Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tata Power in JV with Norway firm to build hydropower plants

Starting with a 600MW project in Nepal, the two companies aim to have an installed capacity to produce 200MW by 2015 and 4,000MW by 2020

Mumbai: - India’s largest private sector power utility Tata Power Co. Ltd on Friday signed an agreement with Norway’s SN Power to jointly build hydropower plants in India and Nepal.

Starting with a 600MW project in Nepal, the two companies aim to have an installed capacity to produce 200MW by 2015 and 4,000MW by 2020, the utilities said.

Tata Power executive director S. Ramakrishnan said the firm plans to invest Rs15,000 crore till 2015 to generate hydroelectricity. “It will be a 70:30 investment-to-debt ratio with around Rs4,500 crore coming from equity, which will be shared by both the companies,” Ramakrishnan said.

SN Power has a licence to generate hydropower in Nepal, procured in 2006 through its majority owned company, Himal Power Ltd, and is generating 68MW of power, said Nadia Sood, its executive vice-president, South Asia. In India, the firm has a joint venture to generate 86MW of power in Himachal Pradesh.

The deal  will  allow Tata Power to diversify away from coal-fired plants. It has an installed capacity to generate 2,900MW, mostly thermal-based. The Wall Street Journal by Joel Rebello

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Energy the Key to China’s Brand Name Dreams?

By Michael Kanellos, Seeking Alpha

For the past several years, China has wanted to see its companies become more than just anonymous manufacturers in the background. And it seems that alternative energy is giving the country that chance.

Chinese companies are moving rapidly from providing products to acting as integral partners in energy projects in the U.S. China's A-Power Generation (APWR) today announced that it will provide the wind turbines for a $1.5 billion, 600-megawatt wind farm in Texas. The farm itself is being developed by a joint venture formed by Shenyang Power Group, the U.S. Renewable Energy Group and Cielo Wind Power. Shenyang will own 49 percent of the project. Jinxiang Lu is CEO of both SPG and A-Power. Commercial banks in China will provide financing.

The deal marks the first large-scale contract for wind turbines for a Chinese company in the U.S. and the second deal this month that will lead to power plants that will be built and/or operated with Chinese participation in the U.S. In these deals, Chinese companies are effectively going to provide the value-added types of services typically provided by U.S., Japanese or European companies. These deals also give Chinese banks something to do while China gears up.

"Chinese banks are currently not actively lending in the Chinese project finance market due to uncertainty about government regulation; however, Chinese banks are looking to be more active in lending to international projects," wrote Sanjay Shrestha in a research note from Lazard Capital Markets this weeik.

Does this mean that more U.S. jobs are going overseas? Not necessarily, but it might mean working for the U.S. subsidiary of a Chinese company one day.

Last week, China's ENN, which makes thin-film solar panels and develops solar farms, announced it was teaming up with Duke Energy Generation Services to bid on contracts for utility-scale solar farms and large commercial solar projects in the U.S. Duke will bring its expertise in navigating through public hearings and the legal hurdles of getting large-scale projects off the ground along with technology for building them to the 50/50 partnership, while ENN will provide expertise for building solar farms and possibly solar panels, said a Duke spokesman. The various projects could employ panels from different vendors.

Until recently, Chinese companies – Suntech (STP), Upsolar, JA Solar (JASO), Grape Solar – have largely confined their activities in the U.S. to selling equipment like solar panels.

China's presence in the U.S. energy market, though, has been growing. Suntech last year formed Gemini Solar Development with MMA Renewable Ventures to build power plants. Gemini has already landed a deal with Austin Energy.

Suntech, arguably, has become the first company from China to establish a brand in the U.S. Suntech is one of the largest suppliers of solar panels in the U.S. Haier, the Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer, has been selling consumer electronics under its own brand for a few years and even has marketed products with the NBA, but Haier rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as Samsung or Sony (SNE).

Chinese universities and companies have also signed research agreements with their U.S. counterparts.

A few deals have gone the other way. Earlier this year, First Solar signed a deal to build a 2-gigawatt solar farm in China. As part of the deal, First Solar (FSLR) will share some of its expertise on building large solar farms with Chinese officials and companies. The U.S. government is also pressuring China to open its market for export.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Politics of Energy #29 - Sins of Emission

The ethanol boondoggle is also an environmental catastrophe.

(Editor's Note: How would you like accounting rules that allowed you to ignore the costs of your raw materials procurement and that exempted you from responsibility for the downstream polluting effects of your products? Welcome to the fantasy world of government subsidized ethanol production.)

Donning FDR's cape, Eisenhower's stripes and JFK's boat shoes, President Obama observed in Florida on Tuesday that his "clean energy economy" will require "mobilization" on the order of fighting World War II, building the interstate highway system and going to the moon. Of course, the only "mobilization" going on at the moment is on behalf of ethanol, whose many political dispensations the biofuels lobby is finding new ways to preserve even as the evidence of its destructiveness piles up.

The latest embarrassment arrives via the peer-reviewed journal Science, not known for its right-wing inclinations. A new paper calls attention to what the authors (led by Princeton's Tim Searchinger) call "a critical accounting error" in the way carbon emissions from biofuels are measured in climate-change programs world-wide. Bernie Madoff had a few critical accounting errors too.

Though you won't hear it from the biofuels lobby, ethanol actually generates the same amount of greenhouse gas as fossil fuels, or more, per unit of energy. But this was still supposed to be better than coal or oil because ethanol's CO2 is "recycled." Since plants absorb and store carbon that is already in the atmosphere, burning them as fuel would create no new emissions, whereas fossil fuels release CO2 that has been buried for millions of years.

With everything supposedly balancing out, the cap-and-trade programs run by the United Nations and European Union—and maybe soon the U.S.—treat biofuels as carbon-neutral. The Science study argues that this is a false economy, because it doesn't consider changes in land use. If mature forests are cleared to make room for biofuel-growing farms, then the carbon that would otherwise accumulate in those forests ought to be counted on ethanol's balance sheet as well.

Cap-and-trade programs exacerbate the problem because developed countries (where emissions are putatively capped) get credit for reductions from ethanol—despite the fact that their biofuels are generally grown in developing countries (where emissions aren't capped). So if Malaysians burn down a rain forest to grow palm oil that ends up in German biodiesel, Malaysia doesn't count the land-use emissions and Germany doesn't count the tail-pipe emissions.

Given these incentives, the authors cite a study showing that by 2050, "based solely on economic considerations, bioenergy could displace 59% of the world's natural forest cover. . . . The reason: When bioenergy from any biomass is counted as carbon neutral, economics favor large-scale land conversion for bioenergy regardless of the actual net emissions." In other words, not only is cap and trade self-defeating on its own terms but it also risks creating a genuine ecological disaster.

By way of a solution, Mr. Searchinger and his coauthors modestly suggest doing away with the regulatory three-card monte and counting net ethanol emissions from where they are actually emitted. But this is political heresy on Rep. Henry Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee, which passed its own cap-and-tax program in July with the votes of farm-state Democrats, because the bill all but banned the Environmental Protection Agency from studying land-use changes. So much for letting "the science" guide public policy.

In Florida, Mr. Obama said the only people who could oppose his climate plan are "those who are afraid of the future." On this one, at least, the President is right.

The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Politics of Energy #28 – Can seemingly insurmountable problems often have cheap and simple solutions?

Excerpted from “Freaked Out Over SuperFreakonomics”, The Wall Street Journal

Al Gore espouses that global warming poses an imminent threat to the survival of our species. Are there simple fixes for the problem?

A Bellevue, Wash.-based firm founded by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold thinks so. Their basic idea is to engineer effects similar to those of the 1991 mega-eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which spewed so much sulfuric ash into the stratosphere that it cooled the earth by about one degree Fahrenheit for a couple of years.

Could it work? Mr. Myhrvold and his associates think it might, and they're a smart bunch. Also smart are University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, whose delightful "SuperFreakonomics"—the sequel to their runaway 2005 bestseller "Freakonomics"—gives Mhyrvold and Co. pride of place in their lengthy chapter on global warming. Not surprisingly, global warming fanatics are experiencing a Pinatubo-like eruption of their own.

Mr. Gore, for instance, tells Messrs. Levitt and Dubner that the stratospheric sulfur solution is "nuts." Former Clinton administration official Joe Romm, who edits the Climate Progress blog, accuses the authors of "[pushing] global cooling myths" and "sheer illogic." The Union of Concerned Scientists faults the book for its "faulty statistics." Never to be outdone, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman scores "SuperFreakonomics" for "grossly [misrepresenting] other peoples' research, in both climate science and economics."

In fact, Messrs. Levitt and Dubner show every sign of being careful researchers, going so far as to send chapter drafts to their interviewees for comment prior to publication. Nor are they global warming "deniers," insofar as they acknowledge that temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.

But when it comes to the religion of global warming—the First Commandment of which is Thou Shalt Not Call It A Religion—Messrs. Levitt and Dubner are grievous sinners. They point out that belching, flatulent cows are adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than all SUVs combined. They note that sea levels will probably not rise much more than 18 inches by 2100, "less than the twice-daily tidal variation in most coastal locations." They observe that "not only is carbon plainly not poisonous, but changes in carbon-dioxide levels don't necessarily mirror human activity." They quote Mr. Myhrvold as saying that Mr. Gore's doomsday scenarios "don't have any basis in physical reality in any reasonable time frame."

More subversively, they suggest that climatologists, like everyone else, respond to incentives in a way that shapes their conclusions. "The economic reality of research funding, rather than a disinterested and uncoordinated scientific consensus, leads the [climate] models to approximately match one another." In other words, the herd-of-independent-minds phenomenon happens to scientists too and isn't the sole province of painters, politicians and news anchors.

But perhaps their biggest sin, which is also the central point of the chapter, is pointing out that seemingly insurmountable problems often have cheap and simple solutions. Hence world hunger was largely conquered not by a massive effort at population control, but by the development of new and sturdier strains of wheat and rice. Hence infection and mortality rates in hospitals declined dramatically as doctors began to appreciate the need to wash their hands.

Hence, too, it may well be that global warming is best tackled with a variety of cheap fixes, if not by pumping SO2 into the stratosphere then perhaps by seeding more clouds over the ocean. Alternatively, as "SuperFreakonomics" suggests, we might be better off doing nothing until the state of technology can catch up to the scope of the problem.

All these suggestions are, of course, horrifying to global warmists, who'd much prefer to spend in excess of a trillion dollars annually for the sake of reconceiving civilization as we know it, including not just what we drive or eat but how many children we have. And little wonder: As Newsweek's Stefan Theil points out, "climate change is the greatest new public-spending project in decades." Who, being a professional climatologist or EPA regulator, wouldn't want a piece of that action?

Part of the genius of Marxism, and a reason for its enduring appeal, is that it fed man's neurotic fear of social catastrophe while providing an avenue for moral transcendence. It's just the same with global warming, which is what makes the clear-eyed analysis in "SuperFreakonomics" so timely and important. (Now my sincere apologies to the authors for an endorsement that will surely give their critics another cartridge of ammunition.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Old vs. New Cardon - Is There Any Other Kind?

Biofuels produced from biomass feedstocks are, by definition, carbon neutral. Yet, in a newly published article in Science, frequent biofuel critics argue that this widely held scientific convention is erroneous. They argue that biofuels and other bio-based energies should be accountable for the biogenic tailpipe and smokestack CO2 emissions that are absorbed by growing feedstocks and carbon emissions that could result from land clearing. They say existing and proposed regulations create an accounting loophole that will lead to increased deforestation.

But, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, the release of CO2 from recently living organisms has no overall effect on atmospheric CO2 levels and is therefore carbon neutral. In effect, biofuels recycle organic carbon. Conversely, accepted carbon accounting for fossil fuels such as petroleum does include tailpipe emissions from combustion. This is because the carbon in fossil fuels has been sequestered underground for millions of years rather than recently sequestered by growing organisms and cannot be naturally offset by feedstock uptake.

The Renewable Fuels Association says that based on a fair apples-to-apples comparison with petroleum, biofuels clearly offer society a lower-carbon path forward. And when it comes to the real issue – it's not accounting tactics, but whether biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to continued petroleum use. There is clear and substantial evidence that they do. As for land conversion, the RFA says those who directly convert land for biofuel crop production or any other purpose should be severely penalized and every effort should be taken locally to prevent this type of direct action.

Farm Progress - The Farmer

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hydropower industry braces for glacier-free future

Mer de Glace, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France (Photo: RLW)

By Emma Thomasson, Reuters

RHONE GLACIER, Switzerland (Reuters) - Standing on the glacier at the source of the Rhone river, glaciologist Andreas Bauder poses next to a 3-meter high pole sticking out of the ice, and gestures above his head. "This is about the melt of one month," he says, as fellow scientists drill into the ice. "I'm about two meters tall."

From the Himalayas to the Andes, faster-melting glaciers spell short-term opportunities -- and long-term risks -- for hydroelectric power and the engineering and construction industries it drives.

The most widely used form of renewable energy globally, hydro meets more than half Switzerland's energy needs. As summers dry and glaciers that help drive turbines with meltwater recede, that share may eventually fall. A study by Lausanne's EPFL technical university forecast a decline to 46 percent by 2035 for hydro from around 60 percent now as precipitation declines and total energy use increases.

In the same way as the Himalayas are "Asia's water-tower," Switzerland is the source of Europe's biggest rivers, supporting agriculture and waterways, and cooling nuclear power stations. Water trickles down white-blue crevasses and ice cracks and creaks as Bauder, who for Zurich technical university spends about 20 to 30 days a year working on Swiss glaciers, explains that most of the mighty Rhone glacier will be gone by the end of the century.

"Nature can adjust to the circumstances," he said. "It's just people who are much more fragile about living conditions." More than a billion people worldwide live in river basins fed by glacier or snowmelt.

Glaciers have been retreating dramatically since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 19th century, particularly in the Himalayas where they feed rivers including the Mekong and Yangtze and ensure water and power for fast-growing economies.

A lack of water for hydropower is already "critical" in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, according to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which also sees risks to water supplies to southern California from the loss of the Sierra Nevada and Colorado River basin snowpack.

In Europe, 20 percent of electricity comes from hydro -- generating potential that is projected to decrease by the 2070s, falling sharpest in the Mediterranean. Bauder pointed to an area of stony ground and small lakes beyond the end of Rhone glacier ice field: "When I was a kid, I remember that the glacier was much larger. The glacier tongue was still reaching over this rocky area."


The Swiss hydroelectric industry is part-funding Bauder's research, to help it take a long view on new projects in an industry where licenses often run for up to a century. Other risks researchers have identified include sudden floods from swollen glacial lakes. Demand for more pumping technology and dams is one response in countries which can afford them. Experts stress that forecasts so far ahead are highly uncertain, particularly in predicting precipitation, and note that some regions may even benefit.

"With climate change there will be some areas in the world with more precipitation year round," said Petra Doell, a professor of hydrology at the University of Frankfurt and a member of the U.N. climate panel. "That will mean more hydropower generation even if glaciers melt." For example Norway, which generates almost 100 percent of its power from hydroelectricity, is likely to get more rain and snow because of climate change even as glaciers retreat.

But if glaciers do disappear, one main impact will be lower river flows in dry seasons -- when irrigation is often needed for crops. That would particularly threaten people in the world's biggest rice-growers, China and India. Nations with high power demand in dry seasons could suffer from lower flows, but Doell said hydropower reservoirs could be used to mute the overall impacts of melting glaciers downstream. "A reservoir helps to broaden the availability of water throughout the year," she said. "But there are few dams in south-east Asia, where the impacts of melting glaciers will be most severe."


From the Swiss perspective, the Lausanne study forecasts run-off from the Swiss Alps will fall by 7 percent to 2049, as glaciers recede and precipitation rises by 6 percent in winter and drops by 8 percent in summer. These wetter winters and drier summers may force changes in the way Switzerland stores and moves water. In the past, the country used to make sure its storage lakes were full in September to provide hydropower for heating as energy demand peaked in winter, while they were empty in April, ready to be replenished by melting snow and ice.

"Since the electricity market was liberalized and listed companies involved, which are more oriented to earning money and delivering energy at the best price, it has been more difficult to fill the lakes in the winter," said Bruno Schaedler, a hydrologist from Bern University. The melting glaciers will be a bonus in the short term, but the hydro industry will have to manage water more efficiently: "When we don't have the reserves of the glaciers, we will need more storage dams," said Joerg Aeberhard, head of hydraulic production at Swiss energy company Alpiq.

Swiss hydropower is not completely dependent on glaciers, he stressed: melting snow is more important and provides run-off with less sediment. "We are worried about climate change, but I am more worried as a citizen than as a generator of hydroelectric power." By the end of the century, the Lausanne study forecasts run-off will have fallen by 17 percent as the glaciers will have virtually disappeared.

About 55 percent of the 100 cubic km of water stored in Switzerland's glaciers at the end of the last mini Ice Age in 1850 was gone by 2006. Total water stored in the glaciers of the European Alps as a whole had fallen two-thirds to 61 cubic km in 2006. Bern University hydrologist Schaedler said Switzerland would probably need to make more use of pumped storage power stations -- which pump water into high reservoirs when demand is low, to release the water as demand peaks -- to manage changing flows in run-off and help the rest of Europe cope with more unpredictable precipitation.

While winters may be wetter and summers drier, he said the fact that the Alps attract three times heavier rainfall than the average for the rest of Europe suggests the country will still be relatively comfortable. "The role of Switzerland as a water tower will become more important for the rest of Europe with climate change and changing precipitation," Schaedler said.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Sara Ledwith)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brazil Sugar-Ethanol Sector Emerging From Crisis

Burning Sugar Cane Fields, Brazil

Mills in the world's biggest producer and exporter of cane-based sugar and ethanol are regaining their momentum as sugar prices hover near 30-year highs and the world slowly tries to work its way out of a sugar supply deficit.


-- Brazil is the world's biggest and lowest-cost sugar producer and accounts for around 45 percent of the world's exports of the sweetener.

-- Brazil's 2009/10 cane crush is seen at a record 629 million tonnes, up from the 572 million tonnes last season, but this official government forecast is expected to be lowered due to rains that are hurting harvesting and yields.

-- Sugar is seen at a record 36.7 million tonnes, and ethanol at a record 27.8 billion liters. In the previous season, output was 31.6 million tonnes and 26.7 billion liters, respectively.

-- Most of Brazil's 400-odd cane mills are still family owned in complex ownership structures.

-- Investors in the sector include large millers such as Cosan (CZZ.N), Copersucar and Crystalsev, multinationals such as Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], Bunge Ltd (BG.N), ADM Co (ADM.N) and Louis Dreyfus, several private equity funds and now even oil majors such as BP (BP.L) and Petrobras (PETR4.SA)(PBR.N).


-- Ethanol is the other side of Brazil's cane industry. The biofuel that is distilled from the same cane juices as sugar provides an alternative demand for the crop.

-- As a world pioneer in biofuels, Brazil began its sugar cane-based ethanol program 30 years ago.

-- Brazil mandates a 20-25 percent blend of ethanol in all commercial gasoline, aside from the pure ethanol sold at filling stations.

-- Brazilian ethanol yields as much as eight times more energy than is used to make it. U.S. ethanol yields at best two times the energy that goes into the production process.

-- Domestic demand for ethanol is being driven by the popularity of the flex-fuel car technology that was launched in 2003 and now makes up around 90 percent of new vehicle sales.

-- Most mills are fitted with biomass electric energy plants that run on bagasse, the material left over after juice is extracted from the cane.
Reuters (Reporting by Reese Ewing; editing by Jim Marshall)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Politics of Sustainability #2 - Hawaii Regulators Approve First US Bigeye Tuna Farm

Hawaii Oceanic Technology "Oceansphere™”

By Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press

HONOLULU - A Honolulu startup company's plan to build the nation's first tuna farm in waters off the Big Island has been approved by the Hawaiian government. Hawaii Oceanic Technology plans to create an environmentally-friendly open ocean farm for Bigeye Tuna, which is the favorite source for sushi and sashimi. The project would also be the world's first commercial Bigeye Tuna farm.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 4-to-1 to give Hawaii Oceanic permission to install three large underwater cages for the tuna. "I'm concerned on a global level and a local level that we have severe overfishing going on, and something needs to be done," said board member John Morgan, who voted in favor of the project.

Unlike many tuna farms around the world which capture immature tuna and fatten them until they're ready for harvest, Hawaii Oceanic expects to artificially hatch Bigeye at a University of Hawaii lab in Hilo. After the fry grow, the company will take the fish to giant ocean pens about three miles offshore where they will grow until they reach 100 pounds.

Hawaii Oceanic expects to avoid the disease problems that have plagued other fish farms because it's ocean pens will be large and its fish won't be as densely packed in the cages. The ocean is 1,300 feet deep in the area where the cages will be. This will allow strong currents to sweep away fish waste and uneaten food, preventing the pollution of the ocean floor.

The farm is expected to produce 6,000 tons of Bigeye a year once fully operational, serving Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, Japan and other parts of Asia. In 2007, fishermen caught 224,921 tons of wild Bigeye in the Pacific.

Hawaii Oceanic projects it will generate $120 million in annual export revenues, more than six times the value of Hawaii's current aquaculture output.

Several critics told the board they're worried diseased farm fish would escape and contaminate wild stocks, and others said they're worried about where Hawaii Oceanic would obtain its fish feed. The project won't be sustainable if it imports its feed and exports about 90 percent of its product, said Rob Parsons, a board member of the environmentalist group Maui Tomorrow. The venture looks like it will suffer from the same pollution and disease problems as cattle farms, he said. "This is not a farm," Parsons said. "It's an industrial feed lot."

The company has vowed to only purchase feed made from sustainably harvested fish and has said it won't feed its tuna any antibiotics.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Total S.A. warns of energy insecurity

By Carola Hoyos, Financial Times in London

Total S.A., the French oil group, has warned politicians that they risk accelerating an oil supply crunch if they enact environmental policies that deter investment in oil and gas before enough viable alternatives are available.

“Governments need to assess the needs of this planet in terms of energy and stop saying we will develop solar and then not have enough,” Christophe de Margerie, Total’s chief executive, said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Carbon is not the enemy; carbon is life.”

Mr. de Margerie has a relatively moderate position on climate change among his peers. He wants governments to enact clear, far-reaching policies to reduce carbon emissions so the oil industry can make investment decisions.

“We as companies cannot take the risk. We are investing without knowing what the contractual framework on carbon will be,” he said.

Mr de Margerie is the most vocal of his peers in terms of insisting environmental policy needs to go hand in hand with energy security policy.

He warned policymakers heading to December’s climate change conference [United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009] in Denmark: “Don’t go to Copenhagen only with your concern about the environment. We also have a concern over energy access. If you take only one [concern with you], we are dead and we don’t want to die.”

At a conference this week he challenged other oil executives to disprove his theory that the world would never be able to produce more than 100m barrels of oil a day – 20 per cent more than today – because so many of the world’s remaining reserves lie in countries unwilling or unable to tap them.

He does not expect a breakthrough in Copenhagen and said that the industry to be hit hardest by any serious effort to reduce carbon emissions would probably be left with no road map by which to invest in technology and energy sources that were more favorable to the environment.

“All the parties involved are not ready to make a commitment,” he said. “I think people are not ready and will be very careful not to go to the point of rupture.”

Total is the largest investor in the North Sea. Mr. de Margerie said he had gained assurances that a new UK Conservative government would not try to plug the national budget deficit by levying additional taxes on companies exploring and developing fields in the North Sea.

Nevertheless, he said he was worried that the government could impose carbon emissions taxes on oil companies. “That will stop investment at a time when it is already very complicated in Europe,” he warned.

Total expects to become the UK’s second-biggest oil producer within the next three to four years, moving up from its current fourth position.

“We may need additional incentives to develop smaller, riskier fields in harsh environments,” Mr de Margerie said, adding that the UK needed to work to keep big oil companies active in the North Sea. He noted that the recent dramatic drop in drilling during the credit crunch was in large part due to smaller companies being unable to continue with their investments.

He warned that not only the planet would suffer if the UK and other governments failed to enact smart environmental policies. “I hope you have a lot of candles,” he said.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Agricultural Slash and Burn Disasters - Fires in North Korea

The ancient practice of burning habitats ("Slash and Burn") to free up land for farming has enormous implications across the globe. This week NASA has photographed images of massive fires across North Korea, which are most likely farmers burning land for this purpose.

The consequences of slash-and-burn techniques to ecosystems are almost always deleterious when practiced on a large scale. The principal vulnerability is the nutrient-poor soil. When biomass is extracted even for one harvest of wood or charcoal, the residual soil value is heavily diminished for further growth of any type of vegetation. The short term negetive impact on air quality is obvious as well.

There is documented evidence of mass starvation in North Korea, probably because of a lack of suitable arable regions for crop production. Korea's best agricultural soils are alluvial and are found in river valleys and coastal plains. Even these, however, tend to be somewhat infertile and sandy and require heavy fertilizing. Soils in the mountains are generally thin and suitable only for cultivation by the slash-and-burn technique.

Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

North Korea Mass Games

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lithium Ion Batteries to Become a $1 Billion Segment of the Stationary Energy Storage Industry, Says Pike Research

The ability to capture and store energy for later use is an elusive goal that utilities and other companies in the power generation business have long pursued. Energy storage will be especially important in compensating for the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy sources, which is often out of synch with the peaks and valleys of customers’ electricity demand. Of the eleven competing energy storage technologies analyzed in a recent report from Pike Research, the cleantech industry analyst firm forecasts that Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries will be the fastest growing category for utility-scale applications, growing to a $1.1 billion worldwide business by 2018.

“Utilities will be the downstream beneficiaries of innovation and investment in Lithium Ion batteries for the transportation sector,” says senior analyst David Link. “While Li-ion was once limited to consumer electronics devices, it is quickly becoming the battery of choice for electric vehicle manufacturers. Improved storage capacity and economics will lead the utility sector to adopt Li-ion, as well – we anticipate that 2011 will be the inflection point for growth in this category.”

Pike Research forecasts that revenue from Lithium Ion batteries will represent 26% of the $4.1 billion global stationary energy storage business by 2018. Important storage technologies also include other advanced batteries such as Sodium Sulfur (NAS), as well as kinetic storage techniques like Pumped Hydro and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES).

Pike Research’s study, “Energy Storage Technology Markets”, analyzes the opportunity for several key technology categories including advanced batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air, flow batteries, and frequency regulation for utility-scale applications. The report assesses energy storage market drivers, challenges, and regulatory/legislative issues, and also provides detailed market forecasts and profiles of key industry players. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.

Pike Research is a market research and consulting firm that provides in-depth analysis of global clean technology markets. The company’s research methodology combines supply-side industry analysis, end-user primary research and demand assessment, and deep examination of technology trends to provide a comprehensive view of the Renewable Energy, Clean Transportation, Clean Industry, Green Consumers, and Environmental Management sectors.

Pike Research

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Politics of Energy #27 - Renewable Energy Tax Breaks

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

by Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

Governments seek to change human behavior through tax policy. Or rather, human behavior is exhibited in the manner in which governments craft and pass tax legislation. Never have we seen such an interesting example of this than through the $787 billion 2009 Amercian Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

You can view this "redistribution of wealth" or "investment of tax revenues" in Orwellian doublespeak at

Renewable energy tax breaks under the bill are in the form of tax credits, that is, direct tax offsets paid for by the Treasury:

Solar Systems - solar energy systems (including solar water heating and solar electric systems), small wind systems, geothermal heat pumps, residential fuel cell and microturbine systems. They can receive a 30% tax credit for systems placed in service before December 31, 2016.

Automobile Tax Credits - This covers hybrid gas-electric and alternative fuel vehicles. Individuals and businesses who buy or lease a new hybrid gas-electric car or truck are eligible for an income tax credit for vehicles “placed in service” starting January 1, 2006, and purchased on or before December 31, 2010. The amount of the credit depends on the fuel economy, the weight of the vehicle, and whether the tax credit has been or is being phased out. Hybrid vehicles that use less gasoline than the average vehicle of similar weight and that meet an emissions standard qualify for the credit. Hybrid vehicle owners who purchase a qualified plug-in hybrid conversion kit are eligible for a 10% renewable energy tax break, capped at $4,000, through 2011.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"The Hills Are Alive..." or are they

Will wood chips fuel program for Middlebury College denude the hills of Vermont?

MIDDLEBURY, VT USA — Middlebury College used to heat its buildings with oil, then switched to wood chips. Now it has planted a sustainable and relatively cheap fuel source — willow shrubs — that could help cut demand on the state's forests.

With a 9-acre patch of the fast-growing willows, the college is conducting a biomass energy experiment that seeks to answer the question: What if wood chip-burning heat systems lead to the deforestation of Vermont?

Willows, which grow faster than other trees and branch out when pruned, may be the answer — and may be a resource for other cold-weather states, too. So Jack Byrne, director of sustainability for the college, and business services director Tom Corbin have turned into farmers of sorts, planting tightly packed rows of willows in a field west of Middlebury's campus.

The question of biomass fuel supply has taken on new urgency for the college since last winter, when the exclusive liberal arts school opened a new boiler system that heats about 100 campus buildings, running turbines that meet about a fifth of the college's electrical demand.

The system, in a glass-fronted building in the middle of campus, runs on a "gasifier," heating wood chips and extracting carbon monoxide and other gases that are then burned in the boiler.

"We use our buildings to teach as much as we can," Byrne said. "We wanted students to be aware that when they turn up a thermostat, there's a connection to a tree getting cut down."

The college now buys 20,000 tons of wood chips a year, mainly from loggers operating within 75 miles. That will provide about half the heat used by the campus — the rest comes from heating oil — and reduce Middlebury's $1.5 million annual oil bill by about $700,000, Byrne said.

Byrne said the willow-growing experiment is aimed at a potential problem.

The concern is that if other colleges, institutions, businesses and homeowners follow Middlebury's lead and begin relying on forests for fuel, Vermont's wooded hillsides — already a source of lumber and firewood — could end up being depleted.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Politics of Sustainability #1 - India's water shortage

Sowing rice in India (Photo: RLW)

Farmers are having a hard time finding ground water to grow their crops.

By Daniel Pepper, contributor, Fortune

Just before dusk, on the plains of India's northern Punjab region, 22-year-old Naresh Kumar sprinkles mustard oil, turmeric, and raw sugar inside a ten-inch circle traced in the rich soil. Hands clasped, head bowed, he prays for a bountiful supply of ground water. Then he cranks a wheezing diesel engine, lines up a drill over the offerings, and releases a lever that brings an iron cylinder crashing into the earth. "Business is growing," says Kumar. "But we've placed about as many tube wells as we can in this area."

Indeed, the ground here in India's fertile breadbasket is beginning to look like Swiss cheese. On either side of Kumar's drill the calm beauty of emerald rice paddies belies a catastrophe brewing hundreds of feet beneath the surface. As the water table drops dangerously low, farmers are investing heavily - and often going into debt - to bore deeper wells and install more powerful pumps. A prayer might just be the best chance for survival.

Punjab has only 1.5 percent of India's land, but its output of rice and wheat accounts for 50 percent of the grain the government purchases to feed more than 400 million poor Indians. Experts say the 375-foot-deep tube well and 7.5-horsepower pump Kumar is installing for a farmer are at the eye of a storm that threatens India's food security, environmental health, and economic progress. "We have depleted the ground water to such an extent that it is devastating the country," says Gurdev Hira, an expert on soil and water at Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana. Hira estimates that the energy used to subsidize rice production in the region costs $381 million a year. He and other experts warn that, if left unchecked, future drilling will bleed state budgets, parch aquifers, and run farmers out of business.

The problem is not only that farmers are mining aquifers faster than they can be replenished. As water levels drop, pumps are also sapping an already fragile and overtaxed electricity grid. And because farmers in Punjab pay nothing for electricity [Editor's highlight], they run their pumps with abandon, which further depletes the water table. "All these issues are interconnected," says Saurabh Kumar, who heads the government's Bureau of Energy Efficiency in New Delhi. "But agreeing on a simple thing is asking for the moon."

Environmental reforms

That's exactly what Kumar hopes to do: get politicians, farmers, and bureaucrats to sign on to reforms that will save billions of dollars and reduce the amount of water pumped out of the ground. A pilot program for his nationwide scheme is expected to launch early this year. Farmers will receive new, efficient pumps with meters and prepaid electricity credits allowing them to draw roughly the same amount of water they use now and either pocket the savings if they pump less or pay to pump more. Utilities will be required to upgrade transmission lines to cut losses and improve service.

The program comes at considerable cost (about $7.5 billion) but promises great savings ($2.2 billion a year). Unlike many experts who say the answer to India's water and energy problems is to charge farmers the real cost of electricity, Kumar argues that "for political reasons, for the next fifty years you cannot charge for energy in the agriculture sector. There would be riots."

Farmers like Darshan Singh, 55, who grows rice and wheat on 25 acres of Punjab land that has been in his family for generations, say they would be happy to pay for electricity if it was constant and didn't burn out their pumps. "Managing water is the biggest problem we have," says Singh. "This problem doesn't just have to do with farmers - it affects everyone."

The profusion of pumps and tube wells is also a result of a lack of infrastructure investment in rural areas. "No new irrigation potential has been created for about 20 years," says Mohan Guruswamy, who runs the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi. "The state prefers to dole out subsidies rather than make capital investments."

India's power sector loses as much as $9 billion a year subsidizing farmers' use of electric pumps. That's half of what the country spends on health and twice what it spends on education. Says Shreekant Gupta, a professor of economics at Delhi University: "It's a classic example of bad economic policies having serious environmental consequences."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ocean Power Technologies in Lockheed deal

By Richard L. Wottrich, Blog Editor

OceanPower has signed an engineering agreement with Lockheed Martin to produce its PowerBuoys in quantity on a utility scale.

OceanPower is developing power systems that use wave movement via offshore buoys to generate electricity. It will work with Lock heed to develop wave power systems on a utility scale. The project contemplates a 10MW power station covering 30 acres off the US west coast.

OceanPower has signed similar agreements with Idemitsu Kosan, the energy company; Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding; and Japan Wind Development.

OceanPower also has announced a $2.4m contract with the US Navy, which is developing systems powered by buoys in order to enhance the protection of US ports from terrorist attack.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Energy Storage Opportunities on the Smart Grid

Adapted from John Petersen, Seeking Alpha, by Richard L. Wottrich, Blog Editor

There has been recent rapid growth in the number and size of utility-scale demonstration Energy Storage Projects and a growing body of proof that storage will be a critical enabling technology for the electrical smart grids of the future.

Modern Developed Economies are entering an era where 600 million people in North America and Western Europe can no longer lay claim to the lion's share of global resources because the other 6 billion inhabitants of our planet are subject to rising expectations. Our escalating populations in Emerging Economies will give rise to exponential increases in global demand for everything. Methodologies to avoid armed conflict or catastrophic environmental damage include minimizing waste in all its forms, beginning with energy.

It is an ugly reality that most grid-connected storage applications won't pay under current economic conditions because the spread between the cost of storage and the value of storage remains narrow. That cost-benefit equation is changing rapidly as energy costs rise and renewables are added, but as long as waste is cheaper than storage, waste will prevail.

The most important lesson for Energy Storage Investors is price sensitivity. When total installed costs for energy storage systems are $1,000 per kW or higher, demand for storage is almost insignificant. As installed costs fall into the $600 per kW range, the number of cost-effective utility applications soars.

Energy Storage demonstration systems from Beacon Power (BCON), Altair Nanotechnologies (ALTI) and A123 Systems (AONE) have shown a remarkable ability to respond to regulation signals in microseconds and provide up and down regulation at speeds that traditional systems can't even begin to match. Based on estimates from the PJM Interconnection, one of the independent system operators that manage the U.S. grid, national demand for frequency regulation installations is on the order of 6,000 MW and could be much higher if flywheel and battery systems prove capable of handling longer duration load ramping intervals. The ongoing tests are not conclusive because the new systems have not been in service long enough to establish their useful lives, but the preliminary results are promising.

Other energy storage applications include the use of flow batteries at cellular telephone installations in Africa, to a recently completed 12-year demonstration where Exide Technologies (XIDE) used lead-acid batteries to effectively eliminate the need for diesel fueled backup power on a remote island where the primary power source was renewable. Yet another application utilizes computer analysis of satellite maps to identify new locations in Ireland for pumped hydro, a technology that is commonly believed to have limited potential because most of the desirable locations are already developed.

Energy Storage is the economic equivalent of a dispatchable generating asset. Installed cost and reliability will be the primary drivers of decisions to implement storage solutions. Maintenance and cycle life will be secondary decision drivers. An optimal smart grid configuration will need storage equal to at least 5% of peak system load; and as renewables become prevalent, storage will become increasingly critical to grid stability.

For example, the required annual storage build required in the State of California is estimated at 500 MW per year for the next decade. Of this total, 50 MW would need to be fast storage in the form of flywheels and Li-ion batteries and the 450 MW balance would be 4 to 6 hour storage in the form of pumped hydro, compressed air, flow batteries and advanced lead acid batteries. When the California numbers are scaled up to a national level, they translate to billions in new annual demand for the foreseeable future. When you add in billions in new demand for transportation, it's clear that the sector isn't even close to ready for the near-term demands. To compound the problem, essential raw material supply chains aren't ready either.

Energy storage devices are rapidly evolving from minor components in high-value durable goods to stand-alone end user products. As a result, the cost of energy storage is rocketing from less than 5% of product cost in the case of portable electronics to more than 50% of product cost in the case of an EV like the Tesla roadster. When you get into the utility arena, the storage devices are the end product and represent 100% of the product costs. Since consumers generally have higher payback expectations and shorter investment horizons than utilities, consumer price sensitivity will be very high.

While some of the stock market valuations in the energy storage sector reflect the emerging reality that energy storage is and will remain a highly price sensitive product, others do not. As a result, we have a distorted market dynamic where EnerSys (ENS), the world's largest manufacturer, marketer and distributor of industrial batteries, trades at a 50% discount to a newcomer like A123 Systems (AONE); and Exide Technologies (XIDE), the world's second largest manufacturer of OEM automotive batteries, trades at a 28% discount to a newcomer like Ener1 (HEV). While the valuation disparities might be justified if either of the newcomers had a technology that would displace the established leaders or significantly erode their revenues or margins, that outcome can't be expected in the foreseeable future because the newcomers are focused on far more expensive products for markets that don't even exist yet.

The source of these observations is John Petersen of Seeking Alpha. His recurring simple hypothesis has been that cheap energy storage will beat cool energy storage in the market and that companies that manufacture objectively cheap products will experience far more rapid and sustained stock price growth than companies that are developing objectively expensive products. Over that time, Petersen says that his personal trading account of Active Power (ACPW), Enersys (ENS), Exide Technologies (XIDE), ZBB Energy (ZBB) and Great Western Minerals Group (GWMGF.PK) has gained over 300%.

Petersen believes that every energy storage company that brings a product to market will have more business than it can handle. Nevertheless, he believes that companies that have attained lofty market valuations based on ambitious plans to develop exotic products are likely to trade flat or decline in price while the companies that have less ambitious goals and less expensive products have substantial upside potential.

Petersen’s favorite short-term holding is ZBB Energy (ZBB) because it’s ZESS 50 and ZESS 500 flow battery systems are market ready and carry an attractive mid-range price while its market capitalization of $15.3 million is but a small fraction of the peer group average. His favorite mid- to long-term holding is Axion Power International (AXPW.OB) because its first generation PbC batteries are in production and have been delivered to select end users for testing, the PbC battery promises a cheap solution for a wide variety of mundane energy storage applications and Axion's market capitalization of roughly $80 million is well below the peer group average.

DISCLOSURE: John Petersen is a former director of Axion Power International and has a substantial long position in its stock. He also has small long positions in Active Power, Enersys, Exide Technologies, ZBB Energy and Great Western Minerals Group.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The GDP/Energy Ratio

Carbon Emissions Do Not Exist In a Vacuum

By Richard L. Wottrich, Blog Editor

President Obama’s Carbon Cap-and-Trade Bill passed by the House in June contains a fatal  conceptual flaw. Carbon emissions do not exist in a vacuum. They represent a people’s efforts to survive, thrive and prosper. Hence energy consumption is only relevant when compared to a country’s GDP. In other words, the more efficient a country is in using energy to produce GDP, the less it should be penalized.

The Top-10 GDPs in the world in 2008 (including the EU as a complete unit) accounted for roughly $50 trillion in GDP, an astounding 90% of the world’s production. None of the OPEC and related oil-producing nations are on the list. Commodity sales do not create large GDPs – productive peoples do.

For example the US uses roughly 25% of the world’s energy, but contributes 29% of total GDP – a very efficient GDP/Energy Ratio of 1:.86. China by contrast just passed the US as the biggest pollution emitter in the world, but contributes just 8.8% of total world GDP, a GDP/Energy ratio of 1:5.6, 6 1/2 times worse than the U.S., so clearly China has a far worse GDP/Energy ratio than the US, as one might expect in a newly industrialized country.

China and India argue that their energy consumption is only relevant on a per capita basis. This is an obvious political argument, as their populations are the two largest in the world. To prove the point, neither country would advertise their food production on a per capita basis, as that would be politically embarrassing. The relevant ratio is GDP/Energy.

Introducing a Carbon Cap-and-Trade Tax on US businesses will clearly make the United States less competitive with less efficient countries like China and India. That will cause our 1:.86 GDP/Energy ratio to decrease, the opposite of what we would like to happen, because energy costs are always reduced by scale – less GDP – less scale. The Tax is wrong-headed and counterproductive. The true cost of energy, as always, will drive efficiencies and innovation.

Fine graining even further, one should discount energy consumption by the percentage of goods exported minus the energy cost of shipping them. This is because those goods are sent to countries that do not use energy to produce them; effectively representing an energy credit. The United States is a major exporting country. In 2007 the US exported approximately 11.7% of its GDP. Its true GDP/Energy ratio (adjusted for the energy cost of shipping) would be a net adjustment of about 10%, or a GDP/Energy ratio of 1:.75, a very efficient usage of energy indeed. This credit would clearly improve the GDP/Energy ratios of Germany, China and India for example, as they are major exporters.

We are all on this globe together. Measuring energy consumption in a vacuum is misleading. We must produce to survive, hence our efficiencies of production are the key - the GDP/Energy ratios of each country being the most convenient measure.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Mexico project would link nation's 3 power grids to move alternative energy farther

By HEATHER CLARK, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Officials announced an ambitious project in New Mexico on Tuesday that would allow energy to flow more freely across the nation's three massive power grids, breaking down significant barriers to ramping up alternative energy in the United States.

The proposed Tres Amigas SuperStation in Clovis, N.M., would help route energy from isolated wind and solar installations to urban centers and other places that consume the most power.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who served as President Bill Clinton's energy secretary, said the transmission station would be "historic."

"This is going to be the largest power converter in the world, making New Mexico the meeting place for America's electricity needs," he said at a news conference to unveil the project.

The transmission hub would be located across 22 square miles in eastern New Mexico near the Texas border. Clovis was chosen because it is nearest to where the nation's three power grids — called the East, West and Texas interconnections — come closest together.

Tres Amigas would build a triangular pathway of underground superconductor pipelines, combined with AC/DC converters that synchronize the flow of power between the interconnections. The equipment allows electricity to be transferred from grid to grid.

Construction could begin in 2011 or 2012, and the hub could be running in 2013 or 2014, said Phil Harris, chief executive of the Santa Fe-based Tres Amigas.

The pipelines, 3 feet in diameter, contain hair-thin ceramic fibers developed by Devens, Mass.-based American Superconductor and can carry enough electricity to power 2.5 million homes. [The project will use high-temperature superconductor wire developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, Richardson said.]

"That's how we're going to break the power gridlock in this country," said Greg Yurek, the company's founder and chief executive.

Balance of article:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

India's Suzlon finishes retrofit of wind blades

* Company finishes $100 mln global retrofit
* Says no additional retrofit costs in FY2009-2010
* Sets new benchmarks for blade testing

LOS ANGELES, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Suzlon Energy Ltd (SUZL.BO) said on Monday it had finished a program to retrofit wind power turbine blades that suffered cracking problems, an issue that has weighed on the Indian wind turbine maker's shares.

Suzlon, the No. 5 wind turbine maker globally, launched the $100 million effort last year after some blades on its 2.1 megawatt turbine fleet developed cracks. One blade broke off a turbine in Illinois.

The project "has been a priority effort for us," Andy Cukurs, head of Suzlon's U.S. operations, said in a statement.

While about 180 blades out of 1,251 blades across the fleet showed cracks by the end of the program, the company decided to upgrade the entire fleet.

In addition to the retrofit, the company kicked off a new generation of blades. One of Suzlon's S88 turbines generates enough energy to power about 500 U.S. households.

The company also said it has a new level of blade testing that goes beyond industry standards and does not expect any additional retrofit costs for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. (Reporting by Laura Isensee, editing by Braden Reddall and Andrew Hay).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Smart grid turns off your appliances to cut power use

HONOLULU - A 4-square-mile patch of Maui in the nation’s most fossil-fuel dependent state soon will be home to a new kind of power grid, one that saves energy by turning off household appliances when electricity is expensive and makes better use of wind and solar power.

General Electric Co. recently said it would test its “smart grid’’ technology in the luxury resort community of Wailea, hoping to reduce peak electricity consumption there by 15 percent by 2012.

Planners envision installing a new kind of power meter in homes - a wall-based unit that can monitor how much electricity is being used by various appliances and turn them off when demand for energy is higher, and thus costlier to consume. The project also would upgrade the utility’s computer systems so it can integrate more renewable energy.

There are about 70 smart grid pilots nationwide, including in Miami, Seattle, and Boulder, Colo. But Wailea is one of the only resort communities where the test is being conducted.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for us to improve our knowledge of what’s using power, and making it easier for us to shut off the power when we’re not around,’’ said Bob Gilligan, a GE vice president. “Most consumers aren’t really aware of how much energy they’re using at any time of day.’’

For example, if customers knew what times electricity was most expensive, they could automatically adjust air conditioning and refrigerator temperatures, or they could choose to delay turning on the dishwasher until power demand drops. That would save money for power users. It would also reduce the strain on the grid, allowing the electric utility to absorb more renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels.

Associated Press

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Peak Oil a Moot Point with New Natural Gas Reserves Estimates

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Vessel

While pundits and oil experts argue the precise point of peak oil production, new methodology in extracting natural gas from shale formations may make the argument academic in the near term – meaning the next 100 years. The United States has led the way in new technologies that afford access to previously unobtainable natural gas trapped in shale formations. Other countries around the world are now learning these technologies and gains in their reserves are sure to follow.

Natural gas, the cleanest of fossil fuels, has seen a 40 percent gain in reserves in the U.S. as a result of these new extraction technologies. Since natural gas emits fewer green house gases than coal or oil, its increase in global production will reduce total emissions. The most conservative estimates are that global energy reserves will increase by 20 percent due to newly accessible natural gas.

A recent study by the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates consulting group calculated that the recoverable shale gas outside of North America could be equivalent to 211 years’ worth of natural gas consumption in the United States at the present level of demand, and perhaps as much as 690 years. The lower figure would represent a 50 percent increase in the world’s known gas reserves, and the high figure, a 160 percent increase.

Companies leading the way in this sector are Exxon Mobil, Devon Energy, Total, and ConocoPhillips. Early estimates of recoverable European shale gas resources range up to 400 trillion cubic feet, about half of what is estimated to be recoverable in the United States.

“It is obvious to everybody that it has huge potential,” said Oivind Reinertsen, president of StatoilHydro USA and Mexico, a Norwegian company with growing shale interests. “You see a lot of land-grabbing by different companies in Europe, potentially spreading to the Far East, China and India.”

These newly accessible natural gas shale fields, when coupled with the development of huge natural gas finds such as Gorgon in Australia, means that an efficient world market for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will finally emerge, presenting an energy alternative to oil.

The new supplies from Gorgon and other projects in Australia could lead to a fundamental shift in the way gas is priced throughout the world. As more natural gas travels by free-ranging ships rather than immovable pipelines, traditional regional price differences could begin to erode as big buyers such as China gain more power to negotiate prices by playing competing suppliers against each other.

"We're seeing the first stages of what will ultimately be a more global natural gas market," said Mark Gilman, an analyst with Benchmark Capital in New York. The convergence of these two sources of natural gas from shale and LNG suppliers will alter politics and economies the world over in the next 100 years.

Richard L. Wottrich, Editor

Nanotechnology Used In Biofuel Process To Save Money, Environment

ScienceDaily - Dr. James Palmer, associate professor of chemical engineering at Louisiana Tech University, is collaborating with fellow professors Dr. Yuri Lvov, Dr. Dale Snow, and Dr. Hisham Hegab to capitalize on the environmental and financial benefits of “biofuels” by using nanotechnology to further improve the cellulosic ethanol processes.

Biofuels will play an important part in sustainable fuel and energy production solutions for the future. The country’s appetite for fuel, however, cannot be satisfied with traditional crops such as sugar cane or corn alone. Emerging technologies are allowing cellulosic biomass (wood, grass, stalks, etc.) to also be converted into ethanol.

Cellulosic ethanol does not compete with food production and has the potential to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 86 percent over that of today’s fossil fuels. Current techniques for corn ethanol only reduce greenhouse gases by 19 percent.

The nanotechnology processes developed at Louisiana Tech University can immobilize the expensive enzymes used to convert cellulose to sugars, allowing them to be reused several times over and, thus significantly reducing the overall cost of the process.

Savings estimates range from approximately $32 million for each cellulosic ethanol plant to a total of $7.5 billion if a federally-established goal of 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol is achieved. This process can easily be applied in large-scale commercial environments and can immobilize a wide variety or mixture of enzymes for production.

The innovative research taking place at Louisiana Tech, along with an excellent growing season, a strong pulp/paper industry, and one of the nation’s first cellulosic ethanol demonstration plants, has the state of Louisiana well positioned to become a national contributor in cellulosic ethanol.

This technology, along with other important research being conducted to meet future energy needs, will be highlighted at Louisiana Tech’s Energy Systems Conference on November 5 at the Technology Transfer Center in Shreveport.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Family Guy maze cut into corn field at farm

A farmer in the United States has cut two of the characters from Family Guy, the cult animated comedy, into a maze on his property.

(Editor's Note: US farmer cuts emmissions by replacing video film with corn. Effort allows thousands to see cartoon figures without turning on their TV sets, which reduces electricity consumption. Exercise for childen running through the corn contributes to well being.)

Stewie and Brian form the centrepiece of this year's seven acre "Corn Maize" at Connors Farm in Danvers, Massachusetts.

Bob Connors, the owner of the farm, has even approached Seth MacFarlane in the hope of persuading the Family Guy creator to pay a visit.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Speed Bump: Don’t Bank on the Electric-Car Revolution, Lux Says

Are electric cars the next big thing or the next big flop?

There’s a growing chorus out there arguing that electric vehicles will take off in the near future, not just revolutionizing transportation but bringing an end to the oil age. That rosy forecast for plug-in hybrids and electric cars drove battery maker A123 Systems to a massive stock-market debut last month.

Curb your enthusiasm, says Lux Research in a new report. The next generation of battery-powered vehicles—and that includes hybrids, plug-ins, and all-electric cars—will likely grow over the next decade, but nowhere near as fast as boosters claim.

Even if oil prices hit $200 a barrel by 2020, Lux figures electric cars will make up less than 8% of global new-car sales. If oil stays where it is today, electric cars could make up a mere 3% of the market. With oil at $70 or $140 a barrel, hybrids will likely carry the day. Only with $200 oil will all-electric cars take off.

Lux says its forecasts are “much more modest than the very ambitious expectations being bruited about to justify battery company business plans.” A123 Systems, for example, better place its hopes in the market for storing electricity in the power grid, Lux says.

The automotive battery market will probably be worth between $1 billion and $2 billion a year over the next decade, Lux says. Contrast that with A123’s forecast, via Kearney, of a $21 billion market by 2015. (A123 stopped using Lux for its market forecasts shortly before its initial public offer.)

One other potential worry for battery makers: Global demand for batteries by 2015 could be around 2.8 gigawatt hours. But global supply might reach 6 gigawatt hours by then, making a battery supply glut a “distinct possiblity,” Lux says.

The analysts’ starting point is economics: Hybrids, plug-ins, and electric cars will sell more the more sense they make for consumers. Oil prices are one huge variable, of course; the other is the cost of the batteries, which is the biggest part of the cost of the new cars.

While Lux expects lithium-ion batteries to get cheaper over the next decade, it forecasts only a 30% to 40% decline in battery prices—not quite the steep cost reductions batteries made in consumer electronics.

Though if Lux’s forecasts of a battery glut come true, it seems likely that battery prices would plummet—just as has happened with prices for solar panels over the last year.

Most importantly, Lux argues that consumer appetite for the new cars could be unwound, if oil prices fall in the future or if government support (tax breaks and subsidies) disappears.

That’s a stark contrast to other analysts, such as those at Deutsche Bank, who figure the superior performance of all-electric vehicles will make them hugely popular whatever happens to oil prices.

The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Masdar will lead Boeing study into potential of plant-based jet fuel

Gulf News

Chicago: Boeing on Tuesday announced it is joining forces with Honeywell's UOP to commission a study on the sustainability of a leading family of saltwater-based plant candidates in the search for renewable jet fuel.

The study is being commissioned as part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group consortium.

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi will lead the study, which will examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of biofuels made from salicornia bigelovii and saltwater mangroves - plants known as halophytes.

Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and UOP will also participate in the analysis, which will include an assessment of the total carbon lifecycle of biofuels. Halophytes can be highly productive sources of biomass energy. They thrive in arid environments and can be irrigated with sea water, making them suitable for biofuel development.

With improved plant science and agronomy, early testing results indicate that halophytes have the potential to deliver very high yields per unit of land.

"Boeing and the scientific and academic communities are stepping forward to look at the totality of each renewable fuel source that can help us reduce carbon emissions," said Billy Glover, managing director of environmental strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
"By working with MasdarAbu Dhabi Future Energy Company Institute to look at these species in a formal research framework, we will better know if certain types of halophytes meet the carbon reduction and socioeconomic criteria that will allow them to become part of a portfolio of sustainable biofuel solutions for aviation."

The halophyte study will evaluate aquaculture management and practices and land use and energy requirements.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Russia needs to stop coasting on its income from energy exports and diversify its economy"

Russia aims to be nanotech leader

(Editor's Note: Russia is a fossil fuel oligarchy based upon corruption and intimidation. You cannot buy scientific expertise with either.)

MOSCOW - President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia is thinking big when it comes to nanotechnology.

Medvedev told an international nanotechnology forum that Russia aims to be a world leader in an industry he said has vast potential. He stressed that Russia needs to stop coasting on its income from energy exports and diversify its economy.

Nanotechnology allows scientists to manipulate materials at the molecular level, and nanomaterials have come increasingly into use.

Medvedev cited estimates that nanotechnology could be a $2 billion (euro1.37 billion) to $3 billion industry by 2015.

The Kremlin has set up a state corporation to oversee nanotechnology.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Ceramic Fuel Cells opens Germany plant

Australian alternative energy company Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd (CFC) has opened its large-scale fuel cell manufacturing plant in Germany.

CFC is developing solid-oxide fuel cell technology that converts natural gas into electricity and heat through ceramic fuel cells.

The first products to be powered by the company's fuel cells will be small generators for homes and other buildings, and produce as much as two kilowatts of power and also provide heat for hot water and space heating.

"These products will meet the growing need for energy whilst also reducing greenhouse gas emissions," CFC said in a statement on Monday.

CFC chairman Jeff Harding said the opening of the factory in Heinsberg, Germany, was an important milestone because it allowed the company to move from making expensive "hand-built" products to producing semi-automated manufactured fuel cells at a competitive cost.

"We look forward to our Heinsberg plant making fuel cell stacks to go into our clean energy products for Europe, Australia and other global markets," Mr Harding said.

The plant has the capacity to produce 10,000 fuel cell stacks a year and was completed for Euros 9.5 million ($A16 million).

CFC was formed in 1992 by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO) and a consortium of energy and industrial companies. The company is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange and London Stock Exchange. CFC said it chose to locate its manufacturing plant in Germany because the country was one of its most important early markets.

ninemsn money

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Politics of Energy #26 - Oil, gas workers lobby for jobs

by: CHRIS CASTEEL The Oklahoman

WASHINGTON — Battling claims that alternative energy will create millions of so-called green jobs, oil and gas companies have stepped up their efforts to convince lawmakers not to threaten jobs in their industry.

The American Petroleum Institute flew in Hispanic employees from oil and gas companies in 11 states, including Oklahoma, to go to Capitol Hill offices last week and make the case for traditional energy sources.

Cecilia Leonard, a vice president of reservoir engineering for Devon Energy, said she and employees of Anadarko Petroleum, Marathon Oil, Parker Drilling, ConocoPhillips and others met with staff members of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who could have a major impact on the industry.

Leonard said the group talked about regulatory barriers to exploration on federal land and the tax hikes proposed by President Barack Obama aimed at collecting more than $30 billion from the oil and gas industry over 10 years.

Leonard said the higher taxes would mean reduced investment by energy companies and "reduced investments would require a change in our work force."

The employees working Capitol Hill last week, she said, were trying to show that proposals detrimental to the industry would affect "all sectors of the economy, not just CEOs."

As the nation continues to suffer with high unemployment, the intense debate over energy in Washington has been as much about jobs as national security or global warming.

Last week, two Democratic senators who introduced legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions repeatedly stressed that a shift to alternative energy sources would create jobs of all types.

"The latest economic study predicts up to 1.9 million new jobs in America if we pass our bill," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The Obama administration has also been touting clean energy jobs, while downplaying the job losses that could occur in the oil and gas industry because of the proposed tax hikes and the shift away from fossil fuels.

At a Senate committee hearing last month, a Treasury Department official argued that the tax changes proposed by the administration would "have a very small effect on the price of oil and gas, the production of oil and gas and domestic jobs."

The "fly-in" to Washington of Hispanic employees was the third such effort this year as the industry tries to make its case on Capitol Hill. In July, the American Petroleum Institute flew in African-American employees and, in June, it was women.

"This is an educational and an outreach effort as we put a real face on the industry," API president and CEO Jack Gerard said. "We want our policymakers to meet the hard-working employees of our industry and come away with a better understanding of who we are and what we do to bring Americans the energy they need now and in the future."

The trade association has also taken out ads in the media warning about job losses that could occur from tax increases. "The administration ignores the potential loss of tens of thousands of new, well-paying jobs that would otherwise be created from increased domestic oil and natural gas development," Larry Nichols, Devon's chief executive and the current chairman of API, said at a recent Senate hearing.

But the administration contends that, rather than ignoring the potential jobs in the oil and gas industry, it is deliberately shifting tax "subsidies" away from the industry and focusing on weaning the country off fossil fuels.

"My administration is deeply committed to passing a bill that creates new American jobs and the clean energy incentives that foster innovation," Obama said last week in praising the introduction of the Senate bill to reduce greenhouse gases.