2012: The year your electric meter gets smart

August 01 2008 / by Antonio Manfredi / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2012   Rating: 6 Hot

On July 30, 2008 Pacific Gas and Electric annnounced a plan to deploy smart meters and an enhanced electric grid by 2012. What does this mean for the future of power?

For over half a century our electricity usage has been accounted for in the most basic way. We flip on a switch, and our electric meter starts turning. Each time we use our electricity, we really have no idea how much electricity we are using at any given time. The wheel turns, and no one is home.

Suddenly there has been a convergence of technology and resources around that little round meter that you never really look at. Utilities want to know more about your power usage, and when you use it the most. They also want to inform you of the same information, so you can reduce your energy usage during times of peak energy demand. New forms of rate pricing will replace the dumb system we have now. Use less energy when those power companies are scambling to meet demand and you may be rewarded. Three advanced residential rate options on your bill will include hourly pricing, critical peak pricing and critical peak rebates, according to www.Metering.com. Basically you will be rewarded for how well you govern your consumption.

Realizing that it is difficult to watch your energy usage without the proper tools, technology companies such as Comverge are figuring out ways for you to remotely control the thermostat in your house. Other companies are working on technology that can inform you of a good time to do your laundry, such as off peak hours when it will be cheaper.

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Stop worrying about ‘peak oil’ production, focus on ‘peak demand’!

August 01 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Garry Golden

Most of us have read about peak oil production in which the ability to extract oil reaches a growth plateau and fails to keep pace with accelerating demand. The result could be managing a ‘peak and plateau’ scenario as we gradually shift away from oil, or a ‘peak and collapse’ scenario as the world economy stumbles and cannot adjust to a more rapid decline in production.

But what about the implications of ‘peak oil demand’ from energy consumers? And how might it change the future of the transportation industry?

This notion of ‘peak demand’ is supported by a new report from leading energy-sector forecast firm CERA titled ‘Dawn of a New Age: Global Energy Scenarios for Strategic Decision Making- The Energy Future to 2030’.

CERA suggests that because of high energy costs the US could reach ‘peak gasoline demand’ in the next ten to fifteen years, and possibly plateau as early as 2010. As our vehicles become more efficient and we change behavior, our demand for gasoline will plateau.

CERA’s forecast of ‘peak demand’ is a game changing concept because it shows the transportation industry the ceiling of its growth opportunities in the world’s largest economy. It also forces drastic changes to enable more growth around a new platform as we electrify the world’s transportation sector.

If peak production is our biggest challenge, ‘peak demand’ might be our best incentive for innovation! (Continued)

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Virgin Galactic Unveils Space Tourism Mothership

July 30 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

On July 28th the ever-expanding, ever-hip, almost ubiquitous Virgin revealed the WhiteKnightTwo—a carrier ship that will ferry the still veiled SpaceShipTwo on its sub-orbital, space tourism flights.  SpaceShipTwo will be the first ship of the new Virgin Galactic—Virgins’ latest step on it’s quest for universal dominance.

Ferried by WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo will be the first ever space tourism craft.  It will be capable of carrying six passengers and two pilots into a sub-orbit around the earth to see space, the Earth, and experience weightlessness.  WhiteKnightTwo Will be able to support up to four daily space flights and operate during both day and night. 

The fist flight of WhiteKnightTwo with SpaceShipTwo and passengers is expected to take place in Early 2010 and the BBC reports there are already 250 people have paid $200,000 to be on the first flights.  Before you grab your wallet, remember that each flight will remain at it’s top altitude of about 60 miles above the Earth’s surface for only about 6 minutes

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T. Boone Pickens: the Face of the Future of Energy?

July 28 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 15 Hot

For 80-year-old Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

When you imagine of the future of U.S. energy, chances are the you don’t think of 80-year-old Texas Oil tycoons.  At least you didn’t until T. Boone Pickens began campaigning for the The Pickens Plan just a few weeks ago.  With oil prices heading towards $5 a gallon in the midst of a recession, an administration change on the horizon and the clean-tech debate drawing a great deal of attention and even more capital, the U.S. sorely needs a high profile spokesperson for energy policy change.  So is Pickens our guy?  And is the timing finally right for some serious energy policy change?

The Pickens Plan calls for a reduction in U.S. use of foreign oil by 38% in 10 years by greatly expanding wind power in the center of the country to be used towards electricity production, thus freeing up natural gas reserves to be used for transportation.  22% of U.S. electrical generation comes from natural gas.  The plan argues that if the current 1% (48 billion kWh) of power converted from wind can be expanded to 20% (960 billion kWh) then the more than 6.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas used annually to produce electricity could be used for transportation starting with industry vehicles like trucks and buses.  Furthermore, unlike oil, natural domestic gas production can increase and actually did see a 9% rise from 2007 to 2008.  U.S. natural gas reserves are twice that petroleum.

But why has Pickens chosen to promote his plan at this exact moment?  U.S. dependence on foreign oil has been an issue for at least 20 years and it’s not as if the other selling points of his plan—lower CO2 emissions of natural gas, the need to expand renewable energy infrastructure, and the potential of wind power in the U.S.—are new to the political landscape.  Environmentalists and many Democrats have been shouting these points for years.  The only thing new to these ideas is that Pickens is promoting them.  Atop in all, Pickens is a particularly unlikely renewable energy spokesperson.  Besides being a billionaire oil tycoon, he has been an outspoken supporter of the Republican party and contributed $5.5 million to help defeat John Kerry elect George W. Bush in 2004.

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Bucky Fuller Returns?

July 23 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Garry Golden

If curators at New York’s Whitney Museum are correct, the world might once again turn towards Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller for inspiration in addressing global challenges.

Bucky Fuller (1895-1983) is widely recognized as one of the world’s great modern visionaries of the 20th century. He was a natural Futurist, not because of his intellect, but his wisdom to challenge widely held assumptions from the world around him.

He blended his skills as a writer, thinker, and engineer into a concept he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.” Bucky believed that the essence of human life on the planet is to solve problems and continue expanding our awareness and views of what is possible.

New York’s Whitney Museum has re-opened the question of Bucky’s outlook towards the world with its latest exhibition Buckminster Fuller Starting with the Universe running through September 21, 2008.

Our best strategy for addressing problems of the 21st century might be to revisit the core principles of his philosophy related to design, shape and energy. If the Whitney curators, are correct, Bucky Fuller might turn out to be one of the most influential thinkers of not one, but two centuries.

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Energy startups see plenty of room for innovation at the bottom

July 28 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Garry Golden

What makes QuantumSphere and A123Systems two of the most innovative energy companies in the world?

Because they are investing in the future design of catalysts! And their strategy is to innovate at the nanoscale.

The Beginning of Nano

Physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with launching the ‘nanoscale’ era of engineering with his famous lecture ‘Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ at Caltech in 1959. Feynman described our future ability to manipulate individual atoms and eventually create complex mechanical structures made of the fundamental molecules.

Fifty years after Feynman’s lecture, researchers and startups are making significant progress in designing nanoscale structured materials that will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the energy industry from production, to storage to end use delivery.

What is disruptive about catalysts?

Simply put, catalysts help us get more output with less energy input. Catalysts speed up the reaction of photo-, chemical and electrochemical changes in everything from batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells, to the refining of coal, gasoline, diesel, and natural gas, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. Catalysts also help to reduce the energy required to create plastics, biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.

The rules of the energy industry game are being re-written by companies designing synthetic metal and carbon-based catalysts that change our notions of what is possible in the years ahead. Other companies are attempting to harness, or mimic, naturally occurring bio-catalysts that gracefully manipulate energy in all living things from algae/bacteria to plants to human beings.

Catalysts are the silent work horses of our modern world but you seldom, if ever, hear or see the word mentioned in mainstream conversations about energy. Yet they hold the key to unlocking human potential without draining the planet’s resources. Catalysts can help realize the vision of a world powered by cheap, abundant, clean energy. (Continued)

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MIT Introduces New Windows That Harness Solar

July 18 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

Lucky for us the sun is a wonderful source of clean energy. Its rays can be harnessed and transformed into electricity using semi-conductor-based solar cells that power homes, buildings, and even transportation. Researchers have spent decades trying to refine this process.

Recently, MIT researchers have made a significant mark in this endeavor. Associate Professor Marc A. Baldo, leader of the project, and a team of four graduate students of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, have constructed a cost-efficient solar concentrator device based on a failed 1970s model that uses glass and dye. In practical terms, the concentrator device is a high-efficiency window.

Currently, solar concentrators on the market track the sun’s rays using large mobile mirrors that are both expensive to arrange and to maintain. Furthermore, Baldo explains, the solar cells that house these concentrators must be cooled, thus the entire assembly wastes space.

Baldo’s new solar concentrator increases the amount of usable energy by a factor of 40, all while cutting costs by reducing the amount of solar cell, which because its base is silicon is rather expensive.

The device consists of glass coated with a mixture of relatively inexpensive dyes that absorbs the light and re-emits it on a new wavelength into the glass to be collected by the solar cells, which are located on the edges of the glass.

Baldo says the 1970s model failed in two ways: the collected light was absorbed before it reached the edges of the glass and the dyes were unstable.

Using optical techniques developed for lasers and other diodes, the MIT engineers found the perfect ratio of dyes that would allow the light that is absorbed and emitted to travel a longer distance before reaching the solar cells. (cont.)

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Dear Al Gore, Did you forget about harvesting carbon for bioenergy?!

August 05 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 16 Hot

In his bold speech calling to transform the energy industry, Al Gore forgot to say one of the most important words of the 21st century – biology. He forgot to mention that if we wanted to ‘grow’ energy, carbon could become a profitable feedstock rather than an economic and environmental liability.

Gore is now calling on America to launch a major Apollo-style program to ‘decarbonize’ the electricity sector by 2018 using renewables, geothermal and carbon sequestration efforts. He imagines a world beyond ‘fossil fuels’, but might be overlooking our greatest potential investment in the energy sector – tapping biological systems that ‘eat’ carbon and ‘grow’ energy resources such as biofuels (for transportation) and hydrogen (for electricity generation).

What is possible by 2018? Within a decade we could transform the role of carbon into a profitable feedstock for clean, abundant energy by tapping the power of biology.

The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ is misleading. Coal and oil are not ancient bones or animal matter, rather they are ancient plant life and microorganisms that locked up hydrogen and carbon molecules using the power of the sun. Coal and oil are bioenergy resources. And rather than extract ancient bioenergy from the ground, we can grow the same hydrocarbon chains ourselves without adding new carbon to the atmosphere. (cont.)

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Can We Outrace the Fourth Turning?

July 03 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Economics   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

Are we due for a massive cyclical U.S. crisis that finally spurs institutional change? A regular revolution not tied to the accelerating curves driving so much growth and innovation?

In large nations big spurts of institutional change tend to occur every four generations (roughly every 88 years, 1 generation = 22 years) when economic resources trapped by out-dated, inefficient systems are shifted over to efficient new systems once societies reach a cyclical tipping point for change. Generational theorists Strauss and Howe call this tipping point a fourth turning, a point in time where social power shifts to the generations too young to have witnessed the previous correction. They liken this pattern to a forest growth cycle: 1) new saplings take root, 2) the forest grows tall, 3) dead branches fall and choke off new species, 4) lightning strikes, the brambles burn and new saplings are free to grow—repeat.

As seen widely in biology, this sort of change is called Punctuated Equilibrium, which contrasts with the gradual evolution that many scientists intuitively believed to be true but ultimately was not supported by research nor the fossil record. Similarly, the historical record shows that the United States has regularly experienced punctuated social crises, aka fourth turnings, stretching all the way back to its roots in England. And just like all of the scientists that deny punctuated evolution/development, there is a huge % of the population that does not intuitively believe another fourth turning will occur because they have not encountered the historical evidence and are used to a relatively stable socio-economic situation. (Ironically, this blindness seems to be built into the very fabric of our social system and may result in more efficient growth when looked at from the broader context of inter-meshed life systems on our planet.)

Like it or not, cyclical crises pegged to human generations are real and should be considered when evaluating the future, right alongside accelerating change. So the questions we need to ask are 1) “When will the next fourth turning begin?”, 2) “Are there any dynamics that might break or trump the pattern of punctuated national change every 88 years?”

A Likely Fourth Turning Scenario

79 years ago, on October 24, 1929, the Great Wall Street Crash sparked the Great Depression and the last U.S. fourth turning. What followed was the New Deal Era, WWII, the transformation of most U.S. socio-economic sectors and ultimately the birth of what we now refer to as “The American Dream”.

79 years later the U.S. economy is facing a variety of problems that could spark a down-turn and a new fourth turning. (cont.)

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Energy: Can we break the tyranny of oil? Experts say we can

June 24 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Energy is the life-blood of America – it affects our economy, standard of living and national security. Our prime energy source, oil, is a product we can no longer afford. Four-to-five dollar per gallon gas prices, air pollution, and global warming has brought us to the point where we must find a better energy source.

Experts predict that by 2030, new energy technologies described below could drastically cut our oil consumption, and slash reliance on electricity-producing fossil fuels like coal and natural gas almost entirely. Added to our portfolio of existing nuclear and hydroelectric power, these new energy sources could virtually eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels to run our homes and economy.

Bio-fuels – in the nation’s heartland, scientists are working to turn agricultural waste or ‘biomass’ such as switchgrass, wheat straw, cornstalks and miscanthus into a fuel called cellulosic ethanol that could be produced commercially. Department of Energy (DOE) officials believe that by 2030, bio-fuels could meet 30 percent of our transportation fuel needs.

Hydrogen – this new technology stores energy more effectively than batteries, burns twice as efficiently in a fuel cell as gasoline does in an internal combustion engine and leaves only water. It’s plentiful, clean, and capable of powering cars, homes and factories. The DOE predicts an all-hydrogen vehicle could become price effective by 2020; and by 2030, this renewable non-polluting energy could power ten percent of our cars, homes and factories; by 2050, 50 percent. (cont.)

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Rising Oil Prices Fueling Broad Economic Disruption

May 29 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

With crude oil hovering at an all-time high of $130/gallon people all over the globe are feeling the pain and starting to react in different ways.

Some are finally choosing to drive less frequently. CNN reports that “compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less—that’s 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it ‘the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history.’”

Others are increasingly making the switch to higher-mileage and hybrid vehicles.

In Europe, where environmental taxes roughly double the cost of gas, groups of French and British workers are demanding public assistance by staging protests .

A few particularly pinched and pro-active folks in rural regions are shifting around their work week and travel schedule. According to the Wall Street Journal “a handful of small towns and community colleges are switching to four-day workweeks in an effort to help employees cope with the rising gasoline prices, and could soon be joined by some larger local governments.”

And of course there are the enterprising individuals who’ve decided that enough is enough and that it’s time to take drilling for oil into their own hands.

This is just the beginning. (cont.)

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Black Gold

May 28 2008 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

The economy is a funny thing. As oil prices, and commodity prices in general, have gone wild in the past year or so, there are many interesting ripple effects. Some are obvious and quantifiable, such as the increase in venture capital investment into green/alternative energy sources and plummeting SUV sales. But here is a micro-trend that could gain some traction if oil prices continue to rise. A farmer in Indiana installed a drill on his property that produces about 3 barrels of oil a day – worth almost $400 dollars at today’s price of about $130/barrel.

Of course you have to have oil in your backyard to actually make this work – but if oil ever gets to be the same price as gold – then we’ll really see a trend in backyard prospecting.