Prometheus » Energy Policy Fri, 02 Jul 2010 16:53:16 +0000 en hourly 1 FutureGen Clean Coal Plant May Get New Life Mon, 15 Jun 2009 18:12:32 +0000 admin Wired notes that the FutureGen clean coal plant, which had been shuttered in part due to perceived cost overruns (which were a result of bad math), may rise again. The plant is intended to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at levels and costs that would encourage other power plants to follow suit.

On Friday the Department of Energy issued a press release indicating it had reached an agreement with the FutureGen Alliance (the private part of this public-private partnership).  The agreement would allow the project to move forward with needed planning, research, and design activities, with a final decision on building the plant in early 2010.  Most of the DOE contribution will come from Recovery Act funds.

NOTE: FWIW, I will continue blogging after the pending retirement of this siteUnlike Roger, my shingle is not yet ready.  Once it is (and it should be soon), I’ll post the link here.

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Energy Company Experiments with Distributed Generation Mon, 18 May 2009 01:34:56 +0000 admin Duke Energy in North Carolina is experimenting with distributed power generation.  According to Scientific American’s 60 Second Science Blog, the company will spend around $50 million to install photovoltaic panels atop commercial buildings, residences and other property around North Carolina.  The intent of the project is to explore the feasibility of distributed generation of power along with gaining experience in using solar power in an electric grid.  Hopefully the results of the project will not be held proprietary, in order for other energy companies to consider similar efforts.  A bottom-up project like this (compared to the top-down regulation that can rub companies the wrong way) may be more successful in part due to less resistance.  Companies may be more likely to try and compete rather that submit to new regulations.

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DOE Office of Science Nominee Announced Sat, 18 Apr 2009 19:31:33 +0000 admin President Obama nominated Princeton physicist William Brinkman to head the Department’s Office of Science.  The Office of Science is the home for most of the non-weapons research conducted by the Department, and is one of the agencies targeted in the recent America COMPETES Act for a doubling of the research budget.  Dr. Brinkman is currently a Senior Research Physicist at Princeton, and has a long research career including research and managerial experience at Bell Labs and Sandia National Labs.  You can click here for a more complete biography.

This makes for a pretty complete team appointed at the Department of Energy.  Compare this to other parts of the federal science and technology portfolio, where we still wait for nominees for National Institutes of Health Director, head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and three of the four associate directors for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  With these leadership vaccuums, it would not surprise me to see the Department of Energy to be the de facto lead science and technology agency in the government.  In an effort to sweeten these sour grapes, it’s worth noting that science and technology appointments are still, on the whole, a lot further along at 3 months into a new presidency.

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National Science Board Issues Draft Report on Sustainable Energy Thu, 16 Apr 2009 20:49:29 +0000 admin The National Science Board, the advisory board for the National Science Foundation, released a draft report titled Building a Sustainable Energy Future. It is open for public comment until May 1st, click the report link to find out how to submit comments.  The report provides guidance to the National Science Foundation on how to “increase its emphasis on innovation in sustainable energy technologies and education.”  It also recommends that the government “develop and lead a nationally coordinated research, development demonstration, deployment, and education (RD3E) strategy to advance a sustainable energy economy that is significantly less carbon-intensive.”  The press release announcing the report is somewhat vague on the recommendations, but the report provides many more details.  It’s a product of the NSB Task Force on Sustainable Energy, formed in October 2007.  It held three roundtable discussions in 2008 with various stakeholders.  The report’s specific recommendations (from the executive summary) for NSF after the jump.

1. Coordinate sustainable energy activities.  Collaborate with other Federal agencies through an interagency working group on sustainable energy that will work under a new Presidential Sustainable Energy Council.

2. Strengthen systems approaches in research programs.  Develop and strengthen interdisciplinary “systems” approaches for research programs in the natural and social sciences that focus on environmental, social, and economic issues fundamental to the future energy economy.  Examples of systems approaches that could be applied to the energy economy include the use of ecosystem life-cycle and whole-system analyses; consumer behavior information; and economic net value of technologies, applications, and systems.  Enhance interdisciplinary research programs that develop environmental accounting techniques that can utilize both biophysical and economic values in parallel.

3. Strengthen science and engineering partnerships.  Support partnerships for building clean and sustainable energy science and engineering initiatives among states, universities, and the private sector.  International entities should be an essential part of many of these partnerships.

4.  Support education and workforce development.  Create new and strengthen existing programs to train students, researchers, and technicians for a sustainable energy workforce.  Promote interest in the fields of science and energy in K–12 education by developing and disseminating programs designed to teach students about energy, the environment, and related technology and economic issues.  Support, in conjunction with other Federal agencies, technical training programs in community colleges and undergraduate institutions that include support for science and engineering teachers, technicians, and professional development activities.

5. Collaborate internationally.  Encourage international collaboration in sustainable energy RD3E, including through the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering and through partnerships with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

6. Promote public awareness and action.  Foster societal literacy about energy-saving practices and technologies and encourage efficient and effective use of energy by enhancing existing programs and by developing new sustainable energy education programs for students, NSF-funded researchers, and the public.

Remember, the Board is looking for public comment, so make the effort and comment by the May 1 deadline.

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Secretary Chu Open to Multiple Modes of Technology Transfer Tue, 31 Mar 2009 02:49:48 +0000 admin Andy Revkin and Kate Galbraith write at the DotEarth blog about recent remarks by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  During a tour with the press of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Secretary Chu indicated that collaborative measures, rather than strict patenting and licensing, might be better means of spreading the fruits of energy research.  Some have suggested that the weak intellectual property protections of the Chinese have been a hindrance in spreading designs and technology to that country.  While that certainly removes an incentive for private sector entities to disseminate their technologies, governments need not be so restricted with knowledge generated through its funding (Secretary Chu is likely focused on government supported technologies).  And realistically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be restrictive in how knowledge is transferred, particulary in areas deemed of importance, like new energy technologies are.

Even if areas of national concern were not involved, public returns on research investment will be different from the private returns on investment.  So thinking in terms of only one or two forms of knowledge transfer unnecessarily limits the potential for capturing the kinds of returns sought by the transferer(s).  I do not mean to say that patenting and licensing are private sector tools, and more collaborative efforts are necessarily the best for public sector returns.  The semiconductor industry has used a mix of transfer methods to some success – collaborating on more fundamental technologies of benefit to all, and relying more on other forms of intellectual property for more specific innovations.  It’s a mix worth keeping in mind as energy technologies receive more and more attention.

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A request – 100 MPG Cars? Tue, 24 Mar 2009 01:42:51 +0000 admin I’m responding to an off-topic request from one of the comment threads on a recent post.  For the record (and others can ding me if I get this wrong), you can put those kinds of requests into writing after clicking on the Ask link in the right-hand column.

At any rate, the request, paraphrased, asked me about whether or not we would see a 100-mpg car with the same kinds of features that we see in cars today.

I was (and am still) reluctant to answer this for a few reasons.

Ultimately, my answer is I don’t know, but I doubt that’s satisfactory to some.

I’m nowhere near a gearhead/petrolhead, as I never mastered a standard shift, and the bulk of my automotive knowledge comes from a combination of Car Talk, Top Gear and Wired’s Autopia.  While I minimize my driving, and try and maximize fuel efficiency as best I can while driving, I know I have more car than I need.

Even for those who aren’t gearheads but are interested in the issue, discussion of cars – especially in the States – can get particularly heated in a way resembling debates over sports teams.  That’s not particularly productive, and I don’t want to encourage it here.

Finally, I’m not sure that framing the question in terms of 100 mpg is really the best way to address the problems increased fuel efficiency is trying to solve.  Emissions can be reduced by driving less as well as driving more fuel-efficient (or non fossil fuel) vehicles, or some combination thereof.  The drop in miles driven in the United States, as well as the possible shuttering of makes and models that were on the lower end of the efficiency spectrum, can be as beneficial as increasing mileage.  Cost (both in money and emissions) per mile seem a better take on what the agitation in this area is aimed at reducing.

That said, I shall try and give an answer.  I think its possible that a 100 mpg car can be developed and sold successfully.  Given the embrace of good diesel and what amounts to a head start to 100 mpg (compacts in Europe can have an average MPG of at least twice the closest American equivalent – more if using diesel), I expect it to happen in Europe before it takes root in the U.S.  The efforts of Tesla and its electric sports car, as well as the Honda Clarity fuel cell car (both featured on the latest Top Gear episode to premiere in the U.S.), suggest that good, fast, and/or sporty alternatives to internal combustion are possible, but not yet ready for a consumer market.  Will they be the same as their internal combustion-based cousins?  No, but I have reason to think they will come close.

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Energy Department Ready to Issue Green Loan Guarantee Mon, 23 Mar 2009 02:59:38 +0000 admin From the Bits Blog of The New York Times comes word of a Department of Energy loan guarantee. The Department has tentatively issued a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, Inc. for the company to ramp up production of its photovoltaic systems.   The loan guarantee is intended to cover 75 percent of the project expenses.  The company indicated the loan guarantee would be essential in achieving the economies of scale it needs to make production cost-effective.  Their systems are intended for commercial use and lie flat, rather than at an angle.

No, this isn’t part of the economic recovery plan, and Secretary Chu isn’t trying to usurp Secretary Geithner’s post at Treasury.  While Secretary Chu’s announcement highlights the prospective economic and environmental impacts of the guarantees in language consistent with the Administration, the program actually dates to 2005 – smack dab in the midst of the Bush Administration.  Apparently the Department has struggled for nearly four years to start issuing what might ultimately be $40 billion in loan guarantees.  Better late than never?

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Math Errors Not Limited to NASA Sun, 15 Mar 2009 20:04:18 +0000 admin In what reminded me of the 1999 conversion error that led to the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter, Scientific American’s 60 Second Science Blog noted a math error that contributed to the shuttering FutureGen, a clean-coal test-bed project, in 2008.  The Government Accountability Office released a report last week noting that the cost assessments for the project failed to consistently account for inflation.  This led to cost figures that appeared higher than they actually were, and the perceived cost overruns led to the cancellation of the project.

It’s entirely possible that FutureGen may not be able to deliver on what is promised.  But that gamble is better made when cost estimates, and other related math, are done properly.

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“Green Power Lines” Bill Introduced Tue, 10 Mar 2009 02:28:32 +0000 admin According to Scientific American’s 60 Second Science Blog, Senator Harry Reid recently introduced a bill that would allow for the creation of power lines to connect areas high in renewable energy generation to long-distance transmission lines.  One of the many challenges in increasing the amount of electricity generated by sources like wind power is that the sources of generation aren’t easily connected to the long-distance grid.  Usually this is due to the source being in a relatively remote area, like much of Senator Reid’s home state of Nevada.

The bill requires the President to designate zones for green energy transmission lines.  If states and relevant utility companies cannot find an way to build transmission lines, the federal government could step in and develop the necessary infrastructure.  This state-federal tension will likely be the main source of conflict over this bill.  You can read more details from Senator Reid’s press release.

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International Renewable Energy Agency in the Works Mon, 02 Feb 2009 03:19:07 +0000 admin Nature News is reporting on the early organizing efforts of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an organization of member states that was born from a conference held in Germany one week ago.  The specific tasks for the organization will be determined at a meeting this June, but the general focus will be on promoting renewable energy development around the globe.

This agency is being created by multilateral agreement, with more than 75 countries currently signed on.  As of this moment, the United States, United Kingdom, China and Brazil are not signatory to the agency.  Given the energy usage of those countries, hopefully that changes by the time the agency holds its first formal conference next year.

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