Monday, December 21, 2009

Coal on the Decline

Articles out of Florida say that the next planned coal fired power plant has been cancelled. This markes a milestone of sorts, since it was partially an economic decision. The Seminole Electric Cooperative has cited...
- Uncertainty - there might be new fees on carbon intensive fuels or coal in particular
- Lower cost Natural Gas - the cleaner fuel seems more abundant with less risk of carbon tariffs
- Energy efficiency measures (from a scaled back economy and from Federal incentives) reduce demand
- Alternative Power, especially solar, is cheaper and in greater demand from power consumers

To my thinking, the cost of coal must now suffer with the additional cost of uncertainty in regulation when competing with the other energy sources.
Most alternative energies don't face the kind of minimum start-up size issues that coal and gas face. Installing a ten megawatt facility of wind or solar one megawatt at a time isn't much more expensive than installing it all at once. This allows a utility more financial flexibility in a fiscal landscape with less freely flowing capital. There might even be additional savings from falling wind & solar prices during an extended project. And there are no fuel costs with wind or solar, which brings in a owning vs. renting calculation.

It is analogous to weighing whether one should rent an entire home, or, for just a little bit more per room, buy that home one room at a time as your budget allows, while being able to fully utilize each of the rooms one has purchased. What resident wouldn't prefer the second option? I think the owning vs. renting model will be a major motivator for the more fiscally astute companies and landowners to chose wind & solar.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Efficient Carbon Fiber Airplanes

Boeing has just done a test flight for their new 787 Dreamliner. I usually don't fawn over a big corporation's newest product launch, but this one is a highlight for efficiency. It is mostly made from carbon fiber composites and titanium, uses more efficient engines and should save an airline 20% on fuel costs.These fuel savings will constitute huge reductions on greenhouse gas emissions since flight is one of the most CO2 intensive activities one can pursue. A couple percent savings with the largest wasters can have a bigger effect than a huge savings in less wasteful sectors.
Amory Lovins of RMI has presented evidence linking energy efficiency with improved profits at some major corporations. There are now sustainability MBA programs at institutions like the Presidio College that are training the next generation of managers and executives. This profit oriented demographic will uses their newly acquired efficiency paradigms to drive the more forward thinking corporations towards sustainability as a competitive strategy. And being less competitive will quickly drive the other corporations towards efficiency. As Lovins says, "We will change their minds or their managers."
Companies like FiberForge will be cranking out the new ultra-light, ultra-strong materials to meet an ever rising demand. A concept I would find conceptually appealing would be generating some of those carbon fibers from CO2 emissions. To sequester carbon within the industrial materials that will reduce the CO2 emissions has a kind of intellectual symmetry that is very satisfying.