Monday, December 27, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
The Wind Water Awakening
Bryant and Stratton College
What Is Moore's Law?
"The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months."
—Gordon Moore, Intel Co-Founder
This forecast of the pace of silicon technology, popularly known as Moore's Law, was more than just a prediction. Essentially, it described the basic business model for the semiconductor industry.
For more than four decades, Intel has delivered the challenge of Moore's Law: to double the transistor density, while increasing functionality and performance and decreasing costs. However, a fundamental barrier is emerging—technology is approaching atomic dimensions. Intel is already working on technologies to overcome this.
Continuing Moore's Law means the rate of progress in the semiconductor industry will far surpass that of nearly all other industries. The future of Moore's Law could deliver a magnitude of exponential capability increases, driving a fundamental shift in computing, networking, storage, and communication devices to meet the ever-growing digital content and Intel's vision of 15 billion intelligent, connected devices.
"Another decade is probably straightforward...There is certainly no end to creativity."
—Gordon Moore, Intel Chairman Emeritus of the Board speaking of extending Moore's Law at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), February 2003.(Intel)
It was just yesterday (10/25/2010) I saw on the news that Sony Corporation will discontinue their line of Walkman® portable cassette players after 31 years. This to some of us might seem like a reason to pause and reflect on where we were when we received our first walkman. Perhaps we can recall fondly a Christmas gathering at grandma's house. As we slipped that cassette into the unmistakable, yellow device and put on those headphones, we now realized that we had the ability to feel private bliss. We were no longer tied to the huge living room stereo we could escape into the realm of our own private little stereo world.
The common factor that the Walkman or the cutting edge processors that the Intel Corporation are inventing these days is a need for electrical power. Generating this power is reaching a new high profile in America. Television commercials are filled with visions of wind turbines, specialized algae, clean coal technology, and many other new means to create electricity. The fact that environmental conservation has risen to such new heights is not at issue here. What is at issue is how we are going to evolve from Walkman like coal and diesel power plants to solar and wind harnessing IPod like technologies. I provided Moore's Law mainly, to focus on the cost factors involved. Just like how computing power is much more expensive at first, this too is the case for these fledgling power generation techniques. As a clear winner is chosen in the crucible of open competition more entrants to that field will emerge and drive down cost. If we had to sell everyone a computer at 1980's prices only the few elite would have them today. That is my takeaway from Moore's Law.(Intel)
In my endeavors to form a position on wind turbines being erected in Lake Erie near the downtown Cleveland city lakefront, I will look into the pros and cons of the project. I must decide whether my initial support for this project is merited. I will attempt to unmask the political power struggle and get down to the stakeholders and the viability of such an undertaking. The other factor that must be included in any discussion in this realm today needs to be the impact of the local economy. By local economy, I mean jobs; will these jobs have a multiplier effect and create other jobs to support those dealing directly with the turbine project.
My final concern will be the effect on the native and migratory birds that encounter these utility grade turbines. As a lifelong bird watcher, I am forced to deal with the impact this project will have on the bird populations. At this point I am of the opinion that if you want to make an omelet you need to break a few eggs, pun intended. However, the impact on birds by supporters for this project will be muted since they seem to have a greater share of the research dollars and media outlets on their side. This will take some doing but I will find the truth no matter where it takes me.
Now America is poised to witness some of the most transformative changes in our 234-year history as a republic. The changes are not just random events that most people will be watching on their nightly news, but rather a process that has been evolving in the last few decades. The appetite for change is great in our society; the question is which political and economic vehicles we will use to get there.
Most people in America today are familiar with the two party system of government. The democrats and the republicans are our two primary parties today. The two parties have similar goals in so far as job creation, tax revenue, defense of the nation, and overall satisfaction of their constituencies. The real difference is how to achieve the desired results. The republicans tend to prefer a more market based approach. This would include limited restrictions on how new forms of electricity are generated. They might be willing to allow more controversial technologies such as, nuclear, fossil fuel extraction, and allowing a selected few to enjoy lavish tax credits for installing some renewable energy forms. This network of cronyism has been the bane of most people who do not want people treated unequally. They receive political contributions from these supporters and then the cycle is complete. The democrats are far from perfect. They tend to seek out government-based solutions to big problems in hopes that government will lead to equality for all, shared investment into new technology by all except those deemed to be exempt like poor, minority groups, and their collection of favorite industry players who they offer tax breaks in turn for contributions.
The truth is both parties have differing approaches to solving issues and while neither is perfect, they are far superior options to other forms of government in the world today. They need each other to balance the allocation of resources. In the case of the Lake Erie wind farm the Democratic Party has held almost all of the levers of power in the county for years. This project is their idea and therefore comes along with all of the typical baggage you might expect from a government-based initiative. Having said all of that it is time to drill down into the history of this project and see where we end up.
In August, 2006 the Cuyahoga County Commissioners created the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force.( http://development.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/energy-task-force.aspx). As a matter of policy, this group is a political group formed to explore possible green energy jobs that might be created. The main focus of the group is this project involving the installation of five utility grade wind turbines seven miles off the shores of downtown Cleveland. Utility grade is defined as a turbine capable of producing one megawatt or more of electricity. General Electric Corporation has been contracted to provide five, four megawatt direct drive turbines for the project. They will maintain them and cover all the initial costs in return for the contract to build 1000 megawatts of electricity production in the next several years.(http://www.gepower.com/about/press/en/2010_press/052410c.htm). The group has met monthly since its inception and has made a lot of headway. One of the key milestones was for the group to complete a feasibility study. (http://development.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_development/en-US/GLWECFeasibilityRpt.pdf). This study was exhaustive in its content and descriptions of every facet of this project. The authors seemed to know just what to say and how to compile this information.
The primary driver of the study was a German company called juwi. After a long look at their website, I got a clear look at how the process typically works. They break it down in a multi-step fashion covering everything from winning local support to lining up suppliers and the permitting process.( http://www.juwi.com/) The company did establish a subsidiary in Cleveland, Ohio. The jwgl organization located on Superior in Cleveland, Ohio is headed up by Peter Endres.( http://blog.cleveland.com/business/2008/05/northwest_ohio_wind_belt_attra.html) I mainly want to establish this connection in order to show that not all of the local jobs at play here will leave their profits, if there are any, here in Cleveland. They will most likely go back to Germany to the parent company. I point this out to demonstrate that there are not a lot of options for getting this project off the ground. On the one hand this will be the first off shore wind farm located on a fresh water body in America. This will allow all of the suppliers who will be needed to operate this project the benefit of locating near their customers and will likely make Cleveland their home. On the other hand, this is a new industry for the entire Great Lakes region. The feasibility study was completed just last year and has given a short time horizon for investors whom were waiting for the study to verify viability of the project. This is why the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation needed to go to Germany to seek out the proper consultants to get the project off the ground.( http://www.nortechenergy.org/projects/off-shore-wind-energy/). According to the GE web site Germany has a well established wind energy policy and infrastructure.
The funding is coming from a grant written by The Fund for our Economic Future, Case Western Reserve University, The Cleveland Foundation, The City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, The Port Authority, and The Generation Foundation. ( http://www.development.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/bocc-approves-offshore-wind-energy-study.aspx). As is said about the process of writing legislation in Washington D.C., it has been compared to making sausage, the process for setting up this project is similar. It is a shame that their goal was not to form non-profit organizations. That is where the real job creation has taken place to date. The true problem as I see it is that this project is not simply to generate wind energy. The process has become politicized and is a proxy for everyone who rightly wants to protect "The Planet." The goal is also to get the credit for being "more green" than the next person. Either you are working to solve the problem or not. I think this is a pointless exercise and does not offer any real help but to siphon away dollars that might be better spent working on turbine number six. The other problem as I see it is in the funding stream. The groups whom funded this project are merely redirecting tax dollars that they wrote grant applications for and received. When there is not a profit motive involved nobody has to worry about losing his or her money in the trial. I do not think a taxpayer in California or Texas needs to be forced to pay tax dollars that will be spent here in Cleveland. Democrats who are in charge favor this system so that is what the process will be for now.
I would not be fair if I did not mention the change in the political balance of power since I undertook writing this paper. The mid-term elections served as a reminder that the two party system is securely in place. Since January of 2009 Democrats have had held the presidency and both chambers of congress. In that short time they passed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a sweeping health care bill which seeks to make the Federal Government responsible for providing health care, and a sweeping set of laws aimed at limiting the power of financial institutions. The citizens rebelled and voted in the Republicans simply as a stopgap measure. The Republicans seek to limit the scope of government and defund most of the new initiatives passed in the 111th Congress. I mention all that to say that defunding projects like this will go a long way to further divide the electorate. To quote a senator who was speaking on the floor of the U. S. Senate the Democrats have not found a way to repeal the Law of supply and demand.
The Law of supply and demand is just that a law in principle. The first year student at any institution of higher learning will become familiar with its meaning. The thought of repealing this law is a nonstarter. However, there are certain levers of power used by various government agencies to nudge the edges of the law. For example since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico there has been a severe restriction placed on the ability for new oil exploration. Whether or not you agree with this policy measure, it is an attempt to artificially restrict the supply of oil and force consumers to seek out energy resources in other forms such as solar or wind. As mentioned earlier artificially lowering the barrier to entry for a fledgling industry such as wind power by providing tax dollars to its stakeholders is another way to nudge supply and demand. The other problem with this picking winners and losers is that you might end up hurting the people you are trying to help the most. General Electric was the recipient of 126 billion dollars of government bail out funding.( http://blogs.reuters.com/financial-regulatory-forum/2009/07/22/ge-wins-us-approval-to-exit-tarp-program/) In an article on FastCompany.com it stated that GE and Siemens were quickly forming an oligopoly in the emerging wind sector.( http://www.fastcompany.com/1699608/the-new-energy-oligopoly). The point of making wind energy viable is to make it achieve parity in cost with coal-fired plants. If the government has chosen winners there, will be less competition and will drive up the costs of the turbines used. This will force the rates for electricity generated by wind turbines to cost more. The likely users of this energy will be close to large cities that have the electrical grid interface to conjoint the wind energy production along with close proximity to the turbines. (2006).
As I stated in the beginning of this paper I am in favor of the construction of this wind farm project. I endeavored to remove the platitudes that you might see in a typical thirty-second commercial sound bite and discover the roots of this project. At the heart of this project are people who have a genuine concern about the environment. I believe they are trying to do what they believe is best to preserve our planet for future generations. The real questions that need to be answered involve restricting other forms of energy. If you believe you are right and your technology is superior then it will win the day in competitive markets. If on the other hand your only means to achieve success is to involve government agencies restricting your competition then that is not right. I am even willing to cede the fact that a start up technology needs some extra help in the beginning as I pointed out with the citation of Moore's law. However, if we are trying to create jobs and end up losing jobs in coal and fossil fuel sectors what good have we done. Of course the ecology might be better off but we really need to ask ourselves if we are not biting off our noses to spite our faces. I want clean air as much as the next person but I do not want to see the entire state of West Virginia unemployed to achieve those ends. I wish the people involved the best in their undertakings. I hope they keep in mind how they would feel if the government was actively working with others to get rid of their job sector.
Great Lakes May Sport Offshore Windmills.(2006). Business & the Environment with ISO 14000 Updates, 17(12), 10. Retrieved from GreenFILE database.