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.

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.

Andrew Gellman, Lord Professor of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, explains how energy changes form when we use it for power or heat.

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Conservation of Energy from NASA

What is Energy? Explained: Laws of Energy from the US Energy Information Administration

Students’ Misunderstandings about the Energy Conservation Principle: A General View to Studies in Literature from the International Journal of Environmental & Science Education

Transcript

Where does energy go when we use it?

HOST: Have you ever wondered where the energy goes when we use it? On this week’s Energy Bite, Andy Gellman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

ANDY: You may have learned in a science class that energy is always conserved and never consumed. In other words, the total amount of energy in the universe does not change, it simply shifts from one form to another. For example, if you mix some hot water into some cold water, the energy in the hot water heats the cold water and you get warm water. The energy in the warm water equals the energy originally in the hot and the cold water.

HOST: In that case, what does it mean to ‘use’ energy?

ANDY: When we use energy we simply cause it to change from one form to another. For example, when you burn natural gas it is transformed into carbon dioxide and water. These compounds contain less energy than the natural gas. The heat released is exactly equal to the energy difference between the gas being burned and the carbon dioxide and water being produced. This heat then cooks your food or powers a car. Although the energy is not lost, it changes form, and this transformation cannot be undone.

HOST: Do you ever think about what happens when you use energy? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Andrew Gellman, Lord Professor of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses potential uses for shale gas beyond heating and cooking.

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Natural Gas Vehicles from the Department of Energy

Global Demand, Inexpensive Natural Gas are Increasing Domestic Plastic Production from the US Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas Explained: Use of Natural Gas from the US Energy Information Administration

Transcript

What are some of the options for using shale gas?

HOST: We are all aware of the relatively recent impact of shale gas on our energy economy, but did you know that shale gas can be used for products other than energy? On this week’s Energy Bite, Andy Gellman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

ANDY: The most common use of shale gas, also known as natural gas, is to burn it. Human beings and our evolutionary predecessors have been burning things for heating and cooking purposes for over 1 million years. Today, shale gas is burned in large scale power plants and the heat released is used to make electricity. In some places shale gas is used as fuel for transportation vehicles.

HOST: But shale can gas be used for more than this?

ANDY: Absolutely! Shale gas consists largely of methane, but with varying amounts of other molecules such as ethane and propane. In some shale gas regions, like the Marcellus region in Pennsylvania, the proportions of ethane and propane are quite high and have enormous potential value. By simply removing some of the hydrogen contained in these molecules one creates ethylene and propylene. These chemicals can then be used as the feedstocks for production of a wide variety of commodity chemicals ranging from fuels to textiles to plastics. The value of these goods is far more than the value of the methane itself.

HOST: Did you know that shale gas can be used for more than heating and cooking? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Andrew Gellman, Lord Professor of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, explains how material innovation will play a key role in the advancement of the energy industry.

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About the Energy Materials Network from the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Accelerating Materials Development for a Clean Energy Future from the Department of Energy

Materials for Energy from the Argonne National Labaratory

Transcript

How are new materials important to our energy infrastructure?

HOST: Do you ever think how materials influence energy generation and use? If not, you should! On this week’s Energy Bite, Andy Gellman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

ANDY: The discovery and development of new materials has improved our standard of living continuously from Stone Age times, into the semiconductor age. New materials are important in energy technologies because they can reduce the amount of energy that we consume. For example, developing lightweight aluminum or carbon- based materials strong enough for use in cars and airplanes can significantly reduces energy consumption for transportation.

HOST: How do materials influence energy generation?

ANDY: The turbines used for coal and natural gas power plants must operate for years at temperatures approaching 1000 degrees centigrade and without corroding. Increasing turbine efficiency requires operating at even higher temperatures and, as a result, requires the development of new steels or entirely new alloy materials for these turbines. Solar photovoltaics that convert sunlight into electricity use materials like silicon that are semiconductors. Much of today’s energy research is developing new materials such as lithium for batteries or absorbent materials for hydrogen storage in order to enhance our ability to store energy. These types of materials will enable us to store solar and wind energy when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

HOST: Did you know how important new materials are in meeting our energy needs? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.