Climate & Energy

A smarter, thriftier grid

Field test documents big consumer savings

A Northwest field test of smart-grid technologies has documented tremendous potential to run a grid that delivers power far more economically by controlling peak demand. The Pacific Northwest GridWise Demonstration Project has just announced the results of their year-long test, which included two pieces: On the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, 112 homes, three onsite generation units and municipal water pumps were equipped with automated systems that allowed them to adjust grid power demand in response to price signals. Appliances embedded with microchips capable of automatically responding to grid power fluctuations were placed at 150 homes in Washington and Oregon. The aim of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory-managed project was to document the ability of automated control systems to cut usage of the most costly power. Reducing demand can eliminate the need for peak power plants and delivery systems used only a relatively few hours of the year. Among the study's findings: Average power bill savings among customers who participated in the Olympic test were 10 percent, and peak load reductions 15 percent. Power use reductions plus distributed generation reduced peak power distribution loads 50 percent for days at a time. These technologies have potential to lower peak power prices plus save $70 billion over 20 years by avoiding the need to build peaking plants and wires. If all appropriate appliances were equipped with the intelligence to respond to grid conditions, 20 percent of U.S. power demand could be adjusted, tremendously reducing the level of blackouts and brownouts.

President Bush asks OPEC to boost oil production

President Bush, on a trip to Saudi Arabia, has urged the key member of OPEC to boost oil production. “Oil prices are very high, which is tough on our economy,” said Bush. “I would hope, as OPEC considers different production levels, that they understand that if … one of their biggest consumers’ economy suffers, it will mean less purchases, less gas and oil sold.” Translation: We don’t want to pay more, we don’t want to seek alternatives — we just need our fix, man! Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi demurred, “We will raise production when the market justifies it.”

Business-y news I should write more about, but probably won’t

GE is going to double its investment in renewable energy from $3b to $6b; Toyota plans to offer plug-in hybrids by 2010; meanwhile, GM, which also promises a plug-in by 2010, just struck a deal with Coskata, a start-up which will be making cellulosic ethanol from waste products. [Token acknowledgement that cars are not the way of the future, Grist is car-obsessed and in the pocket of The Man, public transit is awesome, and something about the happy motoring delusional something something.]

Pragmatists v. environmentalists, part II

Hybrid emissions: Facts and numbers

Having laid out my views in part I, let me turn to the actual data regarding hybrids -- both from an environmental and economic perspective. How do carbon emissions per mile driven compare for various cars? The Volt is expected to be "less than $30,000" with a 1.0L engine. Compare this to the Corolla, with a 1.8Lengine (peak hp of 126; 31 mpg) and a price of $14,400. It's worth noting that this is in the optimistic, no-gasoline-use scenario for the Volt, computed below along with carbon emissions for the Volt running on cellulosic ethanol and gasoline, and emissions for comparable-sized ICE cars. Questions on the Volt's actual usage patterns remain: how many people will recharge everyday? What percentage of total miles will be on the grid, and what percentage on gasoline?

E.U. says it will be mindful of sustainability in boosting biofuels

Realizing that biofuel production can have negative social and environmental consequences, the European Commission says it will propose “strict conditions that biofuels used in the European market are produced in a sustainable way” instead of barreling ahead willy-nilly (because really, that would be crazy). The commission will announce specific climate-change mitigation plans later this month; it previously declared a goal for biofuels to make up 10 percent of all E.U. transportation fuel by 2020, but E.U. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas says it would be better to miss that target than to meet it by harming the poor or the land. …

Antarctica ice melt more widespread and faster than thought, says study

Antarctica holds about 90 percent of the Earth’s ice, so it’s a bit problematic that the continent seems to be melting faster than expected. Not only is large-scale ice loss more widespread than thought, but the rate of meltiness has accelerated over the last decade, says a study in the journal Nature Geoscience. The West Antarctic ice sheet lost about 132 billion tons of ice in 2006, compared to some 83 billion tons of ice in 1996. Unfortunately, many computer models of future climate impacts assume that Antarctic ice levels will be stable — and thus may underestimate sea-level rise.

Pandering in Michigan

Romney and McCain treat Michigan workers like credulous children

Romney and McCain are campaigning furiously in Michigan, and it’s tight. Romney, for whom Michigan is make-or-break, seems to have decided it’s in his best interests to sell fantasies: Mr. Romney criticized the energy bill signed into law last month by President Bush that requires cars and trucks sold in the United States to achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Substantial majorities in both parties in both houses of Congress approved the measure. Mr. McCain voted for it. Mr. Romney said he opposed the new mileage standard, describing it as an anvil tossed to Detroit …

An interview with Florida’s governor, a Republican climate crusader

Photo: Steven Murphy/WireImageMeet Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a surprising blend of Grand Ol’ Party and bleeding-heart greenie. As a Republican, he defends the Bush administration’s environmental record, but he also counts among his personal heroes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who wrote an entire book condemning Bush as “America’s worst environmental president.” Crist wasn’t backed by green groups during his 2006 race for the governor’s mansion, but now, after his first year in office, enviros in Florida and beyond are singing his praises. Crist has earned their particular admiration for diving into the fight against climate change and spurning plans for …

Cape Wind project given preliminary environmental approval

Seems it was only October that the controversial Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound was dealt a setback. Now here it is January, and the wind farm that NIMBYs love to hate is inching forward, having been given preliminary environmental approval from the Minerals Management Service. After a public comment period, the final fate of the project is expected to be announced later this year.

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