Friday, January 16, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: the Energy & Amabassadors Edition

It’s a lot of energy and energy policy this week and a little bit of Twitter, much of which may only interest me.  If you came here looking for D&D stuff or triathlon advice, I don’t know what to tell you.  I’ve known for some time that this would be a much more successful blog if it was about exactly one topic, even if I only posted on that topic once a week.  However, I prefer doing it this way because this is who I am.
In President Obama’s latest move using executive authority to tackle climate change, administration officials will announce plans this week to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, according to a person familiar with Mr. Obama’s plans…
Environmental advocates have long urged the Obama administration to target methane emissions, and the rules would be the first to do so. Most of the planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution in the United States comes from carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning coal, oil and natural gas. Methane, which leaks from oil and gas wells, accounts for just 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution — but it is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so even small amounts of it can have a big impact on global warming.
This is a good move.  Because of fracking, natural gas is now cheaper than a lot of energy alternatives, but even before that was true, it was gaining market share on environmental grounds.  That’s good.  However, if we’re going to pursue natural gas because gas is cleaner and has less impact when burned, it makes logical sense to ensure this is done in a way that actually lessens the environmental impact.
Believe it or not, cow farts--from industrial beef production
--are another significant source of methane.
With that said, the article also gives talking points from the industry saying that regulation is not needed, that they could get away with voluntary standards because the gas industry already has financial, market-based incentives for capturing methane.  Methane has value in and of itself.  For this reason, the industry argues, no one would burn it off or allow it to escape unnecessarily.
That may be true, but I do not personally think it is a reason to avoid regulating the industry when industry practices can have a substantial impact on neighboring communities.  Regardless of market incentives, it is still the government’s job to protect people from potentially harmful corporate practices.  I am not personally inclined to let the government off the hook, nor do I think it’s advisable to trust in the good graces of the corporate profit motive.  There’s nothing wrong with corporations trying to make money, but if we want them to behave correctly, we need to spell out the expectations clearly and then hold them accountable.  You may argue that most people want to do the right thing naturally, but my experience is that folks tend to see the “right” thing in terms of their own self- and family-interests.
The new investment will help Eos scale up manufacturing of its Aurora batteries, which promise 75 percent round-trip efficiency, along with a 10,000-cycle, or 30-year, lifetime, at a price point of $160 per kilowatt-hour…
Eos wants to produce 1-megawatt, 4-megawatt-hour containerized systems that come ready to be connected to the grid.
Fascinating article.  It shows both how far energy storage technology has come and how far it still has to go.  Coming up with a 1 MW / 4 MWh battery with a 30-year lifecycle in a container-sized package is a massively impressive technical achievement.  And yet, the ability to deliver one megawatt for four hours is trivial next to the size and scope of the North American bulk power system.  
As both the project and its manufacturing scale up, it’s possible that economies of scale will enable this to make a real contribution to bulk power systems, but as impressive as this is—and it is tremendously impressive—it’s still not particularly close to being the kind of technology that will quickly change the world.
3.  Friday Hair Metal: We're Not Gonna Take It!

In a profession where inappropriate, unclear, or careless phrasing can undermine countless hours of painstaking negotiation, it might seem like a huge risk to send public messages limited to a paltry 140 characters that can go viral almost instantly. Yet today hundreds of diplomats around the world have official Twitter accounts, and the numbers are growing weekly. Diplomats are not only permitted but encouraged to tweet, especially by the U.S. government, which has touted social media engagement as a key part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft initiative.
I found this article from another article, which appeared on Slate just yesterday.  It led me to Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States.  He's my new favorite follow on Twitter.  Amontg other things, he retweets a lot of random history, which is almost always really awesome.  I found both of the following because Araud retweeted them.

I like Twitter, but if you’re not careful, you can wind up in an endless cycle of meaningless drivel.  Following a few of the ambassadors at least raises the level of the discourse in your feed, albeit not on a continuous basis.

Applications for U.S. home mortgages surged by the most in more than six years last week as 30-year mortgage rates dropped below 4 percent for the first time since May 2013 on the back of falling U.S. government bond yields, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, jumped 49.1 percent in the week ended Jan. 9, its largest weekly percentage gain since late November 2008, in the middle of the U.S. financial crisis.
I’ve thought for years that the government has been trying to boost the economy in such a way as to finally make your house worth what you originally paid for it.  Well, low interest rates alongside a surging economy are finally making that goal a reality.  It’s probably still not a bad time to buy a house, but if you’re in the market, I’d hurry up and make that offer soon.
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.  
I wrote a little D&D campaign for my kids a few weeks ago called “The Mystery of Malvern Manor,” and it went so well that I decided to write it up for the blog and post it publicly.  Folks seemed to like it.  It got picked up last Friday by EN World, and this week it got formally reviewed on the popular Australian gaming blog Merric’s Musings.  As a result, we’ve had more traffic than ever on the blog these past two weeks, and that’s been both fun and rewarding.
My goal going forward is to do more D&D on the blog because, bottom line, that’s who seems to read my stuff.  I’m going to try to post gaming-related content on Tuesdays, and from there, I guess we’ll see how it goes.  
Available for the Kindle!
In the meantime, if you want to see more of my gaming-related work, my short novel Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki is the place to start.  I wrote the book for my kids, based in part on their D&D characters and on things that we’d done in-game during various vacations in Maine.  For what it’s worth, everybody who’s read the book seems to have liked it quite a lot, though I’ve had a Hell of time getting folks to stop for five minutes and write up a review for it on Amazon.Com.
What can I say?  I have a lot of friends, but they’re all super-busy, super-successful people.  I can get them to do most anything except slow down.

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