Energy Economics: Surplus Q&A’s 1.0

After the WMEAC Energy Forum on Wednesday March 2nd at Grand Rapids Community College, we found ourselves once more with an abundance of unanswered questions. These questions will be addressed here and in following posts, so look forward to more soon.

Q: Why are we looking at offshore wind that people can see when hydraulic offshore energy would be less visible and produce much more energy?

A: There are several methods of capturing hydraulic energy. One method is through dam construction, which can be environmentally disastrous. Dam’s obstruct natural river flow as well as animal migration paths. They change the surrounding landscape in ways local wildlife has a hard time adapting to and can lead to stagnant, lifeless reservoirs. Another method would be hydraulic turbines in lake Michigan that would be powered by currents.  Water currents in Lake Michigan are created by wind transferring energy from the sun, to the wind, to the water’s surface. While not impacting the aesthetics on the surface, water turbines would still have the other environmental impacts shared by the current concern with wind turbines. An underwater turbine would still obstruct fishers and could be a problem for boat navigation.

Q: Is there a network set up for people to collaborate?

A: In terms of networks for information on Great Lakes’ environmental issues, several online communities and networks exist. One such resource would be the aptly named Great Lakes Information Network. GLIN not only provides information on economic and environmental issues in the Great Lakes, it allows you to track legislation affecting these areas and serves as a forum for interested individuals and experts to communicate. It also provides a list of links to other, more specific networks, like The Great Lakes Commission and the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

Q: Is it correct the new coal fired electricity costs about $133/Mwh and wind is about $101.78/Mwh?

A: According to the Michigan Public Service Commission’s Report on the Implementation of the P.A. 295 Renewable Energy Standard and the Cost-Effectiveness of the Energy Standards, yes. In fact, according to the report $98.46/MWh was the calculated average of costs between seven wind contracts filed by Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy. You can read more about this and from the MPSC report in an earlier blog post. This new data shows quite clearly that wind and renewable energies are not only better for our environment and health, but also a more economically feasible option than “clean” coal. The figures are still quite new, having only been released last month, but with continued circulation this report and its implications will soon become common knowledge.

Q: What would a clean energy infrastructure look like? What’s the End Game?

A: There are many visions of a clean energy future, but ultimately it will have to be a combination of massive energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings, new constructions that maximize passive ecological services (such as natural day-lighting) that minimize a buildings energy use and impact.

When every ounce of work is eked out of our existing infrastructure and energy production we should then start to think about adding micro-generated renewables as close to its location of use as possible – at the home, factory, or office.   A smart grid interconnected across a large enough spread of land would help manage and distribute otherwise intermittent renewables – “The wind is always blowing somewhere.”  A smart grid would deliver reliable power to anywhere in the United States that would be more efficient and more secure, than the current grid. It could deal with peak energy demands and would be able to store energy during low demand periods. A more in depth description of what a smart grid would look like and the plan for achieving it can be found at the Department of Energy’s website or in their introduction to the smart grid system.

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