Friday, January 29, 2010

Oil Bigs to Obama: Get Real - That's Just the Way Davos Rolls

Aramco Oil Production Command Center

Adam Lashinsky, Senior Editor at Large

The CEO of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, lashed out at the Obama administration Thursday, lamenting the oversupply of “rhetoric” from major oil-consuming nations regarding energy independence. Without naming the U.S. president directly, Khalid Al Falih couldn’t have been clearer who he was referring to. He called pervasive talk from nations that want to wean themselves from an addiction to foreign oil, a common trope in U.S. environmental circles, “unachievable and misleading to the public.”

Al Falih anchored an extraordinary collection of representatives of major oil producers at a morning session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Chaired by consultant and prizewinning author Daniel Yergin, the panel provided a heavy dose of reality into a debate often dominated in Western media and policy circles by a hopeful yearning for alternative energy.

Some highlights:

Tony Hayward, group chief executive of BP (BP), said that though the recession certainly had crimped energy demand in developed countries, BP is forecasting a 40% increase in energy consumption among non-OECD nations over the next 20 years. Furthermore, for all the development initiatives in alternative energy, oil and gas will remain predominant. “Even in the most aggressive climate change legislation perceived, hydrocarbons will represent 80% of energy consumption over next 20 years,” Hayward said. He also said that while gasoline demand is now in “structural decline” in Europe and won’t again exceed 2007 levels, that decline will be more than offset by increased demand in China alone.

Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, also offered his view of energy “realism.” Change in the energy industry, he said, doesn’t work like an on-off switch. “It takes 25 to 30 years to gain 1% of global market share from the moment we start investing in a major project,” he said.

Ilham Aliyev, president of major oil and gas producer Azerbaijan, said 85% of the country’s GDP is now industrial – as opposed to energy — up from zero when Azerbaijan became independent of the Soviet Union. He didn’t say it, but his country’s achievement is in marked contrast to Russia, which remains heavily reliant on oil revenues.

The sole representative of energy consumers was Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical (DOW), which bills itself as the largest energy customer in the U.S. He said Dow’s energy costs jumped from $8 billion to $32 billion when the price of oil spiked. Interestingly, Liveris flagged the impact of oil-price volatility on his business. Normal hedging, he said, becomes impossible in such a climate, which in terms crimps investment given the uncertainty produced by an inability to hedge. Liveris said he supports neither a carbon tax, which merely would be passed on to consumers, nor cap and trade, which would reward speculators. He said he supports carbon pricing that changes behavior, but he didn’t supply his preferred method.

BP’s Hayward also gave an update on his company’s efforts in Iraq, where it is in the process of redeveloping an oil field BP discovered in 1953. The field is producing 1 million barrels of oil per day now, he said. BP intends for its investments in the field to boost production to 3 million barrels by 2020. Overall, Hayward predicted Iraq will be producing 10 million barrels a day in 10 years. That would be a five-fold increase and a gigantic accomplishment.

The star of the show by far was Aramco’s Al Falih. He believes the “peak oil” debate is dead, though it caused damage in the form of price increases and volatility. He said Saudi Arabia has 4 million barrels per day of idle oil capacity at the moment and that the country continued to invest in its fields through the recession, adding 2 million barrels of capacity last year despite the global decline in demand. His beef is that though Saudi Arabia continues to invest in production, “we don’t see reciprocal assurances from customers, by which I mean policymakers, to signal to us a long-term commitment.”

There was no discord on this panel of the global oil elite. With no time for Q&A, if anyone sympathetic to the Obama administration’s energy policy was in the room, they had no opportunity for rebuttal.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Ultimate Sustainability: More funds required to protect Earth against killer asteroids

(Painting: Don Davis)

New York, January 23 -- NASA will not be able to detect the potentially devastating near Earth objects (NEOs) by 2020, concluded a report released Friday.

Explaining the reason, the report titled ‘Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies’ stated that the government has not provided enough money to carry out the searches to track asteroids or comets.

In 2005, the government had ordered a survey to track nearly 90 percent NEOs, about 140 meters in diameters.

Unfortunately NASA will not be able to complete the survey as searches, though mandated, have not been funded by the Congress.

Focus on large asteroids

The Earth has always been subject to threats from comets and asteroids, and these cosmic collisions have played a major role in the mass extinctions.

Scientists have over the years focused on large asteroids but the impact by these asteroids or comets is very rare. The last worst impact was 65 million years ago when an asteroid, around 10 kilometers in diameter, hit the Yucatan peninsula on the east coast of Mexico, leading to extinction of the dinosaurs.

Russians scientists had last month confirmed that an asteroid named Apophis is heading towards Earth and it could hit the planet in 2030s, leading to catastrophic disaster.

Having more than 20 years of warning about the potential impact, the Russian scientists are not sitting idle. In fact, they have already started making plans like to avert the menace.

More threat from small objects

But the report states that space rocks as large as that head towards Earth on very rare occassions, it is the smaller asteroids that pose more threat. The scientists at the National Research Council argued that currently the nation spends $4 million a year to search for NEOs but this amount is insufficient.

There are more than 2 million space objects that have a near-Earth orbit. Though it is normal for such objects to pass to pass Earth within the distance of a moon about once a week, asteroids could prove devastating if they strike the planet.

An object of about 50 to 75 meters in radius could lead to destruction equal to devastation created by nuclear explosion. In order to avoid the wreckage, it is imperative for the government to fund the survey so that NASA can launch space probes to the orbit of Venus to track the threats posed by Earth’s neighborhood.

As this could prove expensive, the cheaper option is that government should fund telescope so that the scientists can detect the 90 percent of asteroids by 2030.

Since a lot of planning is required to launch spacecraft to divert the path of an asteroid heading towards Earth, the nations should focus on organized evacuations and other civil defense efforts to deal with small asteroids, states report.

The Money Times

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wal-Mart completes a megawatt solar project in Apple Valley

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. keeps moving ahead with its plan to shift its power supply to renewable energy with the completion of its largest solar-power project yet.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart completed three other solar projects in Paramount, Baldwin Park and San Bernardino.

This time, the mega-corporation has wrapped up the installation of more than 5,300 solar panels across nearly 7 acres at its Apple Valley distribution center. The setup will generate 1 megawatt of power, the equivalent of the supply needed by 175 homes.

The company’s solar initiative was first announced in May 2007 and expanded in April 2009 to aim for 10 to 20 solar facilities in California over 18 months. A month later, in May, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge blocked the discount retailer’s plan for a Yucca Valley supercenter, in part because Wal-Mart’s proposal did not include solar-power provisions.

Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

Photo: The entire Apple Valley solar array. Credit: Wal-Mart

Monday, January 18, 2010

Twisted Physics: Scientists Create Knots of Light

Like your shoelaces or electrical cords, light can get twisted into knots. Now, scientists have used a computer-controlled hologram and theoretical physics to turn a light beam into pretzel-like shapes.

Like your shoelaces or electrical cords, light can get twisted into knots. Now, scientists have used a computer-controlled hologram and theoretical physics to turn a light beam into pretzel-like shapes.

The twisted feat not only led to some pretty cool images, but the results have implications for future laser devices, the researchers say.

"In a light beam, the flow of light through space is similar to water flowing in a river," said lead researcher Mark Dennis of the University of Bristol in England. Even though the light from something like a laser pointer travels in a straight line, it can also flow in whirls and eddies, Dennis explained.

These swirls of light are called optical vortices. Along the vortices the intensity of light reaches zero, or no light. "The light all around us is filled with these dark lines, even though we can't see them," Dennis said. "Our work actually twists dark filaments within the light beam into knots."

The researchers knew these optical vortices could be created with holograms, which direct the flow of light. By using so-called fibered knot theory, a branch of abstract mathematics inspired by everyday knots, Dennis and his colleagues created customized holograms and reflected a regular laser beam from them.

"The hologram acts like a filter for incoming light, similar to the stained glass window in a church," Dennis told LiveScience. "After going through a stained glass window, the light has taken on the pattern of colors of the window." But there's a difference: "Whilst the stained glass window manipulates color, the hologram manipulates the phase of the light wave."

So each point on the hologram, like a small pane of window glass, changes the point of the wave's cycle in that part of the light beam. They created a hologram that would change the phase of light so that it flowed around a dark knot.

Then, the team scanned a camera through the laser field to get images of the knots. (A computer program applied before the team had created the hologram essentially made the field around the dark knot appear bright.)

Their results, detailed online Jan. 17 in the journal Nature Physics, are "firsts" for a couple of reasons. While so-called knot theorists have studied mathematical equations similar to dark knots, the new research created these knots with math functions that followed rules of propagating light. In addition, unlike other dark knots created that have been tangled up with other knots, Dennis and his colleagues produced isolated dark knots within the light beam, he said.

"For me, it shows how physicists can adapt existing pure mathematics, such as knot theory, and find it manifest in physical phenomena," Dennis said. "It also shows how finely we can control the flow and propagation of laser light using holograms. This degree of control is likely to find applications in future laser devices."

For those wanting to make their own knots, Dennis said all you would need is their hologram and a laser beam.

Copyright © 2010 All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Geothermal Industry Struts Its Stuff for Wall Street, Capitol Hill


NEW YORK -- The geothermal power industry is maneuvering to escape the shadows of the wind, solar and biofuels sectors and get financiers and lawmakers to take notice.

But high up-front project costs and the impatience of investors keeps getting in the way, leaving industry with its hopes pinned on government grants and tax incentives.

Hoping to change its luck, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) held its largest gathering ever yesterday, drawing financiers, politicians and project developers to a posh hotel in Lower Manhattan. The gathering featured a lunchtime keynote speech by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). GEA representatives capped the day by ringing the closing bell at NASDAQ.

The goal: "to let Wall Street know about the fundamentals of geothermal energy, which has ... been around for more than 100 years," said Arni Magnusson, executive director of sustainable energy at Islandsbanki, a major geothermal player in Iceland.

Iceland is famous for using geological forces below ground for power. About 30 percent of Iceland's electricity needs are met with geothermal plants, the rest with hydropower, and nearly every Icelandic home is heated with a geothermal system. Iceland is also a major exporter of geothermal technology, explaining Islandsbanki's interest in expanding the market.

Far less known is that the United States is already far and away the world's largest home for geothermal. Of the roughly 10,000 megawatts of global geothermal capacity, about a third is in the United States, about 3,153 MW, according to GEA. Almost all of that is in California, with Nevada and Utah catching up.

"Nevada already has about 450 megawatts of conventional geothermal power in production," Reid told the gathering yesterday. "In the next three to five years, with the right mix of incentives and policy, my state alone could add 64 new projects that would bring that number up to nearly 2,500 MW."

Magnusson estimates that U.S.-installed capacity could easily double in the next five years as more projects come on line. But sustaining the momentum will require about $26 billion in fresh capital, money that geothermal developers have to compete with the wind and solar power industries to get.

GEA executive director Karl Gawell said Western states have the best potential for conventional geothermal power, which directly taps existing underground steam vents to spin turbines. A more unconventional and controversial technology proposes injecting water into super heated rock underground to generate the steam artificially.

Overall, advocates say, geothermal technology is proven and has distinct advantages over wind and solar. Geothermal power is a steady and reliable baseload, which electric utilities appreciate. And geothermal plants use less land than wind farms or solar arrays.

But Gawell admits major Wall Street investment banks shy away from geothermal because it takes years to see a return on investments. A Nevada project that came online last year took five years to complete, compared with a lead time of little more than a year for a standard wind farm.

"They're realizing that geothermal can be a good investment," Gawell said. "You've just got to stay in there a little bit longer."

The geothermal industry has also gotten a late start at building lobbying power in Washington. Its support on Capitol Hill does not approach that given to the ethanol industry or other renewable energy technologies.

"They built a reputation up over decades, but I think that we're getting there," said Gawell in an interview. "We're starting to get moving, and maybe in a number of years we'll catch up. But at least you're seeing that positive growth and excitement."

The industry is especially excited about the $400 million in the federal stimulus law devoted to research into new geothermal technology. But a lack of certainty about what kind of heat resource can be found thousands of feet beneath the surface makes geothermal-well drilling riskier than oil and gas exploration. One in five wells turn out to be dry holes, so enhancing developers' ability to read the underground potential is critical to enticing new investments.

Still, the industry seems to be expanding by leaps and bounds, and fast growth rates alone could be enough to draw in new capital.

Between 140 and 150 new U.S. projects are on the horizon, and 200 new megawatts of capacity came online last year. GEA estimates its industry is growing by about 15 percent annually.

Geothermal players are excited by predictions that capacity will shoot up to 10,000 MW in the United States as the nation's energy needs grows.

By 2012, "we think the strategic landscape starts to change quickly," said Paul Leggett, a vice president of investment banking at Morgan Stanley. "We do think the geothermal industry is ready for a takeoff."

Copyright 2010 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved. For more news on energy and the environment, visit

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Solar energy: Russia sees huge potential for joint ventures

Aerial view of the solar panels in Chennai. Russia keen to assist Indian firms to construct solar power stations. They are also planning to enter into series of MoUs with Indian partners. File Photo: S. Thanthoni

Russia keen to assist Indian firms to construct solar power stations. They are also planning to enter into series of MoUs (1) with Indian partners

Lauding the major renewable energy initiative of Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission, Russia on Tuesday expressed strong confidence that both New Delhi and Moscow had great potential for forging joint ventures and setting up manufacturing facilities for application of solar energy in the fields of industrial, military, civil and space sectors.

“In our opinion, India has adopted a very right approach in renewable energy. This is a very interesting and really ambitious programme and if implemented fully would put India among the world leaders in application of solar energy and its components,” said Sergey V. Seredin, First Deputy Director General (Economics and Finance) Open Joint Stock Company, Research, Production Enterprise ‘Kavant’ told The Hindu during this visit to New Delhi to take part in the conference on Solar Energy Mission.

Mr. Seredin said the Russian side was very much interested to participate in the solar mission programme and was ready to assist India and Indian companies to construct solar power stations on a turnkey basis as they had advanced technological knowhow in this field.

“We are open to forging joint ventures and also set up manufacturing facilities in India and Russia for solar energy components for industrial and other use, including supply of solar cells, modules or other such applications. We see huge prospects for joint ventures with India,” he added.

Mr. Seredin, accompanied by his associate, Sergey Dyachev, who is also part of the Russian delegation, said the company was planning to enter into a series of memorada of understanding (MoUs) with Indian partners as well as the Government agencies for providing them with solar power station technology and its installation.

Explaining further, he said that till now photovoltic panels (PV) technology was used only for space applications but now it was being adopted for industrial use as space technology had moved from silicon expertise to more advanced multi-layer and multi-junction structures.

“We are pioneers of new technology and we are working today on space technologies that could be used for industrial use in multiple applications,” he added.

Mr. Seredin said they were also part of the ambitious Brahmos missile project being implemented by India as they were supplying some components for this system.

“Our opinion is that this experience should be spread further to other fields. It would be a good solution to various issues and this could also involve production of solar panels in Russia or India. Such a work plan would be economically profitable for both the parties as production of solar components and cells requires huge consumption as large volumes, like the market in India, could bring down cost of solar energy,” he said.

Stating that energy was less costly in Russia, Mr. Seredin said volumes in India could bring down prices significantly in the coming years.

“All over the world there is tendency to reduce the price of each watt of installed solar power and this process is likely to continue. We are looking at new technologies to increase efficiency and reduce price levels. We are ready to transfer to India and our partners here the latest technology.

“The policy of the Indian Government in terms of solar energy production like fixed tariffs, guaranteed returns offered to buy electrical power produced by solar energy means is good. Without such support, it would be difficult to initiate business opportunities for the production of expensive electrical power,” he said.

The Hindu

1 - MoU - A memorandum of understanding (MOU or MoU) is a document describing a bilateral or multilateral agreement between parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It is often used in cases where parties either do not imply a legal commitment or in situations where the parties cannot create a legally enforceable agreement. It is a more formal alternative to a gentlemen's agreement.

In some cases, depending on the exact wording, MoUs can have the binding power of a contract; as a matter of law, contracts do not need to be labeled as such to be legally binding. Whether or not a document constitutes a binding contract depends only on the presence or absence of well-defined legal elements in the text proper of the document (the so-called "four corners"). For example, a binding contract typically must contain mutual consideration—a legally enforceable obligations of the parties, and its formation must take place free of the so-called real defenses to contract formation (fraud, duress, lack of age or mental capacity, etc.).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

China Becomes Top Exporter in the World

Germany overtaken in list of top trading nations

Chinese economy on track to grow by 9.5% in 2010
China completed a resurgent 2009 with a huge rise in exports establishing China as the world's biggest exporter, ahead of Germany, for the first time. The juggernaut Chinese economy also revealed record monthly imports of crude oil and a vast renewed appetite for iron ore and copper.

Trade in December, according to figures from China's customs office, showed a massive 17.7% year-on-year jump in exports, dramatically outpacing a forecast for 4% growth. The huge increase came after 13 months of decline.

Crude oil imports averaged more than 5m barrels a day for a month for the first time in December, up by more than a fifth from November, as the country sucked in raw materials at a faster pace than expected.

Imports jumped by 56%, pushing China's overall trade surplus in the month down by 4% from November instead of the expected 3% increase.

While some experts said much of the increase was due to seasonal factors and quirks in commodities markets, it appears that the strength of demand from China is signalling a further rise in global trade during 2010.

Imports of unwrought copper rose by more than a quarter from November to 369,368 tonnes, more than expected, while copper scrap imports jumped an even bigger 46%. Soya bean imports hit a record 4.78m tonnes in the month, with a surge in supplies from the United States and Brazil. Exports of aluminium and finished steel were also up strongly. China's economy is predicted to grow 9.5% in 2010, topping last year's expected figure.

The figure will be welcomed by business leaders who argue that China needs to shrug off the effects of the downturn if global trade is to recover. China is widely seen as a key engine of growth, especially as the US economy remains in the doldrums, with rising unemployment and many of its major manufacturing industries still badly hit.

However, the increased consumption of raw materials is likely to fuel criticism that China is failing to meet its environmental obligations. A dash for growth is seen as incompatible with the need to minimise burning fossil fuels and felling rainforests. Open-cast copper mining and soya bean farming on previously protected rainforest, have been top of environmental concerns for several years.

The development research centre of the state council, a leading thinktank, said China's economy would remain robust as market-driven investment picked up while government-led stimulus spending slowed. It said real estate investment would buoy growth, while inflationary concerns remained mild.

China is understood to have bought oil contracts in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to secure oil ­supplies ahead of a boom in ­manufacturing. US and Brazilian farmers are also understood to be ready to increase supplies of Soya beans as domestic demand from the meat industry, which uses soya beans as a feedstuff, soars to record levels.

Adding to ­environmental concerns, China's steel mills undertook a massive production drive in 2009, partly in response to a $585bn government stimulus plan. ­Disregarding a 60% collapse in the export market, they produced almost half the world's steel in 2009.