Bring It On!

Diviserfied Energy Is The Answer

April 30th, 2007 | by Ken Grandlund |

I find it ironic that we have reached a point where two major problems are coming to the fore at a singular point in time. Of course, I am talking about energy and environmental change. It is no coincidence that these two serious challenges are impossibly intertwined, because it is the very sources of energy we use, and the way we use it, that have led to many of the environmental changes. It becomes apparent then that to solve one problem we must solve the other. Or at least, in solving one, we alleviate the pressure on the other and make strides to improve even more.

So where do we start? Is it a ‘chicken and egg’ kind of question? Developing a new energy base means a complete infrastructure upgrade in addition to finding the new source and exploiting it. Yet invoking environmentally protectionist laws before a viable new energy source appears may be too economically and socially disasterous. Then again, invoking none, or too few too late could result in calamities that may have been avoidable or at worst, prepared for.

In the energy debate, I don’t hear people looking at the problem with enough open-mindedness. After three or four generations into an oil based society, we aren’t tasking ourselves to look at multiple replacement streams for multiple purposes. We’ve become so accustomed to having oil (and other fossil fuels like coal and natural gas) generate all our power needs, from lights to cars to everything in between, that we’ve only sparingly supplemented our power generation with some alternate forms, notably hydro-electric projects taken place during the 1930’s through the 1950’s. Our energy infrastructure is geared towards a single energy form and it’s derivitives. This ubiquity of a single source of energy, fossil fuels- and specifically oil- has engendered a myopic form of forward vision that isn’t looking at other kinds of power organization.

If you divide the users and uses of energy into different categories, you can perhaps find the best way to power those needs. Transportation is one. Manufacturing is one. Personal home usage is one. Commercial business is one. Civic utilities is one. Each sector uses energy at different rates and for different things. There’s no reason why they all have to use energy derived from the same source though.

Transportation is a start. We already know that bio-fuel can operate a combustion engine. Eliminating the use of gasoline and petroleum deisel fuel in favor of bio-deisel or ethanol/methanol fuels is a start. A start, I said, not a final solution. But it immediately contributes to a decrease in environmental pollutants (a twin goal) and decreases reliance on unstable mid-east oil.

Manufacturing consumes a great amount of power too. But instead of using fossil fuels, we need to look back to nuclear energy as a prime source for heavy industrial energy needs. It is not the big scary beast portrayed in the 50’s sci-fi flicks, nor is every nuclear plant a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island waiting to happen. Nuclear energy is environmentally clean if properly handled and contained.

Personal usage, civic utilities, and commercial usage should explore multiple energy streams, including the use of solar, wind, and continued use of hydro power. And they should add geo-thermal energy conversion and bio-gas to the mix as well.

The idea is to think of energy creation not in terms of single source replacement, but rather as a multi-stream parallel energy grid. An upgrade from old-fashioned telephone wires to fiber optics cable.

Of course, diversifying our energy sources and usage will generate new industries, rejuvenate old businesses, and improve our ecologic imprint on the planet. The fear of change causing economic collapse are necessarily not unfounded, but not exactly the only reality either. It all depends on how the reality of needed change is embraced. But an open-armed embrace and vigorous pursuit of creating new energy sources will solve many problems at once: we will reduce our reliance on foreign energy, and if done properly, reduce international tensions by sharing our knowledge; we will revitalize our economy with new infrastructure, manufacturing, and scientific projects; we will reduce our pollution and move towards repairing damage done in the past.

The time for dickering is long past. The time for action here but quickly passing by. America can do all these things, but we can do them better with the help of others. The problems of energy and environment are not ours alone. But without our involvement and leadership, the problems will increase, we will be left behind, and then all bets are off.

So pick your reason and join the revolution- the energy revolution.

[tag]energy, environment[/tag]

  1. 20 Responses to “Diviserfied Energy Is The Answer”

  2. By Jamison on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    Good post. I agree with sufficient oversight by highly trained individuals you can avoid another Three Mile Island. But it has to be heavily regulated. The notion of incremental steps towards independence is critical. Bio-fuels allow us to use the existing gasoline infrastructure and mostly the same vehicles that we have now. Interestingly enough they also provide a good source of hydrogen as well when we need to make the step up to fuel cells. I also agree geothermal for both power generation and for managing heating and cooling in our homes has to move forward. Geothermal systems cut power consumption by a quarter to a half depending on the system and the building they are placed in. Considering that in residential and commercial enterprises that heating and cooling represents somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of all the energy costs it changes all the rules for what our power requirements are. We are talking about needing to generate somewhere between 10% to 30% less electricity year round. Sure makes it easier to generate your own power with a solar cell, when you decrease power requirements like that.

    But one thing I found lacking from your list that is possibly one of the most important is conservation. Vampire appliances alone account for 5% of the home electricity usage in this country on average. The government estimates they can cut that by nearly 75% under their standby power program. That’s nearly a 4 percent drop in power consumption in the United States and the corresponding reduction in energy load on the grid, making the amount of distance we have to cover with the new alternatives that much smaller.

  3. By Jersey McJones on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    “Transportation is a start. We already know that bio-fuel can operate a combustion engine. Eliminating the use of gasoline and petroleum deisel fuel in favor of bio-deisel or ethanol/methanol fuels is a start. A start, I said, not a final solution. But it immediately contributes to a decrease in environmental pollutants (a twin goal) and decreases reliance on unstable mid-east oil.”

    Bio-fuel would barely make a dent in oil dependency for the forseeable future, and it is highly inefficient to produce, will raise food prices, and will destroy the land (Brazil’s great “success” story will do so much more damage to the Amazon rainforest that any carbon pollution control will be completely negated by that alone).

    I wish we would cross that little boondoggle off the list. It’s nothing but free money for the Breadbelt states who just happen to be disproportionately represented in the Senate. It’s a farce. A fake. A scam.

    Nuclear energy is fine, but the private sector is too short-sighted to make the necessary investments in safe plants. We would need some kind of TVA-type system to build more plants. It’s not “NIMBY,” and environmentalists that are preventing new plants (lord knows they can’t stop anything else). It’s the sheer cost of building a safe plant - billions; far more than building a coal or oil plant. We, the taxpayers, would have to shell out. I’m willing, but I doubt the Breadbelt senators and Oilbelt pols would go along and without them, it ain’t gonna happen.

    As for personal use, they should up the tax credits for enviro-friendly home upgrades. Solar panels, personal windmills, etc. $2000 is nothing. They should up the credit to 50% up to like $20,000. That would encourage the middle and upper classes, a particularly wasteful bunch, to spend on this technology. And they should definately include with such law sin-tax sanctions on bad spending - like on SUV’s and other wasteful habits.

    And we have to put more into hydrogen cars. And we have to consider mixed development, and we have to consider more public transport, and we have to clamp down on domestic and foreign deforestation, and we have to save the fisheries, etc. Bio-fuel shouldn’t even be on the list.

    JMJ

  4. By Jamison on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    Jersey, I think your wrong on the bio-fuels front. While I agree with you absolutely the corn based ethanol for example is a terrible choice for Ethanol production, the thing you have to remember is that these same plants that they are building to process corn into Ethanol can be changed over to use cellulose later on. The important first step is to get them built, the fact that the selection of feedstock is bad is really irrelevant in the long run. Algae is the agree upon best feedstock for both bio-diesel and Ethanol, but the reality is that we won’t be establishing a new fuel monoculture going forward. Like Ken suggested it’s going to come from many sources. We will be converting a large number of feedstocks in the future. But for now we pick the ones that are the easiest low hanging fruit. I mean we’ve got Tyson’s building an animal fat to bio-diesel plant with Conco. Everyone wants to get in on it. Everyone ends up winning as we work out what’s best for each area. We start turning our waste products into bio-fuels and then we don’t have to worry about disposal of them. We can use bio-methane from cows and it works in our natural gas infrastructure. Each problem can be turned into a solution. But people are getting way to focused on the final answer when the reality is that we don’t know what it’s going to be yet. But doing nothing until such time as we know could really doom us all.

  5. By Lazy Iguana on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    JMJ - bio mass fuel does not have to do anything at all to food prices.

    Lets take corn for example. Who says you have to use the corn? Corn harvests leave tons of “useless” crap on the fields. Corn stalks. Corn husks. Corn cobs. And so on. If farmers could sell that stuff too, it may lower food prices. Or at least make more money for the biggest farmers.

    Of course, leaving all that stuff on the ground has the added benefit of “giving back” to the soil. Not that corn farmers do not use a lot of chemicals - and many of those chemicals are oil based - but whatever.

    Lets look at what we throw away. Lawn clippings. Coffee grounds. Leftover food. This represents a lot of stuff. Who says it has to go to a landfill? There are some landfills here that are capped and no longer in use and you know what they had to do? Stick a pipe into them to vent the gas. These landfills have a 24 hour a day 7 day a week torch over them. I think some of that gas is also sent off into the natural gas grid. There be energy in them thar hills.

    I think that America needs to seriously take up the recycling fad again. Most curbside programs involve separating glass, metal, and plastics into one bin, paper into another, and everything else goes to the landfill. Well how about we add a third bin there? Organics. The yellow bin would be where you put anything that can rot. Old food. Kitchen cuttings. Lawn clippings. Peels. And so on.

    All that could be used to make ethanol. Right now it is just tossed into the dump.

    Germany beat us to the punch with solar. Ever price out a solar panel? I have. A 120 watt class solar panel (the kind homeowners would want) are $700 - $800 each. And then you need a solar regulator (if you want to charge 12v batteries) or an inverter thing if you want to turn the solar into 120v power and a transfer box to feed it into your home and other equipment if you want to feed unused power back into the grid. I wanted to get a 50 watt panel for my boat to keep the batteries charged - but just went with a 120v plug in marine smart charger. $500 for the panel alone was just too much. Now if I had a sailboat that was too big to trailer then I would have a few of these panels, along with a wind generator. But I don’t.

    Even $10,000 in tax rebates would only get you about 1 kilowatt in solar power. And that would only work if the sun is up. Oh yea, this cost estimation assumes NO BATTERY BANK that you can draw from at night.

    Most of the world’s panels go to Europe. Germany is particular made a big push for solar years ago. They cut deals with producers that locked in a price for them. So now if we want a slice of the excess production we have to pay up or shut up.

  6. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    greetings. i assume one inane comment will be accepted. during last weeks discussion on this topic i suggested a google of “die off”. i did not provide the link because i am truly a “rube” who does not know how and at my age not really interested in learning how. additionally i am truely a believer in the old saw that the most interesting things are learned while looking for something else. perhaps some of you did and were intimidated by the number and technical nature of the articles. folks we know what to do, but we humans do not have the correct ethic. today i am going to suggest a google of “Herschel Elliott.” go to the first selection and read his two or three page discussion on tragedy of the commons. if we are going to get this energy thing right we have got to get the correct ethic. a quote off the top of my head from trategy of the commons. “The law jails both man and woman, who steals the goose from off the common, but lets the greater felon loose, who steals the commom from the goose.”

    Rube Cretin, an old man who expects an intervention at any time.

  7. By Jersey McJones on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    Jamison, Tyson is an infamous polluter. When you consider the methane release from animal farming, the soil erosion, the run-off, the rising prices of feedstock and food overall… it’s all just so problematic. We have got to evolve beyond fuel-burning cars and power plants. We have to. If we don’t, as India and China and the rest of the world starts buying more cars (let alone electricity, etc), we are going to see an increase in pollution the likes of which will make the Industrial Revolution look like three kids and a set of legos. I’m not saying “do nothing,” I’m saying that bio-fuels will make things even worse!

    JMJ

  8. By ken grandlund on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    Yes, I left out some things like conservation, mostly because it’s not an new energy source, but rather a way to decrease overall power usage- important to be sure, but a tangent to this post. Things like compact-flourescent bulbs instead of incandescent make a difference. So too does better insulation, good vehicle maintenance, and recycling. All these must be a part of the overall equation, but again focus more on the environmental than on the creation of new energy.

    JMJ- I don’t think ethanol is the end all, but we have to begin somewhere. until we have other transport modes, we’ll need to modify what we have now. It’s a mid step, but to say forget it-it’s as bad as now is to submit to continued status quo, or longer dependence on oil. We must transition now, and expect to transition again as we find better forms of energy for our needs.

  9. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    jamison, just read your most recent quote of the day on your site. (beautiful site by the way.)

    ‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.’

    - Albert Einstein

    also very interesting and relevant to this discussion! i believe even einstein might agree that the quote would be more accurate if he had substitued, See, for Look. there is infact a difference, i think. (who in the hell is this guy thinking he can improve on einstein?) this reminds me of a conversation i frequently have with my grand children when i ask them not to look but see, not to study but learn, and to listen not here.

  10. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    the last phrase in my previous post should have been , to hear not just listen. (sorry, i felt another thread break and there are not many left holding me in this deminsion.) dear god i wish i knew how to spell check these rants.

  11. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    wonder if there is a thought check on this thing? seems everyone has taken their ball and gone home. one thing i agree with bush on. “it’s hard work!”

  12. By Jersey McJones on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    Lazy,

    “JMJ - bio mass fuel does not have to do anything at all to food prices.”

    Yes it does. Already corn feed prices rose this past year.

    So far, the amount of energy used to make ethanol with substances other than sugar cane has outweighed the energy value of the ethanol itself - that’s why it costs so much.

    Ken,

    I see ethanol as a boondoggle for Breadbelt farmers and pols, is in itself maintaining the status quo, and the cost/benefit is negligible. I see ethanol as more of the same political bait ‘n switch that does nothing to address the problems, and only creates more.

    JMJ

  13. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    ever thought the “pan handler” standing on the corner might be an angel? i never pass one by.

    jmj is correct in comment #11. boondoggle in spades.

    my fear is this may just be noise in the system. i know, maybe the law might be used to solve this messy situation. what do the laws of thermodynamics tell us? what is inate to humans and how and what kinds of ethics and morals do they practice? what are the natural system laws and principals which might provide a clue as to what we are up against and is possible?

    “The feeling of respect for all species will help us recognize the noblest nature in ourselves.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

  14. By ken grandlund on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    well, while ethanol is clearly not the end all, if it moves us away from fossil fuels and foreign dependency, I’m for it in the short term. And if by exploring ethanol production we can derive better sources for ethanol (cellulose, waste bio-matter) that are already being discarded,even better.

    the point is that we move away fromoil into new forms of energy. as ethanol is available now, why not start there, with the idea of using it as a starting point and not an end all answer.

    and by the by, we’re already being boondoggled by the oil giants, and by supporting them with gov’t policy we find ourselves in war. doubt that would be the case with ethanol, so we save lives, limit military entanglements over energy, and move forward.

    don’t be blinded by “this isn’t the best answer” as that can well leave us where we are now. and that is clearly an untenable position to remain in.
    similarly, don’t be blinded by the cost/benefit ratio of today- we’re already getting screwed for fuel, and this still moves us away from oil.

    and transportation fuel is still just part of the picture.

  15. By Lazy Iguana on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    JMJ - I said it does not have to raise prices. And it does not. We can use garbage. If this “bio fuel” stuff only needs organic material then why use the good stuff? We can use corn - after it has been eaten, digested, and flushed. That stuff can be bought fairly cheaply.

    But first, plants have to be built. And if we can make fuel from shit and garbage, why not do so? It will not take much additional energy to simply divert garbage from landfills to plants.

    Bio fuels may just be a stop gap measure, but is it realistic to expect a switch from oil to solar in one step?

    I do not really give a crap what powers my home or vehicle. Hydrogen or whatever is fine by me. As long as I still have lights and AC at the house (it is hot as hell in South Florida, and projected to get hotter and then a lot wetter) and a way to get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time I am good.

    But the reality is that oil is not going to vanish anytime soon. The name of the game now is to find ways to reduce demand. Conservation is going to be key here.

    And if this ethanol thing can provide any fuel multiplier effect, even if it is only 10% or 15%, that is 10%-15% less oil that is needed.

    Even if it takes 1000 gallons of oil to make 1,100 gallons of ethanol - it is a net gain. We simply do not know how far this technology can go.

  16. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    “denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes a constant low grade anxiety.”

  17. By Jet Netwal on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    Great post, Ken. Bio fuels are not the sole answer, they are a step. This debate about their value underscores your point, that we need to stop thinking in terms of absolute solutions, and use a broader approach. Are bio fuels a short term solution? They can be, and as the lock oil has on automakers eases, other viable products can find footing in the market and be embraced by the consumer. The key is an open mind, and the will to begin.

  18. By ken grandlund on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    “The key is an open mind, and the will to begin.”

    Thanks Jet- you’ve gotten the thrust of this post quite nicely.

    We can debate specific forms of alternative energy til we are blue in the face. I’m fine with that too, so long as we’re actually moving towards other energy sources at the same time and not struck with paralysis to the point of inaction over a single source of fuel.

  19. By rube cretin on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    “The people of the community are willing to put up with a little personal indiscretion, but when a varmint crosses the line the community is willing to rise up and speak out. And sometimes speaking out isn’t enough. And that’s when we say, “Bring It On.”

    sorry guys. i am well aware my approach was not effective. however, i am passionate about this subject and my posts are frequently sprinkled with riddles which are meant to stimulate thought about some additional complexity of the issue which my delusional mind thinks is important. i really was not trying to be a smart ass. i really was not trying to be a varmint. thank goodness there are folks out there like you bring it on crowd who are spending time discussing the issue. who knows someone may sign on one day and have the solution. you really should read those sites i recommended. i’ll being playing some other place on some other subject tomorrow. maybe we will meet up again.

    cheers,

  20. By ken grandlund on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    rube-

    we welcome all sorts of discourse here, and just because we aren’t directly responding to a comment you make doesn’t mean we aren’t digesting what you’ve written and using it as food for thought.

    i especially liked your previous comment about denial- it’s what has gotten us here in the first place. well, that and a fair amount of tunnel-vision.

    look forward to hearing from you more around here, should you choose to keep us on your reading list.

  21. By Jersey McJones on Apr 30, 2007 | Reply

    “JMJ - I said it does not have to raise prices. And it does not.”

    Lazy, my man, prove that to me.

    Here’s an easy search on my part… http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&q=corn%20bio-fuel%20price&btnG=Google+Search&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&um=1&sa=N&tab=wn

    JMJ

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