Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Renewable Energy Content In the Stimulus Law

President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law on February 17. The law includes about $60 billion worth of investments in energy efficiency measures and renewable-energy technology, out of $787 billion in total allocations.

Here is a detailed article describing the "clean technology" funding in the bill, including $5 billion towards the Weatherization Assistance Program, as well as $4.5 billion for activities to modernize the nation's electrical grid.

The Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) provides this summation of much of the law's "green" funding:

  • $6 billion for clean and safe water
  • $4.5 billion for greening federal buildings
  • $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy Research and Development
  • A multi-year extension of the renewable production tax credit
  • $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewables, transmission and leading edge biofuels
  • $2 billion for advanced batteries
  • $9.3 billion for intercity rail, including high-speed rail 
  • $27.5  billion for highways (this large pot of money is not exclusively for highways, and states and cities must use this flexibility to invest in fuel-efficient public transportation)

Apparently, $50 billion for loan guarantees involving liquid-coal and nuclear energy has been removed from the bill, according to the NRDC.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not That Climate Change Science Needed Anymore Bad Press

Not that Climate Change science needs anymore vociferous detractors, but a $280 million carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring satellite crashed into the sea near Antarctica today. You can read more of the bad news here at treehugger.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Climate Change Revs Up Beyond Earlier Predictions

The global warming pot continues to boil, as people are otherwise (understandably) preoccupied with near-term crises.

A scientist points out in the The Washington Post that increased inputs such as coal-burning factories in the developing world are intensifying climate change beyond the most recent predictions of the IPCC.

This means that the latest climate models are probably underestimating the extent of temperature extremes, sea-level rises, polar melting, and other anomalies that climatologists expect to take place in the next 50 years (or sooner, or later).

The scientific evidence is ironic, considering that it has been since the 1980s and conservative Reagan years since I have sensed so many people wrapped up in the "climate change is a hoax" personal fantasy. The "feedback mechanisms" involved with excess greenhouse gases are likely to threaten the habitability of the planet for us and other species.

These mechanisms include the melting of massive amounts of permafrost, which releases more CO2 and methane into the atmosphere than mankind could ever muster; as well as the continued acidification of the oceans, which typically are a "sink" for CO2 in the atmosphere. The more acidified the waters become, the less CO2 uptake takes place in the oceans.

Further, the "albedo" effect by which snow cover reflects heat back into space is obviously reduced the more snow recedes and uncovers more forested terrain. Trees also become net CO2 emitters when the carbon saturation of the forest reaches a certain level. The Australians and to a lesser extent the Californians have experienced the extreme weather events that in all probability will increase in frequency over the next several years.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gas Prices Creep Up: Oil Supply Crisis in the Offing?

Gasoline prices have gone up quite a bit in the last few weeks here in the Boston area, from about $1.69 per gallon to $1.89 per gallon. What gives?

What will become of us if we are hit with an energy crisis on top of this horrendous, Depression level economic crisis?

First of all, gas is still very cheap for the beleaguered U.S. consumer compared with Europe. Gas is more than three times more costly there. But clouds are gathering on the horizon.

The New York Times reported back in December 2008 that "dozens of major oil and gas projects have been suspended or canceled ... as companies scramble to adjust to the collapse in energy markets [meaning the price of crude oil]."

This means that all those oil derricks that were sprouting up all over places like Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota have ceased operations, not to mention big exploration and drilling projects throughout the world. What looks like a good deal at $147 per barrel suddenly does not make any sense at less than $40 per barrel.

As a result, it is just a matter of time before supply constraints send the price of the Western world's precious oil upwards again.

That is just what the realing economy needs, right? High energy costs. Actually, yes. This is a golden opportunity for the U.S. and other countries, when oil demand is historically low, to begin weaning themselves from this heroin-like addiction, via conservation mainly (smaller cars, better trains, telecommuting, eating locally grown food, and the like), before the unfortunate implications of a loss in oil supply become the second really bad crisis to come true.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Revive the U.S. railroad system

The "stimulus" package that is presently being tossed back and forth as a political football in the U.S. Senate contains $18.5 billion of spending under a renewable-energy related title.

This spending would include $2 billion for renewable energy research, including biomass and geothermal projects; $6.2 billion to help make homes more energy efficient (via a weatherization type program); and $4.5 billion to modernize the electric grid (the so-called "smart grid" to help move solar-thermal and wind-generated energy to population centers).

Most of these provisions make sense and will presumably help create "green" jobs at a time of great economic suffering.

Most people agree that we can kill two birds (if not a whole flock) with one stone here; create energy-related jobs, give renewable energy a boost to reduce some of our self-destructive foreign-oil dependence (although only conservation can really make inroads there), and ameliorate some of the country's pressing infrastructure problems, like dangerous bridges and lousy railroad systems.

How does the stimulus address our antique passenger-railroad system?

I've been in Switzerland and experienced what a world-class train system is like. The system itself does not overly depend on oil (it is electrified with largely nuclear power and hydropower), the trains are a great way to travel anywhere, even to the smallest villages, and a Swiss does not have to own a car (although many do).

Suffice it to say, the U.S. does not have one of these systems. A bad energy crisis and consequent gas/diesel shortages could quickly lead to a food transportation crisis.

I love the Acela high-speed service to New York City, but this is a rare example in the U.S. of a modern rail system.

The New York Times reports that one of the stimulus bill's provisions that is likely to be dropped is $800 million for Amtrak, to reduce the cost of the $825 billion package and make it more palatable to lawmakers.

The Amtrak proposal would specifically be allocated only for "the repair, rehabilitation, or upgrade of railroad assets or infrastructure."

This sounds like a practical expenditure to me, considering that the federal government is willing to hand multi-billions of dollars to failing financial institutions, only to have those funds disappear into the ether. A country's train system, particularly a geographically dispersed country like the U.S., is one of its most essential assets.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Instinctive responses to global warming/cooling vary by region

It is snowing again in the U.S. northeast, where we are having a winter more evocative of my New England childhood in the 1960s. No roofs are spared the ominous ice dams, and you can hardly see over the snowbanks. Much of the United States has experienced a similiarly rough winter. What happened to global warming?

Well, once again, ask the Australians. They seem to be living in the equivalent of Death Valley, California, with temperatures in Melbourne and Adelaide ranging from 109 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, amid a 12-year-long drought. I hiked in Badwater, Death Valley this year where it was 109 F., and neither the landscape nor the temperature seemed to belong on Planet Earth.

The point is that weather is not climate, and that forming an opinion about global warming versus cooling based on the weather outside, however tempting, is short-sighted.

At any given moment you can find opposite representative examples of weather extremes in the world, such as Australia versus the top of Mount Washington (where Summer is really summery, and winter is really wintry).

The National Academies of Science and the Royal Society lean strongly toward global warming, as in forming a scientific consensus that unchecked manmade greenhouse gases can trigger dangerous feedback mechanisms.

As the AccuWeather global warming blog points out, a recent study indicates tht Antartica has indeed been warming during the last 50 years.

Finally, 2008 turned out to have been about the ninth warmest year globally since 1880.