Episode 2: The Clean Energy Geek Squad

June 3, 2016

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DIRECT CURRENT - An Energy.gov Podcast

EPISODE 2: The Clean Energy Geek Squad

 

(INTRO THEME PLAYS, LAYERED MIX OF MUSIC & PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT ENERGY)

ALLISON LANTERO: Welcome back to another episode of Direct Current: An Energy.gov Podcast! I’m Allison Lantero.

MATT DOZIER: And I’m Matt Dozier. So, Allison, how do you feel about tech support?

LANTERO: I get a headache just thinking about it.

DOZIER: Yeah, it can be pretty awful. Well, this week we’ve got a story about a tech support on a global scale, except instead of computers, they fix clean energy policy. And this help desk – is actually helpful.

LANTERO: That sounds a lot better than my experience.

We also have an interview with a professor who teaches about climate change while cycling 600 miles across the state of Montana.

DOZIER: And later in the show, Dan Wood tries to explain how we measure energy with, believe it or not… burritos?

LANTERO: Stick around!

 

(PHONE RINGING)

SEAN ESTERLY: Hi, this is Sean Esterly with the Clean Energy Solutions Center.

MATT DOZIER: Hi, Sean, I'm an energy minister, and the government I work for really wants more renewable energy, and we just don't know where to start. Can you help me?

ESTERLY: Yeah, glad you gave me a call. That's exactly one thing that the Solutions Center does. So, in a sense, it's kind of like tech support but specifically for clean energy policy. We actually an "Ask an Expert" service, and through that we can provide technical assistance to you and to your government to help you with those clean energy policies that you're struggling with.

DOZIER: That's great. That sounds exactly like what I need. How does that work?

ESTERLY: Yeah, so you can either submit a request by email, or on our website…

DOZIER (SPEAKING OVER THE CONVERSATION): Matt here. OK – so, obviously, I’m not really an energy minister. But the Clean Energy Solutions Center is real. And the service it provides has helped more than 90 countries around the world lay the groundwork for sustainable energy.

We’ll go into the details how it works later, and we’ll hear from someone who has seen exactly the kind of difference expert assistance from the Solutions Center can make, firsthand. But before we get to that, there’s one more really great thing about the service.

ESTERLY: The best part is, it’s going to be completely free to you.

DOZIER: Really?

ESTERLY: Yeah, no cost at all.

DOZIER: All right. OK, well, sounds great. I would love to talk to one of your experts and get this started.

ESTERLY: All right, great. I'll connect you.

DOZIER: Thanks very much.

ESTERLY: No problem, happy to help.

(PHONE HANGING UP)

(SLOW GUITAR MUSIC)

DOZIER: It was 2008, and the energy situation in West Africa was looking pretty bleak. With the price of crude oil skyrocketing, a group of 15 nations known as the Economic Community of West African States, or “ECOWAS,” which includes Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, found themselves being slowly strangled by rising energy prices.

So together, they established a new agency, which goes by the acronym ECREEE, to explore another option: dramatically expanding the region’s focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

DOZIER: Now, there are a lot of reasons why renewable energy is so appealing to nations with limited resources. On one hand, you have the issue of basic access to energy. In many West African countries, electricity is a luxury enjoyed by fewer than one in five people.

KAPPIAH: If you have been to this part of Africa, then you understand what electricity and what clean cooking fuels really mean to the people. You get to a village where, after 6 o'clock the whole place is just dark. Life comes to a standstill. You cannot get out of the house. When you see that, then you realize that these people are really going through hell.

DOZIER: That’s Mahama Kappiah, the executive director of ECREEE, and he knows all too well how crippling a lack of energy can be to a community’s quality of life.

KAPPIAH: Every production activity in these communities is manual. Health care delivery becomes an issue. You have education -- the children can only learn up to the evening and then their study time is cut short because there’s no light.

KAPPIAH: And then, you realize the importance of having electricity. You go to the communities that they have it, and you see that the lifestyle is completely different. The people are living a more cheerful life. Even their appearance will tell that, oh, these people are living a lot better than those on the other side without any light.

DOZIER: So, with high energy prices putting the squeeze on the region, the leaders of the 15 ECOWAS countries got together and decided that they wanted more renewables. Each country developed its own “action plan” -- but Mahama said the initial results were mixed, at best.

KAPPIAH: We have national consultants, but they are not very experienced and they are not very technically sound. They need some support. We needed some expert group to give it some quality control in doing this work.

(XYLOPHONE AND PERCUSSION MUSIC)

DOZIER: And this -- this is the point where the Clean Energy Solutions Center can make a huge impact. Mahama reached out to the “Ask an Expert” service, which put him in touch with Toby Couture.

COUTURE: I’m Toby Couture, founder and director of E3 Analytics based in Berlin.

DOZIER: Toby speaks three languages, is working on a fourth, and has more than a decade of experience in clean energy policy and finance. He even used to work at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, or NREL, which serves as the home base for the Solutions Center -- so, all in all, a good person to go to for help on tough policy questions.

He’s one of the more than 50 experts who make up the Solutions Center’s crack team of international specialists, dispensing fast, no-cost clean energy advice around the world at a moment’s notice -- and helping expand access to electricity.

COUTURE: The need for electrification is so huge, and growing, that any effort to support access to electricity -- access to affordable electricity -- is going to pay dividends for decades to come.

DOZIER: And while having electricity does play a big part in someone’s quality of life, Toby pointed out that it’s also an essential ingredient for a thriving economy.

COUTURE: Without reliable access to affordable electricity, it’s very difficult to have sustained economic development. It’s routinely cited as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenge that businesses in Africa face.

DOZIER: Imagine trying to run a company if your power constantly went in and out -- at the very least, it could put a serious dent in productivity. Toby said that happens even in some of the region’s major cities, including the capitals of Nigeria, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, which all suffer from unreliable power grids. He also said that renewable power like solar and wind can alleviate those problems -- often at surprisingly low cost.

COUTURE: Most people still think that solar power is more expensive than gas or than coal plants, and the reality in a growing number of countries is that that’s no longer the case. Solar PV can actually be done more cheaply than any other generation option, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where the solar resource is so strong. So it is increasingly the cheapest thing on the market.

(AMBIENT ELECTRONIC MUSIC)

DOZIER: Solutions Center experts like Toby bring with them a wealth of knowledge like this, and a deep understanding of how and why energy policies succeed or fail. But when they step in to provide assistance, as Toby did with the action plans for the 15 ECOWAS nations in 2014, it’s not to dictate a particular course of action -- but to offer useful advice and flag potential missteps.  

COUTURE: This is exactly the kind of targeted support that I think a lot of governments really need. This isn’t a question of giving them subsidies, you know, throwing money at the problem. This is really about trying to help them make better decisions, implement better laws, so they can strengthen their own institutions.

DOZIER: The approach seems to be working. In West Africa, several major clean energy projects are underway, including a 30-megawatt solar PV plant in Burkina Faso, an 80-megawatt wind farm in Senegal, and a concentrating solar thermal hybrid plant that could power Niger’s capital, Niami. Cape Verde, where Mahama lives, already gets nearly 30 percent of its electricity from wind and solar and has set a target of 50 percent.

KAPPIAH: I think the support that the Clean Energy Solutions Center gave was really enormous. They were one of the first who agreed to offer technical assistance, and that really gave impetus to others to also agree to come on board.

DOZIER: Elsewhere around the world, the Solutions Center’s experts have responded to upwards of 250 requests in more than 90 countries, with more coming in all the time. And there’s a good reason that so many governments are starting to look to them for clean energy help before they go anywhere else.

VICTORIA HEALEY: The beauty is that we get them started. We get them unstuck.

DOZIER: That’s Vickie Healey.

HEALEY: I work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as a project manager, where I manage the Clean Energy Solutions Center.

DOZIER: Vickie is a dynamo. She has been with the Solutions Center pretty much since the beginning.

HEALEY: Oh (LAUGHS), I sort of fell into it. When I first started, we had no experts, so I built a team of experts.
DOZIER: So, it sounds like you’re very well-connected.
HEALEY: (LAUGHS) Yeah, I think it’s important.

DOZIER: She isn’t kidding. She’s in constant contact with her squad of experts, and checks in regularly with the many, many people around the globe who are receiving help from the Solutions Center. In fact, our interview was interrupted by one such call.

HEALEY: Sorry, that was Toby…

DOZIER: For Vickie, the Solutions Center is all about providing that first line of support to governments that need it the most. She said they try to respond to any request that comes in within 48 hours.

HEALEY: A lot of times, these offices are staffed by one, maybe two people if you’re lucky. If they’re submitting a request, it means they need help now, and we’re here to help now. We’re the help desk, and we have excellent, top-rate people standing by to deliver that assistance.

DOZIER: This is something you hear over and over when you talk to people who work in and around the Clean Energy Solutions Center -- speed is paramount.

COUTURE: Governments have many virtues, but speed and efficiency are not often among them. One of the things that the Solutions Center tries to provide is an efficient, rapid turnaround service that keeps it light on paperwork so we don’t get bogged down in endless forms and approvals and overhead.

DOZIER: It’s worth noting that the Clean Energy Solutions Center is part of a larger effort to help drive a global clean energy revolution, called the Clean Energy Ministerial, or “CEM.” The Solutions Center is just one of a bunch of initiatives organized under the CEM umbrella that tackle everything from energy-efficient lighting to empowering women in the field of clean energy.

(DRAMATIC, BUILDING VIOLIN MUSIC)

DOZIER: Efforts like these are especially important in light of the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement reached last November, when every country agreed to take steps to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to slow the effects of climate change. For the Solutions Center, that has meant even greater interest in clean energy policy assistance -- and greater urgency.   

HEALEY: We’re getting a lot of requests from countries who are feeling that they have that momentum now to take things forward, and so I feel really optimistic about not only the future of the Solutions Center and being able to deliver even higher-impact assistance, but also the world at large. It’s been tremendous. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than what I’m doing right now.   

DOZIER: For many nations, clean energy represents both a chance to improve the quality of life for their citizens and to reduce the impact of climate change.

KAPPIAH: If we don’t do anything, then we are bound to live with the challenge of climate change, global climate change and also the local climate change that we are creating.

DOZIER: Mahama said that when his nation, Cape Verde, first began to embrace clean energy, the benefits were so clear that the government set a bold target: generate 100 percent of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2050. That’s the kind of ambitious goal the Solutions Center can help with, and it’s an example of just how much enthusiasm there is for clean energy in the parts of the world that need it most.

KAPPIAH: I mean the excitement was so high, that they just wanted to go above the bar. So for today, to talk 100 percent renewables is a big challenge. But that is what they are dreaming of!

DOZIER: Climate change is this big, scary global problem, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless in the face of it. But all around the world, people are working to tackle this challenge together.

On a very human level, that’s what the Clean Energy Solutions Center is all about -- people helping one another other solve problems. And for Mahama, Toby, Sean and Vickie, the clean energy revolution starts…

(PHONE RINGS)

DOZIER: With a phone call.

 

(MUSIC PLAYS)

DAN WOOD: Hey, this is Producer Dan Wood. Coming up, Allison interviews energy rockstar Nicky Phear, and I’m going to tell you how many burritos it would take to carve Mount Rushmore. Stay with us.

(MUSIC FADES OUT)

 

ALLISON LANTERO: Around the world, women play an important role in energy innovation, but sometimes that role goes unrecognized. The Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative -- otherwise known as C3E -- was created to recognize women doing amazing work in clean energy fields, and to encourage other women to get involved in clean energy research and development. Now in its fifth year, C3E’s annual Women in Clean Energy Symposium was held on May 31st at Stanford University. Ahead of this year’s symposium, I got a chance to talk with award recipient Nicky Phear about nature, climate change, and teaching on a bicycle.

NICKY PHEAR: My name is Nicky Phear and I'm a faculty member at the University of Montana in Missoula. And I run an undergraduate degree program focused on climate change that's interdisciplinary and has a solutions area where we get students involved in clean energy solutions and other initiatives.

LANTERO:So what was it that drew you to climate change? 

PHEAR: You know, I was really a nature-based kid. My dad was really essential. He was my primary caretaker. I remember some of the central lessons from him were about being comfortable in nature. He helped me, you know, be in the elements comfortably and freely. I remember him teaching me to walk in the darkness over sharp rocks and get my feet tough. So that was really essential to me, just being connected to the outdoors and to nature. And I think that that piece, not necessarily from a science perspective, but more of a care and appreciation and general sense of wanting to understand human-land connections started at a very young age.

My first job was actually leading people in the outdoors through Outward Bound in the mountains. So I was a leader of high school and college students on trips that lasted anywhere from three weeks to a month in the mountains of Colorado.

LANTERO: That sounds incredible. So when you teach now, how often are you in a classroom versus how often are you outside?

Well I would say it's a mix. I teach one lecture class on campus. I teach an internship program where I get students involved with work with local organizations. I teach a course in Vietnam every other winter session for a month, in the Mei Kong Delta looking at climate change impacts and adaptation. And then I have also developed several courses in Montana, one by bike across Montana looking at energy production and climate change impacts that's three weeks, 600 miles across Montana. And then also a field course that starts in Glacier National Park for a couple of weeks and there are three different sites where we spend a couple days, but we drive between those areas in Glacier and also the Swan Valley and the Blackfoot Valley, looking again at how climate change is impacting mountain ecosystems, forests and people in forest communities, and also ranchers and ranch lands.

LANTERO: Wow. So for the biking course, are you teaching while you're on the bike?

PHEAR: Yeah, it's actually an incredible venue for learning. We start in coal country and tour a coal-fired power plant and oil refinery, bike up through the ranch lands, staying with ranchers, learning about where the coal is, revenue opportunities, impacts, impacts from development, from changing weather patterns. We then bike through the center of Montana where you can see all forms of energy production: large-scale wind farms, community-scale individual wind turbines, solar, geothermal, biofuels.

And so what's great about it is you learn about what motivates people to develop these different energy sources, how they benefit the communities, some of the challenges and meet the people who are involved in making it happen. So it's actually a phenomenal learning environment to have the chance to sit down with people in their own place to learn about the issues.

And then on the bike you get a chance to internalize the learning, get some exercise, have some fun, take in the landscape as you travel from place to place. And then the third benefit is students are learning how to transport themselves with people power.

LANTERO: So I always love asking women who work in science, technology, engineering and math fields or STEM as we like to call it, what was it that kept you in the field?

PHEAR: Well I am not from a natural sciences, I'm from the social sciences. And it's been really interesting over the last few years to see my orientation move toward a focus on gender dynamics and I wasn't expecting that.

What I love about this C3E award is that it not only recognizes women for their leadership in clean energy, but also for their education and empowerment of others. And it's been something that it's been, you know, one of the central pieces of my work is helping women to see their strengths and find ways for them to connect around this climate change issue in ways that are resonant with their skills and passions. And being a mentor to young women has been the most rewarding part of my job and then to get recognized for it at this level is kind of astounding.

ANNOUNCER: So please join me in welcoming and congratulating Nicky Phear.

(APPLAUSE)

PHEAR: Little did I know a year ago that there was this initiative working to advance women in clean energy at the national and international level. And I couldn’t be more thankful for being recognized for my work in education and empowerment. It’s been a lifelong dedication of mine, so to be recognized in this way means a great deal to me. So I’m motivated to continue to grow our program and to help empower the next generation to be leaders in this clean energy movement. And I will say that this award has already helped me on that path. So thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

 

ALLISON LANTERO: In our first segment, Matt talked about the opening of a 30 megawatt solar plant in West Africa. But do you know what a megawatt is? What does that even mean? I know two guys who I think can help us understand energy and power with units that are a little bit easier to understand.

(AMBIENT SOUNDS OF A RESTAURANT IN THE BACKGROUND)

DAN WOOD: Order up! Hey this is Dan Wood and I'm here with my colleague Paul Lester.

PAUL LESTER: Hey-ooooh!

WOOD: And we're at our favorite local burrito joint to talk about energy and units of energy. Now before your ears glaze over…and I know that’s not a saying…but before your ears glaze over, we promise to make this interesting, or if not interesting, a little bit weird.

LESTER: And this involves burritos?

WOOD: Yes! But not just burritos. We got burritos, we got dynamite, we got Mount Rushmore coming up, New York City…and the moon landing.

LESTER. Ok, ok. You whetted my appetite. How do all these things fit together?

WOOD: So if I told you that you used a few hundred million BTUs or British Thermal Units of energy last year, would that mean anything to you?

(THE SONG “RULE, BRITANNIA” PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND)

LESTER: Nada. Nothing at all. Sounds like a lot though.

WOOD: So it is a lot but the reality is that New York City, for instance, uses 18 million times that amount every year. That’s 2.6 quadrillion BTUs of energy every year. It’s kind of incomprehensible, right?

LESTER: Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t. I have no comprehension of that whatsoever.

WOOD: I know that you can count to quadrillion just in your spare time but a lot of us can’t. I think we need new units of energy. There’s so many that exist already but none of them are really very descriptive. They’re all kind of esoteric. Calories (DING SOUND), Joules (DING SOUND, British Thermal Units (DING SOUND), Therms (DING SOUND), quads (DING SOUND), kilowatt hours (DING SOUND) and something called a foot pound (DING SOUND) just to name a few. And all this time I just thought a foot pound was something people just did at a Mumford and Sons concert when they were really feelin’ the funk, am I right?

LESTER: Ah-hahaha! I’m getting hangry. So you go on, I’m going to eat some chips right now. (SOUND OF TORTLLA CHIPS BEING EATEN)

WOOD: So let’s make some new units of energy.  Better ones. Weirder ones. Ones that you can really understand because they’re from the real world. Let’s start with burritos.

LESTER: Ok, so, like burritos. Like the burrito that I’m looking at right now that looks absolutely delicious and amazing.

WOOD: Yes! You know, burritos contain a lot of energy. This burrito in front of me has carne asada, rice, cheese, and maybe some veggies. All these amazing proteins and carbs and fats they help you do work. They help you to stay warm. They help you to pump blood…move your muscles. So this burrito -- right in front of you -- it has 1200 kilocalories in it. If you were to burn a 1,200 kilocalorie burrito, it would heat up 1,200 kilograms of water (SOUND OF WATER BOILING) by one degree Celsius, which I think is pretty amazing.

LESTER: Oh yeah. Definitely. That sounds pretty amazing.

WOOD: Alright, so there you have our first new energy unit: burritos. Instead of saying “I left my lights on all day and it used up 8,000 BTU”, you can say, “Shoot, I left my lights on all day and it burned up two burritos worth of energy.” Does that make sense?

LESTER: Yeah that makes sense, but are we actually going to eat this burrito or just talk about it?

WOOD: I mean you can eat it but I’m going to keep talking.

LESTER: Ok, that sounds like a good deal to me.

WOOD: Ok, so here’s something that’s going to blow your mind. Are you ready?

LESTER: I was born ready.

WOOD: Ok well, get this: pound for pound, which do you think has more energy? Dynamite or a burrito?

LESTER:  Ummmmmmmm my gut tells me dynamite but I have a feeling you’re going to say “burrito.”

WOOD: That’s right. It’s a burrito. Very intuitive of you.  So a burrito contains more pound for pound energy than a stick of dynamite.

LESTER: Wow, you mean this burrito?  (TALKS WHILE EATING WITH MOUTH FULL) The one I’m eating right now?  Wait, how does that work?

WOOD: So here’s how it works. Your gut is amazing. It is responsible for taking really good care of you. While dynamite releases energy like (SOUND OF DYNAMITE EXPLODING). Think about it, burritos, they release energy over the course of hours and sometimes even days (SOUND OF A CLOCK TICKING). Your gut does that for you.  If your gut wasn’t there, it would release energy like that (SOUND OF DYNAMITE EXPLODING) at a drop of a hat and you would explode. So you got to handle that burrito with care because you never know when it’s going to blow. And you got to say nice things about your gut.

LESTER: Well thank you, gut!

WOOD: So this brings us to our second unit, the Rushmore.

LESTER: As in Mount Rushmore?

WOOD: Right!

LESTER: Like, the presidents?  (THE SONG “HAIL TO THE CHIEF” PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND)

WOOD: Yes, the presidents…this is South Dakota. Our next unit is called the Rushmore because it approximates the amount of energy expended when Mount Rushmore was carved using dynamite (SOUND OF DYNAMITE EXPLODING). I had to do some rough estimates here, very rough, but I calculated that Mount Rushmore required about 56,000 sticks of dynamite to create. Now when you compare, that’s just over 7,000 burritos worth of energy.  So Rushmores are really big. But you know what they’re a lot smaller than?

LESTER: Do you want me to guess?

WOOD: No, I’ll just tell you. It’s a lot smaller than, what I like to call, a New York Minute. Now, according to the National Academy of Sciences, New York uses more energy than any city on Earth. That’s 2.8 x 10^18 Joules per year. That’s not just electricity, that’s fuel for cars, heating oil, and whatever the vendors use to heat up the hot dog cart. (AUDIO CLIP OF MAN SAYING “THE FINEST HOT DOGS IN NEW YORK CITY”). Its an astronomical number and if you divide that number by 365 days in a year, then by 24 hours in a day, and then by 60 minutes in an hour, you get an average energy consumption for a New York Minute. So that’s why it’s called a New York Minute. Does that make sense?

LESTER: Yeah.

WOOD: Guess what, it’s 150 times bigger than a Rushmore. For every square mile in New York City, a half of a Rushmore is used every single minute of the day.

LESTER: So in a New York minute…everything can change? (THE SONG “NEW YORK MINUTE” PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND)

WOOD: Bahhhhh! Yes. In a New York Minute, everything can change.  If you took 1,700 of your closest friends and gathered all the food you’d eat in a year, and then you burned it, it would power New York City for one minute. It’s pretty insane? That’s equivalent to 1.1 million burritos. And that’s just for one minute of New York.

LESTER: Ok, so wait a minute. Let me make sure I got this right. We have 7,000 burritos in a Rushmore (DING SOUND). We’ve got 152 Rushmores in a New York Minute (DING SOUND), so what’s next?

WOOD: Bmmmm, bmmm, baaaaaaaaah-dahhhh! (THE SONG “ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA” FROM THE MOVIE “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY” PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND)

(MAN IN CONTROL ROOM SAYS “5…4…3…2…1…0…ALL ENGINES RUNNING” IN THE BACKGROUND)

WOOD: A moon Landing.

(MAN IN CONTROL ROOM SAYS “LIFT OFF! WE HAVE A LIFT OFF!” IN THE BACKGROUND)

LESTER: Wait a minute! Did we just put a rocket into this burrito place?

WOOD: Not just any rocket my friend, a Saturn V rocket. The single largest engine that’s ever been built. (MAN IN CONTROL ROOM SAYS “SATURN V HAS CLEARED THE TOWER” IN THE BACKGROUND) That’s the kind we used to get to the moon (ASTRONAUT NEIL ARMSTRONG SAYS “THAT’S ONE SMALL STEP FOR MAN..” IN THE BACKGROUND). In three stages of lift off, it used some 209,000 gallons of kerosene rocket fuel and 3.7 million gallons of liquid hydrogen. In total, it used enough energy to power New York City for 11 minutes. By comparison, that’s about 1,700 Rushmores and 12.1 million burritos. Does that make sense?

LESTER: (EATING A BURRITO) Mmmmmmmmm…

WOOD: Get all those burrito sounds in there. He’s really eating a burrito, you guys.

LESTER: Dan, I’m not sure if I buy all this.

WOOD: I know someone who might be able to convince you. Let’s talk to an expert.

LESTER: Let me finish putting this burrito in my pie hole. Let’s go back to the office and call this guy.

WOOD: Sounds good!

(PHONE RINGS)

JERRY FITZPATRICK: Hi this is Jerry.

WOOD: Hey Jerry! This is Dan and I’m here with my colleague Paul and I told him that you’re my energy units guy.

FITZPATRICK: Yes, I’m your guy. Paul, I work for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, we’re part of the Department of Commerce and what N-I-S-T does -- or NIST -- is to maintain the national standards of electrical power and energy. Namely the watt and the watt-hour. We don’t use New York Minutes or burritos or Mount Rushmores or anything like that although it would be pretty cool. All of these units that you’re proposing really depend upon how the energy is used…like to send a rocket to the moon or to power a city…that’s how many of these units began. They began with an application and typically on the end-user, where the electricity is actually used. That’s measured in kilowatt-hours.

WOOD: So, from my calculations, a burrito is about equal to a kilowatt hour. Why not just use burritos?

FITZPATRICK: So I guess, umm, not everyone is eating burritos or cooking burritos (LAUGHING) with the electric power that they consume.

WOOD: Of the ones that I suggested, which do you think would would have the most chance of becoming widely adopted even if it’s just in short hand for comparing energy?

FITZPATRICK: Well, I kind of like the New York Minute because with that one, there’s a lot of people living in New York and they would like it too.

WOOD: If we were to use something like a New York Minute as a large unit of measure for energy, how would we go about officially calibrating and measuring it?

FITZPATRICK: Typically, these are the result of commercial products that come up with measuring in a certain way and naming units like that but they don’t really deviate as much as a New York Minute might from the conventional units -- the standard international system of units.

WOOD: So you’re saying that if there was a burrito measurement to measure energy, it would be you guys that would have to standardize it.

FITZPATRICK: Yeah. (LAUGHING) Well, standardization comes back around in a number of ways but one of the things that we like is promoting the use of a certain group of units that are used universally. But, yes, if a burrito were proposed, then we would like to be able to measure it here at NIST.

WOOD: Well Jerry, it’s been great chatting with you. You’ve been very helpful to settle our bet.

FITZPATRICK: Well thanks a lot and good luck with it! (LAUGHING) I hope you get these ideas of the New York Minute and the burrito more widely socialized I kind of like them.

WOOD: Thanks, Jerry!

FITZPATRICK: Alright!

WOOD: Alright so there you have it, Paul! You believe now?

LESTER: I think it’s all incredible and I’m getting really hungry after learning all this stuff so I’m going to grab another burrito. Dan, why don’t you tell them where you can learn more about this stuff?

WOOD: Alright, well, if you guys enjoyed learning about this stuff, head over to Energy.gov/burritos. We have a bunch of really cool data, the works cited and an approximate methodology for you to work with so you can learn more about it. That’s Energy.gov/burritos!

(THE SONG “NEW YORK MINUTE” PLAYS AND THEN FADES OUT)

 

DOZIER: That’s it for this episode! As always, you can learn more about the topics  we covered on the show on our website, Energy.gov/podcast.

LANTERO: You can subscribe to this show on iTunes, and follow us on social media! You’ll find us @Energy on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook and YouTube at U.S. Department of Energy.

DOZIER: We’d like to thank Nicky Phear, Vickie Healey, Mahama Kappiah, Toby Couture and Sean Esterly for helping us out with the episode.

WOOD: And don’t forget Jerry Fitzpatrick, who helped us learn that a New York Minute could really be a good energy unit.

LANTERO: Direct Current is produced by Matt Dozier, Simon Edelman and me, Allison Lantero, with segment  producer Daniel Wood. Art and design by Carly Wilkins. With support from Pat Adams, Paul Lester, Atiq Warraich, Ernie Ambrose and our boss, Marissa Newhall

DOZIER: Thanks to, John LaRue, the Energy Public Affairs Team and the DOE Media Team. l.

DOZIER: We are a production of the Department of Energy and published from our nation's capitol in Washington, D.C.

LANTERO: In case you missed it, check out the teaser we released last week that has a sneak preview of some of our upcoming episodes.

DOZIER: Until then, thanks for listening!