Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guardian Accuracy and Secretary Chu at Copenhagen

Well I notice that George Monbiot did not like the remarks that the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Chu, made at the Copenhagen summit. For some odd reason the Department of Energy wanted me to get the document via Dr. Chu’s Facebook page - there is a laugh line there that I will carefully avoid.

From the initial analogy
I have just been watching the tragic sight of a fallen giant flailing around on its back like a beetle, desperately trying to turn itself over. . . . . his speech was, in the true sense of the word, pathetic: it moved me to pity.
it is not hard to gather that Mr Monbiot does not care for Dr. Chu’s thoughts on what is needed to move this country away from its dependence on foreign oil. While the emphasis is on technical answers, some of the levels of investment that are being made drew derisive comments when compared with the levels that Europe has already invested, and the scale of technological application, where again Europe is considerably in the lead.

As an illustration he noted
The Department of Energy is so thrilled by this discovery (that they can make home appliances more efficient) that it has launched a programme to retrofit homes in the US, on which it will spend $400m a year.

To put this in perspective, four years ago the German government announced it would spend the equivalent of $1.6bn a year on the same job: as a result every house in Germany should be airtight and well insulated by 2025. The US has about 110m households; Germany has roughly 37m, and German homes were more energy-efficient in the first place. This $400m is a drop in the ocean.
I will have a comment below the fold on the accuracy (or otherwise) of this reporting.

Much of the current Administration effort is directed at the immediate gains to be made by energy conservation particularly with homes and appliances. And while I disagree with a number of programs and the levels of investment that the DOE are making, I also think (although I wasn’t there to actually hear the Secretary) that there is a lot more going on than he referred to in the talk. Locally, for example, (and I have written on this in the past ) the utility companies have been assiduous in recent months in seeking to help folk with energy audits, and with consequent home improvements to improve their energy use. This has not been a federal program, but one carried out much more locally, that however, as I will show, is about to change.

At the same time not all the programs are going to be eagerly accepted. Just recently there has been a push by DOE to switch many households over from conventional meters to “smart meters” which provide both more information to household and utility company, but also, potentially down the road, may allow the company a greater control of energy use. The goal of the Federal Program is to cut energy consumption.
Some 18 million smart meters are set to make their way into American homes as part of the economic stimulus plan focusing on energy efficiency, Energy Department officials said Tuesday. . . . . The 18 million meters represent roughly 13% of all electricity meters nationwide. Ultimately, the administration hopes to distribute 40 million smart meters over the next few years.

The smart meters are part of a wider government effort to upgrade the nation's aging utility grid. The government announced $3.4 billion in funding Tuesday to help move the country toward a so-called smart grid. Utilities are putting in another $4.7 billion in matching funds.

According to the White House, these investments could reduce U.S. electricity use by 4% a year.
And while the publicity has been largely favorable, there are now some reactions coming in from California, where the program is most advanced. The reviews are not all favorable. Apart from some concerns that the meters might not be accurate, there are such details as to paying for the $220 instruments, and the fact that the utility companies are seeing a decline in demand, due to the recession, right at the time where they were in the process of trying to limit growth in demand with this program. The net result is that the nation currently has a surplus of generating power.

Nevertheless the companies are moving forward, Southern California Edison is working through the San Gabriel Valley installing the meters . In that program the home owner will be given the ability to see his electricity consumption the day after he used it. The goals for the program are significant.
Edison SmartConnect is a $1.6 billion program authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission. SCE anticipates customers’ use of the new meters will reduce demand on the electricity grid by about 1,000 megawatts, the amount of energy produced at an average power plant. Sustained energy conservation resulting from customer response to their energy use information is also expected to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollutants by a minimum of 365,000 metric tons per year — the equivalent of removing 79,000 cars from the road.
One of the leaders in the technology is Silver Spring Networks which has been caught up in the controversy since, as the new meters were being introduced, the price of power went up, and thus the meters are catching some of the blame.

To return to the Secretary’s presentation he commented on the anticipated future cost of solar panels.
Predicted Prices and Production of solar modules (Note 1 Wp is a peak Watt, the nominal power of the cell, and can be approximated to 20 kWh (Wikipedia)

He noted that the DOE is now providing loan guarantees for factories fabricating panels. He thinks that there is a gap between what is needed and current funding support of the required research of between $14 and 32 billion. (Unfortunately he thinks the vast majority of this should be directed through the National Labs to which he just gave $104 million for new facilities.) Interestingly along the lines of George Monbiot’s critique, one of the slides notes that rather than $400 million the DOE is spending some $11 billion on building retrofits and local energy efficiency efforts. (Which is more along the lines of the same scale as the Europeans). Odd that this was on one of the slides that Dr Chu purportedly showed, and that Mr. Monbiot presumably therefore saw.

He showed that the world was able to conquer food supply issues of the 1960’s through the work of Norman Borlaug and suggested that future concepts now being funded (perhaps this is the $400 million and Mr Monbiot missed where it was being spent) will go to a new all-liquid metal battery (based on magnesium and antimony salts) and new designs of wind turbines based on jet engine technology.

New DOE design for wind turbine development

And he announced a new program to develop a combination of solar power and LEDs to improve the efficiency of lighting. (Which at one time took me to Santa Barbara). The program is known as SLED, and is partly directed at providing light in poorer parts of the world where a reliance on wick and hurricane lamps can cause sufficient air pollution in the house to cause perhaps 1.6 million deaths a year (his number). He feels that the price break will come in the $10 - $20/system level, where the retail price, at the moment, is $30/system.

He had a couple of informative slides at the end, showing where the electricity around the world is being used, where the most people were, and how the combination currently looks. (Were I still lecturing I'd steal them).

Actually I got a lot more out of the talk than the Guardian reporter, but then we have some interest in LEDs, and he seems bent to his own agenda.

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