How Realistic a Goal are Fully Autonomous Trucks?

Posted by Kelly Burke on Sep 24, 2021 12:33:57 PM

shutterstock_726929581The race is on among tech companies to be the first to perfect and roll out fully autonomous trucks. In 2016, Uber premiered the Otto - the first autonomous truck to complete a commercial shipment without a driver - it delivered beer after a 120 mile trek through Colorado. (We wrote an article on that at the time, for an Otto refresher you can find that here: Uber's Otto Delivers on Driverless Tech)

Since 2016 most of the focus (including by Uber) has pivoted to autonomous passenger vehicles, the most successful of which has been the Tesla. However, even the Tesla's impressive operating system cannot be fully driverless, because of the inherently complicated and difficult to predict nature of driving cars, particularly in urban areas and heavy traffic. Drive through downtown Boston or Cambridge on a weekday morning and it will be pretty clear, pretty fast, just how large the volume of variables involved for any onboard AI would be. Urban driving still requires human intervention, at least for the foreseeable future. (That's been the case all along: The Struggle is Real when it comes to Autonomous Vehicle Safety ) 

Long haul trucking however, runs almost entirely on the much-easier-to-navigate interstate highways. The so called "Depot to Depot" model involves preprogramming routes where the onboard AI systems would handle highway driving, leaving difficult aspects like offramps and surface roads to human drivers for the time being - with the ultimate goal down the line being fully autonomous driving. We wrote an article on the specifics of where the autonomous truck companies are in the process, what the challenges are, and what lies ahead for Oil & Energy Magazine this month. You can read that article here: The Race for Self Driving Big Rigs. 

For local/regional transportation companies, the timeline on autonomy is likely substantially further out than even autonomous passenger vehicles would be. For industries involving more complicated delivery operations especially, like fuel companies, it seems unlikely there will be full autonomy on the horizon, not just because of route difficulty, but the critical role of highly skilled drivers that do the actual delivering of product after stopping. For fuel, a Tesla type model where autonomy lightens the strain and load, while reducing emissions via efficient operation  is probably more realistic of a model.

However, if ten years ago you said all of the meetings conducted globally in 2020 would be on videoconferencing apps, people would have said you were insane so. We shall see. 

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, autonomous vehicles

Bitcoin Miners seek 'Greener' Pastures in the US

Posted by Kelly Burke on Aug 18, 2021 12:57:00 PM

Bitcoin CO2We're going to go millennial this month and talk about the ongoing controversy regarding bitcoin  - not the part you're thinking about, (to the moon!) -  but the controversy regarding the Carbon Footprint of digital currency, and what is seen as its "excessive" energy consumption. 

When most people think of digital currency, carbon footprints don't necessarily spring to mind. After all, the entire industry is just computers (and nerds) right? No shipping, no delivery, no need for massive buildings or corporate offices - the beauty of the whole system is hinged on it being completely digital. However, being completely digital means that the industry relies on using massive amounts of electricity for processing power to "mine". (Mining essentially relies on solving complex mathematics which requires insane amounts of processing power and speed). 

According to industry reports, peak consumption was 143 terawatts, recorded in May. However, consumption has dropped some 60% since then, dropping to 62 TwH in July. Why? Because of 1) the Tesla decision to suspend bitcoin payments on May 12th based on environmental concerns, 2) China's decision in May to crack down on crypto mining, which resulted in approximately HALF of all miners being offline essentially overnight. 

In an odd twist, China's decision to boot bitcoin miners in May might end up being a saving grace for the industry longer term on the energy & carbon side, versus being a single impact drop from kicking everyone offline. Miners are increasingly moving to base out of the United States, where an increasing focus on renewable energy driven power and simultaneous development of more and more efficient processing equipment should help continue to drive down the overall impact of the industry. Mining works on thin margins, and electricity is often the most changeable variable overhead number, which also bodes well for enhancing renewable use as countries like the US focus on making renewable energy options more attractive financially than they have been historically. 

As anyone who's tried to read anything about bitcoin/digital currency is aware, its pretty confusing stuff. We wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month about the ins and outs of digital currency's Carbon issue and how it looks to be moving forward. You can read the article here: Bitcoin Miners Seek "Greener" Pastures in the United States 

 

 

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Topics: china, renewable energy, tesla, bitcoin

Infrastructure & Jobs Bill clears Senate, faces Hurdles in the House

Posted by Kelly Burke on Aug 11, 2021 11:43:09 AM

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The Biden Administration's 1 trillion dollar Infrastructure Package, the "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act" passed the Senate on Tuesday, with a voting margin of 69-30, meaning the passage was far more bipartisan than we are used to seeing as of late.

The  bill now heads to the House, where it faces a potentially more difficult road to passage, surprisingly not along the usual party lines as much as from a progressive faction in the House that has vowed  they would not vote on Infrastructure until a separate 3.5 trillion dollar social policy bill (the so called "Human Infrastructure" package) is passed. The second bill is expected to be a party line vote, occuring today or tomorrow, and it is unclear how long the standoff may be in the House regarding if the Transportation Package is passed ahead of the second bill as a standalone, or not. A lot of the answer to this likely hedges on whether the second bill is attempted to be pushed over as a budget resolution (which would allow passage sans Republican votes). 

The Transportation Infrastructure bill that is pending in the House, although at a whopping 1 trillion dollars, started back several months ago as a 2.3 trillion dollar plan.  Major concessions obviously were made to drop the totals, but here are some of the major categories the final bill is anticipated to include:

  • Infrastructure:  $110 billion in new funding for physical infrastructure - including repair to roads and bridges, and a focus on both repairing and shoring up the infrastructure in areas vulnerable to climate change related damage.  

  • Clean Energy: $73 billion to modernize the electrical grid (including transmission lines) and expand clean energy sources. New transmission lines will accomodate renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal into the grid, and higher voltage lines will allow vulnerable areas to better withstand climate related impacts to electricity access, like those we saw in Texas this past winter. 

  • Lead Pipe Replacement: $15 billion for lead pipe replacement. This one is sort of oddly lowballed in the context of both the anticipated cost itself ($45-60 billion) and the size of the bill itself. Millions of homes and hundreds of municipalities in America are still serviced with lead pipes, and as the Flint Water Crisis illustrated in 2014, damage to the pipes that results in leaching of lead into the water supply can have devastating effects. 

  • Public Transportation:  investment in rail transportation, including modernizing the Northeast corridor for Amtrak and expanding lines outside the Mid Atlantic region. Public bus and subway systems will also receive funding toward replacing aging equipment and infrastructure, as well as expanding routes with the goal of making public transportation more easily accessible to... well, the public. Currently only urban centers in some states have reliable public options and this portion of the bill is seen as a step towards expanding that access out to more rural communities. 

We'll have to wait til full passage to get into the nitty gritty and really see the end facts and figures on the bill's components, but outside of the political pundit commentary, at the very least people seem to agree that as far as regular citizens are concerned the key focus of the bill is the jobs expected to be created to handle repairing, building, and expanding infrastructure, as well as those that will be required to manufacture, manage, and coordinate those efforts. 

In the Northeast region in particular, the updating and expansion of Amtrak and public passenger rail, bridge repair, and investment toward shoring up areas vulnerable to climate related flooding and erosion is heralded by local unions as a boon to their members, particularly coming on the heels of quarantine's severe impact on construction and trade sectors. 

As mentioned, everything essentially now rests on the House and how they choose to approach passage of the Transportation bill - with or without the Human Infrastructure Bill attached. 

Stay Tuned!

 

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Topics: Energy Infrastructure, climate change, Biden Administration

All Eyes on the Growing Driver Shortage

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 28, 2021 11:18:29 AM

Driver Shortage

Events of the past year/18 months have highlighted in the mainstream a problem that has been plaguing the Transportation Industry for well over a decade - namely, the growing driver shortage.  This has been a particularly tough issue in the fuel side of the transportation sector, as the safety and licensing endorsements (like hazmat) are substantially more stringent than some other portions of the commercial driving arena. 

The Colonial Pipeline outage recently highlighted the worst case scenario for Americans - dry stations and high prices. In this instance it was supply related, however, the time to get surrounding areas back up and running in the event of a supply disruption like this, or a hurricane or natural disaster, relies on the ability of crisis managers to call in drivers to cover loads needed to get "back to normal".  As the driver shortage continues to accelerate, this is likely to become a more and more difficult scenario to overcome. 

The Pandemic shutdowns additionally had a devastating effect - when demand across multiple industries plummeted, many drivers were sidelined and out of work, a lot of whom chose to leave the industry. As a double whammy, training schools for new drivers were also closed, so timelines on training replacement drivers have been pushed out a year or more on those who chose to wait and continue their training. 

We went into more of the specifics on this and the impact the FMCSA's new Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse regulations impacted return to work numbers, as well as what steps are being looked at to solve for the upcoming labor crisis in tank transport. You can read that article in its entirety here: More Openings on the Open Road

 

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Topics: Tank Truck Safety Training, Hazmat, driver shortage

Biden's Offshore Wind Plan Bolsters NE Clean Energy Goals

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 22, 2021 11:11:53 AM

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The Biden Administation has the ambitious goal of bringing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind online by 2030, and 1.4 of those gigawatts are slated to come from the New England coast. 

The move toward more offshore wind is part of the goal of reducing US carbon emissions in half by 2030, a goal that dovetails nicely with goals set by the New England region's member states on climate action. ISO New England's 2021 outlook report released in April outlines some of the anticipated advances, including both the 1.4 gigawatts of offshore wind, 3.5 gigawatts of solar power, and 800 transmission project to connect clean energy projects by 2030. 

All of the New England region's states have set specific carbon goals that line up with (or exceed in some cases) the Federal Government's goals.  These include:

  • Connecticut: zero-carbon electricity by 2040
  • Maine: Carbon Neutral by 2045
  • Massachusetts: 80% renewable energy by 2050 (more details on MA here: MA Climate Change & Environmental Justice Bill)
  • New Hampshire: 25% renewable energy by 2025 (no specific zero carbon goal outlined)
  • Vermont: 90% renewable energy by 2050
  • Rhode Island: zero-carbon electricity by 2050 

On the wind front specifically, Rhode Island is the only New England state with a currently operational wind farm, but the Vineyard Wind Project set to bring offshore wind online in Massachusetts received federal approval in March, and is projected, upon completion, bring 800 megawatts of power to businesses and homes throughout the state. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine detailing some more of the specific goals for the Wind push - you can read it in its entirety here:  Wind Ho! Biden's Offshore Wind Plan Bolster's New England's Clean Energy Goals 

 


 

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Topics: Massachusetts, carbon emissions, renewable energy, Clean Energy, offshore wind

Maine Stalls on Path to First Statewide Consumer Owned Utility

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 14, 2021 11:07:00 AM

shutterstock_102519710Maine lawmakers have been pushing for the state to create the first statewide, publicly owned utility in the US. The legislation proposed in June would have created the entity (Pine Tree Power) as a nonprofit utility that would use issued bonds to purchase the asset holdings of the current suppliers (Central Maine Power & Versant). The bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate, ultimately being defeated by one vote on questions raised about how the utility would cover the shortfall in property tax revenue that would arise from the exit of the current utilities. The shortfall was estimated at $90 million dollars, which is normally paid out to cities and towns.

Given the failure in the Senate, as well as the likelihood that Maine governor Janet Mills would veto the project should it pass, supporters are reportedly looking to pursue the project as a ballot initiative. Supporters see the project as a necessary pivot from the privately held utilities because they project that it would be cheaper for ratepayers, and would be a step forward towards Maine's goal of 100% renewable based power generation. 

The story in Maine is multilayered and complicated  - and still ongoing. We wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that runs through a more detailed overview of where the issue stands currently. You can read that article here: Power to the... International Corporate Ownership? 

 

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Topics: Utility Rates, renewable energy, maine

The New Recovery Proposal: Infrastructure, Transportation & Climate Change, Oh My

Posted by Kelly Burke on Apr 2, 2021 4:18:58 PM

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This Wednesday, the Biden Administration unveiled a 2 trillion dollar transportation, infrastructure and economic recovery package. The goal of the bill is to create jobs, fix/upgrade US infrastructure, and combat climate change as the country attempts to recover from the COVID induced economic slump.

The bill is extremely large and multifaceted, so we are going to try and give a super brief summary of the major takeaways and points here as best we can with the disclaimer that because the bill hasn't passed yet, different points are subject to change as it moves through the legislative process.

In terms of the scope of the bill, it is anticipated to cost $2 trillion dollars over 8 years. The spending will be funded over 15 years by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and "discouraging offshoring" to tax havens (although specifics on the measures being taken to prevent offshoring have not yet been released). The corporate tax rate was lowered to the current 21% in 2017 by Republicans from its prior rate of 35% - so this increase, if passed, would still keep the corporate rate substantially below its prior level. Despite the fact that it will still be lower than 2016, this portion of the bill is expected to face stiff partisan opposition. It's unclear what provisions may change (if any) based on if funding sources need to be adjusted, so that is something to keep an eye on as the bill progresses. 

Projects focused on in the package on the transportation/infrastructure side include repair/replace of 20,000 miles of roads/highways, repair of 10,000 bridges, the addition of 500,000 Electric Vehicle charging stations, universal broadband, and the replacement of all lead pipes in drinking water systems nationwide. Those portions of the bill comprise about 900 million dollars, give or take (approximately 620 million for roads & bridges, 300 million for water & electric infrastructure). Additionally, there is a focus on expanding rail transport, notably in the Northeast. 

Another 580 billion dollars of the bill is directed to "American manufacturing, research and development, and job training efforts". Presumably the job training efforts include retraining of workers for "green jobs" as the bill includes climate related provisions congruent with Biden's so called "Build Back America Better" agenda, including the EV charger expansion we mentioned, rebates for consumers to encourage EV purchases, moving 20% of school busses to electric, and a provision to replace 50,000 diesel public transportation vehicles. 

Outside of strictly transportation/infrastructure, the bill also includes spending for building & retrofitting affordable housing, providing direct aid to the elderly & disabled, and modernization efforts for water ports and airports. 

As mentioned, the bill is extremely large and covers a lot of areas - definitely something to watch as it progresses through the legislative process and we find out what does or does not get included in the passage - there's something in there that impacts almost everyone, but hopefully this quick overview was helpful in outlining some of the major points relevant to our readers. 

 

 

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Topics: Stimulus, climate change, covid-19, Biden Administration

MA Passes Landmark Climate Change & Environmental Justice Bill

Posted by Kelly Burke on Apr 1, 2021 3:07:36 PM

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Friday, March 23rd, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law Senate Bill 9 "An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Change Policy" that includes provisions described as "some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets in the country"

The ultimate goal of the bill is for Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and includes 5 year sublimit goals to that end for impacted sectors (transportation, buildings, etc).

The bill also serves to codify Environmental Justice provisions into Massachusetts law, to both define disparately impacted communities, and provide new tools and protections for those communities going forward. As part of the Environmental Justice approach, $12 million in annual funding was established for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to create a pathway to clean energy for environmental justice communities, minority and women owned businesses and fossil fuel industry workers. 

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is additionally required to balance equity and accessibility as part of their decision making process regarding regulations in addition to safety, system security, and emissions reductions. Lastly, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) is expanded to require environmental impact studies for all projects that impact air quality within a mile of Environmental Justice Neighborhoods and evaluate not just the proposed project's impact but the cumulative impact to the area of projects over time. 

Other major takeaways from the bill:

  • Utilities - first-time greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants, requiring 50% non-emitting electricity by 2030, 75 percent by 2040 and net-zero by 2050.
  • Solar - The bill prioritizes equitable solar program access for low-income neighborhoods. It also provides solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from net metering cap so they can set solar up on business properties to offset electric usage (and cost).
  • Wind - utilities will be required to buy an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind 
  • Natural Gas - Enhanced pipeline safety goals that require adopting provisions including increased fines for safety violations, and enhanced training/certification requirements for utility contractors. Also sets targets for leak reduction along pipelines. 
  • Technology & Other Related Items: Senate Bill 9 also sets benchmarks for clean energy technology - electric vehicles, EV charging stations, anaerobic digesters, solar technology, and energy storage technology. Additionally, on the consumer side there are new regulations set for appliance energy efficiency. 

Obviously, the bill is very comprehensive and there are a lot of details and policy changes involved, some of which we won't know the exact implications of until new projects that are under its scope start rolling out. You can read more on the exact provisions at the Mass.gov website if you are interested in digging into the details, starting with the official press release here: Governor Baker Signs Climate Legislation to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Protect Environmental Justice Communities

 

 

 


 

 

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Topics: EV Charger, Massachusetts, climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy, environmental justice

Maine Based AeroSpace Company breaks Bio Barriers at -14 & Zero G

Posted by Kelly Burke on Mar 17, 2021 9:46:00 AM

Rocket

Maine-based bluShift Aerospace successfully launched and landed the first commercial rocket powered by biofuel on January 31st of this year. Not only did the rocket successfully launch running on bio, but it did so at a staggering -14 degrees fahrenheit! 

The rocket runs on a proprietary biofuel created by bluShift's founder, Sascha Deri. The fuel is cheaper than standard petroleum derived rocket fuel, is non-toxic, and is close to net-zero. The performance of the rocket in the frigid January temperatures in Northern Maine is a critical component of success as well - biofuels notoriously have cold flow issues that can be an impediment to some applications. If that issue is off the table, the option opens up for their use in arenas like satellite placement, etc. 

The success the launch is seen as a hopeful step forward both for the application of biofuels in space related avenues, and a step forward for "Spaceport Maine" becoming a reality in the future. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine on the bluShift Aerospace launch, if you want more info on this launch, the planned upcoming launch of Stardust 2.0 and the Spaceport Maine concept - you can read it here: Running Bio at -14 degrees and Zero G

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Topics: Biofuels, maine, space, net-zero

Maine Central Power Clears Regulatory Hurdle, Stalls on Legal Challenge

Posted by Kelly Burke on Feb 26, 2021 11:17:00 AM

hydroelectric stock

Central Maine Power's proposal for a 145 mile electricity transmission line through the Western part of the State has cleared the final regulatory hurdle. Central Maine Power (Avangrid) recieved a Presidential Permit from the US Department of Energy for their $950 million dollar "New England Clean Energy Connect" (NECEC) Project to be able to cross the Canadian Border. (As an aside, if you want to read about the project in detail their website is a great resource: NECEC

When completed, the project will run 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric energy from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts. The project is funded by MA ratepayers but arguably will help the entire New England region's grid. 

The permit was the last major hurdle outstanding for the project, but more obstacles have popped up. As crews prepared to go to work when the DOE permit was granted, a judge granted an injunction to stop work for 30 days as outstanding filings are adjudicated regarding a separate permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Work is stopped as the court process moves on, but Maine Central Power is confident the project will continue. 

Upon completion, estimates say the project will reduce regional carbon emissions by 3-3.6 million metric tons per year (the equivalent of removing 700,000 cars from the road) Another portion of the project involves $200 million in upgrades to the Maine power grid, and a $250 million high voltage converter station in Lewiston that will direct current into alternating current to feed the regional grid. 

I wrote a piece for Oil & Energy Magazine on the Central Maine project, you can read it in its entirety here: Central Maine Power Line Stalled Again

 

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Topics: carbon emissions, renewable energy, maine, hydro-electric

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