Oct 11th, 2013 | By Amy Leibrock
We just got back from the 2013 SXSW Eco conference, the third-annual Austin, Texas, meeting of movers and shakers in the environmental movement. We helped wrangle the event's food waste to the compost heap instead of the landfill as SXSW Eco's official Food & Waste Education Partner, and our own Jeremy Kranowitz and Gray Peckham took part in a panel discussion about Program-Related Investments. We also gathered lots of fodder for upcoming articles. In the meantime, here are crowdsourced highlights from the conference via Twitter.
Aug 22nd, 2013 | By Laura Waldman
Fuel economy is obviously very important to American drivers, and yet many drivers have no idea that poor driving habits can reduce fuel economy by as much as one-third. Drivers typically evaluate vehicles by their fuel economy, but simple actions like strong accelerations, abrupt braking, and idling can stand in the way of taking full advantage of a vehicle's efficiency potential. And guess what, there are apps for that. Here's a look at several that help save fuel.
Aug 22nd, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee
Natural gas as an alternative to oil has been a heated topic of debate. With the release of films like "Gaslands" and other calls for alarm in the media, it's become difficult to discern reality from unfounded anxiety. We've tried to clarify this complex issue by laying out the basic arguments and evidence from both sides of the camp. With the lower emissions of natural gas and its position as a currently cheaper and domestically produced alternative to imported oil, there seems to be a strong case for natural gas as an intermediate solution to help ease America's oil addiction while we refine more long-term sustainable alternatives.
Aug 6th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee
At Sustainable America we found this article from Ned Davis Research important to share. As the authors John LaForge and Warren Pies illuminate, there is a perfect storm brewing in Saudi Arabia which could likely drive oil prices higher than we may have imagined in the near future.
Jul 25th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers
At Sustainable America we find this article from 13D Research interesting and on point. We believe it helps highlight the vulnerabilities of our economy to global oil supply, and the need for reducing our reliance on oil for transportation uses.
Jul 5th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee
Information-based energy efficiency (IBEE) is the new buzz in large scale energy savings, and Opower is one of the companies leading the pack. Utilitizing the power of social media and the information gleaned from massive amounts of data, Opower is helping Americans save incredible amounts of energy (and plenty of money) each month.
Jun 7th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee
Exit the 405 Freeway at Euclid Ave and you’ll find the very first hydrogen fueling station that is converting sewage to fuel. This fueling station is located at the Fountain Valley sewage treatment plant, part of the Orange County Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment system.
On opening day in August of 2011, director of the program Scott Samuelson called it “a paradigm shift” explaining that “We’re taking an endless stream of human waste and transforming it to transportation fuel and electricity. This is the first time this has ever been done.” (source) The fuel comes from ‘digesters’, bacteria that break down the human waste into a biogas.
With shiny, new white and green gas pumps, the station is capable of fueling 30 cars a day currently. It also produces some 250 kw of power for use by the wastewater treatment plant. The on-site nature of the system takes any transportation logistics out of the equation making it a truly sustainable alternative.
As part of California’s goal to create a ‘hydrogen highway’ the station is part of a 3 year demonstration project. If it goes well, you can expect to see these rolled out in more locations across the state.
May 24th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee
What is Peak Oil?
Peak oil is not the end of oil. It’s not as if all the reserves in the world are just going to dry up. Rather, it’s the end of cheap and available oil, something we humans have become quite used to in the last 100 or so years.
EROEI is a term often tossed around in this field of study. It stands for Energy Return on Energy Investment. What this measures is how much energy you create or extract minus the energy you spent during the process. For example, when oil was really cheap and more easily available in 1930, the EROEI was about 100:1. In 2004, when extraction had become much more difficult and costly, it was approximately 11-18:1. That is a significant difference.
When the EROEI is less than 1:1 that energy source becomes what is called an “energy sink” and is no longer feasible from a practical economic perspective. You can’t use more energy to extract the energy that you plan to use, it’s simple math. Peak oil means that the cost to extract oil from the ground will create such low EROEI that oil will no longer make sense as a primary energy source.
This is concerning for many reasons:
- Our food supply in America is directly tied to the very extensive shipping and distribution industry which relies on cheap and available oil.
- Our food supply is also dependent on petroleum products in the form of fertilizers and the fuel used to run the machines that are a backbone of the industrial farming sector.
- Even alternative energy sources as they stand now require parts and pieces that are made with petroleum products. We still do not have a truly "renewable" energy source.
- All the renewable energy sources available today do not produce nearly enough energy to replace the amount of oil Americans use on a daily basis.
It is possible for America to get on a speedy path to sustainability, but it will take a serious and concerted dedication of resources and innovation to achieve real energy and food security. Ready… set… go!
May 24th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee
I imagine some day hundreds of years from now, when a future humanoid describes the fossil fuel era, they may say something like this:
Humans found the decomposed bodies of long dead organisms big and small buried under the ground. They created a way to burn this sludge and create energy that they used to power all kinds of machines. Unfortunately, the burning of this sludge created all kinds of other problems in the air, water, soil and in the bodies of living beings. Then, the humans realized that there were only so many organisms buried under the ground and they couldn’t keep burning them forever.
The term fossil fuels refers to the fuel sources coal, petroleum and natural gas which are all made from the decomposed bodies of once living organisms. It takes millions of years for the bodies of these once living creatures to become the fossil fuels that we use for creating energy today.
We live in a peculiar time. With fossil fuels discovered just a few hundred years ago, we have been depleting a resource that took millions of years to create at a pace that is clearly unsustainable into the future. Yet, until quite recently humankind has not been compelled to change in any significant way. The result is a global economic system that is intimately and perilously dependent on these buried dead organisms.
While there are debates about the reality of Peak Oil, it is clear that we will need to get creative about alternative forms of energy, quickly.
The rising price of oil is unsustainable for America’s economy. In addition, our leaders have acknowledged that our dependency on imported fossil fuels has become a matter of national security. It is clear that alternative renewable energy sources and energy efficiency will be key to creating a sustainable future for America and for the world.