Book Review – Energy And Climate Wars

The debate about climate change change is over right? Wrong. At least according to authors Peter C. Glover and Michael J. Economides in their book, “Energy and Climate Wars.” The premise of the book is that politicians (aka Al Gore) green ideologues and media elites (What, me? Oh, I’m not a media elite.) are undermining the truth about energy and the climate and that is, well, to put it simply, is that it is not man made and carbon dioxide is not killing us quickly, or even slowly for that matter. It’s a hoax. A farce. A well orchestrated campaign designed to make a few rich in the new “carbon” or for some “clean/green economy” billionaires.

Now before you start clicking the button to post a comment, these are the views of the authors, not me. With that reminder, let me regale you with the overarching premise of the book. According to the authors, the book was written to give the reader a grasp on “the power politics of energy” or more specifically on the social ideology that increasingly influences and impacts you.

What is real, they say, is the threat on your energy security, but not for the reasons you believe (we’re running out of oil/peak oil, or that alternative energies will substitute for ‘dirty’ hydrocarbons). The REAL threats to your energy security are numerous one being alternative energy. In other words, our lifestyle as we know it (military, cars, homes, gadgets, etc.) is predicated on energy, energy that grew out of the Industrial Revolution. If we scale back on fossil-fuel based energy sources, oil, coal, natural gas, we are going to lose our way of life, our military will suffer, and ultimately, our energy security will be at risk.

The authors write, “Now let’s be clear before we go any further. Nobody is against research into new energy technologies, or demurs from the small-scale, purely supportive value of renewable energy sources from wind power (it may help keep your out-house lit) to solar power (expensive but it might give you hot or tepid bathwater) to geothermal use (maybe, but only in really cold countries). The problem is not the pin-prick, ad hoc uses to which they may be put, but the harnessing of larger projects on a commercially viable basis. On an industrial scale, they amount to nothing more than incredibly uneconomic business propositions that require the constant lifeline of government intervention and tax subsidy. The stark reality is that current technology offers no realistic replacing hydrocarbons for decades to come, if ever.” (All emphasis are those of the authors.)

Energy and Climate Wars reads a little like a Michael Crichton book (scientific thriller) dropped into the the plot of a John Le Carré global spy thriller, mixed with controversy of WikiLeaks adapted for the screen by the producer of the movie Wag the Dog.

If you question the whole global climate change movement, then you should consider reading this book. If you are one who believes that global climate change exists and that these two are the “alarmists” distracting us from the real crisis, you might want to read this book to. Why? It’s always easier to fight your enemies if you have their playbooks. Well, for the rest of you, consider a less controversial read…this one may give the weak of heart a stroke.

Book Review – Jolt!

The Age of Electric Cars is finally coming. Despite a stutter back in the late 90s when electric vehicle (EV) development came and went spurred by the passage and elimination of California zero emission policies, electric vehicles have come back. And if author James Billmaier is correct, in his book “JOLT! The Impending Dominance of the Electric Car,” they are not only here to stay, but they will completely transform driving as we know it.

While America has the means to be the leader in electric vehicle development and manufacturing, Billmaier notes that this lead is under threat, especially by China. He writes, “Today the United States faces a new threat to its national security. This time the threat is one of economic dominance, and it comes in the form of the electric car.”

He continues, “The EV industry us certain to become a technological juggernaut. Any society that masters it will enjoy an economic bonanza and enormous world power. For our own security, that society needs to be us.”

While the major hurdles to EV development have been or or close to being overcome, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. Ballmaier notes that these include lack of substantial private and federal investments to develop the industry and manufacture the cars and components in the states, as well as battery development and charging infrastructure. Cost is a major factor, and as an example, the Chevy Volt, that is launching in 2011, will cost more than $40K. In addition, the EVs range is still a concern among most drivers – true EVs are just getting to the 100 mile range.

However, Ballmaier explains that as EVs come of age and consumers purchase them in droves, battery costs will come down, range will go up and the cars will become even less expensive and more attractive.

In the beginning of the book, Ballmaier gives an overview of the industry, that is followed by interviews with some of the major players. The book concludes with his take on the future of EVs in America. While this was interesting, what I felt was missing was a real examination of some of the drawbacks of EVs including the precious metals needed for the batteries, battery replacement and recycling, the needs of the electrical grid and the move to the smart grid, and the true impacts of plugging into a dirty grid. In addition, I felt he missed an opportunity to talk more about hybrids (PHEV), electric vehicles with a gas backup that can run on E85. If his vision comes true, it won’t happen without a transmission that will require hybrids to travel long distances.

In the end, Ballmaier outlines his “JOLT! Program for America” which calls for 100 million plug-in cars on American roads by the end of the decade and asks for America to take charge.

Book Review – Smart Power

Tis the season to start thinking about electricity costs. Winter is on the horizon and with the holiday season comes holiday lights and holiday parties. As energy demand rises, how are the utilities going to keep up with demand? An important question as the country looks to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time needs to find a solution to our growing energy needs. To learn more about these issues, I read Smart Power by Peter Fox-Penner.

I must admit that I don’t know much about the utility industry but I do have fond memories of living in Texas when the state approved deregulation and all the rolling brownouts as a result of that decision. But according to experts, these could be more commonplace if the grid is not improved. Yet what is the best way to do this and who should pay? Most conversations about these issues involve in some capacity a discussion about the smart grid. However the first thing we need to understand is what exactly is the smart grid?

Penner writes, “As the industry shifts its supply sources, builds transmission, and increases its energy efficiency efforts, the technologies at the core of its operations will shift dramatically. Over the next thirty years, the industry will adopt the so-called Smart Grid, and the architecture of the system will shift from one based exclusively on large sources and central control to one with many more smaller sources and decentralized intelligence. The Smart Grid will mark a total transformation of the industry’s operating model–the first major architectural change since alternating current became the dominant system after the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.”

This shift will cost more than $2 trillion dollars, and the jury is still out on whether the best option is large sources (nuclear, coal with sequestration, natural gas, etc.) or smaller sources that include solar and wind energy or a combination of the two.

In the book, Penner progresses the reader through a history of the grid, explains where we’re at today and where we need to be in the future. He discusses the intricacies of pricing and how energy conservation plays a role for saving consumers money while at the same time making utility companies money. He discusses privacy issues related to the smart grid (that is being developed and monitored in part by third party companies). Penner also addresses issues and challenges and offers solutions. In addition he presents scenarios of what could happen if certain paths are taken.

This is a very complicated issue with dozens of moving parts and while I understand it much better, the book is not for the newcomer. It is best suited for those working directly for utility companies or those working for companies that are providing products and services that will move the country to the smart grid. And because Penner gives very detailed future scenarios including electricity scenarios and detailed charts detailing large scale power generating technologies including costs associated with each technology relating to carbon emissions, I believe it could become a very valuable resource for high-level utility executives.

Book Review – The Story of Stuff

Many years ago on a high school field trip, we were taken to the local landfill. It was nearly full and the city needed to do something – find somewhere to take its trash. Out of this field trip came my first environmental inspiration. I researched recycling and determined that at that time, the only way to get people to participate would be to give them bins that would be picked up at the curb. I pitched it to my class, they joined in the effort…we went door to door …and the during the next election, the resolution passed.

I felt pretty good for years to come but that enthusiasm has waned as I’ve learned that recycling programs are barely effective and we still generate too much stuff. “The Story of Stuff” came of out the internet movie sensation by the same name. Author Annie Leonard has been traveling around the world for more than 20 years learning about the world’s obsession with “Stuff.”. Not only do we have too much, but its too toxic. According to Leonard, we’re also using our natural resources far faster than the Earth can replenish them.

Leonard explains that the expanding economic system is about to hit a wall. It is running up against the limits of our planet’s capacity to sustain life. Economists predict that with the rate of growing populations, especially those in countries like China and India, coupled with the amount of CO2 emissions created from the production and transportation of our Stuff, we’re in trouble.

“Put it simply, if we do not redirect our extraction and production systems and change the way we distribute, consume, and dispose of our Stuff – what I sometimes call the take-make-waste-mold-the economy as it is will kill the planet,” writes Leonard.

While I don’t agree with her wholeheartedly, I do agree that she is on to something. I can’t tell you how many times in the past few years I’ve purchased something I usually don’t even need and it has a crazy amount of wasteful packaging. I am now even more aware as Leonard takes you through the entire process of Stuff from extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Continue reading

E-100-4: The New Revolutionary Fuel

Calling all gear-heads. I’ve come across an “e-book” that is just up your alley. It’s called “E-100-4: The New Revolutionary Fuel,” and is a technical overview of how to capitalize on ethanol’s high performance properties in engines. Actually, this overview is good for anyone who understands that ethanol’s fuel loss at higher blends is an engine problem, not a fuel problem.

Most ethanol advocates understand that today’s engines are not manufactured to optimize ethanol; they are manufactured to optimize gasoline or diesel. Yet for nearly 100 years, there have been major technological breakthroughs using ethanol blends that have been “hidden” from consumers and never brought to market. In this technical overview, author Aureon Kwolek highlights all of these advancements, explains how they work and gives us the low-down on what companies are working on what technologies and their plans, if any to bring them to market.

But what may have been most interesting about the e-book, is that Kwolek presents a very compelling case on why E-100-4 should be the fuel of the future – not E85. The major difference between E-100-4 is that is contains water and is known as hydrous ethanol. In Brazil, all of their flex-fuel vehicles run on hydrous ethanol (which is less expensive to produce and offers better fuel efficiency that anhydrous ethanol according to Kwolek). In America, we remove all the water before it is sold and blended with gasoline adding an extra step and extra expense.

Kwolek writes, “ We can also optimize that engine for hydrous ethanol. Our next assignment is converting water vapor into steam, and then into hydrogen, inside the combustion chamber. Adding the water component adds a quantum leap to fuel efficiency.”

So if the technology is there to fuel vehicles with E-100-4 hydrous ethanol, and for them to get better gas mileage than all other fuels and fuel blends, why isn’t it coming to market? Kwolek surmises the problem lies with the relationship between the petroleum industry and the auto industry. He says it’s “Because automakers have a lucrative alliance with petroleum and a conflict of interest with fuel efficiency.”

This is a great overview of ethanol engine technology and one that I highly recommend. Kwolek cites all of his resources and gives links so that readers can get more information on all of the technologies that he features in the summary. You can purchase a copy of the e-book, E-100-4: The New Revolutionary Fuel,” here.

Book Review – Power Hungry

You may remember Robert Bryce from his book, “Gusher of Lies,” Bryce is back with his new book, “Power Hungry.” I shouldn’t have liked this book – his last one made me angry. I should have stopped reading after the introduction – he made his point of the book very clear. But I read the entire book and believe it or not, there are a few issues with which I actually agreed with him.

Bryce has four imperatives that he has created to measure the value of a particular form of energy. The four imperatives include power density, energy density, cost, and scale. Let me quickly tell you what forms of alternative energy don’t make the grade: biofuels, wind, solar or electric vehicles. What does make the grade? Natural gas to nuclear and Bryce lays out his N2N plan to support the growth of both of these forms of energy.

He writes, “It may be fashionable to promote wind, solar, and biofuels, but those sources fail when it comes to power density. We want energy sources that produce lots of power from small amounts of real estate. And that’s the key problem with wind, solar, and biofuels. They require huge amounts of land to generate meaningful amounts of power. And although the farm lobby loves biofuels such as corn ethanol, that fuel fails on two counts: power density and energy density. Corn ethanol production requires vast swathes of land, and the fuel that it produces is inferior to gasoline because it is corrosive, it is hydrophilic, and it contains just two-thirds of gasoline’s heat content.”

In an entire section of the book, Byrce lays out the reasons why renewable energy is not in America’s best interest. However, prior to that he does at least dismiss coal as an option for the future, and he does portray carbon sequestration as a farce.

At the end of the book, Byrce “rethinks green” and offers a few suggestions for the future. He also lays out the steps of his N2N Plan:

  1. 1) Promote natural gas and nuclear power through targeted use of tax incentives.
  2. 2) Encourage oil and gas production in the United States.
  3. 3) Continue Promoting energy efficiency.
  4. 4) Continue working on renewables and energy storage technologies such as batteries and compressed-air energy storage.

I’ll let Bryce’s N2N plan speak for itself and with that my friends, if you’ll learn one thing from this book, is that you’ll understand, in great detail, all the cards being played by the anti-renewable energy movement.

Book Review – In Deep Water

Five months after the Deep Horizon oil spill, the first book detailing the BP Oil Disaster has been released by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Executive Director, Peter Lehner.  “In Deep Water,” chronicles the events leading up to the disaster, the mistakes made during the catastrophe and offers solutions for moving forward in a manner that will limit future offshore oil spills.

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Macondo well blew in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers. By the time the well was capped, 87 days later, the well spewed hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic oil into the Gulf making this the worst oil spill the globe has ever known. Lehner writes, “The Macondo blowout is another national wake-up call, a sobering plea for action on the greatest environmental challenge of our time: finding a way out of the economic and social model we’ve built around fossil fuels, and forging a future built instead around the clean energy technologies of tomorrow.”

The quest for oil has encouraged oil companies to drill deeper and deeper into the ocean. According to the latest government and industry estimates, nearly 40 billion barrels of oil lie in American waters in the Gulf, much of it buried miles and miles deep in the Earth.  At $75 a barrel, the oil is worth $3 trillion. Continue reading

Book Review – Off The Grid

“Where is the debate about the smart grid? Are we just going to believe what GE and EEI tell us? Who can actually prove that the smart grid is going to be all that smart, or that it is even going to work?”And who has thought through all the implications?” These are a few of the questions that author Nick Rosen asks in “Off The Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America.”

This is definitely a set of questions that aren’t often asked in context with the smart grid. More often, there is a disagreement of who is going to pay for the smart grid or whether the smart grid will save consumers money or cost consumers money. However, Rosen has a definite opinion of the smart grid. He writes that privacy will be at risk (utilities will literally be able to ‘see’ into your house with the new technologies) but he also writes that utilities will make billions more in profits with this move.

Rosen explains that based on the track record of utilities, “…the smart grid is not in the country’s best interest nor are they concerned with Secretary Chu’s carbon-reduction targest when they enthuse about rolling out the smart grid. They are concerned with market dominance and profits.”

He continues by anticipating that smart technologies will eliminate the need for meter readers and many call centers, thus reducing the number of jobs in the space while making even more profits (most people estimate that utilities will pass along the costs of developing the smart grid to consumers in the form of higher energy costs).

I must say that while I do not disagree with Rosen as a whole, he does fall into a growing number of Americans who want less government and more individual control. Many of these people who are “anti-government” already live off the grid; however, it is unfair to say that all people who live off the grid are those who are hiding for some reason or other. Many people are looking for ways to become “energy independent” to save money, to have a back-up in case of a major electricity shortage or outage, or to just get-away from technology in general for a while.

For those people who are curious about what living off the grid would be like, or learning how to go “Off The Grid,” this is a very interesting book to read. It is also educational for those who are not convinced that the smart grid is all that smart.

Book Review – Food Wars

This week I read a book about the ongoing discussions regarding the causes of the food crisis. It should come as no surprise that several of the main reasons the globe is in the midst of a food crisis, according to a The Food Wars author Walden Bello, are commodity speculation, biofuels,  increased demand for food in Asia brought on by prosperity, and most influential, the massive ag policy reorientation known as structural adjustment.

In this case, I’m going to focus on Bello’s explanation of how biofuels contributed to rising food costs. Bello states that biofuels have been blamed for the food price increases over the past few years, but continues by saying while they were a contributing factor, they were not the cause of the volatility of food prices.

He writes, “More central as root causes have been structural adjustment, free trade, and policies extracting surplus from agriculture for industrialization, all of which have destroyed or eroded the agricultural sector of many countries. No one factor can be pinpointed as the cause of the global food crisis. It is the confluence of these conditions that has made the contemporary food price crisis so threatening and difficult to solve.”

But despite this concession, he is still not a supporter of biofuels, at least in the context of environmental benefits, and he says, “Indeed agrofuels contribute to global warming and certainly do not provide a solution to climate change.” Continue reading

Book Review – The Great Global Warming Blunder

“I am under no illusion that this book will settle the scientific debate over the roles of mankind versus nature in global warming and climate change. Quite the opposite. I am hoping that the scientific debate will finally begin.” These are the final words of author and climatologist, Dr. Roy Spencer in his new book, The Great Global Blunder.

While the mainstream media continues to report that global climate change is real and caused by man, Spencer argues that it is in fact real, but not manmade. He says that global warming is just part of a natural cycle. In fact, he said that cloud cover is one of the “feedbacks” (i.e. causes) of warming and cooling trends.

Spencer is not the first scientist to speak out against the theory that global climate change is manmade. Climate physicist Henrik Svensmark and award winning science writer Nigel Calder also believe that clouds are a cause of global warming. They lay out their theory in “The Chilling Stars A New Theory of Climate Change.

Spencer argues that scientists who take a risk and offer other ideas for the cause of climate change, are not often published in scientific journals nor are their theories covered by the mainstream media who likes stories that bring the message of doom and gloom.

“Why am I willing to stick my neck out on an issue where there is so much momentum running in the opposite direction? Because the United States is making decisions on energy policy that will literally lead to death and suffering. The environmental lobby, activist news media, opportunistic politicians–and even a few Big Oil interests–have led the public to believe that we can “go green” in generating energy,” writes Spencer. Continue reading

Book Review – Power Grab

It’s been a year and a half since President Obama took office and there are definitely mixed emotions on how effective he has or hasn’t been. One area where many people have been critical is with regards to his green policies. One such critic is Christopher Horner, who has written a book with the central theme that Obama’s green polices are the worst thing that has happened to our country over the past two years. Power Grab, How Obama’s Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America, has two major tenets: that climate change is a farce, and that the green policies and programs that are being developed to curb climate change will ruin our lives and our country.

The mood is set at the beginning of the book where Horner lays out what America will be like in 2015, when Obama’s policies begin to take affect. He lays out a country with energy shortages, food shortages and job shortages. He describes a world in which the rise of renewable energy and cap-and-trade sent our jobs oversees, and while America’s wealth is declining, the cost of living is rising.

Horner purports that any it would be one thing if the proposed green measures actually curbed global warming, but, he says, they don’t. He writes, “As I explained in Red, Hot, Lies, no proposal ever tabled would, according to anyone, detectably impact global temperature…” He goes on to say, “The real issue Americans should be concerned with is the outcome of these “green”schemes: the transfer of your liberties and wealth to the state, and the transfer of jobs to other countries.” Continue reading

Book Review – Green Gone Wrong

Everyone has an opinion about the veracity of global warming, except, maybe global governments who are pursing economic improvements on the back of climate change. The quest for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and predominately carbon dioxide (CO2) has led to a spurt of new research around the development of more sustainable practices and technologies. But at what cost to the environment? This question is asked and answered in the new book Green Gone Wrong, by Heather Rogers.

This question may on the surface sound like an oxymoron. How can you be developing technologies to reduce CO2, yet hurt the environment at the same time? According to Rogers, this is in fact happening every day, all over the world. Rogers breaks up the offenses into three categories: food, shelter and transportation.

The crux of the food section studies what organic farming really means (or doesn’t mean) and the movement to “beyond organic”. The next section discusses green building and the last section studies transportation, where I will focus. One element that is weaved throughout this section, is the discussions of the validity of carbon offset programs.

Many of the arguments she presents in the section are not new. She writes about biofuels, “As for ecological sustainability, biofuels have been widely discredited. The energy efficiency achieved with ethanol is dubious and a source of much debate. While some researchers say more energy goes into making ethanol than the alt-fuel can supply, others estimate a positive energy balance. A commonly cited figure is that for every gallon of fossil fuel used in production, only 1.3 gallons of corn-based ethanol can be refined. Either way, by now it’s apparent that biofuels pressure both ecosystems and the access to food.” Continue reading

Book Review – The Economics of Food

It wasn’t too long ago that the ethanol industry experienced the perfect storm…high energy prices, high corn prices and low ethanol prices. Also during this time food prices rose. Why? While the reality was that high energy prices were a major factor (oil was more than $15o per barrel at its peak), ethanol was blamed over and over again as the major culprit. Today, research papers are still being published saying that ethanol was not the main offender; yet the debate is still active. So this week, I read the book, “The Economics of Food,” by Patrick Westhoff. To disclose Westhoff’s background, he grew up on an Iowa farm, has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Iowa State University and currently co-directs the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri.

Westhoff acknowledges very quickly that ethanol did have a role in rising food costs.”Biofuels played an important role in the rise and fall of food prices between 2005-2009, but other factors were also at play. Anything that affects the amount of food produced or consumed in the world will have some impact on food prices.” After explaining what some of those other factors are, he writes, “Thus, a first rule of thumb: Increasing biofuel production raises the price of food.” (Author’s italics.)

Westhoff presents both sides of the “food and fuel” debate in his book and says that in certain arguments, both sides are right (the proponents and opponents). He then stresses that biofuels did not play as large of a role in rising food prices as detractors claim, but he also said that biofuels played a larger role in food prices that biofuels supporters acknowledge. After he lays out the true impact of biofuels and food prices, he then lays out some possible scenarios for the future. Continue reading

Book Review – Powering The Future

This week I read “Powering The Future,” by Daniel B. Botkin. I was motoring along learning about our current energy mix (fossil fuels, fossil fuels, fossil fuels) and then moved on to the section about alternative energy and his evaluation of the viability of wind and solar. Then I got to the biofuels section and this is where in most books I feel authors are either uneducated or intentionally dismiss the data. Botkin was no different in his assessment of biofuels. He only supports biofuels from algae and soil bacteria and he backs up much of his biofuels with bad data from the likes of David Pimentel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The goal that Botkin set out in his book was to discuss each major source of energy including how much energy it provides today, how much it could provide in the future, how much it would cost, and its advantages and disadvantages. On this note, I do think that Botkin set out what he meant to do and offered analogies and numbers that most will understand.

Here are some interesting takeaways from his analysis. First, he is not a proponent of natural gas because his data shows that if it were used to fuel the 140 million+ cars on the road, we’d run out in less than 20 years. Second, he is not a proponent of nuclear because there is a limited amount of uranium and it costs more to decommission a nuclear plant than build one. While he has reservations about coal, he does anticipate that coal use will increase for electricity.

So what does he like? Continue reading

Book Review – No Impact Man

So you’re a bit frustrated with the state of the climate and pretty concerned with our fossil fuel use. So what do you do? You become the No Impact Man. Colin Beavan, a writer from New York who was struggling with how to deal with climate change, decided that he, along with his wife, two year old daughter and dog, would spend a year trying to have no negative impact on the climate. This experience, which he blogged about every day, led to the book, “No Impact Man The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet.”

Beavan was extreme. No “throw away” products made from trees, rarely any motorized transportation including elevators (did I mention he lives in NY?), all locally grown food within 250 miles and no meat, no buying of new things (but they could purchase used items), and if that weren’t enough, no electricity for three months! So what did he learn? We should be able to keep the things that improve our lives, yet not at the expense of the environment. And yes, he says, this can be done.

As an energy writer there was one chapter that I felt was extremely compelling and that was when he and his family turned out the electricity. Yep – no electricity for three months with the exception of a solar panel he used to power his laptop. In this chapter, Beavan talks about the true cost of fossil fuel use – something that many are trying to get consumers to understand, including me.

He writes, “The fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are not less costly than renewable energy. Fossil fuels cost us and our planet much more to use. The problem is that the true costs of the use of coal and oil are not immediately apparent in the price.” Continue reading