Saturday, November 24, 2012

Morocco leading the world towards a clean energy future

Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the fledgling American Republic in 1777. Now, they are seeking clean energy independence and asking the world to join them in a green revolution.

This North African country, a constitutional monarchy about the size of California, has recently set a royal goal to ensure that 40 percent of its electricity demand is met from renewable energy sources by 2020. This is an extremely aggressive goal considering more than 90 percent of its current energy use is fossil fuel based and imported.

Astoundingly, with the cooperation of European and worldwide partners, Morocco has even grander plans to power itself entirely by renewable energy and potentially, in cooperation with other Northern African countries, export excess clean energy to Europe.

With these aggressive goals, it shouldn’t be surprising that King Mohammed VI of Morocco isn’t afraid of what anyone thinks when he talks about the reality of climate change. And talk he does.

In a message to world participants at the September 2102 conference in Morocco, Energy Challenges in the Euro-Mediterranean Region, King Mohammed said:

“Convinced of the vital importance of protecting and preserving the environment, and having realized at an early stage—thanks to its geographical location—the potential impact of climate change, my country resolutely opted for sustainable development which, needless to say, goes hand in hand with human development.”

In 2009, King Mohammed announced at a ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a $9 billion solar project with the target of creating 2,000 megawatts of renewable power by 2020. According to the Moroccan Minister of Energy and Mining at the time, Amina Benkhadra, the “massive project” will combine economic and social development with environmental protection and efforts to tackle climate change. “The project will reduce energy imports by saving the equivalent of a million tonnes of oil per year and help protect the environment by cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 3.7 million tonnes annually,” said Benkhadra.”

Morocco’s foray into its green future started small, with encouragement of individual solar systems on homes, especially in remote areas with no power. The country rightly understood the importance of localized sources of power generation and micro grids. It was only in 2007 when Morocco installed its first, small 50 kilowatt photovoltaic power plant in Tit Mellil. Then things got on a roll. In 2007, Morocco installed 200,000 square meters of solar water heating panels. In 2008, a combined cycle solar and thermal plant of 427 megawatts was established. But, all this was just the tip of a huge wave of renewable activity which has positioned Morocco to be a major geopolitical player in renewable energy.

In 2010, the largest wind farm in Africa, consisting of 165 turbines, was inaugurated in northern Morocco.

Clean Technica reported in October 2012, that a new memorandum of understanding was signed between the Moroccan government and the Desertec Foundation, a German based entity, to strengthen plans to build a massive series of solar power plants in the northern part of Morocco. These plants will supply not only power for Morocco, but also feed clean energy to Europe via high voltage direct current transmission lines.

“Morocco is a not just a visionary in the region, but also a successful pioneer in the global transition to renewables,” said Dr Thiemo Gropp, director of the Desertec Foundation.

In a Clean Technica article, Morocco Stays Renewable Energy Course Amidst Arab Spring, it notes that, “also vital to the renewable energy/energy efficiency strategy’s success and job creation, Morocco is investing in building out a modern electricity grid and distribution lines. These are key to the government’s plans to export green energy to Europe.”

The green headway Morocco is making shows the vital importance of strong leadership. More



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shale offers freedom and security – but it could be a trap

Exploiting shale gas and oil entails greenhouse gas emissions that will far outstrip our ability to adapt to the climate change they will cause.

Wars are fought over energy. So vital is it to the economy that the few custodians of the world's oil and gas wealth have the power to determine global booms and recessions.

At last, it seems, a new source of energy might liberate us from this conflict – fossil fuels trapped within dense rock for millennia that we are now able to free, thanks to advances in engineering unthinkable a decade ago, and that are available in countries from Britain to Australia. But those same fossil fuels, much higher in carbon than their conventional counterparts, are likely to unleash runaway climate change that could put paid to any hopes of a low-cost – and low-risk – energy future.

Exploiting these new forms of energy – shale gas and oil entails greenhouse gas emissions that will far outstrip our ability to adapt to the climate change they will cause. But history shows we are unlikely to be able to leave any of these chaos-causing fuels unexploited. For most of the past 30 years, the main question for the US has been how to ensure enough energy to meet the economy's needs. The oil shocks of the 1970s showed the economy's vulnerability to foreign imports. Since then, the goal of "energy security" has been crucial.

One route has been to exploit biofuels, made from maize, a policy introduced by George W Bush. But these are expensive as they divert food sources into use as fuel. A far better bet for the US, barely thinkable during Bush's presidency, is shale gas, which is transforming the US economy.

The first companies into shale were independents, leaving the more staid multinationals in their wake. Mitchell Energy and Development, subsequently bought by Devon Energy, was credited with being the first major exploiter. Pioneer Natural Resources was another. But the multinationals, led by ExxonMobil, soon caught up.

In less than 10 years, the US has become one of the prime producers of gas. The price of gas plummeted to only $2 a unit this year. That compares with about $9-12 in Europe, and about $15 in Asia. The International Energy Agency in 2011 heralded "a global golden age of gas" and new estimates show that, by 2017, the US could be the world's biggest producer of oil and gas.

But the plunging price of gas in the US has caused its own problems. At such low output prices, developing shale gas reserves becomes much less economically attractive. "Some companies have had financial difficulties," says Steven Estes, partner at KPMG in Dallas. He points to Chesapeake Energy, one of the pioneers: "Companies that were heavily involved in shale gas exclusively have really taken a hit."

The solution has been to explore the same gas fields to look for another prize – shale oil. While the price of natural gas has plunged, oil has kept its value. Liquids too can be trapped in dense shale rocks. But some shale gas fields will easily yield oil, while others will not. The difference between the two is heralding a huge difference between gas and oil producers in the US. Estes says: "Companies that have oil to exploit as well as gas – including Exxon and Shell, which have made acquisitions – are in the best position." More


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

World Energy Outlook 2012

The global energy map is changing in dramatic fashion, the International Energy Agency said as it launched the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO). The Agency's flagship publication, released today in London, said these changes will recast expectations about the role of different countries, regions and fuels in the global energy system over the coming decades.

“North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world, yet the potential also exists for a similarly transformative shift in global energy efficiency,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “This year’s World Energy Outlook shows that by 2035, we can achieve energy savings equivalent to nearly a fifth of global demand in 2010. In other words, energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits.”

The WEO finds that the extraordinary growth in oil and natural gas output in the United States will mean a sea-change in global energy flows. In the New Policies Scenario, the WEO’s central scenario, the United States becomes a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and is almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms, by 2035. North America emerges as a net oil exporter, accelerating the switch in direction of international oil trade, with almost 90% of Middle Eastern oil exports being drawn to Asia by 2035. Links between regional gas markets will strengthen as liquefied natural gas trade becomes more flexible and contract terms evolve. While regional dynamics change, global energy demand will push ever higher, growing by more than one-third to 2035. China, India and the Middle East account for 60% of the growth; demand barely rises in the OECD, but there is a pronounced shift towards gas and renewables.

Fossil fuels will remain dominant in the global energy mix, supported by subsidies that, in 2011, jumped by almost 30% to $523 billion, due mainly to increases in the Middle East and North Africa. Global oil demand grows by 7 mb/d to 2020 and exceeds 99 mb/d in 2035, by which time oil prices reach $125/barrel in real terms (over $215/barrel in nominal terms). A surge in unconventional and deepwater oil boosts non-OPEC supply over the current decade, but the world relies increasingly on OPEC after 2020. Iraq accounts for 45% of the growth in global oil production to 2035 and becomes the second-largest global oil exporter, overtaking Russia.

While the regional picture for natural gas varies, the global outlook over the coming decades looks to be bright, as demand increases by 50% to 5 trillion cubic metres in 2035. Nearly half of the increase in production to 2035 is from unconventional gas, with most of this coming from the United States, Australia and China. Whether demand for coal carries on rising strongly or changes course radically will depend on the strength of policy decisions around lower-emissions energy sources and changes in the price of coal relative to natural gas. In the New Policies Scenario, global coal demand increases by 21% and is heavily focused in China and India.

No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed.

Renewables become the world’s second-largest source of power generation by 2015 and close in on coal as the primary source by 2035. However, this rapid increase hinges critically on continued subsidies. In 2011, these subsidies (including for biofuels) amounted to $88 billion, but over the period to 2035 need to amount to $4.8 trillion; over half of this has already been committed to existing projects or is needed to meet 2020 targets. Ambitions for nuclear have been scaled back as countries have reviewed policies following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, but capacity is still projected to rise, led by China, Korea, India and Russia.

Water is essential to the production of energy, and the energy sector already accounts for 15% of the world’s total water use. Its needs are set to grow, making water an increasingly important criterion for assessing the viability of energy projects. In some regions, water constraints are already affecting the reliability of existing operations and they will introduce additional costs. Expanding power generation and biofuels output underpin an 85% increase in the amount consumed (the volume of water that is not returned to its source after use) through to 2035. More


Monday, November 5, 2012

Solar Industry Grows 13.2 Percent, Adds 13K Jobs

According to TSF’s National Solar Jobs Census 2012, the U.S. solar industry added 13,872 jobs between September 2011 and September 2012. Bringing the total of employed solar industry workers to 119,016, this leap represents a 13.2 growth in employment. In comparison, the overall economy poked along at a sluggish 2.3 percent during the same time period, according to information obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a press release issued by TSF, Executive Director Andrea Luecke said, “The solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries in the past several years, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States. These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. based non-profit Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said, “The solar energy industry is creating jobs in America when we need them most. The rapid growth of jobs in the solar industry clearly demonstrates that smart policies, including the federal investment tax credit, are putting Americans back to work.”

Information gathered from the voluntary online census, which queried more than 1,000 solar companies, also provided illuminating information as to the principal driving factors behind the industry’s surge in growth. The biggest percentage of participants, almost one third, cited falling prices for solar components as a primary driver of growth. Others pointed to federal tax incentives and state legislation allowing third-party system ownership, as well as the enacting of Renewable Portfolio Standards to foster the increased production of solar energy.

“This is what happens when government provides a stable policy environment,” Resch added. “The private industry does what it does best – creates new jobs for Americans.”

Monique Hanis, spokesperson for SEIA, said continued growth of the U.S. solar industry will hinge greatly upon the protection and expansion of successful state and federal policies, in addition to continued financing for solar projects and operations. More



Thursday, November 1, 2012

What no candidate says about energy and the economy

This [US] election is being framed as a choice between two different approaches to return to robust economic growth. But what if both sides are missing a critical underlying factor in our economic troubles?

What if tools of the past no longer fit the economy of the future? Economic growth, as we have known it, is being constrained by an unprecedented slowing of growth in world oil supply. America’s path to future prosperity needs to recognize and confront this new energy reality, and adapt our economy to run on a lot less oil.

World crude oil production has been on a century-long rising trend—from less than one million barrels per day (mbd) in 1900 to nearly 75 mbd today. There have been aberrations along the way, such as a large fall in production during the Great Depression, but the upward trend has persisted—until recently. Since 2005, global oil production has been essentially flat. There have been plateaus before, but what is different this time is that real oil prices—i.e. adjusted for inflation—have roughly tripled within the span of a decade, yet relatively little additional production has been brought forth.

For most of the 20th century, oil prices in 2009 dollars were less than $35 per barrel. During the 25-year economic boom following World War II, they stayed reliably below $20. Real prices shot up to the $50 mark in the early 1970’s following the Arab oil embargo and reached $100 shortly thereafter with the Iranian hostage crisis. Excepting those oil shocks, average real prices remained remarkably low.

But something appears to have fundamentally changed over the past decade. Since 2000, aside from a spike and crash in 2008 and 2009, U.S. oil prices have climbed steadily and are now holding in the $80-$100 per barrel range, approximately three times their historic average, despite a worldwide economic slowdown. We have essentially been in a long, slow, but equally damaging oil shock for several years, only this one is not associated with any acute geopolitical event.

Various forces are contributing to rising oil prices, but an unavoidable key factor is the increasing cost and energy required to produce each new barrel of oil. From an energy and economic standpoint, the return on energy invested for new petroleum sources — such as tight oil in North Dakota, Canadian tar sands, or deepwater offshore oil is much lower than for conventional oilfields of the past, as research at the State University of New York at Syracuse has shown.

What does this mean for the economy? In essence, oil is delivering substantially less energy “profit” or surplus wealth to society than it used to. Higher prices also mean more American dollars flowing to oil-exporting countries, less money for households and businesses to invest or spend on other goods and services, and rising prices for oil-dependent products (a long list). It all adds up to a major drag on economic growth.

There is another important new wrinkle in the story of the petroleum age. Before 2000, we didn’t care much about other countries. The United States essentially laid first claim to the world’s oil exports. No longer. Oil consumption in developing countries, especially China, has exploded over the past decade. At the same time, oil-exporting countries are using more oil domestically. The result: oil exports available on the global market have been declining by an estimated 0.7 percent per year since 2005, according to analysis by Texas geologist Jeffrey Brown, and competition for those declining oil exports has increased, pushing prices further upward. More