Fuels

Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses whether biofuels are good for the environment

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Alternative Fuels Data Center by the Department of Energy

EPAct Transportation Regulation Activities by the Department of Energy

Automobile and truck fuel economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas standards by R. Schnepf & B. D. Yacobucci

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered if biofuels are better than gasoline for the environment? On this week’s Energy Bite, Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

STEPH: Biofuels, ethanol blended with gasoline to be used as an automobile fuel, are made from corn. They typically have lower air pollution emissions than gasoline when used as a transportation fuel. In the future, we may have biofuels that come from sources other than corn like switchgrass, which may have even lower air pollution emissions.

HOST: Sounds good! What are the downsides?

STEPH: Some researchers are concerned that changing the use of land could release some of the carbon dioxide that is stored in plants.  Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that causes climate change. Additionally, using land to grow corn for transportation fuel can have other environmental impacts, as it involves fertilizer use, energy and water resources. Finally, some fundamentally question whether or not it is appropriate at all to use corn for fuel when some people lack food.

HOST: Would you be willing to use a biofuel in your car? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

tankstelle bei nacht / petrol station at night

Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses how one can make the right decision on whether a particular fuel is actually the cheapest option.

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Alternative Fuels Data Center by the Department of Energy

EPAct Transportation Regulation Activities by the Department of Energy

Is you car a flex-fuel vehicle? by Fuel Freedom Foundation

Transcript

HOST: What are the true prices of alternative fuels? On this week’s Energy Bite, Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

STEPH: You might think buying a flex fuel vehicles that runs on E85, a fuel with 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol, is a good idea because E85 appears to cost less than gasoline.  However, although you may think that is the case, this is in reality an apples to oranges comparison. Similarly to how tea and coffee have different caffeine content, not all fuels contain the same quantity of energy. This means to travel the same distance the amount of fuel, ad the cost per mile, may differ between a gasoline and E85 fueled vehicle. These differences influence whether or not purchasing a flex fuel difference makes sense from an economic perspective.

HOST: How can a driver make the right decision on whether a fuel is actually the cheapest option?

STEPH: To determine if fueling a flex fuel car will cost less, you need to calculate the gallon of gasoline equivalent price by considering the energy content of E85. For example, in 2016, the average price of E85 was $1.85 per gallon, but when you take into account the energy content, it is actually $2.40 per gasoline gallon equivalentDuring this same time period, the cost of gasoline was YYY, so the price difference is not that great. Visit the Energy Bite website to find out how to do the calculation if you’re curious.

HOST: Would you consider buying a flex fuel vehicle based on its fuel price? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

pumping gas

Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses why fuel contains 10% ethanol and how it affects the quantity of imported fuel.

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Ethanol Fuel Basics by the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): Overview and Issues by the Congressional Research Service

EPA Finalizes Regulations to Mitigate the Potential for Misfueling of Vehicles, Engines and Equipment with E15 by the Environmental Protection Agency

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered why there are signs on fuel pumps that read, “May contain up to 10% ethanol”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

STEPH: The reason you see these signs at gas stations is because Congress has required that gasoline sold in the United States contain up to 10 percent ethanol. This policy aims to increase the nation’s energy security by using ethanol, a type of alcohol produced from plants. These plants are a renewable energy source grown within the United States, and thus decrease our reliance on imported energy. Ten percent was chosen because all vehicles can operate with that amount of ethanol in their gasoline.

HOST: How well has this worked to reduce the quantity of imported fuel?

STEPH: The quantity of imported petroleum fuel HAS decreased, but it is not solely because of this mandate. Rather, the reduction likely results from a decrease in fuel consumption. Even considering this, however, the nation’s drivers have not used as much ethanol as expected, as most cars cannot refuel with even higher percentages of ethanol assumed at the time of the legislation.

HOST: Do you care that your gasoline has up to 10% ethanol? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Flex fuel vehicles will help the alternative fuels market, which in turn will help reduce our carbon footprint

Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses flex fuels and flex fuel vehicles, and how they can revolutionize the transportation sector.

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Flex Fuel Vehicles by U.S Department of Energy

Automobile and truck fuel economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas standards by R. Schnepf & B. D. Yacobucci

Alternative Fuel Vehicle Adoption Increases Fleet Gasoline Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions under United States Corporate Average Fuel Economy Policy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standard by A. Jenn, Ineš Azevedo & Jeremy Michalek

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever noticed a “flex fuel” symbol on the back of a car and wondered what it meant?  On this week’s Energy Bite, Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

STEPH: Conventional gasoline vehicles can only use up to 10% ethanol blended with gasoline. However, flex fuel vehicles can use fuel with up to 85% ethanol. Less than 10% of vehicles on the road are flex fuel. You may notice that most flex fuel vehicles are visually no different from conventional vehicles, except for a yellow gasoline tank cap, though internally there are engine modifications.

HOST: Why are there flex fuel vehicles on the road?

STEPH: Automakers produce and sell flex fuel vehicles because government regulations categorize them as fuel-efficient alternative vehicles. The companies obtain credits and use them to counterbalance the less efficient vehicles they produce. Although flex fuel vehicles can consume fuel with 85% ethanol, most are only fueled with conventional gasoline with 10% ethanol. This is due to consumer choice, the lack of stations and pricing.  So although companies get credits, the impact may not be as expected.

HOST: Would you buy a flex fuel vehicle? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

fuel gauge

Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses why alternative fuels aren’t widely available.

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Ethanol Fueling Stations by the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center

TIAX Natural Gas for Vehicles Analysis by the American Gas Association

Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels by the National Academies of Science

Transcript

HOST: When fueling your car, have you ever wondered why all stations don’t sell fuels other than gasoline? On this week’s Energy Bite, Stephanie Seki, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

STEPH: Although vehicles on the market today can run on fuels other than gasoline like ethanol, most stations don’t offer them. This is because station operators are unlikely to invest in the equipment necessary to supply these alternative fuels without hope of fuel sales. On the other hand, drivers are unlikely to commit to an alternative fuel without a sufficient number of stations offering the fuel. It is a classic “chicken and egg” problem, which comes first: the stations or the alternatively-fueled vehicle?

HOST: Why would a gas station operator choose to start selling an alternative fuel?

STEPH: Some alternative fuels like ethanol can be sold alongside gasoline in a traditional retail station. In this case, selling an alternative fuel can be a way for gas station owners to differentiate themselves. They may also be able to reach an agreement with an owner of a fleet of vehicles, which solves the chicken and egg problem.

HOST: Would you like to see more alternative fuels offered at your local station? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

for rent sign

Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses how we can encourage renters and landlords to use less electricity and how we can fix split incentives.

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Energy Use By Apartment Tenants When Landlords Pay For Utilities by Arik Levinson and Scott Niemann

Top 10 Tips for Renters! from ENERGY STAR

Split Incentives in Residential Energy Consumption from Kenneth Gillingham, Matthew Harding and David Rapson

Transcript

HOST: How can we encourage renters and landlords to use less electricity? On this week’s Energy Bite, Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

CASEY: The relationship between renters and landlords can make it challenging to encourage actions to reduce energy consumption. If the landlord pays the electricity bill, the renter has little incentive to use less electricity, so, for example, they might be less likely to adjust the temperature at night. The reverse also happens if the renter is paying the electricity bill, because the landlord has little incentive to improve the efficiency of the building by installing insulation or buying energy efficient appliances. This is called a “split incentive.”

HOST: How can we fix split incentives?

CASEY: Encouraging landlords to improve the insulation in their buildings is more impactful than encouraging renters to use less heat and air conditioning. There is also a policy proposal that would encourage or require landlords to disclose the energy use of their buildings to potential tenants.

HOST: Would you rent a different apartment if you knew the electricity bills were high? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

electricity

Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses the challenges for low-income families to use less electricity and solutions to the issue.

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Energy Burden and the Need for Integrated Low-Income Housing and Energy Policy from Diana Hernández and Stephen Bird

“Because You Got to Have Heat”: The Networked Assemblage of Energy Poverty in Eastern North Carolina from Connor Harrison and Jeff Popke

Power for the People: Overcoming Barriers to Energy Efficiency for Low-Income Families from ThinkProgress

Transcript

HOST: What are the challenges for low-income families to use less electricity? On this week’s Energy Bite, Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

CASEY:  Low-income families often spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy costs. They may be motivated to use less electricity, but may not have the same capacity to change their usage. For example, people with low incomes tend to live in older homes, which are not as efficient and are expensive to heat or cool. Having a home with inadequate heating or cooling can lead to health problems.

HOST: Is there anything that can be done about this?

CASEY: There are government programs to help low-income families afford electricity, but not everyone is eligible or able to sign up.  There is some interest in implementing incentive programs that adjust the price of electricity depending on the time of day to encourage less use of energy during peak times. Unfortunately, this could increase the electricity bills of low-income families because they already use less electricity so they have fewer options to shift their usage to respond to the price.

HOST: Do you find investing in energy efficiency actions for your home challenging? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

solar-panels

Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses some of the social, economical, and environmental factors that influence people to power their home with solar energy.

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Planning a Home Solar Electric System from the Department of Energy

A Consumer’s Guide: Get Your Power from the Sun from the National Renewable Energy Labaratory

Solar Power for Your Home from the Federal Trade Commission

Transcript

HOST: Why do people decide to put solar panels on their home? On this week’s Energy Bite, Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

CASEY: You may think that people only consider environmental goals when they install solar panels, but other factors such as economics and appearance play a role.  Some view it as a good financial investment, such as retirees who want to stabilize their electricity costs while on a fixed income.  On the other hand, some may dislike the look of solar panels or may be overruled by their homeowner’s association.

HOST: What else influences consumers to adopt solar power?

CASEY: People are also influenced by their social network. When people see their neighbors getting solar panels, they may be more motivated to investigate getting solar panels themselves. People also prefer to get information from those who they trust. So…if their neighbor says that solar panels are a good investment, they take that information more seriously.

HOST: Would you install solar panels on your home? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

electric lines

Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, explains what the best way is to communicate electricity consumption on your bill.

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Perceptions of electricity-use communications: effects of information, format, and individual differences from the Journal of Risk Research

How is electricity used in U.S. homes? from U.S. Energy Information Administration

Transcript

How should your electricity bill show your electricity consumption?

HOST: How should your bill show your electricity consumption?  On this week’s Energy Bite, Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

CASEY: When you look at an electricity bill, you probably want to know how much the bill is, but also how much electricity you consumed and how you could reduce your bill next month.  How that information is communicated may influence the decisions you make.

HOST: So what’s the best way to communicate electricity consumption?

CASEY: We recently performed a study, which suggested that tables are better than graphs in this context. For reading specific values, such as how much electricity I used this month, a table is better than a graph. Graphs are more useful for understanding trends, but not everyone can interpret them. This means that if an electricity bill uses a graph, not everyone is able to understand what it means.

HOST: Do you think about your energy consumption when you look at your electric bill? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

smart meter

Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, explains how smart meters can be hacked.

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Electric Meters from the Department of Energy

Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System from the National Academies Press

Multi-vendor Penetration Testing in the Advanced Metering Infrastructure presented at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference

Transcript

Can smart meters be hacked?

HOST: Are you worried about your smart meter being hacked? On this week’s Energy Bite, Casey Canfield, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

CASEY: A smart meter, which is a device the electricity company can put in your home to record more information about how much electricity you use, can be hacked. Hackers may want to steal electricity or money or implement a large-scale attack on the grid. For some of these attacks, the hacker needs physical access to the meter, but in other cases they don’t. The worst-case scenario…malicious hackers could illegally access many smart meters at the same time and cause a large blackout.

HOST: Is there anything we can do about it?

CASEY: We can improve the security of smart meters both in terms of hardware and software. Some have talked about improving the resiliency of the grid. This means that instead of making the electrical grid impossible to attack, we want the grid to be quick to recover. Reducing the demand for electricity also reduces national security risk.

HOST: Do security concerns influence how you feel about smart meters? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.