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Waste Not: A steamy solution to global warming

Lisa Margonelli, The Atlantic
Forty years ago, the steel mills and factories south of Chicago were known for their sooty smokestacks, plumes of steam, and throngs of workers. Clean-air laws have since gotten rid of the smoke, and labor-productivity initiatives have eliminated most of the workers. What remains is the steam, billowing up into the sky day after day, just as it did a generation ago.

The U.S. economy wastes 55 percent of the energy it consumes, and while American companies have ruthlessly wrung out other forms of inefficiency, that figure hasn’t changed much in recent decades. The amount lost by electric utilities alone could power all of Japan.

A 2005 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that U.S. industry could profitably recycle enough waste energy-including steam, furnace gases, heat, and pressure-to reduce the country’s fossil-fuel use (and greenhouse-gas emissions) by nearly a fifth. A 2007 study by the Mc­Kinsey Global Institute sounded largely the same note; it concluded that domestic industry could use 19 percent less energy than it does today-and make more money as a result.

Lisa Margonelli is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, just published in paperback.
(May 2008 issue)

Recycled Energy Development’s Casten says energy recycling bridge to fossil fuel-free future
(video, transcript)
Monica Trauzzi, OnPoint, E&E TV
Is recycling waste heat from power plants the answer to our emissions problem?

Tom Casten, chairman of Recycled Energy Development (RED), says recycled energy can help provide a bridge to a future free of fossil fuels.

During today’s OnPoint, he explains why he believes carbon capture and sequestration technology is not a viable way to reduce power plant emissions. Casten discusses regulatory barriers standing in the way of large-scale implementation of waste energy recapturing and explains how a Renewable Electricity Standard should be structured to include recycled energy.
(23 April 2008)

Stop Waiting for ‘Leaders’ to Act on Global Warming

Peter Asmus, Christian Science Monitor
Greener energy in your community depends on strong grass roots.

The success of the environmental movement in calling attention to the dangers of global warming has led to an ironic outcome: It’s become easier for the public to adopt a passive approach as we wait on world leaders to sign emissions treaties or huge corporations to “go green.” This Earth Day, stop waiting! There are new ways for you to fight climate change in your own backyard.

One of the most promising models is called “Community Choice Aggregation.” CCA is the legal term for an innovative way for cities and counties to purchase electricity by votes of local governments.

Previously, the only way for a local government to have a say in where the community’s power came from was to establish a municipally owned utility. The CCA process provides an easier way to switch to an earth-friendlier power supply without taking on the burden of managing the power lines, collecting bills, and the divisive politics involved with the expensive process of bringing energy under municipal control.

This type of community energy planning is happening in a big way in California’s Marin County, where I live. Granted, this is an area just north of San Francisco that’s heavily populated with tree huggers. But other parts of California, from the Central Valley to Los Angeles, are investigating CCA models. (Massachusetts and Ohio have already enacted CCA programs, but the motivation in these states was more for local control and cutting costs, not saving the environment.)
(22 April 2008)

Efficiency: the Unloved Solution That Works

Marianne Lavelle, Beyond the Barrel, US News & World Report
In a way, the TV news producer was looking for the same thing we all are looking for. She was considering having me come on air to talk about our new cover story, “Why America Needs an Energy Diet.” But she wanted to hear tips for the home that were unusual-something that people haven’t heard before.

That’s the thing about energy efficiency. We’ve heard before-time and again-that we could use a lot less electricity-but we keep using more.

If you want a measure of how unexcited the nation is about the idea of saving power, take a look at how we’ve spent our energy research and development budget over the past 30 years. An April 9 Congressional Research Service report (RS22858, not yet available online) says that from the U.S. Department of Energy’s inception at the beginning of fiscal year 1978 through the current fiscal year, energy efficiency made up just 15 percent of the total energy R&D budget. The big spending was on nuclear, about 41 percent, and fossil fuels, about 25 percent, with about 16 percent for renewable energy. (Thanks to the office of GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland for the numbers.)

Despite being on the short end of the funding stick, researchers at the national labs have done impressive work on energy efficiency.
(21 April 2008)

Putting Your Home on an Energy Diet

Marianne Lavelle, US News & World Report
Simple steps with fast payback can cut family power bills

Putting your house on an energy diet is simple: airtight construction, smart heating and cooling design, and high-efficiency appliances. But simple doesn’t mean easy. You might as well tell Americans they ought to lay off nacho chips and sign up for a daily Zumba class. The nation’s power demands, like our waistlines, are growing ever more bloated.

… there’s a rising call for Americans to use less energy, either out of self-interested concern over escalating costs or genuine concern over the risk to the planet from global warming if the world’s leading fossil fuel users continue on their current course. “The cleanest and cheapest kilowatt-hour is the one we do not have to produce,” says Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy.

Goals. When the consulting firm McKinsey recently mapped out a possible pathway for U.S. carbon dioxide cuts at a cost that would not break the economy, almost 40 percent of the potential savings came from energy-efficiency steps that also would save people money. “It’s a staggering amount of potential that could be an important step for achieving the carbon-abatement goals we have as a nation,” says Ken Ostrowski, a McKinsey director.

Among the world’s major economies, the United States is second only to Canada in energy use per person, but the nation’s efficiency picture isn’t all bad. Natural gas use per household is down significantly, thanks to vastly more efficient furnaces, better-insulated homes, and the population shift to the warmer South. As a result, overall energy use per U.S. household declined 26 percent between 1978 and 2001. But residential electricity use is surging, up 11 percent per household from 1993 to 2006 and 42 percent overall, as the number of gadget-filled households grows.
(17 April 2008)
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