Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Transition, Part II: Building a Wind-Centered Economy

In the race to transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and avoid runaway climate change, wind has opened a wide lead on both solar and geothermal energy.

Solar panels, with a capacity totaling 70,000 megawatts, and geothermal power plants, with a capacity of some 11,000 megawatts, are generating electricity around the world. The total capacity for the world’s wind farms, now generating power in about 80 countries, is near 240,000 megawatts. China and the United States are in the lead.

Over the past decade, world wind electric generating capacity grew at nearly 30 percent per year, its increase driven by its many attractive features and by public policies supporting its expansion. Wind is abundant, carbon-free and nondepletable. It uses no water, no fuel, and little land. Wind is also locally available, scales up easily, and can be brought online quickly. No other energy source can match this combination of features.

One reason wind power is so popular is that it has a small footprint. Although a wind farm can cover many square miles, turbines occupy only 1 percent of that area. Compared with other renewable sources of energy, wind energy yield per acre is off the charts. For example, a farmer in northern Iowa could plant an acre in corn that yields enough grain to produce roughly $1,000 worth of fuel-grade ethanol per year, or he could use that same acre to site a turbine producing $300,000 worth of electricity each year.

Because turbines take up only 1 percent of the land covered by a wind farm, ranchers and farmers can, in effect, double-crop their land, simultaneously harvesting electricity while producing cattle, wheat or corn. With no investment on their part, farmers and ranchers can receive $3,000 to $10,000 a year in royalties for each wind turbine on their land. For thousands of ranchers on the U.S. Great Plains, wind royalties will one day dwarf their earnings from cattle sales.

Wind is also abundant. In the United States, three wind-rich states—North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas—have enough harnessable wind energy to easily satisfy national electricity needs. Another attraction of wind energy is that it is not depletable. The amount of wind energy used today has no effect on the amount available tomorrow.

Unlike coal, gas, and nuclear power plants, wind farms do not require water for cooling. As wind backs out coal and natural gas in power generation, water will be freed up for irrigation and other needs.

Perhaps wind’s strongest attraction is that there is no fuel cost. After the wind farm is completed, the electricity flows with no monthly fuel bill. And while it may take a decade to build a nuclear power plant, the construction time for the typical wind farm is one year.

Future wind complexes in the Great Plains, in the North Sea, off the coast of China or the eastern coast of the United States may have generating capacity measured in the tens of thousands of megawatts. Planning and investment in wind projects is occurring on a scale not previously seen in the traditional energy sector.

One of the obvious downsides of wind is its variability. But as wind farms multiply, this becomes less of an issue. Because no two farms have identical wind profiles, each farm added to a grid reduces variability. A Stanford University research team has pointed out that with thousands of wind farms and a national grid in a country such as the United States, wind becomes a remarkably stable source of electricity.

In more densely populated areas, there is often local opposition to wind power— the NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) response. But in the vast ranching and farming regions of the United States, wind is immensely popular for economic reasons. For ranchers in the Great Plains, farmers in the Midwest or dairy farmers in upstate New York, there is a PIMBY (“put it in my backyard”) response.

Farmers and ranchers welcome the additional income from having wind turbines on their land. Rural communities compete for wind farm investments and the additional tax revenue to support their schools and roads.

One of the keys to developing wind resources is building the transmission lines to link wind-rich regions with population centers. Perhaps the most exciting grid project under development is the so-called Tres Amigas electricity hub, a grid interconnection center to be built in eastern New Mexico. It will link the three U.S. electricity grids — the Eastern, Western, and Texas grids. Tres Amigas is a landmark in the evolution of the new energy economy. With high-voltage lines linking the three grids where they are close to each other, electricity can be moved from one part of the United States to another as conditions warrant. By matching surpluses with deficits over a broader area, electricity wastage and consumer rates can both be reduced. Other long distance transmission lines are under construction or in the planning stages. More


Monday, October 29, 2012

Should We Focus on Energy Efficiency or Energy Supply?

A new study released last week has looked at the implications of switching the focus of mitigating climate change from developing energy supply technologies towards developing energy efficient cars, buildings, and domestic appliances.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that twice as much effort is currently being directed towards developing supply technologies such as new power stations than is being directed towards improving the efficiency of end-use technologies.

“About two-thirds of all public innovation efforts are directed toward energy supply technologies,” explained Dr. Charlie Wilson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia who led the study.

“It is vital that innovations in renewable energy supply continue, but the imbalance in spending needs to be redressed urgently to mitigate climate change. Evidence strongly suggests that energy end-use and efficiency currently stand as the most effective ways to mitigate climate change.”

“Efficiency gets short shrift in both public energy research and development, and in private market investments alike,” said Study co-author Prof Arnulf Grubler, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Yale University. “In contrast, improvements in technologies like domestic appliances and more energy-efficient transport are underrepresented given their potential for mitigating climate change.”

The study, led by Dr Wilson in collaboration with an international team of scientists fro Austria and the US, assessed energy technology innovation and quantified the relative emphasis placed on energy supply technology versus the technologies that are using the energy supplied. More




Why I'm occupying a gas-fired power station chimney

Thirty people shut down the UK's newest gas-fired power station and 15 occupied two of its chimneys at West Burton in Nottinghamshire this morning. I am one of them. We have set up two camps, one at the top and one inside the 80-metre-high smoke-stacks. We have also carried up enough supplies to keep us up here for at least a week.

It's pretty scary hanging inside the chimney on a portaledge, but we've been rigorously trained and have some very skilled climbers as part of our group. We've made a cosy camp with tarpaulins, and we plan to share a hot meal this evening at the same time as our friends across on the other chimney. The view up here is beautiful. We can see the River Trent and green fields and woods stretching into the distance – marred only by a single gas and three coal power stations. The chimney makes weird noises which jolted everyone awake several times last night but I'm sure we'll get used to it.

Making our home on top of a power station in October may seem like a strange thing to do, but we've thought long and hard about it, and we are here for very serious reasons. We're aware that as we sit here surveying the horizon, the east coast of the US is being devastated by Hurricane Sandy. These two things are inextricably connected.

We're doing this because the gas plant, which is still being constructed by its operator, EDF, is one of the first in a new dash for gas that has to be stopped. The government and the big energy companies want to build as many as 20 new gas power stations, which would leave the UK dependent on this highly polluting and increasingly expensive fuel for decades to come.

Last week EDF hiked its energy prices by 10.8%, the highest rise of any of the big six energy companies so far this winter. These price rises were triggered by the rising wholesale cost of gas, which the UK is increasingly forced to import as North Sea supplies decline. We already rely on gas for83% of our central heating and almost 50% of electricity. Increasing this dependence will cause household energy bills to rise even further, pushing those who live the most precarious lives deeper into fuel poverty.

By occupying the site and halting construction we hope, for however short a time, to stop this dash for gas and expose the madness of a government that is totally in the thrall of the big energy companies. Intense lobbying by some of the most powerful polluters in the world is eroding even the modest gains made by democratic attempts to shape our energy policy, which culminated in the 2008 Climate Change Act. Over the past five years, direct action campaigns have played a key role in forcing government U-turns around major environmental decisions – think of thePlane Stupid campaign against Heathrow's third runway and the shift away from coal after the occupation at Kingsnorth. Now, the government's climate advisers, the independent Committee on Climate Change, arewarning that a dash for gas could be illegal, causing the UK to miss the already relatively unambitious emissions reduction targets laid out in the Climate Change Act. More


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Politics of Solar Power

Bill Powers, of Solar Done Right, tells Business Week in a timely article about the political hitches holding solar back in the U.S., that “economically and technologically, the game is over.

The hang-ups in the U.S. are strictly political,” he said. Oil and gas still dominate the agenda of the political debate and alternative energy is treated with a certain indifference.

Yet, the market tells a different a story. Prices have fallen and the cost per watt for residential buildings has fallen from $9 per unit in 2006 to the current $5.46. The average commercial industrial installation price is even lower at $3.45 per watt. In some regions, payback for upfront investment is four to five years and lease schemes are widely available.

The media is always reporting on some revealing stories about solar power, such as this article about New York being the next great solar market, with focus on one particular company called OnForce Solar, based in the Bronx.

Back in May, OnForce’s CEO Charles Feit was named one of Crain’s New York Business’ “Top Entrepreneurs of 2012″. Among the criteria for selection was creativity and innovation. “OnForce has demonstrated these qualities consistently during the past five years, even during difficult market conditions,” Elaine Pofeldt, a contributing editor at Crain’s, said at the time. “It’s been a challenging period in the solar energy field, and under Feit’s leadership, OnForce has thrived nonetheless.”

The Solar Energy Industry Association says that over the last year around 52,000 residential rooftop systems were installed in the U.S. last year, 30 percent more than the previous year. Between 2010 and 2011, there was a growth of 109 percent for rooftop installations, including commercial buildings. More


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Great Transition, Part I: From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy

The great energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way. As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about pollution and climate instability cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new world energy economy is emerging.

The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced with an economy powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The Earth’s renewable energy resources are vast and available to be tapped through visionary initiatives. Our civilization needs to embrace renewable energy on a scale and at a pace we’ve never seen before.

We inherited our current fossil fuel based world energy economy from another era. The 19th century was the century of coal, and oil took the lead during the 20th century. Today, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the principal climate-altering greenhouse gas—come largely from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Coal, mainly used for electricity generation, accounts for 44 percent of global fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. Oil, used primarily for transportation, accounts for 36 percent. Natural gas, used for electricity and heating, accounts for the remaining 20 percent. It is time to design a carbon- and pollution-free energy economy for the 21st century.

Some trends are already moving in the right direction. The burning of coal, for example, is declining in many countries. In the United States, the number two coal consumer after China, coal use dropped 14 percent from 2007 to 2011 as dozens of coal plants were closed. This trend is expected to continue, due in part to widespread opposition to coal now being organized by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Oil is used to produce just 5 percent of the world’s electricity generation and is becoming ever more costly. Because oil is used mainly for transport, we can phase it out by electrifying the transport system. Plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars can run largely on clean electricity. Wind-generated electricity to operate cars could cost the equivalent of 80-cent-per gallon gasoline.

As oil reserves are being depleted, the world has been turning its attention to plant-based energy sources. Their potential use is limited, though, because plants typically convert less than 1 percent of solar energy into biomass.

Crops can be used to produce automotive fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Investments in U.S. corn-based ethanol distilleries became hugely profitable when oil prices jumped above $60 a barrel following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The investment frenzy that followed was also fueled by government mandates and subsidies. In 2011, the world produced 23 billion gallons of fuel ethanol and nearly 6 billion gallons of biodiesel.

But the more research that’s done on liquid biofuels, the less attractive they become. Every acre planted in corn for ethanol means pressure for another acre to be cleared elsewhere for crop production. Clearing land in the tropics for biofuel crops can increase greenhouse gas emissions instead of reducing them. Energy crops cannot compete with land-efficient wind power. More


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

‘Bermuda should be the model for clean energy for the world’

Leading US conservationist Larry Schweiger, president of Virginia-based National Wildlife Federation visited Bermuda as a special guest speaker at the Bermuda Environmental Alliance’s ‘Latin Night for Planet Earth’ gala last Friday.

Mr Schweiger spoke about climate change and the impact it is likely to have on low-lying land and islands, such as Bermuda, and pointed to ways that the Island can be a ‘clean energy’ model for the world.

Here is a shortened version of Mr Schweiger’s speech:

We need to look north to see our future.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on earth. It has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average in the past fifty years. The Arctic has lost 20 percent more summer ice in 2012 than it did in the record-setting year 2007. We could see the complete loss of summer ice by the end of this decade. Dark open water or barren ice-free Arctic lands increase the amount of solar radiation absorbed and further speed the melting process.

Nearly the size of continental United States, Arctic ice is vital for temperature regulation in the Arctic region as it bounces about 90 percent of the sun’s energy as albedo. Open water absorbs 80 percent of the energy thus changing a giant reflector into a massive energy absorbing system. As the Arctic region warms, it thaws the nearby tundra and releases carbon dioxide and methane.

Open water is an important threat because it will heat deep Arctic waters that release methane and spawn the decay of nearby Arctic tundra that has the potential to triple the carbon in the sky through rapid decomposition of the organic matter. As permafrost soils decompose they release massive amounts CO2. Warm Arctic waters and warming thermokarst lakes and ponds also releases large quantities of extremely potent greenhouse-gas methane that further accelerate climate change, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

As the Arctic warms, Greenland warms and becomes the source of enormous amounts of runoff. It is an island covered by two-mile thick ice that is being impacted by Arctic warming. During 2011, Greenland dumped 100 billion tons of ice and water into the ocean. In 2007 the worst year on record, about 40 percent of the Greenland surface was experiencing melt. This past summer about 97 percent of the island was experiencing melt. The total volume of water released in 2012 is not yet available but it’s increasingly clear that the Greenland ice sheet may soon pass a point of no return as the Arctic ice disappears.

What happens in Greenland will not stay in Greenland. Added to the expansion-driven sea-level rise caused by warming waters, sea level rise from melting glaciers and Greenland is a rapidly approaching reality for islands, coastal communities and mega-delta regions of the world. Worldwide, a one-metre rise in sea level will displace 100 million people.

Warming ocean waters also produce more atmospheric moisture and breed fewer but bigger hurricanes. Powerful climatological shifts caused by an overheated Arctic will have unpredictable but certainly far-reaching consequences to Bermuda and other low-lying regions of the world.

We are already experiencing strong signals that climate change is happening now. Forest fires happen four times as often in the US and burn six times more acres. Massive droughts have been affecting critically important agricultural lands. Mega storms worldwide are increasing damages by about one percent per year. All these climate-driven trends added together signal a challenging future for us all.

Since the island of Bermuda is experiencing sea-level rise three times the world average rates and since it is in the path of hurricanes that are expected to become stronger and stronger, Bermuda should be the model for clean energy for the world. Working together we can decarbonise our energy supplies and avoid the worst.

This is doable. Since electric energy production in Bermuda is primarily produced by expensive imported oil, I believe Bermuda can create an efficient, clean energy path at equal or less cost than consumers are currently paying for electricity. Solar panel prices for example, have declined by 50 percent last year and LED lights and other efficiency measures can dramatically cut energy demand and save money.

We need to have unprecedented international cooperation to move away from carbon emitting fossil fuels to advanced efficiency measures and spawn serious investments in clean energy sources such as solar, wind, wave and current energy. More


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Peak oil review - Oct 22

Peak oil review - Oct 22

by Tom Whipple, originally published by ASPO-USA

1. Oil and the Global Economy

Oil traded in a narrow range until Friday when an accumulation of economic problems such as weak demand, growing inventories, and a seeming lack of progress at the EU summit meeting sent prices down more than $2 a barrel. The futures market closed out the week at $90.05 a barrel in NY and $110.14 in London. Widespread pessimism about the global economy coupled with a lack of any immediate threats to Middle Eastern oil supplies are held responsible for Friday’s decline.

US gasoline prices are finally dropping as they usually do after Labor Day with the nationwide price of regular down to $3.67 a gallon from $3.83 a month ago. Gasoline futures are down 25 cents a gallon in the last two weeks. In California, where they are still having refinery problems, regular is going for an average of $4.44 a gallon. While US crude inventories are at their highest level for this time of year since 1982, gasoline and distillate inventories are pushing record lows despite weak demand. The API reported last week that US oil demand in September fell 3.8 percent from last September to 18.2 million b/d. Northeastern US distillate inventories, where most of the demand for heating oil takes place, are down to the lowest on record and weather forecasters are already talking about a colder and snowier winter ahead in the region.

US natural gas futures dropped midweek on forecasts of milder weather across most of the US in the week ahead; by Friday however, new forecasts of colder weather in November, the possibility of a cold winter in the northeast, and shrinking natural gas inventories led to a jump in futures prices. Natural gas closed on Friday above $3.60 per million BTUs after having traded below $2 in the spring when the gas glut was at it height and there were fears that the US would run out of storage space.

2. Middle East

The New York Times, citing administration officials, reports that Iran is willing to open direct talks with Washington on the nuclear question after the US elections. Tehran and the White House, however, have denied that any agreement for talks has been reached, but the White House says it is open to the suggestion.

The possibility of talks boosts the administration’s case that sanctions rather than military action is the proper way to handle the situation. Others are already saying that direct talks are merely another attempt by Tehran to stall for time as it continues to work on its nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile the US and EU imposed further sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas industries last week. Many of these new sanctions are designed to close loopholes that have arisen as Tehran scrambled to find ways around the sanctions. The EU’s sanctions involve freezing the foreign assets of some 30 Iranian companies doing business in the West.

Iran is attempting to portray any strike on its nuclear facilities as a step towards a regional or “global’ war with retaliation taking place against US and Israeli interests. Der Spiegel reports that Tehran is contemplating blocking the Straits of Hormuz with a giant oil spill. Although Iran’s exports would be disrupted too, the theory is that the shutting in of most Middle Eastern oil exports would force the lifting of the sanctions. More

Monday, October 22, 2012

Earthquake-Causing Fracking to Be Allowed within 500 Feet of Nuclear Plants

Nuclear Plants Vulnerable to Earthquakes

The American government has officially stated that fracking can cause earthquakes. Some fracking companies now admit this fact The scientific community agrees. See this, this, this, this and this.

Earthquakes can – of course – damage nuclear power plants. For example, even the operator of Fukushima and the Japanese government now admit that the nuclear cores might have started melting down before the tsuanmi ever hit. More here.

Indeed, the fuel pools and rods at Fukushima appear to have “boiled”, caught fire and/or exploded soon after the earthquake knocked out power systems. See this, this, this, this and this. And fuel pools in the United States store an average of ten times more radioactive fuel than stored at Fukushima, have virtually no safety features, and are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks. And see this.

Indeed, American reactors may be even more vulnerable to earthquakes than Fukushima.

But American nuclear “regulators” have allowed numerous nuclear power plants to be built in earthquake zones:

And they have cover up the risks from earthquakes for years … just like theJapanese regulators did. For example:

  • The NRC won’t even begin conducting its earthquake study for Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York until after relicensing is complete in 2013, because the NRC doesn’t consider a big earthquake “a serious risk”
  • Congressman Markey has said there is a cover up. Specifically, Markey alleges that the head of the NRC told everyone not to write down risks they find from an earthquake greater than 6.0 (the plant was only built to survive a 6.0 earthquake)
  • We have 4 reactors in California – 2 at San Onofre 2 at San Luis Obisbo – which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis

For example, Diablo Canyon is located on numerous earthquake faults, and a state legislator and seismic expert says it could turn into California’s Fukushima:

On July 26th 2011 the California Energy Commission held hearings concerning the state’s nuclear safety. During those hearings, the Chairman of the Commission asked governments experts whether or not they felt the facilities could withstand the maximum credible quake. The response was that they did not know.This is similar to what happened at Fukushima: seismologists dire warnings were ignored (and see this.)

Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn’t even take earthquake risk into account when deciding whether or not to relicense plants like Diablo Canyon. More


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Richard Branson Addresses US Navy on Advanced Renewable Fuels

Richard Branson Addresses US Navy on Advanced Renewable Fuels

Published onOct 18, 2012byCarbonWarRoom


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The Carbon War Room's Aviation & Renewable Jet Fuel Operation's mission is to reduce the aviation industry's greenhouse gas emissions by accelerating the scale-up of a sustainable renewable jet fuel industry. Unlike road transport, air travel still doesn't offer the consumer a green travel option. It is our goal to try to bring about greener flights for all by getting non-petroleum fuels from demonstration stage to commercial use on the runway tarmac around the world. We will accomplish this by solving the information barrier, encouraging sustainable technologies and business models, and helping the industry cross the financial "valley of death". In its current, nascent stage, getting the growth capital needed for commercial-scale production build-out is a major challenge. We are working with partners in the financial community, leading fuel purchasers, insurers, governments, and producers to help launch the industry, using the data and analysis contained in Elsevier Biofuel TechSelect and The Carbon War Room is working to achieve its mission by tackling the market barriers that currently face the renewable jet fuel industry.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saudi Arabia Unveils Plan to be Powered Entirely by Renewable Energy

Saudi Arabia recently revealed that it is planning to be powered 100% by renewable and low-carbon forms of energy.

One of the state’s main spokesmen, Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, said that he was hoping that Saudi Arabia would be powered completely by low-carbon energy within his lifetime. He made the groundbreaking statement during the Global Economic Symposium in Brazil. He did acknowledge, though, that it was likely to take longer, as he is already 67.

Realistically, the process would take at least a few decades, and that’s if the country is serious about it. There have been some observers expressing skepticism about the purpose of the announcement, suggesting it may just be greenwashing.

The Saudi prince expressed that the country was most definitely moving forward with investment renewables, nuclear power, and other undefined alternatives to fossil fuels. Noting that their vast oil reserves would still be in demand for their use as plastics and polymers.

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source,” he said. “If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world. I wish that may be in my lifetime, but I don’t think it will be.”

Joss Garman, political director of Greenpeace, said: “It speaks volumes that a Saudi prince can see the benefits of switching to clean energy sources when [UK chancellor] George Osborne seemingly cannot, but Saudi Arabia will only truly be a green economy when it leaves its fossil fuels in the ground.”

Currently, Saudi Arabia’s energy is provided nearly completely by burning fossil fuels, nearly two-thirds from oil and the rest from natural gas. It produces around 12 million barrels of oil every day. That’s more than 12% of the entire world’s production, and the country has at least 1/5 of the world’s proven oil reserves, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration. And because of how artificially-low oil prices are kept within the kingdom, the per capita energy use there is quite high. More


Friday, October 12, 2012

Don’t count on recessions to keep climate change in check

For as long as humanity has relied on fossil fuels, there’s been a tight relationship between economic growth and the carbon-dioxide emissions that are heating the planet. When a country’s economy expands, its energy use and carbon pollution go up, up, up. When a recession strikes, energy use drops and emissions sink back down.

But that relationship has never been perfectly symmetrical, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change by Richard York of the University of Oregon. The uptick in carbon pollution from a given amount of growth tends to be significantly bigger than the drop in carbon output from an equal-sized recession. Essentially, there’s a ratcheting effect, as people get used to a higher-carbon lifestyle and maintain it even during a downturn.

York looked at World Bank data from 150 countries between 1960 and 2008. What he found was that carbon-dioxide emissions tend to rise 0.73 percent for every one percentage point increase in GDP per capita. By contrast, emissions only drop 0.43 percent for every point decline in GDP per capita.

In a lot of ways, that makes sense. York pointed out to LiveScience that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many former states saw their economies plummet, with per capita GDP shriveling all the way down to sub-Saharan levels in a few countries. But while their carbon emissions dropped, they didn’t plunge all the way down to sub-Saharan levels as well. That’s because these former Soviet states had already built a lot of infrastructure, such as roads and factories, that didn’t disappear entirely during the recession.

This ratcheting effect can help explain why, after the recent financial crisis, global emissions didn’t drop quite as sharply as many researchers had expected. While the United States has managed to cut its carbon pollution by 7.7 percent since 2006 — thanks to a combination of weak growth, swapping out coal for natural gas, and increased oil efficiency — that hasn’t been true of the world as a whole. Global greenhouse-gas emissions quickly rebounded in 2010 and hit a record high in 2011. More



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How the U.S. Is Getting More Hydropower without Building a Single New Dam

The U.S. has 2,400 hydropower dams, many of which sport out-of-date generating equipment that is, well, generations old.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, it all adds up to the potential for a massive energy efficiency upgrade program that could significantly boost U.S. hydropower generation without the monumental expense and environmental disruption involved in new dam construction. In fact, the first round of hydropower upgrades is already underway at an average cost of less than 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.

A Hydropower Upgrade for Boulder, Colorado

The Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Facility in Boulder, Colorado is a case in point. Dating all the way back to 1910, the facility just underwent an overhaul that replaced two older turbines with one new energy-efficient unit. The new unit alone can generate 30% more energy than both of the older turbines combined.

The upgrades can also cut the energy required to run hydropower facilities. At Boulder, the $1.18 million project included new transformers, storage tanks, and wiring, along with remote operating equipment. More



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

IEA DSM Programme Highlights its Future Role with Respect to Energy Efficiency

3 October 2012: The newsletter of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Demand-Side Management (DSM) Programme takes a look forward at the energy efficiency emphasis of the IEA in 2013 and points to the ways that the DSM Programme might contribute under this topic focus. The newsletter also features the work of competitive energy services with a review of the expansion of energy service companies in Europe.

The newsletter emphasizes emerging technology domains such as smart charging of electric vehicles and the use of heat pumps (for seasonal heat storage and cooling), with figures given for market penetration of both technologies in Austria, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Spain. The newsletter also offers a look forward to a public awareness event of the IEA where the DSM Programme will receive special attention in Arnhem, the Netherlands, for its new work on “The Role of Customers Delivering Effective Smart Grids.”

Predicting that energy efficiency will be the most discussed topic in 2013, the Chair of the DSM Programme, Rob Kool, notes how the programme can deliver energy efficiency in various areas, by combining services with smart grids, creating tools and spreading knowledge on competitive energy services (Task 16), the formation of a new task to help transmission system operators, and investigating behavioural change with respect to energy demand management (Task 24). Kool notes that competitive energy services will remain especially important as the EU moves toward the implementation of its new Energy Efficiency Directive. He cautions, however, that although energy efficiency is garnering increased attention, energy experts should not lose sight of the topics of hydrogen energy and carbon capture and storage, which are currently falling in the interest polls.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) Demand-Side Management (DSM) Programme is a collaboration between 14 countries to develop and promote opportunities for DSM, offering solutions to problems such as energy load management, energy efficiency, strategic energy conservation and related activities. [Publication: DSM Spotlight Newsletter] More


Friday, October 5, 2012

The New “Golden Age of Oil” That Wasn’t

Forecasts of Abundance Collide with Planetary Realities

Last winter, fossil-fuel enthusiasts began trumpeting the dawn of a new “golden age of oil” that would kick-start the American economy, generate millions of new jobs, and free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum. Ed Morse, head commodities analyst at Citibank, was typical. In the Wall Street Journal he crowed, “The United States has become the fastest-growing oil and gas producer in the world, and is likely to remain so for the rest of this decade and into the 2020s.”

Once this surge in U.S. energy production was linked to a predicted boom in energy from Canada’s tar sands reserves, the results seemed obvious and uncontestable. “North America,” he announced, “is becoming the new Middle East.” Many other analysts have elaborated similarly on this rosy scenario, which now provides the foundation for Mitt Romney’s plan to achieve “energy independence” by 2020.

By employing impressive new technologies -- notably deepwater drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) -- energy companies were said to be on the verge of unlocking vast new stores of oil in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and shale formations across the United States. “A ‘Great Revival’ in U.S. oil production is taking shape -- a major break from the near 40-year trend of falling output,” James Burkhard of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January 2012.

Increased output was also predicted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada and Brazil. “The outline of a new world oil map is emerging, and it is centered not on the Middle East but on the Western Hemisphere,” Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, wrote in the Washington Post. “The new energy axis runs from Alberta, Canada, down through North Dakota and South Texas... to huge offshore oil deposits found near Brazil.”

Extreme Oil

It turns out, however, that the future may prove far more recalcitrant than these prophets of an American energy cornucopia imagine. To reach their ambitious targets, energy firms will have to overcome severe geological and environmental barriers -- and recent developments suggest that they are going to have a tough time doing so.

Consider this: while many analysts and pundits joined in the premature celebration of the new “golden age,” few emphasized that it would rest almost entirely on the exploitation of “unconventional” petroleum resources -- shale oil, oil shale, Arctic oil, deep offshore oil, and tar sands (bitumen). As for conventional oil (petroleum substances that emerge from the ground in liquid form and can be extracted using familiar, standardized technology), no one doubts that it will continue its historic decline in North America.

The “unconventional” oil that is to liberate the U.S. and its neighbors from the unreliable producers of the Middle East involves substances too hard or viscous to be extracted using standard technology or embedded in forbidding locations that require highly specialized equipment for extraction. Think of it as “tough oil.”

Shale oil, for instance, is oil trapped in shale rock. It can only be liberated through the application of concentrated force in a process known as hydraulic fracturing that requires millions of gallons of chemically laced water per “frack,” plus the subsequent disposal of vast quantities of toxic wastewater once the fracking has been completed. Oil shale, or kerogen, is a primitive form of petroleum that must be melted to be useful, a process that itself consumes vast amounts of energy. Tar sands (or “oil sands,” as the industry prefers to call them) must be gouged from the earth using open-pit mining technology or pumped up after first being melted in place by underground steam jets, then treated with various chemicals. Only then can the material be transported to refineries via, for example, the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Similarly, deepwater and Arctic drilling requires the deployment of specialized multimillion-dollar rigs along with enormously costly backup safety systems under the most dangerous of conditions. More


Thursday, October 4, 2012

One Big Step for Tesla, One Giant Leap for E.V.’s

AUTOMAKERS have a favored buzzword for promoting important new models: game-changer.

Excuse me, but the game is not so easily changed.

Put simply, the automobile has not undergone a fundamental change in design or use since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T more than a century ago. At least that’s what I thought until I spent a week with the Tesla Model S.

The 2012 Model S, a versatile sedan that succeeds the company’s two-seat Roadster, is simultaneously stylish, efficient, roomy, crazy fast, high-tech and all electric. It defies the notion that electric cars are range-limited conveyances.

While driving a Model S with the biggest available battery pack — 85 kilowatt-hours — on a restrained run through Northern California wine country, I was able to wring 300.1 miles from a single charge. The E.P.A.’s rating for equivalent gasoline miles per gallon is 88 m.p.g.e. in town and 90 on the highway, with a 265-mile range.

On a more enthusiastic romp from my home base here to Santa Cruz and back, I sampled what the 362-horsepower electric drivetrain was designed to do: bolt. Tesla says the car can zip from zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds and tops out at 125 miles per hour, but it was the silent, near-instantaneous bursts from 35 to 65 along the Pacific on California Highway 1 that best demonstrated the S’s otherworldly quality.

I managed to make that 207-mile round-trip with about 25 miles of battery charge remaining when I pulled into my driveway. I never gave a second’s thought to range, batteries or kilowatt-hours. I just hauled amps. It’s probably best for my driving record that I didn’t test the performance version of the Model S, which raises the ante to 416 horsepower — and a 4.4-second dash from zero to 60 m.p.h.

The Model S, which went on sale in June, is built in a Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., where a Toyota-General Motors joint venture once made cars.

The Model S’s sleek exterior suggests Maserati, Jaguar — or, especially in the shape of its grille, Aston Martin. “If people make that aspirational brand reference, I’m psyched,” said Franz Von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief of design.

Perhaps the design team’s greatest accomplishment is lending James Bond styling to a five-passenger sedan that Tesla says has the lowest aerodynamic drag of any production vehicle — an impressive drag coefficient of 0.24. The seductive shape of the Model S beats even the appliancelike Toyota Prius.

Yet the S also has a practical side: an optional rear jump seat for two children increases the total capacity to seven. I loaded 30 folding chairs for a school event without needing to flip down the second-row seat. With no engine, the Model S has a sizable second trunk in front, which Tesla calls a frunk. More


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Liquid air 'offers energy storage hope'

Turning air into liquid may offer a solution to one of the great challenges in engineering - how to store energy.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers says liquid air can compete with batteries and hydrogen to store excess energy generated from renewables.

IMechE says "wrong-time" electricity generated by wind farms at night can be used to chill air to a cryogenic state at a distant location.

When demand increases, the air can be warmed to drive a turbine.

Engineers say the process to produce "right-time" electricity can achieve an efficiency of up to 70%.

IMechE is holding a conference today to discuss new ideas on how using "cryo-power" can benefit the low-carbon economy.

The technology was originally developed by Peter Dearman, a garage inventor in Hertfordshire, to power vehicles.

A new firm, Highview Power Storage, was created to transfer Mr Dearman's technology to a system that can store energy to be used on the power grid.

The process, part-funded by the government, has now been trialled for two years at the back of a power station in Slough, Buckinghamshire. More


EU nuclear reactors need 10-25 bln euros of safety spending

BRUSSELS, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Europe's nuclear reactor fleet needs investment of 10 billion to 25 billion euros, a draft Commission report said, following a safety review designed to ensure there is never a repeat of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The report is expected to be finalised by Thursday and debated by EU ministers later this month.

After that, the Commission intends in 2013 to propose new laws, including on insurance and liability to "improve the situation of potential victims in the event of a nuclear accident", the draft seen by Reuters said.

Of the 134 EU nuclear reactors grouped across 68 sites, 111 have more than 100,000 inhabitants living within a circle of 30 kilometres.

Safety regimes vary greatly and the amount that needs to be spent to improve them is estimated at anywhere between 30 million euros and 200 million euros per reactor unit - or a total of 10-25 billion across the fleet.

The lesson of Fukushima was that two natural disasters could hit at the same time and knock out the electrical supply system of a plant completely, so it could not be cooled down.

The stress test findings include that four reactors, located in two different nations, have less than one hour available to restore safety functions if electrical power is lost. More


Monday, October 1, 2012

New Car Fuel Consumption Could Be Halved, International Energy Agency Claims

The world's new cars could use half as much as much fuel as they do now in 20 years, if current technologies are more widely adopted, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a pair of reports issued Wednesday the agency said with aggressive new policies, the world could stabilize its oil consumption even if the number of vehicles on the road doubles by 2050. Without those policies, cars and trucks would consume twice the amount of oil they do today.

Half the world's oil — about 45 million barrels per day — is used to make the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel needed to drive, ship or fly.

The IEA, an energy security group with 28 oil-importing member countries, suggested a number of policies and technologies that could lead to far less fuel use. Many are already being adopted around the world, but the agency said the pace of change could be accelerated.

IEA pointed to better labeling of fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions of new cars, and standards that mandate minimum fuel economy levels and limit carbon dioxide emissions. It also suggested taxes or other financial measures that penalize buying gas-guzzlers and reward the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Last month the Obama Administration finalized regulations that will force automakers to nearly double the average gas mileage of all new cars and trucks they sell in the U.S. by 2025.

Energy industry executives and government forecasters say U.S. gasoline demand peaked in 2006 and will slowly decline because of more fuel efficient cars and trucks and demographic changes. Similar trends are playing out in Western Europe and Japan. But millions of people in the developing economies of China, India and elsewhere are buying cars for the first time and pushing up world oil demand. More