The United States is awash in hydrocarbons, the result of good geology, supportive prices, a favorable regulatory and investment climate, and technology innovation. But the US energy boom is temporary, and not easy to replicate in other parts of the world, Maria van der Hoeven, chief executive of the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), says in a Feb. 22 interview with The Christian Science Monitor. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: The energy industry has undergone a revolution in drilling techniques that has opened up vast new sources of so-called “tight oil” and “shale gas,” particularly in North America. Is the promise of this unconventional oil and gas overhyped?
A: The light tight oil revolution in the United States is changing the geographical map of oil trade. But we also mentioned [in an IEA analysis] that this growth would not last – that it would plateau, and then flatten and go down. That means that from 2025 onward, it’s again Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that will come back. Because of the changing trade map, this oil will almost completely go to Asia – China, India, Korea and Japan.
There are some people who really think they can replicate the United States shale gas boom. It’s not as easy as that. The land ownership and the resource ownership go together here in the United States – the only country where that is the case. It’s also about having the right gas industry, the right knowledge, the right infrastructure, the water, the human skills, the geological information, etc. And geology in this part of the world, especially where the shale gas boom is, is quite different from Ukraine or Poland. You can learn from it, but it’s not a copy-and-paste. The United Kingdom is changing its attitude to shale gas. China wants to develop its shale gas, but it’s in a very dry part of the country. South Africa is looking to its shale gas resources. The point is there’s a lot of shale gas in the world, but it’s not as easily accessible as it was in the United States. ( Continue… )
"If you want to beat carbon, it's the only way to do it unless you change the chemical charts." So says Jack Robertson about the prospects for making ammonia the world's go-to liquid fuel and renewable energy storage medium.
Robertson is chairman and CEO of Light Water Inc., an ammonia energy storage startup. The carbon he mentions refers, of course, to the major carbon-based fuels of oil, natural gas and coal that provide more than 80 percent of the world's energy. The charts he mentions refers to the periodic table of elements, a listing of the basic elements of the universe which are about as likely to change their properties as the proverbial leopard is to change his spots.
Most of us think of ammonia as a pungent household cleaning agent that disinfects and deodorizes. Farmers are familiar with anhydrous ammonia (essentially ammonia that is not mixed with water) that is a common nitrogen fertilizer.
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But the idea that ammonia can be used as a fuel, while not new, is not widely known. That's not really surprising since the last 150 years have been powered by another better-known liquid fuel called oil. And, the ubiquitousness and historically low price of oil prevented other liquid fuels from gaining a foothold in the marketplace. The use of historically cheap coal and natural gas has kept ammonia on the sidelines in the electricity market as well. ( Continue… )
Three years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey said some of the resources in Afghanistan could transform an economy normally dependent on illicit narcotics. With this year's pivotal drawdown of international forces, how a post-war government handles those reserves could determine its future.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said opium, a heroin precursor, represents the equivalent of roughly half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. A 2011 study by the USGS, however, found natural resources could "completely" transform the nation's economy.
USGS studied two dozen reserve formations in Afghanistan and found "giant" deposits of copper and cobalt near Kabul, gold in the south of the country and rare-earth elements in parts of Helmand province. (Related Article: Is Iran fooling the West?) ( Continue… )
Hurricane Sandy may have darkened and damaged parts of the East Coast when it blew ashore in the fall of 2012. But it also forced the region to enter its era of enlightenment – to come up with new ideas on how to beat back Mother Nature.
The latest big idea: wind turbines. New research from the University of Delaware and Stanford University suggest that offshore wind farms remove energy from a storm’s edge and slow down fast-moving winds. Thus, they would reduce hurricane wind speeds, wave heights, and storm surge that leads to flooding.
In the case of hurricane Sandy, strategically placed wind turbines would have reduced flooding by up to 34 percent. Windmills in the Gulf of Mexico would have reduced hurricane Katrina flooding by up to 79 percent. They would also have a dramatic effect on reducing wind speeds, beginning at the outer reaches of both hurricanes – reducing hurricane winds by up to 87 m.p.h. and 92 m.p.h., respectively.
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The turbines would not be enough to knock down the highest winds around the eye wall of a Category 2 hurricane, for example, to make it a Category 1, says Cristina Archer, a co-author of the report and professor at the University of Delaware, in an interview. But the lower wind speeds at the hurricane’s perimeter would gradually filter inwards and to the storm eye, mitigating the overall damage. “The turbines do more than a wall, because they take up the energy” of the wind. ( Continue… )
The world's most-hyped carmaker is looking more and more like an energy company.
The Tesla Motors gigafactory – a $5 billion plan for a sprawling battery factory in the Southwest United States – is a big bet on an evolving energy technology that is vital to the carmaker's future. Tesla Motors has always blurred the lines between the energy, technology, and automotive industries. But with its proposed gigafactory, and stronger ties with solar energy firm SolarCity, Tesla Motors aims to capitalize on the links between power, transportation, and innovation.
"Portable energy is the next big thing," Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says in a telephone interview. "If we can master it in the modern era – if we can make it cheaper and more effective – it’s going to make our lives easier. There's a huge long-term corporate play there. Elon Musk needs batteries for Tesla, but he can also use them to influence a lot of other industries."
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Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and a host of other electronics are driving up demand for batteries that can stay charged longer, recharge more quickly, and degrade less over time. Energy storage is a crucial component of a transition to clean energy as intermittent renewables like wind and solar cannot provide a stable, baseload supply of electricity. Last December, Tesla announced a new project with sister company SolarCity to provide the batteries for residential and commercial solar installations. ( Continue… )
Slowly but surely, the U.S. armed forces are getting serious about renewable energy.
In April 2012, the White House announced the Defense Department was making one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history, by setting a goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable energy, including solar, wind, biomass or geothermal on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025, enough energy to power 750,000 homes. The Army’s share of the initiative was the energy goal of generating one gigawatt.
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Four months later, on 7 August 2012, the Army announced a $7 billion Multiple Award Task Contract (MATOC) Request for Proposal (RFP), designed to assist the Army in procuring reliable, locally generated, renewable and alternative energy through Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for up to 30 years. (Related Article: Where's the Real Cost of Climate Change?) ( Continue… )
Natural gas may be the bridge to America’s energy future – unless the industry can’t control its methane releases, which could burn that conduit.
The primary methane threat – which might come as a surprise to some – does not stem from the most obvious source of new natural gas: controversial shale gas drilling. Instead, it stems from abandoned oil and gas wells, according to the latest in a series of studies that have looked at such potent heat-trapping emissions. Published this week in the journal Science by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis, the report concludes that while official numbers tied to methane releases are underestimated, they are still not large enough to undermine the ongoing switch from coal to natural gas power generation.
“Recent life cycle assessments generally agree that replacing coal with natural gas has climate benefits,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a lead author of the report, in a release. “Current evidence suggests leakages may be larger than official estimates, so diligence will be required to ensure that leakage rates are actually low enough to achieve sustainability goals.”
Why the focus on methane? According to scientists, it is 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat, although the methane dissipates after 20 years whereas the carbon dioxide stays active for a 100 years. Just how such methane releases are calculated could have a profound outcome on whether natural gas remains a go-to energy source for companies and nations worried about climate change. ( Continue… )
On Wednesday, a Nebraska judge voided a 2012 law that gave Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman power to approve the pipeline's route through the state. It comes just weeks after a final environmental review by the US Department of State seemingly set the table for President Obama to OK the 875-mile long pipeline, which would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Canada and Montana to Gulf Coast refineries.
The announcement emboldened environmentalists who have strongly objected to the pipeline's construction, saying it would dramatically increase carbon emissions and run the risk of damaging local water supplies. The decision could be overturned, and Keystone XL could still gain approval in Nebraska and at the federal level. But Wednesday's decision puts another serious roadblock in the way of a project that was first proposed in 2008 by Canadian energy firm TransCanada. ( Continue… )
The leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico meet in Toluca, Mexico, Wednesday at the North American Leaders Summit Meeting to discuss trade and travel procedures among the three North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries. On energy, the "Three Amigos" will have a lot to talk about.
North America is the focus of a drilling technology revolution that has unlocked vast amounts of natural gas in the US and could do the same for Mexico. Canada's unconventional oil sands are a major contributor to recent growth in global oil output, and the country hopes to bring much of it through the US to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico via a controversial pipeline. Mexico's oil production has lagged in recent years, but it is opening its state-owned energy industry to foreign investors with the hopes it will stimulate a shale boom of its own.
"We may not hear any major pronouncements on energy from North America’s leaders in Toluca today, but as the region’s energy proﬁle continues to grow, trilateral energy cooperation will only make more sense, particularly in a global geopolitical context," reads a report from the California-based Institute of the Americas energy program. The report stresses joint development of unconventional energy resources, greater electric integration, and cross‐border renewable energy markets as key areas for collaboration between the US and Mexico. ( Continue… )
One of the first new US nuclear projects to be built in decades is getting a multibillion dollar boost from the federal government.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced Wednesday he will approve $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to Atlanta-based Southern Co. for two new nuclear reactors at its Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, about 30 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga.
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The $14 billion project is one of a handful of new nuclear reactors to be built from scratch in three decades, a rebound for an industry battered by high-profile nuclear disasters and competition from cheap natural gas. Demand for carbon-free energy and a post-recession increase in electricity use could bolster nuclear energy's long-term outlook. But for now at least, new US nuclear power appears limited to the projects already under way in the Southeast. ( Continue… )