If you have ever wondered how much energy is wasted in the United States, then look no further than this chart from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. What your are looking at here shows how many Quads (Quadrillion BTU’s) of energy is produced from each source of energy . . . and how much is wasted through inefficient processes or simply lost as heat energy. In 2011 more than half (57%) of the energy produced was rejected. In terms of electricity generation, almost 2/3 of the potential energy is lost. Cogeneration plants achieve a much higher efficiency level than conventional coal or natural gas plants. In the transportation sector the efficiency ratio is even worse with only 25% of the energy produced actually being used. If there are any entrepreneurs out there, I see many opportunities for improvements here. In fact, I think this chart could show the next trillion dollar opportunity!
I read an interesting article in The Economist this week called Batteries Included? The Future of Energy that highlighted the new developments in battery technology that aims to usher in a new era of free and renewable energy. Storage has been the traditional problem with renewable energy deployment as the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow. Our current battery technology is simply too costly and not efficient enough to store energy produced from renewable sources for use at a later time. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research just received a $120 million grant from the Department of Energy in order to make batteries 5x more powerful at 1/5th the price. The key to achieving this goal is to leverage the “Materials Program” of MIT to find new materials that are more efficient than the now infamous lithium-ion battery found in hybrids and grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners after recent incidents of overheating. Examples of these new opportunities include using magnesium atoms, which contain 2 valence electrons, or aluminum with 3, instead of lithium atoms that contain only 1. The extra electron increases the amount of energy that can be stored.
In terms of grid-scale energy storage, JCESR is researching flow batteries that hold a charge in the electrolyte itself rather than inside a cell as conventional batteries do. This allows flow batteries to store massive amounts of energy, such as that from wind farms and commercial solar farms. However, these too face limitations.
Improvements in energy storage technology will allow renewable energy systems to play a larger role in society. Advanced research using new technologies will eventually make renewable products cost competitive with conventional products. Instances include new plug-in electric cars that can drive for days without being recharged and even grid-sized batteries that harness energy from wind and solar farms and produce the energy when and where it is needed. Hopefully these technologies will prove better than anticipated and we can improve our economy and our environment at the same time.
Well Mr. President, you proved me wrong. “Climate Change” was mentioned a total of 3 times during your SOTU speech last night. But more importantly was the context in which you used the phrase such as:
But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.
The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
The bill that Obama mentioned was the 2007 Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act that proposed a reduction to 2004 levels by 2012, 1990 levels by 2020, and 60% below 1990 levels by 2050. This can be done. We need to evaluate how we use energy and how we can make our products more efficient. As any homeowner knows, wasted energy is wasted money and right know we can’t afford it.
The State of the Union speech marking the beginning of a Presidents second term has historically been a chance for the President to lay out big, hairy, audacious goals for the upcoming administration. Reagan had tax reform, Clinton had education, and GW had Social Security reform. Some were achieved while others failed. So too tonight, Obama will lay out his agenda for the next four years. Given the economic condition of the US right now, it is rightly expected that jobs will be a major theme of the speech, but some others for consideration:
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Missing from this list is Climate Change. Will the President even mention those words tonight? With North Korea’s nuclear test last night, I expect the President to devote more time and attention to foreign policy issues rather than outlining climate initiatives. Prove me wrong Mr. President.
Question for my readers: Will Obama mention Climate Change or Renewable Energy in tonight’s State of the Union address?