Sunday, June 23, 2013

Massive Paradigm Upheaval in Power Production is Already Happening

IKEA recently announced its plans to be a net PRODUCER of electricity by 2020, using solar and wind power to produce electricity over and above what the company uses. They've already committed 1.8 BILLION dollars to the goal. It's just 7 years from now. Walmart also has similar plans for the future. Apple, too. Many other companies, too. A consortium of 33 companies came together to sign a "Climate Change Declaration" to call on the US to move toward meaningful climate change policies. Levi's. L'Oreal. Intel. Unilever. North Face. And many of these companies are also putting money into ramping up their own power production from renewable energy. General Motors...GM has committed to DOUBLING it's solar output to 125 MW by 2020. All of a sudden, the technology is there to turn some of the biggest purchases of electricity in the county into net PRODUCERS of electricity with wind and solar. Over a short period of time. What the hell business does a large retail store like IKEA have getting into the electricity generation biz? NONE, really. None at all! But here we are. In the actual world. RIGHT NOW we are seeing RETAIL and COMPUTER companies saying "Hey....we can produce a surplus of electricity...." while other huge companies worldwide are committing themselves to enormous jumps in wind and solar capacity to....get this.....MANAGE COSTS....
“GM has set an example in renewable energy within its industry and beyond,” said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Solar helps companies reliably manage their long-term energy costs, and our top 20 companies are going solar in a big way across the nation.”
So the question is...What does that mean for Business As Usual in the energy industry? What does that mean for the utility companies? When their biggest customers are jumping ship, making their own damn electricity Because They Can? It's a problem for Business As Usual. A huge one. Recently a major utility organization the Edison Electric Institute issued a report on "Disruptive Challenges" for the utility industry and solar power is one of the big ones. A utility company actually used the term "mortal threat" when referring to the effects of rooftop solar on the utility industry.
Today, a variety of disruptive technologies are emerging that may compete with utility-provided services. Such technologies include solar photovoltaics (PV), battery storage, fuel cells, geothermal energy systems, wind, micro turbines, and electric vehicle (EV) enhanced storage. As the cost curve for these technologies improves, they could directly threaten the centralized utility model.
We are in the midst of a massive revolution in how we power our world. One that has reached the tipping point in favor of renewable energy. Keep pushing. Keep PUSHING! This sucker is about to fall right on over the edge and the world of energy production will forever be changed for the better. We're already seeing in Europe how fossil fuel plants no longer make sense as investments. Like any major technological shift, it will happen as if overnight. Our law makers aren't prepared for this massive shift toward decentralized power production. Many don't even see it coming. But it's coming hard. Here in Michigan we had energy forums to talk about our energy future and I fear it focused too much on a centralized model that's just about to collapse in the next half decade. There's going to be bumps in the road. But that's because while the utilities were lording their influence over folks and shoring up their power...........the world changed at the bottom. And there's nothing that will stop this shift now. It's happening. Be ready.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lack of Energy Water Roadmap Could be Disastrous to Nation's Water, Food, Economy

It doesn't get much coverage in the energy debate, but our energy needs require a LOT of water. Just about half of our nation's annual 400 billion gallons of water draw goes toward energy production.

Most of that water goes back into the source (although a lot hotter and sometimes more polluted). But there's no two ways around it: we use a lot of water for energy production. There's simply no arguing that energy production has dramatic affects on water quality, availability, and environmental quality.

So, as the world heats up and we head into back-to-back drought years with more competition for dwindling water resources, it seems that regular folks, businesses, and policy makers may want to know how our Nation's energy use affects the quality and accessibility of our water supply.


Water is kind of important to human civilization.

Heck, the energy choices we make right now are long term. The power sources we build today will be around 25 to 50 years from now. So we can't build plants armed only with today's resources and needs in mind. We need to build them with tomorrow's resources and needs in mind.

As States all over the US prepare their energy portfolios for the next half century, they'll want to know exactly how that choice will be interacting with water and agricultural needs...or even future energy needs. Having a fleet of water cooled power plants won't do much good when the cooling system intake is above the water line in an evaporated lake.

 photo SAM_1146_zpscd3be9a2.jpg

The water-energy nexus will have enormous consequences for our nation. And we need to be prepared so that we have A) Water B) Energy and C) Food. We'll need food.


Fortunately, in 2005 congress required the US Department of Energy to file two reports on the water energy nexus. Eclectablog did a great post about that yesterday. Unfortunately, only half of that requirement was fulfilled. The second part, the energy-water roadmap was not completed. Eight years on, it's still being held up by the Department of Energy....and it's been rewritten TWENTY TWO times. 22. Twenty-two.

Michael Hightower, an energy systems analyst at Sandia National Laboratories and a co-author of the report, said the first draft of the study on research needs was delivered to the Energy Department in July 2006. Energy Department reviewers have since called for 22 rewrites, the last of which was delivered in May 2009, Hightower said.

This isn't something to take lightly. This isn't just about energy. It's about our water, and our future. It's about giving our states, utilities, farmers, and individuals the information they need to make wise decisions.

It's a problem that this report has not been released. A HUGE problem, with potentially disastrous effects on our water, food, and economy.

Here's a petition to President to compel the US Department of Energy to release its energy water roadmap.

All we need is 45 more signatures on this online petition before it's searchable on the Whitehouse website - We need to get to 150 signatures and it'll be searchable.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Drying Lake

These are lumber tailings, freshly exposed from the bottom of Muskegon Lake as the lake levels fall and recede. It may not seem terribly surprising or interesting that the wood waste of lumber production is exposed from the lake bottom unless you realize that Muskegon hasn't really been a lumber town since the late 1800s...about 120 years ago. But here are the lumber tailings. Freshly preserved, thousands of them as far as the eye can see on the shoreline that not too long ago had been under water for at least a century.

 photo sawmilltailings_zps820abf21.jpg (image taken by Jon McEwen)

For many it's merely academic, the news that Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have reached record lows for December and are on the edge of reaching all time historical lows. Along the coast of Lake Michigan, we're watching the Big Lake coastline recede while smaller coastal inland lakes are drying dramatically.

Here's Muskegon Lake this week...

 photo SAM_1151_zps85c19f09.jpg

Dwindling water levels. No water ice, in January. See that red light up there near the right? Draw a line from there to the left center of the image, and all the water on the right of it is gone, when just a few months ago it was up to where the reeds are.

And another photo

 photo SAM_1146_zpscd3be9a2.jpg

Here's what it looked like in 2009 at almost exactly this time of year.

Ice shanties. Higher water levels.

Here's an overhead visual of about how much the lake has dwindled - also illustrated by an acquaintance of mine, Jon McEwen. All the areas between the red lines is now above water.

 photo 582576_4344196968411_1310723693_n_zps10ce8e7d.jpg

I'm not going to harp too much about how Muskegon Lake is a critical part of the Muskegon community and economy. It is. But I will point out that we are watching, in real time, the effects of climate change right here in my home.

Greater evaporation due to reduced ice cover in the winter and drier conditions. Drought. Less precipitation. The water levels are declining fast. FAST.