Posted tagged ‘energy’

Live Blogging President Obama’s Energy Address At MIT

October 23, 2009

Star studded crowd.  Gov. Patrick, Sen. Kerry, and local congressman Mike Capuano are here.

12:45:  Obama takes the podium.  Wild applause.  This is Obama country.

First words:  Thank you MIT!

In joke:  “I’ll be here a while.  I understand a bunch of engineering students have put my motorcade on top of Building Ten.

Reference image:

12:49:  Politician shout outs are now over.  Now the president is touting all the lovely things being done at the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI).  Makes the link to the notion of Americans as innovators willing to take risks on projects that might fail — and on the US as a place willing to support such efforts.

References Lincoln’s move during the Civil War to establish Land Grant Colleges; Roosevelt’s signing of the GI bill; after Sputnik, US invests in space technology….

So, the claim is being made that we have always been about innovation; that ambition is “in our DNA” — a phrase I understand and loathe.

But now — the economic challenges are huge.  “Economy in which we all share opportunity is one in which we all share crisis.” Said in context of globalized economy.

Says:  Energy that powers our economy also undreminse our security and threatens our planet”

12:53  Nation that gets to clean energy wins the next economic revolution “I want America to be that nation.”  (applause)

That’s why, he says, the stimulus act has more clean energy funding than ever appropriated before…summarizes what the 89 billion bucks in the stimulus packae will go to fund.

Talks about a Massachusetts project — a test facility for wind turbine blades.  It is notable that Obama so readily digs at least one layer down into the technical details; its a rhetorically powerful way to claim not just support for a good cause, but the real value of that cause, the notion that we are spending cash on things that matter.  Smart guy, I’ve heard.

Many props to Governor Patrick — local Mass politics are a subtext here.

12:59:  Pivot to the comprehensive legislation we need and discussing the implications of Kerry’s climate change bill.  Mentions cleaner fossil fuels; biofuels, nuclear, wind, waves and sun.

Saying that there is a long, planned, intelligible path from an economy powered by fossil fuel dependence/carbon pollution threats to one that is sustainable; not making the claim that we can get there in one swoop.

Talks about DOD and business leaders and others coming round to the notion that global warming and dependence on fossil fuels is a national security and economic threat…making the case for the necessity, not merely the desirability of action.

Again, it’s an interesting strategy rhetorically; it seems to me that he is working hard to box in opponents to a smaller and less defensible position.  I hope it works.

He says explicitly that the opponents are being marginalized — but that they will fight harder as we get closer to a bill.

“They will say that we are destroying our eocnomy…when it is”what we got now that’s threatening it.

“We’re going to have to work on those folks.  But there is a more dangerous myth — because we are all complicit in it.”

That there is nothing we can do “it’s pessimism” …that politics are broken etc…

1:01:  That implies we can’t solve problems any more, says POTUS, and he knows that can’t be true….we’ve seen it at MIT and elsewhere…we’ve done it before (electricity) etc.

Writing teacher here.  This is an ugly phrase:  of innovators “they will lead us in the future as they have done so in the past.”

Can’t quite get my head around that one.

Ends with a pep paragraph…we can do this…we’re Americans, and we’re damn good at this kind of thing.

Last thoughts from your blogger:

He’s a good speaker, which we knew.  He’s smart as hell, which we also knew.  He’s a political process man.  This had no new initiatives or proposals in it, nor even a central, strong outline of how the specific actions discussed add up to the path to a sustainable energy future some decades out.

Rather, this speech seemed more or less to lay down a marker:  we’ve got some things going…we need now to pass the next piece of legislation — Kerry’s cap and trade plus other stuff bill is the one the President specifically referenced, along with the House bill already passed.

The praise for the various specific projects and research initiatives were designed to answer critics who say that we can’t escape fossil fuel use Most of the speech by running time was devoted to various general and specific paeans to the capacity of Americans to get this part of the job done.

Given that everybody, and especially me, are critics, here’s what I thought the speeh missed most:  I wanted to hear in this context a real and dire description of what failure here would mean, not just for the environment, but for the economy and safety of US citizens en masse and individually.

That is — I think it’s pretty well established that projecting the dire consquences of a 4 degree warming is still a hard thing to grasp (though this map is a good place to start).  But if you talk about the cost of wars, or even merely of the budget  year over year for Centcom…if you talk about clean energy jobs lost to other nations even now (see e.g. this story on the Chinese vs. American economic edge in solar energy products.)…if you talk about the lives lost here at home through the pollution being caused now by our current energy use pattern (18,o00 a year according to this report, about the same number as homicides for the last year I could pull the data quickly.  (See this CDC fact sheet and click through to the PDF  listed as the source for the summary numbers.)…if you go after the harm we suffer now through our dependence on our current energy mix, then the urgency for change and the willingness to assume risk in the service of that change will go up.

To be fair:  he did very clearly make the case that powerful interests in this area, like DOD, understand the implications of inaction and now favor significant energy policy change.  But he didn’t bring the reasons why home and down to the you and me level as sharply as I would have liked.

President Obama has the best pulpit in the world to preach this.  He has the right temperament too, by which I mean not his famous cool, but his genuine optimism, his sense that no problem is too hard for us to tackle.  That side of him was on display in full measure today, and I liked it.  But I think he needs to light more of a fire under us (sorry) on the other side, to remind us the most dangerous option we have right now is to stand pat.

And that’s my $.02

Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Stupid People

December 10, 2008

Outsourced entirely to Roy Edoroso.

Image: Lucien Lefèvre, “Electricine,” 1897.

Quick thoughts on energy before tonight’s debate.

October 15, 2008

Thanks to Wilco 278 and his invaluable Northern Crude blog.

Wilco caught something I missed, posting last month on the American Physical Society report on energy efficiency.

Here’s a key quote from the report’s executive summary (pdf):

Whether you want the United States to achieve greater energy security by weaning itself off foreign oil, to sustain strong economic growth in the face of worldwide competition or to reduce global warming by decreasing carbon emissions, energy efficiency is where you need to start.

Go here for the press release, detailing the basic prescription contained within the report; here for the accompanying fact sheet.  Get the complete report (pdf) here.

The report focuses on transportation and buildings.  Selections from the recommendations on transport include:

The federal government should establish policies to ensure that new light-duty vehicles average 50 miles per gallon or more by 2030. The specific policies are beyond the scope of this study but could include more aggressive Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, financial incentives such as “feebates” (fees for not meeting the standard and rebates for surpassing it) and carbon taxes.

Vehicle weight can be significantly reduced without compromising safety, resultling in fuel economy savings while reducing traffic injuries and fatalities.

Technologies are available to move beyond the 35 mpg CAFE standard mandated in law by the year 2020. They include further improvements in internal combustion engines; vehicle weight reductions while maintaining vehicle dimensions; and a reasonable mix of vehicles powered by efficient internal combustion engines, diesel engines and improved hybrid technology. The weight of vehicles can be significantly reduced without compromising safety through design and new materials.

Building recommendations include:

Federal and state governments should adopt policies to address the wide range of market barriers and market failures that discourage investment in energy-efficient technologies, especially in the highly fragmented buildings sector, where barriers are especially prevalent. A number of policies have proven effective on a large scale in promoting or requiring investment in energy efficiency in buildings, among them

    1. For whole buildings: building energy codes, labeling, audit programs and financial incentives for purchase of efficient technology;
    2. For appliances, heating and cooling equipment and lighting:  (a) Mandatory efficiency standards in the case of appliances.  (b) Voluntary standards, such as industry consensus guidelines in the case of lighting usage and federally promoted labels (Energy Star, for example) to highlight exceptional efficiency performance in the case of appliances.

Note the key phrase above:  the need for federal action to address market barriers and market failures.  In other words, politely, the truth that dare not speak its name peeks out through a crack in the Washington-reportese:  the ideological commitments that have landed us in the midst of the worst financial crisis in a generation have some ‘splainin to do when it comes to energy (and hence national security) as well.

The report does emphasize that it is delivering good news:  its goals are achievable, resting on the deployment of existing technology, the pursuit of new technology that is within a plausible time-horizon…

But here’s the rub — it will take political will and a shift in the philosophy of governance held by those at the top  to make it all happen.

When watching tonight, and thinking over your ballot-box decision, it might be useful to consider whether the “Drill, baby drill” team is likely to lead such an effort.

Image:  Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion House, installed at the Henry Ford Museum.  Photo licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Why Obama is right and McCain wrong on Energy: MIT edition

August 1, 2008

Continuing the energy theme just a little longer….

This may be a bit of home-institution boosting, and I haven’t done any due diligence on this press release, but still, this is promising news out of Daniel Nocera’s lab at MIT.  It is also a perfect example why Obama’s emphasis on alternatives to oil and coal is the better choice of governing philosophies for US energy policy, and McCain’s oil now, oil forever approach is not.

Nocera and his post doc, Matthew Kanan have taken a long look the process of photosynthesis that enables plants to extract usable energy from sunlight.  They’ve come up with a two-step process that can split ordinary, neutral pH water into hydrogen and oxygen to supply the feedstocks for fuel cells that could supply electricity to power cars, homes or whatever.  The key to the idea is the use of solar-generated electricity to power the electrolysis taking place in the Nocera lab’s device.  More detail in the press release, and Nocera’s general description of this line of research here

There is, as always, the caveat:  this is a research finding, not an industrial process.  It will take time and significant engineering creativity to turn this advance into a major source of energy and a partial replacement for carbon-based fuels — if it ever gets there.

But this is the necessary initial step.  You don’t get alternative energy unless you do the research.  You can’t do the research if you can’t get funding.  It is difficult — though to be sure, as this finding shows, not impossible — to pay for this work when you have a disinterested or actively hostile, petroleum-addicted President and administration.  A President Obama would do so — candidate Obama has already made that very clear as recently as yesterday, whatever the national press thought of the important news of the day.  A President McCain, delivering on candidate McCain’s promise to develop all available domestic sources of oil….not so much.

Here’s the MIT press release making the point for me:

The success of the Nocera lab shows the impact of a mixture of funding sources – governments, philanthropy, and industry. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.

You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

And as a lagniappe, this bit of barely informed editorializing:  the reason McCain’s approach is wrongheaded is not just that there it encourages the use of polluting sources of energy instead of pursuing clean or cleaner sources; it’s not that there is some mystical reward to using a renewable source as opposed to a notionally available, notionally cheap(ish) nonrenewable source — this isn’t a tree – hugger argument.  No, it’s wrong because it increases the liklihood that the transition we will have to make someday to a non-oil based economy will come harder, more expensively, and more destructively than it needs to, or would under a more science – friendly approach.  The real energy question is when and how much do you want to pay the piper.

That is:  McCain hasn’t noticed, though he has surely been told, that oil is something of a mug’s game,  coming under pressure from both supply and demand sides.  Between peak oil and the rise of major developing nations — economies that remained tied to oil are buying into not just an increasingly high price for their energy, but also a significant, and I would bet, on nothing more than a hunch, an increasing risk of oil shocks, major disruptions in supply  and/or price over the next decades.

That, as much as the absolute cost of energy as a share of any economic activity, is what ought to scare people, (if my hunch is correct).  Major uncertainty is a very expensive quality; when the probability collapses into a particular damaging event, the impact on real people’s real lives is profound.  Why on earth should we place ourselves more in the path of such an oncoming train than we have to.

And one last note — as I’ve given Marc Ambinder some eminently deserved grief (hey–if he can assert his judgment as fact, so can I) for his blithering yesterday about why he isn’t talking about energy, he has a solid post about Obama’s economic message today that contains a bit of content reporting and a bit of process analysis.  Nothing fancy, but just an example of a beat reporter writing a clear and useful little story from within his defined territory.  Credit where credit is due.

Further to Ambinder’s Folly.

August 1, 2008

Thanks to Brad Delong for taking my pique with Marc Ambinder and running with it. (In my ongoing attempt to keep some strand of overt science running through this blog while the election season has me obsessed I e-mailed the web’s reality check with my rage at Marc’s seeming pride at being as trivial as he wants to be, and said, in effect “you do it.” To my great pleasure, Brad did.

Brad did say that he thought that writing about energy and its discontents did fit the brief for this blog, so, with permission from that august source…here’s how Marc finished off his sterling performance of yesterday:

While we’ve been focusing on the race card, the Republican echo chamber has been sounding full tilt about Barack Obama’s Jimmy Carter-esque turn as advice columnist to Americans about energy. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity spent part of their broadcast mocking Obama for urging Americans to inflate their tires to help conserve gasoline.

Obama had a point, and the auto industry recommends the same thing as do governors Schwarzenegger and Crist, but nevermind; the ridicule fix is in. An effective GOP shot.

I suppose the author of a “reported blog on politics” gets to judge whether a campaign tactic is effective. But look how he characterized Obama’s comment. Jimmy Carter-esque advice. And a quick trip to Youtube certainly shows that the echo chamber was indeed in full cry.

Now look at what Ambinder didn’t tell us. He didn’t tell us that the point Obama was making was not simply that you could save some gas with properly inflated tires — but that McCain’s energy “plan” (sic) is so feeble that its oil drilling proposals would have no effect at all for a decade, while the risible gas tax holiday would save the individual driver as much as…wait for it…properly inflating your tires.

So how come McCain’s snark, which has the merit of, in essence, encouraging people to waste gas and cash, gets the approving nod, and Obama’s on point policy jab–also couched as a snark, gets no mention. Because the GOP echo chamber told Ambinder what to cover.

If you do want to see the substance of Obama’s response to the McCain energy fantasy — really, it’s not a plan, it’s a couple of really bad ideas that we can only hope will be no worse than ineffective — read on, from the prepared remarks for yesterday’s economic security rally.

I understand the politics. In a country desperate for action, ideas like a gas tax holiday or expanded oil drilling in the waters off our coasts are popular. And I’ll say this – if there were real evidence that these steps would actually provide real, immediate relief at the pump and advance the long-term goal of energy independence, of course I’d be open to them. But so far there isn’t.

As good as they sound, the history of gas tax holidays is that the prices go up to fill in the gap, and the big winners end up being the retailers and oil companies – not the American people. That’s what happened when we had a gas tax holiday in Illinois that I supported, and that’s why we ended up repealing it. It didn’t work. And it would also drain the federal highway fund of billions of dollars and cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

When it comes to offshore drilling, even Senator McCain has acknowledged that it won’t provide short-term relief. In fact, if we started drilling today, we wouldn’t see a drop of oil for seven years, and even then it would have little if any impact on prices.

Meanwhile, the oil companies currently have the rights to drill on 68 million acres of land and offshore areas that they haven’t touched. I believe that before we give the oil companies any more land, it’s time we tell them to start drilling on the land they already have or turn it over to someone who will, because we need that oil. We should also invest in the technology that can help us recover more oil from existing fields. And we should also look to our substantial natural gas reserves to tap a source of energy that’s already powering buses and cars here and around the world.

In the long-term, however, we have to remember that these domestic resources are finite. Even if you opened up every square inch of our land and our coasts to drilling, America still has only 3% of the world’s oil reserves. Senator McCain may believe otherwise, but that is not a real solution to our energy crisis.

More on the Offshore Drilling Bait-and-Switch

July 23, 2008

Much more informed and more rigorous info on the issue I blogged here, outsourced to Wilco 278.

Cherry picking data is one of the oldest tricks in the book. As TJ warned: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Keep this in mind if the hurricane lets McCain make his scheduled emulation of Don Quixote tomorrow.

Update: It won’t.

(BTW: thanks, Wilco. Real knowledge is a wondrous thing.)

Image: Lourdes Cardenal, Group of windmills at Campo de Criptana in La Mancha, 2004. Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, ver. 1.2 or later. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

More on Really Stupid Ideas

April 22, 2008

Just to provide yet more real-world evidence of the vapid stupidity of McCain’s gas tax, now endorsed by Clinton, here, via Atrios, comes confirmation of the fact (surprise!), that price affects consumption.

Short form: gas consumption and traffic are down. The Feds predict a .4 percent fall in gas consumption this summer (when the proposed gas tax holiday would, if any savings made it to the pump, reverse that long-sought outcome). Money quote:

“Sustained higher gasoline prices are beginning to show up in lower gasoline consumption,” said Tancred Lidderdale, an analyst for the Energy Information Administration.

That’s the market in action, folks. Doing what it should. Is there a problem here?

John, Hilary: pay attention. Good on ya’ Barack for figuring this out.

Image: Lesser Ury, “Hackney in Rainy Weather, (Pferdedroshke im Regenwetter),” 1924. Source, Wikimedia Commons.