Category Archives: Energy & emissions

Agencies Could Learn a Lot From Tennessee’s Shift to Pay for Performance

By Howard Risher – Federal agencies will certainly not be the first public employer to switch to pay for performance. Among the earliest were Florida in 1968 and Wisconsin and Utah in 1969. Over the next four decades, reports show another 20 states adopted the policy although almost half cover less than 10 percent of the workforce. Unfortunately, their experience has not been documented or assessed recently.

The most recent may be Tennessee, and by all standards it’s demonstrated one of most successful transitions. The statute Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act was signed in April 2012, although significantly the first payouts didn’t occur until 2016.

The key to the state’s success is the decision to rely on S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time sensitive) performance goal setting. The requirement that performance plans be based on individual goals that meet the S.M.A.R.T. criteria ensured four things:

  1. It provided an intuitive linkage to higher level agency goals;
  2. facilitated supervisor/subordinate discussions;
  3. enabled progress assessments throughout the year; and
  4. provided a verifiable basis for year-end reviews.

For government, a decided advantage is that it allows managers and supervisors to empower their people and hold them accountable. When employees are focused on achieving specific goals, the progress can be tracked throughout the year and supervisors can shift to monitoring and coaching. more> https://goo.gl/jKfRqW

Updates from GE

Back To The Future: This Plane Will Make The Jet Set Feel Supersonic Again
By Tomas Kellner – The Concorde, the iconic pointy-nosed supersonic jet that shuttled passengers between Paris, London, New York and other choice destinations, landed for the last time 14 years ago, after 27 years in service. The only civil supersonic airplane to enter service apart from Russia’s TU-144 jet, the plane was never replaced.

“The Concorde was successful from a technical standpoint, but in terms of economics, it was too expensive to operate, its range was limited, it was noisy and its fuel consumption was high,” says Jeff Miller, vice president of marketing at the U.S. aircraft design firm Aerion.

But engineers at Aerion are working to change that. They’ve spent the last 15 years developing AS2, a supersonic jet that could carry up to 12 people in high comfort from London to Seattle, Miller says. “We’ve been focusing on improving efficiency so we can lower the cost of operations and extend the range of the plane so it’s not limited to just barely getting across the Atlantic,” he says. “Now you’ve got an airplane that will really take you places.” more> https://goo.gl/fsVmmR

The next energy revolution: The promise and peril of high-tech innovation

By David Victor and Kassia Yanosek – The technology revolution has transformed one industry after another, from retail to manufacturing to transportation. Its most far-reaching effects, however, may be playing out in the unlikeliest of places: the traditional industries of oil, gas, and electricity.

Today, smarter management of complex systems, data analytics, and automation are remaking the industry once again, boosting the productivity and flexibility of energy companies. These changes have begun to transform not only the industries that produce commodities such as oil and gas but also the ways in which companies generate and deliver electric power. A new electricity industry is emerging—one that is more decentralized and consumer-friendly, and able to integrate many different sources of power into highly reliable power grids. In the coming years, these trends are likely to keep energy cheap and plentiful, responsive to market conditions, and more efficient than ever.

But this transition will not be straightforward. It could destabilize countries whose economies depend on revenue from traditional energy sources, such as Russia, the big producers of the Persian Gulf, and Venezuela. It could hurt lower-skilled workers, whose jobs are vulnerable to automation. And cheap fossil fuels will make it harder to achieve the deep cuts in emissions needed to halt global warming. more> https://goo.gl/YB2Yry

Auto slowdown flashes caution lights for manufacturing employment — and Trump

By Mark Muro – After a good run, warning lights are flashing in the auto industry—and that’s not good for the broader manufacturing sector, for heartland metropolitan areas, or for President Trump.

Here’s the problem: after seven years of strong growth following the 2008 economic crisis and federal bailouts of both General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, auto sector output and employment growth have slowed markedly from record levels. Years of catch-up purchases by car buyers have finally plateaued. Likewise, automakers must economize to invest billions in developing the electric and self-driving cars of tomorrow.

And so the layoffs have begun. more> https://goo.gl/sazWoc

Updates from GE

Taking Charge: GE Bundles Batteries With Largest Steam And Gas Turbines
By Bruce Watson – Ever since the days of Thomas Edison, utilities have been working on ways to balance the grid. In the absence of utility-scale batteries that could store and release megawatts on demand — they remain expensive — the most common balancing tools today are “peakers.” These power plants, which burn either oil or natural gas, can quickly ramp up to full power and pick up the slack when renewables drop off. But even the fastest peakers take several minutes to reach full power, forcing operators to run them at minimum load to keep them ready. Idling, the turbines burn fuel, pump out greenhouse gas emissions and accumulate wear.

But engineers working at GE have now come up with a clever compromise that works kind of like a hybrid car: gas turbine peakers and batteries wrapped in a single, efficient package with sophisticated power-management software. “With a hybrid gas turbine, you don’t have to run the turbine at all,” says Brian Gutknecht, chief marketing officer for GE Power. “If power is called for, batteries can provide immediate power. Meanwhile, you can start up the gas turbine.” By the time the batteries run out of power, the turbine will be up and running — powering the grid and recharging the batteries. more> https://goo.gl/UR1qmM

Updates from GE

Renewable Energy Makes Things Tough On The Grid, But New Software Could Help

By Bruce Watson – In 2016, more than two-thirds of power in Europe came from nonrenewable sources. Globally, renewables are expected to reach parity with coal and gas around 2040.

Nevertheless, the speed with which intermittent renewables — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow — are coming on board is making it harder for European utilities to balance the grid. That’s because the grid, as large as it is, is also a delicate system where supply must match demand at all times or there’s a risk of blackouts.

In France, for example, strong winds in the north mixed with a sunny week on the Riviera in the south can lead to a surfeit of electricity that puts the balance at risk.

The intermittency also makes profits hard to find, with European utilities on average struggling to increase profits 1 percent in 2016. Countries around the world are watching how Europe uses thermal generation to keep the grid balanced; prioritizes low-cost, clean and renewable energy; and keeps utilities profitable amid a rapidly changing energy network. more> https://goo.gl/iC532f

Updates from GE

The Time To Invent The Technologies That Will Power Our Future Is Now
By David Danielson – The year 2050 sounds pretty far away, doesn’t it? But in terms of the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, 2050 is today: it’s right around the corner.

By 2050, there will be almost 10 billion people on Earth, one-third more than there are today, with essentially all of this population growth predicted to be in currently less-wealthy nations around the world. And the approximately 9 billion people living in these nations in 2050 will be hungry to consume more energy, requiring an almost doubling of energy usage per person to achieve a good standard of living by some estimates.

At the same time, the world’s best scientists have determined that we must simultaneously reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050, relative to today’s levels, in order to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Scaling and improving today’s clean energy technologies can take us part of the way to the future we all want. Technologies like wind power, solar power, LEDs, electric vehicle batteries, and many others are already rapidly approaching widespread cost-competitiveness with traditional forms of energy.

But these technologies alone will not be enough: it has become clear now that to provide universal energy access around the world while simultaneously achieving required emissions reductions, we must unleash an unprecedented Energy Innovation Revolution today – and over the next few years – to develop the transformative new energy technologies that will be needed to close the gap between the 2050 we are headed for and the 2050 we want. more> https://goo.gl/57jCZr

End-times for humanity

BOOK REVIEW

Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Author: Claire Colebrook.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Author: Naomi Klein.
Antifragile, Author: Nicholas Taleb.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Author: Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Social Contract, Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

By Claire Colebrook – The panic isn’t merely about civilisational threats, but existential ones. Beyond doomsday proclamations about mass extinction, climate change, viral pandemics, global systemic collapse and resource depletion, we seem to be seized by an anxiety about losing the qualities that make us human.

Social media, we’re told, threatens our capacity for empathy and genuine connection.

How did we arrive at this moment in history, in which humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before, and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile?

What contemporary post-apocalyptic culture fears isn’t the end of ‘the world’ so much as the end of ‘a world’ – the rich, white, leisured, affluent one. Western lifestyles are reliant on what the French philosopher Bruno Latour has referred to as a ‘slowly built set of irreversibilities’, requiring the rest of the world to live in conditions that ‘humanity’ regards as unlivable.

And nothing could be more precarious than a species that contracts itself to a small portion of the Earth, draws its resources from elsewhere, transfers its waste and violence, and then declares that its mode of existence is humanity as such. more> https://goo.gl/1nriI9

Updates from GE

Beyond Bitcoin: Digital Currency Among Many Industrial Applications For Blockchain
By Mark Egan & Dorothy Pomerantz – Ben Beckmann works as the lead scientist in the complex systems engineering lab at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, New York. In 2012, he made a seemingly inconsequential wager: He bet one of his colleagues that the electronic currency bitcoin would fail.

Bitcoins started trading for pennies after the currency launched in 2009. Today, you can buy one bitcoin for $2,200. Beckmann lost the bet and took his colleague for a nice meal. “If we had taken the $100 we spent on dinner and invested it in bitcoins at the start, we would be millionaires,” Beckmann laughs.

Losing the bet pushed Beckman to take a closer look at the code behind bitcoin. He and others at GE discovered that the real magic that made it work was a public digital ledger called blockchain that keeps a chronological record of all bitcoin transactions. But the currency is just one blockchain application. The technology could be used for tracking trade, contracts, and even renewable energy.

Maja Vujinovic, technical product manager at GE Digital, is leading a push to explore and develop blockchain across the company. She’s looking at everything from purchase orders and budget reconciliation and parts tracking. “The bank receives a fee for every transaction,” Vujinovic  says. “If we can remove the bank and establish a trust mechanism instead, that will save us a lot of money.” more> https://goo.gl/5XIWo7