Saturday, February 17, 2007


I keep on changing the sense of terms in what I'm trying to do here. So, ghost energy is the opposite of Real Energy, borrowing energy is about realizing the cost of clean up rather than depleting a resource and saving energy is about storage rather than turning off the lights. This is pretty normal when your trying to work out a new way of looking at things since there is a need to avoid old habits. But now I'm forced to make up a term because I've already used saving energy for another purpose. This is fine since I'm still following McDonough who has railed against the ecoefficiency movement as completely uninteresting. I think he's done this to be provocative, and many of my friends and corespondents are big on ecoefficiency, so I'm going to choose a more neutral term, trimming energy. Besides, I'm interested in just about everything, and I see a lot of innovation going into trimming our energy use around the edges. I think that the term trimming also evokes a sense of attentiveness, as in "Sister help to trim the sail, Alleluia!" In deference to McDonough though I should say he has a point: participation in Real Energy is much more visceral than the detailed work of scrimping for savings here and there.

I went to the Great Energy Efficiency Day IV at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in DC on Wednesday with one main goal. I wanted to rent solar panels to James Rogers, Chairman, President and CEO of Duke Energy. He was speaking when I got there. I didn't talk with him because he was off to an interview afterwards, but I did leave my card with his assistant. So, we'll see how that goes. I was thinking of him because he is one of the biggest polluters but he wants to do something about it. Putting solar panels on his house would help. Also, I thought it might be a link in an energy web that could mimic an ecological web. Once I was there, I probably should have approached Alan Kelly of ExxonMobil on the same principle, but his presentation was so self-serving and misleading in the context of the meeting that I just didn't have the stomach for it. I'm never going to be any good at sales if I keep up this judgemental attitude though. Still, I will make one remark: You keep on harping on how energy efficiency is such a long term investment, and it is only big players like you who can afford to take such a long view and manage this sort of thing. Little players like citizens or governments really shouldn't bother their little heads about it. So, you've had a good long 16 years since Kyoto to make your investments yet the fruits of your plan are so withered that it is laughable. You're projecting a huge increase in fossil fuel use out to 2030. Would it not be better to say that big players like you are simply so inflexible in your complacency that adequate innovation is just beyond you? Still, it was nice of you to mention that global warming "may" be a problem.

The event, The Great Energy Efficiency Day IV, was a corporate sponsored political event and it is encouraging that so many companies are looking hard at the real problems we are having with ghost energy. So what solutions does trimming energy provide? Since we are really in a crisis, it actually has to be a big part of the near term approaches to the problem. Sorry, Alan, efficiency is a quick solution, not a sometime after 2030 solution. There is enough available with present technology to trim 20 to 30% of our ghost energy consumption, enough to eliminate the need for any new ghost energy plants according to David Wooley of the Energy Foundation. The point was made over and over again that trimming energy costs much much less that bringing on more ghost energy borrowing capacity, and that was in terms of dollars spent, not warming mitigation costs.

Much of the talk was about how to encourage the adoption of that technology. I got a huge rise out of Phil Sharp when I pointed out that, in his analysis, the options boiled down to a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system which left out what Americans usually do during a war: they ration. He went on about burning the printed rations from the Carter administration during the Reagan administration and huge administrative costs and all that. Seems to me that the Reagan administration burned a lot of energy bridges. But his main theme is that there is no political will to ask any sacrifice of the American people. I was a little saddened that this point got applause from the front rows because it shows little faith in America's people. I guess cynicism grows as you move up the pecking order. Speaking with a bright guy from Dow afterwards, we agreed that cap-and-trade was rationing for the big players to enjoy. Polluters get to monopolize their pollution niche. Still, he wanted to consider a sector-by-sector approach. I think this makes sense as a friendly competition in the way that the Chicago Climate Exchange runs things, but as a regulatory matter it is still prescribing that polluting is OK. I also spoke a little with Phil Sharp after the ration burning speech and pointed out that if you do cap-and-trade with rations to citizens, then everyone's creativity is brought to bear in making decisions about carbon. He still worried about having two currencies, though I pointed out that we already use both cash and postage stamps. He's a smart guy too, so maybe he'll think about it more.

There was also talk of reregulating utilities. The idea here was to make the compensation for utilities proportional to increased efficiency rather than increased energy use. Well, if you think about it, utilities aren't really deregulated since they are still monopolies, it is just that they write their own regulations these days. With Real Energy, they'll be ripe for actual deregulation. You can find some thinking about this relying on government subsidies to utilities here from Reid Detchon's web site.

There were a few people there who were not wearing suits. A few people from the Sierra Club and Josh Forgotson and we had a good chat about Step it up 2007, an April 14 political event, but this time not a corporate event. I also met a good listener, Wendy Burt from DOE.

So, there are many ways to trim energy use which work and can reduce our ghost energy use by 20 to 30% in a short amount of time, short enough to meet the obligations we negotiated at Kyoto. There are also many lumbering approaches to how these might be implemented. Perhaps a forum less influenced by the slow-go thinking of the big players would be the best place to figure that part out.

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