Tag: Renewable Energy

In a speech commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2009, former U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger recalled how the energy crisis of 1970s awakened the world “to a new challenge that would require both creative thinking and international cooperation.” He explained that as “global demand continues to grow, investment cycles, technologies, and supporting infrastructure will be critical.” As a top U.S. diplomat in the 1970s, Kissinger is credited with promoting energy security as a third pillar of the international order through a trifecta of initiatives to bolster incentives to energy producers to increase their supplies, encourage rational and prudent consumption of existing supplies, and improve development of alternative energy sources. These efforts contributed to the establishment of the IEA in 1974 as a principal institutional mechanism for enhancing global energy cooperation among industrialized nations. Read more>>

The energy market in the United States is undergoing a dramatic transformation, driven by technological advancement, market dynamics, and better policies and laws—none of which was a decade ago. Venture capitalists made huge profits from the computing boom of the 1980s, the internet boom of the 1990s, and now think the next boom will happen on the back of energy. These past booms, however, were fed by cheap energy: coal was cheap; natural gas was low-priced; and apart from the events following the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution, oil was comparatively cheap. However, in the space of the past decade, all that has changed. New resource finds, primarily shale resources from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, exert pressure on the prices of oil and gas. At the same time, there is a growing concern of negative externalities associated with these fossil fuels. Read more>>

The centre of clean energy gravity is fast shifting to Asia, with China taking the lead. In a new report developed by Australian think tank The Climate Institute and GE, China has improved its global low-carbon competitiveness index significantly.

The report ranks France, Japan, China, South Korea and the UK in the top five positions. China has leapt ahead of its previous ranking from 7th to 3rd while U.S. is now 11th down from 8th position. Australia is ranked 17th. The report attributes the latest decline in U.S. ranking to “lower public equity investment in clean energy, shrinking high-tech exports and a surge in reliance on emission intensive air freight.”

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China’s growth in cleantech investment is boosted by high-tech exports and a rise in global public equity investment in clean energy. Read more

The question of efficiency when comparing wind and solar forms of alternative energy is on the minds of many people these days. Government officials, state legislatures, entrepreneurs and average citizens want to know the answer to this question. The general feeling is that wind is more efficient, though the answer turns out to be dependent on the scale of operation involved in a comparison.

For a homeowner in a rural area who already has tall buildings, such as barns or grain silos, or even an existing old windmill, wind is easily more efficient. For larger applications, such as commercial generation of electricity to provide power for urban areas, the answer might surprise you.

Ending in 2011, a comparison test, between solar and wind powered energy, ran for 14 months. The comparison showed that solar power is more efficient.

To make sure the test was a fair comparison, a wind turbine set at an elevation of 35 feet was compared with a panel of solar collectors. As a control, it was verified that both could produce an identical amount of electricity at conditions considered optimal. The cost of each system was identical.

The result of the test was rather surprising. Over a number of testing periods, the solar powered generator was able to produce a total of 500% more electrical power than the wind powered generator. This was not expected, due to the fact that the solar system was dependent on the appearance of the sun to begin generation. It was determined that the intermittent and varying intensity of wind was the reason for the wind powered generator to produce less power.

Considering the vast amount of research being conducted worldwide on both types of alternative energy generation, it can be expected that the efficiency of both systems will increase in the future. There are several new designs of wind powered generators under development that require less wind to start operation and continue to generate electrical power. For solar technology there are also exciting developments. In addition to the development of much more efficient solar collectors, research at MIT has discovered a way to place solar collectors in non-horizontal arrays. The discovery is based on the natural way a tree develops leaves as it grows, and the mathematical principle of Fibonacci numbers. Tests are underway that could more than quadruple the amount of electrical power per square foot of solar panel installation that can be achieved.

Because of the exciting developments in both forms of alternative energy sources, it is hoped that government, private industry, such as Texas energy providers, and individual citizens, will continue to explore, research and discover even more ways to improve the efficiency of these two important non-oil sources of electrical power.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is seeking proposals for large scale solar power installations to benefit from a $107 million investment from the state’s solar initiative. Under the NY-Sun Competitive PV Program, a total of $36.4 million will be available in 2012 and $70.5 million in 2013.

The first round proposals are due November 8. The funding cap is set at $3 million and to better leverage the state resources, the projects will require co-funding from private developers. “The NY-Sun program has helped establish New York State as a leader in solar power, and these investments in photovoltaic systems will allow businesses and municipalities to put in place green, cost-effective electric generating installations,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.  “I encourage all businesses and municipalities eligible for these grants to apply.” Full article

 

We all remember the notable story that opens Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Harrow, a psychology professor, and two colleagues gather eight rhesus monkeys for a two-week experiment on learning. They’re surprised to see the primates—without any urging or coercion—begin to play with their specially devised puzzle with focus, determination, and enjoyment. The shock deepens when the experimenters observe the monkeys crack a code on how to remove a pin, slide a hook, and open the cover of the mechanical puzzle, each time, even without a food reward, affection, or applause. Conversely, when the primates are rewarded with raisins for solving the puzzle they make more errors and less frequently solve the puzzle. The reason, Pink concluded, was that the monkeys solved the puzzle repeatedly because it was gratifying to do so. That is, the intrinsic benefits of solving the puzzle outweighed the extrinsic rewards.

In view of Harrow’s dilemma, I find the description of what motivates us presented in Pink’s book to be an apt description of global sustainability today. And the example that perfectly fits this description is the self-organizing aspect of sustainable initiatives. I find that many people still see sustainability as a carrot or stick dilemma; they are pretty convinced their choices are the best and it’s other people who aren’t doing the right thing. Their reasoning takes this line: “Nature has a unique way of maintaining equilibrium and regenerating itself. Our company is not a big polluter like other big companies and if it means that we have to give up our current production processes, we probably won’t do it.”

We sometimes think of sustainability practices as bootstrapping themselves into existence. We fail to connect the dots between our lifestyle choices and the resulting macrobehavior. One Wall Street Journal article documents why, despite government efforts to encourage consumers to adopt zero-emissions vehicles, electric cars are not yet creating much spark. As one researcher observed, “Until battery technology improves and people can drive further, I don’t see significant growth in electric vehicles.” Other consumers have expressed interest in electric cars, but acknowledge that it is going to take time before an effective solution to the range anxiety problem is resolved. How about if government paid new electric car owners? Try to nudge car owners to buy zero-emission cars by paying them for each unit bought—and they’ll become more diligent in the short term and lose interest in the long term.

But those who drive electric cars, or use energy saving bulbs, or incorporate ISO 14000 standards into projects, or weatherize their homes, for instance, aren’t setting out to solve global sustainability challenges; they are solving personal or business—and indeed local—problems, such as how to drive to their workplaces, or what to use in lighting their homes, or how to set a framework for continual improvement of environmental performance of their business, or how to maintain a certain in-house temperature. And yet those personal and local decisions combine—and self-organize—to form the macrobehavior of their homes, companies, businesses, states and nations. As a result of this self-organization, new pockets of successes emerge: home energy bills are reduced, corporate image among regulators, customers and the public is improved, clean air is restored, cases of chronic pulmonary diseases are reduced, and the equilibrium is restored.

“It takes a village” is a cliché. And yet I see its dynamics are at play everywhere in addressing sustainability. The correlation reinforces the notion that global sustainability requires a trade-off driven by intrinsic rewards: we all have a role to play in improving the environment and we will have to sacrifice something (e.g., our backyard for wind farms, preference for mass transit, or inexpensive transportation). And while some people are willing to make this trade-off, many others are not. As a result, the notion of global sustainability may need some nudges, including peer pressure.

The interaction is two-way: the project manager who incorporates ISO 14000 standards into the project influences other project staff in his or her team, and vice versa; the new homeowner who buys, retrofits and weatherizes his or her home next to an existing homeowner influences the behavior of that homeowner, which in turn influences the behavior of the new comer; the quality assurance specialist who applies exactitudes rather than generalities in project cost, project quality, and project time trade-offs, and educates, trains, and holds project staff responsible for sustainability, influences the behavior of those staff, who in turn influence the behavior of the project manager. In other words, the relationships are mutual: you influence your peers and your peers influence you, and a ‘flow,’ which enhances intrinsic benefits, is maintained and enhanced.

More prosaically, Pink addresses the complexity of these interactions, both in personal decisions and corporate environments, and advises those who prefer a reward-and-punishment route that: “Building our businesses in sync with these truths won’t be easy. Unlearning old ideas is difficult, undoing old habits even harder. And I’d be less sanguine about the prospects of closing the motivation gap anytime soon, if it weren’t for this: The science confirms what we already know in our hearts.” That is his swanky way of saying that decisions on global sustainability will come down to our deep-seated desire to direct own lives, expand our abilities, and to continue to live a life of purpose.

I will admit that, in that sense, Pink’s work gives us hope. And to make progress with global sustainability we will have to come to terms with the fact that real headway will only be realized when we adopt sustainability practices because it is gratifying to do so. Success will be possible when the collective action to create more profitable, healthy, and sustainable businesses, communities, and nations, is bottom-up, and enjoyable. That is, when the intrinsic benefits outweigh the extrinsic rewards.

Harrow’s primates have cracked the code and solved the puzzle without any raisins, and the ball has now been tossed to the bigger-brained, less hairy human beings. I will bet on intrinsic motivation and kaizen—continuous improvement—to get us there.

This article first appeared in the Project Management Global Sustainability Community of Practice (CoP).

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