Archive | Geothermal

Geothermal in Hawaii

It Isn’t Oil!

Geothermal energy: Clean, stable, always available

In 1881, King David Kalakaua had the bright idea of using Hawaii’s fiery volcanoes to produce electricity and light the streets. It took technology the next century to catch up with the visionary king.

On the Big Island of Hawaii, nearly 20 percent of the electricity we consume is produced naturally by tapping the Earth’s heat. It is firm, strong power that the island truly depends upon, enough to continually power 20,000 residences.

When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, heat from the Earth’s interior is always available.

Puna’s geothermal power station
delivers 30 megawatts of power,
with potential to deliver much more.
(Photo: Puna Geothermal Venture)

Puna Geothermal Venture, the only commercial geothermal facility in the state, has been generating sustainable electricity for the Big Island for 15 years.

Under a Power Purchase Agreement with Hawaii Electric Light Company, PGV sends all the electricity it produces—30 megawatts—to the utility. It could provide much more.

The slopes of Kilauea Volcano are the state’s best resource. The only other island with significant geothermal resources is Maui, but its potential is considerably less.

Geothermal electricity:

  • Accounts for 30 percent of the state’s renewable energy—more than wind and solar combined
  • Saves 144,000 barrels of oil a year—more than 1.8 million barrels since 1993
  • Diversifies Hawai‘i’s energy sources
  • Means a much cleaner environment
  • Creates jobs and other economic benefit
  • Is a clean, stable, renewable source of power
  • And . . . it’s local!
  • Puna Geothermal Venture invested heavily in new equipment and technologies to get where it is today. State-of-the-art equipment is used to drill wells deep into volcanic reservoirs—a mile or more—and bring up hot fluid and steam. The steam drives turbines that generate electricity.

    Geothermal is also ‘green’: No oil or other fossil fuel is used in the operation.

    The plant has near “zero” emissions because the brine and gases that are left over are injected back into the Earth, well below the water table, through another set of wells called re-injection wells.

    This is called a binary or closed-loop circulation system, meaning that no excess gases or fluids reach the open air. It is one of the most advanced methods for producing geothermal energy. All PGV wells are this type.

    Other uses are possible besides generating electricity. Geothermal could contribute to the manufacture of other technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells. It could also provide direct heat applications such as drying fruit and lumber, greenhouse propagation and aquaculture projects—even heating buildings.

    And there are economic benefits. Puna Geothermal Venture has 30 full-time employees and various other contractors. Many live in Puna District.

    PGV seeks to be a good neighbor, keeping the community informed of its activities via newsletter, a 24-hour response line and online information.

    Geothermal energy is the backbone of renewable energy resources in Hawaii. As the electricity demands grow, Puna Geothermal Venture stands ready to expand the project to meet the needs of the community.

    Tours of the facility, for groups or individuals, are available but must be booked in advance. Call (808) 965-6233.

    Posted in Art, Buildings, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Fuel Cells, Geothermal, Hydrogen, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Volcanoes, Wind6 Comments

    Bleeding Edge Green

    The parallels between the internet revolution and the 21st century green revolution are many, but the most salient perhaps is this: Wonderful progress is going to come out of this boom, but lots of business models and products are going to come and go, and we’re going to look back at many of them and shake our heads in disbelief. is an excellent online resource for information about all things green relating to construction, and I sincerely hope they’re around and thrive forever. Every Friday they email me their “Friday’s Green Video,” and they are always interesting. But today’s video highlighted what can only be characterized as “bleeding edge green.” By comparison, in our post “Affordable Green Homes,” we reported on Michelle Kaufmann Designs, where this architect is trying to apply green building concepts to modular homes that are elegant and green, but fall within the budget of normal people. In that post, we contrasted Kaufmann’s products to the “Idea House” built in 2007 in San Francisco, which while incorporating brilliant green innovations, cost over $500 per square foot to build.

    If the cost for the Idea House was stratospheric, the cost for the home featured in GreenBuild’s Friday video today was stellar. This 9,000 square foot home will go on the market for $15 million, which comes out to a cost of $1,670 per square foot. I’m not sure just how nice this home is, but if I can afford $15M for a home, I’m not going to tolerate low flow shower heads. And call me a curmudgeon, but the “ethanol burning fireplace” that the home features is one of those things we’ll shake our heads at someday. I’m surprised they didn’t explain that the fireplace will only burn cellulosic ethanol.

    Once again, there are wonderful innovations in this home, and pioneering these innovations requires bleeding edge applications before costs settle down to levels affordable to mainstream consumers. But will everyone someday be able to afford geothermal heating and cooling systems? Probably not – this may never make sense financially. Will unsubsidized photovoltaics ever compete with conventional energy? More likely, but we’re not there yet. If you are looking for what green innovations are most likely to end up in your home in the next ten years, look to companies who are identifying what is practical and applying them to their products. For example, look to the green innovations in the homes by Michelle Kaufmann designs, and not to the bleeding edge green mega mansions of Long Island’s elite.

    And if you’re investing in green technology, step back and ask yourself – IF all this climate panic subsides, and abundant clean fossil fuel (coal, shale, oil sands) has brought energy prices back to earth – will the business you’re interested in still be standing? No responsible investor should ignore this scenario.

    Even a turkey wants to avoid the bleeding edge.

    Posted in Coal, Energy, Geothermal, Homes & Buildings, People, Science, Space, & Technology2 Comments

    Al Gore & Innovation: Challenging Perspectives on Global Warming & Climate Change

    This evening Former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore delivered a keynote speech on the subject of innovation at the Fairmont San Jose. The occasion was the annual meeting of the $28 billion CPA firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu where about 300 of the most senior partners gather together from all over the world for a few days. There were no cameras or recording devices permitted, but I had the privilege of attending along with a few other select clients and friends.

    EcoWorld’s position on climate change has been consistent for several years, and it didn’t change tonight: (1) If humans are causing climate change, it is from a variety of factors – in general, the role of anthropogenic CO2 is being overemphasized and the role of tropical deforestation is being underemphasized, (2) Even if the rise in atmospheric CO2 is due to burning fossil fuel, by the IPCC’s own reasoning, it is impossible to lower it sufficiently to make any impact without completely shutting down industry on planet earth, meaning adaptation would be a more rational investment, (3) CO2 is not pollution, and the emphasis on reducing CO2 is undermining our efforts to reduce other air pollution, and address environmental challenges in general, (4) the political changes that are being proposed and enacted in the name of reducing CO2 emissions are causing increasing harm to our rights and freedoms, and (5) demonizing people who sincerely doubt the “consensus” is absolutely wrong.

    So watching this incredibly powerful man, who has become larger than life, stride the stage not more than 20 feet in front of me was something that aroused mixed feelings, to say the least. He spent several minutes cracking jokes, funny jokes at that, with an endearing southern twang that matched his dark black cowboy boots. There sure have been a lot of southerners in high office in recent years in the USA. And it was hard not to like this one.

    When Gore got down to business, he said things I was in complete agreement with, such as “we have a series of problems relating to short term thinking,” and things I found refreshingly optimistic, such as “I believe the recession will be shorter than everybody thought.” But when he started to discuss climate change, he said some things that simply must be challenged.

    After leading into the topic with the statement “there’s an illusion still out there that the climate crisis may not be real, and if you want to be one step ahead, believe me, it’s real,” he used as his first example “a tale of two planets, Earth and Venus,” which are the “same size, same amount of carbon, but on earth most of the natural processes have put carbon into the earth as fossil fuel.” He then pointed out the average temperature on Earth is 59 degrees (fahrenheit), and the average temperature on Venus is 875 degrees. But he didn’t point out that Venus is 67 million miles from the sun, and earth is 93 million miles from the sun – that plus undoubtedly many other significant differences in the composition of Earth and Venus would account for the difference in temperature. So Gore was not off to a good start.

    There isn’t space here to recount all the points Gore made in a generous speech that lasted, including questions, over an hour. But he referenced the IPCC reports as being 99% certain there was human induced climate change – without specifying exactly what they meant by that. To be fair, Gore didn’t have time to go into all these details either. But he didn’t point out that the IPCC reports are written and reviewed by the same people – something that is never supposed to be done in a scientific paper. Peer review of compilations like this are always supposed to be by a separate panel of experts.

    Gore then discussed sea ice in the arctic, explaining that on the northern equinox each year the extent of the northern ice cap is measured by scientists, and noting that last September the ice was 40% smaller than it has been historically. “What does it take to get our attention,” he noted, continuing “our kids are going to wonder why you watched this happen and didn’t do anything,” and “it can come back, but only when we quit turning up the thermostat,” and “if we let the heat build up in the Arctic Ocean it [the ice cap] won’t come back, and we will live on a different planet.” Well let’s see what happens this year. Gore did not mention that two recent studies acknowledge the northern hemisphere is about to embark on a cooling period, as the interdecadal oscillations of ocean currents begin to return cool water to the arctic. What Gore and his followers won’t yet consider is that these changes are the result of natural fluctuations.

    Gore then noted “there are ten to fifteen other major events,” mentioning a few of them; sea level rise (negligible), storms and floods (tragic, but not more numerous or severe, and only more destructive because we’ve got far more people living in marginal areas on earth today), drought (true, but much of that is being caused by deforestation), extinctions (most of these are from other causes), and deforestation (which we are doing on our own with no help from rising CO2). But as we have noted in previous posts and features, the earth, overall, has had stable temperatures for ten years, and it isn’t clear where all these supposed exajoules of solar heat, allegedly captured by excessive concentrations of atmospheric CO2, are being sequestered, waiting for their moment. In the deep ocean? That’s not what our latest temperature buoys are saying. So where?

    Case closed, Gore than leapt to rhetorically asking “why are we seeing these changes.” And here is where Gore’s message becomes something it is far easier to agree with. Because believe it or not, even if you think CO2 induced climate change alarm is overstated, you can still be an environmentalist. Gore noted that along with fossil fuel burning, we are seeing these changes because of a rising population, greater per capita income, and an abundance of short term thinking. And if you take away the fossil fuel burning, and substitute “environmental challenges” for “climate change,” Gore is absolutely right. What ever happened to that iconic image of the ships in the desert, Mr. Gore, published in your book Earth in the Balance? Why can’t we refill the Aral Sea?

    On the topic of population growth, Gore reminded the audience that global population will stabilize due to four factors, (1) empowering women, (2) educating girls, (3) making sure people have culturally acceptable access to family planning, and (4) increasing the survivability of children. This is an excellent point, and Gore might have gone on to predict the inevitable population decline that will begin as soon as the peak is reached sometime around 2040. The cultural and economic challenges an aging, declining world population will pose are also things we should be confronting now, as we think ahead.

    Along with climate change Gore dealt with the other reason to wean ourselves of fossil fuel, “shifting away from a dirty, expensive [fossil] fuel from dangerous, politically fragile regions,” and not having to compete with the rising nations of China and India for fossil fuel supplies. These are true enough, and the reason many Americans and other westerners embrace climate change even if they aren’t convinced – and I have spoken with countless highly educated and informed people who have stated off the record they are still completely skeptical of the role of CO2 in causing climate change. But so what, if we transition to something new; solar, wind, greater efficiencies, geothermal, “good” biofuel?

    Gore is on to something here, as he describes high voltage direct current lines that can be put underground and are far more efficient in transmission, or solar thermal fields so efficient that “a 100×100 square mile area (10,000 square miles) could power 100% of the energy requirements of the entire USA” (we’ve run the numbers and that is theoretically true). Gore has done a lot to stimulate innovation in technologies that will deliver energy independence, and cleaner energy. But there have been tragic missteps as well, such as subsidizing biofuel from tropical rainforests, something that has not only needlessly destroyed tropical rainforests – causing regional droughts and warming, along with heartbreaking losses of wildlife habitat – but has now created an overreaction against all biofuel.

    There is nothing wrong with, as Gore puts it “figuring out how to get one step ahead to create a better world.” One of Deloitte’s partners, an urbane gentleman from France, discussed Gore’s remarks with me, saying “we have to exaggerate the problem to solve the problem.” This is a wise sentiment. The problem is letting this crisis mongering cause us to move so fast that we enact political changes and embrace technological solutions that ultimately turn out to be too draconian and too dated, respectively, when high energy prices might have stimulated all the innovation we would ever need, in good time.

    Nobody can say with certainty that Al Gore is right or wrong about climate change. But the political changes afoot in the name of fighting climate change are not trivial, they are epochal, and therefore simply arguing we should invoke the precautionary principle is not something that should be stated unequivocably, or so selectively. The debate is not over, the debate has scarcely begun, and that perhaps is my biggest disagreement with Al Gore. His world changing message has awakened a generation to the values of environmentalism, which is wonderful, but now that generation might consider the nuances of the mission and the message. There are myriad environmental challenges, and they cannot possibly be viewed or mitigated in their totality purely through the lens of climate change alarm. If you doubt this, just ask the Orangutans of Borneo.

    Posted in Air Pollution, Causes, Drought, Geothermal, Global Warming & Climate Change, Office, Other, Population Growth, Regional, Solar, Wind13 Comments

    The 25x'25 Alliance


    Released March 2008 by the 25x’25 Alliance, republished with permission.

    Biofuel Field with Tractor
    Biofuel, especially via cellulosic extraction
    from crop residue, has huge potential.
    (Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

    Editor’s Note: If you have boundless faith in the power of technology, innovation, and free enterprise, like we do, it shouldn’t seem difficult to accomplish the goal of generating 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2025. The real question would be which sources might dominate: biofuel, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, ocean waves, currents and tides – who knows? Fusion? The devil is in the details, however, hence sustainability principles are very, very important as we rush to completely transform the global energy industry with renewables.

    Biofuel is a perfect example of a renewable fuel that has great potential but also is not sustainable in every manifestation we’ve seen. Over the past ten years as the demand for renewable energy has risen relentlessly, driven by a variety of compelling motives – energy diversity, energy security, environmental concerns, resource constraints, national economic interests – biofuel has been a promising option, enthusiastically pursued. Production of biofuel from crops in an agriculturally rich, relatively underpopulated nation like America, on land that otherwise lies fallow and is irrigated with ample summer rains is one thing. Production of biofuel from crops where rainforest stood a year earlier, in order to feed the market for carbon credits – when rainforest left intact might better accomplish the goals for which carbon credits were supposedly set up, is something else entirely.

    The basic algebra of biofuel cannot be ignored if sustainability is a goal – biofuel can make compelling economic sense, but at yields of 5,000 BBLs per square mile, biofuel will not make a significant dent in global energy production, yet because it is profitable to produce, we can rip out every forest left on earth to grow it. To say other forces are consuming our forests – population growth, timber harvesting, food production, is true but beside the point. Biofuel is also playing its part in rainforest destruction, and if we’re all set to regulate CO2 emissions, we need to put at least equal energy into monitoring the health and extent of our rainforests. Sustainability principles for biofuel are absolutely essential.

    It is important as well to recognize that the power of technology and innovation will not leave us reliant much longer on crops to produce biofuel. We are quickly learning how to economically extract biofuel from crop residue, forest tinder and timber industry byproducts, animal wastes and municipal wastes. Policies that encourage biofuel production need to be carefully structured to accelerate these 2nd generation methods of extracting and refining biofuel, rather than creating vested interests in perpetuating a reliance on 1st generation biofuels from crops. Better yet, technology and innovation needs to deliver 3rd generation biofuels that are grown in factory environments, where a square mile complex might deliver not 50,000 BBLs per square mile per year (the most promising 2nd generation estimates we’ve every heard of), but 500,000 BBLs per square mile.

    If these sorts of innovations are allowed to happen, then the goal of producing 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2025 may turn out to not have been ambitious enough. One of the biggest challenges as the renewables revolution delivers energy abundance to the world will be to watch for unintended environmental consequences – and these sustainability principles recently set forth by the 25x’25 Alliance are an important contribution raising the level of the global discussion. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

    25% Renewable by 2025 – A statement of sustainability principles to apply while striving to produce 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2025
    - by the 25x’25 Alliance, March 2008
    Cows in Field
    Biodiesel & methanol from
    livestock waste is a promising
    source of alternative fuel.
    (Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

    In September of 2007, the 25x’25 Alliance’s Steering Committee chartered a work group composed of a cross section of agricultural, forestry, industry, environmental and conservation leaders to help further define sustainability in a 25x’25 renewable future.

    The mission of the work group was to develop recommendations for sustainability principles that would help guide the evolution of 25x’25.

    The sustainability principles outlined in this report are the product of the 28-member 25x’25 National Steering Committee. Though the assumptions and principles were drawn from the consensus recommendations developed by the work group, they represent the views and position of the 25x’25 National Steering Committee rather than any individual 25x’25 Alliance partner.

    Sustainability Principles for a 25x’25 Energy Future


    In the Energy Independence and Security Act passed in December 2007 the U.S. Congress formally adopted 25x’25 as a national goal, affirming that it is the goal of the United States to derive 25 percent of its energy use from agricultural, forestry and other renewable resources by 2025.

    The 25x’25 Action Plan Charting America’s Energy Future, authored and released by the 25x’25 National Steering Committee in February 2007, outlines specific steps that need to be taken to put the United States on a path to secure 25 percent of its energy needs from renewables by the year 2025. The 25x’25 goal and Action Plan stand on a foundation of five key principles – efficiency, partnership, commitment, sustainability, and opportunity.

    Sustainability has always been considered as central to the success of the 25x’25 renewable energy initiative and is defined as follows in the Action Plan:

    Sustainability: To be a long-term solution for America, renewable energy production must conserve, enhance, and protect natural resources and be economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable.

    Underpinning the concept of sustainability is the ideal of stewardship or the responsible use and orderly development of natural resources in a way that takes full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations, and other species, as well as private needs, and accepts significant answerability to society.

    In developing these principles, a number of basic underlying assumptions were identified and agreed to:

    Renewable energy production must comply with all existing federal, state, and local laws
    and regulations.

    All regions will have an opportunity to engage in the production of bioenergy feedstocks
    and renewable energy.

    Renewable energy production should address the multiple-values of the land-base
    including environmental, economic, social, and historical.

    Balance of stakeholder interests must be a central theme in renewable energy production.

    The principles set forth for sustainability are mutually reinforcing.
    The 25x’25 National Steering Committee recommends the following principles to 25x’25
    partners and would support their adoption by renewable energy producers and policy makers.

    Wind power is already becoming cost
    competitive with conventional energy.
    (Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

    25x’25 Sustainability Principles

    Access: Renewable energy producers and consumers should have fair and equitable access to renewable energy markets, products, and infrastructure.

    Air Quality: Renewable energy production should maintain or improve air quality.

    Biodiversity: Renewable energy production should maintain or enhance landscape biodiversity and protect native, rare, threatened, and endangered species and habitat.

    Community Economic Benefits: Renewable energy production should bolster the economic foundation and quality of life in communities where it occurs.

    Efficiency and Conservation: Renewable energy production should be energy efficient, utilize biomass residues and waste materials when possible, and conserve natural resources at all stages of production, harvesting, and processing.

    Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Renewable energy production should result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions when compared to fossil fuels.

    Invasive and Non-Native Species: Introduced or non-native species can be used for renewable energy production when there are appropriate safeguards against negative impacts on native flora and fauna, and on agricultural and forestry enterprises.

    Market Parity: Renewable energy production should have parity with fossil fuels in access to markets and incentives.

    Opportunities: All regions of the nation should have the opportunity to participate in renewable energy development and use.

    Private Lands: Renewable energy production on private working farm, forest, and grasslands should improve the health and productivity of these lands and help protect them from being permanently converted to non-working uses.

    Public Lands: Renewable energy production from appropriate public lands should be sustainable and contribute to the long-term health and mission of the land.

    Soil Erosion: Renewable energy production should incorporate the best available technologies and management practices to protect soils from loss rates greater than can be replenished.

    Soil Quality: Renewable energy production should maintain or enhance soil resources and the capacity of working lands to produce food, feed, fiber, and associated environmental services and benefits.

    Special Areas: Renewable energy production should respect special areas of important conservation, historic, and social value.

    Technology: New technologies, including approved biotechnology, can play a significant role in renewable energy production, provided they create land use and production efficiencies and protect food, feed, and fiber systems, native flora and fauna, and other environmental values.

    Water Quality: Renewable energy production should maintain or improve water quality.

    Water Quantity: Renewable energy production systems and facilities should maximize water conservation, avoid contributing to downstream flooding, and protect water resources.

    Wildlife: Renewable energy production should maintain or enhance wildlife habitat health and

    Geothermal Energy Shoots out of Ground
    Enhanced geothermal using advanced drilling
    techniques could be a gigantic surprise.
    (Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

    Reference Materials Reviewed

    25x’25 Action Plan: Charting America’s Energy Future. 25x’25 National Steering Committee.
    Washington, DC. February 2007.

    Achieving Sustainable Production of Agricultural Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock.
    Biotechnology Industry Association. Washington, DC. 2006.

    Bioenergy. NCR-SARE Bioenergy Position Paper. Nov. 2007.

    Getting Biofuels Right: Eight Steps for Reaping Real Environmental Benefits from Biofuels.
    Natural Resources Defense Council. Washington, DC. May 2007.

    Ken Cairn, B. Biomass Energy – Critical Issues for Consideration in Developing Biomass
    Energy and Energy Policy in Colorado and the West
    . Community Energy Systems, LLC. Oak
    Creek. CO. 2007.

    Natural Resources: Woody Biomass Users’ Experiences Offer Insights for Government Efforts
    Aimed at Promoting Its Use
    . U.S. Government Accountability Office. Washington, DC. GA)-06-
    336. March 2006.

    Principles for Bioenergy Development. Union of Concerned Scientists. Cambridge, MA. April

    Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels: Ensuring That Biofuels Deliver on Their Promise of
    . Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne. July 2007.

    Sample, V. Alaric. Ensuring Forest Sustainability in the Development of Woody-Based
    . Pinchot Institute for Conservation. Washington, DC. Vol. 12, No. 1, 2007.

    Sample, V. Alaric. Bioenergy Markets: New Capital Infusion for Sustainable Forest
    . Pinchot Institute for Conservation. Washington, DC. Vol. 11, No. 2, 2006.

    Science, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Forestry: A Findings Report of the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry. National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry.
    Washington, DC. January 2005.

    Sustainability: Meeting Future Economic and Social Needs While Preserving Environmental
    . National Corn Growers Association. Chesterfield, MO. 2007.

    The Rush to Ethanol: Not All Biofuels Are Created Equal. Food & Water Watch and Network for New Energy Choices. Washington, DC, and New York, NY. 2007.

    The Environmental, Resource, and Trade Implications of Biofuels. Woods Institute for the Environment. Stanford University. Stanford, CA . 2007.

    Solar power is the wildcard – it possibly
    could experience exponential growth.
    (Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

    25x’25 National Steering Committee

    William Richards – Circleville, OH (Committee Co-Chair)

    Corn and soybean producer; former Chief, U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation

    J. Read Smith – St. John, WA (Committee Co-Chair)

    Wheat, small grains and cattle producer; former President, National Association of Conservation Districts

    Duane Acker – Atlantic, IA

    Farmer; former President, Kansas State University; former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Science and Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture

    R. Bruce Arnold – West Chester, PA

    Consultant, woody biomass utilization for the pulp and paper industry; retired engineer and
    manufacturer, Scott Paper Company

    Peggy Beltrone – Great Falls, MT

    County Commissioner- Cascade County Montana; member, National Association of Counties
    Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee

    John R. “Jack” Block – Washington, DC

    Former Secretary of Agriculture, 1981-1986

    Michael Bowman – Wray, CO

    Wheat, corn and alfalfa producer; Steering Committee member, Colorado Renewable Energy
    Forum; Rural Chair, Colorado Ag Energy Task Force

    Charles Bronson – Tallahassee, FL

    Commissioner, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; member, Florida
    Cabinet; member, Florida Governor’s Council on Efficient Government; former President,
    Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture

    Glenn English – Arlington, VA

    CEO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; former Co-Chair, U.S. Department of
    Agriculture, DOE Biomass R&D Federal Advisory Committee; former Member of Congress (6th-OK) 1974-1994; Chairman, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Environment, Credit, and Rural Development

    Tom Ewing – Pontiac, IL

    Immediate past Chairman, USDA, DOE Biomass R&D Federal Advisory Committee; former Member of Congress (15th/IL) 1991-2001; Chairman, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Risk Management and Specialty Crops

    Barry Flinchbaugh – Manhattan, KS

    Professor of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University; Chairman, Commission on 21st
    Century Production Agriculture

    Robert Foster – Middlebury, VT

    Dairy farmer, composter, anaerobic digester; President, Vermont Natural Ag Products; Vice-
    President, Foster Brothers Farm Inc.; President, AgReFresh

    Richard Hahn – Omaha, NE

    Retired President, Farmers National Company

    Harry L. Haney, Jr. Austin, TX

    Consultant, non-industrial private forestland management; emeritus professor, Department of
    Forestry, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech; past president, Forest Landowners Association

    Ron Heck – Perry, IA

    Soybean and corn producer; Past President, American Soybean Association

    Bill Horan – Rockwell City, IA

    Corn and soybean producer; former Board Member, National Corn Growers Association

    A.G. Kawamura – Sacramento, CA

    Orange County specialty crops, produce grower and shipper; Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture; Vice Chairman, Rural Development & Financial Security Policy Committee, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; founding Partner, Orange County Produce, LLC

    Jim Moseley – Clarks Hill, IN

    Managing Partner, Infinity Pork, LLC; former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture; former Director of Agricultural Services and Regulations, Purdue University’s School of Agriculture; Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Allen Rider – New Holland, PA

    Retired President, New Holland North America; former Vice President, New Holland North
    America Agricultural Business Unit

    Nathan Rudgers – Batavia, NY

    Senior Vice-President, Director, Business Development, Farm Credit of Western New York;
    former Commissioner, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; former President, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture

    Bart Ruth – Rising City, NE

    Corn and soybean producer; Past President, American Soybean Association; 2005 Eisenhower
    Fellow for Agriculture

    E. Dale Threadgill – Athens, GA

    Director, Faculty of Engineering, and Department Head, Biological & Agricultural Engineering, the Driftmier Engineering Center, and the Biorefinery and Carbon Cycling Program, University of
    Georgia; private forest landowner

    Mike Toelle – Brown’s Valley, MN

    Chairman, CHS; past Director and Chairman, Country Partners Cooperative; operator, grain and hog farm, Browns Valley

    Gerald Vap – McCook, NE

    Chairman, Nebraska Public Service Commission; former Chairman, National Conservation
    Foundation; President, Vap Seed & Hardware

    Don Villwock – Edwardsport, IN

    Grain and soybean producer; President, Indiana Farm Bureau Federation; former Chairman,
    Farm Foundation

    Sara Wyant – St. Charles, IL

    President, Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.; former Vice-President of Editorial, Farm Progress

    Ernest C. Shea – Lutherville, MD (Project Coordinator)

    President, Natural Resource Solutions, LLC; former CEO, National Association of Conservation

    25x'25 America's Energy Future

    About the authors: The “25×25 Sustainability Principles” was released in March 2008 by The 25x’25 Alliance, and is republished with permission. The 25x’25 Alliance began in 2004 as a group of volunteer farm leaders who first envisioned the goal of America achieving 25% renewable energy by 2025, and the group quickly gained the support of a broad cross-section of the agriculture and forestry communities. Now leaders from business, labor, conservation and religious groups are joining this alliance as well.

    The 25x’25 Alliance is supported financially by the Energy Future Coalition, a non-partisan public policy initiative funded by foundations. For general inquiries, email info@25× The 25x’25 Alliance is headquartered at 1626 Bellona Avenue, Lutherville, MD 21093, (410) 252-7079.

    Additional EcoWorld reports on Biofuel:

    - Food vs. Fuel?

    - Biofuel’s Mixed Blessings

    - The Biofuel Bonanza

    - Factory Farmed Biofuel

    - Bioethanol vs. Biodiesel

    - Growing & Refining Biofuel

    - India’s Biodiesel Scene

    - Biodiesel: The Alternative Fuel That’s Already Here

    - Jatropha in Africa

    - Europe Adopts Jatropha

    - Jatropha – Biofuel Grown in the Desert

    Also reference over 40 Editor’s posts on the topic of biofuel:

    - Biofuel Posts, EcoWorld Editor’s Blog

    Email the Editor about this Article
    EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

    Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Industry, Engineering, Geothermal, Ideas, Humanities, & Education, Office, Other, Policies & Solutions, Population Growth, Science, Space, & Technology, Services, Soil Erosion, Solar, Wind0 Comments

    The Fluid Envelope: A Case Against Climate Alarmism

    Industrial Smokestacks and Smog
    It’s easy to imagine such an impressive
    output of gas could be harming the earth.
    (Photo: US

    Editor’s Note: Our charter to report on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems seems to always bring us back to one overriding distraction – global warming alarm – and small wonder. We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations of political economy in the history of the world – and nobody is watching. “The debate is over on global warming,” goes the consensus, and even if that were a healthy or accurate notion, why has this consensus translated into hardly any vigorous debate over what would be a rational response?

    Despite ongoing rhetoric to the contrary from virtually every environmental nonprofit in existance, the United States has been an extraordinarily responsible nation. We listened to our environmental movement; we institutionalized it. On every front there has been huge progress over the past 30-40 years. Our air and water are orders of magnitude cleaner even though our population has doubled. Our landfills our ultra-safe. We have set aside vast tracts of wilderness, rescued countless endangered species. Our food supply is scrupulously monitored. And every year our technology and our prosperity delivers new options to eliminate more pollution and live healthier lives. So what happened?

    In the rest of the world there is also reason for great optimism, despite some discouraging challenges that continue to grip humanity. Human population is voluntarily leveling off, so that within 25-30 years the number of people on planet earth will peak at around 8.5 billion – and every time the projection is revisited, that estimate drops. At an even faster pace, humanity is urbanizing – and this voluntary movement is taking people out of the vast and potentially endangered forests and other biomes faster than population increase replaces them. Land is becoming abundant again. So what’s wrong?

    Technology promises abundant energy within a few decades, using clean fossil fuel as we systematically replace it with solar, nuclear, run-of-river hydroelectric, enhanced geothermal, wind, possibly biofuel. Technology promises abundant water within a few decades, as we learn how to recycle every drop of water used in the urban environment, convert many crops to drip irrigation, and develop massive desalination capacity. So why don’t we get to work?

    The reason is because of global warming alarm. The bells of warning are ringing so loud that CO2 is all that matters anymore. Want to stop using petroleum? Then burn the rainforests for biofuel. Want to stop using coal? Then forget about installing affordable scrubbers to remove the soot that billows from coal fired power plants across burgeoning Asia – why clean up something that needs to be shut down? Want to save allegedly scarce open space? Then cram everyone into ultra-high density “infill” and destroy every semi rural neighborhood in the western world. Make housing unaffordable, then mandate taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing. And do it all in the name of reducing CO2 emissions.

    Today, after reading two documents from the website of the Attorney General of California, “Mitigation Measures,” and “Global Warming Contrarians and the Falsehoods they Promote,” I became so alarmed at what we are willingly, blindly bringing upon ourselves because of all this CO2 alarm that I contacted Dr. Richard Lindzen, who has already contributed two lengthy articles to EcoWorld, “Current Behavior of Global Mean Surface Temperature,” and “Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?” I asked Dr. Lindzen if he still held the views he does. He replied emphatically in the affirmative, and sent me the article that follows. Dr. Lindzen, along with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., with whom EcoWorld recently published the exclusive “Interview with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.,” are both internationally respected atmospheric scientists. And both of them, in somewhat different ways, are quite concerned about the overemphasis on CO2.

    Anyone who is championing extreme measures to reduce anthropogenic CO2 should attempt for themselves to understand the science. As Dr. Lindzen wrote me earlier today, policymakers such as Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger “can be excused given the degree to which the environmental movement has taken over the professional societies.”

    “Science” has become the trump card that drowns out reason – what great irony. And the scientific establishment itself has become politicized. And if you read the mitigation measures being proposed, just imagine if there was nothing we could do to affect global warming – which even some of the lead authors of the IPCC studies themselves acknowlege – and see if you want to live in the brave new world we are leading ourselves into by our own gullible noses.

    Dramatic and positive global economic and technological developments, along with voluntary and irreversible global demographic trends, are about to deliver us a future where we enjoy unprecedented environmental health, abundance and prosperity. But to do this we need to preserve our economic and personal freedoms. Will the measures being proposed – especially in trendsetting California – fruitlessly combat a problem that doesn’t exist, crush economic growth and trample on individual freedom, and rob humanity of this hopeful destiny?

    - Ed “Redwood” Ring

    The Fluid Envelope – A Case Against Climate Alarmism
    by Dr. Richard Lindzen, February 2008
    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
    Schwarzenegger Portrait with California Flag
    What will be his legacy?

    The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations.

    Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the Goebbelian substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses by politicians, environmental promoters, and, after 20 years of media drum beating, many others as well.

    Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and previous warm periods appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. During the latter, alpine glaciers advanced to the chagrin of overrun villages.

    Since the beginning of the 19th Century these glaciers have been retreating. Frankly, we don’t fully understand either the advance or the retreat. For small changes in climate associated with tenths of a degree, there is no need for any external cause. The earth is never exactly in equilibrium. The motions of the massive oceans where heat is moved between deep layers and the surface provides variability on time scales from years to centuries. Recent work (Tsonis et al, 2007), suggests that this variability is enough to account for all climate change since the 19th Century. Supporting the notion that man has not been the cause of this unexceptional change in temperature is the fact that there is a distinct signature to greenhouse warming: surface warming should be accompanied by warming in the tropics around an altitude of about 9km that is about 2.5 times greater than at the surface.

    Measurements show that warming at these levels is only about 3/4 of what is seen at the surface, implying that only about a third of the surface warming is associated with the greenhouse effect, and, quite possibly, not all of even this really small warming is due to man. This further implies that all models predicting significant warming are greatly overestimating warming. This should not be surprising. According to the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the greenhouse forcing from man made greenhouse gases is already about 86 % of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 (with about half coming from methane, nitrous oxide, freons and ozone), and alarming predictions depend on models for which the sensitivity to a doubling for CO2 is greater than 2C which implies that we should already have seen much more warming than we have seen thus far, even if all the warming we have seen so far were due to man.

    This contradiction is rendered more acute by the fact that there has been no significant global warming for the last ten years. Modelers defend this situation by arguing that aerosols have cancelled much of the warming, and that models adequately account for natural unforced internal variability. However, a recent paper (Ramanathan, 2007) points out that aerosols can warm as well as cool, while scientists at the UKs Hadley Centre for Climate Research recently noted that their model did not appropriately deal with natural internal variability thus demolishing the basis for the IPCCs iconic attribution. Interestingly (though not unexpectedly), the British paper did not stress this. Rather, they speculated that natural internal variability might step aside in 2009, allowing warming to resume. Resume? Thus, the fact that warming has ceased for the past decade is acknowledged.

    Santa Cruz Mountains and Redwood Forests
    Whether or not someone is a climate alarmist should have no
    bearing on the strength or purity of their environmentalist convictions.
    (Read “Global Warming Questions”)

    Given that the evidence (and I have noted only a few of many pieces of evidence) strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming has been greatly exaggerated, the basis for alarm due to such warming is similarly diminished.

    However, the really important point is that the case for alarm would still be weak even if anthropogenic global warming were significant. Polar bears, arctic summer sea ice, regional droughts and floods, coral bleaching, hurricanes, alpine glaciers, malaria, etc. etc. all depend not on some global average of surface temperature, but on a huge number of regional variables including temperature, humidity, cloud cover, precipitation, and direction and magnitude of wind.

    The state of the ocean is also often crucial. Our ability to forecast any of these over periods beyond a few days is minimal. Yet, each catastrophic forecast depends on each of these being in a specific range. The odds of any specific catastrophe actually occurring is almost zero. This was equally true for earlier forecasts: famine for the 1980′s, global cooling in the 1970′s, Y2K and many others. Regionally, year to year fluctuations in temperature are over four times larger than fluctuations in the global mean. Much of this variation has to be independent of the global mean; otherwise the global mean would vary much more.

    This is simply to note that factors other than global warming are more important to any specific situation. This is not to say that disasters will not occur; they always have occurred and this will not change in the future. Fighting global warming with symbolic gestures will certainly not change this. However, history tells us that greater wealth and development can profoundly increase our resilience.

    Given the above, one may reasonably ask why there is the current alarm, and, in particular, why the astounding upsurge in alarmism of the past 2 years. When an issue like global warming is around for over twenty years, numerous agendas are developed to exploit the issue.

    California Attorney General
    Jerry Brown
    Jerry Brown Portrait
    What is his dream?

    The interests of the environmental movement in acquiring more power and influence are reasonably clear. So too are the interests of bureaucrats for whom control of CO2 is a dream-come-true.

    After all, CO2 is a product of breathing itself. Politicians can see the possibility of taxation that will be cheerfully accepted because it is necessary for saving the world. Nations have seen how to exploit this issue in order to gain competitive advantages. But, by now, things have gone much further.

    The case of ENRON is illustrative in this respect. Before disintegrating in a pyrotechnic display of unscrupulous manipulation, ENRON had been one of the most intense lobbyists for Kyoto. It had hoped to become a trading firm dealing in carbon emission rights. This was no small hope. These rights are likely to amount to over a trillion dollars, and the commissions will run into many billions. Hedge funds are actively examining the possibilities. It is probably no accident that Gore, himself, is associated with such activities . The sale of indulgences is already in full swing with organizations selling offsets to ones carbon footprint while sometimes acknowledging that the offsets are irrelevant.

    The possibilities for corruption are immense. Archer Daniels Midland (Americas largest agribusiness) has successfully lobbied for ethanol requirements for gasoline, and the resulting demand for ethanol is already leading to large increases in corn prices and associated hardship in the developing world (not to mention poorer car performance).

    And finally, there are the numerous well meaning individuals who have allowed propagandists to convince them that in accepting the alarmist view of anthropogenic climate change, they are displaying intelligence and virtue For them, their psychic welfare is at stake.

    With all this at stake, one can readily suspect that there might be a sense of urgency provoked by the possibility that warming may have ceased. For those committed to the more venal agendas, the need to act soon, before the public appreciates the situation, is real indeed.

    Richard Lindzen Portrait

    About the Author: Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.

    EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

    Posted in Atmospheric Science, Coal, Energy, Geothermal, Global Warming & Climate Change, History, Hydroelectric, Landfills, Nuclear, Organizations, Other, Ozone, People, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind11 Comments

    Thermal Circulation Systems

    The sporadic nature of renewable energy, wind and solar in particular, poses a great challenge to wider adoption. Storage systems, even in stationary applications, are not sufficently developed. But rather than depending on creating a massive battery industry to facilitate a decentralized electricity grid reliant on wind and solar sources, why not develop thermal storage? Check out “Gigawatt-Hours per Million Commuters” for more on why we need to store more decentralized energy, even if the sun shone 24 hours per day.

    The science of exploiting the temperature differential between thermal masses to manage temperature and generate power is well understood, but to-date applications are usually at the utility scale, such as with geothermal power plants, or co-generation units at utilities with high power consumption. Why not engineer a thermal circulation system into a building, and store hot and cold thermal mass in the basement and in the core of the building?

    The notion of engineering intelligent thermal circulation into server farms is just beginning to take off, and the nature of this application can be used for temperature management at a building scale using the same concepts. By circulating a thermal transfer fluid through machinery that requires cooling, their heat can be harvested. A building with a thermal fluid circulation system would have each section of the building routing transfer fluid through rooftop collection units, with distribution routes to heat and cool the envelope of the building, interior climate control, collection routes through stationary energy consuming fixtures, all programmed and automatically monitored and activated by sensor, and centrally managed via cell phone or website.

    Thermal circulation – the process of keeping every element in a building functioning at an optimal temperature – would simultaneously harvest solar heat as well as heat from all electricity consumers in the building. A building with a comprehensive solar-thermal circulation system could also harvest cold, in a dual storage system designed to concentrate and store hot and cold thermal mass. By regulating the input in and out of these two thermal extremes, power could be generated and climate control could be provided to the entire building, while harvesting excess hot and cold mass anywhere in the building as needed.

    At the end of the day, it is probably cheaper to use one system for energy storage, and more-comprehensive thermal systems may be launched as basic next-generation water heating and space heating systems. But the future of thermal circulation could also embody energy storage solutions that don’t necessarily include batteries.

    Posted in Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Engineering, Geothermal, Homes & Buildings, Solar, Wind0 Comments

    China's Coal

    China Coal Mine
    Jin Hua Gong Mine, Datong, Shanxi, China
    (Photo: Peter Van den Bossche)

    Editor’s Note: The Chinese rely on coal for about two-thirds of their total energy production. And with relatively abundant reserves of coal, and relatively scarce reserves of other fossil fuels, as China increases energy production, coal will remain their main source of energy. This is the reality of energy development in China.

    According to the US DOE’s Energy Information Administration, over the next 20 years or so, the amount of energy produced in China from coal is going to double, from about 50 quadrillion BTUs (“quads”) of energy in 2007 to 95 quads by 2030. It is a certainty that China can achieve this level of coal production – what is uncertain is what ultimate level of overall energy production will guarantee the Chinese the lifestyle enjoyed by fully industrialized nations, and hence how much more energy they will have to find elsewhere.

    The answer lies in two unpredictable trends – technological advancements in clean, renewable energy production, and improvements in energy efficiency, or “energy intensity,” which is how many units of energy correspond to a unit of gross national product. There is reason for optimism on both counts. Non-hydroelectric renewable energy currently amounts to less than 1% of global energy production, yet advancements in photovoltaic technology, solar thermal technology, possible breakthroughs in biofuel yields and extraction methods, and enhanced geothermal technologies all promise exponential growth over the next two decades.

    As China completes their process of industrializing and urbanizing, they also have the opportunity to implement cradle-to-cradle, highly advanced technologies that leapfrog the legacy technologies in-place elsewhere. It is often easier to start from scratch than to retrofit, and China can make the most of this and achieve unprecedented levels of energy efficiency and energy intensity.

    Meanwhile coal production in China increases at an astonishing pace, and most of the operating coal plants in China lack modern scrubbers to remove gross air pollution. In this regard, concerns over CO2 may be misplaced. It could be that black soot that settles on arctic ice is warming the northern polar regions more than the CO2 that accompanies that soot. And the ill-health attendant to that soot is beyond debate. The costs to remove genuine pollution, nitrogen dioxide, sulpher dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and toxic metals – is far, far less costly than attempting to sequester the CO2 emissions. And the technology to do this is well established.

    It is going to take decades for clean renewables to replace coal. In the meantime, the international community should encourage the Chinese to at least clean up their coal emissions. Getting rid of the particulates and other pollutants would improve the health of hundreds of millions of people, it would prevent black soot from melting northern ice, and unlike schemes for CO2 sequestration – or ending coal burning all together – it is feasible in the short term. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

    China’s Coal – The Reality of Energy Development in China
    by Gordon Feller, January 2008

    2004, 2015, and 2030
    Bar Graph of Coal Consumption in China by Sector
    Sources: 2004: Energy Information Admin. (EIA),
    2015 and 2030: EIA, “System for the Analysis
    of Global Energy Markets” (2006).

    China is the second largest energy consumer in the world and most of its energy consumption is coal. This dominance of coal is not expected to fall significantly even as China’s energy demand grows.

    China’s Development Research Center of the State Council estimates that coal will account for 66 percent of primary energy consumption in 2010. Coal-based power generation will account for 65 to 70 percent of total generation for the next decades. Industry is the other major consumer of coal.

    While China’s coal resources are deemed sufficient for its needs in the coming two decades, the environmental cost of coal use is already beginning to take its toll, particularly through SO2 and NOX emissions which are the leading causes of acid rain. In 2002, about 34 percent (or 6.6 million tons) of China’s SO2 emissions were released from power plants. Acid rain falls on an estimated 30 percent of China’s land mass and can become a threat to agricultural output. China’s CO2 emissions, now even surpassing those from the United States, are also a threat to the global environment. A combination of clean-coal technologies at the input, processing and output stages of the power generation process, the enforcement of emission control regulation, and sector policies (such as pricing) have the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of coal use. Significant reductions in environmental impact in the long-term will require a major effort.

    The World Bank’s recent analytical work on China’s coal sector found that coal mining is in desperate need of restructuring and modernization. Overall, coal is far behind China’s power and oil/gas sub-sectors in economic efficiency, modern management, and technology. There are more than 30,000 coal mines in the country, most of them small mines producing a third of the country’s coal even after widespread mine closures. The small mines are a major source of the sector’s problems including lack of safety (some two-thirds of the reported 6,000 coal mining fatalities per year occur in small coal mines), environmental damage (small mines are the least equipped to address the environmental impacts of coal – only a small fraction of small mines wash their raw coal), and sub-optimal exploitation or, at worst, waste of resources. At the same time, small-scale mining is a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed in the wider context of the economic and social priorities of the town and village governments which most often operate them.

    Coal Barge on the Yangtzee River
    From mine to market, a fully laden coal barge
    floats its way down the Yangtzee River.

    China is the second largest producer of electricity in the world and its power demand growth is also among the world’s highest. With rapid economic growth continuing to drive energy demand, China faces supply reliability concerns across the energy sector. These concerns are particularly acute for power and oil. The key priorities and challenges facing China’s energy sector in the medium-term are:

    (1) Ensuring Energy Supply Reliability to Meet Demand Growth:

    With rapid economic growth continuing to drive energy demand growth, China faces supply reliability concerns across the energy sector. These concerns are particularly acute for power and oil.

    (2) Ensuring power supply reliability:

    China is the second largest producer of electricity in the world and its power demand growth is also among the world’s highest. By the end of 2000, China’s total installed capacity reached about 320 gigawatts and was expected to grow to about 400GW by 2005, about 500 gigawatts in 2010 and between 850 gigawatts and 950 gigawatts in 2020. But electricity consumption has jumped by much higher rates annually than are implicit in the above 2000-2005 estimate with power shortages first affecting the provinces responsible for the country’s export boom (Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shanghai) along the eastern sea-board. In 2004, 19 out of 31 provinces had to ration electricity. The reliability of the power supply system, particularly, the transmission grid has also become an issue. The government forecasts a power shortage of 10 to 15 percent in the key manufacturing areas estimating that about $108 billion of new generation capacity will be needed in the coming five years to close the gap.

    Despite progress in power sector reform, the sector has suffered from systemic problems such as a piecemeal approach to restructuring, slow development of a regulatory framework leading to inefficiencies and abuses of monopoly/monopsony power, mismatch between loan maturities and economic lives of power projects, inadequate wholesale electricity and transmission pricing regimes, and low efficiency of electricity supply and use.

    To guide the sector’s evolution, the national government of China released a comprehensive reform program for the power sector in April 2002 whose ultimate objective is to provide customers the best service at the lowest possible cost through continued break-up of the monopolistic industry structure and gradual expansion of competition to improve sector efficiency.

    (3) Managing the security of oil supply:

    China’s oil consumption accounted for nearly a quarter of primary energy in 2002. With a growing passenger vehicle fleet, greater inland freight transportation, and the high growth rate of industrial output, oil consumption is expected to retain this share of primary energy till 2010 even as China’s total primary energy consumption will more than double between 2000 and 2020. In 1993, China became a net importer of oil. And the proportion of imports in oil consumption has risen from 7.3 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 2000. The government estimates that oil imports will account for 60 percent of total oil consumption by 2020. The government is responding to the vulnerability to oil price volatility and supply risk through a mix of measures including the development of a strategic oil reserve, acquisition of upstream oil assets, and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. The government has sought the World Bank’s advice in developing a coherent and comprehensive policy response to the question of oil supply security under the wider rubric of a policy report on long-term energy security.

    (4) Managing the Environmental Impact of Coal:

    China is the second largest energy consumer in the world and most of its energy consumption is coal, 67 percent of primary energy consumption in 2002. This dominance of coal is not expected to fall significantly even as China’s energy demand grows. The Development Research Center of the State Council estimates that coal will account for 66 percent of primary energy consumption in 2010. Coal-based power generation will account for 65 to 70 percent of total generation for the next decades. Industry is the other major consumer of coal.

    While China’s coal resources are deemed sufficient for its needs in the coming two decades, the environmental cost of coal use is already beginning to take its toll, particularly through SO2 and NOx emissions which are the leading causes of acid rain. In 2002, about 34 percent (or 6.6 million tons) of China’s SO2 emissions were released from power plants. Acid rain falls on an estimated 30 percent of China’s land mass and can become a threat to agricultural output. China’s CO2 emissions, second only to the United States, are also a threat to the global environment. A combination of clean-coal technologies at the input, processing and output stages of the power generation process, the enforcement of emission control regulation, and sector policies (such as pricing) have the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of coal use. Significant reductions in environmental impact in the long-term will require a major effort.

    Human Drawn Coal Carts in China
    Old and new mingle as human-powered coal carts
    deliver energy to fuel China’s industrial boom.
    (Photo: USGS)

    Overall, coal is far behind China’s power and oil/gas sub-sectors in economic efficiency, modern management, and technology. There are more than 30,000 coal mines in the country, most of them small mines producing a third of the country’s coal even after widespread mine closures. The small mines are a major source of the sector’s problems including lack of safety (some two-thirds of the reported 6,000 coal mining fatalities per year occur in small coal mines), environmental damage (small mines are the least equipped to address the environmental impacts of coal – only a small fraction of small mines wash their raw coal), and sub-optimal exploitation or, at worst, waste of resources. At the same time, small-scale mining is a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed in the wider context of the economic and social priorities of the town- and village-level governments which most often operate them.

    (5) Reducing Environmental Damage by Increasing the Proportion of Gas and Renewables in the Energy Mix:

    China’s gas consumption is low (at 2.7 percent of primary energy in 2002). But gas is beginning to gain momentum and substantial growth is expected with the share of gas in final consumption anticipated to more than double during the next decade.

    Renewables accounted for less than 10 percent of China’s primary energy consumption in 2002. With respect to renewable sources of electricity, China is one of the most well-endowed countries in the world estimated to include 160 gigawatts of wind power, over 75 gigawatts of commercially exploitable small hydropower, about 125 gigawatts of biomass energy, 6.7 gigawatts of known geothermal energy and high levels of insulation in many parts of the country. Analyses indicate that the greatest potential for displacing coal by renewable energy is in the power sector. Even so, renewable sources accounted for only 7.8% of primary energy in 2002 with large hydropower plants as the dominant source.

    Recognizing this potential, the government seeks to begin use of the resources which are economically feasible. The government has decided to adopt a policy aimed at building demand by mandating electricity suppliers to meet some of their needs from renewable resources, often known as a mandated market policy. The policy is to be implemented through the enactment of a Renewable Energy Promotion Law (REPL) which has been ratified by the People’s Assembly in February, 2005. In addition to the development of the law, regulations need to be introduced. Rather than introduce a law that requires all provinces to comply immediately, the government intends to try out the approach in four provinces (Fujian, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang) which have all volunteered to participate as pilot provinces. These provinces have agreed to adopt the law and to take the actions necessary to comply with it over the period 2005-2008.

    (6) Increasing Efficiency of Energy Use Including Heating Services:

    The energy consumed to produce every one thousand dollars of GDP (or energy intensity) reduced from 2.49 tons of oil equivalent in 1980 to 0.84 by 2002. The reduction of waste since 1980 has been significant but it means that the easier gains have already been made. In an increasingly market-based economy, government-mandated programs are unlikely to succeed and stronger regulatory oversight will be needed. Despite the progress so far, a greater energy efficiency challenge lies in the future as China currently has a comparatively low per capita energy consumption level (1.1 tce per person in 2001 compared to 6.16 for South Korea, 6.2 for Japan, and 12.04 for the United States). Energy intensity reductions will be heavily influenced by the speed at which China’s major energy-consuming industries move closer to international efficiency standards. Economic growth, rising incomes and the spread of a modern, technology-based way of life – al of these mean that energy efficiency needs to remain a major priority for energy policy.

    (7) Efficiency in the heating sector:

    Roughly half of China’s population lives in northern regions where temperatures fall below 5oC for over 90 days every year. China currently consumes about 180 million tons of raw coal per year for space heating in urban residential and commercial buildings in its cold and severe cold regions. During winter, emissions from coal-fired central heating facilities are the primary cause of the serious air pollution that is prevalent in northern Chinese cities, and are a major public health concern of the Government. And energy use per unit floor area is at least double that of buildings in similar cold climates in Western Europe or North America, yet far lower levels of comfort are achieved. Due to its major cost advantage, and shortages of alternatives, coal is expected to remain the dominant fuel for central heating systems for the foreseeable future. To address these problems, it is critical to drastically improve the efficiency of coal-fired heating systems in residential buildings.

    Satellite Image of Haze from China to Japan
    Air pollution from China can easily be seen from
    outer space as a plume of smoke thousands of miles long
    (Photo: NASA)

    China’s urban residential building stock is expected to more than double in the next 20 years. The Government estimates that energy use per unit floor area in new residential buildings can be cut in half, compared with the existing building stock, if compliance with the current energy code is ensured. But China’s construction boom is already overwhelming efforts to enforce the country’s new building energy codes. The housing development industry in general has little incentive to adopt energy-efficient building designs, materials and practices. Similarly, the central heating sector currently provides no incentives for consumers to respond to market-based energy costs. The heating systems are based on Soviet technologies that do not allow consumers to control their heating. Heat metering is non-existent. Billing is based on a flat per square meter price. Chinese leadership has made it clear that urban heating sector reform must proceed.

    China’s growth and development has been achieved at the expense of its natural resource base. For example:

    - Land degradation is widespread and increasing. China has huge tracts of rapidly degrading grasslands, some of the worst water erosion problems and the highest ratio of actual to potential desertified land in the world.

    - Thanks to large investments in tree plantation and shelterbelt development and a natural forest-logging ban, China has successfully turned the tide of formerly rapid deforestation. However, the country’s natural forests had been in a continuous decline for over 50 years and the return of many forest ecosystems to a sustainable condition is still a long way off.

    - Despite the establishment of a national system of nature reserves, the stresses on them have put the country’s unique and globally significant biodiversity under serious pressure.

    Water availability and quality continues to be a critical problem, particularly in northern China, and the situation is likely to deteriorate over the next decade, especially in the rivers north of the Yangtze. In order to equitably resolve the conflicting claims for water and other natural resources there is a need for both technical progress and improvements in institutional, administrative and regulatory arrangements.

    China’s rapid growth is now a driving force in the global economy and is achieving unprecedented rates of poverty reduction. However, growth is also seriously damaging the natural resource base and generating major environmental liabilities. The country’s environmental problems include land degradation, deteriorating water quality and water scarcity, severe air pollution and declining natural forest cover. These problems threaten the health and prospects of current and future generations and are undermining the sustainability of long-term growth.

    Gordon Feller Portrait

    About the Author: Gordon Feller is the CEO of Urban Age Institute ( During the past twenty years he has authored more than 500 magazine articles, journal articles or newspaper articles on the profound changes underway in politics, economics, and ecology – with a special emphasis on sustainable development. Gordon is the editor of Urban Age Magazine, a unique quarterly which serves as a global resource and which was founded in 1990. He can be reached at and he is available for speaking to your organization about the issues raised in this and his other numerous articles published in EcoWorld..


    Additional EcoWorld reports on China:

    - Cleaning Up China

    - China’s Energy Demand

    - China’s Renewable Energy

    - Wind Power in China

    - China’s Energy Outlook

    - Fuel Cell Development in China

    - China, Canals & Coal

    Email the Editor about this Article
    EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

    Posted in Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Buildings, Causes, Coal, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Other, Policies & Solutions, Science, Space, & Technology, Services, Solar, Transportation, Wind5 Comments

    Vulcan Power Company – Thermal Energy Isn't Just Hot Air

    Everyone has heard of solar and wind technology by now. But it does not ordinarily occur to people that they are standing on top of an immense core full of another form of power. It is a privilege to see hot lava slowly oozing its way to the ocean in areas where one can do so safely – such as in Hawaii. Steam rises from the hot crust and the red glow of the molten rock reminds onlookers what may be rolling around only a few meters underneath the cooled crust they are standing on. Lava is the molten rock that has made its way through a weaker area of the earth’s crust, but just 7 miles under our feet – no matter where you are – is where the outer mantle of the earth begins and where temperatures rise to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Geothermal technologies use heat found in some shallower areas where the temperature is much lower and safer to work with – ranging between 100-300 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Vulcan Power Company (“Vulcan”) is focused on developing geothermal power plants. According to their website, it is estimated that Vulcan properties will supply sufficient electricity for up to 2 million Americans. Thinking at a larger scale; Geothermal power can provide electricity for 15% of the world’s population!

    Geothermal energy comes primarily in the form of heat or steam and is mostly available in the Western part of the U.S, Alaska and Hawaii. There are many benefits to using geothermal power. Vulcan explains this in their website: “When properly developed and monitored, geothermal steam resources are renewable. Cooler fluids exiting power plants are reinjected and reheated in subsurface reservoirs on a sustainable basis. Modern geothermal power projects have minimal impacts on air, land and water ecosystems. Some consider geothermal to be the lowest impact power source. It has much lower environmental impacts than hydro, nuclear, coal, oil or gas fired or windpower plants. Geothermal plants are relatively small in size and have been permitted in national forests and fragile high desert valley environments where other power plants are not allowed.”

    The main benefit is that thermal power is clean; No fossil fuels are burned and the carbon dioxide emissions are 1/6th of the cleanest alternative power-plant. Secondly, this resource will not be running out any time soon and is renewable. Finally, it is a local resource and dependence on foreign oil – which also goes hand in hand with frustrating energy price fluctuations – will be a thing of the past. (U.S Department of Energy )

    For further information on geothermal technology visit the Department of Energy’s website at

    The next step would be to figure out how to take advantage of the immense heat emitted directly from the lava. As for right now, we are literally walking on top of an endless amount of “fuel.” The potential for geothermal technology is immense and as stated by Vulcan “Full Steam Ahead!”

    Posted in Coal, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Geothermal, Nuclear, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Walking, Wind1 Comment

    Altarock's Geothermal

    Geothermal power doesn’t get the attention that wind and solar power alternatives get, but it should. Right now the installed base of geothermal energy worldwide totals about 9.5 gigawatts of output, somewhat less than wind generating capacity worldwide, and somewhat more than photovoltaic capacity worldwide. But unlike the wind and solar installations, geothermal energy runs at capacity pretty much 24 hours a day, making the actual power yielded from geothermal sources still substantially greater than wind or solar energy.

    A remote drilling rig probes the earth’s crust.

    Today we caught up with Susan Petty, President of the start-up Altarock, a company formed to develop “enhanced geothermal” generating stations using new technology primarily coming from the oil drilling industry. And our main question was how much more geothermal energy is out there, and how much of it can be economically tapped.

    To-date geothermal systems have relied on existing underground reservoirs of geothermally heated water, which they have tapped with wells that bring this heated water up, under pressure, using the steam to drive an electric turbine. This technique is cost-effective, but limited to the relatively rare areas where geology has delivered a source of naturally heated water fairly close to the earth’s surface. Virtually all existing geothermal plants rely on these preconditions, although many of them now inject water from the surface into the heated underground formations.

    Enhanced geothermal is another ballgame entirely. Instead of finding ready-made reservoirs of geothermally heated water, the developer looks to “mine the heat” present at various depths throughout the earth’s crust, and bring the water to this heat by creating (or connecting) enough fractures and cavities beneath the earth to allow a sufficient volume of water to be injected to power a turbine. Petty explained that to-date the technology has been limited to around 2,000 feet with drilling equipment, and to about 375 degrees with pumps to bring the hot liquid back up. Today there is drilling equipment that can go to 10,000 feet in depth, and pumps capable of operating at heats in excess of 500 degrees. Because the energy contained in hot fluid increases at a greater rate than the temperature of the fluid, going from 375 to 500 (fahrenheit) will allow significantly better efficiencies.

    According to a study done two years ago at MIT, there are over 100,000 exajoules of potentially exploitable geothermal energy in the earth’s crust – by comparison, the entire human race only consumed about 500 exajoules of energy in 2007 (an exajoule is approximately 1.o5 quadrillion BTUs – a convenient coincidence since back-of-the-envelope calculations can pretty much interchange exajoules and quad BTUs).

    Petty at Altarock was quick to point out this entire resource cannot be accessed – but she agreed with the MIT study that somewhere between 2,300 and 23,000 gigawatts could be commercially tapped in the USA, depending on the level of research and funding enhanced geothermal technologies receive. When one considers 1,000 gigawatt-years is equivalent to 30 quadrillion BTUs – it is clear that enhanced geothermal technology could be a huge opportunity.

    Not only are there remaining technological challenges, however, such as verifying these fractures can be created, that greater depths can be accessed cost-effectively, and that pumps can be used that tolerate higher temperatures, but there are political and financial hurdles. Petty noted one of the biggest obstacles is getting drilling permits. Getting approvals can take years. Another obstacle is financing. A bank financing for one of these plants (they cost roughly $3,500 per kilowatt of output) may be on a ten year note at 12% interest, whereas the “clean renewable energy bonds” which have just been broadened to include geothermal along with solar and wind projects, may only have an interest rate of 5%, on a significantly longer term. Since only 2-3 cents per kilowatt-hour is for operations and maintenance, plant financing is a bigger variable than operations costs in the ultimate price a geothermal power station can profitably sell power.

    Earlier this year, Altarock received financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, as well as from Khosla Ventures. Here are additional links to information about geothermal power:

    MIT Study “The Future of Geothermal Energy”:

    U.S. Department of Energy (Geothermal Energy Technical Site):

    U.S. Department of Energy (Geothermal Technologies Program)

    U.S. Department of Energy (GeoPowering the West)

    Sandia National Laboratories (Geothermal Research Department)

    Energy Quest – California Energy Commission

    GeoHeat Center (Low Temperature Uses of Geothermal Water and Heat):

    International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (Geothermal Heat Pumps):

    International Geothermal Association

    Geothermal Resources Council (Geothermal Industry Association):

    Geothermal Energy Association (Industry Trade Association):

    Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium

    California Department of Conservation, Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources:

    California Energy Commission (Geothermal Energy):

    Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Energy Technologies (CREST):

    U.S. Geological Survey (plate tectonics)

    World Bank Group (general info)

    Swiss seismological service Deep Heat Mining project in Basel

    Geothermal Explorers Ltd., Switzerland

    European HDR project, Soultz-sous-Forets, France

    Enhanced Geothermal Innovative Network for Europe, ENGINE, France

    Geodynamics Ltd., HDR projects in Australia

    Petratherm, Exploring for and Developing Geothermal Energy, Australia

    Hot Rock Energy, Australian National University

    The International Energy agency (IEA) Geothermal Energy Homepage

    Fenton Hill Hot Dry Rock program, Los Alamos Nat. Lab., USA (finished)

    CREGE, Centre for geothermal research, Neuchatel, Switzerland

    Posted in Conservation, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Geothermal, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind1 Comment

    Clean Energy Acts

    Can California get “all electric utilities to produce 50 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources” by 2025? That should be easy if government mandates the transition and funds the right new infrastructure, and gets out of the way everywhere else. California’s economy already has a fantastic import/export balance. Imagine if California cut her dependance on energy imports in half? A compelling case, though easily assailed. Will this initiative, the “California Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008″ be approved by voters and passed into law?

    The magnificant California Condor, resurrected by environmentalists.
    No honest critique of environmentalism can deny their contributions.

    At least they’re thinking big. With utility scale next generation biofuel refineries, miles of fields of solar thermal collectors – power towers, troughs and parabolics, enhanced geothermal systems, alongside myriad decentralized – and deregulated – solutions, it really ought to be easy to accomplish a goal like this. Grow it here. Collect it here. Energy from plant sugars and oils, cellulose, sunlight and waste streams, nothing more, and cradle to cradle clean. Just add water. Make California energy positive. Of course it can be done.

    This week the Federal Government did something even bigger, at the least in terms of how it will affect our pocketbooks, passing into law the Energy Bill 2007. The 35 mile per gallon automobile mileage standard should be fine, as long as electron-powered miles are factored into the mileage calculation based on projected duty cycles. Auto safety and size will not necessarily be compromised when one considers the impact of high-density batteries on the mileage achieved by larger hybrid vehicles. Series hybrid mini-vans, for example, will become ubiquitous.

    The Energy Bill 2007 also spends a lot on biofuel. Hopefully the rapidly growing biofuel industry will figure out how to economically extract ethanol from Miscanthus and other cellulosic feedstocks soon, or at least improve agronomy so the plant rotation actually improves the soil. And where is the discussion of biofuel certification, so we can restore tropical rainforests? Without these things we risk biofuel fulfilling the lower end of its potential in terms of yield, and losing ground in the war to save and repair ecosystems to unsustainable excesses.

    According to the Bush White House, the Energy Bill will “reform and clarify the onshore and gas permitting process,” and “reduce conflicts with other laws and regulations.” The Energy Bill funds research into clean coal. It strengthens the electric power grid. It continues to pour money into hydrogen research. It facilitates investment in new nuclear power plants. It extends existing tax credits for investment in renewable energy production, as well as for installation of residential solar energy systems. This bill has money for pretty much anything and everything having to do with energy production.

    Becoming energy positive can really help an economy, whether it’s California’s or the USA’s, or any other place. Green jobs at home. Billions and trillions of green green domestic dollars.

    Posted in Coal, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Geothermal, Hydrogen, Infrastructure, Nuclear, Other, Solar2 Comments

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