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Have you ever wondered if we’ll ever run out of fossil fuels? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever worried that we might run out of fossil fuels? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

DANIEL: Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas were formed a very long time ago from decaying plant and animal matter creating deposits of energy underground. Unlike renewable sources such as wind and solar power, fossil fuels would take millions of years to replace. Current estimates suggest that we could run out of oil in about 50 years, natural gas in 60 years and coal in 120 years. But, in reality, we have more years’ worth of fossil fuels available now than we did 30 years ago.

HOST: How can that be?

DANIEL: Over time, we’ve discovered new fossil fuel deposits, and have developed new technologies for extracting them. As prices for fossil fuels rise, deposits that were previously too expensive to access suddenly become viable. As a result, our fossil fuel reserves have actually grown almost every year, despite our continued consumption. Of course, this trend cannot continue forever as we are indeed running out of cheap fossil fuels. As fossil fuels stop being economically feasible, we’ll have to switch to new sources of energy at some point.

HOST: Are you worried that we may run out of fossil fuels? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

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Have you ever wondered what crude oil is, and how we can make it into something useful? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Crude oil is often a major factor in everything from economic growth to environmental disasters and foreign wars. So, what is crude oil and why is it such a big deal? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

DANIEL: Crude oil comes from the remnants of plant and animal matter. After millions of years under heat and pressure, these dead plants and animals were converted into liquid mixtures underground. These mixtures range from being light, watery and pale yellow, to heavy, black and tar-like. All types of crude oil are high in energy and can be converted into transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Today, crude oil supplies over 30% of all our energy needs, more than any other energy source. Crude oil is also a building block for many chemicals and plastic products that we use every day.

HOST: How is crude oil turned into fuel and chemicals?

DANIEL: You’ve probably heard of oil refineries – their purpose is in the name.  Each oil refinery is designed to separate, or refine, the components of crude oil into different products based on their boiling points. Advanced refineries can do even more complex chemical engineering to make more of the valuable products, like gasoline. These refineries are enormous undertakings. They cost billions of dollar to build and can be as large as several hundred football fields.

HOST: Do you ever think about where your gasoline and plastic products come from? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

 

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Have you ever wondered what cities are doing to reduce greenhouse gases?  On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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Host: Have you ever wondered what cities are doing to reduce greenhouse gases? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

Kelly: Many cities, like Pittsburgh, are working to reduce their greenhouse gases. In 2007, the city signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to implement local global warming solutions that will save taxpayer dollars and reduce energy use. In 2010, they analyzed where the city was emitting greenhouse gases in both 2003 and then again in 2008. In 2008, total emissions were 76.79 million tons of CO2 equivalent, of which municipal operations were about 3%. The city is now conducting a ten-year benchmark.

HOST: What is Pittsburgh doing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions?

KELLY: Projects already underway include replacing street lights with LEDs and improving building energy efficiency. Taking these actions will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carnegie Mellon and other universities are providing expertise to help implement some of these projects. In addition the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has created kits that help people understand the tradeoffs between some of these options.

HOST: Do you think the City of Pittsburgh should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

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Have you ever wondered what exactly the metric “global warming potential” entails? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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Understanding Global Warming Potentials by the US Environmental Protection Agency
Overview of Greenhouse Gases by the US Environmental Protection Agency
A Blanket Around the Earth by NASA Global Climate Change

Transcript

HOST: Did you know that some greenhouse gases have more impact on climate change than others? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: The term “global warming potential” is one way to describe the impact of a gas on surface temperatures. Scientifically, global warming potential is the ratio of the amount of heat a certain mass of greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere to the amount of heat trapped by a similar mass of carbon dioxide. If a gas has a positive global warming potential, it will warm the surface temperatures. On the contrary, if it has a negative global warming potential, it will decrease the surface temperatures.

HOST: What are the implications of global warming potential on climate change?

KELLY: Over the last century, people have been doing a lot of activities such as driving cars or flipping on light switches. Over a century, these actions net gases with a positive global warming potential, and consequently are warming the surface. Some activities, such as releasing natural gas, have a greater immediate warming effect than others, which leads scientists to wonder what energy sources might be best for the environment.

HOST: Does knowing about the higher impact of natural gas on climate change influence your decisions? (Yes, No, Maybe?) Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

 

changes in energy use as population changes

Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses how energy use changes with  a change in population.

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Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by International Panel on Climate Change

Energy and Population by Joel Darmstadter, Washington and Lee University

International Energy Outlook by U.S. Energy Information Administration

Transcript

HOST: Does energy consumption change as our population changes? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: Historically, we’ve seen total global energy use increase as population increases; in other words, adding a person increases total energy use. However, this is uneven throughout the world. Specifically, inhabitants of wealthy countries enjoy a greater rate of energy use, on average, than in developing countries. So, adding a person in say, Africa, has very little impact on energy use compared to adding a person to the U.S., by a factor of 20.

HOST: I’ve heard that as population increases, people move to cities; does this have an effect on energy use?

KELLY: Urbanization, where people move from the country to the city, is increasing. Today…over half of the world’s population lives in cities, with estimates of as many as 80% living in cities in 2050. On average, people living in cities often use less energy than their rural counterparts, in part due to the close proximity of resources as well as smaller living space. While this will help reduce our demand for energy, energy usage is predicted to continue to increase as population increases.

HOST: Do you think energy use will increase or decrease as population increases? (Yes, No, Maybe?) Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered what exactly is the “Food-energy-water nexus”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities by the Department of Energy

Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus by Wikipedia

Nexus Food Water and Energy by GRACE Communications Foundation

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered what exactly is the “Food-energy-water nexus”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: You may have heard folks use the term “food-energy-water nexus.” This means that food, energy, and water are inextricably linked and that actions in one area often have impacts in one or both of the others. These connections have always been present, and growth of the global and U.S. population has placed an ever-increasing stress on these resources. We heard before from Dr. Jared Cohon on the link between water and energy; today…let’s explore the other links. For instance, agriculture is currently the largest user of water at the global level and the food production accounts for a large part of energy consumption.

HOST: Can you provide an example of these linked resources, and how they affect me?

KELLY: Think about how a slice of pizza gets to your plate. The ingredients probably all came from a farm, which uses water to feed the crops and livestock, and energy to harvest the ingredients. Then…the ingredients had to be transported to the pizza shop, which might require energy input. Finally…the pizza was assembled and cooked in an oven, which requires energy to operate. So, without water and energy, your food – the pizza – would never have made it to your plate.

HOST: Will knowing about the food-energy-water nexus influence your behavior? (Yes, No, Maybe)? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

We get our electricity from lots of different sources, like coal, natural gas, wind, and nuclear. Which are the cheapest? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, has some answers.

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Levelized Cost of Energy by U.S. Department of Energy

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 9.0 by LAZARD

Electricity Pricing that Reflects its Real-Time Cost by The National Bureau of Economic Research

Transcript

HOST: We get our electricity from lots of different sources, like coal, natural gas, wind, and nuclear. Which are the cheapest? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

NATHANIEL: Nuclear and hydro plants are expensive to build, but, once running, they produce electricity very cheaply. Coal and natural gas plants are cheaper to build, but can have higher fuel costs. Wind and solar have no fuel costs, but they can’t run all the time. A nuclear plant might last 40 years, while a wind turbine might only last 10. Finally, fossil plants have health and environmental impacts, which are borne by the public. So the answer depends on what type of cost you care about.

HOST: Isn’t there a way to compare different technologies on similar basis?

NATHANIEL: Economists use a calculation called the levelized cost of electricity to adjust for these differences. Currently, natural gas, wind, and geothermal pencil out with the lowest levelized cost. Government subsidies are an important way to adjust levelized cost to account for things it doesn’t include, like impacts from power plant emissions.

HOST: Do you think about the emissions cost of the electricity you consume, or just the charges on your electricity bill? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Electricity

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses variable prices of electricity.

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An Introduction to Electricity Markets by Scientific American

Time Based Rate Programs by SmartGrid.gov

Electricity Pricing that Reflects its Real-Time Cost by The National Bureau of Economic Research

Transcript

HOST: Most of us pay a flat rate for our electricity. On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, explains why the cost of electricity actually changes over the course of the day.

NATHANIEL: The electricity powering your coffee maker at 6 a.m. might come mostly from nuclear plants, which tend to run all the time and produce power cheaply. As we go to work and school and start to need more energy, more power plants need to brought online, so by noon, the microwave warming your lunch might use higher-cost electricity from plants running on natural gas or coal.

HOST: How might this affect my electricity bill?

NATHANIEL: If you’re a typical residential customer, it doesn’t: these variations get smoothed out on your bill into a single average rate. However, variable-price electricity has been available in some places since the 1980s. If you paid a price that changed from hour to hour, you would start to pay attention to when you used electricity. You would probably try to avoid using lots of energy when demand and prices are the highest, such as a hot summer day. In this way, passing variable prices on to customers can also help relieve stress on the electric grid.

HOST: Would you consider using a variable-price electricity rate schedule if your utility company offered it? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Online Shopping

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses if shopping online helps save energy.

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Known unknowns: indirect energy effects of information and communication technology by Nathaniel C. Horner, Arman Shehabi and Inês L. Azevedo

Is Online Shopping Really the Green Alternative? by Jennifer Konuik

What’s more energy efficient, shopping online or in stores? by Time De Chant

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered if ordering something online instead of going to the store to buy it saves energy? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

NATHANIEL: It depends. If you usually drive to the store, ordering online might save energy, since a truck making deliveries to you and your neighbors on the same route consumes less fuel than if everyone drives individually to the store. But if you usually walk to go shopping, then having the truck drive to your house could use more energy. And you have to look at the entire system: how the product is manufactured, packaged, and shipped in each case.

HOST: It sounds complicated!

NATHANIEL: We haven’t even mentioned “ripple effects” yet! If the ease of buying online makes you buy more stuff, or you use the time it saves you to drive to a vacation spot, you might use more energy. But if you spend the time taking a nap, you could save energy on balance. Now think about the broad impacts of people and companies making these kinds of choices individually, and you get a sense of how hard it is to determine if e-commerce saves energy overall!

HOST: Does energy use inform your shopping habits? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Vampire Load

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses vampire electrical loads.

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4 Ways to Slay Energy Vampires this Halloween by the Department of Energy

What is Phantom Load? by Efficiency Vermont

Latest Research on Comatose Servers by Jonathan Koomey

Transcript

HOST: On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, warns us about vampire electrical loads!

NATHANIEL: Vampire loads—also called phantom loads—are electrical appliances that consume electricity when they are not being used. Not to scare you too much, but they’re everywhere! Your cable box draws power when you aren’t watching TV, and your sleeping laptop and laser printer are quietly sucking power in the dead of the night. These phantoms aren’t just in your home. Legions of so-called “zombie servers” sit idling in data centers long after they should have been unplugged.

HOST: Yikes! What can I do about these energy vampires, phantoms, and zombies?

NATHANIEL: The department of energy estimates vampire devices could suck one of every ten dollars you pay for electricity, so it’s worth taking action. Look for appliances that have ENERGY STAR ratings. Shut down devices completely rather than putting them in standby. You can also buy “smart” power strips that cut the power to your game console, DVD player, and cable box when your TV is turned off.

HOST: Do you exterminate vampire loads in your house? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org