Big Plans are susceptible to changes in the world around us, and even bold visionaries can have wrong assumptions about the future.
After blanketing the media landscape over the summer with The Pickens Plan, T Boone Pickens has announced that he is slowing down his plans to build a massive wind farm in West Texas. Pickens’ $2 billion order of GE wind turbines has not been affected, but scaling up of the project is likely to happen more slowly than originally hoped.
A changing world or wrong assumptions?
Pickens has certainly felt the pains of shifts in the market where money is now in short supply and the global economic slowdown has battered his energy intensive hedge fund. But there have always been flaws to his core assumptions that support the vision that have somehow escaped widespread critical thought or media scrutiny. Pickens deserves credit for his willingness to advance the energy conversation in the US, but it does not free his Plan from closer examination:
#1 Utilities won’t evolve without regulatory changes
#2 Wind needs storage to evolve
#3 Natural Gas is a globally integrated industry, no breaking ‘foreign’ dependency there!
#4 The Auto Industry’s problem is not oil, it’s the combustion engine.
#5 Building transmission lines in my backyard or ranch?! It’ll cost you!
#1 Utilities won’t evolve without regulatory changes
By Jenna Varden
“It’s just a math problem.” – Google CEO Eric Schmidt
Google is thinking big, again! The company that was founded to ‘organize all the world’s information’ is now focusing its attention on energy. Google’s Cleantech Movement plans to “eliminate all utility fossil fuel dependence and 50 percent of automobile fossil fuel dependence by 2030.”
So far, the company has already invested $45M in wind, solar, and geothermal energy, with tidal and wave power as next in line. This will not only save consumers and America money, one of Google’s motivations, it will also protect the Earth’s environment, reason number two, which is “all part of not being evil (Source: Stefanie Olsen/CNET). In other words, not only is funding alternative energy helpful for its monetary benefits, it helps the environment and gives Google a positive image in the public eye. It will also benefit Google’s energy guzzling servers, whose life-force is the precious commodity of electricity, thus saving the company money.
Schmidt believes that better energy efficiency will lead to more savings. And moving from fossil fuels to renewable, alternative energies will also cost less in the long-term. As an example, while it may indeed cost a hefty amount to make the switch, once in place, the ‘U.S. would save 97% of $2.17 trillion in energy spending over the next 22 years.’ Google’s renovation of its own buildings to cut carbon emissions, installed solar and power monitoring equipment, and is already saving money each year. Restructuring the U.S. power grid, currently with a 9 percent efficiency loss, could also make the country’s energy more efficient and thus, save more money.
Are Computer Servers 21st century ‘energy guzzlers’?
While Google should be lauded for its progressive view on energy efficiency, it also has an intrinsic self-interest in cheap electricity. Google’s new server farm to be built on the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon, called The Dalles data center, will need an estimated 103 megawatts of electricity to run, ‘enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington – via Roughtype
While The Dalles center will not be up and running until 2011, Google’s multitude of other server farms also require large amounts of electricity. Cheaper electricity will allow Google to save money powering their farms, as well as allow further expansion.
What is behind Google’s real motivations? Not being Evil, or Green is Good
Here is a simple but wonderful visual tool for understanding the landscape of US energy resources- electricity grid, natural gas lines, solar potential, biomass potential, et al.
We are looking for a global map if anyone wants to forward a note!!
[Here is an EPA map Google Earth plug-in, Thanks Sandy]
MSNBC Energy Map of America
Thank you Venessa!
Image source: MSNBC Energy Map of America
After airing a special on the future of electric cars CBS 60 Minutes had energy pundits glued to the screen again with Charlie Rose leading an interview with Billionaire Texan T Boone Pickens. Pickens has generated international media attention with his ‘Pickens Plan’ to rearrange the US energy mix emphasizing natural gas and wind in a complicated scheme to wean the US off ‘foreign oil’. What is not entirely clear is how the utilities will respond to the challenges of wind power (without effective storage to manage intermittent power generation), and how Pickens expects free market driven companies to avoid buying ‘foreign’ natural gas if prices are lower than US domestic supplies.
Could China help the world move beyond the combustion engine
CBS Video on Future of Electric Car
Detroit to World-Nobody Killed the Electric Car
GM picks Korean battery company for Volt
Warren Buffet invests in Chinese battery maker
Could China launch age of electric vehicles?
India’s Tata to produce electric cars for Europeans
There are many that see huge potential in windmill farms, solar fields and huge geothermal operations. And there is huge potential. Energy is a resource we seemingly cannot live without and can never get enough of. In fact, electricity may as well rank up there with water in level of importance.
But the problem facing the average consumer is that even if these huge projects are undertaken, they are still dependent on a large company for their energy needs. They are subject to rate hikes, unfair charges, and development costs the company undertakes.
How can the average person release themselves from the shackles of energy addiction?
Solar panels are a good start, but for many the idea of keeping track of battery fluid levels, the cost of the panels themselves, as well as winter months without Sun keeps floating in the back of their heads. Installing a windmill in their backyard is also out of the question, unless of course you have acres to spare and don’t mind the occasional malfunction.
One genre of products that have the potential to take the consumer market by storm is the micro wind turbine.
NPR has released a fantastic interactive map of the US Electrical Grid as part of its Series - Power Hungry: Re-Envisioning Electricity in the US. The tool looks at grid connection points, major sources of power by region, power plant location as well as potential for solar and wind power.
The key word for the cleantech (or alternative energy) world is momentum.
Market conditions change, as do consumer attitudes and expectations. If alternative energy concepts fail to live up to their hype, public support could fade along with political will and policies that enable growth.
Cleantech startups are trying to reach people who are asking ‘What can I do to accelerate changes in energy?’
The formula is relatively straight forward. Consumers buy things so they need to be low cost and easy to use. And moving beyond criticisms of trying to buy or consume ourselves into a greener planet, start ups have to evolve around one of two categories products and services to survive. Today we’ll look briefly at products in home and local power generation.
Local power generation is an area that should see solid growth in the years ahead. Producing 10-20% of our own electricity needs could go a long way in reducing emissions and demand on our electrical grid.
Small scale wind and solar systems are ideal for homes, schools, factories and office buildings looking to reduce their demand on the energy grid.
Small Wind Turbines
There are dozens of small wind turbine startups such as AeroVironment, HelixWind, Loopwing, Quiet Revolution and Mariah Power’s Windspire that are now driving residential and commercial sales.
Home Energy’s Energy Ball (pictured) is quiet, works at low wind speed, and can generate up to 500 kilowatt-hours per year, or 1,750 kilowatt-hours per year with the larger 2-meter unit.
October 29 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Gadgets Year: 2008 Rating: 4 Hot
Samsung shocked some crowds at the FPD International 2008 this year by displaying a .05mm thick OLED display. Oh, and did I mention there just “happened” to be a fan nearby that caused it to flap around? Because there was.
Called the Flapping Display, Samsung really outdid itself. In fact, one staffer at the event mentioned “It is technically possible to make the panel thinner. However, it is difficult to further reduce the thicknesses of the flexible substrates and circuit components around it.” Way to be modest. I wonder how long before OLED screens start appearing everywhere — on the sides of cars, in our phones, even on a future high-end Kindle.
One thing is for sure, OLED is going to change everything.
info from Nikkei Business Publications
[IEA’s official response to the leaked report]
The Financial Times has obtained a draft copy of the International Energy Agency annual World Energy Outlook. The Paris-based IEA is a highly regarded information agency on the global energy sector. The report, which will be officially released next month, states that the world’s largest oil fields have a natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent. This suggests that the world will struggle to add capacity against such a steep decline. [We will not know IEA’s official figures until November 12th, but the issue of new capacity growth should not be dismissed.]
Peak Production, not Supply
Peak oil relates to extraction, production and new capacity, not total supplies. Even though oil is a finite resource, we are not ‘running out of oil’ – especially around non-conventional hydrocarbon resources. The real concern relates to our ability to increase production to meet growing global demand. The real question is how much can we ‘add’ in new capacity, at what cost and how quickly.
The central element of this story from the IEA, and a key concept to peak oil production, is the ‘rate of decline’ of existing oil field output. The Financial Time reports from the IEA draft “…as they (oil fields) mature it is the single most important determinant of the amount of new capacity that will need to be built globally to meet demand”.
Who is going to add new capacity?
The big question is – where will the oil come from? Forget about claims of ‘known or proven reserves’, there is plenty of oil in the ground. We must ask ourselves which countries and companies can bring massive amounts of oil online at a reasonable cost. This is where things look more uncertain.
Richard Heinberg writes with the Energy Bulletin: “This (9% decline) is a stunning figure. Considering regular crude oil only, this means that 6.825 million barrels a day of new production capacity must come on line each year just to keep up with the aggregate natural decline rate in existing oilfields. That’s a new Saudi Arabia every 18 months.”
Bad news could get worse
By Ami Sampat
The efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of reliable power generation of renewable fuels will determine the future of the electric grid, as was reported by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. But solar and wind will have to overcome some fundamental challenges before they are accepted by large utilities.
“As we consider our energy future, it becomes increasingly clear that our success in reducing carbon emissions and realizing energy independence will hinge on our ability to provide reliable, clean, electricity where and when it is needed,” states Rick Sergal, President and CEO of the NERC.
Why is this important to the future?
The Energy Scanner Daily Top 5 highlights some of the best energy category scans submitted to the Future Scanner community.
Portugal’s Agucadoura commercial wave project
Scan by fantasywriter
-The long-term view on wave power potential is positive. But engineers are still trying to figure out the best way forward given the diversity of ocean/tidal currents across regions in the world. Scaling standards for kinetic wave energy could be a challenge.
New ‘snake-like’ wave power concepts
Scan by jvarden
-Unique bio inspired design using a giant rubber tube developed by UK-based BulgeWave
GridPoint grabs more attention, money
Scan by Mielle Sullivan
-The big near future disruption to electricity grids is the potent combination of ‘storage’ and ‘software’. GridPoint is a highly regarded ‘smart grid’ company worth watching. The other thing worth watching will be the calculated reaction of utility companies to the changing landscape of power generation! Big battles ahead as business models will be challenged around distributed power management. Storage and software are big disruptors!
-GreenVolts building CPV Project in California
Scan by fantasywriter
-Utility scale solar systems that tap the heat (thermal) power of the sun are widely seen as commercially viable in the near term.
Congress moves forward on Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for alternative energy-
Scan by Mielle Sullivan
-Emerging industries always need public sector help during early stages of development. Clean coal is getting help, deep water drilling is getting help. Alternative energy is no exception. We’re watching as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) legislation works its way through Congress. And the world solar industry is watching to see what happens to the US tax credit extension.
By Jenna Varden
Recently we featured a story of SolarWorld opening a 500 MW facility in Hillsboro, Oregon. We also covered a research breakthrough in solar material that captures 100% of the solar light spectrum. Now another solar plant for Oregon is in the works, this time in the Renewable Energy and Technology Park of Salem, where a new solar ingot and wafer manufacturing plant will be built. Construction of this SANYO plant will begin in a year’s time and should be under full operation in under six month’s time, by April 2010. At full capacity, the plant will produce approximately 70 MW, “bringing the total for ingot and wafer production capacity in America approximately 100 MW” (Source).
This factory is only part of SANYO’s goal of an annual capacity of 600MW by 2010. SANYO’s goal competes with North America’s largest solar-cell manufacturing SolarWorld facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, only a little more than fifty miles away. SANYO has invested about $80 million in its Salem plant and upon its completion, should provide Oregon with two hundred green jobs.
Image: [Van_mij] Flicker CC