Energy

The Weekly Carboholic

resimg.jpgIn a new twist to geothermal energy, Dutch company Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV has developed what they’re calling the Road Energy System (RES). According to the Associated Press, RES embeds pipes under roads and parking lots and fills those pipes with water. As the water heats up over the summer months, it’s pumped down into aquifers where it’s essentially stored until the winter, when it’s piped back up again to heat buildings, help melt snow off roads and bridges, and generally reduce both weather-induced wear and tear and accidents. In addition, RES claims that this same system also cools the asphalt so that it suffers from fewer rutting problems due to heavily loaded trucks. And combining this system with a heat pump and a second, cold aquifer storage area enables both heating and cooling of roads and buildings both, saving wear and tear on the roads and heating/cooling energy costs for the buildings. (image from RoadEnergySystems.nl)

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According to the Guardian Unlimited, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) sent nine missions to Latin America and 14 around the world. And to what does OCHA blame for the higher than usual number of global missions? Global heating. Specifically, the OCHA statement said “Fourteen missions in one year is a higher number than usual for the emergency teams. Moreover, 10 out of the 14 missions, or 70% of the total, were in response to hurricanes and floods–possibly a glimpse of the shape of things to come given the reality of climate change.” Given that there’s an established Atlantic hurricane cycle that is unrelated to global heating, it’s a stretch to claim that hurricane relief is even possibly related thereto. Flooding may or may not be related, but one of the few things we can claim fairly is that a burgeoning global population demands a more robust national and international response to natural disasters of all kinds, whatever their ultimate cause may be.

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On December 28, Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe wrote a column entitled War and peace with the environment in which she proposed that “In 2007, consciousness rose with the thermostat. Scientists layered one set of facts on another. Gore wrapped these facts into an attention-grabbing movie. After Bali, the world’s leaders are just waiting for this presidency to pass. But we are still waiting for the renewable energy to fuel election-year politics.” The renewable energy Ms. Goodman was talking about is not wind energy or biofuel, but rather political will. Just because 2007 is the year that global heating finally stepped to the forefront of our collective minds doesn’t mean it will ultimately matter. As Ms. Goodman pointed out, the EPA used the passing of the latest energy bill to refuse California their carbon dioxide pollution and regulation waiver, global heating is in 12th place in the discussions of Democratic presidential candidates, President Bush’s envoys to the Bali conference did everything they could to torpedo the conference at the last minute (and nearly succeeded), and China is using the U.S. as an excuse not to do anything about their growing air pollution and carbon emissions problems. If our politicians need a renewal of political will, perhaps its time we voters force-fed them some.

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Just before Christmas, 180 United Methodist churches in north Texas gave themselves a present – a requirement that they all purchase 10% of their total electricity needs from renewable sources. The 10% usage for all of the churches combined adds up to about 4.2 million kW, or about the amount that a small subdivision would need over the course of a year, generated by nearly clean wind power (Texas is the national leader in wind power). The North Texas Conference voted in 2006 to become more environmentally friendly, and they used the renewal of their electricity contracts to push for more renewables. And because the North Texas Conference bargained as a unit, they anticipate that the cost to the conference will be flat or even reduced below the cost for standard nuclear or coal power. With a little luck, the success of the United Methodists will begin to be replicated around the United States.

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Globalization came under attack from a slightly different direction this past week in an AlterNet environment blog by Les Leopold titled Globalization Is Fueling Global Warming. In his post, Mr. Leopold points out that the “externality” of transportation. After all, does it make sense for a globalized world to manufacture compact florescent light bulbs for consumption in the U.S. in China, where the CO2 cost of shipping them could totally offset the reduction from coal plant emissions? Mr. Leopold’s main complaint, that globalization has led to the hyper-development of previously undeveloped nations and economies, is a strong argument for changing the policy of free trade that has brought us to a world where hundreds of high carbon emission coal plants are fired up every year just to serve the “needs” of first world consumers. Unfortunately, Mr. Leopold’s suggestion that some technologies must be manufactured at home because they’re too inefficient to make elsewhere and ship here sounds a great deal like protectionism reshaped. And his solutions to hyper-development don’t provide a means to enable the developing world to continue to develop, focusing on arresting their development instead of ensuring that their development is fueled with carbon neutral energy sources. Mr. Leopold has come firmly down on the side of consigning developing nations to be “developing” in perpetuity, a stance that is as immoral as consigning developing nations to drown under floods or starve due to global heating-driven droughts. We must challenge ourselves to come up with moral solutions to our energy and global heating problems that benefit everyone and bring along developed and developing nations alike, not fall into failed either-or dichotomies.

4 replies »

  1. Re the Road Energy System: Utterly amazing. What happened to the day when Americans could come up with something like that? Guess I shouldn’t complain. America developed the iPhone.

    Re global warming: On a day when oil just passed $100 per gallon for the first time, Americans in northern climes are secretly praying for it in hopes it will keep heating costs down.

  2. That Dutch system may have a track record. The company’s site notes an installation back in October 2000. The blurb also says the system would minimize the use of salt during the winter.

    I wonder if there’s a minimum size of installation. Hell, I’d pave my driveway if it would cut down on my heating bills.

    But you’re right. America invented the iPhone. Let’s take a bow.

  3. Russ and Denny – the .pdf file I have linked above has photos of actual installs that the company has done in the Netherlands, so it has something of a track record.

    And oil heat is just plain nuts – the only thing less efficient is electrical heat. But some parts of the U.S. are just too far away from natural gas heat for that to be cost-effective. My grandfather converted from oil to natural gas 10 years ago and had his energy bill go up, even though he used far fewer equivalent therms. Crazy.

  4. Wow, wow, wow! The RES system is an amazing thought…the kind of thinking that we need more of to address our environmental issues. More practical, less pie in the sky future think. Too bad it looks impossible to retrofit without deep resurfacing.

    I recently had a similiar conversation about CFL’s with someone; realism has such a nasty tendency to remove the wind from the sails of idealism. I have not read Leopold’s essay yet, but i don’t think that the developing world need be confined to perpetual development. Part of the problem with the globalization model as currently practiced is that it focuses so heavily on export, even in agriculture. If the developing world follows the path it is on, the world will be left with a trail of brown sites as manufacturing keeps moving along to the land of cheapest labor and fewest environmental constraints.

    Perhaps we should invest serious energy into finding an alternate way to power trans oceanic shipping. We might also want to rethink how we help “develop” the developing world. First they should be able to feed themselves without undue reliance on industrial inputs (petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial irrigation). Second, they should be encouraged to develop an economy not based on cheap exports, but rather meeting their own needs and those of their immediate neighbors. Globalization isn’t bad, how we practice it is. And this model of development goes equally for the “developed” world, one that needs a strong dose or redevelopment.

    Thanks for another thought provoking carboholic.

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