Archive for the ‘Energy & Environment’ Category

There are a lot of myths out there about energy efficiency. For instance, it is a myth that turning your computer off-and-on takes more energy than just leaving it on or in “sleep” mode; and the Patrick administration just announced it is taking advantage of this ridiculously easy way for the state to save some serious cash.

Boston (WBZ) – The Patrick Administration says it can save $2 million and 12 million kilowatts a year just by turning off computers at executive branch agencies. The administration on Friday announced a new policy of shutting down the computers or switching them to energy saving “sleep mode” when they aren’t being used. Aside from the energy and cost savings, the administration estimates the policy will reduce 5,051 tons of carbon emissions — roughly equivalent to driving 925 cars for a year or providing electricity to 669 homes for one year.

So how about a few other myths along these same lines:

  • Myth #1 – Turning off lights uses more energy. Turning off lights, even for short periods of time, really saves energy, with little impact on the lifespan of the bulb.
  • Myth #2 – Turning off car uses more energy. Idling a modern car always wastes more energy than turning it off and then on again (even for short periods of time).
  • Myth #3 – Turning down thermostat uses more energy. It is good to turn down the thermostat while you’re away from the house for the day. If you are out for a good stretch of time (say 8 hours or so), this temperature “set-back” will save more energy than it will take to bring your home back to the desired temperature.

More efficiency mythbusters from ACEEE here


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Two kinds of haze afflict, with appalling consequences, the people of China:

1) The unmitigated haze of pollution spewed daily by power plants, factories, and automobiles that clouds the atmosphere and is estimated to kill at least 10,000 Chinese per year, and

2) The oppressive “red haze” of communism spewed daily by a government that clouds reality in the eyes of Chinese citizens and the rest of the world by shaping the flow of information and falsifying everything from government statistics to Olympic fireworks displays.

During these Olympics China is using the latter to hide the former.

The satellite image below, taken in June, shows a suffocating haze of pollution shrouding Beijing and the entire area to the south in a uniform shade of brownish gray (skies appear relatively clear to the north and regular clouds appear bright white). This is a typical day in and around Beijing, where residents are often warned to spend as little time as possible outdoors because the atmosphere is a veritable pea soup of toxic gases.

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, June 2008

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, June 2008

We already know that China is very concerned about creating a perfect image – or, as it were, a mirage – during these Olympics (e.g., digitally enhanced fireworks, lip syncing singers, and “official” crowds to fill the stands). So it isn’t surprising that as China prepared to host the Olympics, they put “special pollution controls” into effect: Except for taxis and Olympic vehicles, automobiles were banned on alternate days, depending on whether their license plates ended in odd or even numbers. Most construction was banned in Beijing, and factories were shut down in Beijing and the neighboring cities of Tianjin and Tangshan.

These restrictions are expected to last for two months – just long enough to fool the world during the Olympics – and are reducing pollution. Here is an image of Beijing taken on July 21, after the restrictions were put in place. The haze drifting south from Beijing is relatively slight compared to June.

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, July 2008 (click to enlarge)

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, July 2008 (click to enlarge)

Bottom Line: China has temporarily reduced the haze of pollutionand in the process, demonstrated to the world that the “red haze” of communism is as thick as ever. I can’t decide which is worse, the fact the government can shut down whole industries and dictate when people can drive, or the fact that pollution will return to deadly levels just as soon as the Olympics are over?

Images from NASA Earth Observatory

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July 14th – 15th marked the beginning of a sudden and dramatic reversal of the multi-year upward trend in crude oil prices and the multi-year downward trend in the value of the U.S. dollar. This sea-change points to, potentially, a significantly improved outlook for growth, inflation, and energy costs – but, is this really the long awaited turning point or just another false-top in oil and false-bottom for the dollar?

The value of the U.S. dollar compared to other currencies has been on the decline since 2002, losing about 38% of its value over that period – it bottomed against the Euro on July 14 – 15. The price of crude oil has increased by about 580% since 2002, and on July 14 – 15 was only about 1.5% below its all time high. The result of these steady body blows to our economy, over time, has been increasing inflation and a slow strangulation of economic growth that has brought us to the brink of recession (the mortgage situation hasn’t helped).

But three weeks ago both trends dramatically changed coarse, simultaneously. The figure below shows the price of crude oil on the left axis (data here) and the U.S. dollar index on the right axis (data here) since early June. Click image to enlarge.

Of course, these changes are not coincidental – oil and the dollar are very much linked, primarily because oil is priced in U.S. dollars in markets all around the world (all else equal, if the dollar falls the price of oil rises and vice versa). So, what is driving this? Is the dollar rising because oil is now falling, or is oil falling because the dollar is now rising? A little bit of both?

Its both, but I suspect oil is the key driver here. There are mountains of evidence that demand for oil is easing in response the run up in prices (for example, here), and more generally, economies around the world are slowing (albeit temporarily). At the same time, there are expectations of increased future supply from a wave of new drilling/exploration around the world and talk of offshore drilling in the U.S. (gee, what a novel concept).

On the other hand, there are other factors that could be helping to raise the dollar. The economic slow down in the U.S. has reduced inflation expectations here, which helps the dollar (still high inflation, but not as high). And there is the expectation that the European Central Bank will start cutting their interest rates, which will lower the value of the Euro. But then, even these factors circle back around to oil.

Bottom Line: It is a combination of all these factors – or at least, people’s expectations about them – that has seemingly reversed the course of oil and the dollar. Oil is still quite high and the dollar is still low, but we are going in the right direction now and this is a very good thing. But no one can predict where things will go from here – hopefully this is the real deal.

Addendum: This information also reminds us of the obvious: right now oil makes the world go around. And…More than 80% of the oil left in the world is controlled by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Libya. We need more domestic sources of energy: oil, natural gas, (clean) coal, nuclear, hydro, hydrogen, solar, wind, geothermal – All of ’em!

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Here’s a sampling of links about recent happenings with clean energy in Massachusetts – there is a LOT going on. Clicking any link will open a new window so you won’t lose your place.

  • Fenway Park unveils solar panels on roof – The green at Fenway Park will no longer be limited to the grass, historic rafters, and 37-foot-high wall in left field. Enough solar thermal panels have been installed on the roof to provide 37 percent of the hot water needed at the 96-year-old park, reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 18 tons. The solar installation is actually part of two broader initiatives. City and federal officials announced Fenway plans to highlight Solar Boston, a $600,000 program aimed at increasing Boston’s solar energy output 50-fold by 2015. The Fenway solar installation is also part of a new MLB program, the Team Greening Program, which is MLB’s first league-wide eco-initiative and has teams all over the country starting green programs. The program provides each team with an individualized Team Greening Advisor, which is a Web-based software tool featuring advice and resources for every aspect of a club’s operations. For instance, the Sox are also making other changes, like switching the field’s lawn-mowers biodiesel and enlisting a group of 30-50 volunteers to collect recyclables between innings.


  • NSTAR Green allows customers to buy wind energy – Earlier this month the state Department of Public Utilities approved a program that allows NSTAR customers to buy their electricity from wind farms in Maine and upstate New York. Customers who enroll in the NSTAR Green program will have to pay a premium on their monthly bill, $4 – $7 depending on whether you opt to buy half or all of your electricity from wind farms (although I don’t think many people are very excited by the idea of paying more for energy right now). National Grid has a similar program, GreenUp, and there are many other utility and non-utility options available. You can find out what your clean electricity options are based on your town by following this link to the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust. For the uninitiated, enrolling in a program like this has absolutely no effect on the reliability of your electricity service, and nothing changes in terms of the way electricity physically gets into your house. The only difference you will notice is the premium on your monthly bill.


  • Massachusetts Green Jobs Act of 2008 – Last week, in an address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, House Speaker Sal DiMasi announced a new initiative directing millions of state dollars at growing the local alternative-energy sector. Dubbed the Green Jobs Act of 2008, the bill would allocate more than $50 million to the creation of new jobs and revenue in the state’s clean energy industry. The initiative is directly aimed at creating jobs in the clean-energy sector, particularly through start-ups, and is designed to “attract hundreds off millions of dollars in venture capital, create thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the commonwealth,” according to a statement by DiMasi’s office. On a related note, the clean energy industry in Massachusetts is already booming – supporting about 15,000 jobs – and is about to overtake textiles as the 10th largest employment cluster in Massachusetts, according to a “census” of the clean energy industry released last year by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC). Click the thumbnail image to enlarge the picture. 


  • Newton/Needham Chamber to present Green Business Solutions Expo – All over Newton and Needham, businesses are looking to go green, and for the first time, the Newton/Needham Chamber of Commerce will present an expo to help them learn to adapt to a new, environmentally conscious business climate. The chamber’s first-ever Green Business Solutions Expo will take place at the Newton Marriott Tuesday, June 3. Speakers will cover topics including recycling, organic lawn care, energy conservation, and how businesses can apply to receive government grants and rebates. Fifty-five exhibitors are expected. Chapman Construction and Designis going solar, and for Guy Compagnone, the company’s director of sustainable practices, the business decision is a no-brainer. “If you’re pioneering right now, you’re ahead of the curve. If you’re not, you’ll be far behind and have to catch up later. Straight up, there’s a reduced utility cost, much lower environmental impact and client attraction,” said Compagnone. 

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…crude oil $125 per barrel, climate change, energy independence, insufficient electricity infrastructure, volatile prices, and the list goes on…

Energy efficiency is probably the most successful but least appreciated strategy for dealing with the significant energy challenges we face in blazing our country’s path to prosperity during the 21st century.

For example, U.S. energy consumption at the end of 2008 is expected to total half of the energy consumed in 1970 thanks to investments in energy efficiency according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. And, there remains a huge amount of opportunity for additional, profitable investments (a recent McKinsey study estimated the existing energy efficiency market is about $170 billion per year to the tune of a 17% annual rate of return). Here is a summary of the ACEEE report:

Washington, D.C. – It’s the U.S. energy boom that no one knows about. Energy efficiency may be the farthest-reaching, least-polluting, and fastest-growing energy success story of the last 50 years. But it also is the most invisible, the least understood, and in serious danger of missing out on needed future investments. The ACEEE report, The Size of the U.S. Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture, concludes that “…our nation is not aware of the role that energy efficiency has played in satisfying our growing energy-service demands…the contributions of efficiency often go unrecognized. The contributions of energy efficiency often remain invisible…” The report also notes that although efficiency is a proven resource, it remains underdeveloped. “In short, the evidence suggests that efficiency can make an even larger contribution towards stabilizing energy prices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – should we choose to fully develop it.”

Key report findings include:

  • The U.S. stands to gain enormously from additional investments in energy efficiency, and could reasonably reduce consumption by as much as 30 percent during the next two decades.
  • Future efforts would bear additional fruit through the creation of green collar jobs. Annual investments in energy efficiency technologies currently support 1.6 million U.S. jobs. The $300 billion invested in energy efficiency in 2004 was three times the amount invested in traditional energy infrastructure.
  • Investments in energy efficiency technologies are estimated to have generated approximately 1.7 quads of energy savings in 2004 alone – roughly the equivalent of the energy required to operate 40 mid-sized coal-fired or nuclear power plants.
  • Since 1970, energy efficiency has met about three-fourths of the demand for new energy-related services while conventional energy supply has covered only one-fourth of this demand.
  • Nearly 60 percent of energy efficiency investments made in 2004 were from the buildings sector, with nearly half coming from appliances and electronics.

Now the key is to pick up all this free money lying on the ground. There are a ton of energy efficiency resources on the internet for homeowners – here are just a few:

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Researchers from Purdue University’s Vulcan Project have created the most detailed picture yet of human sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. There is an article on this featured in today’s Boston Globe. This video is a really interesting animation presenting the data – you can see the emission levels pulse as emissions increase during the day and fall off at night.

You can get their data and rank the emissions of carbon dioxide by county – Middlesex County, MA, where I’m from, has the 16th highest level of CO2 emissions among all counties in the country (Middlesex is #1 nationwide in carbon emissions from the commercial sector and ranks 6th in terms of emissions from residential sources – i.e., “McMansions” abound).

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No, God, noooo! Come on, people – At some point we need to draw a line in the sand…And the worst part is, we’ll be so much more thirsty in a hot, crowded world

Wellington, New Zealand – The price of beer is likely to rise in coming decades because climate change will hamper the production of a key grain needed for the brew – especially in Australia, a scientist warned Tuesday.

Jim Salinger, a climate scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said climate change likely will cause a decline in the production of malting barley in parts of New Zealand and Australia. Malting barley is a key ingedient of beer.

“It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up,” Salinger told the Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention.

Similar effects could be expected worldwide, but Salinger spoke only of the effects on Australia and New Zealand. He said climate change could cause a drop in beer production within 30 years, especially in parts of Australia, as dry areas become drier and water shortages worsen.

Barley growing parts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales would likely be harder hit than growing areas in New Zealand’s South Island.

“It will provide a lot of challenges for the brewing industry,” even forcing breweries to look at new varieties of malt barley as a direct result of climate change, Salinger said.

New Zealand and Australian brewer Lion Nathan’s corporate affairs director Liz Read said climate change already was forcing up the price of malted barley, sugar, and aluminum.

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