Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A slight pause

Early in January of this "benevolent" winter I slipped while blithely skipping across our grassy sward toward the mailbox. (Actually I was stepping very carefully on the ice -so I thought, but I'm told I need to make the story more dramatic).

Net result was I fell and tore a couple of the muscles in my shoulder, that now must be tied back together. This will happen tomorrow and is going to give a slight pause to these words. Hopefully I should be back very soon.

Update: Thanks for all the well wishes, here and by e-mail (which I will tackle tomorrow). Well the surgery seems to have been successful, though may not know for sure for a couple of weeks. In the meantime as I can now start cutting back on the pain pills, I should be able to put out somewhat shorter posts for a while. (With one hand attached to a point just above my navel typing is somewhat slower than it used to be.)

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The risks of "cap and trade"

When discussions arise about Climate Change, and the possibility that carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases are responsible for the rise in global temperatures, one prevailing argument is that “we cannot afford to take the risk of the AGW argument being right, without doing something.” However, in that discussion, there is rarely any mention of possible negative consequences to mitigating against increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only positions mentioned are frequently the projections of dramatic rises in sea levels, the promise of worse storms, droughts and climate conditions and other projected severe costs of inaction. The costs of the actions themselves are not addressed, and the implications are that the world will be a better place if some of the current trends in Climate Change are, if nothing further, stopped from progressing further.

But there are costs to the required changes in lifestyle that a reduction in carbon dioxide production will require, and those potential impacts are rarely spelled out to the public, or to the politicians who must enact the legislation to put new laws in place. However politicians, particularly in those districts that are likely to be impacted by the changes in regulations, are already showing some sensitivity to the potential negative aspects of “cap and trade” and so it might be worth exploring the topic in a little more depth.

The Energy Summit in Columbia last week allowed some of the utility companies to spell out the levels of cost that will be incurred if cap and trade legislation is enacted, based on a projected cost for the allowance to generate a ton of carbon dioxide. But they largely built their discussion around the price of that portion of the electricity that they will still be allowed to generate. A cap and trade system, however, comes in two parts. The first part is to look at the overall production of carbon dioxide, say 6 billion tons/year, where the program cuts this back by, say 500 million tons a year. (This is the reduction in the capacity to produce or the “cap.”) For the sake of the following discussion I will assume that 1 ton of coal produces very roughly 3 tons of carbon dioxide to make the arithmetic easier.

The first argument of those who look at this problem of a reduced supply is to suggest that the gap can be met by improving efficiency of electrical use, and conservation. However the implementation of a cap and trade policy is not predicated on that efficiency change happening, but it will occur as a separate event. And Jevons Paradox will tell you that “improving energy efficiency increases energy consumption.” So that the savings in power required are unlikely to be realized.

Which means that if the utilities are restricted in the amount of power that they can generate with carbon-producing strategies, then they must have alternate supplies in place. Theoretically that may well be the case. The number of states that are including a “sustainable source” quotient in their mandated supplies is steadily growing. However, as Montana, for example, is discovering there may be a difference between the targets and the practical realities. As credit has become tight, available funds for new farms are becoming harder to raise, and without a perceived increase in demand, it is harder to justify a new investment in plant when the old coal plant is still producing at a relatively low cost. And without the lead time being used to produce the new energy sources that will be needed, when the time comes to flip that switch, it may not yet be connected.

The problem actually is a little worse that this. Because most of the coal-fired power plants are quite old, and while maintained to continue to produce power, they are less efficient and more polluting that the more modern plants that are planned to replace them. But with the anticipated change in regulation now that EPA has ruled on carbon dioxide , almost all the originally about 200 planned new coal-fired power plants are holding back on commitments and roughly half have cancelled or indefinitely postponed their planned construction. Thus the increased supply of power from new plants may not appear.

There are two additional thoughts to consider. The first is the proposed restriction on emissions from these new plants:
The (Waxman – Markey) proposal unabashedly bans new coal-fired electric plants. In 2009 new coal-fueled electric plants are limited to 1100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour (MWh) and 800 pounds after 2020. Present fossil-fuel electric plants emit the following pounds of CO2 per MWh: 2100 for coal, 1900 for oil, and 1300 for natural gas. . . . The bill that includes "security" in its title limits our plentiful secure coal supply to discharges of about one-half that allowed for oil and natural gas.
The second is that some parts of the country do not have the ability to tap into the wind and solar resources that are currently being suggested as the solution to the problem.

Productive wind is only available in a limited number of states and their regions, and similarly solar power cannot be relied on in a North-Eastern Winter. One cannot legislate an alternative technology that does not yet exist to fill in the gaps between what will be allowed from the power plants of yesterday, and the demands that a rebounding economy may place upon them. Mandating that the older suppliers of power close, before the new plants to replace them are installed will have significant consequences to the available jobs that can be supported, if the factories and industrial base begin to lose the reliability of the power sources that they have today.

Even, however, if they find some way of meeting the target for the renewable portion of their portfolio, the utilities won’t be out of the wood. Because the purchase of the allocation for the carbon dioxide they do admit will also bring additional cost. As noted at the Energy Summit a price of $50 per ton of carbon allocation would likely double electric bills in Missouri. Burning a ton of coal, that now costs $50, would raise its price to $250. While if the price per allocation ton was raised to $200 per ton (which has been suggested as being necessary to support some alternate energy choices) this would raise the cost by a factor of five (i.e. a current electric bill of $200 would rise to $1,000 per month). In much the same way as Secretary Chu recognized at the EIA Conference that increases in the cost of oil contributed to the severity of the recession, one can equally imagine that a similar effect will be felt with an equivalent rise in the cost of electricity.

The current path forward, with a hesitation in construction of new power plants holds the risk that the United States will not have the power that it needs in the future to match industrial and domestic demands. In those cases it is often industry that is the first to see the cutbacks in supply when load shedding is needed. But the resulting drop in production, and international competitiveness, may well damage or destroy the recovering economy after this recession comes to an end. That too is a risk that should be protected against.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jevons Paradox - or a gentle cough concerning energy efficiency

There is a common thread to almost all recommendations that deal with the problems associated with our dependence on fossil fuels, whether that concern arises because of Energy Security issues, or because of concerns over Climate Change. That thread dictates that the obvious first step is to engage in a program of conservation and improving energy efficiency. This is the “low hanging fruit” referred to by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and over the past weeks it was repeated in speech after speech, at both the EIA Energy Meeting and the Missouri Energy Summit I have just described.

Improving energy efficiency is not a new mantra, it has been proposed, and programs implemented to encourage it over many years. There is, however, one often unrecognized problem. Over the years that problem has become known as Jevons Paradox, after the English economist who propounded it in 1866. Writing about concerns over the availability of coal for the British economy he said
“A further class of opponents feel the growing power of coal, but repose upon the notion that economy in its use will rescue us. If coal becomes twice as dear as it is, but our engines are made to produce twice as much result with the same coal, the cost of steam power will remain as before. These opponents, however, overlook two prime points on the subject. They forget that economy of fuel leads to a great increase in consumption, as shown in the chapter on the subject; and secondly, they forget that other nations can use improved engines as well as ourselves, so that our comparative position will not be much improved.”
It is the first of these points that has become known as Jevons Paradox. More simply put – It is wrong to assume that the more efficient use of fuel will lower its usage. In fact the very opposite happens.

Jevons was writing at a time when the benefits of coal, in moving the world into the Industrial Revolution, were evident. Developing markets for coal had led to the creation of canals, the invention of the railway and the steam locomotive and, at the time he wrote, the increased popularity of marriage. In his book “The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coalmines,” he devotes Chapter Seven to the consideration of the paradox cited above. Although he separates domestic considerations from his argument , subsequently they have been found to be equally vulnerable to the paradox.

Jevons began his case by noting that seamstresses who master the use of a sewing machine find increased demand for their services, and then commenting that the improved efficiency achieved, first by Smeaton and then by Watt, on Newcomen’s original atmospheric engine, dramatically increased their range of application.

Consider that the duty (number of pounds of water raised one foot by burning a bushel (84 lb) of coal went from 5.59 million lb in 1769 with the original engine, through 9.45 million lb with Smeaton’s enhancement in 1772, to 26.6 million lb with Watt’s improved engine in 1788, reaching 43.3 million pounds in 1830 with the Cornish engine. With each step in the progression more engines were sold, and the market grew. And as the market grew the machines became cheaper, and then more widely adopted. It transformed society.
The reduction of the consumption of coal, per ton of iron, to less than one-third of the former amount, has been followed, in Scotland, by a tenfold (increase in ) total consumption.
And he adds this caution
But no one must suppose that coal thus saved is spared – it is only saved from one use to be employed in others, and the profits gained soon lead to extended employment in many new forms.

Later economists have modified this statement into what is now referred to as the rebound effect “some efficiency gains are wiped out by a greater demand for the product.”

There appears to be considerable support for the proposition that the Paradox still holds true. Jeff Dardozzi reviews some of the history
In the 1980s, Jevons' observation was revisited by the economists Daniel Khazzoom and Leonard Brookes. In their analysis, they looked beyond the relationship between energy resources and the machines that convert them to useful work to consider the overall effect of technological improvements in resource efficiencies on the energy use of a society as a whole. They argued that increased efficiency paradoxically leads to increased overall energy consumption. In 1992, the economist Harry Saunders dubbed this hypothesis the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate and showed that it was true under neo-classical growth theory over a wide range of assumptions. Since the appearance of the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate, numerous studies have weighed in on the debate arguing a range of impacts of the rebound effect.

In January 2008, Earthscan released Jevons Paradox: The Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements as the latest and most comprehensive review of the paradox in economics literature. Prefaced by anthropologist Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies, 1988), the book reviews the history of the debate, current findings and includes the latest multi-disciplinary studies regarding the existence of the rebound effect. The book clearly supports the proposition that the rebound effect is present in the US, Europe and most other economies and that strategies to increase energy efficiency in themselves will do little to improve the energy or the ecological situation. In fact, they may well worsen it as the historical impact of resource efficiency improvements shows that increasing the efficiency in the use of a resource in turn increases the consumption of that resource.

There is an excellent video available on the subject (though it lasts 18 minutes) ( courtesy of San Francisco Bike Blog)

Treehugger illustrates the Paradox using the example of the Tata Nano car – that gets 47 mpg but, at $2,500, expands the car market to vast numbers of Indians.

Jevons work has been confirmed by economists such as Mark Mills and Vaclav Smil, “energy efficiency increases energy consumption.” It is becoming the topic of new books which support the concept,
As Huber and Mills make clear in The Bottomless Well: "Over the long term, societies that expand and improve their energy supplies overwhelm those that don't." Given the harsh realities of the Jevons Paradox, the U.S. (and the rest of the world) need to get busy expanding and improving those energy supplies.
It might make a topic for an interesting session at a future Energy Conference.

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Energy Summit - the last talks

The final part of the Energy Summit in Columbia began with a series of talks from faculty on the four campuses. It was divided into four tracks, Power Generation (which I was at and will write about); Transportation and Biofuels; Energy Infrastructure; and Materials for Energy Applications. Although not up yet, the main site for the Summit is adding videos of the different sections, and I will add those references behind the track titles as they become available. At present the Keynote by Boone Pickens ; the Governor’s remarks and the first day’s speakers after 3 pm (covering my third post) are available. I will list the other posts from earlier in the Summit at the end of this piece.

I was the first of the speakers up in the Power Generation track, and spoke about the predictions that have been made concerning the life of fossil fuels, focusing on that of David Rutledge , which predicts that peak coal will come sooner than is currently anticipated. I expressed some doubt that his predictions are correct, with similar concerns regarding the work of Dr Hall and his students, about the increasing energy cost to mine future coal. To illustrate why I briefly covered the development of three mining machines, that which we call Hydrominer, (a longwall waterjet machine concept that moved from the lab to surface trials to underground trials in Germany); that which we call Rapiers, which was developed in collaboration with folk at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and a waterjet assisted auger. By cutting a deep slot around the outer perimeter of the coal mass to be removed, the constraining surrounding pressure is removed, and the coal is more easily removed and fragmented, with lower energy cost.

I was followed by Mark Prelas, of UMC Nuclear Engineering, who talked (the links are to the paper abstracts) about nuclear energy conversion. The basic method of extracting power from nuclear energy has focused on the steam cycle for 150 years, and he is looking to using a photon path to achieve a better efficiency in energy extraction. It is, perhaps, the equivalent of the nuclear light bulb. The concept has been used by the military, and would go through the stages of fuel to fluorescer to photons to either chemical, laser of electrical energy. He discussed various fluorescers which could be matched with PV cells to improve efficiency of transfer. I this way he could move from 50% plant efficiency to 70% (At present the Calloway nuclear power plant at Fulton, MO operates at around 37% efficiency). Even with pebble bed reactors, and higher temperatures a 50% efficiency is likely to be tops conventionally. This new concept would, however, require a new build and is unlikely to be around before 2040.

Anthony Caruso from the Kansas City Campus then talked about the need for neutron generation detection. He showed that it only required less than 1% of waste to go astray and there would be enough plutonium out that could get into the hands of terrorists and provide a major problem. A racquetball sized sphere would hold 2.7 kg of plutonium and would be safe to carry but small enough and easy enough to conceal to cause serious problems. He then elaborated on the potential risk, and the need to develop more effective detectors (which he is doing).

Jimmy Adegoke from Kansas City, then talked about a program that is being run to assess climate change risks commenting that “we are beyond debate that we have global warming!” (If you look at the top right of the three curves shown on the main page of the Climate Research Unit at Hadley (the main British Climate monitoring site), you will see that all three curves – for Northern, Southern and Global temperature – have been trending down (showing global cooling) for about the last ten years). His group does a carbon footprint assessment with the intent of helping local industry both understand the impacts of legislation, at the local level. He discussed work with Congressman Markey’s subcommittee to establish the impact of climate change on the economy of the Midwest. He is assessing the effects of change on agriculture, water, energy and health at the local level. In his regional assessment he found that the carbon footprint broke down to roughly 2 million tons of Residential; 3 million tons of commercial; and 1.5 million tons of industrial generation. He has a carbon footprint calculator which helps identify where savings can occur for individual operations.

We broke for lunch, and then returned to hear first Lea Kosnik, from UMSL, who had accompanied me to the radio station on the first day and whose subject is small and microturbine use to generate hydropower without the need for the dams across the waterways that are a pre-requisite for larger schemes. Their small size makes them easier to install, and to construct using easily available components of proven reliability. As I corrected back at the original post, there are some 5,000 sites, in Missouri alone, that could be used as installation sites for the technology. This gives a more reliable feed, when needed, to backstop some of the more intermittent sources, such as wind and solar. It also does not require the considerable planning of larger systems, and is unlikely to meet the local resistance that dams not generate.

Curt Elmore of MO S&T was next, talking about an emergency method of creating potable water in crisis. He and his colleagues set out to provide another source of water, after a natural disaster, other than military convoys handling out bottled water. He started looking at alternatives and found that UV is an effective disinfectant for water, and so designed a portable system (running at about $40k at the moment) to run from renewable sources. He began with hopes for a wind turbine as part of the package, but came to realize that this did not contribute enough, and that simple solar panels were adequate to provide the power to run the system and provide a clean water supply. Because it does not leave disinfectant in the water it cannot treat a recontamination problem, short of running the water back through the system. By using an ultracapacitor they were also able to get rid of batteries, and by using the pump on a water bowser that would bring water to the unit, it could be made smaller and more inexpensive. It was simple to get to 10 gpm, and with an individual using about 2 liters/day this would be more than adequate for a community. They are currently investigating commercialization.

The final speaker in the track was S.K. Loyalka from Columbia, describing a $3 million program that they have looking at very high temperature nuclear reactors. These are generally either Prismatic or Pebble Bed reactors, with the pebbles being spheres about the size of a tennis ball and stacked at around 400,000 in the reactor itself. In the process of passage they undergo some degradation and the study is looking at the fate of this dust, as well as “ball” behavior.

There was now a break, after which I wandered into the Clean Coal breakout panel, under the Vice Provost for Research at MO S&T, Dr Krishnmurthy. . Although less structured, with the panelists first making short remarks, before engaging in Q&A with the audience, Wandering in after the introductions I missed who was who, but there were some very realistic views presented from venture capitalists, a state senator, and others. After Dr Al-Dahhan had described some of the paths forward to generate clean coal, one of the panelists commented that this is not the sort of environment a venture capitalist likes to work in. He contrasted it with medical investment, where the funds required are reasonable (say $75 million) and the risk and rate of return are acceptable. In contrast CCS is larger by two orders of magnitude and this takes it beyond the interests of the venture capital market. This is a tough space to live in, and there are very few (2 out of 300) who might be interested in playing in this sandbox.

The Navy panelist (John Pazik) noted because of the way military budgets are constructed, rapid rises in fuel prices come out of the operating budgets of the commanders, and thus require sacrifice of something else.

Senator Shaefer, in looking at the political side, commented on how hard it is to get legislation through. Missouri relies on coal for 82-86% of its energy. With EPA mandated to rule on CO2 that leaves the state very vulnerable. And he commented that “scientists may say that this is the right thing to do, but politically it may not be possible.” He thinks that soon it will be impossible to build a coal-fired power station, and that the best CCS injection sites are shallow enough that the CO2 won’t stay liquid.

Vic Svec from Peabody pointed out that natural gas generates carbon dioxide, just as coal does. It is becoming the new method of power generation, but bear in mind that while we pay $0.065 per kWh, CA and NY are paying around $0.15 - $0.20 per kWh. We are going to continue to use coal, it is just going to stop being cheap to do so. He talked of doing CO2 injection to help oil EOR and that Missouri had the potential to do this in the Western part of the state. We have lost a decade however in making progress on this issue, where there are also concerns such as “can I inject CO2 under your house ? How deep? Etc” We need technology and technicians to control and bring down the price to make systems viable.

In the wide ranging Q&A the need for better communication was emphasized but the problems of finding qualified people remain, at all levels. And it was clear that campaigns to wean the country from coal in the next 10 years are unrealistic.

The final panel I went to was on infrastructure under Dr. Mariesa Crow of MO S&T.

Linda Martinez of MO DNR pointed out that with Missouri seeing 261,000 unemployed, the emphasis in getting jobs with green technology is paramount. Retraining is essential but we need to get all stakeholders involved in the planning of that. There are only a limited number of green jobs at the moment and we need to find how to grow them.

Barbara Kenny of NSF spoke of the goals of the Administration, and that the new stimulus money to NSF that would be used to give a higher success rate to proposals sent in to the agency. There is an interest in Renewable Energy Storage and in Green Building Technology.

In discussion the panelists concurred that improving Energy Efficiency is the first priority for moving forward and having a success. The State has just produced a wind may, and thus wind may be the second stage in the process.

Bill Downey of Kansas City Power and Light, looked at building a new plant, and how they assessed viable alternatives. He has been impressed with the speed of growth of renewable sources, and expects that they will generate 20% of power in the future. However getting public policy changed is a long struggle, even with gains in efficiency, though that is a bridge forward.

Brian Clevinger is a Venture Capitalist and he talked of the technologies at Universities and that “it was the worst of times, it was the even worser of times.” Venture Capital is down 40% in general but clean coal investments dropped 80%. New creative money is almost non-existent.

We have failed to focus on replacement energy for the systems that we currently use, so that, since the population has doubled, and is on its way to double again it is going to take all that we have got. Unfortunately many of the answers are yet to be palatable politically.

Given that many of the panel had mentioned efficiency as the logical first step and the low hanging fruit, I raised the question of Jevons Paradox. Which it appeared that no-one had heard of. (Which means that I will try and make it my topic for a tech talk tomorrow).

Similarly raising the question of Peak Oil and oilfield declines such as in Cantarell got no response. Rather they talked to public policy and how to get jobs. They talked of smart metering and some of the complexities of running controls on home energy systems from a central system. The comment was that, to date, the incentives are not enough to drive behavior.
And then we were done.

Earlier posts in this series covered the program; the keynote address by T. Boone Pickens; and the first invited speakers; the end of the first day; and the first part of the second day.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Energy Summit - the second morning

The second day of the Summit began early, but still had all four University Chancellors and the University President in the room at 7:30 am although it took a fair while longer for the body of the room to start to fill. In his welcoming remarks the Chancellor of the University of Missouri-Columbia noted that by changing to burning tires, switchgrass and an assortment of waste, the campus had cut its coal consumption by 5% this past year.

The first speaker of the day was Robert Dixon of the Climate Change and Chemicals of the Institute for Environmental Security. He was a member of the IPCC, and has been Head of the Energy Technology Policy Division of the IEA. (A glitch meant we did not see his opening slides). He began with the point that the world has areas of extreme energy poverty and that we need to change the way in which we do business. Indonesia will soon pass the United States in the amount of GHG that it emits, yet all our economies are built around the use of petroleum, and this is not a sustainable base.

Having been part of the IPCC and the IEA he commented on the difficulty in explaining positions to world leaders when you only get ten minutes of their time. At the moment we are not on a path to a sustainable future, and that message cannot be conveyed in that small an amount of time.

The world needs not only new technologies, but also a new system that should include energy efficiency, since that is the gift that keeps on giving. Yet, if we are to reduce GHG we need some 24 – 32 new nuclear plants a year, and the world is only installing 1 or 2. To force the change he feels that we should have cap and trade with a $50/ton cost for allocations, but if the world is to get down to the carbon dioxide levels required, then the cost should rise first to $200/ton and then to $500/ton. (On an editorial note, based on Missouri consumption, where a $50/ton carbon cost doubles our electricity price, this is calling for pricing that will take it up, first by a factor of 4 and then 10 – so that electricity will approach $1.00 per kilowatt hour, and if your bill is now $200 it will become $2,000 a month).

Replacing coal will require ALL technologies be advanced forward, and they should be funded, but there are many pathways being proposed and these must be co-ordinated to give a viable roadmap for the future. They will provide many opportunities for investment, but given that the current system has had its investment cost covered there is a challenge to find the funding for replacements. Public sector R&D is down, and so politicians must work to reverse this trend if we are to find the answers that we need. An energy revolution is urgently needed, but there are barriers of funding and timeliness so we must take action to induce change.

Mark Templeton has recently been installed as the new Missouri Energy Czar (coming from heading up Yale Law School). He began by listing some pluses including the first city (Rock Port) that is powered entirely by wind. Yet at the moment Missouri ranks 45th in Energy Efficiency and so there is a need to communicate to the public, giving them ways that they can save. If we could just save 15% of our electric use, and 10% of our natural gas use, this would, over time, add up to $2.8 billion in savings.

Yet we cannot only address the problems of the past (by weatherization etc) but we also have to find new future answers. Missouri is 49th in use of renewables, and 18th in use of wind power. (Ed note: Possibly because we don’t have enough of the higher speed winds we need?) In summer we get as much sun as Florida, and while biomass is not that far along, it is an indigenous resource. If Washington is going to push us, then we might as well move ourselves.

He noted that fuel prices are going back up and we are now at a time where OPEC cuts in supply are controlling cost. Missouri is seeing record unemployment, we need to find and develop the next generation of green jobs. To this end they are working with the Office of Economic Development.

The University President. Gary Forsee, then introduced the Governor of the State, Jay Nixon. The Governor picked up on the theme carried by Mark Templeton, tying Education and the Economy together, and stressing that we need a trained workforce, in the right areas, to move us out of the recession. We need to change our economy but must recognize that the energy demand per capita will not go away, though improved efficiency and conservation are going to be vital parts of the future economy.

He cited the new wind farm, and work on batteries to store excess wind energy, as current indicators of progress, but justified his continued investment in education and retraining . He noted that while normal drivers brake around a curve, NASCAR drivers accelerate so that they can take advantage of the coming straight stretch. He views Missouri’s economy in the same way.

He drew attention to his program to fund young interns to work in future areas of renewable energy with the comment, in passing, that giving kids money was sure to stimulate the economy, since they were certain to spend it. We must both walk and talk the talk, and so, at the podium, he signed an Executive Order lowering the energy use in state buildings.

The Governor was followed by Richard Sayre of the Danforth Center who spoke of the benefits of algae, and some of the paths that are being taken, including using algal species that weep oil and can be milked (using alkanes) and then put back out to pasture, rather than internally producing it and having to be destroyed to recover the oil. He again commented that ice caps could be gone in the summer before long (no I’m not going to put the reality graph up again).

Energy from biomass has the potential to create more “green” jobs than other renewables, and he noted that the United States already produces more ethanol than Brazil. But the parts of the country that have highest solar intensity to help plant growth also have poor soils and a lack of water. He showed a map for the country locating the 30-inch rainfall line as running down almost through Columbia, and questioned, based on it, which biofuels we should focus on. Since oil crops have more energy than starch, biodiesel producers are more logical. At present oil costs from algae are divided with slightly more than half in production, and slightly under half for harvesting. With a pond only containing 0.1% useful product there is obviously a need to reduce the latter costs. Interestingly he noted that, growing algae in Missouri, it is not the cold of the winter that is the problem, but rather the warmth of the summer. He then went on to make a number of the arguments that I have made when I talk of the advantages of growing algae underground (light spectra control, use of the full amount and at levels that algae will grow at optimally). By adding sugars to the water, they have found a dramatic increase in the oil production rate, and by changing the algae to use lower light levels they have doubled the production rates from deep ponds. With the additional change to “weeping” algae they have had a 3-fold increase in biomass production and a 40% increase in the oil production rate.

Rob Duncan the Vice Chancellor for Research at UMC, was on 60 Minutes (video report ) last week talking about cold fusion. He gave an expanded talk on the subject, noting that he had gone from being a cynic to a believer.

After reviewing the history he went on to share some of the photos and experiences from his visit to the Israeli lab doing the work. And in the process of explanation he may have made a number of other converts. When there has been talk before of energy output being greater than input in the experiments, I always got the impression that it was not that much. But he talked of vessels boiling over, and getting a MegaJoule of energy, where there should have been a hundred joules. But more convincing to me was the surface of the palladium rod, which, after the experiment had small “volcanic” pits with molten ejecta.

He could not yet explain it, but he noted that at this stage it does look real. However there is a huge gap between discovery and useful engineering application and so the topic must be approached with less hype and more focus on a scientific method for determining evolution of the technology.

Dr Duncan was the last of the Invited Speakers, and the Summit then broke into two consecutive parts. In the first there were four sets of concurrent papers by Missouri research groups talking about their work, and this was followed by two sets of two panels where there was discussion on Clean Coal, Transportation and Biofuels; Nuclear energy; and Infrastructure. Since this post is getting a bit long, I will summarize these in the next post.

Earlier posts in this series covered the program; the keynote address by T. Boone Pickens; and the first invited speakers; and the end of the first day.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Energy Summit - the third part (end of day 1)

This is the fourth part of coverage of the Missouri Energy Summit, with the earlier posts listed at the end of this one. This post covers the final session of the first day.

The first speaker was Karen Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for the 21st Century., and she spoke of Energy and Climate Change realities. For her Energy Security means affordable, reliable supply and the reality is that to get that we need to establish our position, at a time when the world is growing and with it demands for energy. She pointed out that at present 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity, and that will change. As it changes, and 70% of the demand for power will come from developing nations where most of these folk live, so it will become harder to both get energy supplies and to also get the credit to pay for them.

New production, and new sources of power will need time, the right policies and lots of money if they are to be realized. But even then “we cannot mandate what technology cannot deliver.”

Singing a song after the hearts of the academics in her audience, she noted that we need new talent to develop these new sources, yet we are graduating a lower number of engineers. That must be switched around, and while the optimal product might be an Engineeer with a Masters in finance, there is not yet enough incentive in the path to get many students to follow it, and without them the path will stretch longer before we have the supplies that we need.

(Ed. Note: To reply to a comment the top left section of the graph (though in another version) has been expanded and added to the bottom of the post. This is so that I can try and give a better explanation of what I am talking about).

She was followed by Himadri Pakrasi, of Washington University in St Louis. Washington U has recently got a significant infusion of money for bioenergy production, with a total commitment of some $55 million. This has created the Center that Dr. Pakrasi runs and which is dedicated to bioenergy production. He spoke of the availability of tall grasses in the mid-West and of algae, and the recent consortium that had created the Clean Coal Consortium on campus.

Bob Dixon followed with a talk entitled “The Perfect Storm meets the Global Tsunami.” Lest there be any doubt as to his position on global warming, his first remark was a question to the audience on whether they believed the world was warming, and when a lone dissenter raised a hand at the front, his response was that “he was not willing to take the risk.” (I will comment in a later post about the risks that he is quite happy to incur to avoid that of global warming). To show that the world was warming he contrasted winter pictures of the Arctic ice cap in 1990 and 1999 with the summer ice cap in 2007.

And since ex-Vice-President Gore mentioned the same thing in his testimony before the House Committee today, let me just put up the graph of Arctic ice cap size, so that you can judge their remarks against the truth. And it is also here because porsena referred to earlier plots, that only go up to 2005.

Source IARC – JAXA

You will note that the current size of the Arctic Ice field is larger than it has been at this time in any other year of this century. It is actually (as of yesterday) within the range of variability of the average field size over the past 28 years, and if the current trend continues, will exceed it by the middle of May.

Bob Dixon, having made his points about the Arctic ice, went on to talk about the need to conserve energy through better building design. He noted that 40% of energy expended goes into buildings and homes. And while we have standards for the performance of many things, and tests for their efficiency, we do not have any for buildings. Yet we are approaching a time where utilities will increasingly be able to turn off our air conditioners, for 10-minute periods, in order to conserve their energy outputs, when loads approach brownout conditions.

We are now at a time that there is a program to weatherize, where homeowners are encouraged to improve building efficiency, but the question is, who verifies that what is done is right, and that the costs will be recovered as promised?

Yet he gave an example of a program that works. The Australian Government rents office space, but will only do so if the building is energy efficient. By creating that demand, and then competition for its business, the Government has ensured that private owners are motivated to move forward and change, overall, the design and efficiency of business construction.

Michael Chesser of Great Plains Energy came back to talk about the punitive effects of cap and trade legislation. He noted that, on average, it will raise electricity rates 40% and there should be a wide ranging debate before such a step is undertaken. He expects that “the next ten years will see more change than has occurred since Edison invented the electric light.” But this requires that the partnership of players be expanded, and both utilities and customers must be willing to step up and be partners.

Te stability of energy prices over the past years has been an asset to the economy and American business. This has required that the utilities provide enough capacity to meet the maximum demand, but bear in mind that the average load is only 50% of capacity and it goes above 75% of capacity about 10% of the time. Thus the utilities have a large investment that rarely is fully paid for, and really does not address the efficiency of supply and demand. He again drew attention to the EPRI PRISM site (3.5 meg pdf).

And while bearing this in mind, remember also that there are now parts of California where there is sufficient wind energy available that the price of electricity goes negative in the evening. In that circumstance it would be nice to have a number of plug-in hybrids sitting ready to download the excess. Yet there are safety issues for such types of systems, and a central control of them.

The final speaker of the evening was Bob Kruze of GM. He noted that the study of physics saves lives. (It keeps the idiots out of Medical school). He looked into the future and sees some 900 million vehicles which are currently owned by only 13.5% of the global population, but by 2020 this will rise to where 15% of the populace will own a car. That rise in demand will consume a lot of transportation fuel. But we cannot pump enough oil to meet it. (He was one of very few who bent a nod in the direction of Peak Oil). We can, however displace some of the demand with efficiency and diversity. From the point of emission control cellulosic ethanol would be a winner, since it would lower carbon demand by 85% on a well-to-wheel basic comparison. He expects that ethanol will replace 40% of gasoline demand by 2030., and GM is partnering with two efforts, one thermo-chemical and one biological, to produce ethanol, with Coskata and Mascoma, the latter looking at prairie grasses. He anticipates there is enough off-peak capacity to power 30% of commuter demand. He claimed that GM did not kill the electric car, but talked about the Volt, the Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV).

He also spoke up for hydrogen, and that there is plenty being made today, that could provide a fuel. (Neglecting that it is used to help refine hydrogen deficient crude in refineries at a considerable cost). He felt (neglecting that) that hydrogen could be competitive at around $2 - $3 a gallon (untaxed). Hydrogen would be generated from Natural Gas. And just recently one of their card did a 300-mile trip to Terrytown NY.

Earlier posts in this series covered the program; the keynote address by T. Boone Pickens; and the first invited speakers.

Current Ice coverage in the Arctic - April 2009 Detail showing recent changes in slope

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Energy Summit - the second part (until 3 pm)

This is the second post on the contents of the Energy Summit held at the University of Missouri this week. The first post covered the keynote address by T. Boone Pickens, and that can now be seen, together with Chancellor Carney’s opening remarks, and those of Senators Bond and McCaskill as a video. (Warning it is a 1 hr 30 min video and some 219 MB). Mr. Pickens remarks were also picked up by the local Missourian. (The school of journalism was also holding briefings and interviews that ran concurrent with the summit). After the keynote, the Summit got underway with a brief review, by the chief research officers of the four campuses of the University of Missouri system, of the energy related research that each was carrying out. This was a fairly top level skim through a project range that covered fuel cells, hydrogen, a new way of storing gas on carbon bricks, and studies on a wide range of pathways to generate transportation fuels, and also prefaced a number of the papers, poster presentations and displays, the latter two of which were going on outside the main auditorium.

The first invited Speakers then came to the podium with Dale Klein, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission leading off the presentations.

Mr Kein noted that his agency is a regulator, not an advocate, and that he is currently looking at 17 applications for 26 new nuclear plants, with another 3 applications for 5 plants being anticipated. (However this is likely to include the AmerenUE application for a second plant at their Fulton site. The company indefinitely suspended that request this morning, just after getting word that a bill that would allow it to charge for construction before it was finished was not going to happen).

Mr Klein walked us through the process of getting a permit, noting that it would take 30 months to review the application, 12 months to get public comment, and then it might take some 44 months to get the plant built. The current costs are in the range of $5 - $7 billion per plant, and they are licensed for 40 years initially, with a possible 20-year extension. (For comparison he noted that the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1960, and is coming to the end of its service life –within 3 – 5 years. He felt that the public needs more education on the benefits of nuclear power, and what not to be afraid of.

Coming next to the podium, Dr. Joan Woodard ( executive vice president at Sandia National Labs) mentioned her last visit to town, some 35 years ago as she drove out to Sandia to take up her first job there. She talked of nations climbing the energy ladder which takes nations from no power, through burning dung, and then to carbon fuels and to higher levels of consumption as society advances. However she noted that the US curve was flattening as is that of the European Union, and it is other nations, from Korea and Australia to China and India that are growing and seeing increased levels of energy demand as that growth continues. This is, in time, bound to strain the system, due to the demographics of a growing world population combined with growing standards of living, and thus individual energy demands.

She felt that Secretary Chu does a “wonderful job” in explaining the coming mandate that is Climate Change, and she noted the ever-shrinking condition of the Arctic ice cap. (Obviously she has not seen the latest ice data from the Arctic, which shows that the coverage is returning to the seasonal normal for the past 28 years, since she commented that the rate of shrinkage of the ice cap was accelerating, when, if you look at the plot, it obviously isn’t.) Nevertheless, in light of the mandate she felt that the energy enterprise must change to encompass not only the desire for economic prosperity (the ladder) and the regional environment, but also national security issues. In this she felt that while Global Trade can be good, it also creates tensions over such concerns as Russia, and now China buying up large quantities of the world reserves of a number of commodities. And in that regard we must consider that Chinese companies that are doing the purchasing are an extension of the state.

Droughts in Africa will drive migrations, leading to further conflict. Further the US is vulnerable to national disasters. Both of which threaten our security, although she then went on to mention more conventional threats. These include attacks by hackers into the control systems for our energy networks and the threats posed by global proliferation of nuclear knowledge. To protect against these threats we need a system that will, if it does fail, does so “gracefully” but which has high reliability and resilience against attack.

Daniel Cole senior vice president of Ameren then talked about his early job as a “pirate” down at Branson, MO. Here as part of the “tourist” entertainment he would regularly be pelted with bags filled with rock, but simulating gold. That job was excellent training for his current one with the utility. The company has 2.4 million electric customers, and a million natural gas customers. They produce some 16,600 MW which is nominally 61% coal, 30% natural gas fired. However because coal provides baseload and natural gas is for peaking demand supply, it turns out that 85% of actual production is coal-fired. It is also cheaper. But in the process last year, for example, it produced 70 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The nation produced some 6 billion tons. Now if the system goes to a cap and trade system and one might project growth to 6.2 billion tons generated in a couple of years, the cap might instead mandate total production is held to 5.5 billion tons. This amount would then be parceled out as a series of allocations. Each allocation would either be designated to a company at a price or subject to auction. The company could also offset some of its production with some alternate activity (such as paying for no-till farming for example).

They priced the cost that the company would face after the Lieberman Warner bill was proposed. It set a price of $50/allowance (1 ton of carbon) in 2015, rising to $100 by 2030. With the production of the company being 70 million tons, this will give an additional bill of $3.5 billion in 2015. This will mean, according to Mr Cole, the rapid disappearance of existing coal plants, but Missouri currently has the lowest electricity rates in the nation, and such a burden on their carbon production would have to be passed on as a very rapid increase in power costs per kWh to the customer to more than double that of today. The results when the requirements of the Waxman Markey bill were evaluated were even more severe.

Ameren is part of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) which has examined different technologies (pdf) to see if, in fact, these targets are attainable, anticipating increases in efficiency of use, and a 0.1 to 0.7% growth in demand.

Their conclusion was that renewable sources will only act to stabilize carbon dioxide levels, and that while increased use of nuclear power can initiate a drop in levels, it will be a switch to advanced coal generation that will be required to make significant reductions. But to have a real impact the focus must look at coal, focus on adoption of new technology, and be international in application. But the answers will come as silver buckshot not as a silver bullet.

This is the third post on the Energy Summit
The second post covered the Keynote, and the first described the program.

The final speeches of the first day will be covered next.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Energy Summit - a radio visit and the Keynote

Today was the first of the 2-day Missouri Energy Summit but before I could go and grab my seat for the Keynote (covered below the fold), three of us were invited to a local radio station, KFRU, to appear on the Morning Meeting with Simon Rose and Renee Hulshof. Being a little unfamiliar with the town we barely got there, when we were on the air, talking about what had brought the three of us to the meeting. Lea-Rachel Kosnik was there to talk about her work with micro-hydro. Given that both wind and solar energy are variable producers, small scale-hydro provides a resource that can readily be brought on line when needed as backup. Further, as a mature technology, the parts are available and are thus more "shovel ready" than many alternatives. She had found some 5,000 locations in Missouri where this might be a viable option, without running into controversy over environmental problems, and where the plant could produce more that 1 MW. Lea is an economist, and was less concerned that some of us about the imperatives of finding an early solution to energy supply, feeling that as the price rises again so market economics will restrict demand and encourage alternate supplies.

Byran Becker from UMKC talked about energy efficiency, and gave the example of food storage in supermarkets. Where the cold food is stored behind doors, he noted that the conventional wisdom was that this would reduce sales, in fact their study showed that sales increased. (Tip - take the food at the back of the shelf since it has seen less temperature fluctuation) In addition he noted that the store would save 2/3 of the storage energy bill, where these displays were closed. Were this to be adopted nation-wide then we would save the equivalent output from 2.5 250 MW coal-fired power plants.

I talked a little about my day job, and the energy saving value of putting high-pressure waterjets on mining machines to reduce the overall energy cost of mining, but really also tried to turn the discussion to recognition that while solutions were evolving, the time for answers is much closer than the discussion would suggest. But when I pointed out that Cantarell was dropping in production by 250,000 bd/year and that Ghawar had very few years left, I got the feeling that I was the only one in the room who knew what I was talking about. (I did check with the one person I thought might, and he didn’t). Simon and Renee were gracious hosts, and kept the discussion moving in such a way that at the end they had us agreeing that we needed all forms of energy as soon as possible, to help. (But I did get a sense that they had the odd concern over ethanol, and Renee did note that with prices falling for ethanol, food prices were still up).

Yet the conversation prefaced my sense of the whole meeting, that then followed. The atmosphere seems to be that we have survived the energy crisis. That little blip when the oil price went so high, well that was it, and now we can sit back, relax and take the time to work out what we need to do next. No hurry! (At least over oil supplies, global warming is entirely another issue).

(Ed. note: The paragraph above on Dr Kosnik's work has been corrected to reflect the immediacy of application of the technology, and that here are 5,000 sites in Missouri, and not as originally written in the country. My apologies for the inaccuracy).

When I. later, mentioned Jevon’s Paradox, this was not something that folk were aware of. (Basically the paradox was noted back in the 1830’s as railway locomotives were made more efficient coal demand still went up.)
Jevon’s Paradox tells us that when we increase the efficiency of the use of a resource, we initially decrease the demand for that resource, but that ultimately this lower demand reduces price, which causes a “rebound” of increasing demand. When applied specifically to energy efficiency, this is commonly referred to as the “Rebound Effect.”

But hurry we did, to get back to the main campus, in time to hear T. Boone Pickens, come out to talk about Pickens Plan. As he admits in his video he is giving much the same presentation to folk around the country, seeking support for H.R. 1835, which has the following key parts.

Title I: Promote the purchase and use of NGVs with an Emphasis on Heavy Duty Vehicles and Fleet Vehicles
Title II: Promote Production of NGVs by Original Equipment Manufacturers
Title III. To Incentivize the Installation of Natural Gas Fuel Pumps and Service Stations and Depots and Domestic LNG Production Facilities for Small Energy Producers
Title IV: Natural Gas Vehicles (Not later than 2014, at least 50% of all new vehicles purchased by the US Government shall be capable of operating on natural gas.)

From which you might be able to guess why it is called the Natural Gas Act, and since Boone has a company Clean Energy Fuels that is “the largest provider of natural gas for transportation in North America” why he is that excited to get his “Army” to support it.

He noted something that I had not thought of. Until now Venezuela has been selling their heavy oil into the United States, not because they love us, but because we have the refineries that can process the heavy crude, and then sell it into the American market. However last May the Chinese signed an agreement with President Chavez, and will be building a refinery in China that will be able to refine 400,000 bd of Venezuelan crude. Apparently this number is now confirmed, but the deal has grown to include Total, and the construction of an upgrader facility in Venezuela to clean up the oil before it is shipped. Boone thinks that this prefaces a total coming sale of Venezuelan oil to China at 1 mbd, which will dramatically cut into the oil that we get from there.

It is information like this that has Boone predicting that we will soon be importing 75% of our oil, and that it will be costing us $300 a barrel. Money that we should be spending on health care and education will all go for oil. And if we are now willing to sit back and let this happen, then we should be filed under “stupid” in the drawer. (His humor was much better than this, I’m just a slow writer). He is not impressed with how much oil is left offshore in the US, where the “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd want to drill, and when he looks at the future picture, only natural gas is going to be available to balance out declining fuel supplies, and to power an 18-wheeler. (That was his criterion for a replacement fuel, since without that power the fuel hasn’t enough practical value). He felt that with enough incentives natural gas could replace enough transportation fuels that we could be independent of foreign oil in 10 years.

He then took a few questions from the floor (when asked if he would have done things differently knowing what he does now, he commented that he thought things hadn’t turned out too badly.) He sees his plan as a way of spreading information about the coming crisis, and plans to continue and expand the activity. And then he was off.

I will cover the next part of the meeting in the next post, it having been a long day.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

The Missouri Energy Summit

This is the season where Conferences seem to thrive. Thus, having recently got back from the EIA Energy Conference in Washington (that had, I believe some 1,200 attendees) this week sees me driving up North to the Missouri Energy Summit. Although taking place on the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, the event is chaired by Jack Carney, the Chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology and runs for Wednesday and Thursday of this week. It is suggested that there will be over 2,000 folk at the meeting, and the Keynote Address by T. Boone Pickens is already sold out.

As with the earlier conference I will be trying to put up a couple of posts decribing what goes on, however, in contrast with the Washington meeting I am scheduled to take part in the Poster Sessions, and am also giving a paper (on coal use, mentioning in passing recent comments on the size of American and global coal reserves and the EROI on coal as it moves forward). But then I check the Website and lo! The breakout sessions at which I am speaking are also now sold out. So if you don’t have a seat, then, other than watching live video of the presentations through the Conference Website this may be your only other source of information – though we will see what sort of press we draw.

The meeting starts at 11:45 am on Wednesday with Mr. Pickens talking at 12:15 in Jesse Auditorium. This will be followed by a review of some of the Energy Related Research that is being carried out by the four campuses of the University system, and then a panel of invited speakers.

These include:
Hon. Dale Klein, chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Joan Woodard, Ph.D., executive vice president and deputy laboratory director for integrated technology programs, Sandia National Laboratories: "The Dimensions of Energy Security"
Daniel F. Cole, senior vice president, Ameren Corp.
Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy
Himadri Pakrasi, director, International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability, Washington University
Bob Dixon, senior vice president and global head of efficiency and sustainability, Siemens Building Technologies; industry vice chair for the Alliance to Save Energy
Michael Chesser, chairman and CEO, Great Plains Energy and KCP&L
Bob Kruse, executive director of global vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries, General Motors.

On the Thursday the program starts at 7:30 am with:
Robert K. Dixon, leader, Climate Change and Chemicals Team at the Global Environment Facility
Mark Templeton, director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources
The Governor will then speak, followed by:
Richard Sayre, director, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Robert Duncan, vice chancellor for research and a professor of physics, University of Missouri-Columbia: Prospects for Discovery of New Energy Science

From 10 am there are then four concurrent tracks (on Power Generation, Transportation and Biofuels, Energy Infrastructure and Materials for Energy Applications) in the sessions through lunch.

In the afternoon there are break-out panels that run consecutively on Clean Coal; Transportation and Biofuels; Nuclear Energy and Infrastructure Development with the meeting closing at 5 pm.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

P62. Pick Points

Well after being told that we had to “Drill, Baby, Drill,” a Federal appeals court has" Just Said No!” It ruled that permits for off-shore drilling, whether in Alaska or the Gulf, must give greater consideration to environmental impacts of such oil exploration.
The lawsuit was brought by three environmental groups that want to protect the ecosystem and the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska, a tribe that lives off the wildlife on the Chukchi Sea coast.
It is of particular concern down in Louisiana where it might have significant impact out into the Gulf.
Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, was dismayed by the court's ruling. "We have so much science to prove that in the Gulf of Mexico, the environment is protected. Wildlife actually flourishes around offshore production facilities," Briggs said. "I believe that this is just politics."

The appeals court ordered the Interior Department, now run by President Barack Obama's appointee Ken Salazar, to analyze the areas to determine environmental risks and potential damage before moving ahead with the program.
However the story is a little different up in Alaska, and in this particular case, since among other things it impacts the subsistence living of the local tribes.
Eskimos living along the coastline worry that drilling noise may disturb migrating bowhead whales, walruses and seals, which they depend on for food. They've also questioned whether Shell is prepared for a potential oil spill in the Beaufort Sea, where moving ice can make a cleanup difficult.

"Americans are looking for a clean energy future, and trading animals and their habitat for massive oil company profits is the way of the past," said Charles Clusen, director of the Alaska project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

The Manifa oilfield in Saudi Arabia has gone through a number of “on again, off again” cycles. While it has the potential to produce over a million barrels of oil a day, the chemical content of the oil is such that it cannot be economically refined by existing facilities. Thus Aramco have planned to build a couple of refineries in Saudi Arabia to allow them to usefully bring the field into production. Well it now looks as though work is going to start again on building some of the on-shore crude handling facilities. (The oilfield is just offshore). Last year plans were announced for a new refinery at Jubail that would process the oil, with initial production scheduled for 2011, and the refinery was supposed to be up and running in 2012. Well it has now slipped to 2013, and will only process 400,000 bd, of the Manifa production, but the work is going forward, though the economic downturn is anticipated to have lowered the overall cost. The other refinery planned to take the remainder of the Manifa oil has been planned to go into Yanbu. The partnership this time is between Aramco and ConocoPhilips, and current plans are for initial bids to be solicited this summer, with contracts awarded before the end of the year. Production is again anticipated for 2013.

Gazprom has just successfully raised $2.25 billion in bonds, and Gazprom Neft (the oil branch) is going to go ahead this week to raise some 10 billion roubles ($299 million) in a domestic sale this week. They may need some of the money to recompense Turkmenistan, who is still claiming that the blast in the gas pipeline the other week, was Gazprom’s fault. Given that Gazprom was hoping to get more gas from Turkmenistan, this is not good for them, since it continues to delay pipeline expansion.

The third summer of drought in California is causing additional tensions in that state as water restrictions are reimposed, at the same time that water supplies to farms are being cut.
"Up to 19 million southern Californians this summer will feel the impact of a new water reality that has been in the making for years, if not decades," said MWD board chairman Timothy Brick in a statement.
In the Central Valley, meanwhile, tens of thousands of farmers, farm workers, and local officials protested federal and state water cuts during a series of marches this march.

Between 70,000 and 80,000 farm workers are out of work this year as a result of water shortages, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. California ordinarily supplies America with half of its fruits and vegetables
Some 100,000 acres of agricultural land will not be planted.

At the same time the state is praising the success of the re-flooding of Owens Lake as a way of both stopping regional dust storms from the lake bed, and coincidentally providing a wetlands for migrating birds. The only problem?
As it stands, each year the project uses about 60,000 acre-feet of water worth about $54 million -- enough to supply 60,000 families.
There are no easy choices, although, as is noted:
"We're beginning to get to the real cost of water," says Colin Sabol, vice president of marketing for ITT Corporation, the world's largest provider of pumps and water equipment. He notes that US consumers pay on average only one-third of what Germany pays for its water.

Germany "charges a price that allows them to reinvest in their infrastructure," Mr. Sabol says.
Some $250 million in stimulus funds are going to be directed at helping with the problem. Perhaps they could learn from the “grey water” controversy out there. Back in the early 1990’s the State carried out an experiment that allowed homeowners to use grey water (that from showers and dishwashers) for irrigation. The project at the time was a success, with great things predicted. Unfortunately bureaucracy stepped in and made the regulations so complex that the benefits never officially happened and there are only 200 legal systems in the State – maybe this could be changed, since it is estimated that up to 16% of the state consumption could be saved and reused.

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Natural Gas - Liquid from abroad

Most frequently these days questions about the likely price and supply of natural gas, focus on the production that is likely from the gas shale deposits around the county. Natural gas drilling rigs are being shut down in large numbers, the count is now over 50% down, at 790 rigs, over last summer and new well numbers reduced, in order to lower supply levels to that closer to demand. (In passing it is worth commenting that horizontal rigs have not dropped as much as vertical, so that the numbers are now approximately equal). The assumption is that as supply declines, and demand stays relatively robust (this not being one of the global warming years – at least so far) the two will come closer to parity, and prices can be restored. At the EIA meeting, most of the audience seemed to anticipate that this would occur this year, and the latest Natural Gas Weekly Update notes that prices do seem to have reached, at least temporarily, some sort of floor.

One of the questions, going forward, however, relates not to the availability of domestic supply, but rather the supply that might be available from abroad. In the past, with almost all gas being supplied by pipeline, that was not much of an issue, but at present there is a significant growth in the availability of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as both liquefaction facilities and available tanker numbers increase. There is the potential, as this supply increases, and if global demand does not match this increase, given the breadth of the economic turndown, that LNG will be available into the American market at a low enough price that it will keep domestic prices, and thus production, constrained.

LNG facilities are not something that can be put in overnight. As the most recent example in Poland shows current new agreements will lead to facility construction and production that appears in around 2014. The Polish facility is planned to handle 2.5 million tons of LNG, and the company has just contracted to get 1 million tons of that from Qatar. Of course, if the permits are turned down (as happened with the Broadwater application this week, after the Department of Commerce joined the governments of New York and Connecticut in rejecting the plan) then those deliveries become moot, and New England gas prices may continue to stay high. (Depending on what happens with the Marcellus – but we will save that discussion for another day). At least that is a decision – down in Australia there is still some uncertainty over plans for a new liquefaction facility in Western Australia, though given the state of world supply, delays might not be all bad.

There are three major facility costs involved in creating an LNG supply. First the gas has to be cleaned, separated and condensed. This is generally done in facilities geared to produce a set volume a year (defined as a train) so that, for example, the facility at Point Fortin, in Trinidad, is made up of three trains, each of which can produce 3.3 million tons/yr of LNG, and one train that produces 2.4 million tons/yr.

To give some idea of scale LNG imports into Europe in 2008 totalled 44.8 million metric tons, with a capacity of 78 mill tons/yr. Most of the supply has come from Algeria (16 mill), Egypt (4.4 mill) , Nigeria (12.5 mill) and Trinidad and Tobago (4.4 mill). (Source Oil & Gas J Apr. 13, 2009 pp 38 – 48 – sub reqd).

The largest facilities for producing LNG are in Ras Laffan in Qatar. The current facility is being doubled to produce 77 million tons/yr by 2010. At the moment supply from the second train (Qatargas2) is scheduled to go the United Kingdom at the South Hook Terminal at Millford Haven, where it will supply some 20% of the national need.

The LNG has to be transported to the receiving terminals by carrier. There are at present some 151 LNG carriers in service, with an additional 51 under construction. They have a total carrying capacity of some 635 million cu ft. (Natural gas is condensed by a factor of 600 when it is liquefied). There are several sizes of carriers that are available, but they are usually divided into three classes. The largest can carry over 4.2 mcf of LNG (125 carriers); the intermediate between 1.75 and 4.2 mcf (15 carriers); and the smallest below 1.75 mcf (15 carriers). Almost all the new carriers are at the 5 mcf size.

There are eight U.S. facilities that can import LNG and while there are 40 more under consideration, industry analysts predict that at best only 12 of these might be built.
They are located in:
Everett, Massachusetts
Cove Point, Maryland
Elba Island, Georgia
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Gulf Gateway Energy Bridge, Gulf of Mexico
Northeast Gateway, Offshore Boston
Freeport, Texas
Sabine, Louisiana
There is also an export facility in Kenai, Alaska.

The new production coming on line in Qatar is more than the current market can absorb, and the Qatar CEO notes
“For the shorter term, I don’t think the UK will be able to take 16 million tons,” al-Suwaidi said. “Anything the UK cannot absorb, we will have to find a market for.”

Since their supply will build over the next three years, while gas shale production remains relatively high, this suggests that American prices will remain lower.
The consumption of petroleum products in Japan, the world's biggest buyer of LNG, is projected to fall 4.7 per cent in the year starting this month, according to the Institute of Energy Economics Japan, a government-run think tank. The global recession has reduced electricity use in Japan.

LNG producers probably will ship excess supply to North America, which might prevent a recovery in US natural-gas prices next year, Law said

(Note that a metric ton of LNG is equivalent to 48,700 cu.ft. of NG. ) LNG is cooled to – 260 deg F ( - 160 deg C) reducing the volume by 600-fold as it turns liquid.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The EPA, sea-level rise and climate change

One of the big questions facing power generating companies has been in regard to the actions that the new Administration would take over the issue of carbon dioxide, and coal-fired power plants. As the Earth Policy Institute recently noted
Since the beginning of 2007, 95 proposed coal-fired power plants have been canceled or postponed in the United States--59 in 2007, 24 in 2008, and at least 12 in the first three months of 2009. This covers nearly half of the 200 or so U.S. coal-fired power plants that have been proposed for construction since 2000. The vast majority of the remaining proposals are essentially on hold, awaiting word on whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is going to impose limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. With further legal challenges ahead and the regulation of CO2 imminent, 2009 may very well witness the end of new coal-fired power plants in the United States.
Well the EPA issued a ruling on Friday, at noon
After a thorough scientific review ordered in 2007 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed finding Friday that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. 
 . . . . EPA’s proposed endangerment finding is based on rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific analysis of six gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world. The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate.
The ruling now moves into the public comment phase, and it will be interesting to see how this is handled. Interesting because, just a couple of weeks ago Lord Monkton submitted a letter to the Congressional Committee which began by showing this graph, which shows the reported temperatures of the globe as an average of measurements by the Hadley Center/Climate Research Unit (HadCru), by the US National Climatic Data Center, and the satellite measurements of the temperatures in the lower-troposphere as published by Remote Sensing Systems Inc, and by the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Source Monkton Letter to House Committee on Energy and Commerce

At the time of his original testimony Lord Monkton was challenged in some of his comments by Dr. Karl, the Director of the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA. Dr. Karl’s testimony was largely focused on what the agency was planning to do to help with the consequences of global temperature and climate change. At the same hearing David Waskow, the Head of the Climate Change Program at Oxfam said
“Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events.

In his letter to the Subcommittee, Lord Monkton noted that Dr. Karl had challenged the graph on the grounds that the temperature plot was an averaged value from four different readings of temperature that had been made over the past seven years, and thus the conclusions were not, potentially, reliable. Whereupon, in the letter, his lordship separated out the four curves – as you may note they all show the same downward trend in temperature over the past seven years.

Source Monkton Letter to House Committee on Energy and Commerce
He notes, however, that the NCDC plot shows one third of the decline that is recorded by the other sources, but he notes that it follows the data from NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), which is where Dr. Hansen resides, and whose data is considered to be unreliable because of “persistent problems of objectivity and of reliability.”

He shows part of the problem in accepting the validity of the NCDC data by showing how the historic data at the Santa Rosa site has been manipulated by GISS to show a warming trend that was not evident in the original information:

Source Monkton Letter to House Committee on Energy and Commerce

He continues to show further evidence of why the GISS data, and Dr. Karl’s testimony cannot be seen to be reliable through a total of 50 different problems with the information that has been put forward. (Although it should be noted that those who spoke to the global warming issue did not present much factual information to back their presentations).

More particularly he points to the Minoan, Roman and Medieval Warming Periods as being warmer than the present, with evidence such as the uncovering of artifacts as the current glacial cover melts.

In regard to the predictive equations that the IPCC have used to estimate the rises in temperature, he notes that the prediction rests on the product of four factors: radiative forcing, the Planck parameter; the temperature feedback multiplier and the natural logarithm of the proportional increase in carbon dioxide concentration. Because these are multiplied together any overestimate of the value of one multiplies in the final result, and he shows that the IPCC has approximately doubled the value of each parameter, so that when multiplied together it gives a 16-fold increase in the predicted effects of temperature rise, over that which the increase would induce, by their reckoning.

He draws attention to the fact that, in contrast to David Waskow’s concern, the energy in tropical storms has actually decreased over the past decade:
Source Monkton Letter to House Committee on Energy and Commerce

And he notes that, despite concerns that the Maldive Islands will be buried underwater, as sea-levels rise, that, in fact the sea level there has fallen. The islands have been occupied for at least 1,500 years. (Note the sea level at the time of the MWP 1000 years ago).

Maldives sea level over the past 5000 years, relative to today. (Source Morner, Tooley and Possnert

When I first got entangled in the debate over climate change, I pointed out that there was some evidence that the Sahara was shrinking, and I note that Lord Monkton has commented that the Sahara has shrunk by 300,000 sq kilometers, as vegetation has grown back over the edges. It has not all been due to climate change, perhaps, but increased rainfall has played a major factor.

And he also noted that there are five times as many polar bears in the Arctic as there were in the 1940’s. He also pointed out that since the majority of the world’s glaciers are in the Antarctic and that is getting colder so they are growing, so to say that the world’s glaciers are retreating is not, in substance, true.

As I noted last December, as scientific focus turns to the possible impacts of the potential regulation, and it becomes part of Administration policy, so it is likely that many of the claims by those espousing AGW will come under increasing scrutiny, among other things to ensure that the facts being presented are true, and not a distortion. It should be interesting to see the debate that should unfold at public hearings on the EPA ruling, and how they address these and similar comments.

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