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11/04/12

How should state policy makers respond to self-driving vehicles, like this Audi TTS?

UNITED STATES – Each year 43,000 people die from car crashes, $164.2 billion is spent in repairs, and 100 hours is wasted on average in commuting to work.  Meanwhile, Google has safely driven a fleet of autonomous vehicles over 200,000 miles on American roads, so far.  Autonomous vehicles, which can navigate without human intervention using artificial intelligence, promise historic benefits for society.  They can react to surroundings 1000 times faster than humans, and do not suffer from "blind spots", drunkeness, tiredness, distractions, or road rage.  Due to the constant learning nature of their software, autonomous vehicles promise to become safer and safer drivers.

In this policy analysis and recommendation, we review where autonomous vehicles are in terms of technology, market developments, and existing policy responses.  We examine recently promulgated regulations from the State of Nevada.  We customize recommendations for the State of Colorado, as one of us happens to be Chief of Staff of a state senator there, but our findings should be relevant to policy makers globally.  We identify the advantages – improvements in safety, productivity, convenience, and accessibility for the disabled – as well as the current disadvantages of AVs – technical and regulatory ambiguity on rapidly evolving technology.  Finally, we highlight how we recommend departing from the Nevada regulatory framework.

Full story »

To save money, create jobs, improve performance, and reduce pollution from Florida’s energy systems, legislators should require Florida’s utilities to develop smart grid deployment plans.

States across the U.S. can use smart grids to cut energy consumption by 15 percent, while Florida is especially postured to benefit [1,2]. Floridians could save $6 billion per year by 2020 and enjoy 16,000 new jobs from increased investment in smart grid technologies [3,4]. Power outages cost Florida an estimated 5 to 8 billion dollars per year, and smart grids can help recoup these costs through integrated sensors, software, and networks that increase reliability [5,6].

Smart grids bridge energy supply and demand through information technologies. They cut pollution by 12 percent through decreased energy production [7]. Utility companies need them to integrate random and decentralized clean energy sources. In fact, according to The Economist, smart systems “may well be humankind’s best hope for dealing with… global warming.” [8] Seven utility companies in Florida committed $449 million to smart grid deployment in 2009, earning $262 million in federal grants [9]. Meanwhile, California enacted a law requiring all major utility companies to develop smart grid deployment plans [10]. Millions of Floridians would benefit from a similar law.

ANALYSIS
Florida has serious energy problems. Its per capita residential electricity demand is among the highest in the country, due in part to high air-conditioning use during the hot summer months and the widespread use of electricity for home heating during the winter months [11]. Florida also has an ugly history of hurricanes and severe storms that cause extremely expensive power outages during the fall months.

The state’s energy needs have not gone unnoticed, and Florida is “one of the most aggressive smart grid states in the nation” because of federal and private investments [12]. But because some of Florida’s private utility companies are able to profit from the state’s relatively high level of energy use, they may never deploy a smart grid system that would reduce consumer revenues. Given these circumstances, a light regulatory push is required.

NEXT STEPS

To seize the opportunities outlined above, the Florida legislature should require utility regulators and every major utility company to develop a smart grid deployment plan over a two-year timeline. This is a nonpartisan plan, but there will be significant political obstacles to passing it. First, many utility company shareholders are now opposed to smart grid deployment because it demands large capital investments that don’t translate into high marginal returns in the short term. Second, many Florida regulators will be hesitant to embrace this plan because they may be keenly aware of poorly managed smart grid projects around the nation. Third, polls show that over one in five Americans do not currently want smart grids [13]. Opponents will mostly claim that the costs of smart grids are not worth the prospective benefits, but they are incorrect. Legislators will find support from the clear majority of voters, as well as influential constituencies like nonprofit organizations, policy and economic research institutions, and forward-looking industry leaders.

Mechanically, the law would require smart grid deployment plans to improve the overall efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of electrical system operations, planning, and maintenance. Annual reports on the progress of deployment efforts would be made public, including detailed cost-benefit analyses. To move forward, interested legislators should seek professional consultation on how best to optimize this policy for Florida’s existing regulatory and political structure.

[1] IBM. IBM and Consert Help North Carolinians Reduce Energy Consumption With Smart Grid Technology. 2009. (http://bit.ly/ibm-smart-grid).
[2] CNT Energy. Illinois Households Save on Electricity Bills with Power Smart Pricing. 2011. (http://bit.ly/ameren-smart-grid).
[3] McKinsey & Company. McKinsey on Smart Grid. 2010. (http://bit.ly/mckinsey-on-smart-grid).
[4] KEMA. The US Smart Grid Revolution: KEMA’s Perspectives for Job Creation. 2008. (http://bit.ly/kema-smart-grid-jobs).
[5] CEIDS. The Cost of Power Disturbances to Industrial & Digital Economy Companies. 2001. (http://bit.ly/cost-of-power-disturbances).
[6] US Department of Energy. The Smart Grid: An Introduction. 2008. (http://1.usa.gov/doe-smart-grid-introduction).
[7] Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The Smart Grid: An Estimation of the Energy and CO2 Benefits. 2010. (http://bit.ly/smart-grid-co2s).
[8] The Economist. It’s a Smart World: Special Report on Smart Systems. 2010. (http://econ.st/smart-systems-report).
[9] US Department of Energy. Recovery Act Selections for Smart Grid Investment Grant Awards. 2009. (http://1.usa.gov/recovery-act-smart-grid).
[10] CA Public Utilities Code, Chapter 4, Section 8360-8369. (http://bit.ly/ca-smart-grid-law).
[11] Galvin Electricity Initiative. Smart Grid Issues in State Law and Regulation. 2010. (http://bit.ly/smart-grid-laws-regulations).
[12] US Energy Information Administration. State/Territory Energy Profiles. 2010. (http://bit.ly/eia-florida-energy-profile).
[13] Harris Interactive. Consumers Have LiZle Awareness of Smart Grid and Smart Meters. 2010. (http://bit.ly/consumer-awareness-smart-grid).
[14] McKinsey & Company. McKinsey on Smart Grid.
[15] IBM. IBM and Consert Help North Carolinians Reduce Energy Consumption With Smart Grid Technology.
[16] Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The Smart Grid: An Estimation of the Energy and CO2 Benefits.
[17] US Department of Energy. The Smart Grid: An Introduction. 2008.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.

Published originally by the Roosevelt Institute's 10 Ideas for Energy & Environment Series, 2011 edition

07/08/11

(originally published by Reuters)

Throughout history, municipal governments have tried to provide their citizens with essential public services. But in making the most of taxpayer money, these governments have often been muddled by the complexities of administrating “systems of systems” – dozens of city departments, which perform hundreds of functions, depended upon by thousands of citizens. Government services often suffered from inefficiencies because they were fractured, outdated, and difficult to monitor. But this no longer has to be their story.

New opportunities for smart governments are emerging from advances in the field of information technology. Driving these advances are smart software systems that can interpret complex data sets and help guide operational interaction. Public leaders can use these smart systems to help solve some of their most challenging problems. For example, smart systems can radically reduce carbon emissionsThe Economist reported that they “may well be humankind’s best hope for dealing with…global warming.” Because smart systems can improve how data is managed and acted upon in almost any setting, they mean big changes in the way governments spend taxpayer money. Pike Research expects that governments worldwide will spend over $100 billion throughout this decade on new infrastructure for Smart Cities. These smart cities are the next-generation global hubs of sustainability, innovation, and citizen well-being.

Full story »

04/07/11

Nuclear power plants have the potential to quench much of our thirst for energy, but as we have seen in instances such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and most recently, Japan, they have the deadly potential to harm people and the environment if things to wrong. How do we balance between safety and energy demand?

The very first safety design for nuclear power was Enrico Fermi’s “man with an ax.” In this mechanism, a man with an ax would cut a rope and drop liquid cadmium into the nuclear process to shut it down. This idea evolved into more automated coolant methods.

In the 1950s, Admiral Hyman Rickover designed the first nuclear powered submarine. This design used a light water reactor, where water is used as both a coolant and a moderator of the nuclear process. This design set the precedence for future nuclear reactors, regardless of its effectiveness and safety.

Unfortunately, these light water reactors that are commonly used today require a lot of active intervention, with a network of pressurized pipes and valves that greatly complicate the nuclear process. It essentially solves one problem and creates a medium for others to occur.  Although this seems ironic and fallible, it has been very successful in the past, with a very limited number of failures.

Full story »

03/12/11

President Obama announcing $3.4 billion of Federal investments into smart grid projects

The Federal Communications Commission began regulating the Internet last December to prevent anti-competitive practices, in a culmination of national network neutrality advocacy.  But there is evidence that some of the regulatory language around specialized services could actually discourage investment in breakthrough Internet applications like smart grid systems.

Flashes of misconduct by Internet service providers have reasonably concerned regulators.  Such events are typified by customer outrage over suddenly being unable to transfer data as desired, because of business supply-side decision making.  The FCC's Open Internet Report & Order was hence crafted as a reaction to fears of Internet providers leveraging their power in unfair ways.

But Verizon Wireless is clearly against such practices [1], and doesn't have the luxury of a monopoly, so why should its innovative applications of the Internet be restricted by a net neutrality regime?  Verizon doesn't think so, which is why it is now suing the FCC.

What's wrong with the new Internet regulation is that, in at least a few areas, it makes fuzzy threats.  This is by design: regulators want a flexibly enforceable regime in an ecosystem they know is dynamically evolving.  But the downside is that it makes the government's responses to market changes around Internet services very unpredictable.  Investment prospects in new Internet services become less attractive, because it becomes more difficult to quantize the risks involved.  Ultimately, the impact is “very harmful to consumers, companies, and the ability of this industry to create jobs, provide new services, and be an engine for economic growth,” according to Verizon [2].  The new services that Verizon refers to include modernizing electrical power grids.

Verizon plans to not only help American citizens communicate better, but also American energy systems. Last week, it agreed to provide some of its Internet services to Duke Energy, one of the nation's largest electric power companies, to deploy smart metering and home energy management systems in Charlotte, North Carolina [3].  By helping to modernize Charlotte's power grid, Verizon could enable residents there within the next few years to save millions of dollars, create hundreds of jobs, reduce tons of carbon emissions, and much more.

Early pilot projects have shown that consumers use the new insights and controls of Internet-connected power systems to cut their energy consumption by 15% on average [4,5].  Studies project that national deployment of these systems could provide savings to the US of $130 billion annually by 2020 [6], and create 280,000 high-value jobs for America [7].  Verizon is one company that has the infrastructure to help scale smart grid systems across the US – if only the FCC will allow it.

Full story »

02/28/11

In tandem with the rising economic prowess of China and India, the fears of market spectators and the working public have been emerging, and not unduly, in both the United States and Europe. Indeed, in the US the “outsourcing” of jobs has become a salient concern for the public and policy-makers alike, and has subsequently figured prominently in the American political-economic discourse. Simultaneously, however, our advanced-industrial counterparts in continental Europe have exhibited markedly less worry about the possibility of losing jobs overseas. Some explanations for this phenomenon rest in the different macro-economic orientations espoused by the US and many of the mainland nations of Europe, and, by extension, in the disparate micro-economic policies we engender.  Particular differences in policy between the social market economies (SMEs) of Europe and the American liberal market economy (LME)** exist in the areas of codetermination,  job security and skill formation, all of which lie at the heart of the outsourcing scare for Americans.

Full story »

02/23/11

PEOPLE are using information technologies today in more ways than anyone fully understands.  The number of Internet devices in 1984 was one thousand; in 1992, one million; and in 2008, one billion. Experts anticipate there will be 50 billion Internet devices by 2020.  Forrester Research forecasts that over the next 6 years, spending by US government and businesses on "smart computing technologies" will increase from about $40 billion today to over $400 billion.  Xinhua News Agency, speaking on behalf of China's government policy, announced $601 billion in investments planned over the next decade to deploy smart grid systems across its mega-cities.  Other countries are following suit in the race for economic modernization.

This modernization is the popular adoption of smart computing systems, also known as cyber physical systems: physically-intelligent electronics, which can sense environments in various ways, and dynamically interact through communications and control machinery.  These intelligent systems are very likely to bring the next wave of societal evolution by disrupting a majority of industries and professions.  Computing will become ubiquitous at home and work, in public spaces and surprising places.  Widespread mechatronics will make smarter buildings, transportation systems, power systems, "phones", and pharmaceuticals.  Artificial intelligence will play an increasingly large role in business, government, military, and academic innovations, percolating throughout the global economic infrastructure.

Biomedical engineers today are learning how nanobots could become common in health care

Smart computing systems should be doing revolutionary things over the next decade or so

  • Connecting billions of people with infinite learning and employment opportunities
  • Safely driving millions of people, millions of miles
  • Advising high-level thinking, coordination, and action of millions who will use dynamic mobile apps

Smart systems will exponentially increase government performance while reducing government costs – something that Congressional Budget Office projections are probably not counting on right now.  (I once reported legendary investor John Doerr as saying, "Congress can't model innovation.")  Human-computer interaction will slowly revolutionize education: the lines between Nintendo games and educational software will blur.  Personalized mechatronics – adaptions of PCs – will connect with people using diverse wireless sensor networks, delivering opportunities for global telepresence. People will increasingly have the capacity to control almost anything, anywhere, with minimal conscious demands. These applications will be vigorously brought to mainstream industries and markets, and the future of economies will begin to directly track evolution of underlying smart technologies.

Smart computing systems will ultimately advance the limits of our biological existence.  Software-driven pharmaceuticals may quickly become widespread treatment by MDs as regulation is modernized and technologies converge.  Automated biomedical applications, like artificial hearts and ubiquitous organ monitoring, will likely be adopted by thousands within a few decades. Market developments for most smart medical systems will lag more than 5 years behind advances in the underlying smart technologies, since biotechnologies require extensive scientific research and product testing. Some people believe the technologies that do successfully penetrate the market will end the cycle of life and death by 2050.  There are good scientific reasons to doubt that we will all become immortal cyborgs - but young people today could feasibly live many years past the age of 100.

Indeed, it would be science-fiction to ignore the roadblocks facing innovators today.  So mainstream deployment of many breakthrough smart systems, especially those based upon biotechnologies, will end up being beyond a few decades.  Talent gaps across disciplinary lines will amplify the challenges to systems engineering; public policy, regulatory, and law regimes will be blasts from the past; millions of people will organize to resist change; and long, expensive, and unusually risky product development lifecycles will scare away investment.  While Wall Street and traditional thinkers are neglecting this relatively nascent domain, visionary venture capital firms, like Kleiner Perkins and Foundry Group, are trying to catalyze the ability of entrepreneurs to build equity from the complex research portfolios of NSF, NIH, and the like.

But not everyone will gain equally from smart systems.  Many professionals will see their skill-set supplanted in cost-effectiveness and performance, as automated systems threaten to "hollow out" the middle class.  For example, certain forms of legal analysis are being outsourced to Watson-like software that can scan documents and computationally deduce high-level patterns – much faster and cheaper than humans.  For every major problem, a smart system will be developed.  Educational and training institutions should reform their curricula accordingly to reflect the changing jobs outlook.

Smart systems will drive radical socioeconomic changes that few people even thought possible.  Capabilities of value extraction from existing resources will be exponentially increased.  Humanity will evolve on individual and collective levels through these cyber physical systems.


Lance Legel is a Digital Energy Fellow in the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. He hopes to deploy smart systems in the years to come.

11/20/10

Over 300 thousand people were killed in a 2010 earthquake that demolished Haiti

With accelerating changes in Earth’s climate, natural disasters threaten more than ever global economic stability and growth. But because the damage from these disasters is a function of the durability of our built environment, we can best adapt to and mitigate the impact of Earth’s sudden environmental changes by improving architectural regimes around the world. Considering recent examples like the earthquakes in Indonesia and Haiti reinforces this grave point. In this report, we call for a greater focus on the need to increase building reinforcement and disaster risk reduction efforts around the world.

PDF of full report

09/16/10

The New York Times reports that the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee is pushing an agenda that would frustrate Boeing from realizing plans to fly tourists to space. NASA and the Obama Administration requested in their 2011 budget about $6 billion over five years to invest in private companies, but Chairman Bart Gordon of the House Committee would rather see NASA keep their traditional spaceflight portfolio, by investing only $0.9 billion in the same period.

'Space Ship One' by Virgin Galactic

Chairman Gordon explained his views in a letter addressed to Stanford University Professor Scott Hubbard, considering Professor Hubbard's concern that the U.S. needed to invest more in supporting commercial spaceflight.

According to Chairman Gordon: “...it is premature to make NASA's human space flight plans dependent on the achievement of the significantly more difficult objective of developing commercial crew by a date-certain and for an assumed cost.

The sad part about this excerpt is that it suggests a fundamental distrust by Chairman Gordon about the economic return on private investments. Rep. Gordon's concern is that NASA was unable to prove that the companies it would count on could provide "certainty" regarding their cost in time and money to satisfy project deliverables. His skepticism of NASA's and the Obama Administration's economic calculus is reflected in a June 17, 2010, report: Panel Demands NASA Documents to Support Budget.

It is ironic that Representative Gordon fails to mention NASA's embarrassing overall record on budgets and time-lines: a February 2010 study by the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) found that of 13 missions for which NASA provided figures, a total of 10 were delayed by, on average, 11 months and cost 13% above the original estimates.

Committee Chairman Bart Gordon should stop holding the future of the private space industry hostage to his need to micromanage. No project, whether in a public or private sphere, is certain. But supporting free enterprise in the United States—i.e., high-stakes competition among world-class companies like Boeing and Virgin Galactic—is really the best means for multiplying and diversifying return on our public investments. These companies become incentivized to spend their own private capital in addition to ours, and use their own industrial expertise in collaboration with NASA’s, to ensure the greatest possible success of their projects. And because they are deeply motivated to maximize profit, some will surely find ways to use our investments to break open new niche markets. I close by quoting from a previous report the multi-billion dollar technology investor John Doerr: "Congress can't model innovation".

04/14/10

Currently, the U.S. National Debt Clock reads $12.8 trillionthe largest in history. To give a picture of just how much a “trillion” is: one could spend $10 million dollars per day, and not spend $1 trillion until 273 years. Nonetheless, over the past year alone, the U.S. Public Debt rose from 41 to 53 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With no dramatic shift in course, the debt is projected to grow steadily, reaching 85 percent of GDP by 2018, 100 percent by 2022, and 200 percent in 2038.

 

Data Courtesy of Forex Currency Trading & News Analysis

 

What is the Fear of a Rising National Debt?

With increasing debt, the danger lies in a debt-driven crisis in the United States, the tipping point of such a crisis is unknown, but the costs will be surely severe. Fears of inflation will decrease the value of the U.S. currency, leading to higher interest rates, shifting investments from the U.S. Treasury-denoted securities, and a more sluggish economy. Also, the rising debt would make it more difficult to finance emergency spending; the U.S. is becoming more reliant on oversees lenders, who already are expressing concerns about the fiscal management of the United States.

Full story »

04/09/10

03/25/10

Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel has controlled several territories (specifically the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) which contain predominantly Arab-Palestinian populations. Israel has kept control of these areas often through the use of violent and disproportionately reactionary, military means and has increased Jewish settlements within them (particularly in East Jerusalem) over time, in an attempt to create a Greater Israel (an Israeli state that permanently includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip) with Jerusalem as its internationally-recognized capitol.

Continuing on that path, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government coalition announced recently, on the very day that American Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel earlier this March, that 1600 new homes will go up for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem - again, a largely Palestinian-inhabited territory. Outrage flared as new Jewish settlements into East Jerusalem have already displaced Palestinian families and lead to the abrupt bulldozing of homes and property. Netanyahu's announcement comes right after Palestinian leaders agreed to indirect peace talks, after a 14-month hiatus, and will surely derail any chances of negotiation.

A Palestinian stands in the rubble of his home after it was destroyed by the local Jerusalem community.

The world community, including President Barack Obama, British officials, the UN Secretariat General Ban Ki-moon, and leaders within the European Union quickly condemned this action, viewing it as detrimental to the ever-ongoing Middle East peace process and as another step into what is widely considered illegally-held territory. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled this preemptive, unilateral action (particularly the timing of the announcement) as "insulting".

However, speaking recently to AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee - a powerful pro-Israel lobbyist group in Washington, D.C.), Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly extolled his belief that, "Jerusalem is not a settlement," saying further that, "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. It's our capital" [emphasis added].

However, Netanyahu's rhetoric runs widely against international calls for the cessation of Jewish settlements into already occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank communities and for Jerusalem to be a "shared capital" between Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians.

A senior Hamas official and deputy politburo chief, Mussa Abu Marzuk, called for a united Palestinian uprising in response to the announced settlements, saying "Every Palestinian should rise up ... against the forces of the (Israeli) occupation." Two uprisings, or "infitadas", have occurred in Israel since the 1967 seizure of the West Bank and Gaza strip- one in 1987 and one in 2000. Secretary Ban Ki-moon however urged restraint on both sides, pushing again for renewed, peaceful negotiations.

Dr. John Mearsheimer, professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, as well as author of the New York Times Best Seller, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" recently spoke at the University of Florida where he explained the United States' ongoing role in relation to Israel. Dr. Mearsheimer offers a similar solution to what much of the world has called for in regard to Israeli-Palestinian tensions- the formation of a "viable Palestinian state". He contends that the increasingly problematic holding of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, through generally oppressive and undemocratic means, will eventually make Greater Israel an "apartheid state", at which point relations between Israel and the US, as well as Israel and the rest of the world, will become increasingly strained and unsustainable. He sees this as an unfavorable outcome for all three parties directly involved: the US, Israel and Palestinian Nationals. Mearsheimer also believes that any imperious action taken by Israel into Palestinian territory, while denying proportionate representation to the self-identifying 3.8 million Palestinian nationals residing in those territories, is an irrational path for Israel to follow, for the sake of its continued security. Moreover, he feels that the US is not fulfilling its potential as a mediator in this ongoing conflict, by not applying appropriate pressure (via sanctions or withholding US Foreign Aid, which Israel is heavily dependent on) to Israel to act in more suitable ways. Mearsheimer contends these misguided policy maneuvers in the US are largely the result of the very powerful "Israel lobby", which consists of AIPAC, in addition to "Christian Zionists" and neoconservatives, who heavily influence foreign policy making in Washington, D.C., and have for years.

Despite international condemnation of these actions however, it appears that Israel will continue to pursue increasing settlements throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Mearsheimer, along with many other scholars and experts throughout the world, do not foresee any meaningful adjustment in Arab-Israeli relations for some time to come.

02/25/10

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA The Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) recently hosted a crisis simulation at the University of Florida that highlighted some of today's greatest problems facing the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Ten C.I.A. agents, including the C.I.A. briefer to President George W. Bush from December 2001-January 2004, and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, joined together with 24 University of Florida students to avert a national emergency. The simulated crisis: North Korea potentially igniting a war in East Asia.

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01/30/10

The Global Land Crisis: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

Image courtesy ScienceDaily

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — The University of Florida Tropical Conservation and Development Program hosted a three-day conference to address the current hurdles of land conservation in the developing Latin American and African tropics. The conference generated a diverse discourse within a broad international spectrum of scholars and practitioners, scientists and advocates, students and instructors. It focused on the “global land crisis”, as Daniel Nepstad from Woods Hole Research Center described it. Speakers from a wide array of universities, institutions, and non-governmental organizations considered tropical deforestation from all angles. They covered topics ranging from food security to emerging infectious disease, and proposed several responses from market-based incentives to international collaboration. The conference underscored the steep challenges inherent in confronting the destructive regimes of modern landscape transformation.

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01/25/10

This week, the Supreme Court made a highly-controversial decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which carries with it momentous political ramifications for the future of American elections. The decision has been receiving substantial attention from across the political spectrum and has found ample media outlet and speculation throughout the week.

Politically diverse interest groups and commentators are already offering critiques, ranging from the sincere to the dramatic in attempt to draw pointed focus on this issue. However, sharp political dissension is already characterizing this issue among Americans, much as it did within the Supreme Court, as evident in its narrow 5-4 final decision and in the majority and dissenting opinions.

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11/19/09

SILICON VALLEY, CALIFORNIA -- Over 300 executive interests in an industrial energy revolution have gathered here to advance a new enterprise: smart grid technology.  Digitally-savvy energy highways, smart grids could one day give peoples worldwide unprecedented control over their use of electricity.

At this seminal industry conference, the consensus is that climate change is an urgent opportunitiy to profit.   Key firms and investors are posturing to secure market niches in this projected multi-billion dollar industry, which could be greatly stimulated by emissions legislation and/or government funding.  Today's industrial players include IBM, Google, Cisco, Oracle, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, investment gurus Vinod Khosla and John Doerr, and other Silicon Valley change agents.

Opening Keynote: John Doerr, Partner of KPCB and advisor to President Obama

Articulating business rewards and obstacles, GreenBeat 2009 commenced with impassioned rhetoric from John Doerr, a visionary multi-billion dollar investor.  He focused on the role of private investment for driving innovation in the energy industry. "You can't count on additional government incentives when you invest; you have to create the environment," he advised. Mr. Doerr stressed that Washington was only one arena for advocating sustainable interests.  By emphasizing job increases and competitive advantages to be derived from pricing carbon, he helped push Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature to mandate a 20% cut of carbon emissions in California by 2020.  He said that putting a price on carbon will move more investors into low-carbon industrial applications "faster and at a lower cost than any models predict".  Mr. Doerr added with a smile, "Congress can't model innovation."

Following John Doerr, a panel considered the energy-management tools that define a smart grid.  They focused on real-time pricing of energy, whereby consumers could access their electric bills by the minute, not by the month.  With user-friendly software, consumers could demand their electrical appliances to turn on or off according to custom patterns.  The panel agreed this information would be a game-changer, empowering end-consumers to seriously impact the energy market through automated conservation.  But until smart grid demand reaches critical mass in any given region, one panelist said, unimpressed end-consumers will remain subject to the "utility play" of that region.

Smart Grid Economics: Sharon Allan, head of the North American Smart Grid Practice at Accenture, explained the statistical circumstances that should compel utilities to revamp the country's ageing electrical grid, and she suggested how they could approach it economically.

Inspired and inspiring, James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, described a clear vision for a U.S. economy that is the most energy-efficient in the world: "I believe the true energy efficiency gains will come from the deployment of technology," rather than through changes in consumer behavior.  But he added, "The end is not technology; technology is only the enabler."  The CEO of the third-largest CO2 emitter in the U.S. pinpointed a new strategy: deploying smart metering technologies to four million customers by 2014, and decarbonizing by 2050.

[Photography by David Lin]

11/12/09

One of the premier foreign policy issues that faces the United States today is the conflict in Afghanistan. Months after inheriting this eight year old war, President Barack Obama has yet to determine a strategy that either supplements or diverges from the directives of the previous administration, despite the evolving and deteriorating nature of the conflict.

Several points have made the formation and implementation of policy to this situation slow to develop. Among these are the troubles with the recent Afghan presidential elections, the resurgent violence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda movements in different regions of Afghanistan, the consequent gap of opinion between the American public and American political and military advisors on how to stymie that resurgence, the re-examined national security value of the conflict to the United States (in light of emerging quandaries with Pakistan and Iran), and the desire of the Obama administration to distance itself from the image of hasty decision-making processes characteristic of Mr. Bush and his staff. Understanding these problems is the first step in articulating the most correct route to pursue in regard to Afghanistan.

Trilateral Meeting: (left to right) Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Barack Obama of the U.S., and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan confer on policy

The first issue mentioned above is certainly the most visible: the fraud-spattered elections in August 2009. The two major opponents in this election were incumbent-President Hamid Karzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. The results, which produced a decisive victory for Karzai , were immediately disputed. After UN intervention, cautious US condemnation, and the promise of a run-off, Abdullah rescinded his election bid (with ominous rhetoric) on November 1, 2009, less than one week before the scheduled run-off election. This issue underscored two very serious problems with the legitimacy of the Afghan government: the first one, being causal, is the deep-seated corruption on various levels of the Afghani political structure; the second, being partially reactionary, is the budding distrust of the government by the Afghan public, a condition which invites a whole domain of other problems.

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11/05/09

On November 12th, 2009, Sildenafil, Boots, Chemist, Sildenafil, At, Boots, Viagra hosted the public forum on "Clean Energy: When & How?", in UF's Pugh Hall Ocora Room. Four diverse experts assembled for an engaging discussion of the social, political, industrial, and economic challenges to the creation of a clean energy economy:

  1. Harold W. Kegelmann, C.E.O., Advanced Solar Technologies, Inc.
  2. Dr. Panos M. Pardalos, Distinguished Professor, UF Industrial & Systems Engineering
  3. Dr. Sanford V. Berg, Distinguished Professor, UF Economics
  4. Sean H. McLendon, Program Manager, Alachua County Sustainability Programs

Local Newspaper Report: "Local experts discuss climate change, clean energy"

Professor Sanford Berg (left); Sustainability Manager Sean McLendon; President of Sildenafil, Boots, Chemist, Sildenafil, At, Boots, Viagra, Lance Legel (center); Professor Panos Pardalos; and C.E.O. Harold Kegelmann (right)

Over 50 members of the University of Florida community attended.

Tiffany Richards (left), Nicholas Jenkins, David Yadkouri Alexander (center), Ross Mittiga, John Rausch (right)

Lance Legel gives an interview to an Alligator journalist.

"Local experts discuss climate change, clean energy"

Sildenafil, Boots, Chemist, Sildenafil, At, Boots, Viagra's founding membership in its first semester at the University of Florida.

10/28/09

I learned through a TED talk about the Ansari X-Prize, a $10 million prize awarded five years ago.  To win the prize, teams had to create a vehicle capable of sending three passengers to a height of 100 km, twice within a two week period.  Twenty-six teams from seven nations entered, and collectively spent over $100 million.  The winning entry, SpaceShipOne, was put in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The prize sparked the beginning of the private spaceflight industry, and since it was awarded in 2004, over $1 billion has been spent on private spaceflight.

Although the $10 million was difficult to raise, it pales in comparison to NASA's budget, which is well in excess of $17 billion, and may exceed $18 billion in the next few years.

Public vs. Private: (left) NASA's Endeavour launches; (right) SpaceShipOne in flight

Images courtesy of NASA and Scaled Composites, LLC

Personally, I have never been a fan of complete government control over the space industry, but I understand why many people are. From a military standpoint, having corporations in control of space rather than the government is risky and could be disastrous. From a legal standpoint, having corporations stake out parts of space (or equity on the moon, as the TED speaker jokes about) is unprecedented and messy. Privatization of space would cause a lot of work for a lot of bureaucrats, and a plethora of new legal issues.

But I am still forced to wonder, if so much was accomplished with only $10 million, what could be done with just one tenth of NASA's budget?

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10/04/09

Reading the award-winning PDF version of this analysis is recommended.

Whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was democratically elected or divinely selected, his rule must be respected.  Rhetoric from Iran has been alarming.  Israel understandably fears being attacked, based on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's talk in 2005 about"wiping the state of Israel off the map". This fear has nurtured a hawkish philosophy of pre-emptive invasion, "if necessary", by many Israeli and Republican leaders.

Indeed, the Iranians have kept secrets about their nuclear program—evidenced by the recent revelation of an undisclosed uranium-enrichment site, outside the holy city of Qom.  Furthermore, it seems clear that Iran has the technical data to make a nuclear bomb, while Iranian leaders claim otherwise.

But Iran seriously attacking Israel is suicide: Israel is guaranteed by a nuclear West.  Considered in this context, the threat of a nuclear Iran seems purely economical.  Since China and Russia are major partners with Iran, a war with Iran would be self-defeating for everyone.  Iran knows this, and so is willing to take "unreasonable" risks, forcing the international community to compromise.

While this makes sense, Iran's motives are not clear to the public.  This is why negotiations between Iran and the U.N. Security Council on Oct. 1st, 2009 were especially important.  This was the first substantive high-level discussions with Iran that included the U.S. in decades.  And it produced real results: Iran has agreed to have Qom inspected on Oct. 25th, and interestingly, Iran has agreed to export its low-enriched uranium for processing in Russia and France.  In the short run, this means that it will take Iran longer to build a nuclear weapon.

What does this mean in the long-run?  The wise analysis is that it is too soon to tell; Iranians could be playing for time.  My understanding is that Iran must be approaching this multilaterally: it is clearly in Iran’s benefit to have the economic leverage of a nuclear weapon – but not to be destroyed by this incentive.  Iran, resting on large Russian and Chinese assets, will milk as much benefit from their advances as possible, without crossing the line that Iraq did.  That is why the West must articulate this line clearly for all.

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