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Energy Voices: Insights on the future of fuel and power

Monitor staff and guest contributors offer a mix of news, analysis, and commentary on energy and resource issues emerging across the globe.

A coal power plant is pictured near the western town of Neurath, Germany. Germany and other countries are dealing with what is called 'loop flow' – when the renewables aren't performing, either because the wind has dropped or the sun has set, fossil fuels plants have to be activated. (Ina Fassbender/Reuters/File)

Is energy dragging Europe down?

By Llewellyn KingGuest blogger / 12.03.13

Europe, at present the world's largest market and largest economic bloc, is in decline and living standards are in danger. That was the sober message at an energy conference here, delivered by a battery of speakers from across eastern Europe.

The narrative is that energy is what is dragging Europe down – not low birthrates and pervasive social-safety networks, but increasing dependence on expensive energy imports and hopelessly tangled markets.

Although delegates gathered to discuss the particular problems of eastern Europe, many had comments about the energy dependence across Europe; its labyrinthine regulations in nearly all 28 countries, its inability to form capital for large projects like nuclear, and governments intruding into the market.(Related article: New Study Finds Higher Methane Emissions from Fracking)

The result is a patchwork of contradictions, counterproductive regulations, political fiats and multiple objectives that leave Europeans paying more for energy than they need to and failing to develop indigenous sources, such as their own shale gas deposits in Ukraine and Poland. It also leaves countries dependent on capricious and expensive gas from Russia, unsure of whether they can build needed electric generating plant in the future and poorly interconnected, sometimes by both gas pipelines and electric lines.  ( Continue… )

An oil sands mining operation north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, is shown. Alberta’s share of Canada’s oil production is expected to grow substantially over time. (Todd Korol/Reuters/File)

Behind the scenes at Canada's oil sands

By Robert RapierGuest blogger / 12.02.13


I spent the first week of November in the heart of the Athabasca oil sands around Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was there as a guest of the Canadian government, which hosts annual tours for small groups of journalists and energy analysts. In the previous two articles, I covered some of the environmental issues arising from the development of the oil sands.

In Oil Sands and the Environment – Part I I discussed greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on wildlife, and I touched upon water usage. I also detailed some of the work of Pembina Institute (PI), which is working to improve the environmental conditions as the oil sands are developed. In Oil Sands and the Environment – Part II I covered the tailings ponds, water consumption, impacts to water quality, and impacts to indigenous people.

Today I want to discuss the actual process of converting the oil sands into oil. Some may feel that this should have been the first article I wrote, but because the development of the oil sands is environmentally controversial on many fronts, I thought it was important to go over environmental issues first before discussing the process. I think that if I had covered the process first, most of the comments and questions would have been about the environmental issues.  ( Continue… )

The moon is seen from New Delhi. Shimizu, one of world’s largest architectural, engineering, and construction firms, has drawn up plans to install a solar belt around the moon's equator that would collect energy from the sun and beam it back to Earth in the form of microwaves and lasers. (B Mathur/Reuters/File)

One small step for solar? Firm envisions solar panels on moon.

By James BurgessGuest blogger / 12.02.13

Space-based solar panels have been researched by some of the more fanciful scientists on the planet for quite some time based on the clear advantages that such technology would have over earth-based solar panels; such as 24 hours sunlight and no interference from weather patterns. Now a team of Japanese engineers have added a slight twist to the idea and decided to place solar panels on the moon.

Shimizu, one of world’s largest architectural, engineering, and construction firms, has drawn up plans to install a solar belt around the moon's equator that would collect energy from the sun and beam it back to earth in the form of microwaves and lasers. On earth it would be collected by special receiver stations, converted into electricity and then fed into the national grid. (Related article: New Efficient Materials Promise a Photovoltaic Revolution)

Aware of the difficulties of constructing arrays in space, Shimizu intends to use a fleet of remote controlled robots to install the Luna Ring, which would stretch across the entire 6,800 mile lunar equator, with a width of 248 miles. That comes to a total area of solar panels of 1,686,400 square miles, enough to generate 13,000 terawatts of energy.  ( Continue… )

A petrochemical complex is shown in Assaluyeh seaport on Iran's Persian Gulf coast. Iranian officials are making inroads to Western oil majors and leaders of other OPEC nations, hoping to stake out room on the international market for the Islamic Republic's oil. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters/File)

After nuclear deal, Iran angles for return to oil market

By Staff writer / 12.02.13

With a nuclear deal signed, Iran isn't wasting any time working to revive its battered energy industry.

Tough international sanctions on Iran's vast oil and gas wealth aren't going to disappear overnight, but last week's interim nuclear accord opens the door for Iran's return to oil influence.

Iranian officials are already putting out feelers to western oil majors and leaders of other OPEC nations, hoping to stake out room on the international market for the Islamic Republic's oil. 

It could be a welcome addition, as supply disruptions in Libya, Nigeria, and elsewhere continue to rattle investors. Still, production in the US and Saudi Arabia is booming, and neither country is likely to slow down anytime soon.

Iraq has gobbled up much of Iran's OPEC market share in the past year, and isn't in any rush to give it back. What's more, it will be months, at least, before Iranians see any real relief from sanctions imposed by the US.  ( Continue… )

President Obama tours the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Cleveland Thursday. In a speech at the factory, Mr. Obama pointed to energy efficiency and energy independence as areas where the US has made progress. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Eager to change subject, Obama touts healthy energy progress

By Staff writer / 11.14.13

President Obama's signature health-care program is stumbling out of the gate. Lawmakers are scrutinizing overseas spying operations. A deal on Iran's nuclear plan has yet to materialize.

After weeks of discussing glitches and setbacks, Mr. Obama tried to change the subject in Cleveland Thursday. He toured a steel plant to highlight job growth in the auto industry, which just five years ago was on the verge of collapse. And he pointed to one area where the United States has seen some progress: energy.

"We [have] invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil, double wind power, double solar power, produce more oil, produce more natural gas, and do it all in a way that is actually bringing down some of our pollution, making our entire economy more energy-efficient," the president said in a speech at the factory.

The energy intensity of the US economy – total energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product – has been dropping for some time: 58 percent per real dollar of GDP between 1950 and 2011, according to the US Energy Information Administration. And it's projected to continue to decline over the coming decades. Energy consumption per person began a steady decline in 2007, in part because of new appliance and fuel-economy standards passed during the Obama administration.  ( Continue… )

A worker adjusts the valve of an oil pipe at West Qurna oilfield in Iraq's southern province of Basra. (Atef Hassan/Reuters/File)

Can Brazil and Iraq sustain world's growing thirst for oil?

By Nick CunninghamGuest blogger / 11.13.13

Oil prices will only rise moderately over the next 20 years according to estimates from the International Energy Agency. The IEA released the 2013 edition of its much-anticipated World Energy Outlook, which projects oil prices to rise steadily but slowly to $128 per barrel (in 2012 dollars) by 2035.

Leaving aside the fact that these projections are usually way off, the report bases its rosy figures on some pretty tenuous developments. For example, for prices to keep from spiking much higher than the projected $128 per barrel, production will have to keep up with rising demand. According to the report, world oil production will increase from the current rate of 89 million barrels per day (mb/d) to 101 mb/d by 2035. Therefore, for this to successfully play out, global production needs to add 12 mb/d.

Yet, the IEA believes that over half of this production will come from two countries: Iraq and Brazil. First, let’s take Iraq. Iraq has the fifth largest oil reserves in the world at 141 billion barrels and there are high hopes that it can ramp up production. In fact, the IEA is predicting that it will be the largest source of additional oil production in the world over the next 20 years. Iraq is so important that the IEA published a special report on its energy sector last year, in which it predicted that the Middle Eastern country could double its production from 3 mb/d in 2012 to 6 mb/d by 2020, steadily ratcheting up production to 8.3 mb/d by 2035. (Related article: Serious Oil Problems Uncovered in Nigeria( Continue… )

Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past the Tesla Model S after a news conference at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. Mr. Musk says there's no need for a recall after three Model S electric cars caught fire after crashes in the past six weeks. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File)

Tesla CEO says no recall necessary after Model S fires

By Staff writer / 11.13.13

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is on the defensive after a series of crash-related fires have raised concerns over the safety of the company's Model S electric car. 

The concern is unnecessary, Mr. Musk says. The three fires occurring in the past six weeks were the result of freak accidents, according to the Tesla CEO, not design flaws in the Model S.

Still, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is weighing a formal investigation after the third fire took place Nov. 6 in Tennessee. The federal agency will determine whether there is any need for a recall – a notion Musk is already dismissing.

Tesla Motors has had a string of good news over the past year – winning major industry awards and earning a top safety rating from the NHTSA. The success has put a bright spotlight on Musk, which has helped boost the profile of Tesla Motors and electric cars in general. So far, the Tesla CEO isn't shying away from that spotlight when the news isn't so great.  ( Continue… )

A sign shows $2.99 as the price for gas at a Gulf gas station in Jersey City, N.J., Tuesday. Gas prices across the US averaged $3.19 a gallon Wednesday, according to AAA. (Julio Cortez/AP)

For US motorists, it's Christmas in November. Gas prices hit 33-month low.

By Staff writer / 11.13.13

The holidays have come early for US drivers.

Gas prices are at the lowest they've been in 33 months and are projected to near the $3 mark as the year comes to an end. A combination of ample domestic supplies and light demand are keeping prices low.

About 1 in 4 gas stations across the US are already selling gas for less than $3 a gallon. Six states –  Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas – already have average gas prices below $3 a gallon. Missouri motorists are paying the least: an average $2.82.

Falling prices put cash back in the pockets of consumers, but it may not be enough to spur a strong holiday shopping season this year. Most forecasts suggest only a modest increase in holiday spending as the effects of the Great Recession continue to linger. ( Continue… )

Natural gas flares are seen at an oil pump site outside of Williston, N.D. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, two advanced extraction techniques, have fueled a boom in shale oil and gas production across the US. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File)

US to be No. 1 oil producer, but it won't last

By Staff writer / 11.12.13

The US is poised to become the world's largest oil producer beginning in 2015. But its reign will be fleeting as the Middle East reasserts itself two decades from now.

Why? America's oil boom won't last forever, according to an annual outlook released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency (IEA). And the technologies that have fueled that North American boom in shale rock formations won't be easily replicated in the rest of the world. 

"The capacity of technologies to unlock new types of resources ... and to improve recovery rates in existing fields is pushing up estimates of the amount of oil that remains to be produced," reads the Paris-based agency's report. "But this does not mean that the world is on the cusp of a new era of oil abundance."

Such a pessmistic forecast may seem hard to believe, given that the US is producing oil today at levels not seen since the 1990s. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, two advanced extraction techniques, have fueled a boom in shale oil and gas production across the US.  ( Continue… )

People wave Cyrenaica flags during a demonstration demanding a federal Cyrenaica region, in Benghazi in September. The self-declared government of Cyrenaica, a district in eastern Libya, said it established its own oil company that's ready to put crude oil on the international market. (Reuters/File)

Oil is tearing Libya apart

By Daniel J. GraeberGuest blogger / 11.12.13

The self-declared government of Cyrenaica, a district in eastern Libya, said it established its own oil company that's ready to put crude oil on the international market. Libya since Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorship ended in 2011 has struggled to return to the level of stability he ensured with an iron fist. Now, one of Africa's leading oil states is tearing apart at the seams defined largely along the divisions suppressed during Gadhafi's autocracy. With 48 billion barrels of proven oil reserves at stake, what's next for Libya may have less to do with political reform than it does with who controls the oil spigots.

Tribes in eastern Libya have pressed for a return to an administrative system established in the 1950s. Then, Libya was divided into three states, with Cyrenaica spread out over much of the eastern half of the country. That all ended when Gadhafi took power in a 1969 coup d'état.  Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, leader of the revised eastern administration, said the new company would be set up in Tobruk, where protesters last week laid siege to the Hariga port. That protest left a tanker set to load 60,000 barrels of crude oil for Italy stranded offshore.

Seemingly waning in power, and just weeks removed from his kidnapping, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the central government in Tripoli might run short on money because of oil export woes. The eastern area is home to several key oil fields and export terminals, meaning Zeidan has little say over what happens there. He said 60 percent of the oil production in Libya has stopped because of a series of disruptions, and most of that is from the eastern region. In the next month or so, he said, the Libyan economy may be in a bit of a pickle. (Related article: Libya: Benghazi Burns as Clashes Intensify in Tripoli( Continue… )

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