The proliferation of solar power may have at least one downside: It makes firefighting harder.
Firefighters say solar panels can block access to buildings in emergency situations, make it harder to cut holes in the roof to release flames and gases, and pose threats from tripping to electrocution. With more and more photovoltaic systems going up on homes and businesses across the United States, it's a growing problem.
Even solar advocates concede there's a challenge, although they say it can be mitigated.
"We are working very closely with firefighters across the United States on the development of codes and standards. After every incident, we learn from it and improve," Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association trade group, told Reuters. "Firefighters don't have a good idea of how solar works. It's incumbent in us to do a better job in educating them."
Rooftop access is critical in firefighting operations because it allows for the creation of ventilation shafts that release trapped flames and superheated gases. It also helps firefighters locate the origin of the fire and any victims. The spread of rooftop solar has made that task more challenging. ( Continue… )
Syria may not have a lot of oil, but it's in the middle of countries that do.
That's why the Bashar al-Assad regime worked for years to make it an energy transit hub, bringing oil and gas from the energy-rich Middle East to the fringes of energy-hungry Europe. But external politics and internal strife have rendered that vision moot. Whoever emerges to lead post-civil war Syria will have to resurrect some version of the idea, because the current energy landscape isn't fueling Syrian economic development – something Mr. Assad knew only too well.
"He understood that if he couldn’t make growth [happen] he was going to fail," Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said in a telephone interview. "He had a giant youth population, and a giant unemployment problem, and no growth."
The Middle East is full of pipeline dreams that are announced with much political hope but little underlying support from the realities on the ground. Pipelines are expensive to build. They're hard to maintain, especially in volatile regions. Just because countries have lots of resources doesn't mean they have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of them. Despite all this, Syria does have certain geographical advantages that could make it a pipeline hub.
In 2009, Assad unveiled a "four seas strategy" that would connect the Persian Gulf and the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean seas via pipelines and other infrastructure through Syria. It was always a little grandiose. The land bridge to Europe is Turkey, not Syria. Iran, which doesn't share a border with Syria, already trades energy or has the capacity to trade energy with Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, and Russia.
"[The "four seas" strategy] looks great on a map, but that oil would have to cross several ethnic and sectarian boundaries, including Iraq's insurgent Sunni regions," said Michael Nayebi, Middle East analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas, in a telephone interview. "It's not really a realistic ambition."
Still, Syria's border with Iraq and sea ports on the Mediterranean make it a natural conduit for northern Iraqi oil to Europe. Its relatively flat geography makes it far easier and cheaper to build a pipeline than in mountainous Turkey. Plus, in 2009, Syria could boast that it was far more politically tranquil than several of its neighbors.
The Assad government was able to negotiate deals with its neighbors in an effort to bring Iraqi and Iranian resources through pipelines to the Mediterranean Sea and on to European markets.
There were plans to repair the Kirkuk-Baniyas pipeline, which once brought crude oil from northern Iraq to the Syria coast but was damaged during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. In 2010, the countries scrapped those plans in favor of building three new pipelines between the two regions.
There was also a plan to extend the Arab Gas Pipeline, which brought natural gas from Egypt to Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Under the new plan, it would extend into southern Turkey and eventually on to Europe. Most recently, plans were unveiled for a $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline that would bring natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field to the Syrian coast.
That plan rankled Qatar, which had already announced plans for a similar pipeline in the region. The competition for access to the Mediterranean has drawn Sunni-dominated Qatar and Saudi Arabia deeper into the Syria issue, some analysts say.
"The Arabs view this 'Islamic' or 'Shi'ite' pipeline as serving Shi'ite interests: originating in Shi'ite Iran, traversing Shi'ite Iraq, flows through Shi'ite controlled Syria to supply the large European market," Christina Lin, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Transatlantic Relations, wrote in an e-mail. "So Qatar and Saudi Arabia are responding in kind."
The 2011 Arab Spring, two and a half years of Syrian civil war, and outside geopolitical pressure have knocked our the supports for Assad's pipeline dreams. The Kirkuk-Baniyas pipeline remains offline and the extension of the Arab Gas Pipeline is undeveloped. Officials have said the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline could be complete between 2016 and 2018, but many analysts have doubts given the circumstances.
"The Middle East is fully of politically motivated pipeline projects that make no commercial sense and never see the light [of day]," Giacomo Luciani, adjunct professor of international affairs at The Graduate Institute, Geneva, wrote in an e-mail. "The bottom line is: [don't] hold your breath, this won't happen."
Back in January, the Federal Regulatory Commission decided a good place for a new pilot project for tidal energy was, in all places, the East River in New York City near Queens. FERC said it would let Verdant Power tinker with a system designed to use the river's tidal currents to generate electricity.
FERC seemed to be taking a page from the city's ferry system with its plans for renewable goals by saying that, with all the controversy surrounding shale, just relax oh ye low-carbon advocates, we'll get you there.
FERC said the pilot license was part of a project it cooked up a few years ago to let developers play around with new hydrokinetic technologies. Verdant said it thinks it could spin out enough power to meet the needs of 9,000 or so New York homes without breaking a blade and without killing a fish. (Related article: Riding the Wave of Marine Energy Generation)
Sabotage and theft from oil producing regions in Nigeria has left a black mark on the nation's economy. Oil production is down more than 7 percent this year, bringing the economy along with it. Last week, Royal Dutch Shell announced it entered into talks with Nigerian villagers who said their lives were changed for the worse because of the company's pipeline spills. While that may offer some relief for the Niger Delta, the death of at least 20 people at the hands of Islamic militants suggests it's still no place to do business.
Conversations surrounding last week's oil markets centered on Libyan production issues and the possibility that U.S. military strikes on Syria may have broader implications for crude. Brent crude oil prices for last week hovered above the $115 per barrel mark. In April, Libya was still producing around 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, long before there were any serious concerns about military action in Syria. Nigeria's Bonny Light crude oil grade, however, has been under force majeure ever since. Though Libya's near-term oil prospects are dwindling, Nigerian production isn't exactly on the rebound. (Related article: Looking for the Next Mega Oil Play)
Last month, shipping information showed Nigeria was set to export 95,000 barrels of Bonny Light per day in October, down 24 percent from what's planned for September. Crude oil output for the second quarter, meanwhile, was down more than 7 percent from the first quarter to average 2.11 million bpd. That's left Nigeria with something of a black eye. OPEC said oil provides Nigeria with 20 percent of its gross domestic product, but 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and more than 60 percent of its budgetary revenues. Nigeria's oil wealth is in part the reason why it's Africa's second largest economy, but its economy is slowing down. The country's National Bureau of Statistics said last week the economy grew 6.18 percent during the second quarter when compared to the same time last year. That's nearly 5.8 percent slower than the first quarter. The decline is largely due to the drop in oil output because of theft and pipeline shutdowns. ( Continue… )
With oil prices hovering near historic highs and coal, natural gas and uranium prices yo-yoing during the last several years, concerns about the future of fossil fuel and uranium supplies often elicit the response: "They'll think of something. They always do."
This kind of thinking is usually premised on the idea that the future will look like the past, only bigger and better. It does not even admit the possibility that we may need to reduce our energy use. We'll come back this issue later.
The pronoun "they" in the generic quote above is vague, and the speaker does not know that he or she is actually referring to two distinct technological approaches to our energy future. Each technology progresses amid a different and highly consequential backdrop.
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Let me cut to the chase. Advancements in technology designed to extract more oil, natural gas, coal and uranium from the ground are in a race with geological constraints. The more of each type of fuel we extract, the more difficult it is to wrest each subsequent barrel, cubic foot, or ton from the Earth's crust. The deposits become leaner, that is, there are fewer units of what we want per ton of earth--and more refractory, that is, more challenging to process in order to separate the stuff want from the stuff that isn't oil, natural gas, coal and uranium. The empirically established principle is that we go after the easy deposits first and save the difficult ones for later. ( Continue… )
Critics of hydraulic fracturing say economic and energy security shouldn't come at the expense of the environment. The controversial practice, dubbed fracking, has become the cause du jour in advocacy circles. A report from Colorado-based IHS, however, finds the oil and natural gas boom in the United States is starting to bring benefits to American families. IHS said increased energy production in the United States could put more money in the pocketbooks of U.S. families and add strength to an already recovering job market. The Energy Department, meanwhile, says that, relatively speaking, natural gas is one of the best fuel options around because of its low carbon intensity. The economic and environmental attributes aren't enough to quiet fracking opponents, however.
The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in a monthly report for August the United States imported 1.4 million cubic feet of natural gas during the first six months of the year. That's down more than 20 percent compared to the same period in 2011. In terms of marketed production of natural gas, the EIA said the United States posted nearly 12.6 million cubic feet for the six months of the year, an 8.2 percent increase from the same period in 2011.
IHS said the steady increase in oil and natural gas production means economic gains are starting to trickle down to American families. Last year, energy companies added millions of barrels worth of production to their U.S. portfolios through hydraulic fracturing. IHS said the energy boom added more than 2.1 million direct and indirect jobs to the U.S. economy last year. That should reach the 3.3 million mark by the end of the decade. For actual monetary gains, increased wages and lower energy and manufacturing costs should add another $2,000 per year to American incomes by 2015, an increase of more than 60 percent from last year. (Related Article: Pessimism and Optimism over Utica Shale)
Supporters of hydraulic fracturing say the practice has been around for decades with few problems. The process employs huge quantities of water, sand and a trace amount of harmful chemicals used to coax oil and natural gas out of underground shale formations. Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey said hydraulic fracturing fluids spilled into a Kentucky creek killed off the federally threatened Blackside dace, a small species of minnow. Drilling was also blamed for small tremors in parts of the U.S. Midwest and the EPA is investigating groundwater wells to see if anything associated with fracking has contaminated drinking water supplies. Those threats have sparked concerns that fracking isn't worth the economic benefits. ( Continue… )
I get this every time I discuss EVs. Something along the lines of oh, you shouldn’t be including PHEVs in with EVs, they don’t count, or are not real EVs, just a stopgap etc.
I tend to think PHEVs may be better product. At least for now. And I follow the GM’s Chevy Volt vs the Nissan Leaf with interest.
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The main arguments on each: ( Continue… )
Before the Chevy Volt (a plug-in hybrid) went on sale, Volt Chief Engineer Andrew Farah openly acknowledged that the extreme temperatures found in the Southwest have the potential to permanently reduce the battery pack’s capacity to store energy:
“The Volt may not be right for everyone. If you live in the Southwest, depending on how you use your car, the Volt might not be right for you.”
So what is a manufacturer to do if a given customer’s driving habits consistently exposes his or her battery pack to excessively high temperatures in a place like Tucson, or charges it five times a day, or maybe applies a blowtorch to it? As it turns out, the answer depends on what the warranty says, not so much on what the owner’s manual warns you not to do.
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As the chief engineer for the Volt warned above, Nissan’s owner’s manual also warned that excessive exposure to ambient temperatures above 120 degrees F would degrade battery capacity. However, when a handful of Leaf owners in the Southwest realized that their batteries were losing capacity faster than batteries not repeatedly exposed to temperatures over 120 degrees F, they filed a class action lawsuit. ( Continue… )
A group of five Scandinavian nations agreed Wednesday to objectives that build upon goals outlined in the president's June speech on climate and energy.
The international push aims to cut carbon emissions domestically and curtail financial support for new coal plants abroad. But developing countries rely heavily on the carbon-heavy fuel, and critics of the plan say it will slow the spread of electricity to regions of the world without it.
"Climate change is one of the foremost challenges for our future economic growth and well-being," reads the joint statement by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the US. "We underscore the importance of continuing to encourage innovative approaches to promoting energy efficiency and clean energy, including renewables, and of taking action on climate change, domestically and internationally."
While emissions are down in the US and other Western countries, they are ballooning elsewhere. Carbon-heavy coal is fueling the emerging economies of China, India, and other countries – sometimes with the US financing the construction of new plants. ( Continue… )
Although Latin America’s oil production has grown steadily in recent years, the region’s refineries have been unable to keep pace with rising demand, particularly in the transport sector. The shortfall has prompted Victorio Oxilia, president of the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE), to declare the increase in petroleum product imports one of the region’s most pressing energy concerns.
There are several reasons for this. One is simply insufficient investment in local refining capacity. This is changing, with several projects underway. Interestingly the Chinese, who have been significant financiers of upstream oil operations across Latin America, have begun investing in the downstream sector. The China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC) investment in the $12 billion Pacific Refinery in Ecuador is just one example, and we are likely to see more in coming years.
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Another reason for the region’s relative decline in refining capacity is tightening regulations, meaning that pre-exciting refineries are unable to produce the quality of gasoline or diesel that meets national standards. Constructing more complex refineries capable of producing various fuel grades requires enormous investment. ( Continue… )