Energy demand is growing globally, and growth is likely to continue. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projections are for a continuing dominant role for fossil fuels in the next decade. These projections for fossil fuels come despite projections for commensurate growth of renewable sources of energy. Coal remains one of those very important fossil fuels for which growth is projected, and its increasing use is evident especially in emerging markets where it is relatively cheap and plentiful.
While we in the US are seeing a shift away from coal in US power plants to cleaner (fewer greenhouse gas emissions) fuels such as natural gas, this is not the case in developing countries. In much of the developing world, especially in emerging markets, coal is and will increasingly be a major source of energy that is critical to those markets’ development. That growth outside Europe, Japan and North America represents a major global issue for many. But it need not represent the problem imagined by some if policy supports the needed research on clean coal.
Technology can change the future of coal – both at home and globally. Technological innovation can mean that coal continues to become a much cleaner fossil fuel with the emission of fewer particulates and greenhouse gases. For example, clean technologies have the capacity to increase the efficiency of coal’s use in power generation and to alter favorably the impact of coal on the environment. Among those technological advances has been the gasification of coal along with co-gasification of coal and biomass. Gasification, (see the Department of Energy) is a controlled process that uses heat and pressure to set in motion chemical reactions that produce “syngas,” which is primarily hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Rather than a process of burning the coal to produce the gas, gasification is a process that partially oxidizes the coal to produce the syngas.
Recent additional research in this area by two scientists, Natalia Howaniec and Adam Smolinski, is representative of the potential from policy that supports research and the technological innovation that can come from it. Ms. Howaniec and Mr. Smolinski used a laboratory fixed-bed reactor with steam for co-gasification of coal and biomass. Their conclusion was that the laboratory process offers several advantages, including the chemical synergies associated with using biomass in conjunction with coal. Those advantages include the stability of the fuel supplies, the scalability of the process, and emission reduction.
This stream of research is especially important in light of the anticipated, continued growth in use of coal globally and coal’s potential to address substantial energy needs of emerging markets. As coal transitions to a cleaner source of energy, it is important that we examine new regulatory requirements imposed on coal fired power plants in terms of their consistency with continued research into the next generation of clean coal technologies. The EPA’s recent new source performance standard (NSPS) for new units effectively required carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in order for plants to achieve emissions standards of no more than 1,100 lbs. of CO2 emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. There are many critics who argue that this technology is currently in a developmental stage and is not broadly commercially available. Until it is more widely adopted and improved upon, its costs will remain too high for commercial viability.
What is needed at the policy level is a willingness to put further, additional resources behind research associated with clean coal. With that kind of research, it is reasonable to believe that commercially viable clean coal will become available. Because of the abundance of coal and the development of emerging economies, coal will remain a widely used fossil fuel and major source of energy for the next decade. Carefully drawn policy in support of clean coal will determine coal’s impact over that decade.
In an earlier posting on Penley on Education and Energy– The Common Core and Business – I pointed out the need for our business leaders to use language that can be understand readily about the need for K-12 change. It’s about raising school accountability – not insisting that teachers do the same thing with common standards around the country. Yes it is common core, but it is common core at the local level with real teachers teaching. It also matters for business leaders to see and be able to discuss what common core really means at the classroom level. Recently, I saw the value in educating business leaders on the impact of Arizona’s College and Career Readiness Standards.
The Rodel Foundation of Arizona held one of its most important public events: All A’s for Arizona. Among the speakers that evening was John Huppenthal, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. But I am sure that Mr. Huppentahal would agree that the most important speakers were five K-12 teachers: Stacey Hicks and Jorge Ontiveros (Paradise Valley Unified District), Tiffany Thompson (Mesa Public Schools), Veronica Villegas (Flagstaff Unified District), and Amanda McAdams (Glendale Union High School District).
Those five teachers did something that I wish the larger public could experience. They demonstrated how a teacher used Arizona’s College and Career Readiness Standards (Arizona’s version of common core) to teach. They taught various lessons using the Standards, and they engaged their business and education audience as the students.
Here is what we – the audience – learned. Arizona’s standards are very challenging for students – or adults who have been out of school for a while. Arizona’s standards build on one another across the K-12 grades, leading to improved college and career readiness. Arizona’s standards demand that students read and understand difficult material – more difficult than I encountered in the public schools of Kingsport TN decades ago. Arizona’s third grade math standards and the approach taken facilitate considerably learning fractions, knowledge essential but difficult for many 8-9 year olds. And they emphasize that a student must think critically with multiple perspectives employed in analyzing a problem.
Raising accountability of our schools is essential. Doing so with even more challenging material – and standards – that demands critical reasoning and analysis will serve students well. It was just more than a month ago that I wrote in Penley on Education and Energy about the Economist’s vision of the future impact of technology. That future will challenge traditionally educated citizens. But Arizona’s Standards demand from K-12 students the kind of analytical and reasoning skills essential for that future.
It is time to move on – and adopt standards that will raise the college and career readiness of US students. Without change, we are destined to continue to lag other countries, imperiling our long term economic prosperity and global competitiveness.
That technology is once again altering the economy and world of work is evident. The Economist has written a timely, relevant analysis in its article, “The Onrushing Wave” that further examines this intersection. The technological transformation has implications for education – in what individuals can do to prosper and what kind of education society needs. Technology-generated changes to the economy are already capturing the public’s attention, and the primary expression of this attention is concern with growing income equality and lower-than-desired mobility. Right now discussion appears to make the primary remedies seem political.
Responses to the technological change must be more precisely directed if we are to address the impact of the change. It is education that will make the difference in which individuals prosper in the transformation. How educational systems and institutions respond to the transformation will determine whether society’s needs are met.
Once again we face an apparent repetition of the economic disruption that came in the 18th and 19th centuries. Disruption led to the disappearance of some jobs and the creation of others. But consumers benefitted substantially. The Economist concluded,
Everyone should be able to benefit from productivity gains—in that, Keynes was united with his successors. His worry about technological unemployment was mainly a worry about a “temporary phase of maladjustment” as society and the economy adjusted to ever greater levels of productivity. So it could well prove. However, society may find itself sorely tested if, as seems possible, growth and innovation deliver handsome gains to the skilled, while the rest cling to dwindling employment opportunities at stagnant wages.
Which skills will matter and what kind of education is needed? The economic challenges that come from the on-going disruption point to the value of education – but not to any traditional skills. Rather than traditional skills, the disruption points to the need for adaptability. What will matter for individuals are the analytical skills associated with dealing with complexity and developing adaptive responses. Education will serve society’s needs if it is focused on the creation of a learning environment that develops critical thinking and entrepreneurial adaptability.
At the K-12 level, this is why implementation of the new common core in the U.S. is so serious. Critical thinking skills are at the heart of the common core; see the work of Achieve in this area. At higher education levels, alterations in pedagogy are essential as well. Digital technology provides for, after capital costs, a cost-effective substitute for lectures. Coupled with more intensive use of application-driven learning – via digital and in-person media – higher education can support similar needed skill development. While we will not escape the transformation described in the analysis by The Economist, we can educate to that transformation rather than attempt to forestall it or politically manipulate its impact.
The abundant availability of energy in 2014 is encouraging – in very many ways. New technology associated with accessing and extracting natural gas and oil has created an energy boom along with new jobs. The Economist likened the boom in energy to the California gold rush. But this boom is very different in its technology and the very particular political challenges it faces – for both traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy.
Beyond creating new jobs and new sources of energy, the “boom” has leveled prices of natural gas and oil. It has also moved the United States closer to what multiple presidents have called for in historic, campaign political statements – energy independence and energy self-sufficiency for America. For consumers, access to widespread, available oil and natural gas means price stability, including months of decline during 2013 in the price of gasoline at American gas stations.
Of course, there is no guarantee that international issues will not alter current supplies and threaten recent price stability. Both supplies and price are particularly vulnerable to the continued instability in the Middle East and the uncertainty over persistent, volatile political issues on the Korean peninsula and old territorial disputes between China and Japan. Historic trends in prices have frequently been disrupted by political volatility.
Despite the very good news for consumers and the U.S., reactions to the boom in energy availability have not been uniformly positive. Concern over the environment and the desire to avoid “energy production in my backyard” have led to voter restrictions on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – the extraction of natural gas from shale beds using the injection of water and chemicals. The public’s negative reaction is not restricted to gas wells; indeed, consumers have also reacted unenthusiastically to the presence of windmills that produce renewable energy and sometimes kill errant fowl. That same environmental concern has led to pressure on government to control energy production with new rules. Misplaced beliefs about the ability to restrict global markets has also led to pressure on the federal government to limit exports as well via licenses for ports associated with liquid natural gas.
In so many ways, the public has benefitted from the ingenuity that has come from the marketplace. That benefit has come in the form of stability in energy prices, new jobs in the fossil and renewable sectors of the industry, and increased availability of energy, globally and at home. The last decade has not only seen a boom in the oil industry with newly identified sources of oil and natural gas, but it has seen improved technology in the renewable energy sector as well. In addition to improvements in the technology associated with the generation of electricity via wind, progress has continued with greater efficiency of solar cells too.
Yet, the challenge to energy availability in 2014 is likely to continue. For those who support renewable energy and for those involved in traditional fossil fuels, there is a common interest. It is in limiting government restrictions on energy production and supporting R&D.
It was in late 2013 that the world received the most recent international comparisons in educational performance in math, reading and science. Results came from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results were discouraging for both students and educators in North America, and particularly so for those in the United States and Mexico. Despite the discouraging PISA results, there is significant pressure to stop or slow the implementation of the common core standards in the U.S.
Here are the poor results on the U.S. PISA scores:
- Fully more than a quarter of U. S. students were below minimal proficiency in math.
- Almost a fifth of U. S. students scored below minimal proficiency in science, and 17% were below minimal proficiency in reading.
- The proportion of U.S. students who scored well was also discouraging; only 9% of 15 year olds scored at a level 5 in math proficiency; even fewer were at this level of proficiency in science (7%), and 8% were at this level in reading.
Mexico also saw poor performance results withmore than half of its 15 year olds scoring below minimal proficiency in math. Forty-seven percent were similarly below minimal proficiency in science, but Mexican students scored slightly better than their U.S. neighbors in reading with 86% of 15 year olds scoring above minimal proficiency and 16% below. Rounding out North America was Canada where students performed somewhat better. Eighty-six percent of Canadian 15 year olds scored above minimal math proficiency; almost 90% were above minimal proficiency in science, and 97% were above minimal proficiency in reading.
Results in the U.S. and Mexico come along with continued opposition to reform in education. In Mexico it has come from teachers’ unions with a streak of protectionism for members. In the U.S. it has come from a variety of sources, but most recently, it has come from two directions. From the political right, opposition to common core standards has come in terms of fear of loss of district or state’s rights to set education standards – even though current standards fail to prepare educated citizens who are prepared for work or higher education. Opposition to reform is also coming from the left where there is criticism around too speedy implementation and criticism of the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools.
Both the right and the left are misguided when it comes to education reform needs. Implementation of the common core standards does not remove local control over how teachers teach. Moreover, implementation of common core is useless without measurement of outcomes. Higher standards of U.S. education are in our interest as a country – just as they are in the interest of Mexico or Canada. As a long-time educator, I have observed poorly prepared college freshmen for decades who struggle to meet the minimum requirements. Like all U.S. citizens, I deal with service employees who cannot give change nor complete basic alphabetization of products such as DVDs.
The greatest challenge in 2014 for education will be rooted in political opposition to reform. Education reform must work to avoid pressure from both the right and the left. Both sides are working to sidetrack us from educational reform by masking fear of the federal government in the guise of seemingly legitimate concerns about local control or by masking protectionism of teachers’ unions with seemingly legitimate concerns about standardized testing or the speed of implementation of reform.
A little more than two years ago, I speculated about the potential for Gainful Employment rulemaking to be applied to traditional colleges. The Department of Education (DoE) took a step closer to making my speculation a reality with its scheduling of the second session of negotiated rulemaking for the week of November 18.
The DoE’s revised draft of the Gainful Employment rule has the potential to affect community colleges rather significantly. The revised draft includes two new metrics that were not included in its August 2013 draft. The first measures the cohort default rate of former students in a specific program – those who completed and those who did not. The second is a measure of the repayment rate of the loan portfolio of a program cohort, and the principal must decrease by a minimum of $1 during a given year.
Traditional, nonprofit community colleges offer a variety of occupational programs in areas such as nursing, metalworking, fire fighting, etc. Community college programs have traditionally had relatively low completion rates. A report in my local Arizona Republic stated that six-year completion rates of the Maricopa Community College District had risen over a decade to 28%. The rate includes both students who obtained associate degrees with the intent of going onto a 4-year university and those who completed certificates and degrees closely associated with immediate, gainful employment.
Community colleges are intentionally designed to allow local students easy access to a program and the flexibility to complete courses toward certification at their own pace. Community colleges also are designed to be responsive to a broad range of working adults, including many who are from the American working class; their incomes are generally stretched to cover a wide range of family living expenses, including repayment of loans.
This round of negotiated rulemaking has the potential to result in changes at community colleges. Some of those may be positive as community colleges address the need to assure that students complete programs and find gainful employment. However, there may be negative outcomes for community colleges as well – from the implementation of restrictions on admission, less flexibility in program completion, etc. These negative outcomes could affect enrollment at community colleges. Whether the positive outcomes will outweigh the negative ones is not clear. And harm to community college enrollment has the potential to impact local economies with fewer employees with skills desired by employers. This may well be a time to analyze impacts more carefully before the planned announcement of the rule.
This past week, I experienced the enthusiasm that many Mexicans have for reform in education when I spoke at the U.S. Mexico Bar Association Annual Meeting and Conference. Reform is, of course, a subject of interest in Mexico in the area of energy as well but we have seen that education reform is much further along. Like the U.S., educational reform is essential for Mexico’s global competitiveness.
Both countries – the United States and Mexico – are challenged to compete globally and raise prosperity by the performance of their students when compared with other countries. The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will report new PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores on December 3. The previous report placed both countries well below desirable levels. Mexico ranked 48th among the countries tested in reading; the U. S. ranked 17th. In math, Mexico ranked 50th, and the U.S. was little better at 31st.
These low ranks for both countries represent a strong indication of the need for more educational reform. For many of us, educational reform has been part of our lives for decades but we still struggle to get reform right. Reform is essential if good teachers are to have the opportunity to do what good teachers can do – change students, indeed transform students. We can only hope that the new PISA scores will show some improvement for both countries.
Right now, neither Mexico nor the U.S. is globally competitive when it comes to how our students perform in reading, math and science. Primary and secondary education in the U.S. and Mexico still looks very familiar after decades of attempts to reform it. Teachers’ unions are still strong; especially in Mexico and it has been the struggle with teachers’ unions that has caught the most attention of many people who have watched the recent education reforms take place in Mexico.
Many teachers have feared competition, and the Mexican teachers’ union has fought reform. Competition, of course, is becoming more widely available to U.S. students via online schools, home schools, and charter schools. It is still rare in Mexico, but competition is more typical of many other countries. In the Netherlands, three-quarters of Dutch students study in private schools. Japan and Korea have an even larger proportion of their students in privately managed schools.
The good news in Mexico is that reform is underway. New standardized tests will become available for selecting teachers and for evaluating their performance. A new, national reporting system has increased transparency; the information system is called ENLACE (La Evaluacion Nacional de Logro Academico en Centros Escolares). In June, the Mexican government reported that ENLACE data covered 95% of students and 90% of Mexican schools. Scores on national tests are essential for making reforms work, and scores have to be based on a national average and be used to determine if a student is doing poorly as an anomaly in a class or school – or if the entire class or school is doing poorly relative to national averages. Mexico can now do this.
It was very positive to witness the enthusiasm for education reform this past week. That enthusiasm seemed to be driven by an understanding that reforms have to enable teachers to be more effective. Despite the reported reaction by teachers’ unions to educational reform in Mexico, it is teachers who will make educational reform lead to improved student performance.
In this – or any other age – where argumentation is often based on belief systems, science presents an alternative. Science is a systematic way of pursuing knowledge via the scientific method. It employs observation, prediction, and measurement, and it contrasts with belief systems. The purpose of today’s blog is to examine how recently published science contributes to our knowledge of energy and climate change. Science offers a foundation for improvement in business efficiency, profitability and the establishment of sound government policy.
In examining why science matters, we start with an examination of the recent scientific research associated with methane emissions from natural gas wells. The research comes from the published work of David T. Allen et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it has already received attention in some media because of its findings and their inconsistency with some people’s beliefs and earlier research. The findings include lower than expected overall release of methane from newly drilled wells, many of which are associated with hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, refers to the process of injecting water and chemicals into subterranean shale in order to release the natural gas stored within the pores of the shale. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and it is a potent greenhouse gas that is scientifically associated with climate change.
The study by Mr. Allen and his colleagues used measurements of emissions monitoring equipment during the completion process of wells during a seven month period that included the summer, fall, and parts of the winter and spring seasons of 2012 and 2013. The method was direct measurement of methane emissions, an important contributor to the credibility of this research. The results were almost 97% less than a 2011 estimate by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The study also examined 150 existing production sites and 489 wells with samples taken from them. These wells use pneumatic controllers, which are designed to use air pressure created by the well to drive related equipment. These devices can release methane as a part of their routine operation from equipment leaks that were detected using infrared cameras. Mr. Allen’s and his colleagues’ observations were that methane release from pneumatic controllers was 57-67% higher than earlier EPA estimates.
While this scientific paper did not address business practices or policy, there is an opportunity to look to changes in practice that could further reduce methane release. Pneumatic controllers were the primary source of methane release in this research and there are various actions that can be taken by natural gas companies, even without changes to policy that can help reduce the amount of methane release. If companies were to install low-bleed devices in pneumatic controllers, retrofit machines with low-bleed devices, and improve maintenance associated with gaskets, tube fittings and seals we could see a significant reduction in the amount of methane being released by the pneumatic controllers. Reducing the unintended loss of natural gas via pneumatic controllers has financial advantages for both the owner of the well and the environment. Owners of the wells can make more natural gas available for sale and the reduction of methane release in the environment can help mitigate any climate implications.
When taken together, methane emissions from new well installations and pneumatic controllers were 10% lower than earlier EPA estimates. These findings are a valuable addition to our knowledge base. Nine natural gas producers supported the research, and some media have indicted the credibility of the research because of the source of funding. Since most scientific research is supported by one source or another, the particular source, per se, is less important than the soundness of the method used and the design of the hypotheses. In both cases, Mr. Allen and his colleagues followed expected scientific practice that lends considerable credibility to the new information about lower than expected emissions of methane from natural gas extraction. This is the value of science.
When asked about the common core standards by the local NPR affiliate some months ago, I thought I had the right response; now I am sure that I did not. Some months ago, I praised the common core standards for raising the bar and establishing greater accountability in reading, math and writing. I also saw them as making the U.S. more globally competitive; after all I am President of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, an international business school. I also made it clear in my comments that teachers deserved our support and additional training from their local districts for common core’s implementation.
What I said in my NPR response was inadequate. Recently I served on an Arizona education panel for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. As we panelists were asked about common core, I recognized the inadequacy of my earlier response to questions about common core. My response should have included an additional element beyond common core’s implementation and training for teachers; I should have called for education for business leaders and more specific, alternative language for business leaders to use when talking about their support for common core.
Why education and alternative language for business leaders? A little background: it was in 1996 that a group of business leaders and a bipartisan group of governors, not the Obama administration, took the initiative for common core. They called for standards-based education across the states to make our economy more competitive, and they formed Achieve, an independent, bipartisan organization to lead the effort. Because I know Craig Barrett, the Chair of Achieve’s Board, I learned about its direction and the initiative earlier than much of the public.
What has happened since 1996 is appreciated by many of us in education and business. We have admiringly watched Achieve lead in raising standards, state by state, but within the context of a state’s own initiatives. We have followed the development of standards that improve students’ readiness for college and work. Now almost two decades later, we are in the implementation stage of common core.
Why, then, are common core standards being labeled as driven by Obama, part of some “progressive movement,” or labeled by a few as reminiscent of the Hitler era? I confess that I never expected this outcome. But the likes of it reminded me when I served on the local education panel that all of us who want to see better U.S. education have to focus far more of our effort on non-educators if we are to raise accountability in our schools and U.S. competitiveness of our labor force.
It is essential that we stop using vague labels like “common core.” Instead we must return to language that can be understood. What we are really talking about is better preparation of K-12 students for work and college. What we are talking about is raising school accountability. What we are talking about is expecting more from our teachers. I failed to say these things when I spoke to my local NPR affiliate. I thought others understood that common core standards did not emanate from the Obama administration. I thought the public understood the role of common core in raising standards and increasing college and work readiness. I thought the public understood that common core standards would raise demands for what our teachers did. I was wrong.
Some states have gotten the message. They are doing a better job than I did. Tennessee, my home state, has created TNCore where the public can find out about common core and read the history and purpose of this important initiative. Every state and community that hopes to be successful in raising the bar on expectation for students in reading, writing and math must develop a plan for educating the public and training business leaders in talking – not about common core – but about accountability, expectations for teachers, and readiness of graduates for work and college. This is what I should have said.
This week’s Senate hearings for the new head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Ron Binz, former Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner, deserve the public’s attention because of the role that FERC will have on consumer prices for energy.
It will be a challenge to make the issues from the hearings clear because most of the public is unaware of even the existence of FERC. Before the Bush administration, FERC drew little attention but its power grew under President Bush, and that position of increased power has continued under the Obama administration. As a part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, FERC was revitalized and given responsibilities for establishing and strengthening the smart grid, the integration of renewables along with the responsibility for the regulation of natural gas, liquefied natural gas terminals, natural gas pipelines, and interstate transmission of electricity.
With a broad-based charge, the Commission has the capacity to affect the costs of electricity and the prices ultimately paid by the consumer. Much of the direction that FERC takes will depend upon the assumptions it adopts about energy sources and future change to energy policy. Because Mr. Binz has a long history in the industry, he has left the public with an understanding of his own assumptions and the direction he may take as the head of FERC. For example, he is an author of Practicing Risk-Aware Electricity Regulation: What Every State Regulator Needs to Know. This report is available from Ceres, a nonprofit organization advocating for sustainability leadership.
The report focuses on how regulators and utilities make decisions relative to risk. The fundamentals of the report are straightforward; decisions are always fraught with risk, and the decision-maker, e.g., a utility, has a responsibility to moderate risk, based on assumptions about the future. What are the assumptions that Mr. Binz will make about the future?
Among them is that renewable sources of energy, like solar, will receive government incentives for their use, that additional federal regulation will be imposed on fossil fuels, that the supply of natural gas is volatile, and that the likelihood of price increases for a low carbon fuel like natural gas is moderately high. The report states, “the authors expect that the scientific evidence of climate change will eventually compel concerted federal action that greenhouse gas emissions will be costly for fossil-fueled generation.” While the scientific evidence for the impact of fossil fuels on climate change is increasingly clear, the validity of these assumptions is questionable.
Here are some of the reasons why the assumptions may be faulty. First, technology associated with solar technology is advancing, making it more likely in the future that solar energy may become increasingly affordable without the need for government incentives. Second, the impact of fossil fuels on the release of atmospheric carbon is varied. For example, natural gas is a relatively low contributor to atmospheric carbon when compared with other fossil fuels. Third, known reserves of natural gas from shale are vast and the carbon footprint for natural gas is relatively low (see EPA Study Provides Striking, Favorable findings for Natural Gas). Thus, the likelihood that natural gas prices will raise is constrained by the increasingly available supply of natural gas. Moreover, the lower carbon footprint of natural gas makes it a likely continued choice by energy generators, even in the face of the evidence for climate change.
Assumptions matter when assessing risks in decision-making. FERC can make decisions that matter for consumers. Consumers are well advised to pay attention to the Senate hearings this week on the new head of FERC. The outcome of the hearings will likely affect consumers’ wallets and energy production for years to come.