Dr. Michael Webber’s Energy Technology and Policy Course – Day 1

The following post was written by our DLA Piper sponsored law intern, Justin Bowes. Justin is an attorney admitted to practice in Texas and has been with ATI since October 2009.  He holds a BA in economics from the University of Texas at Austin and a JD from Notre Dame Law School.

Today marked the beginning of the three-day course “Energy Technology and Policy” given by clean energy incubator co-director Michael Webber.  The course provides an introduction to energy fundamentals then lays out the state of energy technology and policy in the world today. Topics covered include thermodynamics, fossil fuels, renewable power, climate change, nuclear power, transportation, biofuels, and policy.  Dr. Webber and guest lecturers describe current and future problems and opportunities in energy and share their thoughts on the future direction of this fast moving field.   Participants will learn technology and policy fundamentals better enabling them to interpret information and make informed energy decisions.

Highlights from today’s discussions included surprising facts about nuclear power.  For example, did you know that the United States generates twice as much energy from nuclear power plants as any other nation?  France is second.  Additionally, there was great information on renewable sources of energy including hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.  Texas has more installed wind capacity than any other state and with intense sunlight is well positioned to benefit from falling prices in solar energy technology.

Other topics covered today included the importance of understanding the impact of the growth of data centers on energy demand, the relative cost of energy from natural gas, petroleum and electricity to consumers, the efficiency of turbines in dams and the importance of understanding the relationship between peak power demand and average demand throughout the day.

Guest lecturer Dr. David Allen described the carbon cycle, explained the effects and sources of greenhouse gases and shared calculations on the financial cost of mitigating emissions.  He also described some unconventional proposals by other scientists to reduce global warming; among these was a suggestion that it might be possible to mimic the global cooling effect following a volcanic eruption by injecting particulate matter into the atmosphere to reflect some of the sun’s rays.

Guest lecturer Dr. Phil Schmidt presented an overview of electric transportation with special emphasis on hybrid and electric cars.  He explained electric motors are well suited for producing power to accelerate a car and small, efficient gas engines are better suited to providing power to maintain cruising speed.  Then Dr. Schmidt discussed the battery technology making these vehicles possible and compared efficiency, lifecycle, cost and other metrics for available battery technologies.

The course was fast paced, informative and responsive to audience input.  We are looking forward to another great lecture tomorrow covering environmental issues, fuel cells, biofuels, energy and water, and the relationship between energy and food.