Monday, October 17, 2016

PUYB Chats with Gary Schwendiman, author of 'The Future of Clean Energy'

In his groundbreaking new book, The Future of Clean Energy, Dr. Gary Schwendiman details the startling truths he uncovered during ten years of research in clean energy. Most popular beliefs about the future of clean energy are simply wrong, and most governments waste billions of dollars on the wrong green initiatives. Written for the casual reader, Schwendiman’s book presents the facts in an accessible, compelling, and—most importantly—entertaining way. 

Dr. Schwendiman cofounded one of the first private equity firms in the United States to invest exclusively in clean energy. He has given presentations on clean energy topics in 26 states and 10 foreign countries. Prior to that, he dedicated much of his long career to studying, working, and contributing to energy and fuel production.

This vast experience led Schwendiman to uncover the truths about which clean energy technologies will win and which technologies will lose as the world goes green. These truths will be shocking to most people, making The Future of Clean Energy a must-read for everyone from political leaders to energy executives to casual readers with an interest in how we’re going to solve some of the world’s most difficult environmental and economic problems. Schwendiman is the father of five children and grandfather of 14. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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How did you get involved in clean energy?

I was Dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  I was also Co-Chairman of the Graduate Agribusiness Program.
In both of those positions, I was deeply involved in the beginnings of the ethanol industry in Nebraska. Ethanol is made in the US from corn, and Nebraska is one of the leading producers of corn, so there was great interest in ethanol as a clean fuel.

In 2004, the first fully computerized ethanol plant was constructed North Dakota.  Due to the computerization and automation, the price to produce ethanol dropped significantly. A business partner and I saw an opportunity to invest in these new ethanol plants and started an investment firm to do so. I was director of research for the firm and began doing research on other ways of producing clean energy. As I compiled the research, I had the idea to write what I had discovered and concluded about the future of clean energy. On December 31, 2015, my book, The Future of Clean Energy, was published. It covers the full range of clean energy, including electricity (nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, and water)  and fuel, (gasoline, biodiesel, and ethanol), as well as current energy producers that are not clean (coal and natural gas).

Global warming is a serious issue and one that can’t be ignored.  Do you think that global warming is more of an issue today than ever and what should the politicians running for election be saying about global warming in your opinion?

Global warming has gradually grown to become one of the most important world issues over the past 15 or so years. The discussion about it starts with this question:  Is the global warming that is occurring due to a natural cycle caused by the changing positions of the sun and the earth as they rotate? Or is it a result of human-created greenhouse gases that are warming our atmosphere? 

Looking at the historical record with regard to the glacial and interglacial cycles that occur over thousands of years, the earth is now in an interglacial stage, which means that the glaciers are slowly receding. On the human-caused side, the measurement of human-caused greenhouse gas in the atmosphere has increased substantially since humans started to burn coal and engage in other activities that increase global warming.

While there is no consensus on how rapidly the temperature will change, the ice will melt, sea levels will rise, and plants and animals will be impacted, it seems wise to conclude that human activity is contributing to global warming. Therefore, governments should implement certain changes which reduce the production of greenhouse gas.

What else should politicians say? That burning coal, natural gas, and oil produces a majority of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The world would be wise to gradually reduce its use of coal, natural gas, and oil. Practically speaking, coal and natural gas should be gradually phased out and replaced with large, safe, efficient nuclear reactors, as well as nuclear energy innovations such as small modular reactors and mini reactors to supply. Anyone reviewing these small and mini reactors in detail will see that they are safe, efficient, buried underground, and create little waste. They are the ideal way to produce the massive amounts of electricity needed in the world. Wind and solar can be contributors on a very small scale for individual homes, businesses, or small towns, but it takes 270 square miles of wind towers spread over various areas for wind maximization and 44 square miles of solar panels spread over large areas with different sunlight patterns to equal the amount of electricity produced by one large nuclear power reactor. 

What do you believe that citizens can do to protect our environment?

There are two parts of the environment to protect. The first is the earth’s environment, including air, water, land, plants, and animals, which should be protected from particulate and chemical pollution. The other part of the environment is the atmosphere that surrounds the earth, which can be polluted by greenhouse gases or other chemicals released from earth.

What can citizens do? The changes to protect the environment will be driven by scientific evidence to show the need for protecting the environment, then public awareness and support of that evidence to be implemented by government policies and laws. Citizens can support local, state, and national legislation and laws that are designed to keep all parts of the environment clean, healthy, and free of pollution.

On an individual level, citizens can reduce the amount of waste and pollution they personally create, drive smaller cars, and use solar panels to create small amounts of electricity for houses and wind to create smaller amounts of energy where feasible. It’s also important for citizen to push for the development and implementation of clean energy-producing large, small, and mini nuclear reactors to replace carbon-based creation of electricity.

What do you believe is the most serious issue concerning our environment?

The most serious issue is the burning of carbon-based material and fuel that generates greenhouse gases and creates particulate pollution of the air and water. For the developed world, the problem is the use of carbon-based material to create electricity and carbon-based fuel for transportation. For the undeveloped world, it is that three billion people use wood and coal to cook their food and heat their homes. Burning these carbon-based materials produces greenhouse gases and particulate matter that pollutes the air, land, and water. 

By 2050, the world population may increase by as much as three billion people. It
is estimated that 90% of these people will be born in Asia and Africa. Unless a way is found to provide electricity without using carbon-based materials, the growing population will use coal, natural gas, and oil, and further pollute the environment and produce greenhouse gases. The only way to provide the electricity that will allow these populations to maintain a lifestyle that enables them to even care about the environment is to build nonpolluting ways of producing electricity. The only hope for producing massive amounts of clean electricity is to build large, small, and mini nuclear reactors supplemented by wind and solar and water power where feasible. To be fully implemented, such a change would require approximately 50 or more years with massive aid to undeveloped areas of the world. 

It is also unlikely that any significant progress toward a goal of having clean electricity for the masses will be made until birth control is made available and used in overpopulated areas. What is desperately needed is a way to effectively incentivize the use of birth control. 

Birth control implementation, if accomplished, along with a change from using coal, natural gas, and oil to nuclear power, wind, and solar would be the most effective way to protect the global environment and produce less greenhouse gas.

How can your book help us see the light?

In many books on energy, a casual reader is overwhelmed by new words and definitions which attempt to bring a reader’s vocabulary to the level of the scientist who wrote the book. The knowledge is there, but the casual reader can’t understand it. So, a reader often ends up confused and takes a “walk in the dark.”

I do just the opposite. I take the difficult-to-understand scientific knowledge and explain it using words the reader already knows and understands. The book is not meant for experts or even highly knowledgeable people in energy or clean energy. It is meant for a casual reader who wants to understand in a creative, entertaining, and easy way how to judge which is the best clean energy.

Rather than having people read, memorize, and then forget a jumble of facts, the book explains several easy ways to evaluate any energy source, whether its purpose is to make electricity or provide transportation fuel. To make the concepts of the book easily understandable, each energy source is pictured as a football team that competes on all of the attributes of clean energy to see which team is superior.

The various teams are then judged on how well they play. That is, how well they accomplish the goal of producing clean energy. After reading the book, rather than trying to remember lots of unrelated details, readers have a model they can use to do an evaluation themselves. They don’t only see the light when they are reading the book, but they carry the light with them to easily explain to others how to evaluate whether one energy source is cleaner, more effective, and more efficient than another.

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