Seminar Archive Summaries
Consumer-Owned Utilities as an Energy Career Path: Doing Pretty Well While Doing Some Good Too; Saving the World and Having a Job
Susan Kelly, American Public Power Association
Monday, February 27, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
It can be hard to find a career path in the energy field that satisfies the urge to make a positive difference while not donning an economic hair shirt. Working for for-profit producers, generators and utilities can require you to put the company’s business plan and profits before what might be best for consumers, but working as a consumer advocate can be a tough economic road. A “sweet spot” that even those in the field tend to overlook is working for utilities that are owned by their consumers, either directly through a cooperative or indirectly through a local governmental entity. Because producing profits to satisfy a separate class of shareholders is not required, those working for such utilities can concentrate on a single mission: providing the most reasonably priced, reliable utility service possible while meeting environmental goals. Sue Kelly has spent 30 years working for consumer-owned utilities, and will share her views on why they can provide a satisfying energy career path.
Craig Criddle, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University
Richard G.Luthy, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University
Monday, February 13, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
By the end of the 20th century, the United States had about 15,000 wastewater treatment plants and 13,000 landfills. These systems were designed to prevent environmental harm and to protect public health. Other factors, such as energy costs and climate change, were not a consideration. Waste and wastewater were collected, transported to centralized facilities, treated to remove harmful agents, and the effluents and residuals discharged. Now these systems have reached their design life and are in need of revitalization. Energy costs, climate change, and demand for secure supplies of water, food and materials provide powerful incentives for technological innovation through the creation of circular markets. In such markets, wastewater becomes a resource for local production of freshwater and nutrients, and organic waste becomes feedstock for local production of energy and biomaterials. Many groups around the world are now developing technology to enable such innovation.
Mark Thurber, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, Stanford University
Monday, February 6, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
State-owned oil and natural gas companies, such as Saudi Aramco, Petróleos de Venezuela and China National Petroleum Corp., own 73 percent of the world's oil reserves and 68 percent of its natural gas. They bankroll governments across the globe. Although national oil companies superficially resemble private-sector companies, they often behave in very different ways.
Oil and Governance: State-Owned Enterprises and the World Energy Supply (Cambridge University Press, 2012), a new book commissioned by Stanford University's Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, explains the variation in performance and strategy for such state-owned enterprises. The book, which Mark Thurber co-edited and contributed to, also provides fresh insights into the future of the oil industry and the politics of the oil-rich countries where national oil companies dominate.
Though national oil companies have often been the subject of case studies, for the first time multiple case studies followed a common research design, which aided the relative ranking of performance and the evaluation of hypotheses about such companies' performance. Interestingly, some of the worst performing of these operations belong to countries quite unfriendly to the United States. Mark will also discuss the industrial structure of the oil industry, and the politics and administration of national oil companies. One result of the dominance of this structure for oil markets is that high prices often lead to lower supplies and low prices lead to increased production -- the opposite response of private companies.
Mark Zoback, Department of Geophysics, Stanford University
Monday, January 30, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
It is now clear that enormous quantities of natural gas can be produced from organic rich shales found in many countries throughout the world. Because natural gas is both a flexible fuel and much cleaner than other fossil fuels, it has the potential to significantly transform energy use in many regions. Natural gas used for electrical power generation produces about half as much CO2 as coal.
Despite these advantages, there are also significant challenges associated natural gas development. These include minimizing the impact of shale gas development on the environment and communities. In the U.S. alone, thousands of wells will need to be drilled each year (along with construction of pipelines, compressor and distribution facilities, etc.). While a number of misleading claims have been made about the dangers associated with processes such as hydraulic fracturing, poor well construction and drilling have the potential to cause environmental damage which must be minimized.
Another challenge associated with shale gas development is to significantly improve the efficiency of drilling and production practice. This will require greatly improved understanding of shale gas production from the nano-scale pore structure and flow mechanisms in the shale to the optimal way to stimulate production using horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing.
Burton Richter, Director Emeritus, SLAC National Accelerator Labaratory
Monday, January 23, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
Nuclear reactor fuel after it comes out of a reactor is intensely radioactive and dangerous. It is literally too hot to handle for 4 to 5 years after it comes out and is stored under water, and then too radioactive to be stored without massive shielding. How to ultimately dispose of this material has been the focus of both technical and political controversy. The deep underground repository planned for Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been abandoned after twenty five years of R&D, leaving a new site to be found and characterized before used fuel can be put away. The problem is mainly political, rather than technical and in this presentation I will discuss the technical and political issue that got the US into its current situation. Other countries (Switzerland, Finland, and France for example) have no problems like ours. A new high level commission has been working on what to do and their report is due out at the end of this month, though its main points are already available and I will review how the spent fuel issue can be managed.
Sally Benson, Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University
Monday, January 9, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
In little more than a decade, carbon dioxide (CO2) capture from point source emissions and sequestration in deep geological formations has emerged as one of the most important options for reducing CO2 emissions. Two major challenges stand in the way of realizing this potential: the high cost of capturing CO2, and gaining confidence in the capacity, safety and permanence of sequestration in deep geological formations. Building on examples from laboratory and field-based studies of multiphase flow of CO2 in porous rocks; this talk addresses the current prospects for CO2 sequestration.
Which formations can provide safe and secure sequestration? At what scale will this be practical and is this scale sufficient to significantly reduce emissions? What monitoring methods can be used to provide assurance that CO2 remains trapped underground? What are the long-term risks of geological sequestration and how can they be managed? The status of each these questions will be discussed, along with emerging research questions.
Panel: Carrie Armel, June Flora and Tom Robinson, Stanford University.
Moderated by Byron Reeves, Stanford University.
Monday, December 5, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:30 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
Smart meters and related sensing technologies promise that energy information will change energy use. Poorly designed interactions with energy information, however, jeopardize billion-dollar infrastructure investments. The current problems are numerous: sensor information is complex and dull, incentives are inappropriate, informational barriers to action are high, and social context is ignored. These problems all involve the intersection of human behavior and technology. The goal of the Stanford ARPA-E Sensor and Behavior Initiative is to develop a comprehensive human-centered solution that leverages the anticipated widespread diffusion of energy sensors to significantly reduce and shift energy use. The Stanford ARPA-E Sensor and Behavior Initiative includes 20 projects spanning 10 Stanford academic departments with multiple industry collaborators. The Initiative can be divided into three types of projects: (1) technology-oriented projects: hardware, analytics and a software platform that enables behavioral programs to be implemented at scale; (2) behavioral programs to reduce and shift energy use; and (3) data modeling that incorporates behavior into prescriptive engineering and economic analyses. The behavioral programs include media (interaction design, social networking, games and feedback interfaces), policy (behavioral economic incentive programs), and community (e.g., a Girl Scout program).
Roland Horne, Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University
Monday, November 28, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
The past five years have brought considerable changes to geothermal development. Historically high oil prices since 2005 have focused attention on renewable energy, supported by a global ambition to address greenhouse gas reduction. Geothermal developments have accelerated in many parts of the world, both in countries (such as New Zealand, Indonesia and the US) that have a traditional interest in "conventional" geothermal resources, as well as countries without a historical interest in geothermal energy (such as Australia and Germany). Some new developments have followed well-worn paths in conventional hydrothermal resources in volcanic regions, while others have struck out in new directions in enhanced geothermal system (EGS) projects in nonvolcanic regions. Technology has allowed for developments of conventional resources with lower temperature, restricted water access, and constrained surface utilization. EGS projects have launched in a variety of different directions and places (the US currently has six active EGS developments).
Richard Swanson, SunPower Corp.
Monday, November 14, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
SunPower Founder: Solar’s Learning Curve Paves Way to Competitive Costs
By Mark Golden
Solar power, despite critiques that it is too expensive to significantly contribute to a green future, will be cost competitive without government subsidies in just a few years, according to a pioneer of both the solar industry and research.
The price of generating solar power in some cases is already on par with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels, according to Richard Swanson, who was an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University for 16 years before he left to found SunPower in 1991. Large photovoltaic (PV) power plants, like the one SunPower is building to supply PG&E, are already cost competitive, as are home rooftop panels in Hawaii and several European countries.
“We’re at the precipice, man,” Swanson enthused. “PV is basically right there, after all these years of hard work.”
George Frampton, Jr., Covington & Burling LLP
Monday, November 7, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All
As unlikely as it may seem, the future of the commercial nuclear industry, except perhaps in a few European countries and in Japan, appears to have been little affected by the Fukushima disaster. In the United States, Fukushima may have an impact on the relicensing of old plants and result in new safety requirements. But the principal barrier to a “nuclear renaissance” in this country remains the fact that nuclear is not cost competitive with other alternatives; indeed, its lack of competitiveness has been accentuated by the new prospect of cheap and abundant domestic natural gas, and by escalating nuclear capital costs. But nuclear will likely boom in China, India, Russia and perhaps other developing countries. It is China that will likely take the lead in new designs and in growing an export business of nuclear construction and operation. But without a safety law or a nuclear safety agency, with no history of independent regulatory entities, and with a record of problematic infrastructure construction, China will be challenged to move ahead at the pace currently envisioned without raising serious concern among its population and the nuclear community.