The Dark Side of Fracking

This week I read an article from InsideClimate News by Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones. The article looks into the dark side of “fracking”, but especially the problem that comes when the oil is transported in unsafe railcars. There is a huge oil boom happening right now in North Dakota, on top of a formation called the “Bakkan Shale”.  There is a large amount of oil locked into this shale rock.  For many years, people have known this, however we have never known how to extract the oil.

A process called “fracking” has been developed in just the last few years.  It involves high-pressure jets of water, shot into the shale to fracture it.  Below in Figure 1 is an image that shows the actual process of fracking. Figure 2 shows a real-life example of fracking. Fracking is when you take a drill and drill down into an area of the Earth’s surface prior to a high pressure water formula gets inserted into the rock.

Figure 1:                                                                                     Figure 2:

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.32.14 PM                Gas Drilling Western Politics

This is the reason why our gas prices have gone down so much recently!  Two years ago, it was common to find gas above $4.00 a gallon.  Today, much gas is under $3.00 per gallon.  The fracking craze has given the US a giant shot of oil, and for the first time we are out-producing most other countries in the world.

Sounds good?  Yes, of course! However don’t forget that there are some downsides: Fracking is very dangerous and extremely polluting.  The water that comes out of the mines, after being shot in at high speeds and pressures, is contaminated with all sorts of heavy metals and petroleum byproducts.  It is a very dangerous process and also it is quite difficult to dispose of.

Second: once the oil is extracted, it has to be transported.  That was the issue brought up in the article, that when a train full of crude oil was going through Canada, it blew up and basically destroyed the entire town of Lac Magantic.  This resulted in 47 people being killed.  Also, this happened just last year!  Transporting oil is always a dirty, filthy job.

Some other instances where this was a problem was in Aliceville, Ala.;Casselton, ND.; New Brunswick, Canada.; and Lynchburg, VA. However, I find it interesting that I haven’t heard of any of these explosions on the nightly news. Why is that? In fact, many of us today probably are not even really aware of how extensive the fracking industry actually is, as well as we probably don’t realize how much pollution derives from it.

Finally, even if more oil was invited by a clean wizard with no waste or pollution at all, whenever a fossil fuel is burned it creates more CO2 for the atmosphere.  This contributes to climate change.

Sources:

Article: http://stories.weather.com/boom

Images: (Google images): http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/19/group-seeks-frackingbanintexastown.html

http://globalpoliticalinsight.com/2014/09/01/fracking-where-britain-stands/

Nuclear power good or bad?

Nuclear energy is cheap to produce unlike fossil fuel based energy. When nuclear energy is used there is a baseline of energy that is produced, that will stay the same no matter the conditions; unlike wind, or solar power. A plants production level can be lowered if there is a lot of energy from the sun or wind available, but it can also be raised if there is less energy available from these sources. Nuclear power plants create relatively low pollution because humans do not have to harvest resources from the ground as we do with oil. This lack of harvesting lessens the environmental impact of the nuclear power plants, but nuclear power plants are still dangerous to animals due to the radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants mainly use uranium for fuel, but other substances such as thorium. There is enough uranium available in the earth to produce energy at our current rate for eighty years. Nuclear energy is not a renewable source of energy but with the use of breeder reactors, or nuclear fusion we could possibly turn nuclear power into a sustainable energy source. With innovations in atomic fusion, we are getting closer and closer to being able to create a completely renewable source of energy. At this moment in time using these options to make renewable energy is not practical, but with time I think that they will be. The energy released in a nuclear fission reaction is ten million times greater than that of an atom of fossil fuel reacting. With all of these positives, there are negatives as well. In 1986 a nuclear accident occurred, leaving between 15,000 and 30,000 people dead. A similar incident occurred on March 18th 2011in Japan. This repeating of disasters shows that nothing can really be done to completely protect the world from a horrible accident such as the ones that occurred in Japan, and Chernobyl. Another negative aspect of a nuclear power plant is not the emissions that come straight from the plant its self, because those levels are very low, they actually come from the process of mining Uranium. Here in Massachusetts 14 percent of the electricity generated is from nuclear power. Nuclear power has many pros, and a few cons; but, in my opinion, the dangers and the pollution caused by the plants is enough to make me concerned that if too many plants are built many people could be at risk of a nuclear accident. If there was a way to cut the dangers, and the emission levels of the plants down significantly I think then it would be Ok to build more plants.

Plant picture

facts on MA

Energy Informative

Strides Towards an Energy Efficient World

Energy efficiency is, at its roots, the concept of using and wasting less energy. Many of the most pressing threats to our everyday lives are the results of our (meaning humans) failure to achieve energy efficiency. Of these threats are global warming, diminishing resources, economic turmoil, illness-causing air pollution, reliance on fossil fuel, etc. Examples of energy efficient energy sources include solar energy, wind, and water. Harry Verhaar, head of global and public affairs at Philips Lighting and chairman of the European Alliance to Save Energy, gives a very refreshing and inspiring take on energy efficiency that we should all try to adopt. “Its logical,” he says, “because we simply waste too much. Some people call energy efficiency low-hanging fruit. I would even say energy efficiency is fruit lying on the ground. We only need to bend over and pick it up.” The successful implementation of energy efficiency would ultimately benefit the global community in practically every way possible. Climate change would ease up, our huge rates of pollution would decrease, and our reliance on unsustainable resources such oil, coal, and fossil fuels would be reduced. From an economic aspect, scads of jobs would become readily available in fields such as building upgrades, energy-efficient vehicle manufacturing, and the engineering of energy efficient everyday appliances such as lightbulbs, stoves, houses, etc. Not to mention, the massive weight of an impending economic collapse due to diminishing resources would be lifted from our shoulders. As can be seen in Figure 1 below, we are only decades away from reaching our absolute maximum rate of unsustainable energy usage until we are bound by the law of limitation to cut back.

Figure 1 (http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production)

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Despite the simplicity of Mr. Verhaar’s fruit analogy, there are many difficult complications that arise from making strides towards energy efficiency. Cultural inertia is a term used to describe the concept that humans are so incredibly adapted to their reliance on coal, oil, and fossil fuel that the sudden transition to using only energy efficient resources would cost unfathomable amounts of money and would bring some of the most influential companies in the world crashing to the ground. Other complications are public skepticism and financial constraints. Quite simply, nobody is sure enough that the transition to energy efficient resources will be worth the massive funding that it requires. Overcoming these hindrances will be far from easy but, whether, gradually or suddenly, we must eventually sever our reliance on unsustainable resources if we want our planet to survive.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/01/business/energy-environment/energy-efficiency-may-be-the-key-to-saving-trillions.html?_r=0

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/taking-the-risk-out-of-energy-efficiency

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/geography/energy_resources/energy_rev1.shtml

http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production

Work Out Efficiently

When I erg I measure my speed in watts, which essentially tells me how many watts of energy I am generating while I am working out. I decided to try and figure out a way to harness this energy in the hope that I could use it to power a radio that would be used in every high school or college team’s erg room. I started doing some research by looking at electrical bikes and how gyms across the globe have started to use gym equipment as an energy source.

If you walk into a gym you will see rows and rows of machines. There are treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, stationary bikes, and various other pieces of electrical equipment. The saddest part of all of this is that not only is all of this equipment plugged in, they come with TV’s. Your typical treadmill uses around 600-700 watts, and by adding a television to that isn’t helping the gym’s carbon footprint. By walking at a steady pace on a treadmill for two and a half hours a week, which is the government’s recommended amount of exercise for the average adult, one generates 110 pounds of carbon dioxide minimum.  I think that it is absolutely ridiculous that our goal in working out is to burn our own bodies’ energy, but we also burn extra insane amounts of energy through using gym equipment. There are such things as manual bikes and treadmills that do not plug in, but on a list of the top ten treadmills, only two are manual. That isn’t making much of an impact. Gyms began to realize that this was not efficient or cost productive, and so many have begun to put their equipment to good use.

The idea of a spin class is really unappealing to a lot of people but there actually is a lot of effort put into it, and so a lot of energy being generated. The Cadbury House in Great Britain has started to place this little black box at the base of each spin bike to collect the energy from all the sweaty people burning all their valuable energy, and putting that energy back into the grid. The Cadbury House in Congresbury, near Bristol will each feed around 100w per hour back into the building’s power supply. Their new treadmills also use around 30% less energy, even with TVs mounted in front of them. More locally, there is a gym in New York City and one in Oregon that has hooked up all their stationary bikes to generator boxes that feed the energy generated by the spinners back into the grid.

HEP

I saw the work that was being done to use all the energy generated and decided to try and do some more research to try and figure out how to build my own little machine to capture the energy generated by my ergometer. On a rowing blog I found people who had built bicycle generators and instead of putting them onto stationary bikes put them onto their ergs. I proceeded to look up how to build a bicycle generator and found that It was relatively simple to do so, but not very efficient to power anything greater than a light bulb because there wasn’t a way to store the energy. I then found another source that allowed me to hook up something like a car battery to the contraption so that I could store my energy.

What good would building a generator actually do for our school? Well, assuming whenever we do an erg workout we are going as hard as possible, there is definitely a way we could power a radio for the erg or weight room, and maybe even the entire room’s lighting. It takes around 50 watts to power a radio, and just a little bit more than that to power a generic light bulb, so keep that in mind.  Also keep in mind that an ergometer is only 45% efficient which isn’t that great. A rowers pace obviously varies depending on the duration of the workout, but say my team was doing two 20 minute workouts. We would generate a total of around 4500-5500 watts per person, this is already 45% of the total watts produced, assuming we were going our hardest the entire time. Even if we weren’t going our hardest the entire time, that’s still a lot of watts. If we could power our radios with our sweat then that would be entirely amazing, and not as expensive as one might think.

If Not For the Earth, Then For the Poor

Energy is what fuels every entity, living or mechanical, in this world. It’s unarguably a necessity that keeps our living standards comfortable, advances technology, and feeds our people. And it’s pretty common knowledge that there are numerous movements around the world to decrease our energy use due to the heavy toll it takes on our finite fossil fuels. However, if you were to consider countries where most people lack electricity, in retrospect my words: “comfortable livings standards, advances technology,” makes energy inefficiency seem much more a first world problem.

The idea isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. First world countries have higher living standards and thus use more energy, and poorer countries have numerous people without access to electricity. Sub-Saharan African, for example, is only able to generate 30 gigawatts of electricity, whereas the US generates 3000 gigawatts. Poverty is a global issue that is frequently addressed, but we only are able to generate so much energy. How do we provide electricity for so many when we have such a finite amount of fossil fuels and not-yet there clean energy? Figure 1 is a graph that shows how much energy per capita different countries strive for by 2035 and the red bar is the present world average. I think it shows how frivolously energy can be wasted and what different people deem “necessary”. But I also think it shows another reason why energy efficiency is such a big issue.

Figure 1

Featured image

So what do we do? Do we lower our standards? In Bill McKibben’s opinion (founder of 350.org), yes. According to him, climate change is a “greed problem” and rather than switching to cleaner forms of energy, we become a low-energy society. Now I am not on board with the latter part, but I do agree with the former. I think energy can be more evenly distributed. But again, fossil fuels are finite, and even the US has problems with dependence on foreign oil. Perhaps if we address poverty in the world, we can tackle the energy problem much better. A world with more equity in energy access is better equipped to tackle decarbonization.

So to answer the ubiquitous and extremely annoying question, “Why does energy efficiency matter?” Well, if poverty is a more heart-wrenching problem to you, saving energy is like donating extra food to the hungry. And by pulling third-world countries out of destitution, we may be moving ourselves into a world of clean energy. The two issues ought to go hand-in-hand.

Could Energy Efficient Products Be Hurting The Environment?

By Erica Christensen

energy efficient lights

Energy efficiency: it is a well-known, highly discussed, often groan-inducing topic. Energy efficiency is a way of managing the growth of energy consumption. To have an energy efficient product, something must use less energy while providing the same service as the original product. Anyone living in developed countries knows it is an issue on a local, political, and global scale. Clearly, the issue is not as simple as it might seem: “saving energy” has its ramifications across economic and technological lines. Yet energy efficient technology is often less expensive and more profitable once it is in place. Packaging for products such as LED light bulbs and refrigerators often show something along the lines of “75% less energy used.” However, a concept called rebound shows that because these energy efficient technologies are less expensive and more profitable, the global use of these products increases. The rebound effect is about how energy efficient technology is used and whether its overuse negates its original energy-saving qualities. Due to this increase in technology, especially in relation to light, some scientists worry that the rebound will outweigh the benefits of the new energy efficient technology. This argument was recently reignited after the creators of the LED light were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that:

“A comprehensive review of 500 studies suggests that direct rebounds are likely to be over 10% and could be considerably higher (i.e., 10% less savings than the projected saving from engineering principles). Other reviews have shown larger ranges with Thomas and Azevedo (Thomas and Azevedo, 2013) suggesting between 0 and 60%. For household‐efficiency measures, the majority of studies show rebounds in developed countries in the region of 20-45% (the sum of direct and indirect rebound effects), meaning that efficiency measures achieve 65-80% of their original purposes.”

(Taken from The Huffington Post)

The study showed that LED lights, particularly, save more energy than their rebound. Additionally, the reason for the increased use of LED lights could be attributed to the fact that the world is more developed and wealthier than it has ever been, therefore sparking the need for more light.

The concept of rebound is definitely important to remember and consider when reviewing energy efficient products. If a reboundproduct saves energy on face value but it is overused, it might not actually benefit the environment. While LED lights are shown to be worth using even with rebound, some newer, less refined technologies may not be as energy efficient as they seem. For example, energy efficient washing machines are more cost-effective than any washing machines in the past. This could potentially give rise to more global use of washing machines. The increased use, even of an energy efficient washing machine, could lead to more excess water, energy, and chemicals being consumed. In that case, it’s possible that the technology that saves energy on a small scale could actually be detrimental on a large scale when all factors are considered. I think it is important that scientists are concerned and actively studying this topic. Clearly, developing new energy efficient technologies are good and necessary, but addressing the rebound factor for each new product will ensure that we are not making any more mistakes about our environmental impact and truly contributing to lessening our carbon footprint. I think that the only way to really help our environment is to stay conscious of every decision we make, not to simply accept whatever is happening at face value.

Efficient Energy Please, the Japanese Do it with Ease

Everyone these days seems to be obsessed with saving energy. The word “sustainability” and “go green” seem to be all that were hearing these days. Some people hear these ideas of being energy efficient and it goes straight in one ear and out the other. Some countries however, truly want to create  a sustainable, energy efficient environment, and currently Japan sets the highest standard as the most energy efficient country (Figure 1).

Figure 1:

Most-Energy-Efficient-Countries

Japan has always prided itself off being 30 years ahead of other global super powers in terms creating an energy efficiency initiative. After the 1970 increase in oil price (figure 2) it was evident that “if something wasn’t done, life wouldn’t be sustainable” . Japan and several other countries suffered economically and Japan’s economy in particular “was on the brink of collapsing. This prompted the Japanese government to take initiative and increase energy efficiency across their country.

Figure 2:

th

The Japanese government has had a great influence over the Japanese people and their energy efficiency. In doing so, the government established several movements and laws in hopes of creating a sustainable country. Several conservation laws were passed forcing factories to replace old inefficient boilers and assembly-line machinery with new energy efficient equipment. There is also a law put into place which requires each factory to hire an individual who is in charge of overseeing factory energy efficiency. This is a very demanding job as by law, Japanese factories are required to become more energy efficient by one percent every year.  Japanese individuals have also started movements such “Setsudan” which emerged to “encourage people and companies to conserve energy and prevent rolling power cuts”. Japanese individuals will increase temperatures in homes and offices, thin lighting by removing some of the bulbs, and stop using big screen and exterior lighting in hopes of cutting back on energy.  These cut backs in energy use are obviously working as”Japan’s industrial sector uses the same amount of energy as 40 years ago, despite the dramatic economic growth since then”. These laws and movements have now become a Japanese way of life as most families live and operate in energy efficient manners.

Japan faces extreme temperatures in the Summer however typical Japanese families rarely uses their Air Conditioners. Most Japanese have AC units in every room of their homes. In doing so this enables them to save energy in the long run. AC units are only turned on in rooms which are occupied this saves more energy compared to having constant central air. Not only this, but the Japanese also have power strips with individual on/off switches so that their appliances won’t waste energy. Most families also purchase LED lights as well to conserve light energy. Families even save water by sharing bathwater; some individuals even have bathtubs that talk to them and warn them when they are wasting energy (figure 3) . Families are also prompted to conserve energy because of the high energy bills which costs twice as much in Japan as in the US, because Japan imports nearly all of it’s fossil fuels. 

Figure 3:

 ofuro

No matter what the motivation is for the Japanese, whether it is fear of high energy bills, or the fear of living in an unsustainable environment, Japan is setting a great example for the rest of the world in terms of energy efficiency.  In fact, recently Obama mentioned Japan as a country we should strive to be like in terms of our own energy consumption in the US.  Although it could take sometime, I am very hopeful that with some new laws and green initiatives, the US can soon become a green, sustainable country which excels in energy efficiency as well.