Voices: Benicia man explores greener world in book
By Irma Widjojo, 05/16/16, 7:18 PM PDT
Benicia >> Grant Cooke said he’s always been a writer, even after not being able to find a job as a reporter as a fresh college graduate in the 1960s.
Undaunted, the Benicia resident of 30 years went on to write four books with his writing partner, Woodrow Clark II.
Clark was one of the contributing scientists to the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Most recently, the duo published “Smart Green Cities,” which provides a guideline for modern cities to move away from a carbon-intensive energy culture, Cooke, 69, said.
“The only way we can mitigate climate change and global warming is by addressing the issues going on in cities and mega cities,” he said.
The writers took about a year to write the book, visiting more than two dozen of the cities in the book, including Beijing, London, Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin for research.
Cooke did not always live in the center of technology.
Born in a “small farm town” in California’s Central Valley, Cooke eventually left the area for a college education in Berkeley.
After working as a college administrator for almost three decades, he helped a small engineering company to write and design projects for the California energy efficiency program in 2006.
He then started a mechanical engineering company in 2010, the Benicia-based Sustainable Energy Associates, but decided to scale down to focus on writing more books — combining his passion of sustainable energy, technology and writing.
“My field is emerging technologies,” Cooke said. “We are on the cusp of the beginnings of what I consider to be a technological and scientific renaissance. I think from what I understand and where I stand now the future is more interesting and full of technological breakthrough.”
Through his work, Cooke was also able to “witness a little bit of history.”
In December, Cooke was part of the United Nations conference in Paris on climate change.
“It was really fascinating,” he said. “I got to see U.S. and China, the two world’s biggest polluters, sit down and discuss ways to address this issue.”
He said the United States is slower than the European countries to adopt greener technologies and habits.
“America tends to be lazy and tends to be dominated by carbon-related wealth,” Cooke said, pointing to his own hometown. “In particular towns like Benicia and Richmond that are so dominated by their heavy fossil fuel industries.”
However, Cooke agrees that California leads the nation in addressing climate change and related issues, but he said more money needs to be injected into the industry.
“No major change of this magnitude is going to come about without money,” he said. “Global investors, of large quantity, have suddenly realized that we are on this cusp of green industrial revolution — that money could be made in green technology.”
Cooke’s latest, and other books, can be found on Amazon.com.
For Benicia business owner and writer Grant Cooke, the question isn’t whether crude oil should come in by rail, pipeline or tanker ship. Nor which is better, hybrids or all-electric cars.
Cooke is looking ahead to hydrogen-powered vehicles that are no more combustible than those powered by gasoline and emit water vapor, not carbon gases, as they travel down roads and highways.
Now, in collaboration with Dr. Woodrow W. Clark III, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a contributing scientist to the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, Cooke has written about what he calls the “third industrial revolution” — a revolution based not on the carbon-intensive industries of the past but on energy sustainability.
The book, “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” is the third collaboration between Clark, founder of environmental and renewable energy consulting firm Clark Strategic Partners, and Cooke. But if not for an unexpected career change, it may never have happened.
Cooke originally planned to be a writer in a different genre. He earned degrees in journalism and political science at the University of California-Berkeley and a master’s degree in journalism at the University of California-Los Angeles.
But witnessing the demise of evening newspapers, Cooke said he realized he might do better in a different industry.
He went to work at Diablo Valley College in promotion and administration, marketing the college for 28 years. Then, in 2005, “I decided it’s time to leave,” he said.
He had been networking with some young engineers, and realized he, too, had “a knack for design.” The result was writing third-party utility-sponsored energy-efficiency programs for schools and colleges, with data centers in California, Texas and New York.
“It was a start-up company. We got bought out,” he said. That gave him the chance, in 2010, to start his own business, Sustainable Energy Associates, a mechanical engineering company focused on renewable energy and water conservation.
But along the way, he said, he wrote a sustainable energy program for Southern California Edison. That led to his connection with Clark. “He had become a leader in the sustainability world,” Cooke said.
Funding for the program got deferred, but the collaboration lasted. The duo have worked on three books so far; one, “Global Energy Innovation — Why America Must Lead,” primarily can be found in libraries, though it also is available through Amazon.com, where readers can learn that the book explains why the United States must leave behind lethargy and defeatism to take the lead in technological inventiveness in the areas of green jobs and carbon-neutral communities.
A second book, which experienced delays Cooke said were prompted by political change, isfocused on China and its “green” revolution. It is being translated into Mandarin before being released.
“The Green Industrial Revolution” has been out since Nov. 20, 2014, and Cooke called it “a major reference book of its type,” adding, “We are fairly serious scientists.”
The authors’ contention, Cooke said, is there is a “mega-trend change” in how energy is going to be generated.
For instance, he said, China “came of age” with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when it became what he called “an essential part of the world economy.”
He said that country is moving fast to set aside its dependence on coal and investing trillions of dollars to clean up its environment.
“China,” he said, “is more serious than the United States.”
But it isn’t just about the environment: “We’re talking about a social, political and economic transition.”
Cooke said the upcoming change is on par with such significant events as 17th century Industrial Revolution, the switch to steam engines, the 19th-century discovery of oil as a fuel and the development of the internal combustion engine.
“My contention is, we are on the verge of the third industrial revolution,” he said. adding that some places already already are involved. That third revolution will be powered by renewable energy, with onsite distribution and a change from centralized to a decentralized, smart grid system.
“We’re at the end of a carbon-intensive lifestyle,” he said.
The change needs to happen, he said, because weather patterns are becoming unstable: the American Northeast is being inundated with snow, ice caps are melting and “the atmosphere is a garbage can for heavy carbon users.”
Not only that, but the change can reduce the cost of energy, he said, and that includes reaching a zero marginal cost.
“We’re economics-driven,” he said. He compared it to the production of any item, such as shovels: If he produced 10,000 shovels, the first hundred could cost $9 each, because part of the production costs are about building the system, such as the assembly line that makes the shovel.
But once he had paid for the system, the cost of making those shovels diminishes, Cooke explained. “Eventually, the only cost is resources, so you make more profit per shovel. That’s what is happening in renewable energy.”
He cited Moore’s Law, developed by Gordon Earle Moore, co-founder of Intel Corporation, and said based on that law technology doubles in strength and capacity every 18 months.
“My contention is, the same law applies to the growth of renewable energy,” Cooke said. “At the moment, the world uses six percent renewable energy. Each 18 months, it doubles. As it increases, costs go down.”
Those who put solar panels on their homes pay the cost of that installation in seven to eight years, Cooke said. “Once you reach seven years, the cost to generate energy is no cost.”
He said the business model for sustainability is better than for carbon-intensive industries, which is “a failing business model. It will be supplanted by renewable energy,” adding that in 19 regions of the world, solar energy is less expensive than carbon-generated energy.
One reason that is happening, he said, is the supplanting of fossil fuel by hydrogen energy in the transportation sector. “Norway, Sweden and Germany have relatively small but effective ‘hydrogen highways,” roadways where motorists have access to hydrogen “refills.”
In 2016, he said, California will launch its own hydrogen highway, along Interstate 5 from Mexico to Oregon, capable of supporting the hydrogen-fueled vehicles he said are in development by all major automobile manufacturers.
“Each has a prototype car,” he said, and Toyota and Honda already have such cars in Southern California.
He said several investment banks are reporting that carbon-based industries are losing money, and are predicted to lose $28 trillion in revenues in the next 20 years.
Cooke, who also is writing “Smart Green Cities,” which will be published this year by Ashgate/Gower in England, recognized that Benicia depends on carbon-based industries for its economy, and the largest of these is Valero Benicia Refinery.
He said this city has “geographic advantages” that those who are knowledgeable about economics find attractive. Those people could help Benicia change from counting on revenues from carbon-based companies to what he called a “smart-driven economy.”
“It’s happening before our very eyes,” he said.
He said there are places in Solano County where wind turbines generate energy for a few pennies per kilowatt, and solar arrays do the same for a little more than a nickel per kilowatt. “The average resident or small business owner pays 19 cents a kilowatt,” he said.
He predicted that renewable energy would overtake industries based on petroleum, and Benicia needs to join that change. “It’s time. The industry is declining, and it’s starting to accelerate,” he said. “Renewable energy is overtaking petroleum. It made profits at $140 a barrel. Now it’s looking at $50 a barrel or less.” He said the petroleum industry will never return to the prices of old.
“As futurists, Woody (Clark) and I are looking at a world that’s coming,” he said. Europe and Asia — especially China and India — are making greater efforts toward sustainable lifestyles, he said, an area in which the United States is lagging because of politics.
“Leadership is so bogged down,” he said — even as millions die from pollution-related illnesses, the world economy loses $1 trillion in global gross domestic product, increased salinity affects the world’s drinking water supply and marginal farmland fails to produce, leading to famine.
If this country is going to get pushed into a higher gear regarding sustainability, he said, “it will have to come on a local level. California is starting take on a leadership role. New York, too — New York has banned fracking.”
Ultimately, he said, he hopes the books he and Clark write explain to people that the world in which they grew up is changing, significantly.
“The sooner they understand the world’s environment is in danger, the sooner they can mitigate the danger for subsequent generations and move to a carbon-less lifestyle.”
“The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics” is available on Amazon.com.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Benicia’s own Grant Cooke has written a highly significant three-part series for The Benicia Herald, outlining the impending fall of the fossil fuel industry and concluding with good advice for the City of Benicia and other cities dependent on refineries for a major portion of their local revenue stream.This is the last of three parts. Read part one by CLICKING HERE and part two by CLICKING HERE. – RS]
Big Oil’s endgame: What it all means for Benicia
October 12, 2014, by Grant Cooke
IN APRIL 2014, THE HIGHLY RESPECTED Paris-based financial company Kepler Chevreux released a research report that has rippled through the fossil fuel industries. In it, Kepler Chevreux describes what is at stake for the fossil fuel industry as world governments’ push for cleaner fuels and reduced greenhouse gas emissions gathers momentum.
The firm argues that the global oil, gas and coal industries are set to lose a combined $28 trillion in revenues over the next two decades as governments take action to address climate change, clean up pollution and move to decarbonize the global energy system. The report helps to explain the enormous pressure that the industries are exerting on governments not to regulate GHGs.
Kepler Chevreux used International Energy Agency forecasts for global energy trends to 2035 as the basis for its research, and it concluded that as carbonless energy becomes more available, and as government policies make steep cuts in carbon emissions, demand for oil, natural gas and coal will fall, which will lower prices.
The report said oil industry revenues could fall by $19.3 trillion over the period 2013-35, coal industry revenues could fall by $4.9 trillion and gas revenues could be $4 trillion lower. High-production-cost extraction such as deep-water wells, oil sands and shale oil will be most affected.
Even under business-as-usual conditions, however, the oil industry will still face risks from increasing costs and more capital-intensive projects, fewer exports, political risks and the declining costs of renewable energy.
The report continues: “The oil industry’s increasingly unsustainable dynamics … mean that stranded asset risk exists even under business-as-usual conditions. High oil prices will encourage the shift away from oil towards renewables (whose costs are falling) while also incentivizing greater energy efficiency.” Eventually, fossil fuel assets will be too expensive to extract, and the oil will be left in the ground.
As far as renewables are concerned, Kepler Chevreux says tremendous cost reductions are occurring and will continue as the upward trajectory of oil costs becomes steeper.
Kepler Chevreux’s report is consistent with others released in 2014. One report from U.S.’s Citigroup, titled “Age of Renewables is Beginning — A Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE)” and released in March 2014, argues that there will be significant price decreases in solar and wind power that will add to the renewable energy generation boom. Citigroup projects price declines based on Moore’s Law, the same dynamic that drove the boom in information technology.
In brief, Citigroup is looking for cost reductions of as much as 11 percent per year in all phases of photovoltaic development and installation. At the same time, they say the cost of producing wind energy also will significantly decline. During this period, Citigroup says, the price of natural gas will continue to go up and the cost of running coal and nuclear plants will gradually become prohibitive.
When the world’s major financial institutions start to do serious research and quantify the declining costs of renewable energy versus the rising costs of fossil fuels, it becomes easier to understand the monumental impact that the Green Industrial Revolution is having.
Zero marginal cost
Marginal cost, to an economist or businessperson, is the cost of producing one more unit of a good or service after fixed costs have been paid. For example, let’s take a shovel manufacturer. It costs the shovel company $10,000 to create the process and buy the equipment to make a shovel that sells for $15. So the company has recovered its fixed or original costs after 800 to 1,000 are sold. Thereafter, each shovel has a marginal cost of $3, consisting mostly of supplies, labor and distribution.
Companies have used technology to increase the productivity, reduce marginal costs and increase profits from the beginning. However, as Jeremy Rifkin points out in “Zero Marginal Cost Society,” we have entered an era where technology has unleashed “extreme productivity,” driving marginal costs on some items and services to near zero. File sharing technology and subsequent zero marginal cost almost ruined the record business and shook the movie business. The newspaper and magazine industries have been pushed to the wall and are being replaced by the blogosphere and YouTube. The book industry struggles with the e-book phenomenon.
An equally revolutionary change will soon overtake the higher education industry. Much to the annoyance of the universities — and for the first time in world history — knowledge is becoming free. At last count, the free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) had enrolled about six million students. The courses, many of which are for credit and taught by distinguished faculty, operate at almost zero marginal cost. Why pay $10,000 at a private university for the same course that is free over the Internet? The traditional brick-and-mortar, football-driven, ivy-covered universities will soon be scrambling for a new business model.
Airbnb, a room-sharing Internet operation with close to zero marginal cost, is a threat to change the hotel industry in the same way that file sharing changed the record business, especially in the world’s expensive cities. Young out-of-town high-tech workers coming to San Francisco from Europe use Airbnb to rent a condo or an empty room in a house instead of staying at a hotel. They do this because they cannot find a room with the location they need, or because their expense reimbursement cap won’t cover one of the city’s high-end hotel rooms. Industry analysts estimate that Airbnb and similar operations took away more than a million rooms from New York City’s hotels last year.
A powerful technology revolution is evolving that will change all aspects of our lives, including how we access renewable energy. An “Energy Internet” is coming that will seamlessly tie together how we share and interact with electricity. It will greatly increase productivity and drive down the marginal cost of producing and distributing electricity, possibly to nothing beyond our fixed costs.
This is almost the case with the early adopters of solar and wind energy. As they pay off these systems and their fixed costs are covered, additional units of energy are basically free, since we don’t pay the sun to shine or the wind to sweep around our back wall. This is the concept that IKEA, the Swedish furniture manufacturer, is exploiting. IKEA is test marketing residential solar systems in Europe that cost about $11,000 with a payback of three to five years. Eventually, we’ll be able to buy a home solar system at IKEA, Costco or Home Depot, have it installed and recover our costs in less than two years.
All three elements — carbon mitigation costs, grid parity and zero marginal costs — and others like additive manufacturing and nanotechnology are part of the coming Green Industrial Revolution. It will be an era of momentous change in the way we live our lives. It will shake up many familiar and accepted processes like 20th-century capitalism and free-market economics, reductive manufacturing, higher education and health care. More to the point, it will see the passing of the carbon-intensive industries.
Like the centralized utility industry, the fossil fuel industries and the large centralized utilities have business models predicated on continued growth in consumption. Once that nexus of declining prices for renewables and rising costs of extraction and distribution is crossed — and we are already there in several regions of the world — demand will rapidly shift and propel us into “global energy deflation.”
Think about it: No more air pollution strangling our cities, no more coal ash spills in rivers that our kids swim in, no more water tables being poisoned by fracking toxics. Better yet, think of no more utility bills and electricity that is almost free. These are among the unlimited opportunities that extreme productivity can provide.
* * *
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR BENICIA? Our lovely town, along with some of our neighbors, has enjoyed a stream of tax revenue from the fossil fuel industries for several decades. This will end as these industries lose the ability to compete in price with renewable energy. After all, if my energy costs drop to near zero, I’m not going to pay $5 for a gallon for gas or 20 cents per kilowatt hour. If Kepler Chevreux, Citigroup and the prescient investment bankers are right — and they usually are — oil company profits will begin a death spiral accompanied by industry constriction and refinery closings. Losing $19.3 trillion over two decades is a staggering amount even for the richest industry in world history.
Benicia should begin a long-range plan to replace Valero’s current tax revenues. Two decades from now this town will be very different — we are headed toward a city of gray-haired pensioners and retired folks too contented with perfect weather and amenities to sell homes to wage earners who, in fact, may not be able to afford big suburban houses and garages full of cars.
Instead, the Millennials are choosing dense urban living that’s close to work, and they prefer getting around by foot or bicycle, with some public transportation and the occasional Zipcar to visit the old folks in ‘burbs. The last thing pensioners want to do is pay extra taxes for schools and services they aren’t using, so raising taxes to meet the tax revenue shortfall is probably out of the question.
A similar revenue shortfall is probably facing the thousands of fossil fuel and utility industry employees who are thinking of retiring in the East Bay. Many plan to live on their stock dividends and pass the stock along to their heirs. This will be difficult as the industry begins the attrition phase of its cycle. They should see a financial planner and diversify.
To gamble Benicia’s safety and expand GHG emissions by approving Valero’s crude-by-rail proposal is illogical given that the oil industry is winding down and fossil-fuel will soon not be competitive with renewables. It would better for the Bay Area if we start to help Valero and the other refineries begin the long slow wind-down process, and gradually close them while the companies are still profitable. If we leave the shutdown process to when the companies start to struggle financially, they will just lock the gates and walk away, leaving the huge environmental cleanup costs to the local communities much the way the military does when they close bases.
There’s no good reason why Benicia residents should be saddled with the burden of a shuttered and vacant Valero refinery. We should begin the process as soon as possible and work with the refinery to not only find a way to replace the lost tax revenue, but to identify who will pay for the hazard waste and environmental cleanup.
At the very least, Benicia City Council should understand the move to a carbonless economy, read the Citigroup and Kepler Chevreux reports and the other emerging research, and accept the fact that Big Oil has begun its endgame. Leadership is about looking forward, not back, and identifying and solving problems at the most opportune time.
Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Woodrow Clark, of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” set to be released in October by Elsevier.