energy roundup

Here is a list of energy news items that the WattzOn team found most interesting in 2008:

  • CO2 is officially a pollutant (maybe) — In a ruling by the Environmental Appeals Board (a panel within the EPA), it was decided that the EPA has no valid reason to not limit CO2 emissions from coal plants.  Confusingly, the EPA has recently overruled itself by stating that officials cannot consider greenhouse gas outputs in judging applications to build new coal-fired power plants.  So, it’s back up in the “air.”
  • We need to be at 350 PPM of CO2James Hansen of Columbia University, and NASA‘s head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, published a landmark paper: “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” in which he argues for an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 350 parts per million (PPM) for humanity to be safe on this planet.  As some background, pre-industrial Earth had a CO2 concentration of around 275 PPM, and for years policy makers have set a target regulatory goal of 550 PM — twice that number.  More recently, 450 PPM has been proposed as a better goal by the EU and a few others.  Unfortunately, recent evidence has shown that the Arctic sea is melting at an alarming rate and a giant ice sheet in Greenland is starting to slide into the ocean.  This is the reality with the world today at 383 PPM.  Hansen points out that this means we set overly lax targets and proposes the 350 PPM goal with tons of paleo-climatic data to back him up.  We need to bring the CO2 in our atmosphere back down to this concentration.
  • Energy scientists primed to enter government — US President-Elect Obama has nominated Steven Chu to be the Secretary of Energy, and named John Holdren as the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology / Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy / Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.  As the President-Elect puts it, “Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation.”  Chu deeply understands the implications of energy production and efficiency (he has been quoted both as saying “Coal is my worst nightmare” and “What the world does in the coming decade will have enormous consequences that will last for centuries. It is imperative that we begin without further delay.”).  Holdren, further emphasizing this message, has supported a carbon tax.
  • “Driving is the new smoking” — our nominee for “quote of the year”.
  • Ethanol is not the answerMark Jacobson, of Stanford University, published results of a survey of alternative energy sources and concluded that ethanol stands out as the big loser of the study, falling behind “clean coal”.  According to his mathematical ranking, we should be looking very closely at wind.
  • “Hypermiling”The Oxford American Dictionary‘s word of the year.  According to the Oxford University Press Blog,

    “hypermiling” or “to hypermile” is to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hypermileage, exceeding EPA ratings for miles per gallon.

    That, combined with a multitude of different software applications (like Fuelly) to help people track their miles per gallon, is showing us that fuel efficiency has hit mainstream consciousness.

  • Record oil prices — This summer we saw the highest oil prices ever (even when accounting for inflation). However, and tied into the next point below, we have also experienced the fastest drop in oil prices ever recorded.
  • We’re ending the year in a global recessionthe only known way for the world to reduce CO2 emissions and fossil fuel dependence. The four most significant drops in energy usage were recorded during the Great Depression, during the oil crisis of the 1970s, during the recession of the 1980s, and the week after 9/11/2001 (when the world stopped flying). Now seems like the ideal time to try to focus our efforts on getting out of the recession in a way that will also help us be energy sustainable in 2009.

Tell us what we’re forgetting!