Monthly Archives: June 2012

Postcard From Mark Brownstein In Sderot, Israel


“Remember, when you hear the siren, you have 15 seconds to find cover.”  Such is life in the southern Israel town of Sderot only a few kilometers away from the Gaza Strip.  Fortunately, for my tour, today’s rocket attacks fell on the outskirts of town and did not affect our visit.  Israelis often point to such events as the reason why environmental issues are often not very high on the public policy agenda.  How hard is it to spend any time thinking about global warming, when there are more tangible and immediate threats confronting you?

And yet, global warming is having an immediate and tangible impact here as well.  Our visit to Sderot came after a tour of Israel’s largest desalination plant located in the neighboring town of Ashkelon on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.  Israel is chronically short of water, consuming 2 billion cubic meters of water per year where the nation’s natural hydrology is capable of producing, on average, 1.2 billion cubic meters per year, according to Abraham Tenne, head of the Desalination Division of the Israel Water Authority.  Mr. Tenne was blunt in reporting the facts.  The Israel Water Authority expects average rainfall to decline by 15 percent by 2040, while Israel’s population is expected to continue to grow by 1.7 percent each year.  The drought of 2008, where rainfall was only 65 percent of the current average, was a powerful reminder that today’s water situation is bad, and unchecked, it will only get worse. 

Mr. Tenne is understandably proud of the building or upgrades to Israel’s three desalination facilities, which are key to solving the problem, but he is quick to remind us that, as important as this technology is to Israel’s future, it is a last resort.  Israel’s consumption of 2 billion cubic meters of water by a population of roughly 8 million stands in sharp contrast to Arizona’s consumption of 8 billion cubic meters of water by a population of roughly 7 million.  He visited Arizona last year for an international water conference where he was asked to speak on desalination, and was shocked to see flood irrigation – the practice of watering crops by flooding the field – commonly practiced.  He contrasts this with Israel, where drip irrigation is standard practice for 95 percent of all agricultural production, and where the amount of water used is precisely controlled by technology that monitors the moisture at the root of the plant, delivering only what is required to maintain healthy growth.  He then tells us about London, which just inaugurated its first desalination plant, while doing little to fix the local water system where 40 percent of the water flowing through the system is lost to leaks.  And then, for the second time in two days, I hear of smart grid technology being deployed in Israel to pinpoint leaks.

Although recent discoveries of significant natural gas reserves off the Israeli coast suggest that Israel may be able to completely wean itself off coal, over 35 percent of the nation’s installed electric generation capacity comes from coal-fired power plants, including one right next door to the Ashkelon desalination plant we visited today.  But even when the desalination process is driven by natural gas-fired power plants, as this facility is (it generates its own electricity and actually sells some excess production back to the grid) the fact of the matter is that Israel’s total water system – not just desalination, but the pumps necessary to move water around the country – consumers 6 percent of the total electricity produced in Israel.  Thus, the battle to conserve water is also a battle to save energy, which in turn is a battle to avoid carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and make Israel’s water situation worse.

We are spending tomorrow with some of Israel’s leading experts in solar energy, but already I am wondering why a nation so obviously blessed with ample, strong sunlight, seems to have so little invested in deploying solar power.  Solar hot water heaters have been required here since 1980, and as my friend, and EDF consultant, Roger Duncan, often reminds me, solar hot water heating is often the most overlooked cost-effective solar technology, but given Israel’s pressing challenge of finding both secure and sustainable supplies of electricity, the government’s policy of 10 percent renewable energy by 2020 seems incredibly modest.  A nation with the determination and technological prowess to erect the world’s most sophisticated missile defense system surely should be able to do better and tomorrow will be about finding out why not.

Posted in Grid Modernization, Natural Gas, Renewable Energy / Comments are closed

New Oil Industry Report on Wrong Track

The only surprise about the new report released today by the Western States Petroleum Association is what it doesn’t come right out and say: that the oil industry is pretty sure that those of us who believe climate change is one of the biggest issues facing California today are actually conspiring to put them out of business.

The report, “Understanding the Impact of AB 32,” is based on public data but was processed through the Boston Consulting Group’s proprietary modeling using the industry’s assumptions about the future. It reads less like an actual analysis of the potential impacts of California’s landmark climate law, and more like a laundry list of “woe is me” excuses for the oil refinery industry – not incidentally, the industry that paid for the report – claims that California’s innovative clean fuels policies will ruin their businesses.

The biggest problem with the report is its assumption that no one – none of California’s myriad economic sectors – will make changes aimed at reducing our dependence on oil, or at curbing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. For example, even as refineries face falling demand for gasoline, in California and across the nation, this report implicitly assumes that refineries won’t adopt more efficient technologies, or change their volume of production in response to reduced demand.

In fact, the idea that California’s refineries would fail to do a brisk business in California, even under AB 32, is a load of hooey. California still represents one of the biggest and most lucrative markets for gasoline. And yet a significant amount of the fuel produced in California is currently shipped out of state, which certainly provides a substantial cushion for any reduction in local demand.

What California’s refineries should be focused on is how to become a leader in this new clean fuel economy. Low carbon fuel is going to be the fuel of the future, in high demand not only in the U.S. but abroad. By focusing now on making the changes needed to produce this kind of fuel, California’s refineries could get a jump start on this growing market – instead of bemoaning the slowing demand for their existing, outdated fuels.

There’s a reason they’re called fossil fuels, after all.


By Tim O’Connor and Jamie Fine Ph.D.


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Energy Documentaries – Educational Or Sensational?

The 24-hour news cycle has prompted a higher quantity of topics brought to viewer’s and reader’s attention.  However, with sound bites and the brevity of social media, rarely are topics reported with a balanced level of quality.  Film documentaries are evolving as a more sophisticated medium to explore issues in expanded formats with interviews, commentary and a wider perspective.  But are some of these documentaries more fiction than fact?

An Inconvenient Truth advocated common sense about climate issues.  The Academy-Award nominated Gasland sparked much controversy about exploration and production of natural gas.  Its sequel, Gasland II, is scheduled to air on HBO this summer.  This week, a film Truthland debuted on YouTube (not in theaters) with more splash than substance.

Of EDF’s core strategies of sound science, market-based solutions, non-partisan policy and unlikely partnerships – a most unlikely partnership was mischaracterized by the producers of Truthland.  My words in an interview in the documentary are accurate, but the context in which they were presented — implying that EDF agrees with the rhetoric presented in the film — is misleading.  When interviewing for this film over a year ago, I was not told that the film would be subsequently sold to Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and Energy In Depth (EID), and used a promotional tool for the natural gas industry.  In hindsight, I should have demanded more limitations on my interview – but the producers were very convincing when pitching the film as a presenting a “balanced perspective” on the natural gas debate.

Rather than promoting Truthland, I suggest a more impartial documentary choice where EDF’s Senior Energy Policy Advisor Scott Anderson is interviewed as demonstration of how EDF’s efforts can decrease the adverse effects of natural gas development.  The SWITCH Energy Project offers a more sound approach to reviewing the past, present and future of energy solutions for the U.S. and globally.  University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology’s Director Dr. Scott Tinker explores the world’s leading energy sites, from coal to solar, oil to biofuels, with interviews of international leaders of government, industry and academia experts, plus a voice  in the environmental community.

Scott Anderson’s interview in the film describes the natural gas drilling method of hydraulic fracturing and the regulatory atmosphere of improving environmental aspects pertaining to water, land and air quality issues.

Posted in Natural Gas / Read 1 Response

Postcard From Mark Brownstein In Tel Aviv, Israel

Source: Trekkie Gal

A lumber yard in the middle of Tel Aviv is an unlikely place to discover innovative new technology to transform ocean waves into energy, but there I was watching a demonstration of wave-to-energy technology in a makeshift wave tank constructed by Shmuel Ovadia.  Ovadia is a talented engineer passionate about harnessing the power of the ocean when he is not otherwise engaged in running his successful high-end lumber business.  See for yourself at:

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I am on the first day of a seven trip for U.S. energy leaders sponsored by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee, and by the time I arrived at Ovadia’s lumber yard in the late afternoon, I had already seen tremendous creativity in the unlikeliest places.  Our morning was spent walking down Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, Israel’s equivalent of Silicon Valley, dropping by several of the technology incubators that are a large part of the reason why Israel is known as the “start-up nation.”  

Here, 20-somethings only a few years out of Israel’s army – where technology and project management skills are acquired and honed – are developing innovative software at a furious pace.  The aging, somewhat decrepit buildings dating back to Israel’s socialist early years, are brimming with entrepreneurial drive and youthful spirit.  Most interesting to me was a visit to the IDC Elevator, where Shmuel Chafets, Director of Business Development for Giza Venture Capital, described a recent investment in a start-up that is applying sophisticated software and smart grid technology to improve the efficiency of water delivery systems, which – among other things – anticipates leaks before they happen. 

In Israel, a nation increasingly reliant on energy-intensive desalination, saving water is also saving energy, a lesson at the heart of our report two years ago on the Energy-Water Nexus in Texas.  This visit got me wondering whether this same technology might be helpful in EDF’s efforts to partner with gas utilities to reduce methane leaks along their distribution systems.  Surely such smart grid ingenuity can be used to help fight the causes of global warming and not just the fresh water scarcity that is one of its many symptoms?

While software companies in Israel do well in attracting venture capital from the United States, Europe and, more recently, Southeast Asia, guys like Shmuel Ovadia struggle to attract capital to their bright ideas.  Even venture capitalists like to see commercial scale prototypes before investing major dollars, and good-old fashioned mechanical technologies are a whole lot more physically difficult and expensive to get to commercial scale than software solutions.  So it takes a special type of investor to risk the serious capital it takes to bring a hardware solution to market. 

It is a challenge, but not impossible, as our visit to Better Place’s Tel Aviv showroom demonstrated.  Here, we were treated to a test drive of the Renault Fluence ZE, an all-electric four passenger sedan, that has a range of approximately 100 miles and a battery that can either be recharged at home or our work or swapped out in a 5-minute visit to a Better Place ‘refueling’ station.  When you buy the car (and had we been Israelis, sales people were there ready to take our order), you buy a contract for miles to go with it.  Included in that contract are up to two charging stations, the electricity they supply, and access to any of Better Place’s battery swapping stations now being constructed throughout Israel. 

In short, the Better Place’s Renault Fluence is like the cell phone I have carried with me to Israel.  It is my phone, but I purchase the international sym card and the corresponding minutes of voice and data from Orange, a local carrier, which is easily slipped into the phone and recharged with new minutes as needed. 

Tomorrow we head down south to the Negev to see what is brewing in the world of solar energy.  I can only imagine what surprises await us.  I’ll keep you posted.

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California’s Coal Shadow Continues to Lighten Up – So Long, Reid Gardner

EDF first highlighted California’s coal shadow, which is the impact of coal-produced power sold into the state, in this 2005 report. At that time, the global warming pollution emanating from these out-of-state smokestacks was equivalent to the emissions from more than 11 million cars, canceling out projected reductions from California’s landmark standards for motor vehicles and its 20% renewable portfolio standard.

This week, the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) took a huge step toward ending our coal shadow when it renewed its commitments to stop purchasing power from the Reid Gardner power plant in Nevada starting in 2013. This critical step, the second major commitment in the past three months that will help California shed its demand for imported coal fired generation, is a strong signal that California global warming policies are working and that a full end of our coal shadow may be in sight.

In July 1983, DWR entered into a 30 year contract with Reid Gardner to import up to 235 MW from one of the plant’s four units to power part of the State Water Project. The project is the largest single consumer of electricity in California and pumps water up and down our state for residential, industrial and agricultural operations. The coal-fired energy from Reid Gardner has accounted for 30-50% of DWR’s annual global warming pollution, while only accounting for 10-15% of the project’s overall energy supply. This means that Reid Gardner is dirtier and less efficient than California’s other sources of energy.

The Reid Gardner decision, coupled with the CPUC’s sale of their interest in Four Corners in March 2012, is a clear indication that California continues to stand at the forefront of environmental responsibility and seeks to protect its citizens from harmful pollution and reliance on inefficient energy development. Our recently-enacted 33% renewable standard, the 2006 emissions performance standard for power plants, and the soon-to-be-launched cap-and-trade program for major polluters are but three of the landmark policies that are driving this fundamental shift toward cleaner sources of energy that will create jobs while improving air quality and protecting public health.





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Let’s Improve Texas’ Energy Efficiency Programs Instead Of Adding More Red Tape

Summer is upon us: in Austin on Monday the mercury hit 101 degrees, with the humidity it felt like 110; this can be compared to a historical average high of 92 degrees this time of year.  This weather report won’t surprise anyone that follows global warming trends: according to a report earlier this week, Texas is one of the 10 fastest warming states in the U.S. Since 1970, average temperatures have risen 2.3 degrees in the Lone Star state.  Rising temperatures mean rising demand and more stress on our already strained electric grid, so you would think the state would be focused on near term solutions for rising energy demand, specifically energy efficiency and conservation.


The timing couldn’t be better either: last year, the state of Texas passed legislation to increase and strengthen energy efficiency programs and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) is currently developing a new rule around that legislation.  While this appears to be good news, some parts of the PUC’s proposed rule actually would hurt energy efficiency programs and decrease the effectiveness of current programs by adding unnecessary red tape and discouraging efficiency.  At the same time, the PUC has contracted with outside consultants to ask citizens to turn up their thermostats during the hottest days of the summer.  Such public appeals are commendable, but it doesn’t make sense to add red tape to proven programs that allow customers to reduce energy use without turning up their thermostats, while at the same time spending money on unproven programs that are difficult to verify.

At a PUC workshop last week, stakeholders voiced many of the concerns around proposed changes that would weaken energy efficiency programs.  Most stakeholders seemed to agree that the PUC proposal creates new problems without resolving existing ones, like better monitoring of existing programs to ensure they are working.  With temperatures rising and our electric grid already strained, we can’t afford those kinds of fixes. Given the broad stakeholder agreement, we hope the PUC will remember “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Texas / Comments are closed