November 6, 2007 – Volume 11, Issue 9
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Robotics and the Best of Driving

Can you imagine being at the helm of your hot rod but having no control? High speeds, an alarmingly short distance to the car ahead, wow, you can almost touch it at 120 miles per hour, and a personal mobility system that maximizes vehicles per hour while minimizing travel time. Robotic cars may be the wave of the future: You covet a vet or mini or beamer, buy it, and then leave the driving to sophisticated vehicle traffic control.

No. The very best part of our car culture is taking the wheel on a mountain or coastal road, controlled decelerations and then feeling the power of the engine, being slightly on edge as you weave through the turns and obstacles. Recently I felt like a downhill skier punching my way down Laurel Canyon. What a feeling. Maybe it's the only good feeling I get from cars. Other than that, they are costly, dangerous, polluting, antisocial, and often in the way.

So robotic cars don't excite me the way they do Stanford researchers and other automotive futurists, keen on "allowing vehicles to drive closer together in a safe way." We're taking automation - at least automotive automation (after all, auto-motive is self motivated isn't it?) - to a new and illogical dimension. I'm OK with beeps that warn you of a curb when parking. I can even handle a system that actually parks the car for you. Why not leave the nasty job of parking to an on-board computer helper? But take away the controls?

Stanford researchers suggest that robotic cars will allow us to "snooze, read a paper or check e-mails on the way to work." (Sounds like it's time to take the train.) Researchers suggest robotics combine the convenience of train and car. But taking the pressure off freeways does not excite me. I'm not sold on the notion of a "utopian autobahn" that allows us unwind as we zip along. If we won't be driving cars in the future, why continue a predominant transportation patterns based on inefficient internal combustions engines and land areas scared by monstrous "freeways"?
Heard around the Network:
"Transforming Red China to Green China."
"Carbon dioxide molecules have no VISAs."
"Moving toward low-carbon abundance."
"Using efficiency as a competitive asset."
"You're creating a generation of frustrated solar system owners."
"I'm recharged after touring Germany with EcoMotion."

The Big Equation: Part Two

The Big Energy Equation three-part series began in Volume 11 Issue #7 with global energy use. Globally, we currently use about 450 quadrillion BTUs of energy each year. About 4,000 GW of power plant capacity in the world generates 16,000 TWh annually. In this issue of ENN, Part II focuses on US energy usage. Part III will present renewable energy statistics worldwide and domestically.

National Energy Use

In 2005, and according to the Energy Information Administration, the United States consumed about 100 quads of energy, 23% of global use. (U.S. population is about 5% of the world total.) National energy use in this case includes transportation, industry, and electricity generation, with 85% derived from fossil fuels. Oil accounts for 41 quads or 41% of total consumption. Coal and natural gas each consumed 23 quads in 2006. The balance of total energy comes from nuclear (8%) and renewables (7%), the latter made up of biomass, hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar in declining order of contribution.

National Electricity Use

In 2005, U.S. utilities reported 1,066 GW of capacity that generated 4,050 TWh. (EIA Annual Energy Review 2005) While natural gas "peaker" and "base-load" plants constitute 41% of the capacity, coal generates just shy of 50% of total delivered electricity, with natural gas and nuclear sharing the next rank with 19% each. Renewables are about 9% when adding hydro (6.7%) and "other renewables" (2.3%). Oil still fires 3% of electricity generation.

Comparative Intensities

The average world citizen consumes 73 million BTU per year, and requires 0.6 kW of power plant capacity to generate and use 2,647 kWh. In comparison, the average American consumes 340 million BTU per year, and requires 4 kW of capacity to generate and use 13,500 kWh each year. The American uses 4.7 times the global average for overall energy use, has 6.7 times the capacity at the ready, to consume 5.1 times as much electricity. A factor of five in comparative intensities.

The Predominance of Oil

Oil continues to dominate global energy use, accounting for 35% of primary energy use. According to the Energy Information Administration, 443 quads of energy were consumed worldwide in 2004. Of this, oil amounted to 155 quads.

Oil continues to outstrip coal and natural gas which each are responsible for 113 quads, or 26% each of total energy use. Nuclear and hydro each provide about 27 quads (6%). Geothermal and other forms of renewables amount to 6 quads, 1.6% of total use.

In the United States, oil accounts for 41% of total energy, representing 41 quads of oil per year. (EIA 2005 Annual Energy Review) Oil has a "lock" on transportation, where it accounts for well over 95% of energy use, but oil is also used for space and water heating, power generation, and industrial processes. In 2006, the U.S. consumed 20.6 million barrels per day, 24.1% of global use of 83.719 MBD. China and India - whose use is growing dramatically -- consumed 7.4 and 2.5 MBD respectively.

U.S. Electricity Pollutants and Prices

Good news. According to the 2006 Electric Power Annual released by the Energy Information Administration, sulfur dioxide emissions were down 7.9% in 2006, nitrogen oxides dropped 4.1%, and CO2 emissions from the power sector were down 2.2%. EIA reports that this was due to a shift from fossil-fuels to nuclear, hydro, and renewables.

Prices for retail electricity prices jumped an average of 9% in 2006, the biggest overall power price increase since 1981. Most of the price increases were the result of regulatory action, specifically price cap removals largely in Eastern states. The California Public Utilities Commission reports that ratepayers have experienced 7.5% average power price increases for the past 30 years.

Ecomagination's Incandescents!

The statistics are telling: General Electric's ecomagination selling $14 billion of "eco-friendly" products this past year. Green product sales are growing at 12% annually, well above GE's average product growth rate of 8%. This includes everything from hybrid locomotives to 5 MW wind turbines to high- performance drive trains and high-energy density capacitors, both for use in plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Despite state and national efforts to ban inefficient incandescent lamps and to replace them with compact fluorescents, part of ecomagination's $1.1 billion research budget is being used to research means of producing high-efficiency incandescent lamps, sidestepping the mercury issue inherent to fluorescent technologies. Concurrently, GE is developing light emitting diode (LED) technologies that it believes may ultimately replace both incandescents and compact fluorescents.

The Change a Light Campaign

Hard to believe that there is anyone out there who’s not aware of compact fluorescent lamps, but there are. Huge opportunities remain for energy efficiency across the country in lighting and all other end-uses: space and water-heating, cooling, drivepower, appliances, etc . A recent poll found assessing consumer awareness of the value of solar energy systems presented rudimentary gaps in awareness. Of 504 households around the country surveyed by the Shelton Group, plus focus groups in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Diego, a third of all surveyed were not aware of their opportunities gain some control over their power bills through conservation and efficiency. One out of two could not name any form of renewable energy – solar, wind, hydro, etc.

October concluded the Change a Light campaign with a million Americans taking the pledge to change a single light – or more of course – to a compact fluorescent. The campaign reports 2.6 million CFLs pledged and a billion pounds of avoided CO2 over the life of the lamps. The Energy Star sponsored campaign featured a 10–city bus tour with sixteen events in collaboration with Disneyland Resorts, the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Navy Pier in Chicago, and Manhattan’s Union Square.

Samuel Bodman, President Bush’s Secretary of Energy, supported Change a Light saying, “The cleanest, most abundant and affordable energy available is the energy we waste every day.” DOE and EPA claim that if every household changed one lamp to a CFL or Energy Star fixture, the avoided CO2 would be the equivalent of taking 800,000 cars off the road.

Bali and Post-Kyoto Carbon

How not reflect on the climate front? Whether or not you think that Al Gore deserved a share of the Nobel Peace Prize, there is growing worldwide consensus on man’s role with climate change and the need to cap carbon dioxide emissions. Now the United States and Australia, the two major industrialized countries that refused to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol framework, have indicated that they will be at the table and ready to negotiate in the next round of discussions for a post-Kyoto framework. The Kyoto Protocol involved 36 nations and expires in 2012.

In December, ministers from 80 countries around the world will convene in Bali, Indonesia to develop an international agreement to extend Kyoto. This past week, a United Nations official noted that at informal pre-hearings in Indonesia that, “The United States came to the meeting with a very constructive position.” The official noted that the U.S. wants to complete “post-Kyoto” negotiations by 2009, and that the U.S. is willing to begin negotiations but that it seeks to impose restrictions on China and India, a major and recurring negotiation issue.

Norwegian and Japanese ministers insist that China and India must be included in the next phase, since the U.S., China, and India – three countries currently outside the Kyoto agreement – make up 40% of global CO2 emissions. This compares with the 30% emissions represented by the international community that signed onto Kyoto. The ministers believe that that major financial incentives may be required to ensure that developing countries join the climate protection framework.

Berkeley Centers for Energy Innovations and Climate Solutions

The University of California at Berkeley has created the Center for Energy and Environmental Innovation “to promote viable global energy solutions.” The multi-disciplinary program was instigated by the Energy and Resources Collaborative, a campus club formed by MBA students to help Berkeley students gain experience in the energy sector. Its membership grew quickly to over 400, forming the impetus for an interdisciplinary center. It now ties the business school and a number of other departments, plus campus organizations and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, together in a concerted focus on accelerating the commercialization of clean energy technologies and developing the next generation of energy leaders.

Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission convened hearings on a solicited proposal by the University of California to establish the California Institute for Climate Solutions. On September 20, the CPUC considered remarks on a new Climate Solutions Institute that would expand and orchestrate climate solutions activities across the 10-campus U.C. system, as well as reaching out to other academic institutions.

The climate-focused institute will squarely address the needs of California Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. According to Governor Schwarzenegger, “There is no more pressing issue facing California’s environment and economy than climate change.” AB 32 calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be returned to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. CPUC Commissioner Simon added, “This turns the University of California’s brainpower loose on the State’s energy and environmental challenges.”