January 24, 2007 7:15 AM PST

Why it's not easy being green

PALM DESERT, Calif.--Numerous technologies exist to curb energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that consumers lack the willpower to embrace them, according to at least one energy expert.

"This country only gets excited about energy when oil prices get high," Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said during a presentation at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit taking place here. "We do have a problem with how serious we are about our energy challenges."

Arvizu, who advises the White House on energy policy, underscored the point by displaying pie charts detailing U.S. and global energy consumption at the present and projected for 2030.

In 2004, oil accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. energy budget, while coal took up 26 percent. Natural gas accounted for 21 percent; nuclear power, 6 percent; and renewable energy, 7 percent.

Flash forward to 2030. The figures are almost identical, with oil sticking at 40 percent and renewable actually dropping to 6 percent.

The worldwide figures aren't much better. Renewable energy accounted for 14 percent in 2002 and is projected to be at 14 percent again in 2030. While the renewable figure is higher worldwide, that's only because many people in emerging nations rely on dung and wood fires, which account for a disproportionate amount of those renewable energy sources.

The problem is twofold. One, energy demand continues to increase. Overall, the world now uses about 13.5 terawatts of energy a year: the figure includes oil, electrical power and other sources of energy. That figure will rise to 20 terawatts per year by 2050.

Thus, the demand for energy is outstripping the ability of solar, wind and other purveyors of alternative energy to displace traditional fossil fuels.

Second, installing an alternative-energy infrastructure isn't cheap, despite the influx of venture money into the field and the strong demand for technologies such as solar. If oil drops below $55 a barrel, most biofuel concepts will be unprofitable, Arvizu projected. Even if oil doesn't drop that low, it will cost a lot to get an ethanol-solar-wind society off the ground.

To meet the Department of Energy's goal of making ethanol 30 percent of the U.S. transportation fuel budget, fuel manufacturers will have to invest $100 billion in refineries. To make wind power 20 percent of the source of the electricity in the U.S., it will take $500 billion in infrastructure investments.

After depressing the crowd, however, Arvizu did sound some optimistic notes. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other national labs are working to transfer technologies out of the labs to private-sector companies. Alternative energy is popular with the population at large and many politicians. In a discussion with investors and reporters after his speech, he even said that President Bush is the greenest member of the Cabinet.

What's more, current energy infrastructure isn't that efficient. Sixty-two percent of the energy consumed in America today is lost through transmission and general inefficiency. In other words, it doesn't go toward running your car or keeping your lights on.

"Sixty-two percent is an untenable amount of waste," he said. "Energy efficiency should be our No. 1 priority."

Other scientists, such as Stephen Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have said that conservation can provide gains in energy efficiency.

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Facts & Figures ???
"In 2004, oil accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. oil budget, while coal took up 26 percent. Natural gas accounted for 21 percent and nuclear power accounted for 6 percent. Renewable energy accounted for 7 percent. "

---Wouldn't that be 'energy budget'? Do you guys even have editors? Well at least it adds to 100%...oh wait:

"Flash forward to 2030. Oil is 40 percent, coal is 23 percent, natural gas is 23 percent and renewable is 6 percent."

---Only 92% and nuclear managed to just disappear altogether. I take it this is a projection without new plants being built, though 4 are already in the drawing plant. Would be nice to mention it of course?

"What's more, current energy infrastructure isn't that efficient. Approximately 62 percent of the energy consumed in America today is lost through transmission and general inefficiency. In other words, it doesn't go to run your car or keep your lights on."

---62%: maybe, but transformers are the most efficient items we as humanity can produce, though some may lose 20%; a loss of under 10% is considered normal and 5% ideal.... So 10% loss right away and let's give it a 20% loss for electrical lines (a very liberal figure). So of the energy produced at a power plant, let us say 70% will get to you. If you are using all of that electricity to drive incandescent light bulbs, then you are only 7% efficient, because they are 10% efficient in turning electricity to light. It shows you that it's all about context and this article lacks it...

Best thing I learned from the article: Buy more efficient items... ah I knew that.
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Along the same lines...
From the article:
"Overall, the world now uses about 13.5 terawatts of energy a year: the figure includes oil, electrical power and other sources of energy. That figure will rise to 20 terawatts per year by 2050."

Terawatt is a measure of power -- in this context, the rate at which energy is consumed. The statement that we use "13.5 terawatts of energy a year" is nonsensical. Energy is typically measured in Joules or, in the case of commercial energy, kilowatt-hours.
Posted by tazmanian42 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Was World War II Easy?
Was sacrificing, rationing, retooling and redistributing the workforce to fight a World War easy? Heck, no. That doesn't mean it can't, or shouldn't, be done. Americans, and the whole world, can Get Green by simply agreeing there is a problem and dedicating ourselves to fixing it, even if it means major changes to our lifestyles.

Remember, sacrifices are easier when everyone is sacrificing together.
Posted by Steve Jordan (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, but ...
My guess is that you did not experience the tremendous about of propaganda that created a "spirit of sacrifice" during the Second World War. I am not implying that this was a bad thing. I am just asking who would be willing to mount such an effort today. It is not going to come from any of the leading advertising agencies (the ultimate experts in propaganda); they are too busy trying to satisfy their clients, who, in turn, are too busy trying to sell more stuff (whatever that stuff may be).

Trying to reduce this to a problem of will is specious logic. You have to get at the MOTIVES behind the will. As long as those motives are grounded in maximizing consumerism, the absence of will is an "intuitively obvious" consequence!
Posted by ghostofitpast (199 comments )
Link Flag
The problem is lobbyists and corruption
Our government knows that the way to solve the problem is to change the taxation structure. i.e. stop subsidizing development of fossil sources, and tax energy consumption, which drives the cost up and motivates consumers to find low-energy solutions. Reduce other forms of taxation -- e.g. income tax, sales tax, property tax, inheritance tax. The problem is that the energy lobby will not let this happen.
Posted by gw188397 (45 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Digital TV Mandate
The sad part is we can have a digital tv mandate by such and such a date and not a mandatory all cars must burn e-85 by such and such a date...

Congress follows the people and we all know we care more about our hdtv, than energy.
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
Link Flag
No problem at all
The cost of maintaining military forces in the Middle East, tens of $B per year not including the present war (which adds at least $100B/year) is presently paid for out of general tax revenues. That should be abolished, and the cost paid for at the gas pump and for heating oil, where it belongs. The price per gallon will be at least $5, but revenue neutral to the average taxpayer.

Result: No more problems with conservation, or quibbles about the cost of switching to energy saving technologies.
Posted by Jim1900 (821 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not until your bombed, no
Yes, let us all stop fighting terorrism, then we can all spend that money switching to energy saving technologies while our country is being bombed.
That's wise.
Welcome to the real world, commy.
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
Not until your bombed, no
Yes, let us all stop fighting terorrism, then we can all spend that money switching to energy saving technologies while our country is being bombed.
That's wise.
Welcome to the real world, commy.
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
 

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