Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."

A Reflection on the “Energy for the Power of 32” Conference

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Energy for the Power of 32 Conference was organized to establish a baseline and catalyze a regional energy plan and strategy for the 32 contiguous counties encompassing western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.  The preparations included a regional compilation of the Energy Flows in a Sankey diagram of Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and Losses.  the full report and analysis can be found at www.energy4p32.org

Regional Energy Flow showing Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and losses is a critical starting point for analysis. The three issues that emerge from this set of data are:

  1. the dominance of coal for electricity generation and as an export product
  2. Net exports (1,470 Trillion Btu) far exceed the regional consumption of energy for all uses (520 trillion Btu).
  3. The largest sources of “Unused Energy” result from electricity generation and transportation, Both sectors rely predominantly on technologies from the 1800’s- the Rankine cycle thermoelectric steam turbine and the internal combustion engine.

Data showing the global context creating an impetus for a change in our energy system was not allocated to a regional profile. Data adapting the EPA Sankey diagram on greenhouse gas emissions[1] to a regional profile would be helpful in isolating principal targets for change. Coal combustion for generating electricity is the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

A large data void exists in the failure to present, or even discuss, the ecosystem service components of the economy. There were some presentations about health effects and costs related to loss of productivity associated with pollution. However, the positive attributes derived from ecosystem services such as water purification, oxygen generation, food production through photosynthesis etc were not included. To the extent that the strategic plan seeks metrics and indicators to track economic conditions forward, it is essential to include metrics that reflect the health of the environment, our life support system. Measures for clean air, water quality, soil fertility and species diversity reflect not only quality of life conditions but also the resilience and sustainability of conditions upon which the economy ultimately depends. The failure to consider such parameters in economic development planning has largely contributed to the climate changing circumstances we are facing today. The classic papers of Robert Constanza et al. may be helpful in addressing this critical component of a regional strategic plan.[2] [3]

A second major omission in this discussion may be due to the absence of the presentation on environmental justice that would have been covered by Mustafa Ali. It is critical to recognize that the options for future development in energy are not limited by technology, but must be shaped by choices grounded in the ethics and values of our society. It is an ethical criterion to preserve our life support system for future generations, and indeed this is a part of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27, the Environmental Rights Amendment.[4] It is an ethical criterion to transition from a resource extraction based economy to a value adding economy, a legacy of manufacturing and innovation well rooted in our region’s history. It is an ethical criterion to establish conditions that reflect social equity among workers past and future. It is an ethical criterion to plan for a healthier solution to our energy requirements than we have done in the past.

Establishing an energy system that provides for a robust economy requires that we recognize the absolute need to rapidly move away from burning fossil fuels, in all aspects of our economy. In our region, the conditions are not favorable to take maximum advantage of the natural flows of renewable and sustainable energy. The myth that renewable energy is insufficient to serve our needs must be addressed directly. The flow of solar energy to the surface of the earth exceeds our current and projected needs by many orders of magnitude. [5] The energy uses in the region for all sectors – residential, commercial, industrial and transportation – require only 520 trillion Btu. The Unused (wasted) portion to deliver this amount of energy in useful form 1,400 trillion Btu, represents the compelling reason to change our system. If we focus on the work that needs to be delivered, rather than the replacement of the fuels that are mostly being wasted in the current system, the options are far more exciting.

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

The work of Lovins et. al. illustrate ample ways to move toward a much less wasteful energy system focus on suiting the energy source to the energy need, and addressing appropriate technologies for the task.[6] Thus as a goal, buildings will operate in net zero profile for energy, water and waste. We have current illustrations for the realistic achievability of this approach in the Phipps Living Building example, and even retrofit examples in the innovation workplace. [7] [8]

Transportation systems will require two types of transition first, to renewable fuels, most likely recovered from wasted food sources, but also new technologies such as methane gas fired or electric engines., ultimately to hydrogen driven systems. Transportation system solutions require better integration of non-mechanized mobility options such as designing communities for easier pedestrian access to services, recreation and workplace centers. Our region was once heavily dependent on pedestrian mobility, as the many remnants of pedestrian stairways testify. Walking distances to transit was normal as recently as 1968.

Industrial and manufacturing sector presents the largest challenge, but also the largest opportunity. As a strategic goal, think about converting the raw export component of the regional economy to value added production where raw materials convert n the regional economy to finished goods. Such activity can occur as part of creating a sustainable stream of energy system supports, including the technology and communication interconnects for a distributed electric system where the load and source are balanced. New categories of utility services emerge from such an inverted paradigm of utility system including DC as well as AC segments, load leveling and voltage regulation , and storage (including not only batteries but fly wheel, compressed ait, pumped hydro storage and chemical phase change crystals.) Making and installing adaptive technologies for existing buildings can also offer increased production opportunities, such as ground source heat pump auxiliary heating/cooling systems that tap into the existing water pipes with external heat exchangers.

Transformation from fossil fueled enterprise to renewable energy flow based enterprise seems daunting and “unrealistic” according to my working group colleagues. But, many times in our history we as a country have taken on major transformations in a very short span of time, often less than a decade. The industrial mobilization that shifted production to make vehicles machines and munitions for World War II happened in a span of three years. The rural electrification of America took only five years. The shift from horse and buggy to automobile took only 20. The shift from regulated communication to unregulated and competitive communications took less than a decade. What is needed in order to mobilize this kind of capability is a clear and urgent motivating force that enables cooperation among competing interests. That force can be national security in time of war, market opportunities opened by innovative technology, or collective moral outrage.

What we cannot lose sight of in this discussion is the essential truth that the climate of the earth is changing rapidly, irreversibly, due to human activity that we can control. If we defer meaningful action to contain the conversion of sequestered carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide, the atmosphere will no longer support aerobic living organisms…that includes people. A graph projecting 600 to 800 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was presented as if it were a normal expectation for continued practices. This cannot be construed in any way as “Business as Usual” but as a catastrophe! Every year that we delay in addressing this situation narrows our options and reduces our chances of shifting successfully away from a course of disaster. Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 200 years or more, our actions today determine the fate of the unborn generations who have no say in determining their fate. We must consider the legacy we are leaving to them. We have seen the accumulated damages from mining and burning coal for fifty years, including the 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams permanently contaminated with acid mine drainage. We must take precautions going forward to preserve, protect and if possible restore the health of the living earth we depend on for our own survival.

As you develop the formal strategic plan for the Power of 32, I urge you to seek out and consider seriously the voices who speak for the living parts of our community, our economy and our selves. If we only focus on the infrastructure and technology, we will not preserve our own survival.

Respectfully submitted,

Patricia DeMarco

[1] EPA greenhouse gas emissions by source http://www.epa.gov

[2] Constanza, Robert et. Al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital. Nature. May 15, 1997. Vol 387. Pages 253-260.

[3] Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism. 2010. Earthscan. London.

[4] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27

[5] NASA Chart on energy flow comparisons renewable vs fossil resources

[6] Amory B. Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute. Reinventing Fire – Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. 2011. Chelsea Green Publishers. Vermont.

[7] Phipps Living Building see http://www.Phippsconservatory.org

[8] Hartkopf and Loftness – innovation workplace Carnegie Mellon University

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