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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peak Oil - Now, Soon, or Decades from Now

There are conflicting views on this topic. Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) recently published a study claiming that peak oil is decades away. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), we will reach peak oil in 2020. Some believe we have already passed the peak, and lest you think such people are merely cranks, remember that M. King Hubbert, originator of the peak oil hypothesis, was regarded that way in 1956, before events proved him right.

In reality, we will only know in retrospect when peak oil has occurred, because there are too many variables to account for. Variables include demand, and lowering the demand for oil through renewable energy technologies could very possibly move the moment of peak oil further out.

But if you are a worrier by nature, there are other peaks you can focus on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ambient Energy

Energy is all around us. That is, it is ambient. It cannot be destroyed, but it can be converted. The first law of thermodynamics is about as basic as you can get in the discussion of energy. Wouldn't it make sense to find ways to harvest this ambient energy? Wouldn't it make sense to find ways to expend as little energy as possible in harvesting such energy? In developing energy-efficient ways of harvesting ambient energy?

Instead we tend to devote incredible amounts of energy to harvesting non-renewable resources such as the Alberta tar sands. Is it worth the energy we spend to harvest a resource that damages the environment, and which we will eventually have to find a replacement for anyway?

Fortunately, some people are working on harvesting ambient, non-liear, self-sustaining energy.

We need to think differently before we can act differently. Remember the common definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pedal-Powered Computer

I wasn't sure whether to file this one under renewable energy technologies or health & wellness.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), an international organization dedicated to creating educational opportunities for the world's poorest children, has announced that OLPC Afghanistan has developed a pedal-powered laptop computer that an 8-year-old child can run.

Now if we could just develop a similar solution for high-definition plasma TVs, we might have a solution for the epidemic of obesity facing certain Western nations. In Canada, according to a Library of Parliament study, there are approximately 4.5 million obese people.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Plastic from Green Algae

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes (especially in marketing), invention seems to be the  mother of necessity. In the case of Cereplast's announcement that it has developed a plastic made from green algae, perhaps both statements are true.

At first look, this seems to be a positive development. Harvesting a plentiful and renewable natural resource to replace petroleum-based plastics should be a good thing. It would certainly be better news than the harvesting of corn to make bio-fuels, which ties up rare agricultural land for fuel production.

However, we may have to examine our premises a bit more closely. Is green algae a plentiful natural resource? In The Vanishing Face of Gaia, James Lovelock notes that ocean algae is disappearing at an alarming rate as a result of global warming, and since ocean algae serve to reflect solar heat back into space, its disappearance is a further catalyst to global warming. Catch-22.

When we develop technological solutions, we should ensure the solutions are not creating new technological problems. We shouldn't confuse what we can do with what we should do, and every new energy technology needs to pass a simple, Hippocratic-type acid test: does it first of all do no harm?

Yes, we need to continue to research alternatives to petroleum-based products, but we also need to work on the behavioral aspects of the problem and reduce our dependence on such products.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Will You Bet Against Warren Buffet?

Warren Buffet says his $26 billion purchase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad is an "all-in wager on the economic future of the United States." Buffet, who famously did not buy into the Internet Bubble, has a pretty impressive track record when it comes to predicting the economic future.

So what does that economic future look like according to Buffet?

Strong rail, cheap coal, expensive oil, according to some analysts.

You can easily follow the logic concerning oil and railways. In an age of peak oil production, as oil prices rise, trucking goods around the country becomes less and less competitive with rail transport. But how does cheap coal fit in?

There is admittedly a very plentiful supply of coal still in the ground in the US, Canada, UK and other areas of the World. However, regulations on CO2 emissions would seem to diminish the prospects for coal.

So what is Buffet's Bet? Is he betting that:

  • There will be some miraculous development in clean coal technology?
  • The exorbitant cost of oil will make coal the only viable option for the US economy?
  • Regardless of domestic use, coal will be exported to China where economic growth will continue to outstrip that of Western nations?

The last option kind of misses the boat on CO2 emissions. It doesn't matter where in the World the coal is burned -- it will still have the same effect on climate change.

And whose economy is he really betting on?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Royals to Meet with CBSR

When Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visit Toronto today, they will meet with representatives of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), a non-profit organization dedicated to the idea that corporate responsibility and business success go hand in hand.

Adine Mees, President & CEO of CBSR:
This meeting provides a unique opportunity for Canadian leaders to learn from and exchange ideas with one of the world’s foremost advocates for corporate social responsibility. CBSR is extremely pleased to be able to convene a powerful group of leaders to discuss the transformational change of our economy.
The meeting with the Royals occurs just one day before CBSR's Annual Summit, Transformational Corporate Social Responsibility, taking place at the Fairmont Royal York November 5, 2009.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Samsung, Canadian Hydro Wind Farms on Lake Erie

I'm a sailor, so I pay attention to the wind with some part of my mind at all times.

The other day, Environment Canada issued wind warnings for most of the north shore of Lake Erie, and I immediately thought about a recent article in The Globe and Mail on the
Samsung Corporation's rumoured plans to build a wind farm on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie. No shortage of wind there.

The wind farm, which would stretch about 25 kilometres from Port Maitland to Nanticoke, would consist of approximately 200 wind turbines, and might also include up to 50 turbines on Six Nations land.

A few days following the Samsung announcement
Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. announced that it has secured the rights for an offshore wind farm in the waters of Lake Erie. The turbines would be located between 5 and 30 kilometres offshore.

Both of these announcements may be directly attributable to Ontario's newly passed
Green Energy and Economy Act, which includes a "feed-in" tariff that pays producers 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.