola is the David that the Slingshot Needs.



"The Slingshot is the little tool that David needs to defeat Goliath"—Dean Kamen.

Florida’s Untapped Solar Power

(3BL Media/Just Means) I've spent the summer living in historic St. Augustine, Florida. The surf is great, the people are friendly and the sun shines brightly every single day. The sun is powerful here, powerful enough it seems to produce enough solar energy for most of the nation.

Obama Launches Host of New Actions and Commitments on Renewables & Efficiency

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - There is a sea change gradually sweeping across this country, propelled, perhaps, by the idea of an actual sea change rather than the familiar metaphorical one. Seas are rising, become less salty, more acidic. Currents are changing direction, giving birth to new winds, some of them quite temperamental.

Keystone XL is a "Historic Decision"—New Book

A new book, Keystone and Beyond by New York Times reporter John H. Cushman Jr., attempts to put the Keystone pipeline project in a historical context. The book, which was published by Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning organization, is subtitled: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change.

In it, the author argues that Keystone XL is a relic of Bush-era energy policy and that the energy landscape has changed sufficiently in the intervening years to warrant reconsideration. At that time, the question of cutting back oil imports was prominent, while the president was noncommittal on the subject of climate change. Since then,  oil imports have fallen from a peak contribution of just over 60% of supply in 2005, to 45.6% in 2011. It is expected to fall to 28% this year.

Tar sands as an energy source, have several disadvantages over conventional oil stemming from their unique characteristics. While the supply might be abundant, the challenges of extracting and transporting it are considerable, particularly in light of climate disruption. There was a time when this hydrocarbon source was considered “not economically recoverable” because it has to be heated in order to get it to flow. The net energy return on investment, per barrel, is roughly half of that realized from conventional oil production. But as oil prices have risen, the economics have become more palatable.

Ten years ago George W. Bush signed an executive order expediting cross border pipelines. Two years later, in 2006, Bush’s Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman toured the Canadian tar sands and concluded that, “no single thing can do more to help us reach that goal than realizing the potential of the oil sands of Alberta."

Cushman, who worked at the Times’ Washington Bureau for 27 years, said that when he looked at the mountain of expert documents pertaining to the pipeline, “I saw before me a mountain of contradictory analysis and heard a cacophony of firmly voiced assertions from all sides.”

The book, rather than taking a comprehensive look at the issue, chooses instead, to look at it primarily as a decision required by a leader in a historical context.

In the author’s words,” The Keystone story has been told by many others, from various vantage points. Our telling, while informed by theirs, omits many facets of the debate. It does not examine important environmental issues in Canada, such as the tailings ponds associated with bitumen production, or the possible health effects of water pollution and toxic deposition. It does not reflect the intense concern over pipelines among Native Americans and First Nations. It does not give full attention to all the individuals and organizations that have engaged in the fight over this pipeline or paint a full picture of the hazards of oil pipeline spills, or the feasibility and safety of moving oil by rail. What I have done, however, is try to "think in time," as Neustadt and May [authors of Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers] recommended, using the past to illuminate a decision.

Chris Bosh: The Carbon Tax of the Miami Heat

Guest Blog by Marvin Smith, Future 500

When I search Google for “Chris Bosh is a…” the autofill feature suggests I complete the phrase with “a dinosaur,” or more specifically, “a velociraptor”.  Notwithstanding my usual confidence in Google’s expertise on all things Bosh, I beg to differ with auto fill. I say he’s a carbon tax.

Tomorrow's Engineers Push Fuel Economy Limits in Shell Eco-marathon

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week I wrote a guest post on GM's Fast Lane blog on the future of transportation. The post examined some concept vehicles that GM has been testing that can communicate with each other enabling them to move down the road in synchrony, like a flock of birds or a school of fish might. This would not only improve safety but could also speed things up quite a bit while saving energy at the same time.

Over the weekend, I took another peek into the future as a visitor to Shell's Eco-marathon in Houston. Even if the slick little cars I saw quietly parting the sultry Houston air do not represent the shape of vehicles to come (though I suspect some will), I'm pretty sure I saw some of tomorrow's engineers and innovators in action in the paddock area, working feverishly to get their cars ready to compete. The students designed and built the cars entirely themselves, though they were allowed to work with mentors. The contest goal was to achieve the highest fuel economy.

There are two vehicle categories: prototype and urban concept and six eligible fuels: gasoline, diesel, ethanol, gas-to-liquid, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell.

The event goes back to 1939, when two shell engineers wagered over who could build the most fuel efficient car. The winner managed a respectable 49 mpg. This year's winners did quite a bit better.

Montreal's Université Laval’s Alérion Supermileage team took the top spot in a gasoline-powered car that achieved a fuel economy of 2,824 miles per gallon with their prototype vehicle. That would allow you to circle the globe at the equator on a little under 9 gallons, though I can't say it would be a particularly comfortable ride. As impressive as that sounds, it did not top the record set by the same team last year which was 3,587 mpg.

The urban concept category also saw a repeat by last year's champs, Mater Dei High School of Evansville, Indiana, who did manage to set a record in that category of 901 mpg.

All together some 126 teams participated from 5 countries. This was the Americas version of the event which also has counterparts in Europe and Asia. The 94 prototype vehicles consisted of 63 combustion type (including ethanol, diesel and GTL), and 31 electric (including fuel cell). There were also 32 urban concept vehicles.

Earth Day 2014: Where Do We Stand?

(Justmeans/3BL Media) - As I sat at my desk trying to find a suitable subject for the 44th annual Earth Day, I scoured my Twitter feed and my inbox looking for the story that would capture the essence of where we stand right now in our battle to save the planet. While there is plenty of interesting news coming out every day, it is so strongly divided into good news and bad news, that there is no way that one story can possibly sum it all up.

Take the IPCC, for example. Earlier this month, Working Group II, responsible for studying the impacts of climate change issued a frightening report that was hard to view as anything other than a call to action. The impacts are already occurring, chain reactions have been set in motion, and we can expect things to get quite bad, especially if we don’t begin to substantially escalate our efforts to curb emissions. IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri, said. “nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” This will be particularly true for those most vulnerable, including low-lying and poorer countries, as well as the poorest residents of all countries. But the same report (which still is yet to be officially published) also said that the economic cost of a 2.5 degrees Celsius rise is going to be somewhere between 0.2 and 2.0% of the global GDP, far less than expected. That might be considered good news, though it might also encourage politicians to defer action on the bad news contained in the report.

Then there is the question of natural gas. There can be no doubt that the large-scale replacement of coal with natural gas for electric generation purposes, accelerated by the drop in natural gas prices, has led to a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions. Coal has been the largest source of carbon pollution, and natural gas emits only half as much carbon. Unfortunately, this boom in natural gas production has come to us via hydraulic fracking, a method that is fraught with problems of its own, ranging from earthquakes, to sizable methane releases (methane is twenty times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas), to contamination of drinking water. These concerns are substantial enough for the National Renewable Energy Lab to declare natural gas less climate-friendly than diesel fuel, though still better than coal. Producers are also pressing to increase natural gas exports, which is not only bad for the environment, but will also raise gas prices here in the US.

Commercial Scale Cellulosic Ethanol Arrives—Finally

The question of biofuels as an energy source has probably generated more heat than light. It has also powered a great many vehicle miles that otherwise would have been powered by gasoline. Whether you consider that a good thing or a bad thing will likely determine your position on the issue.

Conservatives dislike biofuels because they represent a large government program and because they pose a genuine threat to one of their biggest supporters, the oil industry. Liberals dislike them because they are the legacy of George W. Bush and because of their inherent distrust of industrial agriculture which benefits greatly from the commitments that have been made.

While these facts are all true, they are more distractions than anything to do with the crux of the matter. Clearly, the issue is complex enough to merit an entire book, but let me just focus your attention on what is happening right now.

The oil industry lobby works tirelessly to protect the hundreds of billions of dollars of profits that their sponsors receive every year. Sensing an opportunity in the public’s combination of confusion over and dislike of ethanol, they have gone on the offensive, asking the EPA to back off on the amount of ethanol mandated under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The EPA has listened and as of December, they have reduced the amount of ethanol that must be produced by 1.34 billion gallons, a reduction of roughly 8%. Further greater reductions of as much as 40% are on the table and will be decided in June.

While it’s true that there is much to dislike in the corn ethanol program, including its energy intensity, competition with food, and relatively small net energy benefit, not to mention the fact that we are now producing far more gasoline domestically via fracking and other questionable means, there is a sustainable gem at the heart of the program. That gem, known as cellulosic ethanol, uses non-food sources, such as agricultural residue, trash, wood chips and forest trimmings to make fuel. These fuels represent a far better ecological bargain than corn or any other food crop. The reason we went with corn at first was because we know how to grow lots of corn really well, and we’ve known how to make alcohol out of corn since the days of the moonshiners. The reason we didn’t start out making fuel out of wheat straw, or corn stalks or other crop wastes was because we didn’t know how. Many years and millions of research dollars later, studying everything from enzymes to embryogenic cell cultures, cellulosic ethanol is on the verge of becoming prime time. This could turn out to be a really bad time for the government to withdraw its support. Doing so now could be like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Abengoa Bioenergy, a Spanish company, is investing $500 million in a plant in Kansas that will produce 25 million gallons of ethanol per year from crop wastes. The plant, which will be operational next month, will be powered by a 21 MW electric generator that will also be powered from biomass. That plant will be followed later in the summer by a plant of similar size in Emmetsburg, Iowa by the South Dakota-based ethanol producer Poet, in partnership with the Dutch company Royal DSM. Those two plants will be followed by a 30 million gallon plant DuPont that is underway in Nevada, Iowa, that will also be using corn waste.

Microsoft Partners with UTSA to Develop Sustainable Technologies

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Microsoft Corp. has entered into a three-year agreement with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) to research and develop sustainable technologies. The goal is to make Microsoft’s data centers more energy efficient and economically viable. The company has also made a gift of $1 million to UTSA to support the university’s R&D programs.

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