Sunday, December 28, 2008

Energy Secretary

This Times article paints a pretty positive view of DoE nominee Chu and the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

In Choice to Lead NOAA, a Wide Range of Credentials

Obama picked a marine ecologist to head NOAA.

Winter Cold Puts a Chill on Green Energy

There are obviously some important issues to think about in this story. Also some overemphasis...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama naming Nobel Prize winner from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as energy secretary

Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be Barack Obama's energy secretary, according to several media reports.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist and former chair of Stanford University's physics department, is a major supporter of developing alternative fuels and solar research and backs government mandated steps to control greenhouse gas emissions.

His selection signals that Obama plans to move ahead with his agenda of promoting environmentally friendly energy sources. And by putting a university scientist at the helm of the energy department, instead of an industry leader or political leader with no science background as had been speculated, it indicates that Obama plans to commit to a government industry partnership to develop green energy initiatives.

"It is wonderful to see another distinguished Californian be mentioned for a Cabinet level position,'' Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Dr. Chu would bring extraordinary scientific accomplishments to the job of Energy Secretary at a time when science is telling us we must act to avert the ravages of global warming."

Chu, 60, of Oakland, has led the Berkeley national lab since 2004 and is a member of the board of the Hewlett Foundation.

The Associated Press, citing Democratic officials, said Obama has also selected Lisa Jackson for environmental protection agency administrator and Carol Browner as his energy "czar."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wave power put to the test in Monterey Bay

Kurtis Alexander - Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted: 12/09/2008 01:30:56 AM PST

The 60-foot Velocity motored out of Santa Cruz harbor Monday afternoon under mostly sunny skies. On deck was an apprehensive crew -- scientists with research group SRI International of Menlo Park, observers from the Department of Energy and financiers with the Tokyo-based Hyper Drive Corp.

As the boat began to bob up and down after clearing the breakwater, and the stomachs of those with weaker constitutions began to churn, the day's mission became all the more clear: to see the wave motion go to work making electricity.

The 62-year-old SRI International, which counts the invention of the computer mouse among its discoveries, was at sea to test its new wave-powered generator, a floating device that awaited the Velocity about a mile offshore and holds the promise, its inventors said, of bringing energy to land.

"There's only so much you can do in the lab. At some point, you have to put it out in the water," said Philip Von Guggenberg, the group's business director.

The ocean has become the latest frontier for a power industry hungry for alternatives.

Waves, say energy experts, have many advantages. They're constant and reliable, close to the highly populated coasts where power needs are greatest, and, unlike other sources of electricity such as solar, can be harnessed with very basic technology.

Two countries, Portugal and Scotland, have begun to commercialize wave power and several others are working
to catch up, including the United States, where several projects are in the pipeline.

"It's still a very open market," said Carolyn Elefant with the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, the young industry's even younger trade group. "Even companies that are on the leading edge now and currently feeding power to the grid, we don't know in 10 or 15 years if they're going to be the winners in this race."

For researchers at SRI International, the strategy in a marketplace with no defined standard is to go simple.

The group's wave generator is designed to let waves move a bendable slab of rubber-like material and, by doing so, act much like a turbine and produce electricity. Today, it might just be a few watts, tomorrow, a small city.

"We like to say we can make electricity with something as simple as a rubber band," said Roy Kornbluh, principal research engineer for SRI International. The technology, he adds, avoids the more costly and error-prone wave systems that rely on pumps to push air, water or oil to generate power.

And so, amid light winds on the Monterey Bay and relatively calm surf, the Velocity pulled up to the much anticipated wave machine. Kornbluh and others aboard set their sights seaward.

On a roughly 10-foot-tall buoy, two levers moved with the rise and fall of the ocean, pushing accordian-looking rubbery material up and down through plastic columns.

"It's responding to the choppy waves and the longer waves," Kornbluh said.

In other words, success. At least for now.

Mikio Waki, chief technology officer of Hyper Drive, says the technology, which produced a relatively scant 20 joules per second -- enough to power a small lightbulb -- during its four-day debut, is at least five years away from being scaled up and commercially viable. And how the power will be transmitted, either sending electricity through underground cables or producing hydrogen from the generator that would run through a pipe, is yet to be determined.

But in an industry that energy experts say could supply 6.5 percent of the nation's total energy needs, there is still time to figure things out.

"The best way to extract the resource is still unclear," said Alejandro Moreno, a manager of water programs for the Department of Energy, who joined the crew of the Velocity to preview the nascent system. "But any technology that can minimize moving parts and components that might break will be at an advantage."
Contact Kurtis Alexander at 706-3267 or

Michael Pollan for Secretary of Agriculture

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gulf Oil CEO says gas could hit $1 next year

By Julie Onufrak
The Patriot Ledger

Posted Dec 04, 2008 @ 06:00 AM
Last update Dec 04, 2008 @ 08:42 AM
RANDOLPH — Gulf Oil CEO Joe Petrowski said on Wednesday that the price of oil could sink to $20 per barrel, and there is a chance gasoline prices could drop as low as $1 per gallon by early next year.

Speaking at a South Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Lombardo’s in Randolph, the Brockton native said that after speculators drove oil prices up, there is a chance that the market will overshoot on the way back down, resulting in much lower prices at the pump.

Check out the latest prices locally
in our weekly CHEAPGAS survey.

Gas prices have already sunk fairly rapidly this fall, reaching a statewide average of $1.85 for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline this week, following a plunge in crude oil prices.

Gulf Oil, which is based in Newton, is not an oil producer. Gulf stopped producing oil in 1986 and stopped refining oil in 1992, according to Petrowski. He said the company is a “fuel agnostic” wholesaler, and will sell whichever fuels customers and distributors demand.

Though he said the company benefits from lower energy prices, he said he believes the price of oil should range from $40 to $60 per barrel, depending on economic activity, in order to keep pace with inflation.

Petrowski said that policymakers should make low-cost energy a goal by investing in alternative energy sources, increasing domestic oil reserves, and diversifying the foreign origins of oil so as to be less dependent on unfriendly countries.

While he said he believes global warming is a danger, Petrowski is not sure there is as much of a correlation between carbon and global warming as some environmentalists claim.

“Carbon is our greatest threat – there’s another myth,” he said. “I do think economic devastation and reliance on foreign supplies of oil (are).”

Since gas prices peaked in July, Petrowski said some people have resumed driving habits that they avoided when gasoline was $4 a gallon in the summer. But he said he hopes that the motivation to create alternative energy sources will not be lost.

Gulf opened its first E85 ethanol fueling station at Logan Airport in October – just as gasoline prices sank and the demand for ethanol decreased. “Ethanol’s not a great business right now, but it will be,” Petrowski said.

He said that cellulosic ethanol will eventually replace corn-based ethanol, and that he thinks the U.S. should eventually get rid of the import tax on ethanol from places like Brazil.

Petrowski said that New England’s energy future is bright, with research and development going on at local universities as well as access to gasoline from refineries in Canada, the mid-Atlantic region, the Caribbean and Europe. “We’re no longer at the end of the pipe,” he said.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Solar thermal in Lancaster CA

From the Los Angeles Times,0,4265592.storyOUT THERE

Solar plant could be savior to struggling Lancaster: The city and surrounding Antelope Valley have been hard hit by poverty, unemployment and foreclosures. The nearly complete eSolar facility could create jobs and restore a sense of pride.
By Scott Gold

December 5, 2008

They lined up for meatball sandwiches the other night outside the Lancaster Community Shelter, in the cold of the high desert. There was a man in a fedora who'd lost his house to the bank. A college student whose loans fell through. An older woman with curlers in her bag, who planned to do her hair after dinner.

Everyone had a story to tell, a cigarette to borrow, a friend to greet. But soon, the crowd hushed as a young mother and her boyfriend walked toward the door carrying 3-week-old twins. They had no money, nowhere to stay, they said. Between them, they'd applied for a dozen jobs -- she got all gussied up for her interview at Denny's, even borrowed a pair of heels -- but they'd had a run of rotten luck, she said.

The buzz in the Antelope Valley these days is about a company called eSolar, which is putting the finishing touches on a thermal solar energy facility here -- 24,000 mirrors that glitter like diamonds when you approach on Avenue G. There are plans for several more facilities in the area, all larger, the company says.

Local officials are atwitter at the possibilities. Visitors and investors are expected from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. A slew of jobs would be created; there were 225 people working last week on the Avenue G facility alone, most of them locals. Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the solar plants could be the catalyst to restoring the sort of "intellectual excitement" that existed when aerospace, still a vital industry here, was the only game in town -- when "if it went up, it came out of here," he said.

"Now, we're going to go a long way toward saving this world," the mayor said. "Right here in Lancaster."

It's heady talk, and people are listening. Lancaster and the surrounding valley are suffering, even by the standards of a community that long ago acclimated to a boom-and-bust cycle. Many here are living on the edge, and some beyond, with tens of thousands more expected to arrive in coming years.

There is a sense that development cannot come fast enough, not with shops closing, one in five people living in poverty, high unemployment and the highest mortality rate in Los Angeles County. Not with so many houses falling into foreclosure that the city of Lancaster has gone into real estate -- buying and renovating empty homes to slow the decline of neighborhoods.

"It's bad," said William Turner, 21, who got a job installing eSolar mirrors through a temp agency. He is among those vying for one of the full-time positions the company will offer soon; competition will be fierce and many of those hired will be overqualified for their jobs, officials said.

"People around here are really hurting," Turner said. "We need a change."

ESolar operations and maintenance manager Bob Holsinger was the fourth of five siblings who grew up on an Illinois soybean farm, and he still looks the part, with broad, rounded shoulders and aircraft-carrier-sized boots.

When Holsinger was young, his father dispensed one piece of advice to the kids: "Last one out, turn out the lights." It was meant, of course, to cut down on the power bill. But Holsinger always suspected it meant something else -- that whoever controlled the flow of electricity would be the last one standing, even if everything else went south. Today, after a 35-year career in energy, it turns out he might have been right.

California is the epicenter of U.S. solar technology; there are dozens of energy projects in the works. Few have generated as much anticipation as this one, if only because with 1,000 mirrors being installed each day, it is growing in stark contrast to the boarded-up storefronts and the brown, brittle lawns in front of abandoned houses.

The company uses the mirrors to focus the sun's rays on an elevated target, which produces superheated steam that turns turbines to create power. The whole thing can be assembled easily, like an Erector Set for grown-ups. Workers can put it together using four wrenches.

The mirrors can be adjusted remotely from the company's headquarters in Pasadena to ensure that they are capturing the sun. The mirrors can be fine-tuned; workers at a test site recently used the reflection to spell out the words "HAPPY BIRTHDAY BILL" for a colleague.

"It's pretty slick," Holsinger said.

When eSolar flips the switch, five megawatts of electricity will be sent into the grid, enough to power roughly 5,000 homes. A second facility, far larger, is expected north of Lancaster, and there are plans for several more in the area, enough to produce 500 megawatts, perhaps, in the next decade, the company says.

"We are not going to have a carbon footprint in 10 years. We just won't have one," said the mayor, a successful lawyer given to hyperbole, and to infectious passion.

It is an unlikely development in the Antelope Valley, which remains, despite its growth and increasing diversity, a strait-laced, conservative area. "Culturally, it is somewhat new," said Barry S. Munz, vice president at Antelope Valley Engineering Inc., a contractor at the eSolar site.

But how important is it?

"We will turn flips for them," Parris said. "And, quite frankly, I don't turn flips for anybody."

Back at the homeless shelter, it's easy to see why.

Resident case manager Bobby Hampton said the shelter now serves up to 120 dinners each night, half again as many as when he started six years ago. Demand has been rising; this summer, he said, "business started booming."

A striking number of clients lost their homes to the bank; others unwittingly rented rooms in abandoned houses taken over by unscrupulous squatters, only to get kicked out when they were discovered. The shelter is now full every night.

Waiting in line for a cot, Jerry Frazier, 50, a recovering heroin addict, said he received $199 for the month through the county-funded General Relief program. He spent $175 on a month's supply of medication at a methadone clinic, leaving him $24 for the rest of the month. He's been unable to find a job, he said; a former professional musician, he just pawned the last of his 32 guitars.

"This is a working country," he said. "But there are no jobs. Not here."

Once inside, those accepted for a bed were required to bathe, then routed into a line for dinner that snaked through the hall. A volunteer began to pray. "Hats off!" a security guard shouted.

In one corner, Jennifer Schmidt, 19, and her boyfriend, Treavon Henry, 20, ate their food in silence, their twin newborns, Kory and Kody, resting in car seats on the table.

Schmidt and Henry began dating in high school and could not have imagined what has happened since. Schmidt was on the pill but got pregnant anyway. Both lost their jobs. They don't have enough money to get a market-rate apartment and have been on a waiting list for indigent housing since April.

They were living with her mother but were told to leave after Schmidt asked her not to smoke in front of the babies, Schmidt said. Then they moved in with his mother; she kicked them out, too, after Schmidt asked her not to cuss in front of the babies.

Exhausted, they slumped in Hampton's cluttered office as he filled out a voucher for a room at a motel for one night. Then they carried the twins into the chilly night.

With no car -- they sold their Acura a few months back for $500 -- they would have to walk. Each carried a twin, until Schmidt's arms couldn't take any more. Henry picked up both twins and, holding them out to his side, struggled down the street toward the motel, past auto body shops and bail bonds offices.

"It feels like we've been walking forever," Schmidt said.

Finally, they got to the motel. The marquee outside said: "KARAOKE, Sun-Wed." By the time they walked into their room, Kody was crying. He was hungry, Schmidt said, and they were out of formula.

Gold is a Times staff writer.