Monday, December 17, 2012

Next Generation Energy Systems

by Rob Elmore (Twitter: @RobElmore)

After the recent – and excellent – VERGE conference in San Francisco (see VERGE-day-1 and VERGE-day-2), I came up with a short phrase to describe the energy-related advances that I have been researching for a number of months: “Next Generation Energy Systems.”

Here I want to lay out the thinking behind that phrase – and share some relevant links that focus on creating a positive future for Earth.


At the most basic level, it is easy to say why “Next” is in this phrase: Given clear scientific consensus about human impacts on climate systems (see, our energy status quo is unsustainable. So we need to ask: “What’s next?”


One implication of the word “Generation,” of course, is alternative, sustainable generation of energy. This includes wind – both small- and large-scale – and solar, whether rooftop-scale decentralized or large and centralized (see and In addition, there are other energy generation technologies like geothermal heat pumps that are advancing in both small- and large-scale capabilities (see, and newer technologies such as landfill gas to energy (LFGTE) facilities (see

In addition, “Generation” in this phrase also takes on the meaning “Next Generation”: emerging improvements to established sustainable energy technologies as well as novel new “possibilities.” This includes both technologies in the pre-development “pipeline” and those already in development, sometimes with the support of agencies like DOE ARPA-E (see and, or undertaken by private firms or foundations. “Next Generation” also includes “speculative” new technologies like “artificial leaf” replication of the photosynthesis energy-from-sunlight extraction processes (see


“Energy” is easy, right? It includes electricity from wind, solar, and other sources for power lines throughout the Earth, plus non-food-source biofuels for vehicles, etc.

Indeed, it is true that ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution we have been advancing the production of energy that can do human-centered work (beyond fire for cooking) – starting with wood and coal, and evolving to our modern worldwide addiction to oil. Today’s energy use is primarily focused on use of electricity for in-place applications – such as generating light, powering machines and electronic equipment and communication networks, and heating and cooling – and on oil and its “cousin” natural gas both for in-place heating and for transportation via the internal combustion engine.

The other way to look at energy production, however, is in terms of the opportunity to produce less because we use less: the emerging focus on efficiency in energy use. One kind of advance in energy efficiency is the use of information technology for energy management in order to reduce energy use within buildings (see and


Here’s where “the rubber meets the road” in the phrase “Next Generation Energy Systems.”

The production and use of energy is not isolated, it scales as an integrated set of systems: this includes both “looking in” at how individual humans live within our households and communities, and “looking out” to our Sun-and-Earth system of daily solar energy input, to total human energy production and use, and to human impacts on climate systems – climate change and global warming.

As mentioned earlier, a systems approach to energy efficiency can work to minimize the need for energy generation (see This includes the thinking pioneered by the Rocky Mountain Institute (see @RockyMtnInst) years ago regarding the “Negawatt” (see focusing through and beyond efficiency, in order to radically reduce energy use in everyday life. One important focus is finding high-leverage points for new efficiencies in how our industrial-production operations use energy (see

A systems approach to energy also calls for radical redesign of urban energy use, both retrofitting existing cities (see and planning for and building new city centers (see – as well as systematically reworking and expanding urban complexes to accommodate a whole-Earth population expected to crest at roughly 9 billion (see This calls for radical redesign of cities and all their energy-using systems, such as stopping the energy waste “built in” to most buildings’ air conditioning systems. This kind of city redesign can be approached both by retrofitting old buildings and by designing new buildings to minimize needs for cooling, as well as by landscaping cities and their rooftops to minimize heat buildup (see

Also critical are new systems for distributing energy, broadly referred to as “smart grids” (see Smart grids are focused both on using information technology to refine the existing centralized electrical grid system, as well as to enable radically decentralized local/regional smart grids with vastly improved resilience in the face of storms and other disruptions (see

Modern agriculture is also a high-impact energy-use system, in need of radical reconfiguration (see, perhaps including urban “vertical farms” (see

One way to look at fossil fuel, such as petroleum, is as an energy storage system: energy was derived from sunlight captured and stored by fossil-era plants millions of years ago, and it is extracted and stored today in forms such as crude oil and gasoline which can be transported to points of refining and end-use. Electricity, on the other hand, is generated and fed into the traditional electrical grid from central sources only as needed to meet real-time demand. Perhaps energy storage next could advance to enable what we might call “virtual storage” of electricity using highly decentralized hydrogen/fuel-cell-based systems tied directly to localized wind-and-solar-energy production installations, as proposed by Jeremy Rifkin (see

Finally, we will need new financial systems to enable the wide-ranging investments required to create Next Generation Energy Systems. One well-established new financial system of this kind is the German example of implementing Feed-In-Tariffs that are made available to financially reward any individual or organization that implements wind or solar generation (see An example that would require a change in U.S. tax law would be to enable master limited partnership investment in renewable energy, as it is now enabled for petroleum investment (see ). And as of this writing (December 2012) we are starting to see a possible U.S. political-and-business consensus emerge on the need to put a price on carbon production / carbon emissions in order to achieve replacement of carbon-based fuels (see and – and thus to help speed “Next Generation Energy Systems” innovation.


Rob Elmore is working toward a positive future for Earth by researching and publishing advances in “Next Generation Energy Systems.” Such advances – each with a background link like those above – are posted several times daily on Twitter (to access the archive, follow this link or web-search: Twitter @RobElmore). Rob is an expert technology solutions marketing writer working as a project contractor. Phone (U.S.) 831-818-2316 to discuss your writing-project needs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 U.S. drought and Arctic ice melting: Is this from human impacts on climate systems?

by Rob Elmore, @RobElmore on Twitter – September 2012

For the non-climate-scientist reader (and written by one of the same), this posting aims to highlight input from science writers regarding the 2012 U.S. drought and extensive melting of ice in the Arctic. By presenting these quotes, the posting is intended to help the reader sort through whether the 2012 news stories on these topics should or should not be regarded as clear indications of human impacts on climate systems in wide-ranging parts of the Earth.

(Note: Numbered links below are spelled out as complete web citations at the end of this posting.)

It’s useful to start with quotes from this (1) recent “Information Statement” by the American Meteorological Society, which outlines for scientists and non-scientists alike some key patterns that weather and climate scientists have determined regarding drought and Arctic ice conditions. It includes these quotes:

“Climate models simulate the important aspects of climate and climate change based on fundamental physical laws of motion, thermodynamics, and radiative transfer.”

“...climate models have demonstrated skill in reproducing past climates, and they agree on the broad direction of future climate.”

“Arctic sea ice extent and volume have been decreasing for the past several decades.”

“The model projections show that the largest warming will occur in northern polar regions, over land areas, and in the winter season, consistent with observed trends.”

“For many areas [around the globe], model simulations suggest there will be a tendency towards more intense rain and snow events separated by longer periods without precipitation.”

“...model simulations suggest that precipitation will increase in the far northern parts of North America, and decrease in the southwest and south-central United States where more droughts will occur.”

“For the longer term, paleoclimatic observations suggest that droughts lasting decades are possible and that these prolonged droughts could occur with little warning.”

“Drier conditions in summer, such as those anticipated for the southern United States and southern Europe, are expected to contribute to more severe episodes of extreme heat.”

“There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s...snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking.”

“Technological, economic, and policy choices in the near future will determine the extent of future impacts of climate change. Science-based decisions are seldom made in a context of absolute certainty.”


Appearing in the Washington Post, this (2) article is by James E. Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and includes these quotes:

“...a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers...

“Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”

“The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change.”

“Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.”

“When we plotted the world’s changing temperatures on a bell curve, the extremes of unusually cool and, even more, the extremes of unusually hot are being altered so they are becoming both more common and more severe.”

"There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time."

This (3) article published by CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) notes:

“This summer, record-breaking temperatures threw an estimated 62 per cent of America's farms into moderate drought or worse, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

"We typically don't see drought intensify like we did this year."

“...a study published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts the U.S. will suffer a series of severe droughts in the next two decades...”

This (4) article in Wired includes:

‘ “In any single event, it’s hard to really know if you’re just seeing a natural variation or climate change,” cautioned climatologist Chris Funk of the University of California, Santa Barbara. With that caveat, Funk said when asked if human activity exacerbated the drought, “Tentatively, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is.” ... Funk’s specialty is the dynamics of sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean. Over the last century, and in particular the last two decades, these rose by an average of 1.25 degrees Fahrenheit. Ocean temperature trends can be tricky to interpret, but there’s little scientific disagreement about Indian Ocean warming: It’s almost certainly man-made, a result of greenhouse gases trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere.‘

‘Bin Guan, a drought specialist at the California Institute of Technology, struck a cautionary note on early interpretations. “Drought development is a long, complicated process,” he said. “Its response to greenhouse gases is more complicated than temperature alone because it’s a combination of temperature, precipitation, evaporation, soil moisture, and other conditions.” Whether the current drought’s severity is linked to greenhouse gas pollution is “difficult to say with certainty,” Guan said. “It could be a combination of both natural forces and human impact, but we can’t be sure, at least for now.” ‘

This (5) transcript of a “Science Friday” interview on NPR (National Public Radio) includes the following quotes:

“Reporting in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, researchers write that extreme heat waves, such as the one last year in Texas, are 20 times more likely today than they were in the 1960s.”

“Tom Peterson is principal scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.”

[Tom  Peterson:] “You know, are you asking about the temperature, how warm it got, or are you asking about the probability of warm temperatures reoccurring? And those can wind up having different answers, so you have to be very cautious about the communication. And that's really some of the questions that have been raised by other scientists is exactly, you know, are we communicating this as precisely, accurately as we should be? And if you get really precisely accurate, sometimes people can't really understand you with all the different caveats.”

“...when you have drought, you have less water able to be evaporated or evapotranspirated from plants, and so more of the energy goes into sensible heat of warming the soil. So droughts can cause heat waves. At the same time, a really intense heat wave can cause a drought, because it fosters so much more evapotranspiration and evaporation of the water off the soil.”

“...climate prediction is much more akin to understanding the change of seasonal cycles and the forces that are affecting that, because now we're seeing - for example, we're seeing spring coming earlier.”

Arctic Ice

This (6) article from Huffington Post notes:

“Each year around March, Arctic sea ice begins its yearly melting period until the extent and volume of ice reach their annual minimums, usually sometime in mid-September. After that point, new ice forms until an annual maximum is reached, typically in March of the following year.”

“...the National Snow and Ice Data Center has reported that from 1979 to 2011, the monthly sea ice extent for September -- the month of the seasonal minimum -- has fallen at a rate of 12 percent per decade.”

“Less summer ice is not only a consequence of climate change, but it will also cause further warming: As the summer ice melts, the light colored ice which reflects the sun's rays back to space is replaced with dark water which absorbs more heat and warms the oceans further. 

This (7) story in Forbes includes these quotes:

“As Arctic Ice Reaches Record Low, Meteorologists Name Humans 'Dominant' Cause Of Climate Change”

“Today, the National Snow and Ice Data Center [NSIDC], in conjunction with NASA, announced today that Arctic sea ice has reached a record low since the previous record-breaking low in 2007.”

‘ “ the context of what’s happened in the last several years and throughout the satellite record, it’s an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing,” NSIDC scientist Walt Meier said in a press release. “The Arctic used to be dominated by multiyear ice, or ice that stayed around for several years,” Meier continued. “Now it’s becoming more of a seasonal ice cover and large areas are now prone to melting out in summer.” ’

This (8) from the Washington Post states:

“The Arctic Ocean’s vast, frozen expanse of ice is rapidly vanishing.”

“The amount of Arctic sea ice is shrinking each year — and will soon disappear altogether in the summer months if the planet keeps warming. Since the 1980s, agencies around the world have deployed satellites to measure the extent of Arctic sea ice...

“Over the past three decades, the summer Arctic sea ice extent has declined roughly 40 percent, and the ice has lost significant volume...”

“A new study in this month’s Environmental Research Letters concludes that between 70 and 95 percent of the Arctic melt since 1979 has been caused by human activity. Man-made global warming has rapidly heated up the Arctic — the region has been warming about twice as fast as the global average. (See here for a good explanation of why.)”

“In the past, scientists have underestimated the pace at which Arctic sea ice would disappear. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) figured we wouldn’t see ice-free summers in the Arctic until the end of the century or so. But later observations suggested that sea-ice extent is shrinking far more quickly than the IPCC had forecast. It appears that earlier climate models underestimated certain “feedback” effects.”

This (9) article from the Wall Street Journal notes:

“The Northern Hemisphere's largest expanses of ice have thawed faster and more extensively this year than scientists have previously recorded. And the summer isn't over.

“Studies suggest that more of the massive Greenland ice cap has melted than at any time since satellite monitoring began 33 years ago, while the Arctic sea's ice is shrinking to its smallest size in modern times.

“ "This year's melting season is a Goliath," said geophysicist Marco Tedesco, director of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory at City University of New York. "The ice is being lost at a very strong pace." ”

Finally, this (10) from AFP (Agence France Presse) by way of the New Zealand Herald includes the following:

“The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has melted to its smallest point ever in a milestone that may show that worst-case forecasts on climate change are coming true, US scientists said today.”

“The extent of ice observed at the weekend broke a record set in 2007 and will likely melt further with several weeks of summer still to come, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the Nasa space agency. The government-backed ice center, based at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said in a statement that the decline in summer Arctic sea ice "is considered a strong signal of long-term climate warming." “

“Michael E. Mann, a lead author of a major UN report in 2001 on climate change, said the latest data reflected that scientists who were criticised as alarmists may have shown "perhaps too great a degree of reticence." "I think, unfortunately, this is an example that points more to the worst-case scenario side of things," said Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. "There are a number of areas where in fact climate change seems to be proceeding faster and with a greater magnitude than what the models predicted," Mann told AFP. "The sea ice decline is perhaps the most profound of those cautionary tales because the models have basically predicted that we shouldn't see what we're seeing now for several decades," he added.”


Web Citations











Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What about rebranding from “climate change” to “human impacts on climate systems”?

by Rob Elmore – on Twitter: @RobElmore

“Climate change”...”Global warming”...”Global climate change”...”Extreme weather”...”Global weirding”

Whatever they call it, clearly the press is paying attention to the potential for serious climate alteration in the non-distant future. And often they wonder out loud if the summer 2012 U.S. drought is a clear sign of such alteration.

For those of us seeking a positive future for Earth, however, the current attention from the mainstream press often obscures some key issues, rather than clarifying them. One central issue being obscured is the core popular description of the problem – something that marketing professionals refer to as “branding”:

What is the key understanding – and the emotional response – that “comes to mind” quickly when a “brand name” is used verbally or in writing?

Rather than any of the common phrases listed above, in this posting I am proposing to the worldwide community who cares passionately about these problems that we ourselves abandon those terms and come together around a new brand name, perhaps:

“Human impacts on climate systems.”

There are several branding considerations behind this proposal:

1. It’s time to clearly declare victory! The overwhelming consensus of credible experts is that there are indeed “human impacts” on the climate, so let’s not hesitate to stand behind their in-depth research. Let’s use the top-line message that human technology and energy use now is overwhelming natural climate cycles both in intensity and speed of impacts. Let’s take responsibility as humans for our past, present, and future actions and impacts.

2. “Climate systems” is important because we need to communicate clearly at all times to the public what is clear in the models that climate scientists have developed: There is not a single climate – rather there are complex systems of climate-factor interactions. These interactions (a) are difficult to model and understand, and yet (b) with analysis over time are yielding scientific understandings of how specific climate systems have interacted in the past, are interacting now, and likely will interact in the future under different scenarios.

3. Most important, “human impacts on climate systems” can be both negative and positive. Clearly fossil fuel use has the negative impact of releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere, leading to more trapping of the sun’s heat. On the other hand, increasing use of wind energy, solar energy, tidal energy, etc. and the development of new energy storage and distribution systems is at least neutral in terms of impacts. More likely, these impacts should be classed as “positive” because our key challenge is to quickly slow the increase – and then quickly decrease – the rate of CO2 release in order to minimize increases over time in Earth’s overall average temperature.

4. Indeed, we are starting to see “green shoots” sprouting of positive human impacts on climate systems. To take just one example, reforestation initiatives in any location serve to sequester C02 out of the atmosphere. In parts of Africa, reforestation is being undertaken both to block expansion of the Sahara Desert and over time to start to reclaim desert land for sustainable human use. Let’s re-brand the conversation in part to enable focus on these positive impacts on Earth’s future!

As a growing worldwide network of individuals committed to a positive future for Earth, let’s start talking with one voice – as a credible force for rebranding – about “human impacts on climate systems.” And let’s watch for impacts in the press.

Your comments and dialog are invited: @RobElmore on Twitter and on email. On LinkedIn my bio appears at -- and at you can see my earlier blog posting about “Marketing’s role in the transition to a positive future for Earth.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Marketing’s role in the transition to a positive future for Earth

by Rob Elmore (Twitter: @RobElmore)

Many thoughtful writers and organizations are speaking out – even in the face of realistic awareness about global warming and major economic challenges – about how to make the transition to a positive future for Earth.

To mention just a few, these include Peter Diamandis (, Jeremy Rifkin (, Herman Daly (, and Ervin Laszlo (

While their analyses, approaches, and proposals vary widely, these thinkers and many others (see my Twitter postings) share a focus on “possibilities” – how we begin right now to work our way out from multiple problems into a future in which we and future generations of humans and all living systems can survive and prosper in a balanced fashion.

One problem that all of us who are “possibility thinkers” face is how to get the word out in ways that help others – especially newcomers to this positive point of view – to overcome entrenched ways of seeing Earth’s future.

One response to that challenge is to apply core principles of sophisticated, effective “marketing” – meaning something far different from TV advertising’s drive to get you to consume more.

Understood in a more positive and constructive sense, marketing to help people engage in creating a positive future for Earth includes two key elements:

1. Winning attention.

2. Achieving focus.

“Winning attention” means finding ways to “stand out” from the overwhelming barrage of invitations to pay attention that hit a thoughtful individual every day: emails from work associates and non-work organizations, news websites and breaking-news feeds, and social media postings.

“Achieving focus” means – once you win their attention – getting the individual to “think along with you” for long enough to decide if they want to dig deeper with you. Sometimes what you offer simply will not “fit” for them, at least right now, but you at least want to get enough of your message to them for a thoughtful decision about whether to engage further or not.

“Five fingers, two fingers”

You can visualize one key to doing this by looking at the five fingers on your hand. Think of them as five key parts of your overall message: Earth-future problem definitions, proposed solutions, action-plan steps, etc. All five are important, but the bad news is that an individual cannot really focus on five new things at one time.

Now fold down three fingers. The other two fingers represent how you can win attention for and achieve focus on your overall message: Start by highlighting just two key parts of your message that are most likely to engage a thoughtful individual. Think of your hand outstretched and those two fingers curling, curling, curling back toward you – beckoning the individual to “come closer.”

When you engage the individual’s attention and focus using just the “two fingers,” you then have earned their interest in learning about all “five fingers” – all five key parts of your overall message. Now they will be inclined to dig deeper, to invite you to stay in contact with them, and to re-engage with you again and again over time.

And that’s what we all need, since the transition to a positive future for Earth is going to take extended engagements over years. Effective marketing for attention and focus can help.

Thanks for reading – your responses are welcome.

--Rob Elmore
  Working toward a positive future for Earth – Expert marketing writer – Contractor

  networking globally on Twitter: @RobElmore
  phone (U.S.): 831-818-2316