Our work here at RTEC involves constant examination of research and development in the energy space, the economics of these efforts and the effects on alternatives and policy implications of all of the preceding. Here is a look at what we’re working on:
The electric vehicle is the most viable means for replacing imported oil in the medium to long term. By making liquid transportation fuel fungible with electricity, greater flexibility in fuel choices will be provided to many nations. In the shorter term two national events have changed the game since the inception of this site. One is that shale gas price has stayed low and natural gas, and derivatives, are increasingly viable substitutes for diesel, and to a lesser extent gasoline. But cheap gas is opening up gas to liquids as an option. We have tended to champion the cause of methanol as a gasoline substitute. the other event is shale oil making the US effectively the swing producer, changing world oil dynamics. OPEC is rendered increasingly less relevant. These implications are discussed in our blogs and forums.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has posited that any reasonable carbon targets forty years out will require that 40% of the mitigation be from conservation and efficiency. This puts a heavy burden on technology such as wide band gap semiconductors, allowing the consumer to get the same gratification at lower power usage. We have focused on the behavioral changes that may be needed to fully benefit from some of these technology improvements. In the transportation sector we favor increased efficiency in vehicles and particularly through the development of high compression engines for use with methanol, ethanol and gasoline blends. Over a billion have no access to grid based electricity. We favor local mini and micro grids supplied by renewable energy, especially solar. In this context, we particularly emphasize DC grids, as well as DC devices, for their efficiency.
The identification of economically recoverable shale gas is arguably the most significant fossil energy event in North America since the discovery of Alaskan oil. It also comes at a time when natural gas is increasingly being proposed as a transitional fuel for carbon mitigation; even by Non-Government Organizations’ that in the past were firmly opposed to all fossil fuels. To date the conversion from coal to natural gas in power has been rapid. This is in part due to the fact that nearly 40% of the coal plants were reaching end of life and were significant emitters. The result is that in 2014 the US was at 1992 levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, despite not being signatory to the Kyoto Treaty. These gains are likely to continue.
Fugitive emissions of methane from the production and distribution of shale gas have come into focus in the last couple of years. Earthquakes associated with the disposal of shale gas production related waste water have been a concern. The study and amelioration of these are priority activities at this time and form the basis for comment at this site.