Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

Ethanol In Your Gasoline Tank: The Pros And Cons

Ford Model T - the first commercially available flex fuel vehicle

Flex fuel vehicles have been around a while (Source: Wikipedia)

A really nice summary of ethanol as a replacement fuel for automobiles and light trucks over at Green Car Reports:

Conclusion If you want to use ethanol as a vehicle fuel today, you’re already getting up to 10 percent of the alcohol fuel in your “gasoline” every time you fill it. That percentage may slowly rise to 15 percent, but it’s far from settled as to whether occasional–or regular–use of use E15 may damage cars built since 2001. You can buy a flex-fuel vehicle, especially among full-size sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks, and larger sedans offered by U.S. carmakers. Your challenge will be finding E85 to put in it, since only about 2 percent of all gas stations offer it, and those stations are not geographically dispersed. While ethanol offers numerous benefits as vehicle fuel, it comes with quite a number of drawbacks as well–and increasing its use to the levels mandated by law for the next decade may prove challenging, even impossible.

Meanwhile, you’re likely buying at least a little ethanol every time you fill up with regular gasoline–making it the future fuel you’re already using today.

via Ethanol In Your Gasoline Tank: The Pros And Cons.

Fortunately, I do live in the Midwest, and there are E85 stations reasonably close; unfortunately, I don’t own a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV). In fact, there are only about 10 million on the road in the US – out of over 247 million registered passenger vehicles.

And of course, situations like the one current drought affecting more than half the country will impact availability of corn for conversion to ethanol and exacerbate the “Food or Fuel” conundrum.

Hey, I didn’t say I had all the answers.

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Renewable jobs growth faster than any other energy sector

More good news from the renewable energy front:

Clean energy is now creating more jobs for the energy produced than coal or natural gas, and solar energy is the fastest growing industry in the United States, according to industry and academic sources.

Solar energy is on track to add another 25,000 – 50,000 jobs this year, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association. Even in this sluggish economy, fully 50 percent of the association’s members plan to add new hires.

And then there’s this story from the Des Moines Register:

Iowa’s wind generation reached 20 percent of the state’s total electricity network during the second quarter, the American Wind Energy Association reports.

Over 7,000 megawatts of new capacity was under construction nationally by July 1, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That’s the busiest the wind generation industry has been since the third quarter of 2008.

So to all the skeptics that keep saying that renewables only supply a small part of America’s energy, I say: take another look. The times, they are a-changing.

LEEDCo announces partnership with GE for offshore wind turbines

A big step forward in the pursuit for wind energy off the north shore was announced today at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual WINDPOWER Conference in Dallas. Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) announced that it will be partnering with GE for the Northeast Ohio offshore wind energy project.

This step has been in the planning for almost two years now. I’ve been to some of the public meetings for the Lake Erie wind development project, and recently I was struck by the sense of determination about the wind farm. I don’t think I can recall that sense of positive vision taking shape since maybe the Gateway development.

via Green City Blue Lake

Tesla, Toyota to build electric cars at Fremont, CA NUMMI plant

Tesla, Toyota to build electric cars at NUMMI plant

“Stunning” says it all.

In a stunning deal, Tesla Motors announced late Thursday that it is teaming up with Toyota to build its all-electric Model S sedan at the recently shuttered NUMMI plant in Fremont, creating more than 1,000 new jobs.

This is exactly the kind of partnership I was hoping one of the Big Three would do with Tesla.

Tesla will use the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant to begin production of the Model S, a sedan that can seat five adults and two children and has a range of 300 miles. Once it reaches full production at the NUMMI plant, Tesla expects to produce 20,000 electric vehicles each year, which will sell for $50,000.

But the Model S would occupy only a small part of the NUMMI plant, leaving room for Tesla and Toyota to manufacture other models of electric cars there.

“Long term, we think we could create 10,000 jobs, half from Tesla and half from our suppliers,” [Tesla CEO Elon] Musk said.

(via San Jose Mercury News)

Will Politics Slow the Wind?: Scientific American

A very thought-provoking article in Scientific American walks through some of the growing pains facing the wind industry (Will Politics Slow the Wind?).

Not many years ago, there wasn’t enough wind power coming from the Great Plains to worry about. Now there is, and lots of people are worrying.

A group of mostly East Coast utility companies calling itself the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy fears that the prime conditions in the Great Plains will make the region’s wind power too cheap for its members to compete with, unless developers there are made to pay the costs of moving wind power eastward.

The article also touches on the backlash generated when a windfarm in Texas announced it would be using stimulus funding to buy turbines manufactured in China.

For years, the knock on wind energy was that it was too expensive, too unreliable, and too far away to be of any practical use. Two of those reasons are gone, and the grid upgrades needed to deliver wind energy will solve a problem that has needed attention for too long.

Train Prisoners for Green Careers?

Matt Kelley has an interesting and thought provoking post at Change.org on training prisoners in green jobs to help them re-enter society.

Corrections departments and facilities around the world offer many kinds of training for prisoners, including GEDs and college degrees, vocations like carpentry and plumbing and artistic talents like painting and video production. But prisons are too far behind the curve. Green jobs — including earth-friendly construction and solar panel manufacturing and installation among many, many other specialties — are certain to be booming in the years ahead, and prisons are a perfect place to teach these trades.

The comments are worth reading as well.

I wonder: how receptive is our society to training prisoners to take some of the best-paying jobs, especially given the current state of the economy? Ex-convicts should become productive members of society, but should that come at the expense displaced workers who haven’t committed a crime, or had to pay for their own training?

LakewoodAlive to host forum on wind energy feasibility in Lake Erie – cleveland.com

From the Sun News (Cleveland):

Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force members will discuss the possibility of wind energy in Lake Erie at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Harding Middle School, 16601 Madison Ave in Lakewood.

The results of the initial feasibilty study were made public in May (see Wind power initiative on Lake Erie passes feasibility test). Estimates for the next stage of the demonstration project – deployment of turbines in a pilot project – range from $77 million to $93 million.

Wind Power, Growing Pains, and the Economy

I came across a few interesting factoids recently.

  1. In 2007, wind energy not only led renewables in terms of installed capacity in the US, but actually led all forms of generation added that year – including coal.
  2. 2008 was a record-setting year for wind generation, with 8,500 MW coming online – adding almost 50% to the domestic wind generation capacity.

If that’s all you knew about wind power in the US, you might think that the future for wind power looks pretty good. But here’s the catch: the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind and other renewables expired last year. In every previous instance that the PTC has lapsed, new wind installations plummeted the following year.

This year is no exception. According to a story in Forbes magazine this week Wind Sector Looks To Congress For Lift – Forbes.com:

Following a half-decade-long boom, the wind energy sector went bust in the second quarter of 2009. Some 1,200 megawatts of new wind projects were completed during the quarter, the American Wind Energy Association said Wednesday, half the average for the previous four quarters, when wind developers installed nearly 10 GW of generating capacity, making the U.S. the world’s largest wind market.

This is particularly critical for wind installations because the major cost associated with wind is the upfront cost of development. (Ironically, this is also its major advantage over supposedly “cheaper” coal-fired plants, which require additional outlays for fuel) The PTC has been used as an investment vehicle and sold to the larger investment houses and commercial banks. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, you probably know that the financial sector has taken a beating and just recently shown signs of recovery. As a result, they have clamped down on lending in general, much less for multibillion-dollar projects whose viability depends on a patchwork of state incentives and regulation and a Federal tax credit that is only intermittently available. Although the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act renewed the PTC for three years, and added a more streamlined investment vehicle (Investment Tax Credits, or ITC), the hiatus slowed what had been record growth in the industry.

To be sure, there are other problems facing the renewable energy sector. From the Associated Press: Pickens calls off massive wind farm in Texas

HOUSTON (AP) — Plans for the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle have been scrapped, energy baron T. Boone Pickens said Tuesday, and he’s looking for a home for 687 giant wind turbines.

The article indicates that the lack of a robust transmission system to feed the Pickens wind farm energy to where it could be used is part of the reason Mr. Pickens has altered his original plan. While the current (relatively) low price of natural gas makes the original Pickens Plan less economical, surely the expiration of the PTC, and inaction by Congress for a national renewable energy standard also factor into the decision.

Echoing Pickens’ concerns, the American Wind Energy Association has been pushing for additional funding for improved transmission lines. From the Associated Press coverage of the AWEA annual conference:

The U.S. has become the world’s biggest wind-power generator and of the electricity production added in the country last year, 42 percent came from wind turbines. But as more megawatts come on line, the problem of getting power from wind-swept plains to places where people actually live becomes more urgent.

“In some ways we’re reaching the glass ceiling,” said Rob Gramlich, vice president of policy at the American Wind Energy Association. It was the organization’s biggest annual conference to date, drawing 1,200 exhibitors and more than 20,000 people.

The country’s grid is aging, often overloaded and, in the case of wide-open states like Wyoming and North Dakota — some of the best places to erect wind turbines — not nearly extensive enough to move electricity to major markets where customers wait.

The wind industry group says it needs 19,000 miles of new high-voltage lines — at a cost of about $100 billion — for wind-farm developers to keep building.

There is really nothing standing in the way of the continued growth of renewable energy in this country – except a lack of political will. And that’s a real shame, because these kinds of projects are what our country and our economy could use right now. According to AWEA, the 8,500 MW added last year pumped approximately $17 billion into the economy, and created 35,000 new, good paying jobs at a time when the overall economy was shedding jobs at the worst rate since the Great Depression.

Sounds like the change we need, all right.

Ford Engine Plant #1 Reopens to Build Fuel Efficient V6

Ford Engine Plant #1 reopened yesterday. The retooled factory is now building an advanced engine for use in the 2010 Lincoln MKS.

This is good news for the 250 or so Ford employees who were recalled. But this is at best a baby step in the right direction. According to news reports, the new 6-cylinder engine delivers performance typically seen from a V8. You could spin this as Ford being responsive to that segment of buyers that want full-size cars, but it’s not going to do much to curb dependence on foreign oil.

Why do I keep getting flashes of buggy whips going through my brain?

Ford Truck Plant to Retool to Build Electric Cars

The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog is reporting that Ford will spend half a billion dollars to retool one of its factories to produce an all-electric verson of the Ford Focus:

Amidst one of the auto industry’s largest wholesale shifts in modern history, the Ford Motor Company is investing $550 million to turn a factory that was dedicated to making large and fuel-hungry sport utility vehicles into a modern and scalable small-car plant that will eventually produce an all-electric version of the Focus.

The Michigan Assembly Plant, known as one of the world’s most profitable manufacturing sites during the S.U.V. boom of the 1990s, was once the hub for the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The plant is expected to begin building the new Ford Focus next year, followed by production of the all-electric Focus in 2011.

via Ford Truck Plant to Build Electric Cars – Green Inc. Blog – NYTimes.com.

This is great news, if a little late. I wonder how much of the impetus to produce an all-electric version of the Focus comes as one of the strings from the auto bailout, and how much comes from Ford execs noticing the popularity of the Prius and the incredible response to the mere announcement of the Chevy Volt.

Whatever the reason, it’s about time.