Tuesday, September 11, 2007

MIT Energy Club Kick-Off Draws 80!

Last Wednesday, the MIT Energy Club kicked off its Fall events season with a bang, hosting 80+ MIT energy folks ready and rearing to dive into energy. I've been around the MIT Energy scene for going on 5 years now and I saw a lot of fresh faces, which is great for MIT energy!

The event was a joint Discussion and Kick-Off Social at the R&D Pub in the Stata Center. The large number of attendees clearly indicated the continuing rise in interest in energy amongst students and faculty at MIT, considering that the same event last year drew only 40!

The Discussion was entitled "Energy 101: Energy Overview" and laid the foundation for the rest of the Club's more focused discussions, lectures, and other events. The discussion had a tripartite focus: Economics, Environment, and Security. It was emphasized that when thinking about energy, we need to think about outcomes along these three axes, as opposed to being wed to any particular technology/policy/deployment approach.
(References found here)
(Overview slides found here)

Club Co-President, MIT Climate Physics PhD student Daniel Enderton kicked off the discussion with an overview of some basic quantities that everyone in energy needs to know: total annual global primary energy usage (~400 Quads or EJ - quads and EJ are nearly equivalent), the U.S. energy rule (divide global by about 4, ~100 Quads), and the 85% rule - about 85% of global primary energy comes from fossil fuels. Daniel also discussed the recent rapid growth rates in renewables in recent years (20-40% depending on which) in biofuels, PV, and wind. Enderton laid out an Energy Club truism: since fossil is the dominant energy source and will be for the foreseeable future, if you care about energy outcomes you better understand and care about fossil fuels. However, the large growth rates in renewable energy make it a great place to focus one's efforts as well. You need to understand both to win the energy game!

His fellow Club Co-President, James Schwartz followed on by discussing energy costs, particularly in the electic power sector. This sparked some heated discussion on the true costs of wind power, with new Club member Mike Hogan and LFEE researcher Steve Connors hammering it out over the true added cost that should be assigned to wind power due to its intermittancy, hopefully a point to be discussed later this semester in a Wind Power discussion. The options available for grid scale storage were discussed in this context as well, including compressed air energy storage, pumped hydro, and large flow batteries (all hopefully topics worthy of discussion this year). By the way, Richard Lester and John Deutch's "Applications of Technology in Energy and Environment" MIT course is a great place to go to learn how to calculate energy costs.

Club Vice President Kristian Bodek headed up the piece on environment, with a focus on key criteria pollutants. Kristian pointed out that specific pollutants should be understood to be linked to specific negative environmental outcomes and specific energy sectors. For example, SOx = acid rain = utility sector (particularly coal) and NOx = smog = auto sector (esp personal transport). Kristian then identified the key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions globally: interestingly, the power, transport, and industrial sectors contribute about 50% of total emissions, with the rest rounded out by forest burning, ag byproducts, and fossil fuel recovery and processing mainly. He also pointed out that along with CO2 (72% of effective emissions), CH4 (18%) and nitrous oxide (9%) are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions - both dominated by agricultural byproducts.

Club Discussion Chair Justin Anderson closed the discussion with a brief overview of energy security. In the U.S. and many other regions, energy insecurity = oil import dependence. However, it was pointed out that natural gas is becoming a key energy insecurity issue, esp in the Russia-Europe strategic energy relationship, with a politically re-emerging Russia having shut off supply occasionally in recent years. Justin pointed out that the U.S. uses 19.2 million barrels of oil/day, 64% of which is imported. Interestingly, 10.3% of U.S. oil comes from Canada, the largest coming from any single country (Saudia Arabia is only at ~8%). The real concern was mentioned that reserves are concentrated in the Middle East in regions not particularly friendly to the U.S. and that the % of total reserves in this region will likely only grow as reserves are consumed elsewhere. Justin brought up one possible optimistic scenario that could get around this: if technological developments allowed North America to economically take advantage of its massive tar sands/oil shale reserves. After all, as Justin pointed out, reserves are a function of cost of extraction/processing to make crude.

The event concluded with a social hour at the MIT R&D Pub where 80+ members of the MIT energy community mingled and sparked new ideas. I overheard conversations about which MIT advisors to work for in batteries, I saw a new energy startup form, I overheard students getting advice for how to transition from a Physics PhD to a position in the energy industry.... Just the kind of stuff you hear at the MIT Energy Club's great events. :)

Looking forward to seeing everyone at upcoming Energy Club events!

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