Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Peak Oil Crisis: Better Than Fire

In addition to following the twists and turn of the world’s energy situation, I have been tracking the reporting on developments concerning several “exotic” and therefore controversial energy sources whose proponents say would be far more cost-effective than current alternatives to fossil fuels such as wind, solar and nuclear.

The reason for this interest is that if one believes global warming is caused by carbon emissions, then it certainly looks like there will not be much left of human civilization in a century or so. While the use of “conventional” alternatives is growing, the demand for energy to fuel economic growth is so great that it seems likely that, unless some outside force intervenes, mankind is going to burn fossil fuels until it is no longer economically possible to do so.

What is clearly necessary is some source of energy that is so cheap and easy to produce and so environmentally clean that everyone on earth will want to use the new energy source as soon as possible.

Fortunately, there are a handful of people out there who really are a few steps ahead of academia, government officials, and the mainstream media in the effort to save mankind from what is shaping up to be a many millennia-long disaster. In the past I have written about cold fusion or in the current jargon, low energy nuclear reactions (LENR). This technology is still alive, well, and seems destined to produce some commercially viable prototypes in the near future.

However, last week a company up in New Jersey call BlackLight Power and its founder announced a breakthrough which could be just what the world sorely needs in addition to touching off a new era in the history of mankind. I stress could for all the evidence is not in yet and useful prototypes have yet to be built, but BlackLight’s founder and inventor of the technology, Randall Mills, seems unusually forthright in his claims that there has indeed been a breakthrough on the exotic energy front. For those of the “its too good to be true” bent, keep in mind that discoveries do happen from time to time – electricity, internal combustion, and smart phones to name a few.

About 20 years ago Randall Mills announced that a more compact form of the hydrogen atom existed in the universe which he termed a hydrino. This form of hydrogen had its electron circling its proton at about 1/4th the distance from the nucleus as in a conventional hydrogen atom and therefore had much less energy. Mills went on to say he believed that the dark matter which makes up the bulk of the universe was composed of these compact hydrogen atoms which neither absorb nor emit light making them very difficult to detect. At the cosmological scale dark matter is only known to exist because of its gravitational pull on other mass. As most of the visible universe is composed of hydrogen, it seems to make sense that the invisible part is hydrogen too.

When Mills announced his hypothesis in 1991, it was, of course, denounced by the scientific establishment as ridiculous for if another form of hydrogen existed, we surely would have discovered it decades ago. To make the ensuing controversy still worse, Mills claimed that the accepted version of quantum mechanics had it wrong in its description of just what an electron is and that the classical physics of Newton and Maxwell works at the atomic as well as the cosmic scale. Such a claim is heresy of the first order in the land of the scientists so Mills and his hydrinos were quickly forgotten.

From mankind’s perspective, however, the interesting feature about the existence of two forms of hydrogen is that in converting the conventional hydrogen atom to a hydrino a spectacular amount of energy is released – on the order of 200 times as much as when hydrogen is joined with oxygen to form H2O. Thus began the 20-year search for the Holy Grail of our civilization – a way to transform hydrogen into hydrinos and release lots of energy.

As with the Wright brothers, all Mills had to do was to build a machine that took in water and send commerical amounts of energy out, then his thesis would have to be accepted. It took 20+ years to develop the theoretical basis for such a machine, but for the last six months Mills has been demonstrating crude prototypes to selected audiences. Fortunately for the rest of us, these demonstrations and considerable information on what is taking place have been appearing regularly on the internet. Although some remain skeptical, the length of time Mills has been working on this project, the size of his organization, the scale of his financial backing and the verification of his science by external laboratories strongly suggests that his claims are valid.

Mills’ machines are remarkably simple. After 20 years of research he has developed a metallic powder that will also absorb moisture (hydrogen) from the humidity in the air. A tiny amount of this damp powder is subjected to a low voltage, high amperage current and the hydrogen in the powder is zapped, for want of a better word, into hydrinos with a blinding flash of light. The hydrogen-depleted powder can then absorb more moisture from the atmosphere and be reused indefinitely.

While the mini-explosions that take place in Mills’ device are spectacular, they certainly were a long ways from a technology that might save the world until two weeks ago when he announced that the energy emitted from these “explosions” is mostly white light. The white light emitted is at least 50,000 times brighter than that of sunlight as it reaches the earth’s surface and given the latest in solar cell technology, can easily be converted into prodigious amounts of electricity using only the humidity in the air as the fuel. One design is anticipating that a one-foot cubic device will be able to produce 10 million watts of electric power.

To quote Mills, “nature has just given us the best gift that we have ever had, this is better than fire.” More

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Here’s Why Al Gore Is Optimistic About the Fight Against Climate Change

Al Gore has something of a reputation as the Cassandra of climate change. But amid the doom and gloom—melting glaciers, ever-rising carbon levels, accelerating species extinction—the former vice president has been positively sunny of late.

Why? Solar energy. “There is surprising—even shocking—good news: Our ability to convert sunshine into usable energy has become much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted,” Gore wrote recently in Rolling Stone. “By 2020—as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline—more than 80 percent of the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.”

Now a new report substantiates Gore’s optimism. Research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts renewable energy will account for 49 percent of the world’s power by 2030, with another 6 percent coming from carbon-free nuclear power plants. Solar, wind, and other emissions-free sources will account for 60 percent of the 5,579 gigawatts of new energy capacity expected to be installed between now and 2030, representing 65 percent of the $7.7 trillion that will be invested.

Gore is right that solar is driving the shift away from fossil fuels, thanks to plummeting prices for photovoltaic panels and the fact that solar fuel—sunshine—is free.

“A small-scale solar revolution will take place over the next 16 years thanks to increasingly attractive economics in both developed and developing countries, attracting the largest single share of cumulative investment over 2013–26,” the report states.

Solar will outpace wind as an energy source, with photovoltaic power accounting for an estimated 18 percent of worldwide energy capacity, compared to 12 percent for wind. That’s not surprising given that a solar panel can be put on just about any home or building where the sun shines. Erecting a 100-foot-tall wind turbine in your backyard usually isn’t an option.

In the United States, solar is projected to supply 10 percent of energy capacity, up from 1 percent today. In Germany, though, solar and wind will account for a whopping 52 percent of all power generated by 2030, according to the BNEF estimate.

These are all projections, of course, based on the existing pipeline of projects and national policies and involving a certain amount of guesswork.

The big wild card is what happens in developing nations like China and India, where energy demand is expected to skyrocket with a burgeoning middle class. Energy consumption will grow to an estimated 115 percent in China and 200 percent in India over the next 16 years. (Falling birth rates in the West mean that energy use will drop 2 percent in Japan, for instance, and 0.2 percent in Germany.)

Whether the world kicks its reliance on coal-fired electricity will depend in large part on what kind of energy choices China and India make. China installed a record amount of solar capacity last year and has set ambitious goals for ramping up renewable energy production.

But old ways die hard. While the Obama administration has proposed regulations to slash carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, on the other hand, is considering financing a 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power station in India.

The good news, though, is that individuals around the world can make a difference with their personal power choices. According to BNEF, much of the solar energy to be generated over the next 16 years will come from solar panels installed on residential roofs. More

 

Major Companies Push for More, Easier Renewable Energy

Some of the largest companies in the United States have banded together to call for a substantial increase in the production of renewable electricity, as well as for more simplicity in purchasing large blocs of green energy.

A dozen U.S-based companies, most of which operate globally, say they want to significantly step up the amount of renewable energy they use, but warn that production levels remain too low and procurement remains too complex. The 12 companies have now put forward a set of principles aimed at helping to "facilitate progress on these challenges" and lead to a broader shift in the market.

"We would like our efforts to result in new renewable power generation," the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, released Friday, state. The companies note "our desire to promote new projects, ensure our purchases add new capacity to the system, and that we buy the most cost-competitive renewable energy products."

The principles consist of six broad reforms, aimed at broadening and strengthening the renewable energy marketplace. Companies want more choice in their procurement options, greater cost competitiveness between renewable and traditional power sources, and "simplified processes, contracts and financing" around the long-term purchase of renewables.

Founding signatories to the principles, which were shepherded by civil society, include manufacturers and consumer goods companies (General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Proctor & Gamble), tech giants (Facebook, HP, Intel, Sprint) and major retailers (Walmart, the outdoor-goods store REI).

These 12 companies combined have renewable energy consumption targets of more than eight million megawatt hours of energy through the end of this decade, according to organisers. Yet the new principles, meant to guide policy discussions, have come about due to frustration over the inability of the U.S. renewables market to keep up with spiking demand.

"The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available. These companies are used to having choices," Marty Spitzer, director of U.S. climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a conservation and advocacy group that helped to spearhead the principles, told IPS.

WWF was joined in the initiative by the World Resources Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute, both think tanks that focus on issues of energy and sustainability.

"The companies have also recognised that it’s often very difficult to procure renewables and bring them to their facilities," Spitzer continues. "While most of them didn’t think of it this way at first, they’ve now realised that they have been experiencing a lot of the same problems."

‘Too difficult’

In recent years, nearly two-thirds of big U.S. businesses have created explicit policies around climate goals and renewable energy usage, according to WWF. While there is increasing political and public compunction behind these new policies, a primary goal remains simple cost-cutting and long-term efficiencies.

"A significant part of the value to us from renewable energy is the ability to lock in energy price certainty and avoid fuel price volatility," the principles note.

In part due to political deadlock in Washington, particularly around issues of climate and energy, renewable production in the United States remains too low to keep up with this corporate demand. According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources.

Accessing even that small portion of the market remains unwieldy.

"We know cost-competitive renewable energy exists but the problem is that it is way too difficult for most companies to buy," Amy Hargroves, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Sprint, a telecommunications company, said in a statement.

"Very few companies have the knowledge and resources to purchase renewable energy given today’s very limited and complex options. Our hope is that by identifying the commonalities among large buyers, the principles will catalyse market changes that will help make renewables more affordable and accessible for all companies."

One of the most far-reaching sustainability commitments has come from the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. A decade ago, the company set an "aspirational" goal for itself, to be supplied completely by renewable energy.

Last year, it created a more specific goal aimed at helping to grow the global market for renewables, pledging to drive the production or procurement of seven billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy globally by the end of 2020, a sixfold increase over 2010. (The company is also working to increase the energy efficiency of its stores by 20 percent over this timeframe.)

While the company has since become a leader in terms of installing solar and wind projects at its stores and properties, it has experienced frustrations in trying to make long-term bulk purchases of renewable electricity from U.S. utilities.

"The way we finance is important … cost-competitiveness is very important, as is access to longer-term contracts," David Ozment, senior director of energy at Walmart, told IPS. "We like to use power-purchase agreements to finance our renewable energy projects, but currently only around half of the states in the U.S. allow for these arrangements."

Given Walmart’s size and scale, Ozment says the company is regularly asked by suppliers, regulators and utilities about what it is looking for in power procurement. The new principles, he says, offer a strong answer, providing direction as well as flexibility for whatever compulsion is driving a particular company’s energy choices, whether "efficiency, conservation or greenhouse gas impact".

"We’ve seen the price of solar drop dramatically over the past five years, and we hope our participation helped in that," he says. "Now, these new principles will hopefully create the scale to continue to drop the cost of renewables and make them more affordable for everyone."

Internationally applicable

Ozment is also clear that the new principles need not apply only to U.S. operations, noting that the principles "dovetail" with what Walmart is already doing internationally.

In an e-mail, a representative for Intel, the computer chip manufacturer, likewise told IPS that the company is "interested in promoting renewables markets in countries where we have significant operations … at a high level, the need to make renewables both more abundant and easier to access applies outside the U.S."

For his part, WWF’s Spitzer says that just one of the principles is specific to the U.S. regulatory context.

"Many other countries have their own instruments on renewable production," he says, "but five out of these six principles are relevant and perfectly appropriate internationally."

Meanwhile, both the principles and their signatories remain open-ended. Spitzer says that just since Friday he’s heard from additional companies interested in adding their support. More

 

 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

China’s Solar Panel Production to Double by 2017

China installed a world record amount of solar photovoltaics (PV) capacity in 2013. While this was the first time the country was the number one installer, China has led all countries in making PV for the better part of a decade.

China now accounts for 64 percent of global solar panel production—churning out 25,600 megawatts of the nearly 40,000 megawatts of PV made worldwide in 2013—according to data from GTM Research.

Five of the top 10 solar panel manufacturing firms in 2013—including Yingli at the top and runner-up Trina—were Chinese companies. Coming in third was Canadian Solar, which produces 90 percent of its modules in China. Two Japanese companies and one each from the United States and Germany rounded out the top 10. (See data.)

As demand for increasingly affordable solar power continues to climb around the world, GTM Research projects that China’s annual solar panel output will double to 51,000 megawatts by 2017, representing close to 70 percent of global production at that time. Beijing no doubt had such a quick industry ramp-up in mind when in May 2014 it announced a new national PV capacity goal: 70,000 megawatts of installed PV by 2017, up from 18,300 megawatts at the end of 2013. To put that in perspective, if it meets that goal China will add more solar electricity-generating capacity in four years than the entire world had in place in early 2011.

For more information, see the latest Solar Indicator from Earth Policy Institute, at www.earth-policy.org.

 

 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

World first: Australian solar plant has generated “supercritical” steam that rivals fossil fuels’

A solar thermal test plant in Newcastle, Australia, has generated “supercritical” steam at a pressure of 23.5 mpa (3400 psi) and 570°C (1,058°F).

CSIRO is claiming it as a world record, and it’s a HUGE step for solar thermal energy.

"It's like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources," Dr Alex Wonhas, CSIRO’s Energy Director, told Colin Jeffrey for Gizmag.

The Energy Centre uses a field of more than 600 mirrors (known as heliostats) which are all directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines, Gizmag reports.

This supercritical steam is used to drive the world’s most advanced power plant turbines, but previously it’s only been possible to produce it by burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

"Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result,” Dr Wonhas explained.

Currently, commercial solar thermal or concentrating solar power power plants only operate a “subcritical” levels, using less pressurised steam. This means that they’ve never been able to match the output or efficiency of the world’s best fossil fuel power plants - until now.

The commercial development of this technology is still a fair way off, but this is an important first step towards a more sustainable future. More

Watch the video to see the plant in action.


 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

IEA says ‘peak oil demand’ could hit as early as 2020

Little more that a year after the International Energy Agency added its voice to the chorus chiming that peak oil was dead, a new report from the uconservative adviser to industrialised nations suggests it has changed its tune. Only this time it is not peak supply that is on its radar, but peak demand.

The IEA’s Medium-Term Oil Market Report 2014 has predicted that global growth in oil demand may start to slow down as soon as the end of this decade, due to environmental concerns and cheaper alternatives, and despite boosting its 2014 forecast of global demand by 960,000 barrels per day.

While supply is forecast to remain strong – thanks largely to the unconventional, or “tight” oil revolution currently underway in north America – the IEA says it expects the global market to hit an “inflexion point”, by the end of 2019, “after which demand growth may start to decelerate due to high oil prices, environmental concerns and cheaper fuel alternatives.”

These factors, says the report, will lead to fuel-switching away from oil, as well as overall fuel savings. In short, it says, “while ‘peak demand’ for oil – other than in mature economies – may still be years away, and while there are regional differences, peak oil demand growth for the market as a whole is already in sight.”

It’s worrying news for the over-invested and under-prepared; not least of all oil importing nations, to which, as Samuel Alexander noted in this article last September, the economic costs of peak oil are especially significant.

“When oil gets expensive, everything dependent on oil gets more expensive: transport, mechanised labour, industrial food production, plastics, etc,” he wrote. “This pricing dynamic sucks discretionary expenditure and investment away from the rest of the economy, causing debt defaults, economic stagnation, recessions, or even longer-term depressions. That seems to be what we are seeing around the world today, with the risk of worse things to come.”

This then adds to the peak oil cycle, increasing governments’ motivation to decarbonise their economies – better late than never – “not only because oil has become painfully expensive, but also because the oil we are burning is environmentally unaffordable.”

This view has been echoed in numerous recent reports. US investment banks Sanford Bernstein raised the prospect of “energy price deflation”, caused by the plunging cost of solar and the taking up of market share by that technology as it displaced diesel, gas and oil in various economies. It predicted that could trigger a massive shift in capital.

Analyst Mark Fulton last month also questioned the wisdom of the private-sector investing over $1 trillion to develop new sources of high-cost oil production. While Mark Lewis, of French broking firm, suggested that $US19 trillion in revenuescould be lost from the oil industry if the world takes action to address climate change, cleans up pollution and moves to decarbonise the global energy system.

The IEA report also includes an updated forecast of product supply, which draws out the consequences of the shifts in demand, feedstock supply and refining capacity.

“Given planned refinery construction and the growth in supply that bypasses the refining sector, such as NGLs and biofuels, the refining industry faces a new cycle of weak margins and a glut of light distillates like gasoline and naphtha as a by-product of needed diesel and jet fuel,” it says.

It also predicts that “the unconventional supply revolution that has redrawn the global oil map” will expand beyond North America before the end of the decade, just as OPEC supplies face headwinds, and regional imbalances in gasoline and diesel markets broaden.

The report projects that by 2019, tight oil supply outside the United States could reach 650 000 barrels per day (650 kb/d), including 390 kb/d from Canada, 100 kb/d from Russia and 90 kb/d from Argentina. US LTO output is forecast to roughly double from 2013 levels to 5.0 million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2019.

“We are continuing to see unprecedented production growth from North America, and the United States in particular. By the end of the decade, North America will have the capacity to become a net exporter of oil liquids,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said as she launched the report in Paris. “At the same time, while OPEC remains a vital supplier to the market, it faces significant headwinds in expanding capacity.”

Beyond ageing fields, the major hurdle facing OPEC producers is the escalation in “above-ground woes,” as security concerns become a growing issue in producers like Iraq, and investment risks deter investment and exploration.

The report notes that as much as three-fifths of OPEC’s expected growth in capacity by 2019 is set to come from Iraq. The projected addition of 1.28 mb/d to Iraqi production by 2019, a conservative forecast made before the launch last week of a military campaign by insurgents that subsequently claimed several key cities in northern and central Iraq, faces considerable downside risk. More

 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Solar is here

Solar is here.

That's right. You know the solutions to the climate crisis are available today; we simply need the public (and political) will to implement them. Clean energy is urgently necessary, abundant, and becoming increasingly more affordable. That's why on June 21, The Climate Reality Project is joining 12 other organizations in a day of action to support clean-energy solutions and show our commitment to bringing solar power to communities around the world.

If you don't already have plans to take part on Saturday, don't despair! Here are a few last minute ways to get involved:

  1. Sign: Send President Obama an email thanking him for putting solar panels on the roof of the White House.
  2. Share: Take your own #PutSolarOnIt photo and share it with your social media network.
  3. Discover: Check out the Mosaic website to find out if solar is right for you.
  4. Participate: Check out OFA's website to find an event near you, some of which are being hosted by your fellow Climate Reality Leaders.

The reality is this: solar is affordable. It's clean. And it's powerful. The cost of solar panels has plummeted 60 percent since early 2011, and the number of installations keeps growing. The United States now has enough installed solar capacity to power more than 2.2 million homes. In several states, solar power is now competitive with other sources of energy without emitting the dangerous greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Climate Reality Leaders are the first responders to the climate crisis and lead action across the globe. We're proud so many of you will be participating on Saturday by hosting presentations, organizing events, and informing others about the benefits of solar power.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps Team

Solar Array at Caledonian Bank, George Town, Cayman Islands