The Daily Bulletin - February 13, 2014

The Daily Bulletin - February 13, 2014


Hundreds of thousands of homes were without power across Georgia and South Carolina this morning as a devastating snow-and-ice storm swept across the South and headed up the East Coast. Crews from as far away as Mississippi were headed to the Peach State to help restore the grid. Extensive outages were already reported in South Carolina and Virginia is still trying to restore electricity to some homes after the storm last week. As the Weather Channel reported: "Michael Musher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, warned that ice forecasts 'remain mind-boggling if not historical' in major metropolitan areas including Athens, Atlanta, and Augusta, Georgia, Columbia, South Carolina, and Raleigh, North Carolina. 'High ice accumulations will make travel impossible,' the NWS said in an advisory Tuesday. 'This has the potential to be a catastrophic event, widespread power outages are possible as ice accumulates on trees and power lines and brings them down.'" Nothing like a little global warming to mess up your day.


The saying about nuclear fusion is that it has been 20 years over the horizon for the last sixty years. Has it now gotten a little closer? Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California say they have inched forward. Using high-powered lasers, they have been able to create a fusion reaction that emitted more energy than it consumed. It was only enough to power a 100-watt light bulb for three minutes and is still far short of the "ignition point." But they say it's a step closer. Here's the way Wired reports it: "'The physics is a breakthrough,' said physicist Riccardo Betti of the University of Rochester, who was not involved in the work. 'If fusion will ever become a viable source of energy, we may look back and say that in 2013, for the first time, a plasma produced more energy out than it took in.' But the dream of fusion energy isn't yet a reality. 'In terms of making energy to power the grid, it's still light-years away,' Betti said." Is it too early for environmentalists to start thinking up disaster scenarios? Or should they just sit and wait? 


While the United States seems to be inching toward energy independence, China is headed in the opposite direction. The world's largest nation passed the U.S. on oil imports last December and will probably replace us as #1 for the entirety of 2014. Here's the way Michael Forsythe reports it in The New York Times: "If nothing is done to curb consumption, by 2030 China will import about 75 percent of its oil, Li Wei, the director of the State Council's Development Research Center, wrote in a report published on Wednesday. By then China will consume about 800 million tons of oil a year. . . Mr. Li said that China could not live with those energy consumption projections and that China needed to focus more on nuclear power, renewable energy and natural gas to limit oil consumption to 550 million tons and raw coal use to 4.5 billion tons a year by 2020. 'If current trends continue, air quality will reach unbearable levels,' Mr. Li wrote in the report." And we thought we had problems. 


Paul Crovo, the SomewhatReasonable blogger with the Heartland Institute, points out the paradox that many others have observed. Even though we're experiencing an energy renaissance right now in the United States, we still remain very vulnerable to world events and world markets. That's because, as indicated above, other countries are rapidly becoming larger users of energy even as our consumption is leveling off. Our dependency is only stabilizing not diminishing. "[I]n spite of this historic rebirth, there remains the broader picture of 2014 global demand, now forecast at 92.5 million barrels a day, implying a slim surplus production capacity of 2-3 million barrels per day. Thus, despite America's jubilant cries of energy independence, the global nature of the crude oil commodity and the continued vulnerability of the world's supply network to regional political discord are not to be dismissed. The most important region where high oil production intersects with political turmoil is the Mideast. It is here and in North Africa where the Arab Spring, originally embraced by a naive Western press as a movement toward political moderation by the area's regimes, has instead birthed a chaotic paradigm, and in many respects, a U.S. foreign policy nightmare." Good reason to pay attention to suggestions such as Robert Zubin's long piece yesterday about using methanol from natural gas to replace foreign oil.


CleanTechnica is always telling us how wind and solar are exploding all over the planet and the world will be 100 percent renewable by - pick a date. But now it presents us with a model for where "smart cities" in America are headed - Las Vegas! "NV energy is one of the first utility providers to integrate predictive energy optimization. In 2013, the Las Vegas' utility provider launched a new energy management program, called mPowered, which is helping its largest customers - including Las Vegas' famous casinos and resorts - become smart buildings. By leveraging cloud-based energy management software, NV Energy is able to directly communicate and exchange data with its customers in order to increase energy efficiency and reliability of the city's power grid. The program saves energy at the source and allows the utility to act as the brain, sending signals to the buildings and making real-time adjustments to energy consumption." All this is going to compensate for the problem that Las Vegas new windmill farms tend to generate their electricity at night while demand peaks around 4 p.m. every afternoon. If this all sounds like a sale pitch, it is. The writer is Alberto Fonts, product manager with BuildingIQ, "the provider of an advanced energy management software that uses a cloud-based energy optimization technology to actively predict and manage HVAC loads in commercial buildings."


Jay Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe's business section takes a little more realistic look at the future with an evaluation of Massachusetts' efforts to replace coal and nuclear with solar energy - something on the recent pattern of a certain European country. "Massachusetts utility customers could get hit with more than $1 billion in higher electricity bills over the next two decades under Governor Deval Patrick's plan to dramatically expand solar power in the state, government and industry officials said Tuesday. A top state official said that the average residential customer would pay $1 to $1.50 more a month under the Patrick plan, which aims to cut air pollution and create more jobs in the growing solar energy industry. In a filing with state regulators last month, Northeast Utilities System, which serves 1.3 million customers in the state, contended Patrick's plan to quadruple the amount of solar power in use in Massachusetts would lead to consumers paying `excess costs' of more than $1 billion because of how they would be forced to buy the electricity. The result, Northeast said, is that Massachusetts consumers would pay two to three times as much for solar power as ratepayers in neighboring Connecticut, where the company also provides electric service." Sprechen sie Deutsch?

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