Foreign Policy Blogs

Bits and Bobs (Late August '08 Edition)

Chokepoints – I’ve written a good number of times about various big renewable energy projects coming on line and in the pipeline, how $7 trillion is one number that a leading expert predicts is going to be the sum total of renewable business globally just a couple of decades down the road, and how distributed generation (DG) comes into play.

The venerable Matt Wald wrote yesterday in the “NY Times” about how you can have wonderful, productive renewable farms churning out juice but if you can’t get it down the line to the consumers, then you’ve got a problem. Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits says “The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.” Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico and a Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration, is quoted here: “We still have a third-world grid. With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.” The article describes our grid , or more accurately, grids , as “balkanized.”

The DOE does, however, have an Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) that is working “to lead national efforts to modernize the electric grid.” Further, the new federal energy act (EISA) from late last year, specifically “Declares it is the policy of the United States to support modernization of the nation’s electricity transmission and distribution system to maintain a reliable and secure electricity infrastructure that can meet future demand growth and to achieve specified characteristics of a Smart Grid.” (Title XIII: Smart Grid , [Sec. 1301].) See also OE’s work on the Smart Grid and the work of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

What’s one of the best ways to get your product to market? Don’t produce it so far from your market that it becomes a problem transporting it. That’s the genius of DG. Generate your power locally and use it on site or nearby. With electricity, that obviates the problem of power loss in long-distance transmission.

Storage – Another theme that keeps arising is that you can’t yet store renewable power efficiently for when you need it. MIT had a breakthrough on that recently that I referenced here. Here’s another article from the “NY Times” from earlier this week about the idea of compressing air for release at peak use hours – Air Storage Is Explored for Energy. Size? “an underground reservoir the size of Giants Stadium could hold enough compressed air to power three 300-megawatt plants.” That doesn’t seem onerous to me.

Historical note: The American environmental movement, and particularly the advent of the National Environmental Policy Act, received a big boost in the battle over a pumped storage plant proposal for Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands in the 1960s. There are dozens of pumped storage plants all over the world, but the Storm King idea, to be cited in a particularly beautiful part of the Hudson, spawned determined opposition that brought the modern environmental review process into being.

Nigeria – I wrote recently about various places that renewables were finding traction. (See Renewables – Hither and Yon.) Here’s an article about Nigeria, an oil and gas-rich country , to say the least.

Not incidentally, I mentioned the problem of the GHG created by gas flaring some time ago here in a previous edition of “Bits and Bobs.” Nigeria is a prime candidate to benefit hugely from the capture of much of that flared natural gas.

Cars – I live in a bubble in the world. It’s called Manhattan. Hard as it may be to believe, we don’t own a car. Subways, buses, commuter trains, walking and the occasional taxi get us 100% of the places we need to go on a regular basis. Walking does a lot of the job. Occasionally, I’ll rent a car (insanely expensive in Manhattan) or borrow one from the in-laws. So, I forget about driving from time to time.

Nevertheless, I have been writing here about electric cars and plug-in hybrids and other “game-changing” approaches to surface transportation. Here’s an article from the “FT” on electric vehicles in Japan – Japan fuels electric car revolution.

People definitely drive.  Three trillion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) a year in the US! See this new initiative on driving to save fuel, reduce carbon output, and have more fun in general. (I know: Lots of people drive just for the sake of driving. Go figure.) It’s EcoDriving USA. (For me, I’d rather go Surfin’ USA.)



Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change


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