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Eating local - not a panacea (but a good start)

lambs A recent NY Times op-ed pointed out that "eating local" doesn't necessarily yield the smallest carbon footprint. The piece was based on a recent study comparing the carbon footprint of lambs raised in New Zealand to those in Great Britain. The conclusion of the peer-reviewed study was that for UK consumers, the carbon footprint of New Zealand lamb was actually four times lower than British lamb, despite the fact that the NZ lamb must be shipped halfway around the world. The reason has to do with the less favorable climate and growing conditions in GB, which requires farmers to use feed. Similar figures were found for other produce and fruit. The gist of the study is that shipping distance is only one component of the carbon footprint of food. Other factors such as the use of fertilizer, feed, water, and pesticides may be equally or more important. Labeling food with "food miles", as proposed in the European Union, may give consumers misleading information as to the carbon footprint of different foods. A better solution is to use lifecycle analysis and perhaps develop some kind of scoring system. From a practical standpoint, global food networks are not going away. We are always going to want "exotic" spices and food that can't be grown locally. Many areas are simply too arid to be completely self-sufficient. Therefore, we should continue to encourage the growth of local food markets while striving to make our transportation systems more sustainable by increasing efficiencies and using alternative fuels.  

African Energy Observations

These are some thoughts I have had in my first few days in Africa - I don't know how generalizable they are beyond my experiences here.

I arrived in Tanzania and proceeded to a little village outside Dodoma - the capital. This is a remote area, accessible 2 hours travel from the last paved road. There are some 40,000 people spread out over the metro area.

I frequently see power lines but the price of electricity is close to what we pay in Minnesota - on the order of $.075/kWr. Thus, few people have actually lines into their houses and those that do use it carefully. Most of the power comes from the dam so we have constant power now that the rainy season has filled the lake. 6 months ago, they had power only during the evening and night (except for the frequent unplanned outages).

The school has a new computer lab and just added a bunch of thin clients (basic computers without a hard drive) that probably take some 50-70 watts to operate. They have 70 of them and maybe 12 workstation P4's - taking certainly over 100 watts per unit. When the grid is down, they can run a generator to supply all their power, but it runs on expensive petrol (they pay more than us, as does most of the world). Nonetheless, they recognize the importance and power of information literacy.

I asked about the wisdom of adding all this demand to the grid locally and repeatedly got the response that power is either on or off, as though the amount demanded does not matter.

Word around town is that a nearby village got a contract for carbon offsets! They got a bunch of money and devices to plant 10,000 trees. No trees were planted. The money disappeared into the pockets of the corrupt and they told the foreigners that all the trees were planted and showed them trees that were already there.

Reading about local corruption from afar is considerably easier and less powerful than hearing about it directly from people who have been dealing with it directly. There are no checks and balances on such things here and I have to seriously wonder if seeking carbon offets in this environment is at all helpful.

So it goes, I'll post more observations if I get a chance...

US Army Assumption: Natural Gas nonviable in 25 years

According to a recent study contract SOW (scope of work) released by the Department of the Army: (emphasis added)

"Current Army assumption is that Natural Gas may cease to be a viable fuel for the Army within the next 25 years based on price volatility and affordable supply availability.

The study will attempt to predict natural gas supply/demand over the next 25 years, examine possible scenarios of Liquefied Natural Gas imports vs. domestic natural gas and the overall impact on Army installations overall. The Army's total energy use by installations has decreased by 30% since 1985 but has risen the past two years.

I doubt the Army will decide to release the final report but the type of questions asked in the SOW are key to determining natural gas's ability to be the base load fuel of the 21st century.

Green PCs

For other computer geeks - PC Magazine has an article on how to assemble a PC that uses power efficiently and minimizes heavy metals.

A Mighty Wind

The 2007 February issue of Outside featured a fun read on one small Danish island's efforts to be energy independent. People reading this site will probably find little surprising in the article, but it is a fun weekend read.

Geopolitics also played a part. In 1973, OPEC imposed an oil embargo against the U.S. and the Netherlands for supporting Israel's war against Syria and Egypt, and nearly quadrupled the price of petroleum for everyone else. The U.S. at the time imported about 35 percent of its oil; Denmark imported more than 90 percent. Keenly aware of their vulnerability, the Danes spent the next 30 years figuring out how to secure an energy-independent future, all without nuclear power, which parliament outlawed in 1982.

Now, remarkably, Denmark is about 150 percent self-sufficient. A net exporter of energy—most of it oil and natural gas from the North Sea—it also sells wind power to it neighbors.

The American response to the embargo, by comparison, was more of a cheap-oil-is-our-birthright hissy fit. In the late 1970s and early '80s, to be fair, the U.S. launched some serious alternative-energy schemes, complete with tax credits and federal funding for renewables, and for a brief moment California actually became the king of wind power. Then, during the Reagan era, federal and state subsidies expired, making it impossible for wind and solar to compete with oil and coal. Today, the U.S. imports nearly double the oil that it did in 1973—or about 60 percent of what it consumes. Wind power makes up less than 1 percent of the American electricity pie.

Calendar

I have just added many events to the Energista calendar. The calendar covers many events around Minneapolis and St. Paul that focus on energy issues.

Many of the events I added are part of a series hosted by the Mechanical Engineering program at the University of Minnesota and are co-sponsored by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE). The full schedule of those events is available here. Many of the presentations are directly relating to energy and some directly focus on energy policy.

If you have events you would like to see listed in our calendar, please send them to us at calendar@energista.org.

Penn State Buys Green

Penn State (home to legendary football coach JoePa) has arranged to purchase more than 20% of its electricity needs from renewable sources over the next 5 years.

"Under the 2001 contracts, when wind energy was our only renewable energy option, the University paid $14.00 per megawatt-hour (MWH). Under the new contracts, with other sources now available, we are paying an average of $5.00 per MWH," said Michael I. Prinkey, energy program engineer in the Office of Physical Plant.

PSU has a press release discussing the new contracts.

Under the contracts, the major sources of generation are wind, 8.1 percent; biomass, 3.9 percent; low-impact certified hydroelectric, 7.9 percent; new technologies (solar and bio-mass) 0.6 percent, for a total of 20.5 percent.

"In examining our energy requirements," he said, "our goals were to support new technologies, look at cheaper energy sources, and maintain our commitment to Pennsylvania-generated sources. We were able to achieve those goals and increase the total purchase to 20 percent of our electrical energy needs within our budget goal."

The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities campus is larger than University Park at State College in PA, but Penn State is a larger system on the whole. I haven't heard of the U doing something like this, has anyone else?

NY Times Energy Experts

Got a question for the NY Times' energy experts? Pose it to them by this afternoon and they may answer it.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Questions and comments are welcome through tomorrow, Dec. 28. Some of the project’s writers, including David Barboza, Felicity Barringer, Keith Bradsher and Andrew C. Revkin, along with a number of recognized experts from academia and government, will respond. Felicity and Andy are the first out of the gate, with the others joining in later. (Note: reporters’ answers are bolded, below.)

This is part of a larger feature by the NY Times, called the Energy Challenge. They have a number of interesting articles and charts through that link.

News Stories

Jon has published links to many interesting and current news stories over at Loon Commons.

Energy by Country

If you need to find data about energy issues and a specific country, the EIA's Country Analysis Briefs are quite helpful. Thought you might want to know.

Thank you

Stats

Thank you all Energista readers and moderators! We are enjoying some good growth since we effectively started a few months ago. These are some stats I just pulled off the log analyzer.

We are increasingly getting comments from "nobody" which I can change if it annoys people. The system is not set up to allow people who do not accounts to create usernames. However, you can easily create a username for yourself by registering in the upper area of the left sidebar.

Registering allows you to create an identity that allows us to better get to know each other - so if you plan on commenting frequently, we would appreciate knowing a username to associate with your thoughts.

Also, if you comment frequently, we may very well ask you to jump on as a moderator so you can post fresh stories.

If you wish to preserve your anonymity though, feel free. Again, thank you for participating!

Additionally, please direct all thoughts or comments to us at blog@energista.org and we'll respond if your note doesn't get lost in the deluge of spam (apply security patches to your system, people! Spam comes from botnets comprised of computers with security vulnerabilities).

Walmart creates packaging scorecard

Walmart announced that it is releasing a packaging scorecard that evaluates the packaging in its merchandise for, among other things, greenhouse gasses and renewable energy content. The full list of metrics is below:

  • 15% will be based on GHG / CO2 per ton of Production
  • 15% will be based on Material Value
  • 15% will be based on Product / Package Ratio
  • 15% will be based on Cube Utilization
  • 10% will be based on Transportation
  • 10% will be based on Recycled Content
  • 10% will be based on Recovery Value
  • 5% will be based on Renewable Energy
  • 5% will be based on Innovation

Walmart has a seemingly modest goal of reducing packaging across its global supply chain by 5% by 2013. 

It's good to see the world's largest retailer take steps to reduce its environmental footprint, however modest. This is creating a precedent for other companies to infuse sustainability in their corporate culture. The danger is that sustainability becomes just another PR tool. Environmental groups must applaud these efforts, but continue to push for more sustainability.

 

Energy Independance Polls Well - Well Duh!

According to James Carville, via Tom Friedman, via Mark Thoma's blog,

Energy Independance polls REALLY well. This is a forceful statement of the painfully obvious, but hey, it is a Tom Friedman column.

According to Carville (via Friedman, via economistsview) -

“Energy independence,” he said. “It’s now the No. 1 national security issue. ... It’s become kind of a joke with us, because no matter how we ask the question, that’s what comes up.” ...

What this means for Democratic Party candidates, argues Mr. Carville, is that it’s no longer enough to have “energy security” as part of a 12-step plan for American renewal. No, it needs to become a defining issue of what Democrats are all about.

It should “not be part of an expanding litany, but rather a contracting narrative,” explained Mr. Carville. “It can’t just be that we are for a woman’s right to choose, and education and energy independence. This is the thing we need to get done above and beyond everything else.” People should associate “energy security” with Democrats the way they associate “tax cuts” with Republicans, he argued. “This is not something to add to the stew — this is the stock.”

Amen! And not just Democrats. Republicans should to the same thing. We can't let energy security become another wedge issue. There should be a broad non-partisan consensus that politicians of any party ignore at their peril.

By the way, let me take this opportunity to give a pitch to a good blog - economistsview. Mostly the creation of Mark Thoma, an economist at the University of Oregon. Good treatment of news and current events from the perspective of a liberal-leaning economist. Lots of good articles, studies, etc. And he frequently posts lengthy excerpts from Krugman, allowing us to skirt "the wall" at times select.

Who's the best energy guv?

Here's a question for all of you energistas. Although recent polls suggest a lead for Mike Hatch in the MN governors race, it could still go either way. I've thought for a while that Pawlenty would end up taking it due to incumbancy and him not having screwed things up TOO badly. Plus I can't seem to find any MN dems who are really excited about Hatch - just a lot of reluctant supporters. And that can't help.

This race is about a host of other issues, but let's ignore them for a minute. This is an energy blog, so lets focus on that. So here's the question:

Which gubernatorial candidate would be the better leader on energy and climate issues, Mike Hatch or Tim Pawlenty?

Curious about your thoughts. I'll give you mine later in the week.

 

UPDATE: I didn't mention that there are other candidates in this race. Hutchinson is the only one who is remotely serious, but he's still polling in the single digits. But there are a few more beyond that. Here's all the options (I wonder what Walt Brown's party stands for?):

Peter Hutchinson - Independance Party

Ken Pentel - Green Party

Leslie Davis - American Party

Walt E. Brown -Quit Raising Taxes Party 

Town Hall Forum on Energy

Keith Ellison will be holding a town hall forum on the environment and renewable energy issues on Monday, 16 October, 2006. It will be located at the Lynnhurst Community Center (1345 W Minnehaha Pkwy) and run from 6:30-8pm.

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