The thermostat of today is going the way of the rotary phone.
Taking a page from Silicon Valley's playbook, utilities and energy companies are designing "home energy management systems" (HEMS) to cut down on energy waste and make heating and cooling your home easier. At the core of the movement is a new generation of "smart" thermostats that leverage cheap sensors, data analytics, and other bells and whistles of the IT world to take the guesswork out of programming your thermostat.
It's an emerging field, expected to continue to grow as users come to expect of all devices the same intuitive design they get from their smartphones.
"[T]he combined factors of increased energy awareness, interest in home automation and security tools, and more user-friendly solutions have led to an uptick in shipments for residential smart thermostats during the past year and have revived a sense of optimism and excitement among vendors and stakeholders,” Bob Lockhart, research director with Navigant Research, said in a statement upon the release of the Colorado-based consultancy's October report on smart thermostats. ( Continue… )
A British government report said it's unlikely that hydraulic fracturing in shale natural gas sites will lead to groundwater contamination. While the British shale story is in its infancy, the government's report said policymakers may want to monitor everything from radioactive elements to noise pollution when mulling their shale future. Spills above ground may pose a risk but the report said that threat stems from operational failures or poor regulation, not so much the drilling practice itself. Critics have long challenged the practice, dubbed fracking. With science moving ahead of the debate, however, those opponents may be forced to change their tune.
Frack Off, a grassroots group in the United Kingdom, said threats from shale gas extraction include methane leaks, groundwater contamination and radioactive contamination. A report published last week by Public Health England, an agency within the Department of Health, said "potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated". (Related article: When will the Shale Bubble Burst?)
The success of shale natural gas in the United States has pushed the country to a leadership position in terms of overall production. Last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department,said the United States is on pace to pass Russia as the world's leading natural gas producer thanks in part to shale extraction. The British government estimates the Bowland shale play, near Lancashire, may contain enough natural gas to last the country for decades to come. So far, however, there are no commercial shale gas operations in the United Kingdom. ( Continue… )
Coloradans in four communities will vote Tuesday on whether to prohibit a controversial drilling technique that has been central to a boom in US energy production.
The oil and gas wells in and around the towns represent a fraction of the state's total production, and an even smaller slice of the total US oil and gas output. But the debate is highly symbolic, and it comes just months after massive floods spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil and gas condensate in northwest Colorado. What happens in Colorado may serve as a litmus test for the oil and gas industry, as fracking continues to spread across the US.
“If we are successful in the campaign, we expect to pivot and move to a more statewide effort,” Russell Mendell, an organizer for Frack Free Colorado, an advocacy group, told The Wall Street Journal. ( Continue… )
In their Wall St. Journal op-ed last week, Al Gore and one of his business partners characterize the current market for investments in oil, gas and coal as an asset bubble. They also offer investors some advice for quantifying and managing the risks associated with such a bubble. Their article is timely, because I have been seeing references to this concept with increasing frequency, including a recent article in the Financial Times, as well as in the growing literature around sustainability investing.
Although bubbles are best seen in retrospect, investors should always be alert to the potential, particularly after our experience just a few years ago. In this case, however, I see good reasons to believe that the case for a “carbon asset bubble” has been overstated and applied too broadly. The following five myths represent particular vulnerabilities for this notion:
1. The Quantity of Carbon That Can Be Burned Is Known Precisely
Mr. Gore is careful to differentiate uncertainties from risks, which he distinguishes for their amenability to quantification. For quantifying the climate risk to carbon-heavy assets, he refers to the widely cited 2°C threshold for irreversible damage from climate change, and to the resulting “carbon budget” determined by the International Energy Agency. As Mr. Gore interprets it, “at least two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves will not be monetized if we are to stay below 2° of warming.” That would have serious consequences for investors in oil, gas and coal.
The IEA’s calculation of a carbon budget depends on a parameter called “climate sensitivity.” This figure estimates the total temperature change resulting from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The discussion of climate sensitivity in the recently released Fifth Assessment Review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sheds more light on this parameter, which turns out not to be known with certainty. Their Summary for Policymakers includes an expanded range of climate sensitivity estimates, compared to the IPCC’s 2007 assessment, of 1.5°-4.5°C with a likelihood defined as 66-100% probability. It also states, “No best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity can now be given because of a lack of agreement on values across assessed lines of evidence and studies.” ( Continue… )
Cooler, shorter days mean more lighting and heating, but it doesn't have to mean killer utility bills.
Daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3, in most states. The clock-tinkering policy is itself an attempt to cut down on electricity use, but that has shown mixed results. Luckily, there's no shortage of other ways to power through peak lighting and heating season more efficiently, especially as the price of advanced light bulbs and heating technologies continue to fall.
The coming winter is expected to be much like the last, with the Northeast about 3 percent colder and the West about 3 percent warmer, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Still, the half of the the country that heats their home with natural gas can expect to pay on average 13 percent – about $80 – more on their heating bills this winter than they did last winter.
That may seem like a big jump, but natural gas users will still pay less than the five-year average, largely thanks to the domestic boom in natural gas production. Propane users will see their heating expense rise by 9 percent, according to EIA, and electricity users will see a 2 percent jump. Homeowners that rely on heating oil to stay warm are the only group expected to see a drop in the utility bill – costs are projected to fall by 2 percent.
So with the end of daylight saving quickly approaching, here are a few ways to make your fall and winter a little easier on the wallet:
Buy better lights
Compact fluorescent light bulbs are the first to come to mind, but more and more users are opting for the next generation of efficient lighting: light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The technology has long been beyond the price range of the average consumer, but that's changing. A couple years ago, a typical LED bulb might have cost you $25 to $40, but that's dropped to $10 today. They use at least 75 percent less energy, and last 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting, so you're likely to recoup the upfront cost over the life of the product. Considering lighting makes up about 12 percent of residential electricity use, it could be a good investment.
Keep the warm air in
There's nothing worse for your utility bill than a drafty house. Choose Energy Star rated windows for new installations and add storm windows or insulating drapes to existing ones. In cold weather, most draperies can reduce heat loss from a warm room up to 10 percent, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Since heat rises, it's even more important to make sure your attic is adequately insulated.
Be smart about your thermostat
The conventional wisdom is to turn up the thermostat when it's cold inside, but there are alternatives. Wool, for example, is perhaps the world's oldest, most reliable insulator. No matter how you feel about Jimmy Carter donning a cardigan, it's true that putting on a sweater is an effective, inexpensive way to keep warm. When you're asleep, or away from home, turning the thermostat down by 10 to 15 degrees can save you about 10 percent a year on your heating bill, according to DOE. A programmable thermostat will help you do that, and the latest generation of "smart" thermostats can help you find even greater savings in life after daylight saving.
Like the Hummer once was, the Tesla is a status symbol (but for a different crowd). Considering its outrageous price tag, one would be hard-pressed to argue that it is a practical car for the masses. But that’s OK with me, because the Tesla is an ambassador for all electric cars through a process called “status by association” (which is what name dropping is all about). We are social primates… like it or not, status seeking is built into our genes.
On the flip side, it could harm the image of electric cars if this latest trend of catching on fire continues, or accelerates. I’ve looked into the statistics and have concluded that, to date, a significantly smaller percentage of Tesla’s catch on fire than conventional cars. Although, that could change with time. Two spectacular fires in almost as many weeks is not a good thing. A lithium fire with exploding batteries is something to behold and makes good copy. It’s also dangerous if the driver should be incapacitated. To date, no Nissan Leaf has caught fire. 35,000 Leafs have been sold in the U.S. compared to 15,000 Tesla Model S sedans. But that might change as well.
RECOMMENDED: Think you know Tesla Motors? Take our quiz!
I’m also not convinced that Elon Musk is helping matters much with his personal appearances. In this videohe tells the interviewer that the batteries are protected by a quarter inch armor plate. Yet it still caught on fire. According to the numbers I ran, an armor plate that thick, large enough to cover the Model S battery, would weigh somewhere between 300 and 400 lbs (the equivalent of always carrying around three passengers). Assuming this “armor plate” really is that thick, the Tesla engineers were obviously quite concerned about their choice of battery chemistry and location under the car. ( Continue… )
Gas prices are the lowest they've been yet in 2013.
The combination of dwindling gas demand and ample stocks have pushed average gas prices to the lowest level since Dec. 27, 2012, according to AAA, the national motor club based in Heathrow, Fla. Prices are expected to continue to fall this year, approaching the $3 mark. In many places across the US, drivers are already paying less than $3 a gallon to fill up their gas tank.
“There are fewer frowns on drivers’ faces as they leave gas stations given recent price declines,” AAA spokesperson Avery Ash said in a statement. “Abundant supplies, declining demand, falling oil costs and the switch to winter-blend gasoline have helped push gas prices down in every single state.”
US gas prices averaged $3.28 Friday, according to AAA, down four cents from a week ago. October was a good month for drivers, with prices sliding 12 cents per gallon or 3.5 percent.
Missouri drivers should be particularly happy. The state is the only one where gas prices average under $3, according to AAA, but a growing number of motorists across the country are also finding gas in the 2-dollar range. Average gas prices in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are just above $3, and more than 1 in 10 gas stations across the US are charging less $3 per gallon. ( Continue… )
Two and a half years after a tsunami devastated Tokyo Electric Power Company’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japan’s political establishment is divided over the country’s nuclear future. Prior to the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe Japan was the world’s third largest producer of nuclear power after the U.S. and France. Japan is now the world's largest importer of LNG, second largest importer of coal and the third largest net importer of oil.
An opinion poll conducted by NHK earlier this month found that nearly half of those responding were against the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s plan to allow the restart of closed NPPs after safety checks. Only 19 percent of those polls approved of the plan, 32 percent were undecided, and 45 percent were against it. When a second question asked if those polled approved or disapproved of TEPCO’s handling of Fukushima Daiichi of leaks of radioactive wastewater from the crippled nuclear complex, 68 percent of responders said they disapproved, only 27 percent approved.
If there is good news for TEPCO, the figures are better than those from a September 2011 poll by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which found that as many as 70 percent of respondents to an opinion poll called for a quick or gradual decrease in the number of NPPs. (Related article: Nuclear Power Gets Hope from New Radiation Data) ( Continue… )
Critics are always talking about subsidies to Big Oil, but how much US tax money actually goes to the oil and gas industry? You may find out soon enough.
The US will start publishing annual reports tallying up the money it spends to support the extraction of fossil fuels, according to a White House report on open government released Thursday. It's in line with a broader effort to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international standard that promotes transparency and accountability in mining and extraction.
President Obama has pushed for an end for fossil-fuel subsidies, which he says gives established industries an unfair competitive advantage over emerging renewable companies.
But the oil and gas industry has long fought this line of thinking, saying that what critics call subsidies are actually tax provisions that are standard business deductions not unique to their industry. Removing such provisions would raise energy prices, critics say, and move investment elsewhere.
Thursday's announcement isn't a call to end taxpayer support for oil and gas, but it does take a step toward defining and documenting the relationship between government and industry. ( Continue… )
The nation's largest consumer of energy is trying to rid itself of that title.
The US Department of Defense aims to trim the roughly $17 billion it spent on fuel in 2011 by, among other things, buying electric cars. To be specific, it plans on buying 92,000 hybrid and electric vehicles over the next seven years, according to a report released Thursday by Navigant Research, a Colorado-based consulting firm.
That's a boost to the electrified transportation industry, and would represent on an annual basis nearly 3 percent of the hybrid and electric vehicles sold in the United States last year. It's also a huge savings for the military, because its costs of fuel can easily balloon.
RECOMMENDED: US energy in five maps (infographics)
“In remote theaters of operations, the cost of moving fuels to forward military locations can be a multiple of the cost of the fuel itself,” Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant. ( Continue… )