According to the authors of this optimistic assessment of the global energy crisis, the current gluttonous dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels is merely an ecologically ruinous interlude between "energy ages." In the authors' decidedly long view, mankind survived for centuries without much need for oil, coal and natural gasalthough humans were using all three in limited fashion as early as 3000 B.C., petroleum was first pumped from a well in Pennsylvania only in 1859and can do so again. The Hoffmans argue that as technology improves efficiencies, solar fields, wind farms, geothermal drilling and biomass crops will replace fossil fuels as energy sources, a process driven as much by economic self-interest as by pressure for a more sane environmental future. They dismiss both the hydrogen economy and corn-based ethanol as unfeasible energy sources, but suggest that an African weed, jatropha, has the potential to turn "that poverty-stricken continent into the Saudi Arabia of biofuel." Accessible and surprisingly entertaining, this informed overview of available paths to relatively pollution-free energy resources is a level-headed primer on the world to come. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Green: Your Place in the New Energy Revolutionby Jane Hoffman, Michael Hoffman
Green illustrates and sheds new light on the gamut of issues associated with renewable energy, a topic whose importance increases exponentially with every temperature record-setting year. Jane and Michael Hoffman use their years of experience to explain the technological and economic future of this ecologically significant issue. They incisively explain its/i>… See more details below
Green illustrates and sheds new light on the gamut of issues associated with renewable energy, a topic whose importance increases exponentially with every temperature record-setting year. Jane and Michael Hoffman use their years of experience to explain the technological and economic future of this ecologically significant issue. They incisively explain its politics: what countries are doing right now and, most importantly, what the U.S. should be doing. Green will cut through the hype and polemics surrounding ecologically friendly technologies and present the unvarnished truth. It will guide the reader through the misinformation and confusion over global warming, and demonstrate the degree to which renewable energy can be part of the solution.
She is a policy wonk specializing in consumer issues; he is managing director of a leading renewable energy fund. They provide a good general discussion of energy issues (particularly renewables), take a fascinating look at emerging technologies, and offer some sensible solutions to the crisis (e.g., do something about oil subsidies, keep pressure on elected officials to enact sound energy policy). This is a light read, suitable for most collections. Some readers will warm to the authors' chatty style, but others may find it irritatingly chummy.
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Read an Excerpt
Your Place in the New Energy Revolution
By Jane Hoffman, Michael Hoffman
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2008 Jane Hoffman and Michael Hoffman
All rights reserved.
THE FUTURE LIVES ON U STREET
AT FIRST GLANCE, THE NINE-BLOCK STRETCH OF U STREET IN NORTHWEST Washington, D.C., from 9th Street on the east to 18th and Florida Avenue on the west, might look like any other lively urban neighborhood in the process of reinventing itself—young professionals descending from trendy new lofts and condos to hustle to work, clutching cups of take-out coffee, passing hip new shops and restaurants on the street level as they open for the day's business, dodging scaffolding set up around vintage buildings being reclaimed for new uses. But something is going on here that a casual observer can't see. A significant chunk of the street's infectious energy is fueled by clean, renewable wind power. Thanks to the ingenuity of some of its merchants, U Street is on the cutting edge of the world's energy future—and that's fitting, because U Street has always been a little bit ahead of the curve. Its residents and business owners are used to making history.
In the years before World War II, this stretch of U Street was known as Black Broadway. It was a glittering entertainment corridor where artists like Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, and Jelly Roll Morton performed in legendary jazz clubs. Much of the neighborhood's rich Victorian architecture was designed by black architects, and in its elegant town houses, prosperous storefronts, and vibrant community centers, it nurtured national and international leaders in science, law, and the arts: Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes. Some of the nation's first civil rights protests took place on the streets of this important African American cultural center.
Then, in 1948, the Supreme Court handed down Shelley v. Kraemer, a decision that struck down racially restrictive real estate covenants and allowed African Americans to live and buy property wherever they chose. Property owners on U Street began to take part in that era's residential phenomenon—the rush to abandon cities for life in the suburbs—and U Street began its decline. In 1968, 14th Street and U was the epicenter of the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The violence seemed to seal U Street's fate as a tract of blighted buildings, wandering homeless, and drug traffic so infamous even the police avoided it.
But in 1991 a new metro stop opened at U Street on the city's fittingly named Green Line. Artists and young professionals began to flock back to the neighborhood, lured by cheap rents on the beautiful old town houses and retail spaces. Life—and nightlife—started to return to U Street. These days a person can once again walk down the U Street strip to the sounds of jazz—and hip-hop, punk, and electronica as well. The landmark jazz club Bohemian Caverns, where John Coltrane and Miles Davis once held forth, has added reggae to its repertoire. Busboys and Poets features a performance space where, depending on the night of the week, you can take in a lecture, see a film screening, or listen to a poetry reading or spoken-word event. Tryst is the local wireless watering hole. At Ben's Chili Bowl, one of the few businesses that survived the neighborhood's toughest years to celebrate its current renaissance, you can order up a bowl of the famous beef chili that once made Nat King Cole a regular.
U Street once again glitters. It's a shining example of one of our own era's residential phenomena, the revitalization of our cities. Unfortunately, U Street's business owners are starting to feel the price of their success. Most of the street's merchants don't own the spaces where they do business. Rather, they are tenants. As the neighborhood is once again becoming fashionable, property values have risen—and so have the rents.
In 2006 the nonprofit Latino Economic Development Corporation stepped in and formed a coalition of small, independent businesses, including many on U Street, to help the owners find ways to cope with the pressure of the rising costs of doing business. Ayari de la Rosa, the corporation's business program manager, negotiated group rates for insurance, advertising, and marketing for the coalition members. She also brought the merchants together with Gary Skulnik, a cofounder of Clean Currents, a two-year-old renewable power brokerage and consulting firm based in Rockville, Maryland, and the former executive director of the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP), a nonprofit agency that promotes solutions to environmental problems through a variety of avenues, including the use of green energy.
Skulnik arranged a deal with Pepco, the main electricity company in the D.C. area, and Washington Gas Energy Services, Inc., a CEP member and alternative supplier that buys energy from wind farms in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and other mid-Atlantic states, for the U Street merchants to buy "wind certificates" that effectively switched the source of their electricity to 100 percent renewable wind power.
Wind certificates, more formally known as renewable energy certificates, or RECs, are issued to cover a combination of renewable energy sources including wind, solar, and geothermal power. We'll get into how RECs work—and how they might work better—in more detail in chapter 7. For now, let's focus on the benefits of the RECs to each entity involved in the deal Skulnik brokered for the U Street merchants.
Pepco has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the fifth largest purchaser of green power in the country. In addition to supplying over 110 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy certificates annually to the EPA's headquarters in Washington, it is also a partner in that agency's Green Power Partnership, a voluntary program working to establish the purchase of green power as a standard for the best practices for environmental management. The Green Power Partnership currently includes over 550 members—Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. Air Force, the World Bank, states, universities, school districts, and large retailers, including Staples and Whole Foods Market. In extending the ability to participate in using renewable energy sources to small businesses, Pepco is broadening its base as an industry leader in providing renewable energy.
The environmental benefit of the U Street deal, according to Skulnik, is that the equivalent of about 2.8 million pounds of CO2—carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming—is being removed from the air. The carbon offset is equal to taking 185 cars off the roads.
The direct benefits to the U Street merchants include a seamless transition from conventional power. Their group purchase of nearly 2 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy a year has required no capital outlay for or installation of special equipment and no changes in the ways they do business. They are even still billed through Pepco. What did change was the amount due on the bottom line of their electric bills. The U Street merchants expect to save about $21,000 collectively in their first wind-powered year, or an average of 9 percent each. And the savings are expected to increase to 12 percent annually in each subsequent year of the three-year deal.
Nazim Ali, whose parents, Virginia and Ben, founded Ben's Chili Bowl in 1958, is quick to point out that no one in the merchant group entered into the wind power program thinking that they were really going to save money. "We didn't do it to be trendy either," he told us. "It was just the right thing to do for the environment and, it turned out, it made economic sense for all of us too."
As individual businesses, buying wind power might not have made much sense for the U Street merchants. Blending renewable energy into the mix of the power sources one's electric company uses and delivers to one's door is an abstract, and perhaps even daunting, concept for most consumers. In the past, renewable energy was indeed thought of as restricted to the major players—large electric users, such as universities, hospitals, hotels, and government offices. But by pooling power usage in order to buy in volume, and with brokerage firms like Clean Currents to build bridges between power companies and power consumers, it's possible for small business owners and even home owners, as groups, to start reaping the economic benefits of clean, green energy too.
And that's exactly what may be surprising: There are economic benefits in being green.
* * *
Our world community is linked as never before by communications technologies that were, as little as twenty years ago, more science fiction than fact. The ability to communicate instantly, over long distances, with people in once-remote corners of our world has enabled us to do business—producing ideas, goods, and services—in ways that we hadn't even imagined just a generation ago. Journalist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman coined the phrase "the flattening of the world" to capture the way this technological leveling of the playing field has sparked development and competition to create a truly global marketplace.
But the ideas we exchange over the worldwide network of fiber optic cables that connect our Internet services and iPhones haven't only to do with commerce, of course. Cultural boundaries that used to isolate us as effectively as geographical ones begin to dissolve as we connect with people and customs we once thought of as so very different from our own. Through the Internet, for example, I can access almost instantly a recipe for the preserved lemons I liked so well when they were served to me last night at my neighborhood Moroccan restaurant on New York's Upper East Side. I can also log on to www.kiva.org, a Web site that's a conduit for empowering third world entrepreneurs, and make a quick fifty-dollar loan to a businessman in Kenya who needs cash to expand the stock in the small clothing store that supports him and his family. Technology allows us to more abundantly appreciate the fruits of other cultures, and it allows us to be more keenly attuned to—and personally involved in alleviating—hardship in parts of the world that might not otherwise have made a blip on our radar screens. As we become ever more tightly interwoven as a global village, our neighbor's welfare increasingly intersects with our own. We become more deeply aware of just how consistently the people of this world dream in common. Economic security for our families, education for our children, streets that are safe to live on—no matter our country, ideology, or income, these are core concerns that can keep most of us up at night.
But there is no concern we people of this world can share more in common than for the greening of the small blue planet we all call home.
Think about it for a minute. We are surely living in a thrilling moment in time—when technology enables us to unite in a cause that we have in common with every other person living in our entire world. It would be difficult to overstate the magnitude of this phenomenon: At no other time in history have so many people, from so many diverse places and walks of life, been able to come together for the same purpose—or been motivated to do so. The challenge of rethinking and reorganizing how we create and use energy is huge, but it's a challenge the whole world can work on. Together. We have the opportunity, right now, to make a green, renewable future our greatest common dream come true.
So, just how do we go about it? How do we translate that lovely but abstract ideal of living our everyday lives with environmental integrity into our reality? Can those of us in the developed world do it while still maintaining our current, comfortable quality of life? Can the great engines now in place in the developing world, India and Asia, churning out what is fast becoming a global middle class, continue their fevered progress at the same time as they reduce their current levels of pollution? What about Africa? Is it either realistic or compassionate to ask people whose urgent, daily concern is for their family's daily portion of food to factor into the struggle what must seem like a luxury—a standard of living that so takes for granted the abundance of its resources that its people can plan ahead for their long-term use? What is it that will allow sustainable use of our resources to make sense for all of us?
* * *
The motivation to live a more sustainable lifestyle likely comes to every individual through a combination of factors. He's frustrated with the high price of gasoline. She's angry at being dependent on a regime that abets terrorism for the daily necessity of oil to heat her home. The environmentalist fears doing such harm to our planet, through the release of carbon gases, that his children will be unable to enjoy the same quality of life as he does now, and the preacher feels the duty to act on the biblical injunction to steward the earth with care.
We come to the idea of saving the earth's resources from many different perspectives, but rarely do any of us list outright, among the benefits of sustainability, "saving money." On the contrary, sometimes even those people who are most environmentally alert go at the problem as if it's a big expensive chore, like putting a new roof on your house or buying new tires for your car, something that simply has to be done no matter the inconvenience or the cost. The reality, though, is that the new roof will increase your home's energy efficiency and likely lower your heating costs, and the new tires will extend your car's gas mileage so you'll have to fill up the tank less often. We need to change the language we use when we talk about environmentalism and renewable energy to include economy; it's a tangible benefit if—as with a new roof or new tires—not always an immediately apparent one, and it's a powerful incentive. A story about the ubiquitous little plastic water bottle can help us to understand just the kind of powerful incentive we're talking about.
Plastic water bottles are made of polyethylene teraphthalate (PET). Like most plastics, PET is ultimately derived from petroleum hydrocarbons through a manufacturing process that emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. For this reason, plastic water bottles are fomenting a controversy as some people question the need for bottled water at all, especially in the developed world where clean water is abundant. After all, most bottled water is simply filtered tap water with, perhaps, a flavoring added. It's the same product we could produce easily enough for ourselves by installing a filter on our kitchen faucet. But let's try to find the balance in a dilemma that probably almost all of us have experienced: a powerful thirst, the convenience of the 24/7 market, and our common desire to be environmentally responsible.
The average one-liter plastic water bottle that weighs in at 16 grams of PET requires .00052 barrels of oil to produce. Sales of bottled water in the United States far outstrip those in other parts of the world—according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans alone consumed 31.2 billion liters of bottled water in 2006. Extending the calculation, then, we can know that approximately 16.224 million barrels of oil were used to make the plastic containers for America's water. That's about three-quarters of one day's consumption of oil in the United States.
The National Association for PET Container Resources indicates that a total of 1,170 billion pounds of plastic bottles—water bottles, soda bottles, milk bottles—were recycled in America in 2005. When the bottles are recycled, they are first delivered to a material recovery facility (MRF) for sorting, and then the sorted plastics are baled to reduce shipping costs to reclaimers. The process of reclaiming plastic involves chopping it into flakes, washing it to remove contaminants, and reselling it to an end user that will manufacture new products with it: clothing, carpet, or more PET bottles. This is a classic cradle-to-cradle scenario.
But America lags far behind many nations, especially those in Europe, in its recycling efforts. What happened to the 3,905 billion pounds of plastic bottles Americans bought but didn't recycle in 2005? A lot of the PET containers ended up in the ocean, where the plastic breaks down into tiny but durable particles and is ingested by open-ocean filter feeders—sea life such as sponges and corals, and whales—and eventually kills them. Some of the bottles end up in landfills, where, like the plastic bags we talked about in our introduction, they may never completely decompose. Others are converted to heat and electricity in a waste-to-energy (WtE) process, usually through incineration, which, in turn, creates more carbon emissions. In every case, throwing a plastic bottle in the garbage can rather than in the recycling bin further degrades the environment in some measurable way.
Environmentalists were outraged at the impact the plastic was having in the oceans and landfills and on carbons emissions. They pressed their municipalities to enact more exacting recycling laws—and eleven states, including New York and California, now have deposit laws. They put effort into public education so more consumers would recycle their plastic bottles. And they put pressure on the beverage makers to use less PET in the containers they put their products in. The PET bottle problem was being addressed by logical environmental actions.
But let's look at the problem from another angle. Remember the .00052 barrels of oil it takes to make each PET container? When you multiply that by the 3,905 billion pounds of plastic bottles that weren't recycled in 2005, you come up with the remarkable fact that Americans threw 95.735 million barrels of oil in the garbage that year. And the water, soda, and milk bottlers paid for it.
That's why, in the last several years, the average plastic water bottle has been redesigned to weigh in at just about 16 grams, down 5 grams from its former weight.
Excerpted from Green by Jane Hoffman, Michael Hoffman. Copyright © 2008 Jane Hoffman and Michael Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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