Archive for July, 2012


Energy Department Study Confirms Reinventing Fire‘s Vision

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

From TriplePundit, file in the extremely thin folder of articles that display governments’ ability to get with the program on climate change and peak oil!

May there be many more such articles in the years to come, and maybe, just maybe, by 2050 we’ll get to celebrate real independence — from fossil fuels and the gloom of a future we’re destroying with each gas-guzzling shopping trip and coal burning light-switch flip.

This has to be some of the more encouraging news I’ve heard in a while. A report released last week by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), called the Renewable Energy Futures Study, found that using renewables to provide the lion’s share of our electricity by 2050, without requiring any technological breakthroughs is a  reasonable proposition.

In fact, here is one of the key findings of the study.

“Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”

This validates similar claims made in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s 2011 book, Reinventing Fire.

The NREL study, which used an hourly simulation analysis, evaluated a number of scenarios ranging from 30 percent to 90 percent, before settling on 80 percent as a reasonable, if ambitious, target. Of course it won’t be easy, and we won’t get there without real effort. Even if the technology doesn’t need a breakthrough to reach that goal, other things, such as business models, regulations, financing and infrastructure just might.

Renewables accounted for 10 percent of all electricity in 2010 (plus an additional 2 percent, mostly hydro, imported from Canada) with wind solar and others continuing to grow rapidly. In the 80 percent scenario, solar and wind, both of which are variable, unsteady sources, combine to contribute close to 50 percent of all electric power.

In order to accommodate this high level of variability, we will need a more flexible electric system (i.e. grid) that is capable of dynamically meeting the supply-demand balance in a world that relies heavily on renewables. This will include things like smart grid, demand forecasting, more flexible and responsive conventional plants (e.g. GE FlexEfficiency), grid storage (including V2G), and increased operational coordination.

The results achieved were found to be “consistent for a wide range of assumed conditions that constrained transmission expansion, grid flexibility, and renewable resource availability.”

Given the abundance and diversity of renewable resources in this country, there are multiple pathways by which this level of contribution might occur, which promises a robust and resilient energy future, if we can find the political will to overcome the many non-technological barriers that stand in the way.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • All regions of the United States could contribute substantial renewable electricity supply in 2050, consistent with their local renewable resource base.
  • Higher than current renewable growth rates will be required to achieve this level, but not higher than what has been achieved elsewhere.
  • Electricity supply and demand can be balanced in every hour of the year in each region with nearly 80 percent electricity from renewable resources,
  • Additional challenges to power system planning and operation would arise, including management of low-demand periods and curtailment of excess electricity generation.
  • Additional transmission infrastructure will be required.
  • The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios.

The study is not without its critics. However, they might not be who you expect them to be. Brad Plumer, writing for the Washington Post, suggests that NREL might be wildly underestimating the potential of solar and wind energy, which have been growing exponentially since 2001. He claims that estimates from official agencies, like the IEA, consistently underestimate the potential of renewables. Could that be because of cozy relationships that representatives might have with the utility industry?

Rocky Mountain Institute’s James Newcomb, has a different concern. Though he gives high praise to the report, calling it “rigorous and deep,” he points out that it maintains a business-as-usual assumption when it comes to the business model that utilities will use in the future. Specifically, he is concerned that the role of distributed generation, which could fundamentally revise the electric utility business, has not been adequately represented in the study. RMI’s book, Reinventing Fire, which came out last fall, made the same prediction of 80 percent renewables by 2050 achievable by two different pathways: one, similar to the NREL study, following a centralized utility model, while the second path, shows a more distributed approach.

Keep reading…

July is National Grilling Month, The Smokiest, Crispiest of Holidays

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Capture the sizzle and excitement of cooking with fire — July is National Grilling Month!

Nothing beats a grassfed steak seared over a charcoal grill, or steamy zucchinis singed on a skewer. Fresh sweet corn, warm and juicy with just a few spots of smoky char. Potatoes cradled in tin foil, tucked in the corner of the grill to absorb the aroma of hickory, smoked chicken, grilled shrimp…I could go on but this keyboard isn’t drool-proof!

To help you celebrate this most perfect of holidays, we’re putting a few choice books on sale for 25% off this week to whet your appetite and inspire you toward delicious, outdoor, dinner creations. Looking for a recipe to suit that plump poultry you picked up at the farmer’s market? Or perhaps you’re curious about the provenance of those hot peppers you’re marinating. Never fear, we’ve got the book for you!

Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail by Kurt Michael Friese, Kraig Kraft, Gary Nabhan
If you’ve ever gazed into the ruby skin of a chile pepper and wondered, where did you come from?…this book is sure to delight. Over a year-long journey, an agroecologist, a chef, and an ethnobotanist set out to find the real stories of America’s rarest heirloom chile varieties.
Cooking Close to Home: A Year of Seasonal Recipes by Diane Imrie & Richard Jarmusz
Created by a nutritionist and a chef, this gorgeous cookbook has ample material to inspire and guide you around the grill. Check the Summer sections of each chapter.
The Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…and for saving the planet one bite at a time by Shannon Hayes
What can you do with grassfed meat? Anything and everything you can do with conventional meat…but tastier and better for you! Let Shannon Hayes lead you from green meadows and happy livestock to incomparably delectable dinners.
Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie
Do you sometimes pause before chomping into a chicken leg, and wonder, is this really sustainable? The answer may be an emphatic yes! As long as it was raised right. Fairlie’s extensive research debunks the “vegan myth” and shows how meat production can be good for the planet.

Books on sale until July 9.

Meet the New Owners of Chelsea Green Publishing: The Employees!

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VT — Independent book publisher Chelsea Green announced today that it has become an employee-owned company, with close to 80 percent of its stock to be held by its employees.

The move makes Chelsea Green unique among book publishers in an industry dominated by investor-driven, multinational corporations. Only a handful of independent book publishers can claim employee-ownership status, and of those Chelsea Green will be near the top in terms of the percentage controlled by employees.

The transaction, completed on June 29, allows a minority portion of the company’s privately held stock to be held by Ian and Margo Baldwin, who founded Chelsea Green in 1984 on the South Green in Chelsea, Vermont. Margo Baldwin is currently the company’s president and publisher and will maintain that role for the foreseeable future.

“Selling to our employees was the only way we could ensure the company could remain independent and stay in Vermont,” said Margo Baldwin. “The only one real way to repay investors, traditionally, is to sell. Our investors have been very patient over the years and this offered a way in which they could be repaid and allow Chelsea Green to continue its important role in the marketplace as an independent publisher.”

Chelsea Green was recently recognized by ForeWord Reviews as its 2011 Independent Publisher of the Year, in which the company was recognized for its “significant contributions in the categories of politics and sustainable living.” It also recently landed its fourth book  on The New York Times bestseller list, with Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation landing at number 14.

Given the company’s long-term mission of publishing ideas to help communities remain resilient and businesses sustainable while connecting to their sense of place, making the move to an employee-owned model is an example of the company practicing what it publishes.

“Ian and I are thrilled that the company has taken this important step and look forward to working with our employees to advance the mission and to create an even more successful and profitable company in the years to come,” added Margo Baldwin. National studies have shown ESOPs to outperform their private sector counterparts in terms of overall profitability, productivity, employee retention and employee earnings.

Chelsea Green joins a growing list of Vermont employee-owned companies, such as King Arthur Flour, Gardener’s Supply, PC Construction, and Carris Reels, among others.

Chelsea Green continues to buck the trend in the publishing industry in other ways — closing out yet another profitable year in 2011 with increased sales from the previous year. Unlike others in the industry, Chelsea Green has remained focused on publishing strong content that is valued by its readers—an active community that Chelsea Green is in continual engagement through the active use of social media and author appearances.

In 2012, so far, Chelsea Green has been adding staff in an effort to expand its digital offerings, and improve its existing online presence as well as provide greater outreach and publicity support for its authors.

Transition Essentials: No.1 – Food

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement, runs an active and informative blog about the movement called TransitionCulture. He’s just started a series exploring various ingredients of successful Transition towns, starting with food.

So here’s something we’ll try, and see if you find it useful.  I was in Clitheroe recently in Lancashire, and chatted with a couple of people involved in Transition Clitheroe.  I asked them what else Transition Network could do to support their work, were there materials we could produce that would help them?  They said that in fact Transition Network put out so much stuff that they struggled to keep up with it, and that perhaps some kind of a digest would be useful.  It reminded me of Lee Brain from Transition Prince Rupert telling me that in their group they have someone whose role is ‘keeping up with Transition’.  So I thought I would try today to do a digest of the key films, articles, projects and links out there, and see what you think of it and what’s missing.  I thought we’d start with food:

Some food background …

In terms of a good grounding in the wider issues around Transition and food, the book we published on the subject, ‘Local Food’ by Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins, is now unfortunately out of print, but can be bought as a download and for the Kindle here.  A great overview of the wider arguments in terms of peak oil, localisation and food is the very popular BBC programme called ‘A Farm for the Future’:

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

And this short film, from Transition Forest Row in Sussex, shows how one Transition initiative is rethinking food supply:

Transition ingredients about food

‘The Transition Companion’ included a number of ingredients that distilled out the learnings so far about food and Transition.  There’s Local food initiatives, which gives a sense of the breadth of projects that  Transition groups can get involved in.  Ensuring land access explores the diversity of ways in which Transition groups can find places to grow things.  Meaningful Maps explores how maps can be useful for local food initiatives.  Social enterprise and entrepreneurship suggests that we need to increasingly be thinking about how to turn food projects into livelihoods and Strategic thinking suggests we need to see food initiatives in a wider context of the intentional localisation of the place we live.  Community supported farms, bakeries and breweries is pretty self-explanatory really.  Then here is some of the nitty-gritty of what Transition groups get up to in practice:

Growing food in public spaces…

This is one of the places many Transition groups get started.  Here are some good examples:

In Bath, Transition Bath took over a part of a local public park, Hedgemead Park, and as this video so beautifully shows, turned it into ‘Vegmead Park’ instead:

…and in London, Transition Kensal to Kilburn are growing food on their local underground station:

The sky is the limit in terms of how and where your Transition initiative might think about growing food.  Some take inspiration from the Incredible Edible model that started in Todmorden, for example Saltash in Transition.  Others set up new community gardens, such as Transition Hythe‘sHere is a useful resource from Graham Burnett of Southend in Transition, a guide created with the NHS for novice gardeners.

Keep reading…


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