Friday, January 30, 2009

People Power - It Really Exists

In an episode of “The West Wing” TV series, Aaron Sorkin has the President (played by Martin Sheen) saying to a newly appointed aide:

“There’s a promise I ask everyone who works here to make:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world . Do you know why?”

He answered, “It’s the only thing that ever has.”

It’s true. And it’s nice to remember the small group of early Americans who met in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation and wound up writing a new constitution of the United States of America.

In a nation of over 300 million people one might consider a congress of 535 people a small group. They are undoubtedly thoughtful but we can’t be sure what they are all committed to; certainly not all the same things.

More specific subjects need to be focused on by those with direct interests in the subject. For example, look at the small group that created the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65.
Robert Kopple, Attorney and Entrepreneur, conferred with then-Mayor Robert Wagner of New York City to designate a date in 1964 to celebrate the tercentennial (1664) of the City. Kopple, a resident of Roslyn, Long Island, rode the railroad to the City every day and often noticed the train went through the grounds of the former New York World’s Fair of 1939-40. Why not another World’s fair at the time of the tercentennial?

Short story – He organized the new fair and the Lorson companies assisted in the development and management of the Fair.

Along energy lines, Kopple noted in the 1950’s that New York commercial realtors were having trouble with constantly increasing electric rates of Con Edison. The Real Estate Board at the time had a utility committee whose efforts in behalf of the industry were meager at best.

Kopple organized the Owner’s Committee on Electric Rates, Inc. which took on the business of representing the industry in the public hearings before the Public Service Commission dealing with Con Edison electric rate increase requests. He obtained the legal services of former-NY Governor Charles Polletti and with David Kosh of Washington DC won a considerable number of victories over the utility saving the consumers many, many millions of dollars during its time. Several members of the Lorson group were among the directors of the Committee.

At the start of each of these efforts a small group of dedicated and thoughtful people determined the need for action and put themselves and their reputations to work to effect change where change was clearly needed.

What are needed now are more groups of thoughtful and committed people to become involved in the energy processes as they exist and as they need to be changed.

Do you know anyone?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Energy Independence

There have been an awful lot of statistics thrown around about where our energy comes from and where it goes. Where it goes is pretty much in our hands as a nation.

Where it comes from has become a problem because through it our national independence has become somewhat compromised.

So let’s look at where we’re at today:

Of all the energy we consume:
39.8 % is petroleum
23.6 % is natural gas
22.8% is coal
6.8% is renewable (including hydro power)
8.4% is nuclear

Now all these figures some from your government’s Energy Information Administration so it’s no surprise that the numbers add up to 101.4% !!!!!!

Anyway accepting the probability that the civil service is ALMOST competent, let’s continue:

Of all the petroleum we consume: 58% is imported
Of all petroleum we import: 37.9% is from OPEC!

Now the same EIA tells us that our consumption of energy is;
29.0% for transportation
21.4% for industrial use
10.6% for residential/commercial use
40.6% for electric power
Oh-oh, here’s that magic 101.4% again.

Oh well, we know the numbers are close to accurate and we continue….

And we are getting to a point – with apologies, because the numbers are very important!
So we arrive at the energy we use to make electricity.

Generation of electricity in the US:

48.6% burning coal (question of how clean) 21.5% burning natural gas (cleaner than oil or coal) 1.6% burning oil (mostly in the Northeast! 19.4% using nuclear fission
5.8% hydro generation
3.2% Renewables and other sources. What do you know – 100.0%

And hidden within all these numbers are the most logical solutions to enacting our:

Declaration of Energy Independence

So what do we do with all this technical information?

I think it was Kermit the frog who sang on “Sesame Street” a song entitled


And that’s what we have to do – we have to examine the alternatives and make some serious changes.

Major increase in hydro-generation of electricity
Major decrease in use of coal to generate electricity
Major increase in use of liquified natural gas (LGN) for transportation
Major decrease in the use of petroleum for transportation
Major increase in the development of renewable resources

And how green is nuclear generation of electricity?

The “pros and cons”

For one thing there are no toxins expelled into the atmosphere – unless there is an explosion.
Once the uranium (U-235) is decayed beyond use for generation, the waste must be removed and stored-somewhere. Where is a question – in a mountain, outer space?

And it is reported that U-235 has a half-life of 703,800,000 years (thank you Wikipedia)
Thus Uranium is not renewable and not a candidate for Green.

So one more change required:

Major decrease in use of nuclear energy for power generation – or anything else
How much increase or decrease of all these items will be required to achieve our energy independence will be discussed in future blogs and we look forward to any suggestions you might wish to offer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Politics of Energy and the Energy of Politics

It has been said, quite accurately, that whoever controls the energy of a country controls that country.

Everything in a modern society depends on an adequate and reliable energy supply. From electricity to electronics; from petroleum to transportation; from heating to cooling; from smog control to water purification; every facet of everyday life as it is known in western civilization is reliant on the supply of energy in its many forms.

It isn’t difficult to see then what might happen if that energy supply was curtailed or worse – cut off.

In 1973 some of the OPEC oil people actually used an oil embargo to cause inflated prices around the world. One the results of that move was to accelerate the search for oil in other locations – finding some in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico helped. Since then OPEC has lost some of its power but certainly not all.

It’s interesting to note that with the exception of Venezuela, the country that started OPEC, and Ecuador, all the other members of OPEC are in the Middle East and Africa, a majority of the production located in what is now commonly known as a “War Zone.”

There are many reasons for the United States to become less dependent on foreign oil. Economics is certainly one. And the complicated Mid East presents the most troublesome scenarios. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the race in the region to obtain nuclear weapons and the terrorism aimed against the US all add to the terrible mix.

There is probably more truth than humor in the statement a comedian made recently that “We don’t need any more presidents from Texas.” And perhaps it is more than a coincidence that the Bush families (former presidents) are such close friends with the royal family of Saudi Arabia. And who else from Texas lived in the White House?

Oh yes, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Warriors all.

Next to Canada, Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of oil to the United States.

What can be done? What should we do? Who can do it? Let’s see…….…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Energy Efficiency – Conservation & Metering

Energy waste has always been a problem. And no matter what energy form is used or where it comes from – waste will always be a problem – unless it is curtailed.

We have seen how recovered waste heat from electricity generation can be used to improve the overall efficiency of the plants. But that only points out how easy it is to involve waste in the use of energy.

Every day on television one can see advertising for home insulation, “Energy Star” rated heating and boiler equipment and most recently, automobiles with greatly increased miles per gallon ratings. All of this to reduce waste.

Landlords, both commercial and residential found out long ago that including electricity as a service included in the rental for the tenant’s space fostered waste. As soon as meters were installed and charges rendered for the electricity consumption decreased by 35% and more. The price signal was necessary to prevent waste.

During the 1960’s Lorson Consulting was used in developing the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. Because Con Edison, New York’s electric utility, had lost so much money at the earlier fair of 1939-40, it announced that exhibitors would have to run lines to the Astoria Plant to obtain power for the Fair. (Miles away from the fairgrounds)

As a result 90% of the air conditioning at the Fair was powered by natural gas. In fact the American Gas Association exhibit building was powered, lit and air conditioned using natural gas. Here again the waste heat from generating electricity was used to create steam which in turn made hot water for cooking and heating and chilled water for air cooling. The power plant was nicknamed the “Total Energy Plant.”

But even using the waste heat, or most of it, 15-20% still went out the chimney.
At the advance tour of the AGA Exhibit building we were pleased to meet Walt Disney who was fascinated with the building design and all its features. Even he, however, raised the issue of waste and our discussions ultimately turned to the alternative of water power as a wasteless source of electricity.

And water power in more current language is the one truly green energy source.

To be continued....

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Learning Curve and the Hubbert Peak

The development of the sources and uses of energy since 1908 has been filled with contradictions and even anachronisms. However the one unchangeable influence has been that of the Law of Supply and Demand.

What seems commonplace today was, only 100 years ago, rare: electricity wired to buildings and homes; natural gas delivered by pipelines to consumers; petroleum distilled into heating oil and gasoline to run vehicles.

And the true harm came with the belief that these incredible energy supplies were endless.
The American public came up short in the 1970’s when the supply of oil and gasoline was shortened and it was common to see lines of cars waiting at service stations to buy gas – at greatly increased prices. Some of us raised the warning flags.

But the lesson was not learned. As soon as the supply was restored and the prices dropped to “normal,” all thoughts of developing alternate fuel sources faded.

Back in the 1950’s we found that while electricity was generated by utilities at an efficiency level of 35-40% - total efficiency could be increased to 80% or more by making use of the waste heat developed during generation and there was plenty of that. (We’ll discuss the Total Energy Concept later.)

Con Edison of NY started to use this principle and generated steam from its waste heat and sold the steam to consumers in Manhattan. But soon it had to develop more steam in boilers to meet increasing demand and had to set up a new corporation – New York Steam.

A few of us saw other problems coming. In 1956 an American geophysicist M. King Hubbert posited the theory that the rate of petroleum production tends to follow a bell shaped curve. It suggested that production of the finite supply would peak and then decline as discoveries declined. This was independent of demand.

It happened that Hubbert’s Peak was reached in the continental US in the early ‘70’s. – A coincidence? We think not. And this same theory will apply to sources in the mid-East and elsewhere.

SO –instead of reducing its dependence on oil, the US began importing ever-increasing amounts of oil from abroad, at ever increasing costs. Do you know who our largest supplier is?
And what about natural gas? And coal? Same theory applies as well as other areas of concern. So how do we use what we have learned? Wait there’s more learning to some.

Oh, and that largest supplier of petroleum imports to the US is……….…………Canada

Friday, January 23, 2009

The First Century of the Lorson Companies

Hello again.

Frank Lorson Sr. was 23 years old in 1908 and working for the president of New York Edison Company. Edison Company was attempting to get customers to buy electricity from its new plants. Up until then most New York buildings that had electricity at all made it with their own generators.

Frank was one of the president’s favorites because of his “fabulous memory for telephone numbers.” We were really impressed with this fact until we found that the phone numbers in NY at the time consisted of 4 digits. And no dialing. Still, he impressed.

The Edison Company found a way to get building owners to close their private power plants and buy electricity from the new system. Edison installed meters on each tenant’s service and a “master meter” that measured all the power in the building. Edison then prepared bills for tenant power – payable to the Owner – at retail rates. The Owner was billed for the total power in building at a wholesale rate.

The profit was too good to be ignored. It wasn’t. And many building owners became the first major utility customers in NYC.

Well it came to pass that the State of New York created a Public Service Commission, whose purpose was to protect the public against overcharges or other improper practices by public utilities, which were primarily railroads at that time.

The PSC however took on the areas of the supply of gas, water and, yes, electricity. And it was in this latter category that a new industry was formed – and called the Submetering of Electricity.
The PSC said that the utility could sell power at wholesale rates to building owners but the owners would have to meter and bill the tenants themselves: not have the utility do that work.
Frank immediately left to start the New York Supply & Inspection Company with a small office at 123 East 59th Street in Manhattan (Phone Plaza 1321)

That company is still in business and was the first of some very interesting developments in the energy field. This included the start up of companies: Lorson Electric Co Inc; New York Maintenance Corp; Utilities Management Corp; World’s Fair Maintenance Corp; and Lorson Energy LLC.

How this all went from electrical consulting to total energy management and the programs for the future of energy will be our continuing story – please stay tuned.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The First Hundred Years Were the Easiest


My name is Richard Lorson. I’m the Managing Partner of Lorson Energy LLC

One hundred years – and two months – ago, my father, Frank E Lorson, Sr. started the first of a number of energy-related firms that have comprised the Lorson Group of companies.

Over the years the world has seen all of the developments in the use of energy from gas lighting in the streets to the generation of power using nuclear energy. We have witnessed the gamut: genius in action – and energy lunacy practiced by fools.

Our clients have been from the smallest to the biggest; the corner grocer to the world’s largest facility managers; and we are pleased to tell you that they all have benefitted from our knowledge and expertise.

But more important than who we are is the knowledge we have gained over these years that can be put to use by all in this time of increasing energy demands and decreasing petroleum reserves.

It is gratifying that today many of the warnings we have issued during our tenure are beginning to be heeded. Green energy has many facets and I will, in ensuing blogs, tell you about them and how each of us can make a meaningful contribution to what could be no less than the survival of our species.

Please let us know your questions and suggestions. We hope to anticipate some of them during this ongoing conversation, but I look forward to your input as we go along.