Guest lecturer brings discussion of energy security to UMass
Approximately 120 University of Massachusetts students, faculty and engineers gathered in room 1009 of the Campus Center on Thursday afternoon to hear what an industrialist had to say about energy consumption.
UMass alum of the chemical engineering department, Marvin O. Schlanger, gave his presentation “Can You Read with the Lights Out?” to discuss the case of energy security. Schlanger started the lecture by stressing that energy security will come from a balance of domestic supply and domestic demand. He also said that dependence on imported oil threatens security, further proving this by showing that the U.S. imports 60 percent of its oil requirements. According to Schlanger, this represents an annual transfer of wealth of more than $500 billion a year.
As if this was not a big enough problem, Schlanger says that global population and economic growth drive energy demand. The average growth rate between now and 2030 will be one percent, which translates to more than one billion people on the planet. This will demand a 30 percent energy increase.
As other nations, such as China, develop, Schlanger said they are going to start looking for the same amenities that are available here in America. This will hike the energy demand to 35 percent.
The solution, Schlanger said, is to decrease demand and increase supply. There must be trade-offs, he explained, saying “it is primarily a test of national will.” According to Schlanger, market forces alone will not solve the problem because the true cost of oil is not reflected in its price. New technologies are critical to managing economic burden, he explained, further insisting that government involvement is the key to solving this.
“I don’t believe, ‘Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you’ is real,” Schlanger said.
He added that the government must be involved and use a mix of regulatory tools and economic incentives.
“There are substantial economic and environmental benefits,” Schlanger said.
To lower demand, Schlanger suggests increasing the miles per gallon standard in cars to a little more than 35. According to him, it would add up to four million barrels a day in savings. Also, he said that establishing fuel standards for medium and heavy duty trucks would help lower demand, as well as releasing commercial airplanes from gates. This will happen when taking off within a few minutes, as opposed to letting planes run for long periods of time thus wasting fuel, investing in mass transit, mandating use of “smart” electric meters and “time-of-day” pricing and providing tax incentives for industrial and residential investments.
To increase supply, Schlanger suggests creating long-term incentives for the development of alternative renewable energies, removing barriers to responsible development and supporting research and development.
Schlanger spoke about three alternative energy resources – wind, solar and biofuels. Referring to wind energy, Schlanger said there is “tremendous potential here. We need to be doing more.”
When discussing solar energy, he said that this technology’s usage has grown to about 30 percent in the last decade, but the rest of the world has increased its usage by 59 percent.
“The U.S. lags compared to the rest of the world,” Schlanger said. “Costs are falling as technology is evolving. The fact that global growth is double compared to the U.S. is a message to us. We need to be doing more in solar.”
Concerning biotechnologies, Schlanger explained that as technologies mature, opportunities grow. In the case of using corn ethanol, which meets three percent of U.S. gasoline requirements, Schlanger said it is not worth it. This, he said, will take 15 percent of corn crops, which will consequentially lower gas prices, but drive up food prices.
Schlanger said that transportation must shift to electricity, biofuels and natural gas. To do this, he suggested expanding research and development for advanced battery technology as well as tax incentives for installation of public auto-electrical charging stations.
Although alternative energies are accelerating, Schlanger said that conventional sources will provide the bulk of U.S. energy for a long time. Therefore, Alaska and offshore U.S. territory should be opened for immediate exploration and development. Schlanger said that if Alaska were to be compared to a football field, the area taken up for drilling sites would be the size of an index card, proving that this would have little effect on the environment.
Schlanger said that oil production is environmentally safe, showing that 62 percent of oil found in water sources is from natural seeps. Only one percent is from oil extraction. In addition, he said that a pipeline should be built to get natural gas from Alaska to the lower 48 states.
Schlanger said that extracting oil from the oil shale in the U.S. west is beneficial because there is more oil here than in Saudi Arabia. The federal government has avoided this because it believes the technologies needed to extract the oil are more than the oil is actually worth. Schlanger wants the government to “prove the price of technology” and “take advantage” of the resources we have growing here in the U.S.
“Eliminate regulatory barriers to develop oil shale and subsidize full scale shale,” Schlanger said.
Schlanger said that new drilling technologies have discovered gas deposits in the lower 48 states as well. This adds up to approximately 500 trillion cubed feet of natural gas, although it would require an infrastructure investment and growth of a natural gas distribution system.
As for coal, the U.S. has hundreds of years worth, according to Schlanger, and the technology is there to develop clean coal.
“New technology will facilitate change,” Schlanger said.
Schlanger also took the time to commend the University on their energy conservation, calling it “impressive.”
Overall, Schlanger said that he was optimistic about national change. He said that momentum is building for change and that there is recognition that the current state is not sustainable.
Schlanger is a strong advocate for government intervention and raves about the Cash for Clunkers program, but said he was disappointed that it was terminated after $3 billion. He said the Obama administration has a “lack of focus and lack of a comprehensive plan.”
He said that the government should guarantee a price for a gas, saying currently “it is too cheap and fosters the wrong type of behavior.” According to Schlanger, the government should buy gas for a set price, like it already does for milk, corn and wheat.
Dr. Theodore E. Djaferis, dean of the college of engineering, said he was impressed with Schlanger’s presentation.
“The world is facing a serious energy crisis. People need to be educated to be aware,” Djaferis said.
Schlanger stressed the importance of getting data so rational decisions could be made.
“We need to do something as a country,” he said. “The world needs to look at this.”
He went on to say UMass is doing their part. The college of engineering is heavily researching energy and has a strong wind energy and biofuel program.
“The one thing that caught my attention the most is, besides being pro-green, was drilling in Alaska,” said UMass electrical engineering student, Thomas Gilbert. “Very Republican.”
“He supports it so thoroughly that it sort of makes it seem dirty,” Gilbert said in reference to Sarah Palin’s “Drill, Baby, Drill” campaign.
“To see support from someone who has a pretty good understanding of technologies is pretty surprising,” he said. “To see the drilling side in a different light was good.”
Marc MacLead, a mechanical engineering student, also found the conference informative, saying that it posed some questions for him that he had not considered, including how to get the ball rolling on solving the energy problem.
“Renewable energy can’t solve everything,” MacLead said. “It needs to be more than that to solve an energy disaster.” MacLead added that he was interested in the conference because it not only related to his major, but, as a freshman, he is thinking about working with renewable energies in the future.
Christopher Kalinowski, a chemical engineering student, had a lot to say about the presentation, as well as about his own studies at UMass. He explained that Schlanger made a lot of great points.
“He had really highlighted some of the issues and necessary solutions, even those that can’t be implemented easily,” Kalinowski said.
Kalinowski added that the presentation was “very straightforward.” What impressed him most was “the benefits of small changes,” specifically referring to saving energy that would result from enforcing a stricter policy each year on gas mileage.
Kalinowski questioned, however, Schlanger’s coverage of government involvement.
“I think that maybe he fell short on how you’d get the government to do these things,” he said. Kalinowski also wondered if the index card analogy was just the size of drilling sites or if it included pipelines and infrastructures.
Schlanger fielded questions from the audience, saying “each of us should let our congressmen and senators know we’re concerned about this issue.”
He added that we should tell them we want a “comprehensive energy plan that will include conservation, growth of alternative energy supplies and expansion of conventional energy sources.”
As for the analogy, Schlanger said that the index card represents only the drilling footprint, not the roads, which are relatively small.
Professor William Conner, who has been teaching introduction to energy engineering at UMass for 30 years, called Schlanger’s presentation “fantastic.”
He said that Schlanger had “really good suggestions on how, as a nation, we can achieve energy independence, something students should know about.”
Triantafillos Mountziaris, professor and head of the chemical engineering department, said that “this was a very stimulating presentation by an industry leader.”
“We’re very excited to hear from him and get his perspectives on the issue of the energy independence of the United States,” said Mountziaris.
Schlanger said that he was very impressed by the interest of the students, adding that the questions were excellent. He said that the presentation covered a “very important topic.”
“If we don’t start talking about how we’re going to solve this problem, we’re going to be in a crisis situation,” said Schlanger.
Angela Hilsman can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org.