In a recent New York Times article, two new studies regarding natural gas have been released; one by Robert Howarth of Cornell University and another by David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute. Both of these articles state that natural gas will be more harmful to the environment than coal or even oil.
The chief component of natural gas is methane, which is more efficient in trapping greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. This became a significant issue when studies found that methane is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities, close to 8%, than originally thought due to leaks in loose pipe fittings.
Two weeks ago, President Obama indicated that natural gas will be a significant part of the energy production vision for this country’s future. It has been suggested that the natural gas production is to increase by fourfold by 2035.
I am torn by the information that I have just read. I have always been a natural gas proponent, but the new studies have me doubting what the right course of action is for this country. If we are to increase natural gas production fourfold, that is a tremendous amount of methane emitted into the air. Add that to the environmental impact the increased amount of gas wells we will have at the time, has me questioning this method. The natural gas industry won’t tighten up on their production with reducing the amount of gas that leaks out into the atmosphere or capture the methane due to economic reasons. In addition, there are already many natural gas drill sites and to quadruple them has me in a doubtful state.
I do think natural gas can be a bridge to the renewable future combined with energy efficiency. However, a lot more validation of these studies must be done to verify their outcomes in order to be properly implemented.
Once again, the U.S. is missing out on an opportunity to solve this country’s current energy woes. President Obama has indicated that he would like for the U.S. to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. In his latest speech on March 30, 2011 at Georgetown University, he described how we will reduce oil imports by a third by 2035. In order for this to happen, the focus will be put on producing more electric cars and trucks that run on natural gas, and developing refineries to process billions of gallons of bio fuels. There was brief mention of using alternative energy to help with reducing our oil dependence, but nowhere was building efficiency mentioned. Research report after research report has indicated that building efficiency could be looked at as the next fuel.
Our current President is no different than the Presidents before him. President Nixon declared his intent to get us off foreign oil after the Arab Embargo; and President Carter looked to get us off foreign oil after the Iran hostage situation. President Bush made the same statements after the first Iraq war too. We have been saying this for decades but not doing anything about it.
I can’t put the blame solely on our President; look at the opposition he has had to deal with over his last two years. He killed Cap and Trade due to public pressure from the Republicans as it would cost too much. He tried to develop more offshore drilling, but the rig Deepwater Horizon had its accident. Lastly, he has been pushing nuclear production but, with the last episode in the earthquake/tsunami tattered nation of Japan, the public is now skittish and wants to close nuclear plants and never reopen them.
We have been doing a lot of talking, especially my favorite Senator from Michigan who feels we need to increase electrical capacity by 40-50% to meet the needs of electricity demand for the next decade. He is shooting for a long range plan. I don’t blame him for shooting. Maybe, Mr. Chairman, you can start on developing programs for energy efficiency in buildings which constitutes for 60% of our total consumption in this nation.
We need to set our political agenda aside and come up with a realistic plan. It is my humble opinion that this plan must start with being energy efficient, which is something we could all be doing now, without waiting for further technologies to be developed and implemented.
It’s nice to see that the energy industry is starting to address some of the glaring problems that are out there such as energy shortage, depletion of domestic oil and gas reserves, and lack of incentives to invest in domestic energy facilities to name a few. Renewable energy is moving front and center to become THE next energy resource. However, the solutions are not without their challenges. Energy generation and delivery still needs a good solid look as the cost to save one kW of energy using a renewable energy resource is approximately $0.11/kW, while saving that same kW through energy efficiency in existing building and homes is only at $0.03/kW.
The challenge with renewable energy is integrating it into the power grid. With the emergence of smart meters, we can see where the power is going at any given place and time. This will help to put a focus on generating plant production at the right place and at the right time. With that said, renewable energy does not have the luxury of turning itself on or off (reducing the demand that could be placed on the electrical grid). In addition, the business model for renewable energy is most effective when it is operating for the longest time possible.
Renewable energy should be baseloaded with the power generation plants to pick up on any energy swings. Smart meters would be able to anticipate when those swings will happen. The dilemma occurs when the renewable energy source does not produce enough to reach the level they were intended to produce. This can happen when units go down for maintenance, break down or don’t produce enough megawatts because the wind is not blowing or the sun is not out.
Programs like demand response can help lessen the high demand on the power grid. Having a program to reduce the peak load on the grid through end-user participation is helpful. However, when the response event comes at an inopportune time or cannot be incorporated due to other circumstances, this puts additional variables into the equation that makes renewable energy less desirable or predictable.
Energy monitoring is a great way to promote energy consumption awareness to determine the Where, Why and at What point a facility is using energy. This will allow for energy efficiency awareness and enable facility operators to be proactive. But once again, the end-user must know what to do with all the data that they are receiving. Knowing where your energy consumption stands is great, but knowing what to do with all the data once you have it is the key to energy reduction. Finding a solution to analyze the data will really help a facility to control its energy consumption. The amount of data produced is astronomical and unless the data is analyzed and trended on a regular basis, it will be of little to no value. A process needs to be developed that addresses how to use analyze and interpret the data.
All of these items and their challenges are important as we move forward to solve this country’s energy needs. These challenges can not be avoided and they need to be navigated with viable solutions. Coordinating all of the solutions together will put us in a better position for our electric infrastructure. Always have a contingency plan so that you don’t fail to plan; and be prepared so that you don’t plan to fail.
A USA Today article reported that thousand of birds are being slaughtered by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass in California. Five thousand four hundred wind turbines were installed and birds that were sadly affected include Golden Eagles, Red Tail Hawks and Burrowing Owls. In other cases, local wildlife activists are disputing locations of wind turbines in the Atlantic, which will disturb migratory birds. I am appalled at the fact that we are so thirsty for electricity that we’d rush to install wind farms in locations that are hurting some of the greatest wildlife we have in the world.
I have not seen the studies to back-up these location choices. It seems the electrical industry is so gung-ho to produce renewable energy that they damn the consequences. It’s ironic that we’re trying to save the environment by building these clean energy plants, while disturbing the delicate natural environment and sending countless animals to their Maker. I fully support steps to reduce our carbon footprints, but not at this cost.
The current Administration has issued incentives for renewables and every wind turbine manufacturer in the country is scouring the land to find a spot to plop their machines down as there are no guarantees for how long these programs will run. Renewables are sexy and it seems to be our President’s ambition to blanket the nation with clean energy sources. Unfortunately, the execution of this agenda is socially irresponsible.
Critics plainly state that we are polluting the air (I agree), and that we must take any measures to remedy the situation. However, there are many options for reducing our environmental impact. The cost to install a wind turbine and remove that load from the electrical grid is approximately $0.11/kw. To save the same kilowatt from the electrical grid via energy efficiency would only cost $0.03. If that’s not a cost-effective alternative, I don’t know what is.
McKinsey published the “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy” report, indicating that the best way we can reduce our carbon footprint is through energy efficiency programs in existing buildings. Buildings consume 40% of our total energy usage. Of that percentage, running an HVAC system accounts for 40% to 60% of energy consumption. In addition, a DOE-funded study concludes the single most effective measure to reduce energy consumption and decrease the carbon footprint is to concentrate on upgrading existing buildings and their operations via an existing building commissioning or energy audit program.
I propose we focus on improving the efficiency of our existing buildings, rather than racing to construct wind farms that cause more damage than good. The economics make sense, jobs are created and it’s still good for the environment.
Mr. Obama please read the reports generated by your own Administration, stop pushing the sexy things and start pushing what makes sense.