Category Archives: Energy

What Will It Take for North America to Embrace Sustainable Energy?

Fracking might get us more natural gas, but the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release the natural gas is risky.

First of all, there are the hundreds of chemicals used in the fracking fluid which include a number of dangerous carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde which can, and do, leak into ground water suppliers. For example, methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells. And it’s a sure thing that some of the fluid is going to leak considering at most 50% of the fracturing fluid, that is not biodegradable, is recovered.

In addition, some of this fracking fluid will evaporate and release harmful volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere that can contaminate the air and create acid rain.

If something goes wrong, the well can explode, and, in addition to killing and injuring workers, spark fires that can burn for days. This happened recently in Pennsylvania, where Chevon decided that it could offer free pizza to make up for deadly fracking explosion.

If too much gas is released, gravity can bring the earth down to fill the empty chambers and create massive sinkholes that can swallow entire towns. This is what happened last year to Bayou Corne, Louisiana.

In other words, while it works, it’s just not safe — in comparison to solar, wind, and water power which is plentiful, safe, and provided for free by mother nature. Now it won’t solve all of our energy problems, and we’re not going to be running trucks, trains, and planes on renewable energy any time soon — but, combined with natural (pump storage, etc.) and man-made “battery” arrays (which could include water and geothermal storage in addition to lithium-ion storage), it could solve more than half of our global energy problem with the appropriate balance and investment.

And if even the CEO of a known fracking company isn’t comfortable with fracking in his own backyard and is joining in on anti-fracking lawsuits (like the CEO of Exxon, as per this Salon article), that should tell us something.

Energy and Utility Procurement – Where Do You Stand?

Before ProcureCon released their recent State of Indirect Procurement Benchmark Report, they put out a study on Energy and Utility Procurement that summarized responses from 39 survey participants. While it was by no means an empirical study and the be-all-end-all to energy and
utility sourcing
, it does allow you to compare your own program to some extent and may inspire ideas for program enhancement.

One of the most interesting points of this report was that there doesn’t seem to be a single approach to any aspect of managing energy that respondents agreed upon. Like many other aspects of non-direct sourcing, companies are all over the board. This is likely due to the relatively new involvement of procurement, the sheer complexity of the category and variety of energy requirements on a company-by-company basis.

This is one of the many areas where, due to the varying degrees of regulation in different locales, the different types of energy (production) available, and the different views on the need for green, it helps to get with your peers and get different ideas, best practices, and perspectives — as well as the inside information on what works, and what doesn’t.

Fellow Canadians, your options for events have been limited, but now that ProcureCon has come North, you have one more option. Join the doctor at the inaugural ProcureCon Canada event (and register with code PCA14SI) and share your experiences.

Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 11 – Energy

On July 30, 2012 a power blackout temporarily obliterated electricity from half of the country and wreaked havoc on the lives of over 620 Million people in 22 of the northern and northeastern states. (Source: Wikipedia) This was the worst power outage since the last major grid collapse in 2001. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that major outages are not a rare occurrence. As per this recent Bloomberg article, the nation suffers from frequent power outages that last 10 hours. Persistent power failures, known as ‘load shedding’, are organized day in, day out in a great many places across the country by the power providers in an attempt to keep power production, and the grid, up. (Source: An Uncertain Glory) Nor would it be so bad if those 620 Million people who were affected had electricity. A third of the population in those regions, living in poverty (or, more accurately, squalor), never had power to begin with.

As it stands, peak supply, which was approximately 205,000 megawatts in 2012, fell short of demand by about 9%, and the situation is only getting worse. And it’s not being helped by the shift from predominantly a government-owned system towards one based on market principles, as this does nothing to insure that anyone who isn’t a large corporation or extremely wealthy or influential individual gets reliable power. As per the IEA’s (International Energy Agency’s) Understanding Energy Challenges in India, the huge blackouts that occurred in northern India in July 2012 could be seen as a consequence within the framework of incomplete market liberalization. Simply put, The goal of providing energy access to the entire population led to well-meaning policies designed to protect the poor, but resulted in a system of untargeted producer and consumer subsidies that prevent a more thorough implementation of a well-functioning and financially-sound energy sector.

And getting to a sound and reliable energy sector is no easy task. First of all, the six issues addressed in the IEA’s report need to be dealt with:

  • The core (production) capacities of the energy companies need to be improved in a financially viable way.
  • Pricing mechanisms must ensure commercial viability (but not price energy out of the range of the low-end consumer).
  • Significant investment is required to meet the growing energy demand and provide access to all citizens — and it must come from the government.
  • The effective implementation of policies is required and this must lead to the timely, on-budget, completion of energy projects.
  • The energy policy must be integrated and consistent as multiple objectives will undermine the policy and its implementation.
  • Strong political will is required as effective policy implementation will never materialize without it.

And then India will have to deal with:

  • Getting energy theft and transmission loss under control. It is estimated that 27% of energy generated is lost in transmission or stolen. This is intolerable considering the country can’t even meet demand at peak capacity.
  • Getting electronic payment and transfer mechanisms set up and in place. Money will need to flow from the federal government through the states to the districts who will have to then distribute the money to the private companies expanding the infrastructure. Considering that corruption is still rampant in India and administrative fees often at the discretion of the local officials, unless all money allocated to the energy infrastructure is electronically transferred and tracked, and the records made public, it can be assumed that at least 2% of this money will disappear due to corruption, which has cost India at least 345 Billion over the last decade. (Source: India Express)
  • Getting the population educated on safe and sustainable energy use. First of all, the country will need to invest in renewable options, which could be expensive when compared to, say, dirty coal. Secondly, the population and their government, which may want to spend the money elsewhere, will need to agree to the appropriate expenditure. Thirdly, they will make sure they are pugged into the grid safely and securely using modern, approved, legal technology. Otherwise, they may find that their meter bursts into flames when their power consumption is at its peak or their houses catch on fire because of unsafe, illegal hookups. (Unfortunately, neither of these situations is a rare occurrence in India.)

This is a tall order for a country that is faced with many serious problems, financial needs, and political divides, which are likely to get worse before they get better. If India can’t get its energy crisis under control, how will it continue to play effectively in global supply chains?

If America is Going to Be Number One Oil Producer By 2020, Will Canada Be Number Two?

According to this recent Economist Article on Energy to Spare, America is on track to produce all the energy it needs at home. Considering that Americans burn three and a half times as much energy as the average Chinese person, and hasn’t been able to meet its energy needs in over half a century, this seems like a tall order. Especially since, demand has more than doubled since America was last able to satisfy its energy needs from domestic sources.

However, the International Energy Agency is forecasting that America could become the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, when it could be churning out 11.1 Million barrels a day, and be energy self-sufficient by 2035. Coupled with the fact that demand is waning due to increased fuel efficiency, the prediction is that rising production and falling demand will equal out in 2035.

It’s an interesting prediction, but so is the prediction about the Athabasca Oil Sands north of the American border. Right now, production is about 1.3M barrels per day, but estimates are that production can get to 5.1M barrels per day. As per this article in the Economist, on The Sands of Grime, Canada’s oil sands contain over 170 Billion Barrels of oil that can be recovered economically with today’s technology. With the third largest proven oil reserves in the world, it’s quite likely that production can ramp up to make Canada at least fourth in oil production by 2020, with third place a strong possibility. Right now, Venezuelan production for 2020 is estimated at 6.5M barrels per day (Source) and Saudi Arabia, at close to 10M barrels per day, expects it can get to 11 M barrels per day (Source). With the difference between Canadian production estimates and Venezuelan production estimates for 2020 less than 30%, it would only take a 15% increase in Canadian production and a 15% decrease in Venezuelan production for Canada to edge in third.

Unless Saudi Arabian reserves are less than estimated, or Canadian production ramps up exponentially beyond expectations, we probably won’t make number two, but number three is a strong possibility.

Why Should We Wait for 2025 for the 54.5 MPG Standard?

A recent article over on Automobile Magazine tells us that the Department of Transportation Confirms 54.5 MPG Fuel Economy Standard which will take effect in 2025. WTF?!?

It’s true that this is an improvement over the 34.1 mpg standard for the average fuel economy of new passenger vehicles for model year 2016, and definitely an improvement over the 30.5 mpg for the 2013 year, the reality is that we should be at the 2020 standard now! For example, as per this recent article in the Technology Review, the Delphi engine could boost fuel economy by half. So if we’re getting 30.5 mpg now, we could be getting 45 mpg with this new engine technology.

And Delphi is not the only company working on a variation of gasoline direct injection compression ignition (GDICI) technology and getting very good results. A project jointly funded by General Motors (GM) and Tsinghua University is also developing new gasoline direct-injection compression-ignition combustion mode.

And then there’s research into spray combustion cross-cut engines, including the DOE Advanced Combustion Engine which has posted efficiency gains of up to 40%. (See the Overview.) And research into nozzle geometry, supercritical injection, and other improvements that also contribute double digit enhancements to efficiency. We should be at the 54.5 mpg standard now. In fact, given that the Skyactiv-G 1.3 engine manufactured by Mazda and used in the Demico subcompact (which is also known as the Mazda 2) can get 70 mpg now by using a direct injection mill, a continuously variable transmission, and stop-start tech, we should be aiming for 94.5 mpg by 2025! (Heck, the forthcoming 2.0 L North American Version in the CX-5 will get 40 mpg!)

And while the focus of this research and development is primarily for small consumer vehicles, it’s a given that any improvements made will find their way into delivery vehicles as well and that your fleet will eventually get more fuel efficient, which is key in an era of constantly rising fuel costs. So any push for fuel efficiency is a good thing, and any time one is made, we should be asking, is this aggressive enough?