Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cancun: Wax, Feathers, and Climate Change

By David Livingston

While it looks increasingly likely that the same dynamics which undid the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit are again present in Cancun, it is far too early to eulogize international approaches to climate change mitigation. One area that the developed and developing world share an interest in sorting out in more explicit terms is the debate over the global intellectual property (IP) rights framework as it applies to energy technologies.

Given the urgent imperative to reduce carbon emissions, the diffusion of ideas, components, and processes across the globe is a modern day “Icarus” whose trajectory must be delicately plotted. Protect IP rights too stringently, and the promise of a widespread clean-tech revolution is stymied by the torpid pace of technology diffusion. Yet maintain too loose of a regime and we risk melting away the financial incentive to innovate in the heat of our haste. In avoiding both the sun and sea, the world community should expand the role of actors that stand apart from, or at least above, the contentious politics of bilateral trade disagreements.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself: The U.S. Needs a Comprehensive Long Term National Energy Plan

A Response to the Coalition for Green Capital

By Matthew Stepp

In a previous post, I critiqued the Coalition for Green Capital/Center for American Progress comprehensive energy proposal titled Cutting the Cost of Clean Energy. I made two key arguments. First, the U.S. does not have all the clean technology it needs and simply creating a market for already mature technology through deployment and financing measures is not a long term solution to making clean energy cheap enough for widespread adoption. Second, any comprehensive, national energy plan must include policy support at all stages of innovation, not just deployment, if we are to benefit from affordable, unsubsidized clean technologies. The Coalition for Green Capital (CGC) has responded.

The bulk of their response is a misrepresentation of my argument. CGC writes that I am presenting a false choice between supporting the development of breakthrough technologies and deploying already existing technologies. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, I explicitly argue that any comprehensive national energy policy must support the entire spectrum of innovation including basic science, RD&D, scale up, education, infrastructure, manufacturing, and deployment.

To a degree, CGC agrees with my analysis. They recognize the critical role breakthrough clean technologies play in a clean energy economy. And I applaud them for supporting Senator Bingaman’s Clean Energy Deployment Administration proposal that would provide a dedicated source of financing for high risk clean energy projects. But ultimately their argument that breakthrough energy innovation is fully supported by existing or proposed institutions and that the only gap in support is for the deployment of existing technologies is not supported by the evidence.

The main goal of a national energy plan should be to actually cut the real cost of clean energy, not its price through prolonged public subsidies.

As it stands, the CGC plan doesn’t do this. The mature technologies that CGC wants to deploy aren’t affordable without government support. So on one hand, artificially reducing the cost of these mature technologies through deployment measures like low cost financing is good policy because it keeps supply chains intact for future technology innovations, but on the other hand it is strictly a short term fix. Deploying mature technologies will not spur breakthrough innovation in the long term, but instead result in incremental change. If the opposite were true why aren’t Duracell and Energizer pioneering the next generation of advanced battery storage technologies?

Long term, innovation will be the driver of real clean energy cost reductions. But while the U.S. does have some institutions in place to do this additional policy support is needed to ensure that early stage developments will emerge. The wide gap in what the U.S. currently invests in energy innovation and what is needed is the most prominent example. Most recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended that the U.S. invest an additional $16 billion a year on advanced technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment. Recognizing a lack of support for innovation, PCAST recommended that 75% of those funds be directed to research, development, and demonstration.

Given the significant need for greater funding of clean energy innovation, it’s confusing that the CGC plan is branded as a “comprehensive” proposal for making clean energy cheap when in fact it leaves out (or assumes that they are already in place) the very innovation policies that will make clean energy cost less than coal and oil.

Even their main example of a technology that will benefit from a deployment-only approach – nuclear energy - raises this disparity. The U.S. nuclear manufacturing industry moved to foreign countries because of the moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction in the 1970’s, effectively drying up the domestic consumer base for large scale nuclear technology. But broadly citing nuclear energy’s decline because of the moratorium doesn’t tell the whole story or drawing an important lesson.

Let’s recognize that nuclear power plants were pushed to the market by significant federal R&D support and the government acting as an early adopter of the technology (e.g. procurement policy for submarines). Nuclear energy is actually an example public support for breakthrough energy technology (which nuclear was in the 1950’s) and is a model for how the U.S. should advance and deploy next generation clean energy.

An example of this more effective innovation strategy can be seen in the development of new small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which the federal government is playing a similarly critical role. For instance, Babcock & Wilcox’s mPower SMR demonstration and scale up project is being supported by the federally-funded Tennessee Valley Authority. The NuScale SMR was a spinoff of a Department of Energy funded partnership with the University of Oregon. The GE-Hitachi Hyperion SMR prototype will be developed and tested at the DOE funded Savannah River Site. In fact, many if not all next generation SMR designs are being supported through government innovation support. It can be argued that the customer base for these cheaper, more easily manufactured and customizable nuclear plants will be much larger than their big box brethren.

To conclude how I finished the first post - the CGC/CAP plan is a good start, but just one part of a much larger energy innovation agenda. It will take a multifaceted approach to make unsubsidized clean energy cheap. If CGC and CAP want to present a real comprehensive energy plan, they would do well to address the other two-thirds of the innovation equation.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Natural Gas: Friend or Foe to Energy Sustainability?

Live Webinar Nov. 30 1 PM ET / 10 AM PT

New sourcing techniques for natural gas have a great potential impact on the makeup of global energy consumption for some time to come. The role that larger natural gas supplies will play in a push by many countries toward more renewable fuel sources may have a significant outcome for efforts to reduce C02 emissions worldwide and combat climate change, and yet natural gas remains little-understood and, in some instances, controversial.

Some see natural gas as a big improvement over more carbon-producing energy sources like coal, while others are concerned about the environmental impact of sourcing methods like "fracking". Will natural gas serve as an aid in the transition to more responsible energy consumption, or will its newfound availability depress energy prices and slow the move to renewable sources like wind and solar energy?

The Energy Collective brings together experts on gas and energy production to provide their perspectives on the opportunities - or challenges - that natural gas may present for a sustainable energy economy:

  • What will be the impact of natural gas supply on financing renewable energy sources?
  • Which new production and transportation strategies for natural gas could make an impact?
  • Are there new opportunities for Carbon Capture and Sequestration with natural gas?
  • Should natural serve as an interim fuel source in a move toward renewables?
Click here to register today for the free webinar, which will feature:

David Hone is Climate Change Advisor for Shell since 2001, as well as a board member and Vice Chairman of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). He also works closely with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and has been a lead contributor to many of its recent energy and climate change publications. David has worked as a refinery engineer in Australia, an oil economics and supply specialist and the Netherlands, and finally manager of the global trading and chartering of Shell's crude oil tanker fleet, before taking his current position.

Geoffrey Styles is Managing Director of GSW Strategy Group, LLC, an energy and environmental strategy consulting firm. His industry experience includes 22 years at Texaco Inc., culminating in a senior position on Texaco’s leadership team for strategy development, focused on the global refining, marketing, transportation and alternative energy businesses, and global issues such as climate change. Previously he held senior positions in alliance management, planning, supply & distribution, and risk management. His "Energy Outlook" blog has been quoted frequently by the Wall Street Journal and was named one of the “Top 50 Eco Blogs” by the Times of London.

Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer at Greenbiz.com, a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

UC Davis study suggests lots of work ahead to bring renewables to market

By Alex Trembath. Originally published at Energetics.

A recent study from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at U.C. Davis builds a pricing model that relies on resource availability and market capitalization to determine that global supplies of oil are likely to run dry roughly 100 years before renewable technologies are capable of replacing them. The paper, from authors Nataliya Malyshkina and Deb Niemeier and published in Environmental Science and Technology, uses IEA estimates of petroleum estimates and cumulative financial data for major oil and alternative energy companies, including market capitalization, share number, share price, and net income per share. Unlike typical technological projections based on learning curves or Hotelling predictions, the study develops its own method for determining the path forward for resource availability based on three market-expectation-based steps:
  1. Identify traded securities, whose future cash flows strongly depend on the appearance of a new technology of interest (e.g., a viable replacement of crude oil, or a technology for reducing CO₂ emissions).
  2. Specify a model for pricing these securities.
  3. Collect historical and current market data on the securities (e.g., share price, number of shares outstanding, dividends paid, etc.).
The model they created gives the value T ≈ 131, where T is the time horizon "until the appearance or adoption of new technologies related to important sustainability problems." With a base year of 2009, this predicts 2140 as the year we can economically expect renewables to become suitable replacements for traditional fossil energy. Malyshkina and Niemeier also rely on IEA estimates of peak oil, which suggest that the rate of global oil production will begin to decline in some distinct time between 2010 and 2030. Put it all together, and we get a world tapped out of oil a full century before replacement technologies can meet expected demand.

Specific observations on the market for clean technology are similarly stark. For instance, the paper makes the point that even the most successful clean tech companies fall short in their own market to fossil fuel giants with relatively minor budgets for renewables.
In a recent article analyzing when renewable energy companies might occupy significant market share, it was pointed out that Exxon Mobil's current market capitalization was 28 times that of First Solar and 26 times that of Vesta Wind Systems, both among the largest renewable companies. Even for major corporations like General Electric, with a large stake in wind power, stock prices are driven by other parts of the company.
All in all, the Davis paper combines econometric, financial, geophysical and policy-oriented data to create a compelling, if alarming, model for resource replacement. Their work confirms the narrative offered by a new report called "Post-Partisan Power", which makes the claim that "America will make little sustained progress in transforming the U.S. energy economy or fully capturing the economic opportunities in new clean energy export markets until alternatives to conventional fossil fuels become cheaper." These two reports, in addition to a growing consensus following the demise of cap-and-trade this summer, at least implicitly identify the large price gap between renewable technologies and fossil fuel resources as the single largest obstacle to a fully decarbonized economy.

The pricing model and theory proposed by Malyshkina and Niemeier employs the concept of path dependency--where we have been matters for where we are going. After over a century of development on our modern carbon infrastructure, the momentum of the global economy will not shift course towards more sustainable technology easily. However, the difficulty is not a reason not to pursue smart and aggressive policy, according to the authors.
If policy interventions such as new major investments in the alternative-energy sector are made, then we would expect that the alternative-energy companies market capitalization would increase, with the net effect that the estimated value of T would decrease.
The next step, of course, is identifying those policy interventions and employing them effectively.

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Creating a Clean Energy Century

Originally published at the Breakthrough Institute

America can recapture the lead in the global clean energy race if it commits itself to a major public-private effort to spur clean energy innovation.

That's the message of a new report released today by Democratic think tank Third Way. The report, "Creating a Clean Energy Century," is the first in a series of reports from Third Way's new project on energy innovation, co-chaired by U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The report begins with clear-cut premises. Clean energy is still too expensive and unreliable relative to fossil fuels. Other countries are moving toward clean energy more quickly than the United States. Countries that are able to make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels will gain the greatest economic benefits, by capturing more of the rapidly growing domestic and global markets for clean energy.

That the United States is falling far behind other countries in developing and producing clean energy technologies should be familiar to readers of this blog. That was the conclusion of our major 2009 report, "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," co-authored with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. We argued that for the United States to catch up, the government needed to prioritize major public investments in clean energy R&D, manufacturing, and deployment, along with education, infrastructure and facilitating the development of new clean energy clusters.

The Third Way report contains similar recommendations, including creating early markets for innovative clean energy technologies, providing incentives and investments to spur domestic clean energy manufacturing, educating a new generation of scientists and engineers, and investing $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D. They also recommend that the government create a new National Institutes of Energy (an idea developed with Breakthrough one year ago) with a singular mission of developing affordable commercial clean energy technologies.

The three Senators chairing the project took to the pages of Politico today to describe why investment in clean energy innovation cannot wait:

As we work to cut our deficit and promote fiscal responsibility, investment in research and development still remains a key function of the federal government. When the economy recovers and support for innovation expands, we will be able to build on our initial successes.

But we have to start today to have any hope of catching up to China, Germany and other clean energy powerhouses. Despite Washington's recent political shifts, maintaining our global economic edge should remain a bipartisan priority.

"Energy innovation is not a partisan issue - it's an American imperative," they continue, "The choice is clear: We will either be stamping 'Made in the USA' on wind turbines, solar panels, advanced batteries and nuclear components. Or unloading them from foreign container ships."

The Third Way report and article by Senators Udall, Kagan, and Stabenow add a set of important voices to the gathering consensus for a technology and innovation-led strategy for clean energy progress and economic renewal, which includes scholars at Breakthrough, Brookings, and the American Enterprise Institute, along with top business leaders like Bill Gates and Norman Augustine.

A 'Technology-First' consensus for energy reform is clearly growing on left and right. For more, don't miss "Energy Innovation 2010," a major day-long conference on December 15th, hosted by the Breakthrough Institute and six other leading think tanks from diverse points on the political spectrum. The event is free but registration is required. For more information and to register today, head here.

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Can Federal Investment Reduce the Budget Deficit?

By Teryn Norris at Americans for Energy Leadership

David Leonhardt -- one of the country's leading economic reporters at the New York Times -- has a new article, "One Way to Trim Deficit: Cultivate Growth," which calls for increased federal investment in science, technology, and education as one of "the best ways to promote growth" and a primary strategy to reduce the budget deficit. He reports:
"If the economy grew one half of a percentage point faster than forecast each year over the next two decades — no easy feat, to be fair — the country would have to do roughly 40 to 50 percent less deficit-cutting than it now appears...

Even more important than the next couple of years is the second part of a pro-growth strategy: the long term. A good deficit plan doesn’t simply make across-the-board cuts for years on end. It cuts funding for programs that do not spur economic growth and increases funding for those relatively few that do...

Beyond tax reform, both [proposed] deficit plans mention the importance of making investments that will lead to future growth. In particular, the Bowles-Simpson plan calls for a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to pay for highways, mass transit and other projects. The plans also urge the government to prioritize education and science.

These are clearly among the best ways to promote growth. The United States created the world’s most prosperous economy last century in large measure because it was the world’s most educated country. It no longer is. Federal science dollars, meanwhile, led to the creation of the intercontinental railroad, the airline industry, the microchip, the personal computer, the Internet and numerous medical breakthroughs. Yet science funding is scheduled to decline as stimulus money runs out."

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scientists: Innovation Needed on Energy Storage, Grid

New innovations in energy storage, transmission, and the integration of variable electricity sources are necessary to enable renewable energy sources to contribute significantly to the U.S. energy supply, according to a new report from the American Physical Society.

Establishing national policies to spur the deployment and adoption of renewable electricity sources, such as wind and solar power, are important, but the scientists warn that research and innovation must also proceed in parallel on better energy storage technologies, new strategies for integrating the varying and intermittent output of these energy sources, and improved technologies for the long-distance transmission of renewable electricity.

According to APS:

[W]ithout the focus on storage devices, it will be difficult to meet proposed renewable electricity standards, the report asserts. Wind and solar energy are variable by nature: The sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. The amount of electricity a consumer has available to complete household chores could change in a matter of seconds, hours or days—placing great importance on the need for robust storage methods.

Another challenge facing the grid involves the long-distance transmission of renewable electricity from places that receive a lot of wind and sun to those that do not. "We need to move faster to have storage ready to accommodate, for example, 20 percent of renewable electricity on the grid by 2020," said George Crabtree, co-chairman of the POPA study panel and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. "And, by devoting the necessary resources to the problem, I am confident that we can solve it."

The report addresses variability and transmission issues by urging the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to increase research on materials to develop energy storage devices and by encouraging the DOE to focus on long-distance superconducting direct current cables to bring renewable electricity to load centers, lessening the chance that power will be disrupted. The report also calls for examining renewable electricity in light of a unified grid instead of one that is fragmented and improving the accuracy of weather forecasts to allow for better integration of renewable electricity on the grid.
The report, titled "Integrating Renewable Electricity on the Grid," was released this week by the American Physical Society's Panel on Public Affairs. For more the the report's recommendations, see here.

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The Energy Independence Trust: Where’s the Innovation Beef?

By Matthew Stepp and Matthew Hourihan

The Coalition for Green Capital (CGC) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have thrown their cap into the policy maelstrom left in the wake of failed cap and trade by offering their Cutting the Cost of Clean Energy 1.0 Plan.

The plan focuses on infrastructure, regulation, and deployment financing. It would create an Energy Innovation Trust that can borrow funds from the Treasury to offer low- cost financing for clean energy development projects, smart grid development, and energy efficiency projects for homes and businesses. Complementary tax breaks would further incentivize energy efficiency retrofits and investment in clean energy facilities and manufacturing.

There are definitely some things to like here. The plan has the right message of “making clean energy cheap,” and it also addresses the critical gap in government support for clean tech deployment. But despite its being advertised as such, it is not a comprehensive” approach to dealing with energy because any comprehensive and effective clean energy plan would put the majority of its efforts in supporting clean energy innovation, not deployment.

The plan wrongly assumes that the U.S. has all the clean technology it needs, and that innovative energy technologies already have adequate support. As we have argued previously, these assumptions are more myth than fact. But they are at the heart of the CGC/CAP plan.

A narrow, short term focus on deployment and energy efficiency loses sight of the fact that clean energy technology is not ready for widespread adoption. In fact, current clean energy technologies have only been deployed on a small scale because of extensive government subsidies and because they’re incapable of standing on their own in the marketplace. Extending subsidies of those technologies will not magically drive down its unsubsidized price in every technological case.

The real key to creating unsubsidized, affordable clean energy is innovation to create the next generation of technology: e.g., cost-competitive metal-air batteries that can run a car for 250 miles per charge at the same or lower purchase price as a gasoline-engine car; new solar panels with higher energy conversion rates enabled by new nanotechnology manufacturing processes; and radical carbon capture systems.

The CGC/CAP plan assumes that its plan will create a clean energy market and these innovations will follow. But history has shown that market demand rarely induces radical innovations of the kind we need. An expanded market may inspire a marginal increase in private sector investment in existing technologies, and would likely spur further deployment of these technologies, thereby resulting in declining costs where possible. However, an expanded market would not yield the radical technological advances we need.

The needed support for these radical technological advances is nowhere to be seen in the CGC/CAP plan. It is simply wrong to assume early stage clean energy innovation is already supported. Beginning in 2011, there will be sudden drop in support for clean technology R&D and basic science as the Stimulus money dries up. Requested 2011 budgets for clean energy projects don’t make up the loss in funding and austerity measures in the new Congress could easily widen this gap. And assuming the 2011 budget is passed as it, the U.S. would be spending about $4.5 billion on clean energy innovation – a fraction of the $15-30 billion recommended by the expert policy thinkers and business leaders. So, U.S. policy action addressing this gaping hole of support is the key policy question of any new energy policy.

To be clear, a real comprehensive energy plan must address the entire spectrum of technological innovation – basic science, R&D, scale up, education, deployment, infrastructure, and manufacturing. The U.S. desperately needs a cohesive national energy plan. Only innovating towards a new generation of technologies will make clean energy cheap, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and spur an industry that will create jobs. The CGC/CAP plan is a good start, but just one part of a much larger energy innovation agenda.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Energy Reform Can Break the Partisan Stalemate

Energy & Environment Expert Blog

By Teryn Norris
November 16, 2010

In the aftermath of the mid-term elections, it’s unlikely that Washington can overcome the crippling gridlock in Congress. Yet one critical opportunity for bipartisan compromise stands out among the rest: energy policy.

Addressing the country the day after elections, President Obama signaled a clear opening by pressing the reset button on cap and trade and calling for a new agenda. “I don’t think there’s anybody in America who thinks that we’ve got an energy policy that works the way it needs to, that thinks that we shouldn’t be working on energy independence,” he declared. “And that gives opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to come together and think about… how do we move forward on that agenda.”

Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) quickly agreed. “I think energy is an area where there is potential for a bipartisan accomplishment of some consequence,” Senator McConnell told the Wall Street Journal. “There are a variety of other things there could be pretty broad agreement on… Nobody thinks it is a bad idea to reduce carbon emissions, the question is how do you do it.”

President Obama and Senator McConnell both cited electric vehicles and nuclear power as areas for compromise, and indeed these are both important areas to support. But electric vehicles and nuclear power are only two pieces of a much larger puzzle, and without a larger framework, Congress risks taking a small-bore approach and missing a larger opportunity to achieve energy independence.

So what’s the fresh new idea that Democrats and Republicans alike can embrace? A growing number of experts have endorsed one approach, summed up on Sunday in a prominent piece by the Washington Post editorial board:

“Where can President Obama and ascendant House Republicans find compromise? … The American Energy Innovation Council, a group of business leaders that includes Bill Gates, hopes that the parties might yet be able to agree on a more ambitious and cohesive policy. It recommends a $16 billion annual investment in clean energy innovation, including research and support for getting new technologies to market. An ideologically diverse group of think tankers from the Breakthrough Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution agrees and argues that Congress should supplement that investment with subsidies that lower the price of new energy sources.”

The Brookings/AEI/Breakthrough report, “Post-Partisan Power,” was released just before the election and has since received a wide variety of endorsements. The heart of the plan is to overhaul the U.S. energy innovation system with strategic federal investments in clean energy, on the scale of $25 billion annually, to drive down the cost of low-carbon energy technologies for deployment in the U.S. and abroad. It would also support energy science and engineering education, similar to the National Energy Education Act my colleague and I proposed with Breakthrough Institute back in 2008.

Of course, even with such fertile ground for compromise on a critical national issue, the current anti-investment and deficit-centric mentality in Washington doesn’t add up to hopeful prospects for the next Congress, as the Post editorial recognized. Not that there's any shortage of smart revenue streams for such strategic federal investments, which eventually would easily pay for themselves. But as Andrew Revkin noted at New York Times Dot Earth, “This election almost guarantees an end to the brief stimulus-driven period of increased investment in advancing energy technologies that could supplant finite fossil fuels.”

In the near-term, then, the measure of success for this new energy innovation agenda should not be whether it can immediately advance in lame-duck session or the next Congress -- although advancing specific pieces is an urgent cause. Rather, the measure of near-term success should be whether this approach can continue building support among thought leaders, advocates, reporters, and a group of committed policymakers. As one prominent economist once wrote, "That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."

But in the absence of growing momentum behind this approach, it is hard to see how any large and cohesive clean energy agenda can develop in the aftermath of cap and trade for the foreseeable future. There is simply no clear or viable alternative. In the meantime, the United States will continue falling behind in a major strategic growth sector, shipping hundreds of billions of dollars overseas annually to pay for foreign oil, and damaging the conditions for a livable global climate system. Given the enormous stakes, the leaders capable of breaking the energy stalemate will no doubt be counted among the great legislators of the early 21st century – if only they will step up and seize this opportunity.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Avoiding a Climate Science War

By Daniel Goldfarb
Originally published at Americans for Energy Leadership

Everybody loves a good fight, and Andrew Revkin reports that scientists are gearing up for an upcoming slugfest over the validity of climate science in his post “Scientists Join Forces in a Hostile Climate.” On the other side, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is maneuvering to become Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying of the position, "Within the Energy and Commerce committee we are ground-zero in the effort to reestablish conservative principles in the Congress and by extension in the country." So how can we avoid an unproductive back and forth between climate scientists and climate zombies? One idea is to shift the debate from what causes climate change to a discussion of more specific concerns and solutions, starting with how our current energy posture hampers national security.

National security provides the perfect arena in which to discuss energy policy. Unlike politicians, members of the military don't point fingers, they find solutions. Our politicians could learn from the Department of Defense's solution oriented approach to problems, and move past who is causing global warming to how we can best address it. Meg Bostrom of the Washington Post recommends such a solution oriented approach for the upcoming Congress in her piece "A Climate Plan for Climate-Change Deniers":
"There is good reason to think that those who are worried about climate change would make greater progress - especially among Republicans, who profess increasing skepticism about warming - if they focused less on arguing the scientific reality and more on building support for specific solutions that all sides can agree on."
Pitting 700 climate scientists against a well entrenched cohort of climate change denying scientists and politicians, as the American Geophysical Union plans to do, will only further polarize opinions around stale arguments. By narrowing the focus of climate and energy discussions, and changing the casts who advocate for each side, we can potentially find new areas of agreement and not just continue to explore old divisions. Our politicians should start with subjects on which most Americans agree, such as protecting American troops.

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Educating the Energy Generation: Workforce Needs in Renewable, Nuclear Power Sectors

By Jesse Jenkins, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

Today, the race for dominance in clean energy technology sectors pits the United States against the greatest international competition for a key emerging technology field than in any era since the Cold War race to lead in aerospace, computing, communications, and IT fields.

Remaining competitive in the fast-growing, 21st century clean energy sectors will demand the same world-class talent and highly-trained workforce that helped the United States lead the world in the high-tech sectors of the 20th century.

As we wrote in "Post-Partisan Power," a road map for a limited and direct national energy innovation strategy recently released by Breakthrough Institute and scholars at the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute:

The United States cannot hope to rise to this global challenge or confront pressing energy innovation imperatives without a new national investment to train and inspire the next generation of intrepid American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Today, the United States ranks just 29th out of 109 countries in the percentage of 24-year-olds with a math or science degree.47 Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees in the United States are earned in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields compared with 64 percent in Japan and 52 percent in China. Even South Korea -- a nation with a population one-sixth the size of the United States -- graduates more engineers annually.

The situation is particularly dire in energy technology, with roughly half of the U.S. energy industry workforce expected to retire over the next decade. Meanwhile, demand for workers in the renewable electricity industry is expected to more than triple from 127,000 in 2006 to more than 400,000 in 2018. The anticipated, large-scale ramp-up of the U.S. nuclear power industry would similarly require the industry to hire tens of thousands of new nuclear engineers and related positions annually. Yet today, from elementary school through post-doctorate programs, students and educators lack the resources to develop new curricula and educational programs, receive key training, or expand research opportunities to meet this national challenge.
A recent blog post from nuclear engineer Rod Adams at theEnergyCollective.com points us to some new figures that can help fill in the details for the workforce needs of the nuclear power sector.
Over the next five years, 38 percent of the current nuclear industry work force employed at the nation's 104 operating plant will be eligible for retirement, leaving a shortfall of more than 25,000 skilled workers. In addition, each new nuclear plant will create up to 2,400 temporary and highly-paid positions over the five-year construction period and 400-to-800 new permanent careers.
The workforce training and competitiveness challenges are clear. But the United States has overcome such challenges in the past.

After the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the United States swiftly enacted the National Defense Education Act of 1958, leveling national investments totaling $7.2 billion over four years (in today's dollars), to support K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, establish university programs in computer science, aerospace, and other new fields across the nation, and train the generation of innovators and entrepreneurs that led the IT Revolution.

In "Post-Partisan Power," we propose a comparatively modest, yet equally critical national commitment of roughly $500 million annually for energy education to support K-12 curriculum and teacher training, energy education scholarships, post- doctoral fellowships, and graduate research grants. This proposal builds on an earlier call from the Breakthrough Institute for a National Energy Education Act.

You can find more detailed recommendations for energy education and workforce training investments in the full "Post-Partisan Power" report available here (pdf).

See also:

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Electric Boogaloo

By Kristina Vonn Hoffmann, ACE Educator in Los Angeles, CA

How dancefloors can power our future...

Maybe you like to do the Macarena. Oh wait, you’re too old for that? Ok, so maybe it’s pirouettes and leaps. Hmm…. ballet not your style? Then maybe you like the fast movements and live drums of West African dance like me!

Whatever your tastes may be, whether you know how to juke, breakdance, or just like to shuffle your feet, there’s energy in the way you move.

It’s something that we at ACE talk about in our assembly. If you’ve seen it, you probably know the part: when we’ve jumped in our time machines and blasted off 40 years into the future. You’re watching a tribute video depicting your generation’s greatest accomplishments, starting “way back in high school when it was far from certain what the future would be.”

The video cuts to a picture of TiĆ«sto, the superstar Dutch DJ known to fans across the world for his groundbreaking electronic beats. The crowd’s moving, the floor’s jumping, and… what’s this!? They’re creating electricity!

Piezoelectricity, to be exact. The root piezo comes from the Greek word for ‘pressure.’ The movement of feet on a dance floor made of the right crystallized materials can help offset a club’s energy needs significantly.

European nightclubs like these know that when the imbedded crystals are pressurized, they produce an electrical current that can be used to power anything from the lightshow inside the club, to simply offsetting their general electricity needs.

Piezoelectric crystals – matter such as quartz, topaz, and even salt – contain equal amounts of positive and negative charges, so generally they are considered neutral. Yet, when this symmetry is thrown off by pressure, a charge is released. This voltage can power dance floors, and might eventually power subway stations and other public areas with lots of foot traffic.

Humans are full of energy. I mean, we know this just by having watched our younger siblings and cousins running sprints and throwing tantrums growing up, right? (Not that we would ever do such a thing).

So why not take all that free energy and harness it? Well, at the moment, piezoelectricity is still a bit costly… but who knows. In a couple of decades, even Dancing With the Stars could be a self-powered show!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Phasing out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Will Help, But Only Innovation Can Make Clean Energy Cheap

By Jesse Jenkins, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

Over at theEnergyCollective.com, Tyler Hamilton dives into the International Energy Agency's newly released forecast of global energy trends (exec sum here [pdf]) focusing on the disparity in global subsidies for renewables and fossil fuels:

The International Energy Agency put out its annual World Energy Outlook today and urges strong and sustained government support for the deployment of renewable energy. The agency pegs 2009 subsidies for renewables at $57 billion and calls for that to increase to $205 billion by 2035. "The share of modern renewable energy sources, including sustainable hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, modern biomass and marine energy, in global primary energy use triples between 2008 and 2035 and their combined share of total primary energy demand increases from 7 per cent to 14 per cent," according to the agency. Fossil fuel subsidies stood at $312 billion in 2009 and the agency urged that they be eliminated to accelerate the transition to renewables.
I applaud the IEA's call for major public investments in clean energy RD&D and deployment and certainly support the agency's calls to phase out fossil fuel subsidies -- excepting where doing so would expand the already deplorable share of the global population (about 2.4 billion) locked in energy poverty.

But while Hamilton and others focus on the disparity between total subsidies for fossil energy and renewables, the IEA figures are actually a stark reminder of the major price gap that persists between mature fossil energy sources and newer, costlier clean energy alternatives.

If renewables account for a 7% share of global energy energy demand, and receive $57 billion in subsidies, that's $8.14 billion for each percentage share of global demand.

In contrast, fossil fuels supply about 83% of the global energy mix (nuclear accounts for the remaining 6%, according to the IEA) and receive $312 billion in subsidies according to the IEA, for $3.76 billion per percentage share of global energy supplied.

In other words renewables receive more than double the subsidy rate per unit of energy supplied as fossil fuels.

When you consider that hydropower and biomass, which rarely require or receive subsidy, account for the vast share of global renewable energy production, the relative subsidy rate for wind, solar and other renewables per unit of energy produced is much higher.

Most renewable energy technologies are still relatively immature, emerging energy sources, facing off against entrenched, mature fossil competitors whose core technologies are many decades if not centuries old (burning coal in a boiler to make steam? That's so 19th century!). We should fully expect any emerging energy alternative to require market support policies to find a foothold in the energy market and have time to scale up and come down in price.

Yet, with the IEA forecasting that virtually all (93%) of energy demand growth over the next 25 years will come from developing nations that can ill afford massive energy subsidies, the reminders are everywhere: clean energy cannot scale to meet global energy needs if it requires ongoing, high subsidy rates.

This is why I always come back to the urgent need to make clean energy cheap, in real, unsubsidized terms.

While ending fossil energy subsidies will help level the playing field for cleaner alternatives and initial market support is needed for emerging energy alternatives, only real innovation to drive down price and improve performance for a full suite of clean energy technologies can ensure that a meaningful share of global energy demand can be supplied by low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels.

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China Energy Use to Soar, Driving Demand for Coal, Oil & Clean Energy Alike

China's demand for energy will soar 75% by 2035, according to the latest world energy forecast from the International Energy Agency (IEA), released Tuesday. The growing economic aspirations of 1.3 billion Chinese, who today use just one-third the amount of energy consumed by an average European or North American, will put pressure on global energy markets, driving demand for both clean and dirty energy alike.

Oil prices will rise to $113 per barrel (in constant 2009 dollars) by 2035, as oil producers struggle to keep pace with soaring global demand, according the IEA, the world's global energy watchdog, based in Paris.

Oil markets will remain tight through much of this period, the agency expects, writing that "short‐term price volatility is likely to remain high."

Much of the pressure on global energy markets will come from China, which will account for more than one-third of all global energy demand growth over the next 25 years, according to the IEA.

“Chinese energy demand will grow by such huge terms it will put pressure on the global energy markets in terms of oil, coal and, to a lesser extent, natural gas,” said Faith Birol, the IEA's chief economist, speaking to the New York Times.

Read the full post exclusively at theEnergyCollective.com

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Monday, November 08, 2010

United States, Australia Partner to Make Solar Energy Cheap

By Jesse Jenkins, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

The United States and Australia have inked a new partnership to pursue joint solar energy research designed to make solar energy cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement in Melbourne on Sunday, with the Australian government set to commit up to $50 million towards the program.

Ms Gillard said the aim was to make solar power as cheap as conventional energy sources.

"One of the greatest barriers to a broader commercial take up of solar power is its cost and that is specifically what this joint research initiative will address," Ms Gillard told reporters.

"The joint project with the United States is part of an aggressive effort to bring the sales price of solar technology down by two to four times."

Ms Clinton said the program aimed to make solar power competitive with conventional energy sources by 2015.

The price had dropped by 50 per cent in the past three years but there was more work to be done, she said.

"Under this initiative our two governments will share both the costs and the benefits of research and development which will speed up innovation," she said.
Secretary Clinton also pledged a $500,000 grant from the U.S. State Department to support a global survey to identify opportunities to reuse carbon dioxide emitted by power plant and industrial processes, headed up by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, a recently established research center co-funded by the Australian government.

Solar Powerhouse? Solar irradiation in Australia is among the highest in the world, as this color-coded map from NASA illustrates (darker red areas have the most incoming solar energy). Source: The Age/Reuters

Australia, with perhaps the greatest solar energy potential in the world, has an obvious interest in pursuing affordable, scalable solar power solutions, and has also maintained several long-standing solar research efforts. Can the two new partners accelerate efforts to make solar energy cheap?

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Election Brings Change, Opportunity for Those Working to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

By JW Randolph, originally published at Appalachian Voices

Last night saw the United States Congress go through its 3rd straight "change" election, this time in favor of the Republicans. As bad as last night was for many incumbent Democrats, most pundits and pollsters had seen it coming for a long time. Almost all of the folks who lost their races were predicted to lose, with Republicans perhaps very marginally over-preforming expectations. Many folks have asked what this means for Congressional efforts to stop the destructive practice of mountaintop removal, so I thought I'd put up a quick summary.

The Clean Water Protection Act will end the 112th Congress with at least 173 bipartisan cosponsors. In such a dramatic "change" election, we were bound to lose some of these members, we just weren't sure how many. The good news is that most of our politically-savvy mountain loving friends in Congress were spared the worst of the disaster.

--House of Representatives--

Democrats took a beating in the House, as Republicans flipped more than 60 seats for a majority of what will likely be just over 240 seats. This is, in many ways, a correction for the past 2 cycles, when Democrats picked up hordes of Republican-leaning seats for fun. With 17 CWPA cosponsors already leaving for higher office or to retire, we stood to lose significant ground on election day, but held fairly steady. In all, we lost far fewer CWPA cosponsors than I had expected to lose.


1. Our allies weren't the ones who lost.

Just about every potentially "pro-MTR" Democrat lost, including Rick Boucher (VA), Mike Oliverio (WV), Lincoln Davis (TN), Zack Space (OH), and Charlie Wilson (OH). There are literally no democrats left in central or northern Appalachia except for Nick Rahall and two young Democrats in western PA where they don't do valleyfills. Rahall is now completely isolated among his party. Other Dems who lost read like a "whos who" list of our top targets that never signed onto the bill (Oberstar, Ortiz, Teague, Titus, Larsen?, Taylor, Schauer, Bocierri, Mitchell, Boyd, Nye, Kratovil, and on and on and on...). 15 CWPA cosponsors, most notably Tom Perriello, lost their re-election battles. However, most of our regional supporters pulled out victories, including Chandler, Shuler, Yarmuth, Cooper, and Connolly. Regardless, I had thought we'd have a total turnover of 40+ members, but even with the 17 retirements it only ended up being 31 total. It looks like we'll go into the next Congress with around 142 returning cosponsors, exactly the same number as we began the 111th Congress with.

2. On average, Dems in Congress will be more progressive. Both Dems and GOP members will have more flexibility to do the right thing.

Of the roughly 54 conservative blue dogs from the 111th Congress, a whopping 29 of them will not be returning. The CWPA has fairly strong blue dog support, and 8 of our 13 blue dog cosponsors held on, but the point is that the Democratic caucus will tend to be more progressive as a whole. More importantly is the fact that The "pro-MTR" democrats were decimated. Nick Rahall is going to have a lot harder time putting together a coalition of anti-CWPA Democrats if there are absolutely no other Democrats from anywhere near mountaintop removal. Not to mention that since Rahall will no longer preside as Chairman of a committee, he will have less influence over what his fellow Democrats do. Dems who had been on the fence will have more freedom to do what they want to do (which according to Nick Rahall, is vote for the CWPA.) Its hard to sustain a majority this large (just ask the Democrats), and many Republicans will also be looking for popular bipartisan bills such as the CWPA as they gear up for extremely tough reelection fights in just two years.

3. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) will look radically different

Firstly, Republicans will now control the gavel and will have a majority of members on the committee. The partisan breakdown of the Committee will be roughly 42R-33D, reflecting the GOPs final majority in the full chamber. Committee assignments will be given in January.

Secondly, Chairman Oberstar (D) has lost, meaning another Democrat will now be the "ranking member" on the T&I Committee. The next two in line are Nick Rahall (WV) and Peter Defazio (OR). The most "senior" Republican on the Committee is John Mica (FL-07), and he is favored to be the next Committee chairman.

4. There is still strong, bipartisan, coast-to-coast support for ending mountaintop removal.

We re-picked-up a former Republican cosponsor - Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08) - who was a cosponsor in the 109th Congress. Five of our Republican cosponsors ran for re-election and won, so we're heading in with 6 returning Republican cosponsors. We also return with 8 blue dog cosponsors and 8 bipartisan cosponsors from MTR states (Gordon retired, Perriello lost).

The bottom line is, we return to the 112th Congress with weakened opposition and in fine position to pass legislation like the Clean Water Protection Act.


I haven't had time yet to look into the Senate quite as far, and smaller batches of data its a little bit harder to draw trends. It could have gone a lot better for the pro-mountain crowd, but strategically I think the Senate is basically a wash for our purposes. Democrats took a few hard knocks though, and Republicans will gain about 6 seats once all the races are counted. NONE of the cosponsors of the Appalachia Restoration Act lost, which is always a positive.

Notably, a Republican CWPA cosponsor (Mark Kirk) was promoted to the Senate in IL in the place of Roland Burris (D). Conversely, a very pro-mountaintop removal Democrat (Joe Manchin) won easily in WV. Manchin, Kirk, and Chris Coons (D-DE), will be sworn in before the upcoming lame duck session because of the nature of their elections. Barbara Boxer, the Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee won her re-election easily, which means that we will have an EPW chairwoman who cares about our issue for at least 2 more years.

What are your thoughts on the election? Any races you were especially surprised by?

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Monday, November 01, 2010

A Lesson from the Rare Earth Metals Embargo

In the aftermath of China’s rare earth metals embargo on Japan, Europe and America, it is time to re-think how we get these crucial materials, reports the NY Times in a piece titled, “After China’s Rare Earth Embargo, a New Calculus.” Currently, 95% of the world’s rare earth metal mining occurs in China. These metals are necessary for many high tech industries such as batteries and wind turbines - a constrained supply of them could have a disastrous effect on the American economy as whole but more specifically on its clean energy industries.

At one point America was the leader in mining rare earth metals. The Mountain Pass mine in California was once the world's largest rare earth metals mine, but a combination of aggressive Chinese pricing and a costly toxic spill forced the site to close in 2002. Since that time China has dominated the industry without anyone much caring.

Although the recent embargo brought the international dependence on China for these metals to light, the tension has been slowly building. China has made it policy to cut rare earth metal exports 6% a year over last 5 years. Some incorrectly view this as simply a flexing of China’s economic might. In fact, the country’s efforts to limit exports can be traced to its own increasing demand, “Meanwhile, China’s own fast-growing manufacturing industries now consume more rare earths than the rest of the world combined. And Beijing has done nothing to curb that domestic demand.”

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