Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who the hell are we kidding?

Thomas Friedman’s response to the demise of the latest climate bill in the U.S. Congress is “we’re gonna be sorry.”

In California, for now, there is a consensus that global warming is a serious problem that requires serious action. Under Governor Schwarzenegger’s Administration this consensus has had bi-partisan support.

Clean energy technologies like solar require the support of government policies because of the long-term nature of the investment required by the private sector.

Clean energy technologies like solar require the support of government policies because of the long-term nature of the investment required by the private sector.

For anyone not ready to accept that global warming is caused by human activity, or that it is even bad–there are other compelling reasons for supporting most of the key aspects of the climate/energy bill that was just abandoned by Congress. At the top of the list is our dependence on oil and all that that entails. Since the early 1970s an increasing majority of oil consumed in the U.S. has been imported. This means we are shipping our wealth to other nations. That’s bad enough, but we’re also depending on them for the lifeblood of our economy–a dangerous and precarious place for us to be from a national security perspective.

Alternative energies are gaining increased adoption in the U.S., but we have a long, long way to go.

Last August we encouraged our readers to read “The Elusive Green Economy,” from The Atlantic Monthly–if you haven’t read it yet, it’s an important and educational piece (and not a short one!). This article does an outstanding job of demonstrating the price we continue to pay as a nation by not supporting policies that make alternative energies feasible in the marketplace. During the 1980s, the collapse in oil prices made such policies a low priority in Washington. The Atlantic Monthly article does an excellent job of explaining the long term cost of those policy choices.

The downside of lower oil prices is both high carbon emissions and the massive transfer of American wealth overseas.

Journalist and author Thomas Friedman has made the promotion of environmental awareness and clean energy two of his signature causes. “We’re Gonna Be Sorry,” is Friedman’s reply to the news that the U.S. Senate will not pursue a climate/energy bill. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last year so Senate action was the only thing separating the legislation from becoming the law of the land (the president is eager to sign it into law).

Friedman ends his column with various reports, including this one, that demonstrate the folly of inaction:

“Just as the U.S. Senate was abandoning plans for a U.S. cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: ‘BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. . . . Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said.’”

It is ironic that communist China may embrace a market driven solution to that nation’s energy problems before the U.S. Like the U.S., China imports most of its oil.

We will be sorry if we don’t STAND FOR LESS and stand for more sensible policies from our leaders. California, as is often the case, is ahead of the curve in this effort. An initiative will be on this fall’s ballot to delay implementation of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

This would be much less likely to occur and the arguments in favor of delay would have less relevance if the U.S. would adopt a sensible national policy regarding climate change and energy.

Jim Breitinger

This post originally appeared at STAND FOR LESS--a campaign in San Diego dedicated toward less consumption and smarter consumption.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

We are creatures of the grid

“We are creatures of the grid,” is the opening line to this month’s National Geographic article by Joel Achenbach.

And we are. From the heating and cooling systems that control our indoor environments, to the power for our cell phones and computers–we have grown so accustomed to reliable and affordable electricity that we take it for granted as much as the air we breathe.

But our grid was built for the 20th century. What we have works, most of the time. It’s not, however, equipped for the growing demand of our ever increasing population. It is also unequipped to handle the new, greener sources of electricity that we hope will be powering our lives in the years ahead.

One of the first steps in developing a smarter grid for this century can be found in San Diego through SDG&E’s implementation of smart meters. This is a logical step since the technology is readily available to provide both consumers and producers of electricity with vital real-time, two-way communications regarding energy usage. SDG&E is a national leader in this upgrade.

Smart meter technology will allow homeowners and businesses to see how they are consuming electricity, and adjust their energy use accordingly. Utilities will have real time information to prevent or deal with brownouts or localized outages. Today most power companies don’t know that the power is out until somebody calls in a report. By implementing this relatively simple technology, we are taking an important step forward toward a smarter grid for this century.

Green energy and the grid

Forty percent of all energy used in the U.S. goes into making electricity–and today only 3% of that energy comes from renewable sources. The vast majority of our energy for electricity comes from coal and natural gas-powered plants (almost 50% is from coal-powered generators). If we are going to deal with climate change, we need to move away from these carbon-dioxide belching energy sources.

Developing a smarter grid is especially important as Americans shift toward greener sources of energy, including wind and solar.

Today, Texas is capable of producing far more wind energy than the existing grid can handle. Because of this, as well as the collapse in the price of natural gas over the past two years, an ambitious project to build a giant wind farm in west Texas was abandoned.

Arizona is capable of producing enough solar power for the entire nation. There too, the grid is not capable of distributing what Arizona could produce.

There are a few grid-related issues limiting the sun and the wind as energy sources including: distribution capacity, storage capabilities and grid intelligence. Wind and solar depend on the wind blowing, and the sun shining. Mechanisms need to be developed and deployed to store power for night time and calm days.

Moving to different sources of energy and upgrading our grid are important steps toward standing for less oil, gas and coal being used. These are also vital steps for national security. Oil is not a significant source of electricity in the U.S., but by generating clean energy and moving toward electric vehicles, we can decrease our need for foreign oil–which literally fuels our economy today–and keeps us hostage to the whims of the market and to foreign nations that are at times less than friendly.

As creatures of the grid, these are issues that affect all of us.

Read “The 21st Century Grid,” by Joel Achenbach.

This post originally appeared at STAND FOR LESS.