Saturday, August 8, 2009

NREL Announces New Newsletter: "Energy Innovations"

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the premier renewable energy research institution in the world, has announced publication of a new newsletter.

Among other issues, Energy Innovations will address:
  • Scientific research
  • Analysis about solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen, transportation and building technologies
  • Improved electricity delivery, storage, and end use

According to NREL, "Stories will also cover the translational scientific research that underpins NREL's R&D, including basic and computational sciences."

Energy Innovations will be published in the spring, fall, and winter beginning with the spring 2009 issue.

Free subscriptions to Energy Innovations are available by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Comparative Latin American Mining Law" Course Passes "Half Way" Mark

The one-week intensive course "Comparative Latin American Mining Law" has now passed the half-way point. The course began Monday morning and will run through Friday afternoon. The days have been long and filled with information and discussion.

There were several objectives behind holding the one-week course. First, DU wanted to attract two of the best Latin American mining lawyers to teach the course. To ask such individuals to spend a semester at DU is not entirely realistic, so we thought that by offering an intense one-week session we could attract the best professionals to DU.

Second, we wanted to offer a course in a format that was useful to students looking to earn credit in a "non traditional manner." Put another way, we were hearing from students that they were willing to commit a week of intense effort to earn three credits. Finally, we hoped that the offering would allow a relatively small group of students to get well acquainted with the expert adjunct professors.

We are not quite to Friday afternoon yet, but I think it is now safe to say that we are well on our way to establishing the benefit of the short course format. This course is being taught by two of Latin America's most talented and experienced mining lawyers, Florencia Heredia of Buenos Aries, Argentina, and Luis Carlos Rodrigo of Lima, Peru. Ms. Heredia and Mr. Rodrigo are widely considered among the top five -- and perhaps the top two -- mining lawyers in Latin America. Students can never go wrong when they are learning from the top professionals in a particular sector.

Meanwhile, the reaction of students to the "short course format" has been positive, and several have thanked DU for organizing this course.

Finally, the students and the adjuncts are really getting to know each other. Clearly the objective of a course is not necessarily to establish a life-long friendship between students and teachers. On the other hand, however, the ability of students to interact with and observe the expertise of people such as Ms. Heredia and Mr. Rodrigo should not be taken lightly. Learning from such individuals can be a fulfilling -- and in many respects inspiring -- experience.

This evening, for example, we had a somewhat impromptu (thanks to my not getting organized earlier!) get together after class where our adjuncts and the students shared an opportunity to get acquainted in a social setting. Latin American beer, wine, snacks, and a brilliantly blue Colorado late afternoon sky punctuated by a handful of puffy white clouds served as the setting for a wonderful get together. How often does one get to have an informal chat with the best of the best? Not often, but today that's exactly what took place in Denver.

Attracting the top experts to teach about a cutting-edge topic (there will be many, many opportunities to develop mining in Latin America) to a talented group of students is a recipe for a strong and vibrant graduate program.

At DU we are excited about the flexibility the short course format provides us and we are committed to making individuals such as Ms. Heredia and Mr. Rodrigo a key part of our program. Tomorrow I'll write more about the course itself.

Stay tuned. We are just getting started.

Smithsonian Magazine Reports on the Political History of the Cap-and-Trade Concept in the U.S.

If you are not yet familiar with the cap-and-trade concept, then maybe it is time to brush up on it.

First introduced into U.S. legislation in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, the cap-and-trade began its role in U.S. environmental law to address problems with acid rain. But the concept of cap-and-trade goes back much farther than that.

The July issue of the Smithsonian Magazine includes "The Political History of Cap and Trade," which provides a brief but useful overview of cap-and-trade, why the first Bush administration adopted it as part of its agenda, and how it works.

Despite being skeptical if not out right antagonistic to the concept of cap-and-trade, the European Union -- with urging from the Clinton administration -- decided that it would form the backbone of the EU's efforts to address climate change. Of course after the U.S. persuaded the Europeans to adopt cap-and-trade what did the U.S. do but effectively absent itself from any constructive role in the climate change debate.

In any case, knowing about the fundamental aspects of cap-and-trade is likely to grow increasingly more important as time goes on. This article will help provide a context in which to come to a better understanding of it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Denver Recreational Trails "Best in Nation," According to "Parks and Recreation" Magazine

Denver is a great place to live as well as learn. Not that this needed to be confirmed, but recently the city's trail system was recognized as the best in the U.S. by Parks and Recreation Magazine, the official publication of the National Recreation and Park Association.

According to the magazine: "Basically, anything you want to do, you can accomplish with a pair of walking shoes, a bike, or skates. This makes Denver a hiker and biker's dream come true, a fact not wasted on its physically fit residents."

(As a footnote, DU has our own "connection" of sorts with the association (although this had nothing to do with the honor Denver received).  Ashley Futrell, the association's Senior Public Policy Manager, is the daughter of Donna Hughes, a member of DU's faculty support staff.  While I do not know Ashley, I do know her mom and she's one of the most helpful individuals at the law school.  Donna typifies the friendly environment that graduate students find at DU.  And she's promised to have Ashley come visit our program next time she's in Denver.)

Many of our students (to say nothing of our professors, staff, and friends of the program) enjoy the outdoor-oriented life in Denver. Frequently on Monday mornings I hear students tell of bike trips, hikes, as well as skiing and rafting in the mountains just west of Denver. And I have more than a few stories of my own outings in the mountains. Perhaps this is why studying about the relationship between natural resources and the environment is so profoundly important at DU.

To find out more about recreation in Denver, click here.

By the way, the picture in this blog was taken recently from the Cherry Creek bike path that winds its way along Cherry Creek from the southeast part of the Denver metro area to downtown. I bike this path frequently.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trading Market: Major Opportunities Ahead (In Europe, for Sure; in China, India, U.S., Maybe)

For those interested in carbon emissions trading, there is a story in the Financial Times that is a must read.

Despite the fact that in the U.S. emissions trading is in its infancy, emissions trading in Europe is a major new field of opportunity. Last year, for example, about $92 billion of the $126 bill carbon market was based in Europe thanks to the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), which was put into place in 2005.

How about the U.S.? Well federal legislators continue to stumble along with various half-baked proposals, some of which this blog has commented on in the past. China and India? Your guess is as good as my son Paco's. But suffice it to say, there is no federal legislation in place in any of these climate laggards.

Anyway, the FT has published an extremely interesting and useful article ("Making Profits For a Cleaner Cause," July 30, 2009) that explains, "The people behind the emissions market are an unusual alliance of commercially minded traders, former development workers, and environmentalists."

Paul Newman, who leads the emissions trading effort at Icap, puts all of this in greater context: "People fundamentally like to feel they are doing something bigger than making money. Having been a part of creating an emissions market is something we will all be able to tell our grandchildren about."

If emissions trading interests you, be sure to read this article and do some research on the companies mentioned in the piece.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Smart Grid Research in Europe

Smart grid research in Europe is proceeding apace according to Dr. Nouredine Hadjsaid, one of the continent's top experts on the smart grid.

Dr. Hadjsaid, director of the IDEA research collaborative in Grenoble, France, which includes Schneider Electric, EDF (the French national electricity company and Europe's largest utility), and the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble, was in Denver last week speaking to various U.S. smart grid experts. One of his stops was at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is about 10 miles west of Denver. (In the spring 2010 semester, experts from NREL, led by Robert Noun, director of public affairs, will teach a course in the graduate program; one of the likely topics is the smart grid.)

Sponsors of Dr. Hadjsaid's visit to Colorado included the Colorado Rhone-Alpes Economic Development Partnership, Colorado Cleantech Industry Association, and the World Trade Center Denver, and the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade. In the past several years, it has become common for international visitors to travel to Colorado to observe what is going on here in the cleantech field and vice versa. Such interactions clearly confirm Colorado's central role in the U.S. new energy economy.

According to Dr. Hadjsaid, the French grid was not designed to integrate distributed integration (from sources such as renewable energy). Rather, it was designed to move electricity from a relatively small number of huge power stations and deliver it to end users. However, to completely redesign the grid would be very costly, he said. Thus, the improvements that are needed to make the system more efficient should be made at the distribution level, i.e., the electricity lines that go into customers' homes and businesses.

The electricity distribution paradigm in France -- and Europe more broadly -- must be changed to take into account three factors, he said:
  • More renewable energy than ever before must be integrated into the grid (in France, for instance, the amount of renewable energy has grown rapidly from 3.5 MW in 1996 to 2,454 MW in 2007)
  • Infrastructure is aging and becoming more susceptible to failure
  • The rate of grid failure and outages is growing
He noted that Germany now has 24,000 MW of renewables on its grid while Spain has 16,000 MW.

He spoke about several issues that need immediate attention in terms of the smart grid:
  • The fact that renewable energy is "intermittent" must be managed
  • Transmission line loses of seven percent are normal in Europe; in the U.S. the figure is between eight and 10 percent
  • The enhanced grid must be "self healing," or put another way it must predict potential problems and remedy them before the cascading impacts of blackouts result (in France, major power losses amounted to 65 minutes in 2008; the resulting economic loss was about $1 billion per minute; in the U.S. major power losses amounted to 200 minutes in 2008)
He pointed out these comparisons between the European Union and the United States:

  • Low load density
  • Running near line limits
  • Little redundancy
  • Weak automation
  • Absence of federal policy to aggressively promote renewables
  • Medium to high load density
  • Reasonable redundancy
  • Distribution is more automated
  • Networks are not critically loaded
  • Existence of strong EU policy to aggressively promote renewables
"There is a strong commitment to de-carbonize European society," Dr. Hadjsaid said. "Everyone in Europe is in favor of green development."

While Dr. Hadjsaid avoided saying the following, I think the major difference between how Europe is proceeding in comparison to the U.S. is this: In Europe there is a strong political will -- irrespective of whether a political party is left, center or right in outlook-- to address climate change. By contrast, the U.S. largely lacks this strong political will. Despite the best efforts of the Obama Administration and some members of Congress, I predict a monumental uphill battle before Congress really takes this subject seriously. And that is a shame from environmental, energy-security, and economic perspectives.