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Justices Back Rule Limiting Coal Pollution

The use of coal in electric generation is an issue where, on a national level, we should determine the optimum balance for the nation’s mix of energy used, air quality, and cost.

In producing electricity, coal plants emit carbon dioxide and other gases/particles that flow along the prevailing winds. These winds blow predominantly from West to East. Consequently, coal generation in the Mid-West accumulates higher concentrations of those emissions on the East Coast. This results in lower air quality and restrictions on what East Coast states can emit because their air is then already considered unhealthy.


The ruling by the Supreme Court will cause EPA to issue rulings that, when implemented, will try to rebalance coal usage (which is still our most abundant fuel) with air quality and cost.

One result will be greater reliance on natural gas for power generation. Generally the emissions are less and costs are less, but depending on a single source of energy (be it coal, wind, natural gas or nuclear power) puts the nation at greater risk of a single event causing widespread interruption.

Take this winter as an example; between January and March 2014 the phrase “winter vortex” was coined to describe a FIRST of its KIND EVENT for the tri-states of Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. Such severe cold weather caused a simultaneous spike not only in natural gas (and propane) but also in electric costs because 30-60% of peak electricity is generated from natural gas. A move to retire existing coal-fired power plants and replace them with natural gas will further concentrate the impact that severe weather conditions or a natural gas pipeline disruption could have on consumers.

That balance will have to be agreed upon and with it will come a variety of different outcomes.

Please let us know what issues you think should be taken into consideration to achieve a workable balance.


Read the entire New York Times article, “Justices Back Rule Limiting Coal Pollution




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Greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing thanks to Natural Gas

According to the EPA Press Release on October 23rd, greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing due to an increased use of natural gas in power generating plants. Utilities have shifted from using coal to using clean burning natural gas, a major factor in causing a decrease in carbon emissions.

eia energy-related carbon dioxide emissions

The EPA collects annual greenhouse gas information from over 8,000 facilities including power plants, gas and oil production and refining plants and landfills. The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, which started in 2010, collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the US.

Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have decreased 10 percent in two years. This decrease is largely due to electricity generation switching from coal to natural gas, as well as a slight decrease in electricity production.


United Sates Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Releases Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data from Large Facilities

The Washington Free Beacon, Feds: Natural Gas Production Decreasing Greenhouse Emissions

U.S Energy Information Administration, U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2012

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In response to “Natural Gas Increases are Diminishing Carbon Emissions”

Written by Michael Vrtis President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the EnergyBiz article “Natural Gas Increases are Diminishing Carbon Emissions”

The use of natural gas is decreasing carbon emission which in turn is decreasing the contribution of the US to global warming.

U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in early 2012 lowest since 1992 – courtesy of EIA

Since 2007 it’s over a 10% decrease. The abundance of natural gas is decreasing the price the US pays and is reducing the impact of our emissions. This trend will continue.

Although all fuels contribute, natural gas being the cleanest fossil fuel contributes the least.

Check out the EnergyBiz article: “Natural Gas Increases are Diminishing Carbon Emissions”

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Pedaling to generate electricity and a shorter Prison Sentence

There is a new program that allows inmates at a prison in Minas Gerais, Brazil to reduce their sentences by generating electric power to help illuminate the town at night.

Courtesy of Santa Rita Do Sapucai Prison

Inmates charge a battery that is used to power street lamps along the town’s riverside promenade by pedaling stationary bikes. Three eight-hour pedaling shifts will reduce their sentence by one day.

This is an interesting concept; I wonder how it would work in American Prisons. Instead of using the generated electricity to power street lamps they could use it to power the prisons and reduce electricity costs.

Find the whole story here


NBC News, Inmates at Brazil prison pedal for electricity – and their freedom

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In Response to “Natural Gas a Raging Bull in Its Battle With Coal”

Written by Michael Vrtis President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the CNBC article “Natural Gas a Raging Bull in Its Battle With Coal”

The thinking has always been that the US will lead in coal use as we have the largest supply in the world. In our history, coal has contributed no less than 50% of our total electrical energy needs.

Today with the technology of “fracking” the US has discovered an abundance of recoverable natural gas. So much so that US natural gas prices are nearly $2.00 less than the average world price for natural gas (this is a huge economic advantage when you consider our cost for natural gas is about $3.00).

So abundant natural gas drives the cost lower, and so with the lower cost and long term supply natural gas takes market shares from its closest rival; coal. The benefits of this economic decision have environmental benefits.

All sounds great right?

Diversity in our generation supply (a mix of natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, wave, etc) makes our electric supply gird stronger and more competitive. Consider if we had discovered this natural gas field and had not developed the technology to generate electricity from it more efficiently.

Nothing last forever; while 100 year supply sounds great. Its only one lifetime! This is where US Energy Policy has to step forward. The US should continue to invest in new technology that will not let us deplete the natural gas richness of this country and leave our children more dependent on electric energy without developing a replacement.

Check out the CNBC article: “Natural Gas a Raging Bull in Its Battle With Coal”

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In Response to “Frenemies—Why Solar and Natural Gas Will Be Central to US Energy Policy”

Written by Michael Vrtis President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the Green Tech article “Frenemies—Why Solar and Natural Gas Will Be Central to US Energy Policy”

The article provides a good sense of history and assessment of our demand for electricity. This article is clear that natural gas can and is used for the production of peaking electricity (electricity used during 9Am-5PM) which is exactly the time when solar energy is delivering its energy. So on that point they could appear competitive but as was pointed out  in the article, it is a false choice on several levels.

The deployment of investment in solar verse natural gas generators is a question of size; how much is needed and for what purpose. Natural gas will dominate when energy demand is critical and very large (urban areas, major manufacturing centers, etc.). Whereas solar can and should take its place where surface area for its installation (solar takes up a lot of space compared to any other electric generating technology) is available.

Realgy Energy Services has invested in building solar projects on the roof of buildings in Illinois. These customers use more than the solar panels can generate (during most days) and the additional electricity is purchased from gas and coal fired power plants. The solar projects were supported with tax incentives that made the investment possible. The solar panels have a 20-25 year operating life with near zero operating costs; no other generating technology can match this (wind does come close but it has higher operating costs). These projects demonstrate how solar energy and all the grid supported generators work together.

Technology will advance and with it the costs of generating electricity will decrease. All energy options should be evaluated and used so as to create diversity of technology, fuels and operations so that the electricity gird is robust and not dependent on a single energy source (remember the 1970’s oil shock) or technology risk. I hear often of the need for a US Energy Policy I think we have it; look at how the US Government supports industry through tax policy and you will see our Energy Policy (heavily favors oil and natural gas).

A real success; consider that is the span of the last 20 years wind energy went from being a tax incentivized technology that was not “financeable” to what is now considered standard technology and capable of investment grade financing. Solar energy will follow the pattern that wind energy and the diversification of the US energy market (along with environmental, jobs, etc.) will benefit.

Green Tech, “Frenemies—Why Solar and Natural Gas Will Be Central to US Energy Policy”

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Researchers are generating power using viruses

This might sound weird but researchers at Berkeley Lab have developed a method to generate power using a virus.

The harmless M13 bacteriophage virus converts mechanical energy into electricity, and is the first generator to produce electricity by harnessing the piezoelectric properties of a biological material.

Testing the generator produced enough current to run a small liquid-crystal display. Image courtesy of Berkley Lab

This new technology will one day make it possible to charge your smartphone as you walk, thanks to a paper-thin generator on the sole of your shoe. Can you imagine all the other great uses for this type of generator.

Learn more about this amazing technology and even watch a video on how it works at the Berkeley Labs website

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