Will Blog for Experience: Patrick

I'm a student blogger for Experience.com and if my blog gets the most readers out of these 5 blogs I will be going to Washington, D.C. for a job shadow at the Department of Energy, courtesy of CBCampus. Experience is a career site specifically for college students & alumni. They provide extraordinary job opportunities, real-world insights, and a network of inspirational role-models to help students explore and launch careers they love. Keep reading my blog if you want me to lead this challenge!

Experience, Inc.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose talks alternative energy.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Russia supplies natural gas to much of Europe, and the state-owned gas company can make ridiculous threats because of it. Last year Russia demanded a price increase of over 400%, which Ukraine refused to pay, leaving much of the state in the cold. This winter similar threats have been made to Georgia and Belarus. Russia uses it's power to discourage former Soviet Union, generally pro-Russian states, from going over to the EU and being more pro-European.

This just illustrates the importance of energy independence. Everyone relies on energy, and dependence on foreign nations for these resources just makes energy a political bargaining tool. The US government clearly doesn't like the Venezuelan government, but there's nothing to be done because any hostile action would result in a drastic cut in energy supplies to the US. The more energy we generate at home the less constrained we are in international relations.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sweden's Energy Policy

The goal of Sweden's energy policy is to "create conditions for efficient and sustainable energy use, as well as a cost-effective Swedish energy supply with minimum negative impact on health, the environment and the climate." Sounds like a good policy to me. Here's how they do it:
  • Fossil-fuel free electricy: 1/2 Nuclear, 1/2 Hydro
  • Switching from oil as the main heating fuel to biomass
  • Pioneering flue gas desulphurization, reducing acid rain
  • Green certificates: All electricity users must by them, corresponding to a % of their energy usage.
  • Energy taxes
    • Started taxing carbon dioxide in 1991 to encourage efficiency and the use of bio fuels
    • 2001 green tax reform: Taxes will be increased by 3,200 million (is that 3.2?) Euros over the next 10 years
    • Energy taxes account for 10% of Swedish state revenue
  • Part of the European Union emissions trading scheme
Green Certificates

Friday, December 15, 2006

Energy Forcasting

EIA: The greatest failure of them all?

The Energy Information Administration is supposed to be a largely independent government organization to provide data on the future of energy supplies. They seem to continually project increasing oil and gas production, and lower prices. This article argues that the EIA is not doing nearly enough to force action on an impending energy crisis. It's worth a read.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tom Friedman is my hero

Tom Friedman regularly writes columns for the NYT on energy. They are fairly good columns. His column in October, "The Energy Mandate" , first got me hooked. In it, he argues energy should not be a priority issue, it should be the priority issue.

Plus, he's funny. From the video: "The issue green has been named by its opponents...They named it...vaguely french."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Top 10 Future Energy Solutions

Current energy consumption, vastly from fossil fuels, has dangerous environmental consequences. The quantity of energy we use will only go up in the near future. Here are 10 possible sources of energy to help meet this need:

10 - Hydrogen

While not an energy source itself, hydrogen fuel is a great energy storage medium. It can be produced anywhere from water, has a very good energy to weight ratio, and when combusted, gives off water vapor (a natural greenhouse gas). But if we're going to produce hydrogen with fossil fuels, we might as well be burning fossil fuels for energy; it's more efficient.

9 - Pervasive Solar Photovoltaics

The solar pv technology we have today, while expensive and inefficient, could make a significant impact if we being to make greater use of it. Energy from the sun is essentially unlimited, and once the cell is manufactured there are almost no maintenance costs. Things like cars assisted by solar power, solar shingles, and solar backpacks could all reduce the amount of energy we use from other sources every day. The fact that these solutions are large decentralized and grid-independent provides an added benefit.

8 - Gratzel Solar Cells

Otherwise known as dye-sensitized solar cells, these solar cells could be 1/5 the cost of conventional solar cells. Plus you avoid the energy-intensive process of getting perfect silicon wafers. See this interview with the inventor for a better idea. The energy efficiency of these cells still needs some work, but it could get up to 33%, using the wonders of nanotechnology.

7 - Geothermal Energy

Geothermal power comes from high temperatures deep beneath the earth's surface. A typical geothermal plant can easily get 100MW of electricity, a number hard to fathom coming from a wind or solar farm.

This graph shows power consumption in Iceland, where geothermal is a very economical energy source, and can easily provide a lot of capacity.
6 - Wave Power

A rising wave certainly has energy, and waves are so pervasive that we could harvest them for very real quantities of energy. Devices such as the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter sit semi-submerged on the water's surface. As joints bend, oil is pushed through hydraulic motors to produce electricity. See an animation here. Three have already been delivered to Portugal, where they will produce a combined 2.25MW of power.

5 - Solar Thermal

The sun can easily be used to harness energy in terms of heat; both for hot water applications, and to use that hot water to generate electricity. Large solar thermal power plants can be built. The SEGS system in California has a capacity of 350 MW. Solar thermal has the potential to make a significant energy contribution in areas with large amounts of solar insolation.

4 - Nuclear Power (Thorium Based)

In terms of currently available technology, it is hard to argue with nuclear. The third generation of reactors are extremely safe, and the increasing reliance on passive safety features should allay most concerns. It generates a very small quantity of highly toxic waste, which I would argue is better than the inane quantities of less toxic waste found in coal plants. Reprocessing is a simple way to reduce the quantity of this waste, but that leaves you with plutonium sitting around, raising proliferation concerns. Nuclear energy generates a lot of energy on a small amount of land, and releases no carbon dioxide.

Using Thorium as a nuclear fuel would make nuclear power even better. You drastically reduce the quantity of waste produced, eliminate meltdown and most proliferation concerns, and create a much more efficient reactor. Plus, thorium is about three times more abundant than uranium.

3 - Wind Power

Wind energy is one of the most economical solutions of the "pure renewable" sources. It consumes no fuel in operation, giving off no harmful greenhouse gases. It has potential in both large-scale wind farms and small scale implementation on a home by home basis. See this video on the Aeroturbine for a novel idea of urban and suburban wind power. Buildings can start producing more energy than they consume.

And please don't be swayed by the myth that wind turbines will kill all the world's birds. The amount of birds killed is negligible compared to other human structures such as power lines and high-rise buildings.

2 - Clean Coal

This article from the December issue of Discover is a great read about clean coal. It is generally a combination of scrubbers for sulfurs, nitrogens, and particulates combined with carbon sequestration. Another possible solution is coal gasification. Converting solid coal into a gas allows it to burner cleaner and more efficiently.

While coal isn't nearly as "clean" as the other energy sources mentioned here, I put it this high on the list because of the prevalence of the fuel. There is a lot of coal in this world, and it is cheap and easy to convert to electricity. It's hard to argue with the economics of it. While we may run out of oil in a few decades, coal will last a few centuries. Make our coal plants cleaner, and you have a very politically attractive solution to a large problem.

1 - Artificial Photosynthesis

Solar energy is the most attractive option, because, in it's base form, that is where Earth gets pretty much all of its energy. Plants do a very efficient job of converting this energy into useful forms; our solar cells can't compare. Either for straight up electricity, or hydrogen generation, artificial photosynthesis could solve many of our energy problems. Janine Benyus has a chapter on it in her book Biomimicry, which I highly recommend.

This is a very long term solution; while much progress has been made in the past decades (using the wonders of nanotechnology and such) there is still a lot to be done.

Update: Thanks for all your comments folks. There is no silver bullet to solve our energy problems, and these are just a subset of some parts to the solution. Starting a good global discussion is key.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fun Link

Tonight I finally got around to watching the conversation with Tom Daschle and Barack Obama on energy and climate change, sponsored by CampusProgress and the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

It definitely gives me confidence to hear such important figures spell it out.

Watch it at CampusProgress

Energy Efficiency

One easy way to curb the growth in consumption: Energy Efficiency

Energy Consumption


When you really get down to it, energy is all about numbers. So let's dig right in.
US energy consumption has steadily increased since World War II. Total consumption 2001 was 96,246 quadrillion BTU (DOE). The average annual increase is 1%, parallel to the average annual increase in population. This implies our increases in consumption are being fairly well balanced by increases in efficiency.

Per Capita

On a worldwide scale, what's more applicable is a per-capita measure of consumption. According to the World Resources Institute, in 2003 the US used 7794.8 kilograms of oil-equivalent per person. China is 1,138.3, the UK 3,913.1, and Venezuela is 2,057.0 (the UN also has similar results, if you're concerned about bias).

Per Dollar

The current administration likes to portray the issue in terms of energy consumption per dollar GDP, aka energy intensity. They like this method because it has been steadily decreasing since 1980.

I think this is simply an easy way to ignore an impending problem. The GDP is simply not the best way to measure success. I don't think I can illustrate this any better than William McDonough did in this book Cradle to Cradle:
"The GDP as a measure of progress emerged in an era when natural resources still seemed unlimited and "quality of life" meant high economic standards of living. But if prosperity is judged by increased economic activity, then car accidents, hospital visits, illnesses (such as cancer), and toxic spills are all signs of prosperity. Loss of resources, cultural depletion, negative social and environmental effects, reduction of quality of life-these ills can all be taking place, an entire region can be in decline, yet they are all negated by a simplistic economic figure that says economic life is good."


In the US, renewable energy sources contribute 813 Trillion BTU, which sounds like a large number, but is only a mere 3% of total consumption. The vast majority of that is from biomass.

Why should I care?

Simply put, that's a lot of energy. For any of you who are scientifically inclined, 100 quadrillion BTU is 1.05 × 1011 giga-joules. Increase that by 1%/year for 30 years, and you've got an even larger number. Since 97% of that comes from non-renewable sources, that means once they're gone, we're in a bit of pickle.

Sorry if that was a bit dry and engineering-speak sounding; it will get better. There are plenty of prospects for the future, and believe me, we won't run out of energy. In under 10 days, China will be hosting an energy meeting with the US and other major consumers; I look forward to hearing what comes out of this.

Up Next: Renewable Energy

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Energy & Me

Welcome folks. This is an energy blog. We in America use an inordinate amount of energy to maintain our chosen lifestyle. Let me be clear: this is not a bad thing. Energy allows us to heat our homes, communicate across large distances, stay healthy, watch movies, and do all sorts of fun things. I'm concerned the way we generate this energy is not sustainable; changes are needed if we want to maintain this great way of life. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the concept of bright green environmentalism.

Who is this?

Let's back up a bit: I'm a Senior at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. I've been invited by Experience.com to spend a view weeks blogging on the topic of energy. Why would I do this? Simple: Energy is something I am passionate about. I am a mechanical engineer, and throughout my four years here I've worked with the local chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World on projects related to energy, from campaigning for wind power on campus to designing a portable solar power kit. I see sustainable energy as the future; we must be able to supply our daily needs without compromising the ability of future generations to live life just like we do, hopefully better. That's why I'm currently planning to go on to graduate school next year and get a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, with a focus on energy systems. I want to work in industry, creating products that will change the world. I make no attempt to be modest; my goals are ambitious. It's not an easy problem to solve; but I am just one of many bright people on this country who aren't afraid to think outside the box in tackling it.

What's going on here?

Energy is a giant issue. How does one sum it up in a few posts? I'm going to try to use this space to illustrate the many ways that improvements can be made. I'll try to keep it updated with what's going on in the industry at the moment, what's to come, and perhaps what has been forgotten.

1st up: US Energy Consumption