Monday, June 29, 2009

Changing Light bulbs at the White House

Last Friday the House passed the Waxman Markey bill on energy and climate change, establishing, among other things a cap and trade system for carbon, although the details and the timing are not as yet such that the true impact of the legislation can be accurately estimated. I say that in part because the bill must be approved in the Senate and then the two versions reconciled, but also because I rather suspect that one the basic legislation gets put in place it will be modified and tweaked until something with a little more teeth finally emerges. Thus while the current step is significant, I don’t really expect that it will be close to what we ultimately have to live with.

But the Senate vote is not here yet, and after trying, with remarks, to help encourage the bill through the House, the President was in the Grand Foyer of the White House, this afternoon, with Secretary of Energy Chu to add a little more encouragement. He noted:
this is a moment where we've been called upon to cast off the old ways of doing business, and act boldly to reclaim America's future. Nowhere is this more important than in building a new, clean energy economy, ending our dependence on foreign oil, and limiting the dangerous pollutants that threaten our health and the health of our planet.

And that's precisely what we've begun to do. Thanks to broad coalitions ranging from business to labor; investors to entrepreneurs; Democrats and Republicans from coal states and coastal states; and all who are willing to take on this challenge -- we've come together to achieve more in the past few months to create a new, clean energy economy than we have in decades.

But his remarks today were more than just an encouragement to the Senate to get on board after the House action, he also announced an effort by the Department of Energy to increase energy efficiency of appliances. He started with light bulbs, which he noted were more financial rewarding that might at first appear
The first step we're taking sets new efficiency standards on fluorescent and incandescent lighting. Now I know light bulbs may not seem sexy, but this simple action holds enormous promise because 7 percent of all the energy consumed in America is used to light our homes and our businesses. Between 2012 and 2042, these new standards will save consumers up to $4 billion a year, conserve enough electricity to power every home in America for 10 months, reduce emissions equal to the amount produced by 166 million cars each year, and eliminate the need for as many as 14 coal-fired power plants.

The President went on to talk about the need to impliment technologies that will improve the efficiency of buildings -
We're talking about technologies that are available right now or will soon be available -- from lighting to windows, heating to cooling, smart sensors and controls. By adopting these technologies in our homes and businesses, we can make our buildings up to 80 percent more energy efficient -- or with additions like solar panels on the roof or geothermal power from underground, even transform them into zero-energy buildings that actually produce as much energy as they consume.

He ended with a comment that I will also quote, but which (when juxtaposed to apply to the climate change debate) could equally apply to the tactics of his supporters.
But the fact is we're not lacking for ideas and innovation. All we lack are the smart policies and the political will to help us put our ingenuity to work. And when we put aside the posturing and the politics; when we put aside attacks that are based less on evidence than on ideology; then a simple choice emerges.

We can remain the world's leading importer of oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs utilizing low-carbon technologies to prevent its worst effects. We can cede the race for the 21st century, or we can embrace the reality that our competitors already have: The nation that leads the world in creating a new clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy

I would disagree about the level of ideas and innovation that are really out there. Many of the new ideas get caught in the net of surveys carried out by blogs and newspapers seeking new topics for stories. Thus if the idea is out there and viable then in today’s electronic age odds are that we would be hearing of the potential. (We hear a surprising amount of what is going on from quite a few people thanks to the grace of e-mail etc). From that there really are not that many outside-the-box creative ideas that are that dramatic, and yet likely to succeed in changing the way the world gets energy.

It is easy to say that we have these talents and dedicated engineers, but we don’t have enough of them, and the protocols can slow rather than accelerate developments. Many of the new ideas have been submitted to NSF who must now review them on their merits to select the best. NSF does this with physical panels of folk that meet, and discuss a set of the proposals over a day, generally ranking the proposals with only the top one, historically, being in the ballpark to get funding. Now with all the packages, the numbers of proposals have driven dramatically (into the thousands) and still the panels must meet and evaluate. But the numbers of people not involved in one proposal or another rise to a higher level of the available scientific populace, given the new opportunity, so finding the right reviewers and dividing up the proposals into packages of a reasonable size, is likely to be a huge undertaking, especially with the demand for rapid decisions in order to get the money from the Stimulus out into the community. (So raise your glass to those willing to serve on those panels (I may be one) since it is otherwise a relatively thankless job with little tangible reward). And I am also a little cynical that we will see many truly innovative ideas. I would be delighted to be proved wrong, but when the dust settles I fear that all we will see is more of the same.

To finish on a personal note, we did take delivery of the Fusion Hybrid this afternoon, and are still trying to remember which button operates what. It looks very much on a par with the Camry apart from the TV camera that comes on when you are backing up, and the collision alarm when there is a car/truck in your blind spot. Both have proved their value already. Now if we could just work out how to play music . . . . .

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