Energy New Year: Predictions and Resolutions

In 46 B.C. (or B.C.E. take your pick) Gaius Julius Caesar helped to standardize a solar calendar for Rome.  In this new Julian calendar, the New Year began on the first day in the month honoring the god Janus.  Janus was a two headed god; he could look both into the past and the future.

At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, people around the United States celebrate the beginning of the New Year.  As we look both back at the past and forward to the future, we tend to focus on those things that are important to us.  If you’re reading this, then you probably agree with me that energy is an important subject.

Energy Formation [Wiess Energy Hall]
Explore energy past and future at the Wiess Energy Hall

The last couple of years have been quite exciting as far as energy goes and this has helped to raise the energy issue to the forefront of public discourse.  We have had gasoline prices rise to an unimaginable level only to drop back down.  We saw an ecological disaster and the courageous and selfless responses to it.  Now we ask ourselves, “What happens next?”

Predicting the future is always problematic.

2010 was the year we were supposed to make contact. Some of the 2011 predictions are also interesting.  In 1931 W.J. Mayo predicted that medical science would increase life spans to 70 years. Now the average life span for a man in the United States is 77 years.  I not only enjoy the increased life expectancy, but also the moving of my mid-life crisis to over a decade from now instead of being forced to have it in just a few years. 

Robert Millikan predicted that by 2011 the scientific method would have solved all our social problems.  While I have heard that repeated many times, including 2 months ago by a friend, it has not worked out so far. 

William F. Ogburn predicted that the population of the United States would reach an unimaginable 150 million by 2011.  In 2009 the population of the United States was at 309 million.

When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see; Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be…” is a great sentiment by Lord Tennyson, but looking into the future only works sometimes.  More times than not, the future ends up being something much more incredible than we can imagine.  How could anyone a hundred years ago have guessed at what the next century would hold?  From landing men on the moon and having a permanent mission outside of earth’s atmosphere to smart phones and tablet computers, we have constantly surpassed our own imaginations   This is especially true where energy is concerned.

Energy Predictions…and Resolutions

If you are like me (and you should be) then you have already taken a look at the energy predictions for 2011.  You’ll notice that a lot of predictions are easy to make.  Most are predicting a return of $100 a barrel oil.  Since the price of oil usually goes up and we are at $90 a barrel of oil right now, I don’t think that is too far fetched.  Others predict U.S. oil companies will look for more crude oil.  Again most of the energy predictions you’ll see for 2011 are fairly consistent and easy predictions to make.

Now that we have the predictions out of the way, we can get on to the resolutions.  The New Year is a big time for people to resolve to make life changing and affirming changes.  Most people resolve to be healthier, stop an addicting habit, or learn something new. It is good to have an annual time of reflection.

The big question on January 2 is will we all keep our resolutions? It seems that around 65% of us kept up our New Year’s resolutions for some part of 2008.  In this brave new world you can even download apps to help you (reason #42 why I’m glad I don’t own Apple products).

While most of us want to make ourselves better, I believe it is important to better the places we live. This means making better use of the resources we have.  So what should we make as our New Year’s energy resolutions?

  • We should drive less.

    The price of gas keeps going up, so if we drive less then we will keep more of our money.  You can do this by combining errands and eliminating unnecessary driving.  When you go out to run errands, try to run as many as you can in the same drive.  Also, instead of driving to the store to see if they have a specific item, call ahead to make sure they have it before you take that drive.  Myself, I’m going to take the light rail more.  I live right near a station, and my place of employment is right near another.

  • We should use less electricity to light our homes.

    Lighting accounts for 11% of the average household’s energy use.  One way to save is to replace all your lights with cfls or led lights.  What am I going to do?  I am going to use more lamps instead of turning on the overhead lighting fixtures.  My reading lamp uses one bulb and gives off enough light to do most things by, while my overhead fixture uses four bulbs.  Also, I’m going to go make sure to turn my lights off when I’m away from home.

While those are not my only New Year’s resolutions (the big one starts with f and rhymes with other), these are the ways I’m going to change my energy usage for the better.

Happy New Year Ya’ll!

And just remember:

Should old acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne! 
The new year brings us hope for peace. A new day for mankind. Where we can all live hand in hand And leave all hate behind

Friday Night Lights

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

This past Friday, I was able to attend a lecture featuring Mr. Shogo Watanabe from the Hydrogen Energy Test and Research Center, located in the Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan.  There they are able to use hydrogen, the byproduct of the steel industry to set up hydrogen fuel stations and small hydrogen units to power people’s homes.

Because of where they are located they are able to set up a 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) pipeline between Kyushu University Ito campus and Higashida area, Yahatahigashi Ward, Kitakyushu.  They are also able to power 150 household using hydrogen fuel cells.

Now you may ask, “Why is this important?” (other then we all got free sushi after the lecture)?

So what’s the big deal about hydrogen?

Solar Flare...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sailor Coruscant

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.  It is the first fuel of stars.  But other then the sun, this star stuff is important down on the ground. It’s important because it can be used as fuel to power cars, homes, or anything else that uses electricity.

You may have heard of hydrogen fuel cells.  These devices use hydrogen and oxygen atoms to create electricity.  Current hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can range from 30% to 50% fuel efficiency, while the internal combustion engine only uses 20% of the fuel to make a vehicle run.  The rest is given off in heat energy into the atmosphere.

So why hasn’t the hydrogen fuel cell replaced gasoline yet?

There are a number of reasons.  There are only 65 hydrogen stations in the United States. We have been building gas stations for 100 years (with the first station being built in 1905 and the second in 1907).  It will take a while to replace gas stations with hydrogen stations.

Also, hydrogen cells are still cutting edge technology and will stay that way until it becomes proven and affordable. Only then will it get put into mass production.  It took around 50 years for the car to take off (not literally yet, but I am still waiting for my flying DeLorean.

There is also the problem of making the hydrogen.  While it is the most abundant element in the universe, it is rare on rocky blue and green planets like the one we happen to live on.  One of the ways to produce hydrogen is to use natural gas, which still leaves all the carbon around.

When I lead groups of children through the Wiess Energy Hall I stop by the hydrogen cell, tell them about it, and tell them that they are the ones who will be responsible for adopting or not adopting the hydrogen fuel cell.  But all in all, I like the idea of driving around and having a fresh cup of cool water as the fruits of my journey.

Post Script

Here is an interesting article with a fun graphic that depicts how much energy each state uses vs how much they produce.

VIDEO: Explore The Wiess Energy Hall

Energy is a topic that relates to every one of us – and with the recent spike in the price of oil, it’s something we’re all following closely. I can’t think of a better place to learn quickly and easily about the oil and gas industry than the Weiss Energy Hall, here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The Oil & Gas Investor agreed – and now, you can see us featured on their Web site. In her article, Meredith Cantrell does a great job of getting the point across that the Wiess Energy Hall is a great resource for all ages and for people from all walks of life.  I was excited when I heard that such a financial icon was coming to check us out.  If I were an investor, I would want to know all I could about the industries that I was investing in.  

While they were here, Meredith interviewed me and compiled a short video. The film also shows the large variety of displays in the hall.

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

Explore Energy! Meredith Cantrell speaks with Claire Scoggin, Director of the Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, for a piece in the Oil & Gas Investor online. They have kindly agreed to let us share it here. Videography by Lindsay Goodier.

The day this was filmed, we also met Lindsay Goodier, the Online Editor for Oil and Gas Investor, who has a blog called Oil Rules which I thoroughly enjoy reading. She is always on top of what is developing in the oil and gas industry and has fun talking about it. Check it out!

Octane Pain

The price of a gallon of gasoline
Has gotten obnoxiously high.
The gas in the tank and the cash in the bank,
(As shown in reports and projections)
Despite what we do or try to pursue,
Are going in downward directions!
The reasons for such
Are many and much,
And here I will now tell you why.

147 2008

Feeling nostalgic…
Creative Commons License photo credit: dougsymington

The supply of crude oil over the world
Inevitably is going down.
We are finding more
In places offshore,
But there’s only so much in the ground.

And the crude from the well
(If you look, you can tell!)
Is not going to go in your tank
The sticky black goo
Will simply not do;
Your engine is not going to crank.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Strocchi

To make gasoline
(As you may have seen)
The unrefined crude must be changed.
By heating and cooling,
And chemical retooling
Its molecules are rearranged.

The places that do this
(But maybe you knew this.)
Are refineries whose numbers are shrinking.
Their costs are not cheap
In fact, they’re quite steep,
This whole process, then, needs some rethinking.

But demand for gasoline
Is growing obscene,
In the world and the U. S. of A.
We can’t make enough
Of the valuable stuff
And thus at the pump you now pay.

Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

And the whole situation
‘Round the globe and the nation
Is infinitely much more complex.
There are markets and forces
And political courses
That the brainiest brains will perplex.

There’s war in Iraq,
Fear of terror attack.
There’s OPEC and Saudis and Russians,
Political flak,
And reservoir lack,
And pundits in endless discussions.
There are plots and some coups,
And some radical views,
And “economically motivated misinforming.”

around the world
Creative Commons License photo credit: cherry+

Not to mention Detroit,
Where some are adroit,
At downplaying dire global warming.
So many forces are doing their work
In multifarious giving and taking,
The price at the pump
Is not gonna slump,
Despite all this quaking and shaking.

So read ‘em and weep,
Or just go to sleep
Or go on your own hunger strike,
But if I were you,
I wouldn’t be blue.
I’d just go and get a new bike!

Creative Commons License photo credit: micampe