Friday, April 24, 2009

Energy Summit - the third part (end of day 1)

This is the fourth part of coverage of the Missouri Energy Summit, with the earlier posts listed at the end of this one. This post covers the final session of the first day.

The first speaker was Karen Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for the 21st Century., and she spoke of Energy and Climate Change realities. For her Energy Security means affordable, reliable supply and the reality is that to get that we need to establish our position, at a time when the world is growing and with it demands for energy. She pointed out that at present 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity, and that will change. As it changes, and 70% of the demand for power will come from developing nations where most of these folk live, so it will become harder to both get energy supplies and to also get the credit to pay for them.

New production, and new sources of power will need time, the right policies and lots of money if they are to be realized. But even then “we cannot mandate what technology cannot deliver.”

Singing a song after the hearts of the academics in her audience, she noted that we need new talent to develop these new sources, yet we are graduating a lower number of engineers. That must be switched around, and while the optimal product might be an Engineeer with a Masters in finance, there is not yet enough incentive in the path to get many students to follow it, and without them the path will stretch longer before we have the supplies that we need.

(Ed. Note: To reply to a comment the top left section of the graph (though in another version) has been expanded and added to the bottom of the post. This is so that I can try and give a better explanation of what I am talking about).

She was followed by Himadri Pakrasi, of Washington University in St Louis. Washington U has recently got a significant infusion of money for bioenergy production, with a total commitment of some $55 million. This has created the Center that Dr. Pakrasi runs and which is dedicated to bioenergy production. He spoke of the availability of tall grasses in the mid-West and of algae, and the recent consortium that had created the Clean Coal Consortium on campus.

Bob Dixon followed with a talk entitled “The Perfect Storm meets the Global Tsunami.” Lest there be any doubt as to his position on global warming, his first remark was a question to the audience on whether they believed the world was warming, and when a lone dissenter raised a hand at the front, his response was that “he was not willing to take the risk.” (I will comment in a later post about the risks that he is quite happy to incur to avoid that of global warming). To show that the world was warming he contrasted winter pictures of the Arctic ice cap in 1990 and 1999 with the summer ice cap in 2007.

And since ex-Vice-President Gore mentioned the same thing in his testimony before the House Committee today, let me just put up the graph of Arctic ice cap size, so that you can judge their remarks against the truth. And it is also here because porsena referred to earlier plots, that only go up to 2005.

Source IARC – JAXA

You will note that the current size of the Arctic Ice field is larger than it has been at this time in any other year of this century. It is actually (as of yesterday) within the range of variability of the average field size over the past 28 years, and if the current trend continues, will exceed it by the middle of May.

Bob Dixon, having made his points about the Arctic ice, went on to talk about the need to conserve energy through better building design. He noted that 40% of energy expended goes into buildings and homes. And while we have standards for the performance of many things, and tests for their efficiency, we do not have any for buildings. Yet we are approaching a time where utilities will increasingly be able to turn off our air conditioners, for 10-minute periods, in order to conserve their energy outputs, when loads approach brownout conditions.

We are now at a time that there is a program to weatherize, where homeowners are encouraged to improve building efficiency, but the question is, who verifies that what is done is right, and that the costs will be recovered as promised?

Yet he gave an example of a program that works. The Australian Government rents office space, but will only do so if the building is energy efficient. By creating that demand, and then competition for its business, the Government has ensured that private owners are motivated to move forward and change, overall, the design and efficiency of business construction.

Michael Chesser of Great Plains Energy came back to talk about the punitive effects of cap and trade legislation. He noted that, on average, it will raise electricity rates 40% and there should be a wide ranging debate before such a step is undertaken. He expects that “the next ten years will see more change than has occurred since Edison invented the electric light.” But this requires that the partnership of players be expanded, and both utilities and customers must be willing to step up and be partners.

Te stability of energy prices over the past years has been an asset to the economy and American business. This has required that the utilities provide enough capacity to meet the maximum demand, but bear in mind that the average load is only 50% of capacity and it goes above 75% of capacity about 10% of the time. Thus the utilities have a large investment that rarely is fully paid for, and really does not address the efficiency of supply and demand. He again drew attention to the EPRI PRISM site (3.5 meg pdf).

And while bearing this in mind, remember also that there are now parts of California where there is sufficient wind energy available that the price of electricity goes negative in the evening. In that circumstance it would be nice to have a number of plug-in hybrids sitting ready to download the excess. Yet there are safety issues for such types of systems, and a central control of them.

The final speaker of the evening was Bob Kruze of GM. He noted that the study of physics saves lives. (It keeps the idiots out of Medical school). He looked into the future and sees some 900 million vehicles which are currently owned by only 13.5% of the global population, but by 2020 this will rise to where 15% of the populace will own a car. That rise in demand will consume a lot of transportation fuel. But we cannot pump enough oil to meet it. (He was one of very few who bent a nod in the direction of Peak Oil). We can, however displace some of the demand with efficiency and diversity. From the point of emission control cellulosic ethanol would be a winner, since it would lower carbon demand by 85% on a well-to-wheel basic comparison. He expects that ethanol will replace 40% of gasoline demand by 2030., and GM is partnering with two efforts, one thermo-chemical and one biological, to produce ethanol, with Coskata and Mascoma, the latter looking at prairie grasses. He anticipates there is enough off-peak capacity to power 30% of commuter demand. He claimed that GM did not kill the electric car, but talked about the Volt, the Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV).

He also spoke up for hydrogen, and that there is plenty being made today, that could provide a fuel. (Neglecting that it is used to help refine hydrogen deficient crude in refineries at a considerable cost). He felt (neglecting that) that hydrogen could be competitive at around $2 - $3 a gallon (untaxed). Hydrogen would be generated from Natural Gas. And just recently one of their card did a 300-mile trip to Terrytown NY.

Earlier posts in this series covered the program; the keynote address by T. Boone Pickens; and the first invited speakers.

Current Ice coverage in the Arctic - April 2009 Detail showing recent changes in slope


  1. I'm late with a comment again! I do appreciate the conference coverage.

    I'm having trouble understanding your interpretation of the ice extent data. I can see the 2009 line poking above the line for 2003(?) just as we head for May. The graph is missing the curve for 2001, which makes it difficult to compare 2009 with all other years this century.

    However, the U Illinois graph I linked to on Friday runs to 2007, not 2005, and goes back far enough to see the trend. In a subsequent comment I posted a link to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre's arctic ice summary through March, 2009. These data also show a declining trend in ice extent.

    Climate trends become manifest over many years. I think it unreasonable to infer that a long-term trend might be reversing on the basis of the one or two most recent points - those may be confounded by weather. I'm also not sure that's what you've said, but your text might lead one to think otherwise.

  2. Well I believe that ex-Vice President Gore's recent remarks, and some others such as that at the Summit that I am responding to dealt specifically with the gradient of the curve at the time they prepared their remarks. That would (I suspect) be point A on the expanded portion of the curves that I have added to the bottom of the post. (And which relates to the point about ice melt accelerating, since this is the rate of change of slope of that line). However you will note that this was very transient. I have used the Norwegian version of the curve, because this includes (in the grey band) the average and 1 standard deviation of the ice melt over the period from 1979 - 2007. You will note that the red line has now moved into this zone, and that the current slope (at B) is less than that average slope, and may well cross over the 28-year average in the next month. On the other hand it may now be curving over again - we'll be able to tell in a week. But it illustrates the problems in substantiating the sort of hysterical claim about the rate of melting the the ExVP made, since it was not sustained for any length of time.