Late last year, Merkel extended the permitted operation of some of Germany's oldest nuclear plants, then, after Fukushima, abruptly reversed course and suspended her decision, but apparently too late for voters to regain confidence in CDU energy and nuclear policy. According to Bloomberg.com, CDU partner Guido Westerwelle, Germany's current Foreign Minister, from the Free Democratic Party, said his party "understood" the message voters were sending on nuclear power with the March 27th vote. The message should have been obvious earlier. Just the day before the March 27th election, as many as 250,000 Germans demonstrated against nuclear power. (See Bloomberg.com, The Independent (London) and The Local.)
The Guardian also reports that the Greens more than tripled their share of the vote in another German state, Rhineland-Palatinate, and will likely join a coalition under the SPD to help govern there. This is the first time the Greens have won seats in the Rhineland-Palatinate parliament, according to the Guardian.
Speaking just hours before the Japanese quake and Fukushima meltdown, Orr argued that because we now live in Taleb’s Black Swan world, we need to build far more resilience into our economic, energy, food and other systems. Such resilience would lessen the impact of disastrous events – from energy system collapses, to terrorist attacks, to financial crises. On hearing a presentation of Orr’s ideas, a colonel friend of Orr’s said, “what you’re talking about is national security.”
In fact, in a 2007 national security estimate, Orr said, one scenario discussed a possible unstoppable collapse of the U.S. electric grid. One Pentagon analyst said such a catastrophic grid collapse could take us “back to the 7th century,” with the grid taking a long time to bring back up. Fukushima underscores such risks.
As a concrete example of such transformation, Orr discussed the ambitious “Oberlin Project,” an initiative to revitalize the rust belt city of Oberlin, Ohio, and an eight mile radius of farms and forests around it, using sustainable principles. Orr also proposed the formation of a national “network for sustainable sites, cities and projects” to help build momentum for the sustainable transformation of our country.
Orr has chaired the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College in Ohio, and spearheaded the College’s design and construction of the solar-powered Adam Joseph Lewis Center, called “One of Thirty Milestone Buildings in the 20th Century” by the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Orr authored Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (2009) and Ecological Literacy (1992), among other works.
Orr launched his talk with a discussion of financial analyst Nassim Taleb’s concept of “black swan” events – low probability and “unpredictable” events whose repercussions in a highly interconnected world can be disastrous. Because we now live in Taleb’s “black swan” world, where low probability or unknown probability events can and do occur, with disastrous long-term consequences, Orr argued, we need to build far more resilience into our economic, energy, food and other systems. Such resilience would moderate the effects of, and allow us to more quickly recover from, such disastrous events.
Although offshore wind offers the most potential peak energy, it is less reliable and less predictable than tidal, current or wave sources. Miller noted that wave and tidal energy's predictability would potentially allow electric grid managers to 'smooth the load' by using these marine sources. A section of Texas' electricity system nearly crashed when 20 megawatt-hours of wind-generated electricity suddenly disappeared when the wind quit, said Miller, so balancing renewable generation with more predictable energy sources in the ocean -- like tidal and wave -- could prove important to our renewable energy future.
There are three basic types of offshore wind energy, Miller explained. Shallow offshore wind is in 25 meters or less of ocean depth, with large wind turbines mounted on single poles (monopoles / monopiles). This is the type of offshore wind heavily developed to date in Europe, and proposed for the Nantucket Sound by the Cape Wind project.
Second, there is wind energy in the transition zone, in 20-60 meters of ocean depth. In these projects large structures like oil platforms are erected and wind turbines are mounted on these. Only two have been built to date, both in Europe. Such projects are costly to build, and wind turbine vibration of the platforms poses engineering challenges. Such transition zone offshore wind is not yet a "proven" technology, Miller said. However, because these are in deeper waters not visible from the shore line, and therefore less likely to generate local opposition, a number of states, including Rhode Island and New Jersey, are exploring transition zone projects.
My friend, energy consultant Roger Lippman, and I were discussing the stupidity of fighting wars for oil and discovered we had both sketched out numbers for the oil that could have been "obtained" by government subsidies to help people buy fuel-efficient Prius hybrids, rather than by fighting a war for oil. Roger had done the numbers a little more methodically than I had, and posted them back in 2006 at his website, and they're worth a look.
His conclusion: for about the same cost as the Iraq war ($250 billion, conservatively, back in 2006) the U.S. government could have given a $17,275 tax credit to 14.5 million Americans to buy Prius hybrids, and because of the fuel efficiency of the Prius, we would have saved more in oil than we used to import from Iraq. When you factor in the money saved on gas with the Prius, and the $17,275 tax credit, the cars would essentially have been free to the buyers after a few years.
The U.S. pressured the International Energy Agency (IEA) to overstate global oil production potential, reports London's Guardian, citing an anonymous whistleblower from within the IEA. See Terry Macalister, "Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower" (Guardian, 11/9/09) The anonymous senior IEA official told the Guardian that U.S. pressure was influential in encouraging the IEA to underplay diminishing output from existing oil fields, and to overstate the chances of finding new oil reserves. The whistleblower said the IEA "has been deliberately underplaying a looming [oil] shortage for fear of triggering panic buying", reports the Guardian. The IEA source told the Guardian, "the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources." >>> More
mp3 audio of Dr. Pollin's plenary address(19 MB download)
Speaking in Springfield Nov. 10, 2009, UMass economics professor Dr. Robert Pollin reported that $150 billion a year in clean energy investment would generate 2.5 million jobs and would contribute heavily to an American economic recovery. Pollin, the co-director of UMass' Political Economy Research Institute, and co-author of its June 2009 Green Prosperity report, has been examining the economic impact of clean energy investment in a series of widely noted studies over the past two years. His views have been influential in the Obama administration's economic recovery policies and he is now consulting with the U.S. Department of Energy.
"Building the clean energy economy, or what we sometimes call a Green New Deal, is an enormous opportunity. It is needed, absolutely needed today to fight global warming. It's a basis on which we can enhance energy efficiency, and it will be a major engine of job creation," said Pollin. Pollin noted that every million dollars invested in clean energy creates 17 jobs, whereas every million invested in fossil fuel energy only creates 5 jobs. He made his comments in an opening plenary address to the 500 attendees of the Clean Energy Connections conference in Springfield, Massachusetts on November 10th. To hear Pollin's plenary address, click here. (19 MB mp3 download)
The German section of the World Wide Fund for Nature recently released a study and plan for how to reduce Germany's greenhouse gas emissions by 95% from 1990 levels by the year 2050, without compromising the German standard of living, reports Living Planet (10/26/09). (See also Deutsche-Welle, "Germany can be virtually CO2-free by 2050, says new study". Living Planet is available through www.dw-world.de as well as through iTunes.)
A Congressionally-commissioned report by the National Research Council found that coal-fired electricity generation in the U.S. caused $62 billion in human health and environmental damages during the year the Council studied (2005). Coal-fired electricity caused this $62 billion in environmental impact even without factoring in damages caused by global warming / climate change caused by burning coal. The report, Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and is being published by the National Academies Press.
Summarizing the report, the National Academies noted: "Coal accounts for about half the electricity produced in the U.S. In 2005 the total annual external damages from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter created by burning coal at 406 coal-fired power plants, which produce 95 percent of the nation's coal-generated electricity, were about $62 billion; these nonclimate damages average about 3.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour (kwh) of energy produced." (See the National Academies press release on the report, 10/19/09.)
The climate change impacts of this coal burning would add even more to the $62 billion hidden price tag of coal. The National Academies added: "Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., emitting on average about a ton of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced, the report says. Climate-related monetary damages range from 0.1 cents to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, based on previous modeling studies." (National Academies press release)
The National Research Council report, released this month (Oct. 2009), also found $56 billion in hidden health and environmental costs of transportation in the U.S. >>> More
In September 2009, a joint venture between Volkswagen and the German energy company LichtBlick announced it would begin producing a 20 kilowatt home power plant, dubbed "Eco Blue", a modified car engine converted to run on natural gas to produce both home heat and electricity for the grid, according to a report by Living Planet (9/17/09, available through www.dw-world.de or iTunes). (See also Green Car Congress, "Volkswagen and LichtBlick Partner on Home Combined Heat and Power Systems", 9/9/09, and Autoevolution, "Volkswagen and LichtBlick Form Energy Alliance," 9/10/09.) Such units, generating both heat and electricity, are often referred to as "combined heat and power" (CHP) or "co-generation" (co-gen) systems. By utilizing heating system waste heat to generate electricity, such units extract more useable energy from every Btu of fuel burned, substantially increasing the efficiency of energy production.
The Eco Blue units include a thermal storage system, so that home heat and hot water are available around the clock even though the unit may only run a few hours a day. >>> More
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that the wind energy potential "in the contiguous United States, specifically in the central plain states, could accommodate as much as 16 times total current demand for electricity in the United States", if captured by a network of 2.5 megawatt (MW) wind turbines. The study, which was based on actual worldwide wind measurements, also concluded "that a network of land-based 2.5-megawatt . . . turbines restricted to nonforested, ice-free, nonurban areas operating at as little as 20% of their rated capacity could supply [greater than] 40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, [and greater than] 5 times total global use of energy in all forms." The study, "Global potential for wind-generated electricty", was conducted by Harvard earth sciences professor Michael B. McElroy and others. (The study was published on-line before print, on June 22, 2009.) >>> More
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