Tuesday, November 17, 2009

About GREEN in Writing and Submitting Proposals

Having just completed the exercise of writing and submitting a somewhat lengthy proposal to an entity that is supposedly committed to fostering the development of sustainable green energy, I have many new insights about how such an organization would do well to alter its practices in furtherance of its goals.

1.Instead of structuring RFPs and procedures legalistically so that they CYA, structure them so that they cover the bases in an efficient way and do not tax respondents.  One example is keeping the format simple, eschewing Microsoft Word which is horribly buggey and unrealiable, and particularly eschewing such sophisticated "features" as text boxes, which are even buggier and more unrealiable.  The funding agency may have expert secretaries who are able to work for days to make Word function successfully for the RFP, but when people who are doers rather than bureaucrats then fill in and edit the documents, one never knows what will happen.  This has extreme risks when the RFP includes an embedded Excel spreadsheet.  Untold hours of burden are added simply trying to get Word to work.  Rather than rely on Word not detroying our overall document, I commanded that the document be broken in pieces, converted into Acrobat documents, then integrated using Adobe Acrobat.  Much more reliable!  But it may have created some unhappiness in the funding organization.  I hope it does not eliminate us from the competition.

2.  Have respondents enter each piece of information only once.  Yes, I understand that the bureaucratic necessity is to have N complete, independent documents with each document presenting the key information for each different type of reader.  But take a lesson from information technology professionals.  Have people enter only once.  To do otherwise is to force errors.

3.  These kinds of extra work requirements take up the time of professionals who are the ones who are supposed to be enabled to implement the green revolution.  They run contrary to the purpose of an organization that is charged with enabling these same people.

4.  Follow the lead of so many other organizations.  Have applicants file electronically.  The Army has had electronic filing of small business proposals for years now.  It is a standard format on a web page.  It has its idiosyncracies, but one files from whereever on is, perhaps in a hotel room at a conference, or overseas, or in one's office, and the deal is done.  Contrast this with the troglodyte way.  The PDF file and the Word file have been created.  Now take a half hour or more, some ink and some paper, to print them out.  Now drive to Staples to copy them and have six of them bound.  Now get them to their destination.  This takes hours of time, and costs $40 plus time versus substantially nothing.  That is a lot of carbon, as well.  No wonder Internet people refer to snail mail.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Concerned Scientists on Environment Legislation

Jean Sideris at Concerned Scientists

BA anthro, MA journalism
Outreach coordinator for the Climate Change program

A source for graphics and information is climatechoices.org

Why New Englanders may not want to see our climate change to that of South Carolina over the next 50-100 years:
Present climate kills off many pests
Fruits etc need a certain number of cold days to bear proper fruit
Winter recreation

MA global warming solutions act
Regional greenhouse gas initiative (RGGI) -- cap and trade (Jan 2009)

House of Rep

American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES)
Emission reduced by 17% by 2020

Science review -- EPA does a review every 4 years, NAS does review of tech every 4 years, then the two do a review and make policy recommendations

20% renewable electivity by 2020

Energy efficiency for new appliances and building codes
Grants for local communities
Transition for industry
Protection from increase in energy costs for lower income


Clearn energy jobs and American Power Act (Kerry-Boxer EPW)
Similar to ACES
Emissions reduced 20% by 2020
Same science review
More energy material
Lower energy efficiency standard
Not as many appliances as for House
Other committees are coming out with different parts of it

No full senate vote in 2009
3-4 months in 2010 to move this forward.

EPA endangerment finding
CO2 a pollutant so EPA can regulate it.
They are moving forward on this, in part to put pressure on Congress.



Earth Policy Institute
Lester Brown

Detailed policy analysis is available at http://www.ucsusa.org/policy_center.

 360B trees needed to undo CO2 in atmosphere

Joe Ferguson
Roosevelt -- March of Dimes
Need real leadership
We expected Obama to be a real leader
Need to have leadership to encourage kids to each plant a tree each year, or something like that.  Simple things can help.

Even though progress may be slow on the Federal level, the states (and regions) are not waiting.
Western climate initiative
6 states in Midwest also is very early in their process.

A question from the audience:
How can US lead if we have no formal policy?

Another question.
How does Copenhagen work?
Tod Stern is national climate envoy.
Part of Obama admin.
Kerry and Hillary will be there. Obama may go himself. If he feels things are moving toward a treaty, he will go there.
Annex 1 is a separate group.
Kyoto in about 1992(?) that the US did not ratify.

Potential issue:  What happens in 2012 if the process runs out?
UN leads the Copenhagen effort.
UN created it.

Chamber of Commerce
Farm Bureau
American Petroleum Institute
and others

Issue used to be whether global warming was real.

Now the issue is COSTs.

European cap and trade was not well designed
RGGI worked better because auction off pollution permits.
Issue is how get the permits. EU gave permits to the companies. Companies took them and raised their energy prices for customers.

RGGI auctioned nearly 100% of them. Gave more incentive for electric companies to make changes faster.

Money from auctioning them allowed investment in clean energy.

EU is not reaching their goals as quickly as they thought they would.

Nine republican congressmen voted for the climate bill.  The reaction from the Right has been quite negative, which again raises the question of why the Right sees this as an issue.  Is it merely that Republicans and the Right Wing are reflexively taking a position opposing anything that Democratic leadership proposes or supports?  Well, it would seem there is a lot of that.  But maybe it just seems that way because there is no strong leadership that is delineating the position in relation to fundamental principles or thinking.  For example, the Right often espouses the avoidance of International governance.  The UN, Kyoto, and Copenhagen are clearcut examples of International governance, or at least international agreement.  Thus these would be things to be fought.  Here is the list of Republicans who voted for Cap and Trade, as reported by a Right-leaning web site.  The commentary is that of the author of the website, not my own.


June 27, 2009

Nine Republicans voted FOR Cap and Trade

…which just passed, 219-212. I see only 8 listed. Kick the bums out in 2010.

Republicans voting AYE:

John McHugh, New York 23rd District. From his website…”ninth consecutive term in office.

During this time, Rep. McHugh has been a champion of fiscal responsibility; lower taxes; protecting Social Security and Medicare; providing stronger, better schools; and protecting America’s farmers. He has also been a leader in the country’s policy on national defense.”

Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey 2nd District. Ugh. ly. New Jersey, the armpit of America.

Chris Smith, New Jersey 4th District. “Smith has represented the citizens of New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District since 1981, when he was sworn into office at the age of 27. Throughout his 28 years of service, he has established himself as one of the hardest-working, most compassionate and dedicated members of the House.” He’s been there too long. Time for a boot.

Dave Reichart, Washington (St) 8th District. “Dave is committed to working in a bipartisan fashion with his colleagues in the House of Representatives to find viable solutions based on sound scientific practices that reach a balance between protecting our precious natural resources and providing economic growth in our nation.” Way to go, Dave, you freakin’ idiot. Hope you wind up booted in 2010.

Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois 10th District. “Mark Kirk represents the 10th Congressional District of Illinois located in the suburbs north of Chicago.

Now in his fifth term, Congressman Kirk is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and is co-chairman of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group and the bipartisan House US-China Working Group.

In Congress, Congressman Kirk works to advance a suburban agenda that is pro-defense, pro-personal responsibility, pro-environment, and pro-science.” Must be too close to the Chicago Machine to dare cross Obama. Horse’s head, maybe?

Mike Castle, Delaware “Mike Castle is currently serving a record ninth term as Delaware’s lone Member in the House of Representatives. Since coming to Congress in 1993, he has worked to bring the common-sense approach of Delaware’s bipartisan legislating to Washington, D.C. He has been building bridges and forming coalitions to find pragmatic, bipartisan solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing the country and believes strongly in returning the Congressional agenda to issues that really matter to the American people.” Well, you certainly have a bipartisan record, Mike. Hope you are thrown out in 2010.

Leonard Lance New Jersey, 7th District. Wait, we already had a NJ Rep, Chris Smith. Are these guys twins? “Congressman Leonard Lance was elected to the United States House of Representatives in November 2008 to represent New JerseyĆ¢€™s 7th Congressional District. The 7th Congressional District includes parts of Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Union Counties.

Prior to coming to Congress, Lance served as a member of the New Jersey State Senate beginning in 2002, where he represented the 23rd Legislative District. He held the position of Minority Leader of the Senate from 2004 to 2008.

Lance was sworn in as a Member of Congress on January 6, 2009 and was appointed to the House Financial Services Committee, where he will work on a wide range of issues relating to the financial services sector and the American economy. ” A newcomer, who hopefully won’t return.

Mary Bono Mack, California 45th District. Wait…Bono…yep, this turdlet was married to Sonny Bono. Mary didn’t start using the Bono name until after Sonny Bono died. “In 1998, Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack was first elected to serve the people of California's 45th District through a special election held to fill the seat left vacant by her late husband, The Honorable Sonny Bono. Since then, Bono Mack has established herself as a leader on such issues as clean, alternative energy, protecting the environment, improving health care, and protecting consumers.” Protecting which consumers? Maybe the ones who pay taxes should’ve been on your agenda, Mary!

And, California. Who knew?

Indigenous Forests and Carbon Offsetting

The paragraph below summarizes the Public Radio treatment of a conflict in thinking through the use in "cap and trade" of trees/forests as sinks for carbon.  The paragraph and a connection to the radio show is at http://www.hereandnow.org/2009/11/rundown-1110/.  My notes and comments are below.

Buying and Selling Carbon Offsets

As world leaders prepare for next month’s UN Climate Change Conference, we look at what’s known as “avoided deforestation credits”. Mark Schapiro took a look at one use of these credits in Brazil, where General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power purchased 50,000 acres of Brazilian forests nearly a decade ago. They agreed to preserve the forests, with the understanding that they have the rights to sell carbon offset credits based on how much carbon the forest is storing. Schapiro documents what he found in Mother Jones magazine.

It seems to me that this discussion summarizes one of the struggles in formalizing things into policies, rules, laws, and formal agreements.  On one hand, we need to see incentive structures to reward nations and local people to protect and save their forests.  As a highly-educated man from Borneo noted, his tribe could not have afforded his education without harvesting timber on a large parcel (not a large percentage) of its land.  So there needs to be a way to get cash to such people to enable them to participate in the international sphere if they wish to do so, but without damaging their forests or the ability of those forests to sequester carbon.  On the other hand, simple rules can be gamed by powerful, wealthy stakeholders.  That of itself no too serious a problem, but such gaming can lead to bookkeeping that indicates a net carbon sequestration, while the reality is more carbon in the atmosphere.  The debate is about how to do this right.
Here are some of my notes as I listened to the radio program.
NPR - Buying and Selling Carbon Offsets -- 091110

Trees are one of the most contentious issues leading into the climate change meetings in December. Companies such as General Motors have invested in such as 50,000 acres of Brazilian forest land to obtain “Avoided Deforestation Credits.” This leads to protected forest areas similar to those of thousands of years ago with rich flora and fauna that often are not seen in forests that are harvested or destroyed. One key issue is how much carbon a tree pulls out of the atmosphere. How do you measure the carbon in a tree? [I know from Geroge Woodwell and the Woods Hole Research Center that researchers regard the amount of carbon sequestered in typical forests of various types to be a known quantity.  However, the issue may revolve around the particulars.]  For example, a researcher walks around with rangers to measure the girth and height of a sample of trees. About 50% of a tree is carbon. By this tally, 50,000 acres is not enough sequestered carbon to offset all that GM produces. But then another issue is that this commoditizes the forests, something that many people, including indigenous people, dislike. The trees can be bought and sold. International body: buying and selling of existing trees is not acceptable for carbon credit. Avoided deforestation is not acceptable. Reasons: ambiguity of the amount of carbon in trees, leakage (move tree harvesting to somewhere else with no net positive effect). Brazil objects strenuously to selling off its forest in this way. Repoerter is Mark Shapiro of Center for Investigative Reporting.

What happens to the indigenous people who live there, that is in or near GM's 50,000 acres? Actually, they do not live on the 50,000 acres.  The outer boundary of the reserve is lined with villages. They are restricted in their use of the land. They basically cannot harvest or hunt. Thus, people end up in cities, unemployed. Some people are pushing for informed consent by indigenous people before such land can be converted like this.

Large companies have established a lobby to push for forest offsets. Nature Conservancy is involved with this on the same size. Some other environmental groups are involved on the opposing side.  Cap and Trade bills allow for this. Emission reduction at home would cost $50B and is much less expensive if companies such as GM can claim carbon offsets by purchasing such land.

EU does not allow forest offsets. Collision course with American approach. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth do not like American approach.

Deforestation contributes to about 20% of the carbon in the atmosphere. Important to restrain this process. This yields carbon in the atmosphere the same way that fossil fuel burning does.

Important to avoid delusion. Some of this may work logically, but it is important not to fall into believing that this way of offsetting is as simple as presented by the current players.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Plastics and Global Warming

Cheryl Holdren gave a presentation about plastics, pollution, and maybe what we can do about it, the sixth in a series, "Stewardship and the Planet," addressing world economic and ecological problems. A little over half of the audience was from my church, which is where I found out about the series.

Cheryl's talk addressed ubiquitous pollution and its impacts, focusing particularly on BPA (bisphenol A) which is common in plastics such as milk containers, water bottles, food packaging. These items often end up not only in landfills, but also in woods and lakes, rivers and streams, and the oceans. They slowly degrade, releasing BPA and other chemicals into the environment. The health impacts have been documented for many years, and are now being piled higher and deeper. In 2008 annual sales of BPA were $6 billion. In April 2008 Canadian health officials began to take steps to declare BPA a toxin and to have it banned from use in baby bottles and tableware for children. In August 2008 the FDA declared BPA to be safe. In October 2008 the FDA's Science Board found that the FDA had ignored hundreds of studies on BPA and advised the organization to re-open its investigation.

Some of the impacts that have been documented are altered behavior due to early childhood exposure, altered neural development in rodents, heart disease, lowered effectiveness in chemotherapy, prostate and neural development in human fetuses. It seemed to me that there was something wrong here with the posture our society takes, requiring the research community to prove that there is a problem with the many new chemicals that are introduced each year, or the chemicals will remain used in the marketplace. This is in direct contradiction with the FDA practice for pharma and medical devices, in which the burden of proof is on the developer and manufacturer to demonstrate safety and efficacy. Cheryl confirmed that the FDA is now looking into regulation and legislation to place such a posture in to place.

I am going to think a little out loud below about the possible positive feedback loops that her talk may have revealed between such pollution and global warming.

1. As the pollutants leach out from plastics, a key one being bisphenol A, they pollute the water. This leads many people to believe that they must be even more reliant on bottled water. This in turn leads to more production of plastic bottles, more transportation of bottles and water, which leads to greater pollution of the water. Further, this production of plastic for the bottles is energy intensive, contributing to global warming.

2. As our culture uses more water, this resource becomes more precious, and it may become more costly (in dollars, in energy, in atmospheric carbon) to produce and deliver to users. An extreme example of this is the historic use of pure drinking water from Navajo acquifers to provide the water for a coal slurry line to an electric power plant in Northern Arizona. Several years ago some MIT students spent a summer on the reservation documenting the sink holes that resulted. As water from this shallower acquifer is overused, there is environmental degradation, and it becomes more costly to obtain water. This in turn leads to the need for more power to obtain that water. In the case of Hull MA and nearby, there is a shortage of potable water. The apparent answer is desalinization. Although the historic technology for this uses electrical energy produced by petrochemical power plants, Hull is working toward desalinization using wind power, and approach which could break the positive feedback loop if it is successful.

3. As global warming continues and more carbon dioxide is absorbed by lakes and oceans, the ocean water becomes more acidic. This increases the leaching of toxic chemicals from plastics already in the waters, again leading people that they must consume bottled water rather than tap water. Cheryl's comment about bottled water is that it may not be any better or even as good as tap water. The caveat in my hypothesis here is that there may be very little increase in leaching for the small pH changes actually occurring in water.

More later.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Plug-In Hybrids

In Toyota: Plug-in Hybrids Will Have Limited Appeal, Jim Motavalli makes the world of the Toyota much more complicated, at least until we look at things a little further. I wondered what the Toyota people had in mind during their presentation. As a Prius driver myself, it seems to me that adding a large battery does not produce a difference in kind that would force a new brake design for example. More like having an extra passenger in the car, and that does not require redesign. Further, the extra weight only means that a driver adjusts his driving style once again. One of the wonderful features of the Prius and the Honda hybrid is that they offer enough instrumented feedback so that one can adapt one's driving patterns to get better mileage. One possibility is that they are trying to dampen some of the exaggerations about mileage. At an MIT symposium on the Smart Grid, I heard one speaker say that plug-in vehicles would get 150 miles per gallon equivalent. I did not believe that, and sought to clarify whether that number includes the inefficiencies inherent in production and distribution of electricity. The consensus in my area of the room was that it does not. Proper treatment of these inefficiencies would yield roughly 50 mpg equivalent, interestingly in alignment with the Toyota numbers. In other words, once again, it is very difficult or impossible to get something for nothing, but it is possible to create the illusion of getting something for nothing. Toyota is to be honored if it is bucking this opportunity.

On a more skeptical note, one may consider that the Prius "crossed the gap" to adoption around 2003. At least, this is how Toyota and the auto industry saw things at the time...although I thought that judgment was a little premature. Recognizing this, one can also hypothesize that Toyota has a vested interest in protecting its offering. Some of the things Toyota people say may therefore be biased by this effort.

More broadly and technically, I see opportunity for better gas mileage with my Prius, but am a little skeptical of simple notions of plugging into the Grid as the source for those increased miles per gallon. Illusory miles per gallon, yes. Real miles per gallon, no. What I recognize is that, as I drive, there are some opportunities for better mileage as a result of a larger battery. At most this would be a 10% improvement, consistent with Toyota's projections. However, if one spends a lot of time in heavy urban driving, then the extra battery capability could be very valuable. Such driving is very draining on the batteries, and they can then be recharged when one gets out of the inner city. I have found the Prius to be better at battery life during such driving than is the Honda, so optimization can be done differently by different manufacturers, and Honda may have more opportunity in this area than does Toyota. Again, this is consistent with what Toyota has stated.

Where this all becomes very interesting is in interaction with the eventual Smart Grid. The vision for the Smart Grid is that car batteries interact with the Grid, calling for electricity when they are recharged during low-demand periods, and providing on-peak electricity when in the parking garage during peak hours during the day. Optimizing this system is not simple, because it is large and fundamentally statistical. We certainly want to avoid demanding more electricity if the amounts and timing will increase the production of greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, the vision has a chance of being accurate and is worthy of exploration.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Methane from Cows

For some time now the anti-Green folks have been making a disproportionate issue about the methane issued by cattle breaking wind. The mere fact that methane is created and introduced into the atmosphere by natural means has served as an argument that there should be little or no effort to limit GHGs. Of course, this always was a bogus argument, because the mere fact that animals produce GHGs is of no account. If anything, it presents an argument for birth control, for limiting the populations of human beings and also of other animals. Now there is a lot more. A part of this is to do something about it, rather than using it as a trumped up excuse for doing nothing in any domain.

One approach is to recognize that the methane is a byproduct of somewhat less than efficient use the microbes in the cow's rumen. As with humans, microbes are a key part of the digestive process. No surprise there. It is the microbes that play a key role in converting the grasses indigenous to cow nutrition in to materials that can sustain the cow. In Australia, Dr. Athol Klieve noticed that another herbivore, the kangaroo, doesn't have a methane problem, presumably because it uses different microbes. So why not see if those microbes can be transfered to cows? This research is under way. See http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90031367.

Another approach is reported in today's New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/us/05cows.html?sq=Greening%20the%20Herds&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=all. We get back to the question of what the indigenous feed may be for cattle. Well, it isn't corn and soybeans, the feed that has become normal in industrialized farming, and which would also produce gas in human beings. Does it come as a surprise that digestion is inefficient and leads to undesirable gases when the feed is not natural? What is natural is grasses. This article reports that alfalfa and flaxseed are much closer to what dairy cattle naturally consume. Is it surprising that replacing corn and soybeans as feeds with alfalfa and flaxseed yields an 18% reduction in gas?

The magnitude of the issue is summarized by the Times article. 'Frank Mitloehner, a University of California, Davis, professor who places cows in air-tight tent enclosures and measures what he calls their “eruptions,” says the average cow expels — through burps mostly, but some flatulence — 200 to 400 pounds of methane a year. More broadly, with worldwide production of milk and beef expected to double in the next 30 years, the United Nations has called livestock one of the most serious near-term threats to the global climate. In a 2006 report that looked at the environmental impact of cows worldwide, including forest-clearing activity to create pasture land, it estimated that cows might be more dangerous to Earth’s atmosphere than trucks and cars combined.' Here we return to the issue of expectations that the human and animal populations will continue to expand during the next decades. Can this really happen? Will it really happen? If so, there will have to be some serious resolutions to the challenges that we can already identify.

The plot gets even more interesting when one considers that it is the Omega-3 fatty acids in the flaxseed that have been identified as being the significant contributor to this effect. This goes to the refutation of the industrial chemistry approach to foods, holding that all are just chemicals. The shortcoming of this approach is at least that the chemists do not recognize all the chemicals that may be necessary. We already know about such fatty acids, because good medical doctors urge older people in America to take fish oil to get their Omega-3 to help prevent cholesterol problems. Andrew Weil, M.D. writes about this and many other dietary matters in Andrew Weil's 8 Weeks to Optimum Health: A Proven Program for Taking Full Advantage of Your Body's Natural Healing Power. A key phrase in the NYTimes article comes in the third to the last sentence. The analysis of the effectiveness of the approach entails analyzing fatty acids in the cows' milk. If the new regimen leads cows to produce more omega-3 fatty acids in their milk, then milk might even become a significant source of these fatty acids. This would make them better for people.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Clean Water Parallels Global Warming

The approximately twenty years we have to start making significant progress in addressing our pollution of coastal estuaries seems to parallel the urgency of the Global Warming issue. Here is the sobering and detailed treatment done by Frontline on April 21, 2009.

A lot of civilizations have failed because they have essentially drowned under their own pollution. Additional dimensions of our problem as a group of western civilizations seem to keep cropping up. To the extent that we are unaware of the problems, or we do not respond and tackle the problems in time, we would seem to be in danger of a similar fate. A deep issue is that there may be dimensions of which we are unaware that will cause the greatest difficulty.

Monday, April 13, 2009

MIT Colloquium with Markey, Holdren, Browner

I am blogging in real time about this event.

MIT to host clean energy policy forum
Markey, Browner, Holdren to make case for new federal rules
April 7, 2009
Proposed federal rules aimed at promoting clean energy, combating climate change and creating new "green-collar" jobs will be the focus of a policy forum on April 13 at MIT featuring several of the key Washington players who are working to get them approved.
The event, "Clean Power: Building a New Clean Energy Economy," will feature remarks by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Carol Browner, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who is now President Barack Obama's assistant for energy and climate change; and John Holdren '65, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The forum comes ahead of what is expected to be a major debate in Congress over energy, global warming and economic policy. Last week, Markey and U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California introduced draft legislation in Congress that aims to spur the development of clean energy and reduce global warming emissions by establishing national standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and by putting a cap on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions.
In addition to the presentations by Markey, Holdren and Browner, the event will include remarks by MIT President Susan Hockfield, MIT Energy Initiative Director Ernest Moniz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
The forum, which is sponsored by MIT in cooperation with Markey, runs from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Wong Auditorium. It is free and open to the public, and will also be webcast. The full agenda can be viewed here.
Susan Hockfield, President of MIT

A PCAT study sponsored by Holdren found that every dollar invested in the green economy will lead to a $40 return.

Green energy will not be something that can be financed without charging for carbon.

At MIT our faculty and students are passionately involved with finding green solutions.

MIT will continue to serve as an honest broken and an innovator.

Introduction of Ed Markey, who has carried the torch for years. Key to acid rain legislation. Standards for vehicles. Champion for Energy Bill in 1997. Chairs Select energy committee and energy subcommittee. Most important leader in the House on energy, environment, and climate at the present time.


Ed Markey

Albert Einstein said that insanity was doing the same thing many times and expecting that different results will come out. This is what Americans have been doing. How many times do we have to go through an energy crisis before we learn.

Next Tuesday we begin legislative hearings on the Waxman-Markey bill. This will indicate to the workd that America is ready to take a leadership role in energy innovation.

Model for energy legislation will be the telecommunications act Markey spearheaded. When his legis entered law in 1996, no American home had broadband. Change the market dynamics. Same kind of revolution can be unleashed. How do we accomplish that goal? How to surpass obstacles?

Introduction of John Holdren

Increase in global temp by 2 degree C (=almost 4 degree F) by 2100 under business as usual. Occurring faster than the models indicated. Tipping points happening more rapidly than anticipated.

Options: Mitigation, adaptaion, suffering the adverse impacts.

Mitigation possibilities are abundant. Increase forestation. Modify agricultural processes. Engage in geo-engineering. Scrub greenhouse gases from atmosphere.

Adaptaion: special crop varieties, new water projects, dikes, changing cropping patterns, etc.

There is no feasible amount of mitigation that can stop climate change in its tracks. Therefore must adapt. Therefore adaptation is part of the picture.

If we can keep carbon under 550 ppm Carbon equiv will allow stabilizing at about 3 deg C. For 450 ppm, 2 deg C.

2050 goals: CO2 20-50 million tonnes of carbon willbe reduction

The reductions in carbon to the atmosphere will have to be severe.

McKinsey has identified projects that can be done by 2030 in a cost effective manner in the business as usual scenario.

Remove barriers to harvesting the low hanging fruit.
Incentives for reaching higher into the tree.
Supporting or promoting R&D to lower the highest hanging fruit so that it can be reached.

In all of these categories there are measures that will be big wins for our economy.

Questions and Answers:

Holdren: Between 1970 and 2005, we cut in half the cost in energy of producing each unit of goods and services. Going to have to succeed at sequestration of carbon dioxide. Better batteries and fuel cells. These are going to create new jobs, new industry.

Need to shrink time until fusion can be done. Was 15 years to commercialization in 1965. Now thought to be 50-65 years.

Obama embracing this kind of thing. Now there will be a permanent tax credit to encourage business.

Q: Isn't it tim to declare war on climate change?

Holdren: President is aware of the seriousness of this issue. Holdren and Chiu have been talking with him about this. He has not taken the option of saying that the economy will supercede our climate situation.

Markey: We have just completed 8 years of denial on this.

Holdren: President is strongly committed to the education part of this as well.

Dan Greenbaum: What about conventional pollutants such as black soot>

Holdren: Cannot ignore these.

Lauri Zimmerman --

Markey: No floor on oil and gas prices, but there is a market. 25% of electricity to come from renewables by 2025. SmartGrid provided for. Shift structure of utility to encourage partnership with homeowners so that is not just a matter of increasing consumption.

d'Arbeloff: Nuclear plants as pillars of mitigation?

Holdren: This not a recommendation, but an example. Actual details will depend on how things unfold. Need to put right framework into place so that the details can play out favorably.

David Bugh of A123: $2B designated for advanced batteries in US. Batteries now work for under 40 miles per day. 80% of US drivers. Cost is the issue. Improved manufacturing is avenue for improving.

Markey: What do you say to people who continue to doubt the science of global warming?

Holdren: I've tried it in various ways and they have all failed. Explaining the science does not work. I ask them if they really think that all the scientific socieities throughout the world could have been fooled. To people who think that the costs of doing this will be too high, I ask them about the costs for not doing it. They are formidable.

Dan Yergin

More of an economic perspective. Has revised his book.
We need consistency of policy, consistency of investment, and consistency of commitment to R&D.

Ernie Moniz

Technology is clearly a major part of the solution.
Efficiency agency and carbon free electricity agenda are 4 star important. He mentioned sequestration and nuclear.
Three star: clean transportation and smart grid. Domestically produced natural gas as "carbon lite." Fusion. Water splitting with the sun.
Policy must be in synch with technology.
Need to harness the talents of all of the innovation centers in the US.
Need national policies that foster this.
Need to get these techs to scale very very quickly. Holdren mentioned the gigaton problem.
Need to break the code of how to link R&D to our entrepreneurial community.
Green jobs -- a number of studies show how job intensity of most renewable techs is substantially greater than for fossil fuel technologies. This is also a challenge, because it is mostly in the manufacturing domain, and we need to capture such.
Sec Bowles just came in, and works closely with MIT to advance the New England agenda.


Yergin: Peak gasoline demand in 2007, and it will go down.

Markey: Can we achieve the needed tech breakthroughs?

Moniz: I am certainly very optimistic. Tech for sequestration is quite adequate for initiating demonstrations. Will need to develop new techs to lower the cost. This can be competitive in transition in the US. But then there is the China test. If we cannot get the price down, then China will not adopt.

Yergen: A lot of the energy issue is between US and China.

Markey: I talk almost weekly with T. Boone Pickens. National security issue.

Yergen: Price shocks in fuel represent the most serious threat to the auto industry.

Jeff Tarbin: We need social innovations as well as technical. Reducing number of vehicles or the distance that they travel. Imp0roved public transit. Can we do this? Second, we need to reduce geographic growth of population. Major driver the quality of urban schools. What can we do beside simply adding money.

Dan is pointing toward Markey who comments: Carol will address some of this. You should be gratified that we have a president who has already announced that he is going to focus on urban schools. In Telecommunications bill, we had an e-rate for the schools. This provided for urban school children. Thusfar, about $25B has been paid out of that for urban schoolkids.

Keenan, President of TIAX: Mitigation might be more cost effective than some other approaches. What emphasis do you anticipate placing on this?

Markey: Depends a lot on India and CHina. Indians are aware of the problem of CO2 impacts on such as the glaciers in the Himalayas. The CO2 are from India and China. Need you to take leadership role.

Moniz: We are in a race to reduce the carbon free tech costs.

Wm Rosenberg, Pres of E2 Gasification Co.: Developing several SNG plants in gulf coast and IL basin. Pretty comfortable that can make these projects work economically with Fed assistance. But there is criticalfactor: making enhanced oil retrieval work. Produce 5M tonnes CO2 per year along with SNG. Start construction in 18 months. Feels that EOR (enhanced oil recovery) is the only solution. [requires long distance piping of CO2]

Moniz: Saline acquifer is the longterm solution. There is a spectrum of short term approaches.

George Mokray of Cambridge: About three years ago, James Hansen said we had 3 years to get to 350 ppm. Bill McKibben will talk here later about that number. Disappointing and intellectually dishonest not to talk about that number. The future of the US depends on the sales acumen and integrity of the building efficiency industry. Need public education. Need motivation and urgency.

Yergin: requires investment.

Moniz: Confirms that Holdren talked about 350 ppm. Confirms importance of buildings. Also some of the advanced technologies will be important retrofits in the future.

Markey: Congress put legislation on President's desk a week after inauguration a bill to increase weatherization budget from $200M to $6B.

Where are we going in next year?

Moniz: Scale and speed. Reducing incremental costs.

Yergin: Scale and time. Consistency. Recognize that it is a pretty big ship we need to turn around.

Markey Intro to Carol Browner

She says she is a policy person rather than a scientist or technical person.

At time of Earth Day there was a bipartison commitment in Congress to protect our environment. In each case there were the same complaints as exist now (too costly, have to choose between healthy environment and healthy economy, too difficult technically, unable to do it, etc.), but American ingenuity came up with solutions in each case.

President says that the first country to make clean energy economically successful will be the country that leads the 21st century.

When I was head of EPA I had the privilege of working with some of the best environmental engineers. But not one of them could reverse the damage that would be done to our drinking water supplies by a rising ocean. If something is not done about global warming our children will face a permanently changed environment.

Markey: What are your goals as you prepare for Copenhagen.

Browner: Re-establish the US as a leader on climate change. During his trip to Europe he spoke on this almost every day. What we can hope to achieve in Copenhagen will depend on what we can do here in the US.

I asked Ian Bowles to think about jobs. This lead to focus on energy efficiency, and certain new technologies, clean energy, renewables, smart grid. Heard from businesses that could not get access to capital. So put $65B in loan guarantees into the package. Put in tax credits. Create stability and predictability. Secured $600M for clean energy job training at DOL. An additional $100M so that people can be trained to be line workers, which people are growing up not wanting to do these days.

Phil McKenna from New Scientist Mag: What if carbon legislation does not get through.

Browner: I am quite confident that the Congress will act, under the leadership of Congressman Markey. We need Comprehensive legislation. Looking at all aspects.

Henrietta Davis, City Counselor of Cambridge: Difficult to get the startup costs for energy conservation in Cambridge. How do we get that first money?

Browner: There are cities that have set up revolving loans. There is a provision for this in Markey's legislation. Maybe can use some of the state efficiency block grant money.

Markey: reiterate how effic is lowest hanging fruit.

Seth Kaplan of Conservation Law: transportation challenge where facing service cutbacks and price hikes. There is funding for capital investment, but not for paying the bus drivers. One approach is to have the allowances apply. How soon and what percent?

Markey: Right off the top cannot option off all of those credits because the steel and other energy intensive industries could be taken advantage of by the Chinese and others. This is a long term goal. Idea re transportation is a very interesting idea that we should talk about more.

???: Fed gas tax is 0.18 per gal while in EU it is $2-3 per gallon. Is there any chance, without political suicide, to talk about raising gas tax in this country.

Markey: legislation I led addressed higher mileage standards rather than increasing the gas tax.

Browner: One of Obamas first actions was an internal memo to DOT about increasing fuel efficiency. 2012 was the first year that this could be implemented.

Greg Yurik of American Superconductor: playing a role in smart grid. AWEA and Solar Industry Asszoc reports about moving electric power. It is going to take a long time to get the 5 GW of power lines permitted. We have superconductor wires that carry much more electricity, so can transmit electricity without large wiring that causes permitting problems.

David Holzman: American communities are too sprawling to have efficient transportation. What are the costs per tonne of CO2 avoided? Sources?

Browner: There are many sources for this.

Markey: We are in the presence of an historic person. She will be the quarterback for this.

Hockfield: Closing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's Time to Start a Digital Conservation Movement

A friend and colleague, Keith Gross, pointed me to this interesting article on greenness in cyber-reality.


My comments to the author were these:

I think you make many excellent points, in support of the main point. It is not obvious what the answer is about how to proceed, because the business models for such companies as Google call for lots of storage and lots of CPU. Further, some people with whom I have talked seem to feel that the virtualization of information and communications will save us from climate change. Someone needs to do the numbers and see what makes sense. Maybe I will tackle that, but I also have many other things to do, and so perhaps someone else will do it first.

I do want to comment on your comments about digital pictures. This is a somewhat complicated area. Clearly 800 pictures attached to a Facebook site is excessive. As grist for the mill, I would suggest consideration of another scenario. Earlier this week I was on the roof of a building reviewing equipment with my business partner, a licensed professional engineer. We had limited time, and he went directly to key areas to document what we knew we had to have when we left the site. I clicked dozens of additional digital photographs of all the equipment. This made it feasible to retain information that otherwise we would not have retained. Later it turned out during the data analysis stage of the work that this extra information was essential. It was not that we were stupid about our narrow focus. It was that we focused where we had to focus and also captured as much of the periphery as we could. Why? Because, as anyone knows who has done video documentary, if you are filming in real time, and some key event happens, you often discover that part of that event occurs just outside the camera's frame. Thus, all those seemingly un-necessary photos turned out to be critically important. So the digital camera costs something in storage and battery, but it saves time and travel that would otherwise have been required to return to the site for more data. But then, taking it to the next level, the question is what do we do with all that rich extra data once we have finished using it. I again need to do the numbers, but I suspect that archiving it off onto a CD or DVD, labelling well, and storing the media efficiently goes a long way toward keeping it all as green as possible. Further, we fall even more deeply into agreement when I point out that such digital photographs should not be stored on a Google site simply because Google makes all those GBs of storage available for free.

One key lesson stands out for all of us in our time. We all need to restrain ourselves, even if it seems that we are partaking of unlimited resources. Those resources are not really unlimited. And they do have costs.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fall Zones & the Issue of Consistency

For obvious reasons, the fall zone for a wind turbine or met tower is an important concern for all stakeholders. The fall zone is defined to approximate the area around the base of the turbine that would likely receive the tower and turbine, or the met tower, if it were to fall. It is often set by local ordinance to be 1 or perhaps 1.25 times the height of the turbine.

Some years ago we were working with Upper Cape Tech Vocational Technical School, discussing the installation of a 660 kW turbine. Unfortunately, the only reasonable location for the turbine placed the fall zone too close to a neighbor's woods. It was OK with the neighbor that the fall zone include part of his woods, but it was not OK with the state funding agency. That was the end of the project.

In the past year this issue was rejoined for a project in Falmouth. The owner was proposing to install a GE 1.5mW turbine that would have a fall zone overlapping a neighbor's property. Again the neighbor was prepared to sign a document granting the right for the turbine to fall on his again unused property. This time the funding was private, so the discussion continued in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals for the town. The Board insisted that the neighbor write a codicil into his deed indicating that the fall zone would include this certain part of his property. The Board also pushed hard that the owner locate the wind turbine closer to his own building and further from the neighboring property, minimizing the overlap onto the neighbor’s property. All parties cooperated and the building permit was granted.

This perhaps demonstrates that some governmental bodies can be more legalistic and bureaucratic than others, and that time and the right circumstances can help in establishing a workable precedent among agreeable parties.

Now consider also that the are no fall zone restrictions for cell towers, per the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (http://www.cell-out.org/TCA704.html). On one hand this would seem to indicate that an unfair hand has been dealt to wind turbine developers. By that I mean to point out that fall zone restrictions represent one of a number of means by which those against change can prevent wind turbine installations in a town.

On the other hand, those against cell towers (for example, (http://www.cell-out.org/) would argue that the Federal government, or perhaps the mis-interpretations commonly given to Federal law, give the cell phone developers an unfair advantage over local people who do not want a cell tower looming over their house or their property. Mike M. at the above address argues that allowing cell tower owners to do this represents a taking of property without proper compensation, a violation of the 5th Amendment.

I do not know enough about law to be able to write a cogent opinion about Mike's arguement. However, I know from experience that it is problematic finding adequate space for a fall zone on densely built-up property in such places as Massachusetts. I also think that consenting parties ought to be allowed to work out reasonable accommodations with each other. (That does not mean that the health and safety of children in a school should be threatened by a neighbor's wind turbine.) It is also important for our country that renewable energy be supported and fostered. Thus, it may be reasonable and desirable that state or national authorities establish restrictions on local fall zone bylaws. The fall zone bylaws for wind turbines, and certainly for meteorological towers, should not be dramatically more strict than for cell towers.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Solar Energy, Small Farming, and Last Snow

Earlier today I went walking with my camera to capture some pictures that illustrate the relation of terrain and foliage to ambient and ground temperature. In one direction I discovered that I was a day late. I had missed the last snow before it melted. In the other direction I was going to lower ground, and I captured what I wanted.

In the first picture we see snow on the north-facing rise to the south of the tracks. No surprise there. A question that might be asked is why the snow has melted on the other north-facing slopes.

In the second picture we see that there is still a small area of ice adjacent to the stream. You can see the sunlight and shadows playing on the ice, so this spot has not been entirely shaded during the winter and spring. This suggests that the remaining ice is on very low ground, where the cold air falls.

The next picture is of the stream, which typically is covered with ice during the winter. You can see remaining snow to the left, where it is both on low ground (remember cold air is heavier than warm air, and therefore goes to the low ground), partly shaded by evergreens, and on the north-facing side.

Thus there are at least three factors in the temperatures for a particular location. When I was once looking for some land in New Hampshire for a house and field, the realtor showed me a plot with a pitch facing north and sloping down to the north. As would be predicted from solar energy calculations, this was cool during the summer, but was also a poor solar site -- the last area to be ready for planting. I rejected that plot. If I had only been concerned with a cool summer house, I might have made an offer. But I was concerned with raising food as well as warmth during the winter, so I rejected it.

These scenes may appear to be just what they are, but to a physicist there is more. When I get time, maybe I will write about the unseen things in these photos. These include various forms of electromagnetic radiation. Hmmm ... I did not see any birds either. I wonder why. I have seen birds such as geese migrating north, but maybe it is not yet time for the song birds.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Governor Patrick's Transportation and Economic Security Plan

Some notes on Governor Patrick's Transportation and Economic Security Plan which Reforms Big-Dig Culture, Rebuilds Trust and Transparency to Help Secure the Commonwealth's Economic Future. Fundamentally, I agree with the vast majority of what is mentioned below. That being acknowledged, here are my concerns and disagreements.

  • We need even a larger gas tax. There are many improvements that are critical to accomplish soon in our public transportation systems. These, like all the other items already in the budget, will cost money, and we must support them. It will also set the price of gas to be what it would have been if there were not Federal subsidies for gas and diesel. This in turn will move our marketplace economy to manifest reality better.
  • We need to start now to expand the subway and rail systems by establishing mega-stations at the crossing points of the commuter rail lines and Route 128. These stations need much more parking and capacity than was designed into the Alewife station, which was initially so very successful that it was overwhelmed with demand within a few years of its completion.
  • I do not yet have enough information to know what the impacts will be for the proposed personnel plans. Although many of us pay electronically with transponders for our use of the Massachusetts Turnpike, there continue to be long lines at the manual booths to pay tolls. Is the proposal really to eliminate these manual booths and oblige everyone to pay by transponder? Some will object merely on the basis that they do not use the Pike enough to warrant investing time and perhaps money in a transponder. Others will object to Big Brother being able to track our driving.
  • My impression is that the MBTA, if it is to serve its purpose, needs to be funded more reliably with more money each year. As a society we need to make a commitment to mass transportation to bring the MBTA to the level of the Montreal and Washington D.C. mass transit systems.
  • To me a key part of the purpose of the mass transit system is to get people out of their polluting cars. Right now it is apparent that the Boston area automotive system is broken. During the extended rush hours, cars spend 40% of their travel time, sometimes much more, idling while waiting for lights or traffic jams. This is very much not green, and not energy efficient. If we are to tackle the global warming situation, this is a key place to change things. Low hanging fruit.
  • We need to start projects now, because it takes many years to plan them and execute them. We cannot achieve our carbon goals if we wait to the last minute.
  • A longstanding issue is the willingness of us suburbanites to fund or pay for infrastructure in the Big City. While we want enough of our money to go to our local communities, we do use Boston facilities, and we want them to be strong. We do not want to break our axles on poorly maintained Boston streets, we would be alarmed to see the Salt and Pepper Shaker Bridge" crumbling, and we do not want public transportation to be unrealiable. We want our money to be used frugally and wisely, and we want an adequate amount used to maintain the infrastructure in Boston.

I asked three public questions of the Governor during the Town Hall Meeting. One was the statement about megastations. One was about the need for enough money to go to Boston. Finally, I posed the question that emerged from my discussion with the conservative blogger sitting immediately to my left. I did this because by happenstance he was not going to get his chance.

So I asked, in my words, whether adequate effort had been made at this point to assure that there was no more fat in the transportation budgets, before we start adding taxes. My conservative colleague squeeled with delight and thanked me for asking the question. When I was back home I shared with my wife that I might have turned to him and said, "That is part of what being Liberal and Christian is about." (This is not to say that many Liberals are not concerned with cost effectiveness and wise use of resources. It is to say that too many on the Right seem to be so concerned with their own causes that they lack empathy for others' concerns and needs, which may well become their own all too soon.) In any case, the Governor was very ready for the question and hit a home run.

From http://youmovemassachusetts.org/reform.html
Governor Patrick has announced a plan to end the "Big Dig" culture and build a long-term, sustainable transportation base to support job growth and economic development in Massachusetts.
The plan includes:
Restructuring and simplifying our transportation bureaucracy, including abolishing the Turnpike Authority
Ending the "23 and out" special perk in the MBTA pension system
Bringing the Turnpike and MBTA employees into the state health care system
Increasing accountability and transparency throughout the transportation system
Making our transportation system more environmentally-responsible
Streamlining operations and eliminating 300 positions
Working to move MassHighway personnel off the capital budget and back onto the regular payroll
Providing a responsible, long-term funding source to fix our roads and bridges, pay down our existing debt, and secure our economic future
The plan is transparent and accountable on the new revenue from a 19-cent increase in the gas tax, accounting for and dedicating each new penny to a specific transportation initiative:
4 cents to roll back the proposed toll increases on the Turnpike
6 cents to preserve current MBTA services and prevent a fare increase
1 cent for Innovative Gas and Toll Solutions
1.5 cents for Regional Transit Authorities
1.5 cents for targeted regional road projects
3 cents for rail projects outside of Boston
2 cents to address the costly practice of paying for personnel with bond funds
The gas tax has not been increased since 1991. The plan embraces all of the Transportation Finance Commission reforms, which they estimated would save $2.5 billion over 20 years.
The TFC stated that "the real cost of this neglect will be felt in our regional economy and in our way of life," and that "business as usual will not suffice."
This plan builds on our existing reforms, including:
Joining 49 other states in using civilian flaggers on construction projects
Streamlining by 40% project delivery time at MassHighway
Saving $47 million at the MBTA by reducing overtime costs and staff levels and increasing employee health care contributions
Saving $31 million at the Turnpike by eliminating middle management and toll takers
With the legislature's support, launching the Accelerated Bridge Repair Program to address the backlog of maintenance projects left by previous administrations

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Preparing for the Boston Marathon without a Shirt

This continues my thread on human thermal response and performance, a topic of interest because it offers flexibility in dealing with thermal inflation, energy use, and global warming. A word of warning as you read this post. The person I interviewed is in outstanding shape and knows exactly what he is doing, having done it for years. If one is going to try it, it makes sense to approach it a little bit at a time, and bring along backup protection. One of the things that prevents me from moving my experiments in this direction is recognition that, even if I might do fine in the first mile, I might have a problem in the second mile, and not be able to get back safely home.

February 28, 2009. On the way riding my bicycle back from the library this morning, I happened to see a man running in runner's shorts and shoes, athletic socks, and gloves. His top and legs were exposed to the elements. After a brief consideration about whether to reach out to him, I caught up to him on the left side of Route 20 going in toward Boston, and rode along with him about a half mile. At first he was a little reluctant to talk because, he said, a lot of people think he is nuts. I did not think he was nuts at all, and the conversation I had with him indicated he was certainly not nuts, unless all marathoners are nuts, which some might argue is true. To me this is further validation of my theory about thermal inflation, a topic about which I posted earlier this year, and have written about since 1979.

He explained that he was out on his "long route," 17 miles, in preparation for the Boston Marathon which is not so many weeks from now. The other striking things about him were his age and the way he bent his knees to cushion his body from the shocks of running on pavement. He explained that he had started his experiment with temperature about 40 years ago. At first he had run during winter in heavy clothing and had sweat profusely. Then he realized that this did not make a lot of sense, so he started experimenting with varying levels of clothing, obviously less and less.

What he had learned was that the body generates a lot of heat, which is a disadvantage in excess, and which is retained more if you do not start sweating. He also learned, as he put it, that the pores in one's skin shut down if the skin is exposed to the cold. Much as I have found in my experiments, he found that one can "fool" oneself about how warm or cold one is, by focusing on the perceived temperature of one's skin. What counts is the internal temperature. So after being something of a wimp about the cold when he was a boy, he had to work his way through his expectations and beliefs about his skin being cold. Those cold sensations are good rather than bad.

Also an important factor is never to sweat, because when the sweating begins the skin temperature and body temperature become regulated in a very different way. This modifies the skin barrier between the elements and the core of the body. He commented that he had learned about a remarkable woman who swam competitively in cold bodies of water such as the English Channel, without a wet suit or grease to provide thermal insulation for her body. Her body had adapted by developing a layer of thick subcutaneous fat that serves as that layer of insulation. Indeed, the human body is able to adapt in all kinds of interesting ways, if we foster its doing so!

Then we got to the gloves. I explained that I live at 45-52 degrees, and that when I start to get cold, the first sign is that my hands get cold. He exclaimed, "Yes," the same thing happens for him. This is the reason that he runs with thick winter gloves on his hands.

More later after I get the chance to interview this insightful man who has been willing to experiment for decades.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Does Algae Plus Wind Power Equal Biofuel

Use of algae for generating fuel is one of the leading edges of thinking about alternative energy. Some of the benefits and problems have been pointed out in other comments at the New York Times (http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/does-algae-plus-wind-power-equal-biofuel/). I have been on the roof of the MIT co-generation plant, where there is a small-scale pilot algae project for extracting CO2 from exhaust. Because I was there on an overcast wintry day, I saw it at a time when I would be skeptical that production would be very high or that very much CO2 would be extracted. On the other hand, production and extraction should be quite high on a hot summer day when the sun is burning down. One might draw from this that the effectiveness of such approaches would depend on environmental factors, although one might conceive of algae that are very active without much sun. Of course, the warmth can come from the exhaust, but for ocean-based algae will require some other source of heat.

I would be concerned about the fate of these large vats for algae, and possibly for the wind turbine towers to which they are tethered. Those who work with the ocean have universally come to be humbled by its power. It does not take a major storm to destroy ships that are much more seaworthy than any large vat that can be readily designed and built. Their very size makes them very vulnerable. At the same time, indeed, there are better uses for farmland than growing corn for ethanol. Farmers have benefitted financially in important ways from the ethanol initiative. However, there are better ways to offer farmers economic opportunity and fairness in the larger economy. I applaud the willingness of some to invest their private resources to address the challenge and, if it goes to a pilot, will be interested to see how it comes out.

A key bottom line that we approach is one that I have stated to many people over the past two decades. It is fine to live in a world dominated by engineering and science rather than by nature, but we had better know what we are doing. Proposals like this make me nervous that we know enough of what we are doing. At the same time, we need not get too nervous about it, because the ideas have now entered the bright sun of day. Time and effort will determine whether they are realistic.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

China and U.S. Foreign Relations

China poses a key party to coping with the global warming situation. The Obama administration appears to be giving this a significant priority.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Barney Frank On the Stimulus and Bail-Out

A functional economy is important for the success of green energy and actions to limit emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is because the economy must be functional if the necessarily resources are to be mobilized in the required direction. Below are my notes of Barney Frank's talk on 2/19/2009. I planned to post some video and audio of the event. It depended on uploading speeds for blogspot, and unfortunately, blogspot flunked all tests for this effort.

7:30 Barney Frank arrives at Scituate High School and walks directly up to a chair and table on the stage, to the strong applause of those assembled. In the notes below, some parts are very detailed because the details were particularly important. Others are not included. For example, there were a lot of lines that led to laughter. Only some are noted.

Intro by Kevin McCarthy, Chair of South Shore Democratic Caucus.

[Two reporters from the Patriot Ledger are present, one whose deadline is at 10 p.m., an hour after the event closes. Captain Lou @ WATD-FM is in favor of the fishermen and does not believe that is a shortage of fish in the fisheries. He is one of three of us in the press section, and he plans to pose his questions to the Congressman after the formal program.]

My notes on the initial speech by Barney Frank:

We are in a period of American history that will be addressed by the history books. Comparable to the New Deal. There are also foreign policy issues, although not of the same magnitude as those that led to World War II.

Partisanship is a good thing as long as it does not become too extreme. Partisanship is means to make the debate more rational. Newt Gingrich tried to change what partisanship is. But Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan were friends in the evening. To Gingrich the opposing party were traitors, corrupt rather than honorable people who disagree. Tom Delay continued this. This notion of partisanship should be done away with but not replaced by mere amorphousness. There are very strong differences between the parties today, particularly in economics. [We need to let the partisanship display the differences between the parties, the way they tackle issues, and their results.]

We set up the bank bailout and were told [by the Bush administration] that we could not place restrictions (see also http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meltdown/). So we offered them half of the $700B and told them they could not get the other half unless we were satisfied with the way they used the first half. So when it came time for the second half, I told Paulsen that we were not satisfied and that he would not get the second half. Now the Obama administration will be working with the second half, and I think we are going to see the real differences between the parties.

There have been three periods in American history when innovative economic systems have emerged offering a greater degree of efficiency. The problem is that there are no rules to govern such new activity. Late 19th century offered oil, steel. What Roosevelt and Wilson did was to say these were good things, but there need to be rules such as anti-trust. The stock market was the next development and led to the corrections of the New Deal. If there are no rules, the lowest common denominator will win. The next period was “securitization.” This has enabled making bad decisions and then having means to spread it around. In the traditional way, when you get a mortgage, the bank gets its return when you pay it back. And because the bank took all the risk, it frisked you pretty well to make sure you would pay it back. And the banks were regulated, because the government is on the hook if you mess up, and that system has worked pretty well. And then the financial system was working pretty well and there were pools of money available that were not from deposits in banks, so loans became available from other institutions.

And then there was the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977. This affected only banks, not other kinds of institutions. So community banks are justifiably angry when they hear that banks are being blamed, because if only banks had been giving out these loans, we would not have had the subprime crisis, because they didn't make bad loans. Most of the loans that went bad were made by institutions outside the banking system, not covered by the Community Reinvestment Act. So then you ask: What is the point of selling loans to people who can't pay you back? Very simple. You sell the right to be paid back. That is called securitization, which is similar to the stock market. It does a lot of good, but it also does a lot of bad unless you regulate it.

The Conservative view it that it’s the government’s fault. You made the banks loan to poor people. But community banks were not the only ones that had trouble. Most loans that were made to people who could not pay back were from entities not covered by the legislation that called for loans to the poor.

So what is the advantage? You sell the right to be paid back. This is securitization and it spreads risk. If you make a loan and then sell the right to be paid back, then you can make more loans. But you have to be paid back for it to work, so there is also a potential problem here. Most people are much more careful with their own money than with others’ money. So the loan makers were not careful in making loans when they would not have to collect. And then people would sell them and buy them outside the regulated system. This is the problem.

If you think about it, it used to be that advisors would tell you that if you want to be adventurous, you can invest in stock, but if you want to play it safe, you would invest in bonds. But now, it is the reverse because of the new instruments including derivatives.

Securitization is good, but it needs to be regulated. There has been a whole set of activity going on entirely outside of regulation. Democrats believed that you should regulate this area. Alan Greenspan admitted that he had been fundamentally wrong not to regulate when he had the option to do so. In 1994, the last time that the Democrats controlled Congress, we passed legislation that was signed by Bill Clinton. It said that we were concerned about the many mortgages that were being let out by non-bank institutions. Would you please stop these loans from happening. Alan Greenspan said, and it is well established that he did , "No I won't do that. That's regulation and the market knows better than I do." His successor, Ben Bernanke, has issued rules using exactly the same authority and legislation governing his actions.

Then the second thing happened. There was a decision to foster home ownership among many more Americans. My role in this has been asserted, but let's discuss a little. I was one of the few politicians who was saying that helping lower income people to get mortgages is a bad idea, because putting people in a position with homes they cannot manage and loans they cannot pay off is not a good thing. One of the big fights I have had with the Bush Administration is "How do you get lower income people to buy homes." I believe that for many people, decent rental housing is the way to go. I had this argument with the Secretary of HUD for the Bush Administration. He said he was going to cut people off Section 8 for rental assistance after five years. He asked if I would support that, and I said "No." He said, "Why." I said, "What happens to them after five years. I'll support you in cutting them off if you'll support them in not being poor after five years." [extended laughter] So I said "What will happen to these families after five years if we don't help them?" He said, "We will help them become home owners." The problem came in 2004 when the Bush Administration ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase the number of mortgages they bought from people below the median income. Greatly increasing home ownership was going to be their social contribution. When they did that, we became worried, and in 2004-5 a group of us in the House, mostly Democrats but one Republican, frustrated by Alan Greenspan's refusal to use the authority given to him by Congress, tried to pass a law to prevent these subprime mortgages that were being granted. We were in the midst of negotiations when Tom Delay sent word to the chairman of the committee that I served on as a minority member, "Stop it. We're Repubicans. We don't do that." In 2007 when the Democrats won the majority and I became Chairman of the committee, we passed legislation. So the Republicans argue that in 1995 through 2006 when they controlled Congress, I stopped them. [laughter] Unfortunately, after we passed that legislation in the House, the Senate was only 51-49. In summary we had a refusal by the Conservatives to regulate the sub-prime instruments, and then we had a refusal by the Conservatives to regulate the financial instruments which packaged up those instruments and sold them all over the world. We are now in a difficult situation that we hope to get out of. I do believe the Economic Recovery Plan will be helpful. What President Obama did yesterday will be helpful.

We need to do things that make for transparency and foster trust. The person who is elected President in 2012 will be required to check with the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office to find out how much of the $700B has been recovered. If all of it has been recovered, fine. If not, then he is mandated by law to make a proposal to Congress as to how to get the shortfall back by taxes and fees from the financial industry, the industry that benefitted. Unless there are greater changes than I anticipate, I guarantee you that the Congress that is in power in 2013 will not say, "Oh no Mr. President. These nice people don't need to pay that. Let's have the American taxpayers pay that instead."

There are three things the Obama Administration is doing. We know how to make sure this does not happen again. The first is by regulation, sensible regulation. The right kind of regulation is pro-market. Investors bought all this securitized junk. When people touch the hot stove, they refuse to touch it again, and sometimes they refuse also to touch the refrigerator, the sink, the table, and a lot of other things. [laughter] We need to get people back from refusing to touch the stove again after being burned. Prevent loans from being given out to people who should not be getting loans. 2nd, when it comes to securitization, you cannot sell 100% of the right to be paid. Must keep 15% to 20% of the risk. We want these institutions to keep what some people call “skin” in the game. This is like in the insurance industry with respect to reinsurance. 3rd we will regulate the extent to which people can get themselves in debt. It will cover all types of businesses. If you regulate by type of business, pretty soon there will be a new type of business invented that is outside regulation. The idea is to prevent institutions to get so in debt that you could default leading to extensive collateral damage. One example of this is credit default swaps, which are really a form of insurance. I issue a credit default swap to you guaranteeing that your collateralized debt obligation derivative won't default. Usually, by the way, if you want to insure somebody, you have to have an insurable interest. You can't just go out and insure some stranger's life. [laughter] And you have to be able to show the regulator that you have the ability to pay off your insurance claims by some combination of your own capital and reinsurance. In the past the assumption was that these things would never default. It's kind of like you decided to go into the life insurance business issuing policies on vampires [laughter] and then the vampires started dying [more laughter]. That by the way, is why doing something about foreclosure is so important, because as the assets value deteriorates, a lot of people are in position to make payments that they cannot pay. We do want to slow that down. I should add, it was never the case that we should have stopped house prices from dropping in an orderly way. Housing prices had gotten to be too high. It's like, I'd like to lose 20 pounds, but not by Sunday. [laughter]

So we know what to do going forward. It was not deregulation but non-regulation that caused our problems. It is just like to twenties, and then Roosevelt established regulations for stocks.

Don’t be protectionist is what some people say. The average American is justifiably so angry at the unfairness of the way that the economy has worked: during the good times almost all the wealth went to a small handful of people. Trade helps the overall economy, but it does it in an uneven way. People with high end jobs make most of the money when there is trade. Warren Buffet: we have class warfare in America. My class is winning. [laughter] We need to maintain a safety net. What will reduce the resistance to free trade? I'll give you the most important thing. We need a system where people do not lose their healthcare when they loose their jobs. Stop fighting unions, which now turn out to have been a very useful thing. Put money into things like the community college system where people to develop skills for jobs.

And finally, some will ask where do you get the money for all of this? I was in Congress in September 10, 2001. I guarantee you that there was no money in the budget for a war in Iraq. Since that time we have found over $700B for a war in Iraq, and even though Obama is going to wind it down, it will get close to a trillion for now. When it comes time to find the money for better health care, education, and these things, I am going to go to the guy in Congress who found $700B for the War in Iraq, and $700B for the bail-out if he can find some. This is a very rich society. If we set our minds correctly to priorities, we can treat ourselves better than we have been treating ourselves.

Barney Frank talks on February 19, 2009 in constituent town meeting about the bank bailout. It starts with discussion of the actions of Bush's Secretary of the Treasury in giving $350B to large banks, and the reaction to that.

on banks and non-banks:

on credit card practices:

These three videos provide a pretty good taste of what the event was like. They complement the text above.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Moratorium on Coal Plants?

From what I understand of James Hansen's work, and the implications as spelled out in earlier posts on this blog, our society and the entire world, must have a moratorium on coal plants starting now. I have not personally taken a position on that question because I recognize that forbearance can be a very important virtue as long as we move efficiently and rapidly toward reducing our overall carbon footprint. But as lawyers sometimes like to say, time is of the essence.

This from the New York Times: This green chorus also includes Al Gore, the former vice president, Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, who has called for a moratorium on new coal plants.

Is America Ready to Quit Coal?

Also possibly of interest in the article is the appearance of The Rising Tide, which made an appearance at the Harvard talk given by Steven Leer of Arch Coal. Here is the best picture I captured of that protest demonstration from my vantage point in the middle of the audience. The same New York Times article has this about their protest of Duke Energy's proposed coal-fired power plant:

Last May, protesters took over James E. Rogers’s front lawn in Charlotte, N.C., unfurling banners declaring “No new coal” and erecting a makeshift “green power plant” — which, they said in a press release, was fueled by “the previously unexplored energy source known as hot air, which has been found in large concentrations” at his home. And so it goes for Mr. Rogers, the chief executive of Duke Energy. For three years, environmentalists have been battling to stop his company from building a large coal-fired power plant in southwestern North Carolina.

The interesting things about the Rising Tide demonstrations is that they are in at least two different geographical regions, and that they were both apparently very well planned. (You cannot set up shop on the front lawn of a CEO of a major company and have it witnessed without some skillful preparation.) See Natasha Whitney's article about the event in the Harvard Crimson (http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=526312). See the YouTube entry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-gaTWBptKE) for the Rising Tide video of the Harvard demonstration. The camera angle is excellent, the result of careful planning. The demonstration triggered during the time that a person from Rising Tide in the audience was asking some challenging questions. As a member of the audience, I was completely suprised when the demonstration suddenly unfolded. And when Dan Schrag of Harvard stood up to interrupt the demonstration and confront the questioner, the demonstrators folded their cards quickly and without dispute. Of course, the real deal is the influence of the YouTube video, and capturing that video is something that the protesters had already achieved. It was captioned and put up on YouTube in significantly less than 24 hours, further evidence of how well planned and executed the protest really was.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Changes in Patent Situation After Some Major Recent Decisions

The American Bar Association Midyear Meeting has been held February 11-17 in Boston. On Saturday, February 14 2009, afternoon panels led by Phil Swain and Marc Temin of Foley Hoag addressed new developments in the ways that patents can be invalidated. This represents an emerging critical dysfunction in the patent and litigation system. One speaker, Jerry Riedinger, likened recent developments re summary judgement in the case KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc. to the explosion of Mt. St. Helen. It was common knowledge that something was brewing, and then the mountain blew, creating a large, ugly hole. (Image from http://www.olywa.net/radu/valerie/StHelens.html.) The material addressed by this panel is critically important for green-ness because the shift to the new ways will require an immense amount of innovation. It is well known that a lot of the breakthrough innovation comes out of university research and small business. In the best world this grows into large companies or is merged with larger companies, leading to large scale commercialization. For this process to work successfully, it is critical that patent protection be effective. If the patent and courts systems are broken, there will not be a proper incentive for innovators, commercializers, or investors to proceed. Instead the coupon clippers will prevail.

As Randall Davis, MIT computer scientist put it during the first panel, "there is a lot of intellectual thrashing going on. There is a lot to computer software law that the court may not understand. It is time to expand the concept of computers and algorithms, which should not be tied to a physical machine." As Scott Alter put it, the Supreme Court has reached some novel decisions, and the "Circuit Court is reasoning too literally from out of date Supreme Court decisions simply to avoid being overturned." These are not decisions that necessarily have fundamental meaning in the long term. However, that does not mean that real decisions don't have real impacts on the parties involved in patent litigation.

In the following, much of the material is taken from the presentation of Jerry Riedinger of Perkins Cole. Keep in mind that although I have paid a lot of attention to legal matters since about 1984, I am not myself a lawyer, so any mistakes or misrepresentations are probably mine. If you are going to bet part or all of the farm, you should first consult a qualified lawyer.

This material is important because, to the extent that bad patents are reasonably invalidated, the entire system of intellectual property is strengthened, and innovation is encouraged. Further, to the extent that reasonable patents are invalidated using the increasingly strong tools to do so, much of the incentive to innovate for profit is eliminated.

One issue is combination patents in which a number of items of earlier art are assembled into a larger object or process for which the patent is sought. The watershed case in this domain is the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company v. Supermarket Equipment Corp in 1950. The Court imposed the new idea that combinations are patentable "only when the whole in some way exceeds the sum of its parts." Related, "A patent for a combination which only unites old elements with no change in their respective functions ... obviously withdraws what is already known into the field of its monopoly." Now to the lay person, this makes a lot of sense, but it caused havoc in the legal system.

Thus, arguably, Congress passed the 1952 Patent Act, which in part tried to correct this Supreme Court decision. In a succession of additional decisions handed down Congress was essentially overruled by the court system, so that the A&P case continues to hold in modified version to this day. In Graham v. John Deere the courts found that "the revision was not intended by Congress to change the general level of patentable invention." In Anderson's-Black Rock the decision was that "A combination of elements may result in an effect greater than the sum of the several effects taken separately." In Sakraida the courts again found obviousness, because the invention "simply arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform." Part of the problem here is that there is great ambiguity in the courts as to what constitutes an innovation that is sufficiently novel to produce this greater effect.

The political issue that leads to decisions tearing down issued patents is this. When a survey was performed to determine people's satisfaction with issued patents, the response was that 51% of those surveyed rated U.S. patent quality as "poor" or "less than satisfactory." (Of course the glass is also half full, but that is apparently not telling for the courts: 48.8% reported that issued patents were "satisfactory or "more than satisfactory." -- Interestingly, 0% reported that such patents were "outstanding." What does that say?)

My own questions about this would be the following. So what is surprising about half the people thinking that patents are OK and the other half thinking they are not? Half of the concerned people are patent holders, while the other half are in the position of needing a license. Why should what amounts to a perhaps biased interpretation of what is at best an informal survey (grousing and complaints as they are noticed) about an inherently political question lead the courts to tear down patents? Since when should the courts be run by complaints?

The history of cases yields a set of tools for invalidating patents. "Predictability" became a key test for determining whether a combination patent should be patentable. In KSR, "The combination of familiar elements according to known methods is likely to be obvious when it does no more than yield predictable results." Further, "If a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation, section 103 likely bars its patentability."

Second, summary judgement which has historically been forbidden in patent litigation, has become accepted. In KSR again, "Where ... the content of the prior art, the scope of the patent claim, and the level of ordinary skill in the art are not in material dispute, and the obviousness of the claim is apparent in light of these factors, summary judgement is appropriate." This shockingly also places into the hands of a judge, who may have no technical skills and who may act alone, whether a patent involves obviousness.

As summarized by Jerry Riedinger of Perkins Cole, there appear to be four points in predicting obviousness:

  • Is the invention understandable to lay people?

  • Is the invention visually similar to prior art?

  • Does a written explanation in the prior art seem to describe the invention?

  • Do two out of three experts say the invention was predictable?
If the answers to these questions are yes for a lot of patent applications, then there will be a lot thrown out as being obvious.

More may be coming.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Arch Coal at Harvard

In this post I am going to review some of the presentation of Steven Leer, CEO and Chairman of the Board at Arch Coal in St. Louis. First let me address a question that many have up front in relation to coal and coal mining. In response to a question from the audience, Steven stated that his company no longer does open-pit coal mining on mountains with drag lines in West Virginia, and they have left those old pits looking like rolling fields with grass. A later conversation with a colleague suggested that the hills might be heaps of "glop." The larger point however would be that Arch Coal by this account is quite different from many minerals companies that Jerrod Diamond describes as going bankrupt once they have extracted their riches, and leaving the cleanup to the local communities, the states, and the Federal government.

Although Leer's presentation focused on a justification for coal and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) in our modern world, there was one key implicit point -- that it is critical to enable CCS. This might be seen purely as a self-serving argument for a coal company to make, since it would serve to extend the lifetime of coal in a world increasingly threatened by global warming. If I may draw an analogy to bridge, Leer's presentation within its own frame presents a strong argument for our society to continue to embrace coal as a fuel. It is available and cheap, and it is one of many fuel sources, none of which can supply the entire needs of our society. For some time the coal industry has been winning trick after trick within this suit. However, that argument is now being trumped by the limitations imposed by Mother Earth. One strand of thought among members of the audience was that the new trump suit would now take all the tricks, but there is yet another trump suit that may in certain situations trump the environmental limitations suit. That is the behavior of other nations. Internationally, Leer's argument is much stronger. The burgeoning use of coal by China and India itself provides a sufficient argument for giving a priority to CCS R&D. If we in the United States are capable of developing and perfecting CCS, then we can export it to other nations. If we simply allow other nations to implement coal, they will increase their carbon going into the atmosphere much faster than we could counterbalance that through any reductions we make in our carbon emissions ... and the ballgame is quickly over. This of course assumes that funding and research is not a zero-sum game. A possible next level of trumping would be the argument that clean coal is a boondoggle, an oxymoron, a distraction that steals valuable resources and commitments from implementing proven solutions such as wind energy. The next level of trumping, perhaps relevant more for a physicist such as myself than for most others, comes from Niels Bohr. Bohr embraced dilemnas, grinding the horns against each other to develop deeper understanding. In my current level of understanding, setting aside all the other issues,this is still useful in the energy and global warming domain. The nagging question, however, is "How long can we set aside the other issues?"

Now let's look at some of the slides and evaluate the degree to which we can agree with Leer's points. The first slide shows the growth of electrical demand over the past few decades. This is real. It also fits with the commonly accepted theory about the growth of electrical demand with the growth of the GDP. Some people talk as though electrical growth caused or at least enabled economic growth. However, looking at international figures such as those displayed in the second Arch graph, it is apparent that some nations are able to be vastly more efficient in their use of electricity relative to their standard of living. Some of the inefficiency of a nation such as Norway may be related climate or the degree of dispersal of the population. There are hints of it in Graph 1. One can see this in the downturns in electrical demand circa 1976 and circa 1983. The first may be a response to the energy crisis, the second the delayed results in the industrial sector to efficiency efforts. With the Reagan administration began a long period of encouragement of free use of electricity and fuels. The decreases indicate that our culture can make significant decreases in electrical use if we all choose to place our priorities in that direction. While this may seem arcane to policy makers, it is obvious to people who have done value engineering or energy conservation engineering in facilities or who have thought carefully about their own electrical consumption in homes and workplaces.

Thus it is no surprise to most people that electrical demand will be increasing dramatically over the next decades. This is only partly because of rising standards of living. It is also because of industrialization. As one historian commented, where the First Industrial Revolution was based on water power, the Second Industrial Revolution was based on electrical power.

The next figure shows why much of the new electrical generation will be coal fired. Coal is cheap if one does not take consideration of full life cycle costs including emissions that create global warming, if one does not accept that the earth is an increasingly finite system. Coal is also locally available in many key countries, including the United States, Europe, China, and India.

And the resulting increases in CO2 emissions will be dramatic. The only problem is that they cannot be alloowed to happen. If they happen the game is over. Thus, if the world economic system as we know it is not to be simply shut down within a few decades, it is critical that we achieve rapid worldwide adoption of CCS. This may involve giving away the technology to many other countries. Otherwise they will not be able to afford it, and the adoption will happen too slowly for our civilization to survive.

As an addendum, I am going to insert the numbers projected by ISO so that they can be compared with the reserve margins provided by Arch Coal.