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BP Oil Spill, Renewable Energy, PGE, Portland

I Googled 'BP Oil Spill' this morning and noticed that the very brief [0.21 of a second] search returned 419,000,000 results. As you might expect most of the linked articles are less than supportive of BP. As devastating as this accident will turn out to be for the surrounding beaches as well as the entire Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, the only positive thing that could possibly come from this disaster is that it will surely shine a spotlight on our over-indulgence in fossil fuels and what that means - not only for the environment but for the generations that will follow us.

Critics have pointed out, that as demand for petroleum products keep soaring while known oil field reserves keep shrinking, drilling companies in the Gulf such as BP have to take greater risks, drilling at far greater depths under more hostile conditions; in other words at depths that threaten the integrity of their rig's technology and engineering capabilities, while creating safety hazards for the rig workers and the environment as they go about the business of supplying this insatiable demand.

Obviously we can't continue along this path for ever. Something has to change.

For decades we have been warned by scientists, geologists and many others, that our dependence on fossil fuels would become a fool's errand and we ought to have been paying more attention as oil resources become depleted. As our known oil reserves start to run dry more drilling is not the answer - we should have been pushing harder and much earlier for renewable energy. Even President Obama is pushing for change, and a cursory scan of Google using the term 'renewables' brings back 35 million results. Maybe the needle can now be moved that much faster toward a higher usage of renewable energy.

Here at North we are lucky to have as one of our clients, Portland General Electric, who have been working hard to push renewable energy resources and initiatives across Oregon for both residential and business customers. They also have a dedicated web site, Green Power Oregon, to educate residential and business customers on renewable energy resources.

The company's efforts in the renewables arena are commendable and they are also winning awards for doing "good" in the community.

It is particularly important for all companies to understand that younger generations are looking to corporate America to lead the way in using some of their profits to aid and protect the environment, as well as supporting projects that benefit the well being of communities.

Portland General Electric was recently named winner of the 2010 Edison Award, the electric industry's most prestigious honor. The award was for their partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in creating a Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) Structure, a 273-foot-tall intake facility that attracts fish traveling downstream, a fish intake and bypass project at its 465-MW Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project dam that provides safe passage for the fish to be sorted and transferred.

The SWW is the only known floating surface fish collection facility coupled with power generation in the world. PGE also continues to explore wind and solar options across the state. Wind energy comes from these sources.

Sustainability, Environment, BP, Oil

Another example [and a timely one at that] of doing good while providing renewable energy is from Solar World, a renewable energy company that provided more than 2,000 African residents, formerly without access to electricity, the ability to watch the World Cup football competition at 36 solar-operated television viewing points that SolarWorld installed in remote African villages.

And a Portland-based company, ClearEdge Power, uses fuel cell technology to convert natural gas into electricity right at your home with a device that is about as big as a standard air conditioning unit. The company professes that the device will cut a utility bill in half, reduce CO2 by a third and is eleven times more productive than solar.

These companies are bringing new technologies into play that will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, as long as people are informed and educated about them, and our political leaders have the will to shake off the old school energy lobbyists and embrace a future of energy use that is more balanced and less reliant on fossil fuels.

There is a current lack of balance in energy practice versus energy goals in the USA, as this report from M.I.T. points out:

"In the report, the authors point out that there is a mismatch between current energy practice in the United States and the nation’s energy goals. As zero-carbon wind is added to the national electric system, the report said, it is being used to reduce consumption of natural gas, which is relatively benign in carbon impact, rather than coal, which has twice as much carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. The reason is that gas is more expensive than coal.

Gas will eventually replace some of the coal used to make electricity, the study predicts, and gas will be the benchmark against which other carbon-saving technologies like wind or nuclear will be measured. But those other technologies will eventually be needed."

As the Gulf oil spill has shown there are many downsides to our heavy use of fossil fuels, and there are many cycles of pollution caused by oil - for example, the products that are manufactured from oil such as plastics. One horrendous example is the giant "plastic soup" of waste that floats in the Pacific Ocean; it is now twice the size of the continental United States. [Images here.] As the soup is still growing it seems that this is a case of out of sight, out of mind. It's worth noting that these errant plastics cause as much harm to marine life every year as the oil spill in the Gulf has done to date.

Electrolux Recycle Plastics
One company that might help bring a modest amount of attention to the plastic soup is Electrolux who announced recently that it will "use discarded plastic found in the oceans to make vacuum cleaners. Electrolux’s green devices will contain 70 percent recycled plastic and the company is looking to to procure plastic and recycle it through its ‘Vac From The Sea’ project. To attract volunteers to the project, Electrolux has set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and will document its progress on a blog."

Electrolux president and CEO Hans Stråberg said in a statement:

"Our oceans are filled with plastic waste. Yet on land, there is a shortage of recycled plastic. The supply of sustainable raw material, such as recycled plastic, is crucial for making sustainable appliances, and assisting consumers in making their homes greener. I therefore hope people will join us in raising awareness about the threat plastic poses to marine habitats, and the urgent need for taking better care of the plastic that already exists." [via PSFK]

And then there's the local effect. I grab a latte each morning at a local cafe, Breken, and more often than not I sit down and check my email - so I'm served coffee in a mug. Then there's the take out issue; as you may know Starbucks serves up about 2.7 billion disposable cups a year that are not recyclable. The good news is that Breken serves its hot drinks to go in compostable cups from Stalk Market that in turn are made from a product called Ingeo manufactured by NatureWorks.

Here's how it works:

Imagine a biopolymer used to make everything from packaging and consumer goods to fibers for apparel, furnishings and home and garden derived from renewable resources instead of oil. A biopolymer that offers more disposal options and is more environmentally friendly to manufacture than traditional petroleum-based plastics. Derived from 100% annually renewable resources such as plants, our product, Ingeo™ natural plastic is the world’s first polymer showing a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

If we all pay attention to the small steps that we can all easily take, then together we can all use less oil. It may be hard for us to see these incremental benefits in action yet future generations will surely thank us for our efforts.

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