Business & Technology

A tale of two emissions factors

How much CO2 do our nation’s coal and gas plants actually produce?

It was the best of half-centuries, it was the worst of half-centuries … Broadly speaking, there are only three things we can do to lower CO2 emissions: switch fuels, use energy more efficiently, or use less energy (conserve). Our CO2 conversations too often focus on one of those three in isolation: Coal bad. Recycled waste heat good. Conservation isn’t an energy policy. Each assertion is both narrowly true and broadly incorrect, to the extent that each simplifies three prongs into one. To understand why, try to answer a simple question: if we shifted our power generation fleet to preferentially dispatch …

Breaching the dams

How fast can the U.S. electric sector reform?

Is the electric sector capable of rapid, large scale reform? Many policies implicitly assume the answer to that question is No, especially when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission control. The result is a policy conversation that hinges on the assumption that it is hard to change. How much must we spend to accelerate new technology? How many decades should we allow for a phase-in of new regulations? As it turns out, the industry can change — and indeed, has changed — at a much faster pace than you might think. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it turns out to …


Replace the “Saudi Arabia of wind/solar/etc power” trope

How many times have you heard that Place X is the “Saudi Arabia of solar power” or “Saudi Arabia of wind power” or “Saudi Arabia of geothermal”?  Kate Galbraith of The New York Times‘ Green Inc. blog has heard it one too many times, so she’s launched a contest for a new phrase to describe renewable energy potential. The point of all these comparisons, of course, is to suggest that this place or that possesses giant reserves of a potential resource. But given that the planet’s oil supplies, including those in Saudi Arabia, are finite by their very nature, it …

Size does matter

Starbucks brews global green-building plan, renovates Seattle shop

Photo: Sarah van SchagenStroll into the newly renovated Starbucks coffeehouse in Seattle’s University Village and the décor may feel more familiar than you’d expect. The menu boards are made from the chalkboards you may have scribbled on at nearby Garfield High School; the shelving is from old bleachers you may have sat upon; the leather accents near the bar are from your old shoes and car seats; and the ash-wood community table that stretches the length of the store and patio (one-third of it is outside) is salvaged from a tree that fell in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. It’s part of …

You just can't teach an old petro-dog re-new-able tricks.

“Back to Petroleum”: BP shuts clean energy HQ, slashes renewables budget, dives into tar sands

The UK’s Guardian reports: BP has shut down its alternative energy headquarters in London, accepted the resignation of its clean energy boss and imposed budget cuts in moves likely to be seen by environmental critics as further signs of the oil group moving “back to petroleum”. Sad, but not terribly original or surprising (see “Shell shocker: Once ‘green’ oil company guts renewables effort“). But Tony Hayward, the group’s chief executive, said BP remained as committed as ever to exploring new energy sources and the non-oil division would benefit from the extra focus of being brought back in house…. “It saves …

How about... "prosumer"?

Stop calling Americans “consumers”

I was at a small meeting on peak oil Friday – Executive Summary:  We’re peaking now! James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, was there.  He is in the Mad Max/Lovelock/Wall-E school of dystopia, and so I have a number of disagreements with him (see “Why I don’t agree with James Kunstler about peak oil and the “end of suburbia“). He did, however, say one thing that really strike a chord.  He said we should stop calling Americans “consumers.”  It pigeonholes all Americans and also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That seems to me a reasonable point, and I will endeavor …

Who knew?

Screwing up environment not so great for economy, studies find

Let’s take a look at a few studies that have come out recently and see if we can find a common thread. A West Virginia University researcher found that “coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits,” reports the Charleston Gazette. The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development found that “the coal industry takes $115 million more from Kentucky’s state government annually in services and programs than it contributes in taxes,” reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. A recent peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science found …

Big Blue's electric green dreams

IBM places big bet on lithium-air batteries

Big Blue is rolling out a wide range of “green” services, including research into a new generation of batteries that could double the range of electric vehicles.Courtesy IBMBack in the day when I had to convince East Coast editors that green tech wasn’t some crunchy California fad but Big Business, I often cited IBM as Exhibit A that Fortune 500 companies saw a lot of green to be made in green. Over the past several years, Big Blue has been recycling and repurposing a panoply of technologies to create a portfolio of environmental services — everything from a traffic congestion …

Coal River Mountain Action

The story of our civil disobedience against mountaintop-removal coal mining

Several people asked for more information about the 23 June civil disobedience near Coal River Mountain. We need Dickens to describe the local situation, but you can glean something from a statement I was reading at the time we were arrested (reprinted below). Local pollution effects and regional environmental destruction should be enough to stop the practice of mountaintop removal. Vernon Haltom, head of Coal River Mountain Watch, provided the details therein. The group can make good use of any support. The bigger picture, including climate change, makes it clear that mountaintop removal, providing only 7 percent of United States …

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