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December 2, 2011 • Electricity, Energy Generation, Natural Gas, Perspectives

A decade later: Ripples from Enron

by Dominic Barbato

The infamous (and now defunct) Enron logo.

It is difficult to believe 10 years have passed since Enron filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2001. The company was America’s darling. Like the Titanic, Enron was thought to be unsinkable. It seemed to do no wrong; it was a company that could not fail. At the height of its power in 2001, Enron ranked seventh on the Fortune 500 with revenues topping $100 billion, a status earning it the moniker of “America’s Most Innovative Company” six consecutive years by Fortune magazine. The company’s business model was heralded to be a paradigm shift in business, a poster child for the new economy and modern markets, a firm that relied more on the development of intellectual capital and technology than on the creation of brick-and-mortar, physical assets.
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March 18, 2011 • Electricity, Emerging Technology, Energy Generation, Energy Innovation, Perspectives

Winding Up Wind

by Dominic Barbato

I start this blog post from the proverbial “30,000 foot view,” namely because I am at cruising altitude in an Airbus A320 headed west toward the Pacific — Seattle bound, to be specific (whoa, that rhymed). The Rocky Mountains outside Denver litter the landscape below me like autumn leaves on a forest floor, countless and undeniable in beauty. My headphones just blasted out two of my favorite Journey songs, “Wheel in the Sky” and “Edge of the Blade,” Neal Schon’s fanatical guitar riffs outdone only by Steve Perry’s insane vocal prowess. So, with blades and turning wheels in the sky on my mind, I decided to dedicate this post to … drum roll, please … wind power! continue

January 18, 2011 • Electricity, Emerging Technology, Energy Generation, Perspectives, Sustainability

Going Nuclear: Version 2.0

by Dominic Barbato

A couple weeks ago, my colleague Wyatt Taylor posted Whither the Nuclear Power Revolution?in which he questioned if the expected rebirth of nuclear energy in the United States is still in progress. I too question, and at times am frustrated with, the stagnation of growth in nuclear energy domestically. I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject, as well as discuss some emerging technologies that may hold promise for the future…Nuclear Version 2.0, if you will.

Let us face it, nuclear energy is not well understood by the public, the science is complex, and there is a lot of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the subject. History has shown we humans tend to fear what we do not understand. continue

December 21, 2010 • Electricity, Energy's Lighter Side, Perspectives

Energy and Economics

by Dominic Barbato

Frequently, I am asked why I chose to pursue a career as an energy consultant and what it is I enjoy about the industry.  I suppose I could come up with any number of reasons to explain why I like my job, but at the end of the day, energy and I click because I am a nerd.  There, I said it.  I am a nerd.  A very cool nerd, mind you, but a nerd nonetheless. 

You see, I studied economics in college, so from my perspective, the energy industry is like one giant, totally awesome economics experiment.  Everywhere you look, you will witness economic principles in action: from deregulation and competitive choice, to monopolistic utilities, oil cartels, elasticities, incentives and price controls.  I bet this industry would have given even Adam Smith, the widely cited father of modern day economics, a run for his money.  continue

November 4, 2010 • Emerging Technology

Size matters not.

by Dominic Barbato

“Size matters not…look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?”

For all you Star Wars fans out there (and for those of you who are not, shame on you!), Yoda’s wise words seem to fit this blog entry nicely. Recently, I read an article in the June 2010 issue of FastCompany titled “Supertiny Power Plants”, which highlighted some potential uses for piezoelectric materials.

Pizza, what?! I know, right? I was lost too, but the it’s pretty simple really. “Piezo” is a Greek word meaning to press or squeeze. Simply stated, piezeoelectric materials are able to generate an electric current in response to an applied mechanical strain (such as pressing or squeezing). You may remember from your high school physics class that electromagnetic induction (i.e., the production of a voltage) occurs when conductive material moves within a magnetic field. The generation turbines at a power plant apply this principle on a grand scale by rapidly spinning very large coils of wire inside even larger magnets. The rotation of the wire within the magnetic field creates an electric current which is then transferred over power lines for use at your home. continue

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