Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Renewable Energy as State Export Candidate

Through a macro-economic lens, renewable energy can be considered an export commodity. In the global economy in which we live today, the U.S. is always looking ways to exert reversal pressures on the never-ending trade imbalance. However, unless renewable energy-based electricity is used to create say, hydrogen, it isn't feasible to export to other countries. Instead, the argument could be made that creating a commodity (electricity) that can be sold to other states creates financial benefits more local in nature.

This is not meant to be a debate on "sending our electricity to out-of-staters" or any other such arguments. Rather, it is meant to be a glimpse into the opportunities that lie before every state and the competitive forces that (like it or not) exist between the states for a resource that can be "manufactured" and sold to other states.

It is no secret that California has the most challenging goals for the portion of power that is to be created from renewable energy by the year 2020 at 33%. Sure, their totals include hydroelectric-based generation, but the point is clear: they are aggressive. On Monday, Colorado's Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a bill calling for 30% of that state's power to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. Previously, Colorado's target was 20% by 2020. “Today we continue to chart a new course for Colorado’s New Energy Economy and America’s clean energy economy,” Ritter said in a statement. “Colorado is giving every state and the entire nation a template for tomorrow. This is a game-changer. We are transforming the future of Colorado and our country.”

Let the games begin!

Just as renewable energy is (for now) a small part of the U.S. energy picture, so is the competition between the states for how much of this commodity they are able to create, use and potentially export to other states. Bringing macro-economics closer to the micro: the more of a state commodity that can be exported, the more flow of revenue into the state that occurs. Nothing is wrong with this picture.

How do we get into the game? Education.

By providing our students with a comprehensive education including renewable energy, we are laying the groundwork for innovation and commercialization of a valuable commodity for the state. Studies show that when students must go out of state for their post-secondary education, we often loose them to other states or countries when they complete their education. By providing that educational opportunity locally, we are more apt to keep our students local - and keep the societal and financial benefits that come with that.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

E85 - Ethanol Needs Education

At the risk of getting into a debate on the moral aspects of Ethanol (using corn for fuel), it occurred to me that there is an ongoing lost opportunity to use less imported oil. Here's my rationale: E85 is a blend of up to 85% ethanol, with as little as only 15% gasoline.

We have an ever-growing number of vehicles on the road, but most of them use regular gasoline. My hypothesis: if the vehicles capable of burning E85 switched over, that population would use 85% LESS gasoline.

Let's explore that concept further and the role education plays in that equation.

There has been tremendous growth in the vehicle count on U.S. roads capable of burning E85.  Wikipedia states that the number was almost 5 million in 2005 and jumped to nearly 8 million in early 2009.

OK, you say, that accommodates the first part of my rationale - there are a growing number of E85-capable vehicles on our roads... so what?

The interesting part of this equation is that many people aren't aware they own an E85 vehicle.  On the same Wikipedia page, it cites a 2005 survey that found 68% of American flex-fuel car owners were not aware they owned one.  (Yes, I know the stat is dated, but the concept is sound - many people are oblivious.)

My point?

Think of the average child these days, much more aware of recycling that we ever were as kids.  Why? They are exposed to it, they have been taught the benefits, and they can relate to how changing a habit can make a significant environmental difference.

By integrating renewable energy education into our classrooms now, we will have a much more aware, educated, and engaged generation of drivers who will gravitate to the yellow E85 pumps when they are ready to drive. They will know the benefits and will be able to understand, through appropriate education, that changing a habit can make a significant environmental difference.

This is not the time to debate the "chicken or the egg?" issue on fueling infrastructure vs. critical mass of users.  But it is important to recognize one simple concept we learned in Econ 101: boosting demand for a commodity will entice other suppliers to enter the market. Improving exposure to renewable energy concepts in our schools will not overload a nascent E85 fueling infrastructure overnight.  However, it will boost demand over time and the numbers will speak for themselves.  Other suppliers and distributors will enter the market.

If we add "Education" to the "E" of E85, we do have a chance in regaining that lost opportunity to reduce our reliance on foreign oil - and reap all the financial and environmental impacts that ensues.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oil Bad on Many Fronts

It's no secret that oil is bad for the environment. It hurts it when exploration takes place. It hurts it when drilling takes place. It hurts it when it is refined. It hurts it when it is transported. Finally, it hurts it when it is burned. This doesn't take into account the Foreign Accounts imbalance from such a one-sided import. With this many strikes against it, we've nearly accounted for two outs in a single inning. Sure, the world society benefits from the commerce and mobility that comes with this "easy" and "relatively inexpensive" form of transportation, but I would argue the environmental costs outweigh them.

Now let's look at the socio-economic impacts to a country like the United States who imports most of its oil. We depend on countries whose political climates are at best, not much like ours and at worst, very unstable and dangerous. Then, add the sheer financial impacts of a current balance always in the negative by being a heavy net importer of oil and you have a financial model that can not and should not be sustained indefinitely.

There's a sound case for the negative impacts oil has as a commodity and the manipulation of its pricing that occurs in world trading markets. It can never be a stable condition when a commodity is needed by everyone and is provided by a few. Greed, power, control, and more come into play and causes unrealistic effects on pricing.

What's the true cost of a barrel of oil?
  • Environmental: Lots
  • Economic: Plenty
  • Investment: Too Much

So why expound on a topic that for most everyone who is reading this would be a "no-brainer?" To reinforce the value of a long-term investment in renewable energy education. We didn't get into this oil mess overnight. We won't get out of it by tomorrow, either. But with the forward-thinking concepts brought to bear with Energication, and with the great work that is already taking place in our schools to prepare our students to "change the world," we will indeed "change the world."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot? How About Hydrogen Fueling in Every Home?

In this CNN interview, the future of automotive fuels can be seen.  Although BMW, as shown in the video, attempted to lead the world into clean, renewable energy for cars, the world simply wasn't ready for it.  With all good ideas, launched before their time, there is often some "catching up" to do.

The Hydrogen fueling equipment you will see in the video looks like a toy, but don't be mislead.  This technology is scalable to support transportation needs - and more.  Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and many more are at the the nascent edge of having a viable Hydrogen strategy.  The title of this post is ironic, because this is the classic "chicken or the egg" example.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) are facing the same challenges: manufacturers aren't betting the house on the technology (yet) because the electrical refueling infrastructure is not in place.  Cities, states and federal government haven't proved the infrastructure because there isn't a critical mass of vehicles to use it.


Things are changing.  States are installing electrical charging stations.  Auto manufacturers are ready to deploy a plethora of alternative drive trains such as PHEV, ER-EV, BEV - and entire alphabet soup of options.  Some of those options already have concept vehicles designed with Hydrogen as the fuel source for the electricity used to power the vehicles.

When the chicken crosses the road, it had better start to look both ways for a car, electrically powered with Hydrogen.

Enjoy the video.


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