How much carbon and water does it take to turn on a light bulb?
While I’m on the subject of flow charts, I thought this visual from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory brings into relief the changes we are facing in terms of energy supply.
First, there is the sheer inefficiency of the overall system — of 105,000 petajoules (PJ) of energy consumed, some 57,943 PJ are wasted. Second, despite all the debate about nuclear, wind and solar, together they amount for very little of our energy supply. It is a world of coal, natural gas and oil. According to the analysis:
The national energy balance sheet reveals a number of pertinent facts. First, coal-fired power plants generate almost half of our electricity and are responsible for nearly 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year—equivalent to the emissions of the entire transportation industry. Greenhouse gas emissions from coal, and to a lesser extent natural gas and oil, explain why the electric power industry is the single largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Second, although there has been explosive growth in solar, wind and biomass power in recent years, renewable generation still provides a small amount of our generating capacity. Third, the current electricity system, from generation to end-user, wastes vast sums of energy; for example, a light bulb receives less than half of the energy contained in a piece of coal. Finally, the U.S. transportation sector is almost wholly reliant on oil, more than half of which is imported.
I’m very pleased to report that a paper I began working on in September 2008 has recently been published, which is actually quite rapid as these things go. (If you need immediate gratification, a career in academics is probably not for you.)
The paper is called Categorization by Association: Nuclear Technology and Emission-Free Electricity. In the paper we (Raghu Garud, Peter Karnøe and I) analyze the categorization of nuclear technology from 1945 to 2010. In particular, we were intrigued to understand how a technology once categorized as an atomic bomb has been able to transform itself into a technology now considered as a potential source of sustainable and emission-free electricity. Of note, our paper draws on actor network theory and a sociology of associations perspective, and conceptualizes technologies as sociomaterial — that is, materially anchored, institutionally performed, socially relevant and entrepreneurially negotiated. Based on our findings, we consider some implications for our theoretical understanding of categorization processes. Specifically, we propose that it may be useful to re-conceptualize categories as a relational phenomenon. Rather than being established once and for all, categories can be understood as always in the making. We then suggest directions for future research that such an insight opens up.
The paper appears in Research in the Sociology of Work Volume 21: Institutions and Entrepreneurship, edited by Wesley D. Sine and Robert J. David. Other contributors to the volume include: W. Richard Scott, Howard Aldrich, Mary Ann Glynn, Candace Jones, Stephen J. Mezias , Theresa K. Lant, Paul Ingram, Jason Owen-Smith, Paul Ingram, Philippe Monin and others.
Along the way, my co-authors and I were privileged to have presented working versions of the paper at a number of conferences, including the European Group for Organization Studies Colloquium (July 2009), the Medici Summer School in Management Studies (July 2009), the Wharton Technology Conference (April 2010), the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (June 2010), the Cultural Entrepreneurship Network Workshop (June 2010), the Academy of Management (August 2010), and the West Coast Research Symposium (August 2010).
Today the New York Times website featured a story proclaiming “U.S. Military Orders Less Dependence on Fossil Fuels“
While reading the article, I found myself having a deja vu moment. For historical perspective, consider that the nuclear power industry was largely an outgrowth of the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program, and in particular, the vision of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the so-called “Father of the Nuclear Navy.” In fact, the very first commercial reactor in the US was at one time slated for use in a ship. But after the USSR announced its Obninsk nuclear reactor, instead of putting it to sea, they put it on a concrete pad in Shippingport, PA (for more on the transformation of nuclear technology from bombs into electricity, see Garud, Gehman & Karnoe, 2011).
If the past is prologue, perhaps the military’s latest moves will help stimulate a shift in energy technologies once again. A telling snipet from the article:
“There are a lot of profound reasons for doing this, but for us at the core it’s practical,” said Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has said he wants 50 percent of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. That figure includes energy for bases as well as fuel for cars and ships. “Fossil fuel is the No. 1 thing we import to Afghanistan,” Mr. Mabus said, “and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people.”
If even the military recognizes that fossil fuels are standing in the way of combat, perhaps one day soon the rest of us will realize they are standing in the way of civilian life too.
On August 30, 1954, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Atomic Energy Act, paving the way for private companies to own and operate nuclear power plants. Wired magazine provides a nice summary.
Today, quite by accident, I stumbled upon this multimedia video depicting the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons explosions detonated by 7 different countries between 1945 and 1998.
Last week I stumbled across this interesting dashboard of renewable energy projects in the PJM queue. Wind projects are by far the biggest category with nearly 42 GW of capacity planned. By comparison just 1.5 GW of PV solar is planned. And nearly 31 GW of nonrenewables are planned.
Separate from these planned capacity additions, PJM already has 165 GW of generation capacity available. Coal, natural gas and nuclear power are the three largest sources, whereas wind is a minuscule 2.3 GW of the current capacity.