Recently, students across the country protested the progress being made on implementing cleaner energy sources and technologies. Missing were discussions on the lessons-learned from the huge dollar investments in solar and wind made during the past two administrations and their limited growth versus the significant social, economic and environmental benefits received from the natural gas shale revolution. Absent also were discussions of other cleaner energy sources such as hydrogen fuel cell technologies, etc. that are being developed to deliver cleaner, dependable, safe, renewable, and affordable energy. I suggest readers spend a few minutes watching, Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative video (ngi.stanford.edu) to gain a better perspective on our country’s progress, and, as importantly, an understanding that natural gas is yet another transitional fuel source as more viable cleaner sources are developed and deployed.
More importantly, missing was discussion of the readiness of renewable energy sources and their enabling technologies to allow for a large scale transition. This past fall, we were in China, and energy and pollution were discussed continually. As part of their efforts to combat high pollution levels they have spent a lot of resources on energy storage technology, especially battery technology. The U.S. is heavily researching and developing storage technologies as well. The critical importance of energy storage technology and its effect on the grid is seemingly not well appreciated to ensure dependable and reliable electricity from renewable sources, especially in this digital age.
The students and their protests can, however, play an immediate part in our community, and also provide long-term benefits for energy users. In the short-term, we can demand: 1) the city mandate that new purchases of heavy-duty trucks be equipped with near-zero emissions natural gas engines; and 2) a percent of contracted heavy-duty trucks working on city projects to include the new Metro station be equipped with these engines. Sadly, the dysfunction of our U.S. Senate and House of Representatives removed any immediate impact and leverage in putting new near-zero emissions natural gas powered vehicle keys in the hands of operators to replace the old smog generating heavy-duty trucks and construction equipment as the result of the absence of a large-scale Federal infrastructure program. Provisions in legislation would hopefully have required a percent of construction vehicles be equipped with these new natural gas engines. We are then left with only state and local mandates — if we demand these provisions.
In the longer-term, we can demand our governor and state representatives leverage our connections with power companies within the state; e.g., Dominion Energy, Washington Gas, etc. to negotiate agreements to establish technology innovation laboratories to promote new and improved technologies and, especially, for start-ups in the field of clean energy production and sustainability. These laboratories would, most importantly, make available test and evaluation facilities equipped with required test equipment. If one reads the provisions of the Federal Enabling Energy Saving Innovation Act, you’ll immediately understand how difficult and expensive it is for small start-ups and large corporations to field new and innovative technologies. Are there local inventors around? Any one watch Steve Case (Rise of the Rest) on 60 Minutes? They are everywhere. I visited a start-up on Pendleton Street last week, and saw a 37 pound generator that was crying for the military / FEMA to test it along with another invention fueled by natural gas and hydrogen. Can the students imagine the opportunities and benefits from internships at these labs?
We are lucky in Alexandria to have the social, economic and environmental benefits of natural gas — as we wait for the arrival of additional cleaner, affordable, safe, dependable and reliable energy sources. And for the students, continue to study energy sources and sustainability, be an independent thinker, be an inventor, and keep pushing forward.