I’m back, with a book review

So I’ve been a bit busy getting my master’s degree, but for one of my renewable energy courses, I read a few books and did a few assignments that I feel I should share as they have helped me better understand the energy paradigm in the US. If the contents of this post feel a bit too out of context I do apologize as this was a paper written for a class.

The Grid: Review

The cover of The Grid manages to capture the essence of the book in such a way that the true genius only fully dawned on my once I completed reading. There are two layers to the cover that are highlighted by the subtitle of the book, “The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future.” The cover consists of a messy tangle of wires beyond which a bright blue sky sits. The metaphor is not subtle once you know what you’re looking at. The grid on the cover, as in real life, is somewhat of a mess and it feels as if the challenge ahead is going to be constricting. However, the blue skies beyond the mess provide a sense of hope beyond the current circumstances, which truly captures the essence of the author’s, Dr. Bakke’s, message.

Prior to addressing the various points and ideas addressed by Dr. Bakke in The Grid, I would be doing this work a great disservice if I did not discuss what made this book one of my favorite books I’ve read in my academic career. The tone in which this book is written and the author’s voice create a compelling narrative that enthralls the reader in a story with sprinklings of allusions to the historical and modern-day significance of key developments. The way that information is presented in this book beckons the reader to turn the next page with excitement and anticipation as opposed to dread through dreary half-open eyes. Dr. Bakke’s background is in cultural anthropology and her understanding of communication in our culture during an era of rapid social change commands the reader’s attention from the very first sentence to the very last. I can truthfully say that I enjoyed reading this book, not as a book assigned through the course of my studies but independent of all extraneous context. On its individual merits this is simply an enjoyable read. As a peripheral benefit to the tone and writing style of Dr. Bakke being easily palatable, after each day’s reading I found myself in active thought and reflection about the points presented by her. Additionally, I believe that my retention of the information presented will also be bolstered by the manner in which it was presented.

The organization of this book leads itself well to effectively convey the key points that the author wants to address. The introduction does provide a broad view of the problems we face in the energy sector, specifically the grid. Which should come as to a surprise to no one. However, the first chapter reads something the opening scene to a Marvel movies with secret agents meeting in an underground bunker to discuss top secret plans.  At least that is the impression that stuck with me. As the book continues the cinematic organization continues as the story flashes back to the history of the grid at the very beginning, from the first light bulb. Then the narrative is carried by a sequence of events as they happened in American history, with the ever-looming storm cloud of “where did it all go wrong?” that we are expecting due to the introduction. Chapter 4 finally addresses that question as we catch up to modern times, the oil embargos of the 20th century, the fragility of American energy production, and the onset of renewable production ushered into the limelight and profitability through legislative actions. The book continues to then go through 21st century examples of how 20th century infrastructure is starting to fail us as it was built with a 19th century outlook for the future. The grid was designed as a house of cards, and we are slowly witnessing the toppling in slow motion. Eventually you start thinking to yourself that all hope is lost, and we are destined to an increasingly fragile energy future, but then Dr. Bakke begins to present you with incremental solutions that can alleviate the woes of the modern-day grid and in time transform it into the grid of the future.

The Grid provided me with a much deeper understanding of the challenges facing energy production in the United States, and the now constant battle for utilities trying to stay in the black. I was and am a staunch supporter of renewables but as we move towards a greater dependency on variable energy production the need to take care of the middleman who delivers us our energy from our holistic cultivation method of choice. We do not pay for the transportation of electricity. We pay for the electricity we use that is more and more often being bought being bought by the utilities that supply it to us and less often produced at their own power plants. As energy sourcing diversifies and we utilize less of the utilities’ produced electricity the profit margins of the utilities dwindle away as costs level off or increase. The utilities are still the last large-scale defense against blackouts meaning that they have to pay for the expensive upkeep of the large fossil fuel burning energy plants that only need to be ignited during peak load on a few occasions each year. This couples with the wear and tear on the grid’s infrastructure and maintenance being put off for increasingly longer periods. At one point in the book Dr. Bakke discusses how utilities have forgone the recommended tree-trimming schedules and added years between trimming to save on costs and maintain profits.

This is not a point discussed by Dr. Bakke but the thought of “why are utilities a private company?” has lingered in my mind over the course of the majority of the book. Utilities functioned as regional monopolies since the days of Samuel Insull, who started what would become the first major utility in the United States. These monopolies were allowed to exist under heavy government regulation, including price setting. This heavily regulated business model portrayed many similarities to state-run businesses in communist nations, at least to me, with the individual utilities acting practically as extensions of the government with how little freedom they had to ebb from what regulations allowed. The grid is infrastructure that was created to be maintained under a specific cash flow structure and now regulations and deregulations are creating massive upheavals in that structure. So, I ask the question that was not addressed in the book is “why not treat the grid like other infrastructure in the US?” Now this point is not to nationalize all energy production, far from it. The point I bring up is why not let government maintain the non-income producing aspects of the grid like the high voltage wires and transformers. As Dr. Bakke points out, there is an ever-increasing number of customers that utilize the grid to sell their domestically produced energy, partially or fully offsetting their energy costs. With diminishing margins is it even a question as to how or why PG&E allows trees to grow dangerously close to their power lines? If society as a whole benefits from having access to the grid without everyone needing to purchase all their power through the grid, would it not make more sense to treat the gird the way we treat our nation’s roadways? Everyone benefits from and pays into the maintenance of the roads. To utilize a comparison that Dr. Bakke brings up in the introduction, lets use bananas as our example. We do not expect Dole to upkeep the roads that they use to ship their bananas to supermarkets.

The solution presented by Dr. Bakke is far more eloquent than my point, advocating for a smart grid of integrated smart technologies that can constantly communicate to one another to brave the dreaded peak load together as well as manage excess power production during particularly windy or sunny days. The point of utilizing electric cars as a form of energy storage and power source in the home struck me as particularly ingenious. But what is even more ingenious was the way that this idea was presented in the book. That is to say, the way in which Dr. Bakke presented her argument was not an ultimate solution that is the only true saving grace from our current energy woes but as an idea that can be improved; an idea with its flaws that she herself brings to attention and discusses. It is this last discussion at the very end of the book that you want to sit down and have with Dr. Bakke once you get to the final chapters. Armed with the knowledge of the previous few hundred pages Dr. Bakke provides the reader with a thorough understanding of the current state of the grid, the timeline of how we got there, and most importantly the culture that governs it. This last point is what separates The Grid from countless of other books I have read during my academic career. The entire book is not structured in such a way as to lead the reader to a forgone conclusion the author addresses at the end. Instead, this book provides a foundation of knowledge and presents many ideas for possible solutions, each with their own merits. Dr. Bakke does not hold your hand from point A to point B. She hands you a map and meets you at the end of your journey to discuss what she has seen while empowering you to have your own informed opinion about what you saw.

I have no association with or do not profit from sales of this book in anyway. However, if you are interested in this book on your own, please see the following link.

How Realistic is “Net Zero Emissions?”

In my last blog post we discussed about the Biden Administration’s pledge to reduce emissions and pave the way towards a net zero carbon future. I am hopeful that we overshoot these pledges as technology continues to advance in the coming decades. However, what if it doesn’t? Or what if technological progress reduces in speed and we are left to do more carbon reducing with today’s technology. Well fortunately, we have a lot of excellent technology already and we can get pretty far along the road already, and with the appropriate funding from the Biden Administration I am very hopeful that the technology we already have will be utilized to its utmost potential.

Primarily, lets focus on a new law that the administration is proposing on passing through the budget reconciliation process. It is rumored that there will be a clause making it a legal mandate for the United States’ energy grid to be 80% emission free by the year 2030. This would be insufficient to meet the goal of a net zero carbon grid by 2030, but again it is an achievable goal. As of writing this, the United States’ grid is 40% emission free. In previous blogs I discussed that we source 11% of our energy needs from renewable energy, so the terms “emission free energy” and “renewable energy” are not the same. For example, nuclear energy is an emission free energy source that is not renewable. The term “zero emission encompasses” renewable energies. Also going to an emission-free energy grid versus a renewable grid leaves room for the burning of fossil fuels or natural gasses with the appropriate carbon capture procedures in place.

Photo Credit: Vectorjuice on Freepik

Its also reassuring that utility leaders have recently sent a letter to President Biden urging him to pass a Clean Energy Standard (CES). That is not without hesitation from other industry giants that have also expressed concerns for the eventuality of not being able to meet these stringent guidelines. Our level of technological advancement is impressive, but it is still not enough to meet the goals set forward by the Biden Administration. Utility companies are worrying about the possible financial and regulatory fallout should they fail to meet the guidelines set before them. There are provisions in the CES to provide utility companies with some wiggle room; being able to bank reduced emissions in one term and carry them over to subsequent terms. I believe that this is a good incentive to push a drive down in emissions as soon as possible. Emission reduction is much easier in the early stages and becomes more difficult the closer we get to emission-free, so it is a wise decision to allow companies to create reserves in emission reductions to then buy themselves more time to reach the final goal. Levelized over the time period this should net the same amount of emissions past 2035 (the deadline for zero net carbon).

How would you like to see the issue of reaching zero net carbon be approached? Should we focus on a mandate and government funded research or should we allow pressures from the market drive utilities to innovate?

Pledges and a Path Forward

The current administration is stark contrast to the previous when it comes to addressing climate change, reducing carbon emissions, and transforming our energy grid into one with a renewable energy versus a fossil fuel backbone. Over the last weekend the President and 40 other world leaders met virtually for this President’s first climate summit. This summit was intended to build on the climate reparations that have been undertaken by President Biden and reposition the United States as a leader on the world stage on the matter of climate. President Biden took the first step towards this goal on his first day in office when he returned the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Photo Credit: US Dept. of State

The Summit that took place over April 22nd and 23rd and most notably included leaders from 17 countries that contribute 80% of global emissions. The Summit also included leaders from counties that have shown strong initiative in the fight against climate change and from countries which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. During the Summit, the United States pledged to reduce its carbon emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by the year 2030. I want to underscore how monumental this is while also highlighting the fact that the year 2005 was utilized as the benchmark year. I personally am disappointed in this as emissions have been steadily decreasing since 2007 when the US produced 6,003 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide. Carbon emissions in 2020 were already lower than in 2005 at 4,571 MMT vs. 5,999 MMT. The difference in cutting emissions in half from today’s levels vs 2005 levels is 714 MMT of carbon. Comparatively, I understand that this is still a pledge to drastically reduce carbon emissions, but I would like to have seen the pledge be for the lower of the two figures.

Unfortunately, this pledge may not be enough according to new analysis by the Climate Action Tracker (CMT). The CMT is an independent scientific climate analysis that tracks progress towards the crucially important 2°C increase. The study indicates that the United States would need to curb emissions between 57% and 63% of 2005 levels to be able to achieve a different Biden Administration goal of net zero emissions by 2050. I hope that despite the current pledge falling just short of the track that we need to be on, we will see that advances in science will lead to exponential reduction in green house emissions.

The United States was not the only country at the Summit to double down on its commitment to fighting climate change. In a rather unforeseen split from his previous stance, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro pledged to combat illegal deforestation and achieve a carbon neutral environment by 2050. Previously, President Bolsonaro has proposed that the Biden Administration and the United States assist the halt of deforestation in the Amazon to the tune of a $1 billion dollar payment. This may sound preposterous to some, but I do think that this is a fair point to discuss. Previously I have discussed how the United States and other rich nations around the world are actively importing their deforestation through their economic relationships with developing nations. I think that is stands to reason that as we reap the benefits of the destruction we perpetuate in other countries; we should be also footing the bill to help alleviate the wounds. The fact of the matter is that these nations whose economies are now seeing the growth that United States did since before climate change was recognized as an issue cannot follow the same path to industrialization that the United States did.

Photo Credit: US Dept. of State

The Summit concluded and the Biden Administration was met with praise from leaders all around the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “I’m delighted to see that the United States is back, is back to work together with us in climate politics.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson added his praise by stating that President Biden was “returning the United States to the front rank of the fight against climate change.” This was also after announcing earlier this week that Britain would reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. Please see the list below for pledges by other nations that attended the summit:

               Japan: 46% reduction from 2013 levels

               Canada: 40%-45% reduction from 2005 levels

               India: pledged to install 450 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2030.

I believe I have made it clear that I am not entirely satisfied with the pledges that have come out of this Summit. Though I am still very happy that we are once again taking aggressive action against climate change and I do believe that these figures are entirely attainable. I hope in the future we see that we can in fact surpass these pledges and assist the rest of the world in doing the same. What do you think the United States’ role should be in the global fight to combat global warming? Leave a comment below.

A Promising Future

So far, this week, we have been going strong discussing wind energy and the positive developments cycling around this budding industry. We might as well finish strong and look at some more positive outlooks to the future of wind energy costs, and why not, other renewable sources as well. Earlier this week, I covered improving affordability of wind energy and the rate at which industry experts believe that prices will continue to fall. Before we begin one more piece of background information to be aware of; back in October of 2020 the International Energy Agency (IEA) confirmed that solar was the cheapest source of electricity in history. With wind energy costs at an all-time low and solar energy already being the cheapest ever where are energy costs going to go in the future?

If the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is to be believed, and I think they’re a pretty trustworthy source of facts and figures, energy prices are going to keep trending downwards until 2040. Specifically, prices of electricity produced through renewable means. Per the 2021 Annual Energy Outlook report, the EIA projects that through 2040 geothermal energy will cost $37 per MWh, wind energy will drop to $30.8 per MWh, and solar will remain as king of cheap electricity with at $29.7 per MWh. In the long run, this continuation of decreasing prices will be supported by continued investor confidence as the cost of capital decreases. Additionally, I believe that should the current administration pursue its green infrastructure spending proposal investments into renewables will be expedited as public investment will lead the way to new industries.

Photo Credit: EIA 2021 AEO

The EIA report provided total energy capacity projections based on several cases. The most optimistic case was performed under a “low-cost renewable” scenario in which by 2050 the EIA projects a 657 GW increase in solar capacity and a 237 GW increase in wind energy production. Even though these figures were projected in a “best case scenario” I think that they are highly attainable. Offshore wind projects alone through 2026 are projected to add 10.7 GW of energy capacity, and in 2020 the US exceeded all previous years in installing new wind energy capacity of 14 GW. At this rate I believe that the 237 GW number will be one that we exceed far before 2050. An additional positive note about this projection is that it also predicts the retirement of 120 GW of capacity from coal plants. In every scenario projected, coal capacity decreased.

Photo Credit: EIA 2021 AEO

Unfortunately, not everything in the Annual Energy Outlook was painted green. The EIA also predicts that in most cases the United States will continue to be a global leader in the production of crude oils and refined liquids. Natural gas production is expected to most likely to continue increasing. Should low oil prices persist through 2050 natural gas production is expected to dip but eventually exceed 2020 levels. The only situation forecasted in which natural gas production decreases would be a decrease in the oil and gas supply.

What are your predictions about which scenario is the most likely case?

Electric Farms in the Garden State

It appears that each day I sit down to write a new blog there are new positive developments for the future of wind energy. On April 20th, news broke of the ground breaking on what will be the largest offshore wind turbine manufacturing hub in the United States. The hub is going to be located in the Paulsboro Marine Terminal in southern New Jersey. The governor’s office of New Jersey stated that this investment into the state came in the tune of $250 million. This facility will specialize in the production of monopiles specifically. In offshore wind farming, monopiles are the stands on which the wind turbine are mounted, securing the turbine with a stable base to the ocean floor. Governor Murphy stated that “Positioning New Jersey as a national leader in the offshore wind industry,” is a key priority of his. At completion, the site will cover a total of 70 acres and is expected to create 260 jobs during the construction and manufacturing phase.

Photo Credit: Office of the Governor, NJ

The monopiles constructed in this site will be used to support the 1,100 MW offshore wind farm developed by Ørsted and PSEG, named Ocean Wind. This project is just a one component of New Jersey’s long-term wind energy plans, as the state has committed to an offshore wind capacity of 7,500 MW by 2035. The project itself just began construction, with the hub mentioned above being the first step in the construction process of this wind farm honoring a commitment to sourcing as much of the project domestically as possible. The anticipated timeline for completion of this project and the start of energy production is late 2024. At the time that pen went to paper and the necessary contracts were signed, the most powerful wind turbine on the market was the GE Haliade-X 12 MW. You can read about a newer more powerful wind turbine here.

Photo Credit: Office of the Governor, NJ

The electricity produced in this farm will power 500,000 homes in Jersey. The 7,500 MW wind energy goal translates to powering 3.2 million homes in New Jersey with wind energy by 2035. As far as my research and reading has gone, this is the most ambitious renewable energy goal that I have come across. Not just because of the time frame. Not just because of the number of homes to be powered by wind energy. But because this would mean that 100% of New Jersey homes would be powered by offshore wind energy.

Ocean Wind is not the first offshore wind farm in the US, it is also not Ørsted’s first in the US or internationally. Ørsted the world’s leaders in offshore wind, having installed the world’s first offshore wind farm in Denmark and the first offshore wind farm in the US, off of the coast of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island wind farm is the first completed in the US, with a total capacity of 30MW. The only other completed wind farm in the US was also developed by Ørsted and it’s located in Virginia with a capacity of 12 MW. If you’re like me, you’re taking a double take at these numbers. Ocean Wind’s capacity is slated to be 1,100 MW, an exponential increase in capacity from anything else currently operational in the US. In fact, out of the 11 total planned wind farms in the US, Ocean Wind is the second largest planned and will be by far the largest in the US once it is completed. The only wind farm in the pipeline that will surpass Ocean Wind is an expansion of the wind farm in Virginia which is slated to increase to a total capacity of 2,630 MW.

If you’re excited about your state’s renewable investments, leave a comment below sharing them.

Soaring Winds and Plummeting Prices

Many blogs ago, I referenced research being done at the Berkeley Lab, covering the economic feasibility of a net carbon negative future. Recently, the Berkeley Lab is back on my radar with another economic study. Again, we are looking at the economic feasibility of shifting to an ever-greener energy grid. The most recent report came out of a survey of 140 of the world’s foremost experts in wind power who predict that the cost of generating electricity through wind harvesting will decrease by 17%-35% by 2035 and by 37%-49% by 2050.  As technology advances turbines are expected to become more efficient and operating costs per kilowatt hour are expected to decrease as well. The belief of these experts is that cost will be driven down in both on-shore and off-shore wind. I think this is extremely promising as it helps ensure that costs will not be a prohibitive factor to expanding our wind energy production wherever strong winds may be found.

Photo Credit: Wirestock on Freepik

One of the key drivers in cost per kilowatt hour (KWh) reduction of energy production is the efficiency of wind turbines. Over the last decade wind turbines have been already become more efficient with a 42% increase in wind turbine capacity since 2010. This increase is primarily driven by an increase in wind turbine size. Being able to sweep a larger area, turbines are able to capture more of the kinetic energy created by the wind around them with each rotation; turbine size has roughly doubled since 2009. This increase in efficiency has caused both installment costs to plummet as well as costs per KWh. Since 2010, the cost to install wind turbines has fallen by over 40% with the costs currently in the $700-$850 per kw of capacity range. This has translated to a drop from 7¢ per KWh down to 2¢ per KWh. For comparison, the average cost per KWh in the United States is 13.31¢ for a residential user. One final price drop I want to touch on is the levelized cost of wind power. For a quick refresher, I discussed what levelized costs of energy are here. Well, the levelized cost of wind has also dropped from upwards of $90 per MWh to the around $35 per MWh.

But one thing to consider about this Berkeley “study” to consider is that it is just a survey, so how reliable can these percentages truly be. The fact of the matter is that we really don’t know what the likelihood is of these predictions being accurate is. However, if we take historical predictions and test them against where we are today, this survey is probably inaccurate, and that’s a good thing. Over the last decade, the decrease in costs and increases in efficiency described above have exceeded any predictions made about wind power capacity and cost. Technology progress occurs at an exponential rate. Given our current trends we can predict certain trajectories, and as the pace of progress continues to build on itself, we will see that we are wrong more often than not, and in the best way possible. You heard it here first, I am optimistic that we will exceed the price reductions forecast here by the year 2050, if not by 2035.

Carbon Capture

In one of my previous blogs, I touched on the process of carbon capture and how it is going to see new investments flowing into it as the Biden administration has specifically mentioned it as one of their objectives with the proposed infrastructure plan. I feel that this is now an opportune time to do another one of my ELI5 pieces covering carbon capture technology and the roadblocks and limitations it currently faces. In general, the idea behind carbon capture is that in order to mitigate some of our carbon emission production, we capture and store the carbon before it enters our atmosphere. Additionally, an alternative route of carbon capture is capturing carbon from the atmosphere. In both instances, captured carbon is stored underground. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images Stock Photo

As we burn fossil fuels, we get waste products in the form of a mixture of gasses called a flue gas. This mixture consists of carbon dioxide, water, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. This gas is captured and funneled through a solvent to capture the carbon in this gas mixture. This fluid is then heated to remove the carbon. Once removed, the carbon can be stored underground where it does not affect our atmosphere. Our second form of carbon capture is pre-combustion capture. This means that carbon is extracted from a fossil fuel before it is burned. These processes consist of heating the fossil fuel in a chamber with pure oxygen. This then creates carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The second step is to treat this mixture with steam, causing the formation of carbon dioxide and even more hydrogen. Finally, the carbon dioxide can be separated from the hydrogen with a liquid chemical that will bind with the carbon dioxide. Both of these methods can effectively reduce the amount of carbon produced by an energy plant by 80%-90%.

The industrial revolution began about 260 years ago and throughout that time we have been dumping excess carbon into the atmosphere. Something needs to be done about the carbon already in the atmosphere, not just preventing more carbon from being emitted. This is where atmospheric carbon capture comes into the conversation. This method is more expensive than the previous two as it is harder to extract carbon from the general atmosphere, due to low concentration of 0.04%. In short, the way that this process works is similar to an air conditioning unit with an air filter in it. Air is sucked into a structure and passes over a surface covered in potassium hydroxide which binds with CO2. Then the CO2 can be unbound and collected.

Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Stock Photo

Another key driver in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere are healthy forests as trees and other plants will consume CO2 during photosynthesis and produce oxygen as “waste.” And the good news is that the US is on a path of reversing centuries of deforestation. Forests have been stable in the US since the early 1900s, and in fact our forests have grown by 2% between 2007 and 2017 in terms of acreage and by 5% in terms of density. However, similar to climate change, deforestation is not a domestic issue but an international one and recent studies have shown that developed nations such as the US have been essentially “importing” deforestation from poorer nations from which we consume raw resources. What’s more troubling is that this deforestation occurs in the rich biodiverse rainforest biomes who’s health is a vital piece to our ability to successfully capture sufficient carbon to halt and possibly reverse the effects of global warming.

Photo Credit: Getty Images Stock Photo

If you enjoyed this blog and possibly learned something new, I strongly implore you to consider donating to the US Forest Service’s Plant a Tree Program.

Highway to Renewable Energy

Have you ever walked on the sidewalk of a busy street and felt a gust of wind as a car rushed past you? Or maybe you’ve driven on the interstate and had a semi-truck speed past you, and you could feel the wind push your car? Both of those instances occur due to the same kinetic energy that is present in all wind, this energy just so happens to be produced by cars disturbing the air around them and not through natural causes. So, if we are already creating this kinetic energy as a biproduct of our transportation, then that is just wasted energy. If you’re following and agreeing with my train of thought, then your jaw should drop, like mine did, when I read about vertical axis wind turbines being used on highways and interstates to capture this lost energy and convert it usable electricity.  

Vertical wind turbines operate in a very similar fashion to the traditional, windmill inspired horizontal axis (HA) wind turbine. The only material difference for the purpose of our conversation is the shape of the blades and the space they use. Unfortunately, vertical axis (VA) wind turbines generate less energy than their HA counterpart. It is because of this reason that we see wind farms all consisting of HA turbines. However, there is one area in which the VA turbine is superior, area. The blades of a HA wind turbine take up an enormous amount of space in its rotation. The diameter of an HA wind turbine is typically between 130 and 300 feet. Now its not hard to imagine that it may be difficult to fit a wind turbine of even the smallest size in the median of a highway. However, with a VA wind turbine, longer blades (to capture more wind) could still fit in these tight spaces as the blades’ rotation would not interfere with traffic.

Photo Credit: Getty Images Stock Photo

Another key benefit of the VA turbine is that it can capture wind coming from every direction. Where a HA needs to rotate towards the wind in order to capture energy. A VA wind turbine has the ability to capture energy from 360 degrees. This would mean that during a busy day, the rush of air from both direction of traffic could be captured. Additionally, if only one lane was being used, hypothetically traffic headed towards an event, then the VA turbines could capture the energy going in that direction while also not forgoing the occasional driver headed in the opposite direction. Additionally, a VA turbine can also capture the energy from a single passing car late at night regardless of what direction they are coming from. Also, I should clarify that these turbines are not stand-alone installments but are installed in rows headed down long stretches of roadways.

Photo Credit: Getty Images Stock Photo

One might ask, is this method of energy capture renewable? Absolutely, as long as there are cars on the road, this energy source will be constantly replenishing. Is this a green energy source? Well, that depends on how you view this issue. You could argue that since most cars are fossil fuel combusting that this in fact is not a green source of energy as the catalyst for this process is carbon producing. I will say that its not as carbon producing as it is carbon mitigating. For example, we already talked about how electric vehicles (EV) are 20%-60% cleaner than their combustion counterparts. If an EV is in part powered by a highway turbine and then drives on that same highway spinning that turbine again it becomes a cycle that can recuperate some energy lost in the process from the previous step. Is this going to solve all our energy needs, and will we be able to drive EVs around wind turbines to produce electricity infinitely? I’m going to go out on a limb and say absolutely not. But I think that the benefits of mitigating carbon emissions already being produced and creating an efficiency where only waste currently exists make this an idea worth looking into a bit further.

Do you think we may see VA wind turbines dotting US highways? Comment below.

A Greener Proposition

A few weeks ago, I discussed how Texas is the largest wind energy producing state. This boom in renewable energy in Texas occurred under the guidance of Rick Perry as governor, who later became the Secretary of Energy under President Trump. Now, when Rick Perry was nominated for Secretary of Energy, there was backlash to his appointment due to his fondness of the fossil fuel industry. So how did someone with a fondness for fossil fuels usher in a renewable boom in Texas? The answer is that Governor Perry’s priority was job creation, not clean energy. Which begs the following question, why can’t we have energy and economic freedom? I believe that we can, and I also believe that the proposed Biden infrastructure plan offers that exact argument as a potential selling point. Now I am not advocating for or against the bill in its entirety, simply looking at the green jobs that could be created by this bill and the economic impact it could have.

Photo Credit: Skypicsstudio on Freepik

Previously I discussed how the bill includes $174 billion ear marked for specifically to “win the EV market.” Investments from this portion of the bill will include spurring the domestic production of EV at every stage of the production process. This includes the production of raw materials, to parts, to electric batteries, to retrofitting/retooling factories to be able to domestically manufacture completed EVs. What’s more, it is my belief that investment from the public sector will spur more investment from the private sector. Similar to the Silicon Valley effect, where creating sectors of specialized labor attracts talent and investment. Outside of the Biden infrastructure plan, the US is already revving up its production of EVs with a recent reconciliation of SK Innovations and LG Energy which will allow for the continuation of construction on a $2.6 billion battery factory outside of Atlanta. This plant will employ up to 1,000 employees and the batteries produced here will only need to travel one state over to Tennessee to the Volkswagens plant in Chattanooga.

The Biden bill also proposes $100 billion in investment for plugging old oil and gas wells, cleaning up abandoned mines and building 10 facilities to demonstrate carbon capture capabilities for retrofitting steel mills, cement facilities, and chemical production plants. Carbon capture in factory setting relies heavily on gas emissions being funneled through a liquid solvent which absorbs all the emissions. The solvent is then moved into a regenerator which with heat removes the carbon, and finally enables the carbon to be routed to storage underground. The issue with carbon is that we have roughly two centuries worth of carbon already released into the atmosphere, and so to hedge the harmful effects of our carbon emissions its not enough to simply start collecting new carbon we produce, but we also need to start capturing carbon already out there. According to Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative, the biggest issue with capturing carbon from the air is an economic one. Carbon’s concentration in the air is only 0.04% and the lower this number gets, the harder it is going to be to capture atmospheric carbon. However, its also important to consider that we went from 280 parts per million carbon in the air at the start of the industrial revolution, to 415 parts per million now.

Photo Credit: Tascha1 on Freepik

Hopefully, the $100 billion earmarked for reducing carbon emissions will be a good starting off point to give carbon capture the economic jump start that it needs. According to Robert Pollin, an economics professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, this bill will create 1 million to 1.2 million jobs per year, specifically in the renewable and energy efficiency space. In addition, a majority of these “good paying” jobs are going to be in manufacturing and transportation and not require college degrees, thus lifting up much of the American working class that has been left behind over the last thirty years.

Is there anything in the Biden proposal that you’re excited about? Or are there any points that you find troublesome and are hesitant to get on board with…other than the price tag? Leave a comment below.

Oh the Places You’ll Go… and Charge

I want you to imagine the following scene: you are starting your cross-country road trip across the United States in your new electric car. You’re a few hundred miles away from home and your battery is running out. How are you going to finish this road trip? Today I wanted to talk about the infrastructure that we have and the infrastructure that we need in order to support the rising number of electric vehicles on our roads. As of February 2021, the United States is closing in on having 100,000 charging stations available. However, not all states are equally EV friendly, as California has about 32,000 stations, a third of the nation’s charging stations. The first bump in the road of our cross-country trip. However, we can still avoid this pothole. On the plus side, there are charging stations in each state. Some states, like Mississippi and North Dakota may be harder to travel through with only 19 charging stations per state, but with enough planning, it is possible.

Photo Credit: Naypopng on Freepik

Speaking of planning, next we turn our attention to the plans for EV charging stations in the US. President Biden has proposed a $174 million investment into the EV marketplace, including a goal to increase the number of EV charging stations to 500,000 by 2030. Additionally, this plan proposes tax incentives and rebates for consumers choosing to purchase not only electric vehicles but American made electric vehicles, thus helping throw the weight of American auto titans such as Ford and GE farther into the mix. What personally excites me about this is that I don’t think that the extent to which this proposal will be a boon to the charging station infrastructure has a ceiling of 500,000 stations.

I believe that making EVs more affordable to consumers will increase their market share, compounded by increased education about climate change. This will subsequently create a larger market demand for EV charging stations. To continue our road trip algorithm, it’s been a long day of driving and you’re pulling into town. Your battery is almost drained, and you have a choice between two motels for the night. One offers an EV charging station as you rest for the night and the second does not. Which motel do you choose? The point I am making here is that with the rise of EV prominence we will see that charging stations will become a supplemental good to other services/places of business. Another example of this would be grocery stores. If one store has a EV charging station working for you while you shop and the other does not, the store with the station will now have a competitive advantage.

Photo Credit: Uplyak on Freepik

In all the examples above I talked about a situation where charging your EV happened concurrently to something else. But what if it is mid-day, you have 200 miles to go before you reach your destination and you need a charge? Nothing is stopping you from stopping and charging your car, but how long will that take? Unfortunately, there is no general answer to this question as charge times will depend on three elements. The first is the power source. EV charging stations can either be Level 3 or Level 2 chargers. The TLDR of this is that a higher-level charger will have a higher level of direct current voltage which will charge your car faster. The second element in the equation is your car’s capacity to accept a charge. Each EV has a charger that converts the incoming direct current into alternating current that safely charges the battery. The higher capacity of the onboard charger, the faster your car will charge. The final element to charging time is the state of charge of your battery. That is what percentage of battery you have left. Between 20%-80% charge your battery will charge faster than at low or high percentages. This is a purposeful feature of the charging process as it helps protect the battery, ensures a long battery life, and protects it from over charging.

If you are planning a cross country electric road trip, leave a comment below about how you plan to tackle these speed bumps.