Great architecture has never been about winning; inspiration is a fickle flame, and does not necessarily rise from the competition around you. Architects pour their souls into their art, and are more interested in a conversation about ideas than a medal. I’ve had my doubts that competition is a good way to generate wonderful designs, but frankly the 2013 Solar Decathlon, in which I was fortunate enough to be a juror, has generated some wonderful designs and important conversations.
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is an international competition that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production.
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So what makes a winning entry? My opinion is it remains the elusive embodiment of good design; creating a single elegant solution from a big bag of conflicting requirements. Let me tell you what I look for. ( Continue… )
Kenya will start pumping its first commercial oil next year and begin exporting in 2016, but this is just the opening salvo: new discoveries in recent months and fast-track new well development make Kenya the darling of East Africa from an investor’s perspective.
Kenya is set to soar past Uganda, which discovered oil much earlier, but is now having a hard time getting it out of the ground and into the market. And the next five months should bring not only news of the first commercial output for Kenya, but new commercial prospects coming online.
As the discoveries pile up for pioneers British Tullow (TLW-LSE) and Canadian Africa Oil (AOI-TSXv), the plan now is to escalate development and further the pace of exploration, while a third winner in this scenario—Taipan Resources(TPN-TSX)—is set to benefit enormously by owning acreage right next to the pioneers’ high-reward prospects. (Related article: China Hopes to Dominate Africa by Boosting Trade Via Indian Ocean)
Tullow, in partnership with Africa Oil--made the first discovery in western Kenya just last year, and in total have discovered more than 300 million barrels of oil equivalent resources in Kenya’s South Lokichar Basin, and they are still exploring. ( Continue… )
Forty years ago this month, Syria and Egypt launched a Yom Kippur surprise attack on Israel to regain land and prestige lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli forces were nearing Damascus and Cairo when a ceasefire took hold. But as the Soviet Union resupplied its Arab clients and President Nixon resupplied Israel, Arab members of the OPEC oil cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, announced a five percent monthly cut in oil output, then embargoed oil exports to the U.S. and later others. OPEC provided 35 percent of America’s oil at the time.
Prices soared and deliveries faltered. “No gas today” signs spread. People waited in line for gasoline, risking scuffles and occasional gunshots. America had lost her energy innocence.
Relaxed regulations and massive subsidies tried to expand fossil, unconventional fossil, and nuclear energy. (In 1975 oil fueled 15 percent of U.S. electricity vs. less than one percent today.) Most such efforts proved far too costly, but President Carter’s shift toward renewables and especially energy efficiency was strikingly successful.
On his watch, President Ford’s 1975 auto standards took effect in 1978, raising new domestic cars’ efficiency 7.6 mpg during 1977–85. They drove one percent fewer miles on 20 percent fewer gallons, and became lighter, cleaner, safer, but scarcely smaller and no less peppy, saving fuel even when 55-mph top speed limits were abandoned 13 years later. New federal and state policies also made buildings and factories more frugal. Appliance efficiency standards passed Congress without a single nay vote. ( Continue… )
Oil production in North Dakota reached an all-time high in August. As of 2011, the U.S. Energy Department said the state was the fourth largest in the union in terms of oil production and North Dakota's oil accounted for 7 percent of the U.S. total, a 35 percent increase from the previous year. The state's Department of Mineral Resources said most of that crude oil would be able to make it to regional refineries so long as rail deliveries continue on their current trajectory. Scrutiny over crude oil deliveries by rail and the first major pipeline spill in the state, however, may dampen some of the state's optimism.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission, a division within the Department of Mineral Resources, published its monthly "director's cut" this week. Director Lynn Helms said 95 percent of all drilling in the state targets the Bakken and Three Forks formations. In April, the U.S. Geological Survey said those formations, spread out over North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, contain a mean 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. By August, the NDIC said production in the state reached 911,242 barrels per day, an all-time high. (Related article: North Dakota Farmer Stumbles on Massive Oil Leak)
North Dakota's shared border with Canada makes it a strategic state for North American crude oil transportation. Though the much-lauded Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta would sidestep North Dakota, there are more than 2,000 miles of pipeline under construction in the state at the heart of the U.S. shale boom. NDIC director Helms, however, said crude takeaway may depend in part on rail. ( Continue… )
Last month the world witnessed a paradigm shift: China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest consumer of foreign oil, importing 6.3 million barrels per day compared to the United States’ 6.24 million. This trend is likely to continue and this gap is likely to grow, according to the EIA’s October short-term energy outlook. Wood Mackenzie, a leading global energy consultancy, echoed this prediction, estimating Chinese oil imports will rise to 9.2 million barrels per day (70% of total demand) by 2020.
This trend has been driven by a combination of factors. Booming American oil production, slow post-recovery growth, and increasing vehicle efficiency have all served to reduce crude imports. In China, however, continued economic growth has brought with it a growing middle class eager to take to the road. While the automobile market had cooled earlier this year, September saw sales rise by 21%—a trend that is putting increasing strain on China’s infrastructure and air quality in addition to oil demand.
Some of the world’s largest traffic jams are now commonplace in major Chinese cities, and air quality issues have pushed authorities to pursue synthetic natural gas technology to offset the need for coal-fired electricity. Increasing oil consumption will only serve to exacerbate these issues.
Furthermore, the per capita consumption differential between the two countries is still vast, with an average Chinese citizen consuming a mere 2.9 barrels of oil per year compared to an average American who consumes 21.5. This indicates that China’s growing thirst for oil isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. ( Continue… )
The world has changed. For US energy, that's a good thing.
Forty years after the first Arab oil embargo exposed the risks of dependence on foreign oil, the US has made adjustments to reduce its vulnerability to short-term supply disruptions. Here are three of the biggest changes:
- Energy boom: New drilling techniques are coaxing vast amounts of fossil fuels from stubborn shale rock formations in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. The US is producing so much natural gas that it's beginning to export it.
- Demand: Americans have dramatically reduced the number of factories and residences that use oil. Transportation remains its biggest vulnerability. Here, too, there's progress, as Americans begin to pare back their driving. When they do drive, it's in cars that on average go twice as far on a single tank of gasoline as the average car did in 1973. Or, they drive in cars that don't run on gasoline at all – opting for electricity or even natural gas as a fuel instead.
- Emergency reserves: When Arab oil exporters raised oil prices and then cut off the supply of oil to the West starting 40 years ago Wednesday, there was no backup plan. Today, there is. The International Energy Agency formed in response to the oil embargo, and coordinated a global network of emergency oil supplies in the case of future oil shocks. These strategic reserves have helped to offset the power of the spigot wielded by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
In September, the US dropped to the world's No. 2 importer of oil. It's expected to surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia this year as the world's largest producer of oil and gas combined. After decades of fueling economic growth with the supplies of other nations, the US is increasingly reliant on homegrown energy, and poised to capitalize on global demands. ( Continue… )
Two years ago, Saudi Arabia started mulling the prospects of shale natural gas as it faced the possibility of running short on energy supplies. The largest oil exporter in the world said it's now ready to replicate the shale gas success in the United States and use its own unconventional reserves to keep the lights on. The shale boom in the United States has turned the global energy market on its head. The director of the International Energy Agency said, however, coal was still the fuel of choice.
The United States is on pace to pass Russia as the leading natural gas producer in the world. In theory at least, it could rival Riyadh in terms of oil production. The production gains from the United States are thanks in part to the much-ballyhooed shale boom under way in the country. The U.S. Energy Department said last week it expected natural gas production to rise 1.7 percent from their 2012 level to 70.4 billion cubic feet per day next year. U.S. oil production should rise by more than 30 percent during that same time to 8.5 million bpd in 2014. (Related article: A Billion-Ton Coal Miner You’ve Never Heard Of)
That increase forced oil giant Saudi Arabia to stand up and take notice, not only because higher U.S. production means less consumption of foreign energy resources but also because of what it can possibly do at home. Saudi Aramco President Khalid al-Falih told the World Energy Congress in South Korea this week the race was on to replicate the U.S. success with shale. Riyadh estimates it holds at least 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and is ready to commit some of that to feed its power plants. Though the Middle East and North America are leading in terms of oil and gas production, it's consumption that's driving the global market for energy. And what's fueling that, the IEA said, is coal. ( Continue… )
Disagreement, But The Outline of A Compromise
Yesterday I watched the livestream of a National Journal’s event, “Biofuels Mandate: Defend, Reform, or Repeal” from Washington, DC. I encourage you to skim through the replay. The session highlighted a wide range of views concerning the US Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), including those of the corn ethanol and advanced biofuels industries, poultry growers, chain restaurants, environmentalists, and small engine manufacturers. Although these broke down pretty sharply along pro- and anti-RFS lines, I thought I detected hints of the kind of compromise that might resolve this issue. I’d like to focus on the elements of such a deal, rather than rehashing the positions of all of the participants, with one necessary exception.
The Requirement for Reform
The most disappointing contributions to the discussion occurred during the interview with Representative Steve King (R, IA) by National Journal’s Amy Harder. If we accept Mr. King’s perspective, we should embrace the RFS as being as relevant today as when it was conceived, with no changes required. That flies in the face of the serious market distortions now manifesting in the “blend wall” at 10% ethanol content in gasoline. Among other things, Mr. King claimed that a 2008 reduction of $0.06 per gallon in the now-expired ethanol blenders credit brought the expansion of the corn ethanol industry to a standstill. The industry’s own statistics tell a very different story, with US ethanol production capacity having grown by a further 86% since that point.
Rep. King also characterized “food vs. fuel” concerns as a bumper sticker issue, with no basis in fact. That issue might be controversial, but it is far too substantive to dismiss so cavalierly. The latest evidence of that is a vote by the European Parliament to cap the contribution of conventional biofuel — ethanol and biodiesel derived from food crops — at 6% of transportation energy out of a 2020 target of 10%, based on concerns about sustainability and competition with food. It seemed fairly clear that the Congressman views the RFS more as a farm support measure than an energy program. ( Continue… )
Fall Means Falling Gasoline Prices
Fall is always a welcome change of pace for most people after a long, hot summer. Not only from the temperatures, but fall almost always brings relief at the gasoline pump. Pundits frequently notice this phenomenon during election years, and assume that vested interests are trying to manipulate prices to win elections. But there is a more straightforward explanation to what’s going on, and it isn’t limited to election years.
Everyone knows that gasoline evaporates. What you may not know is that there are numerous recipes for gasoline, and depending on the ingredients, the gasoline can evaporate at very different rates. And because gasoline vapors contribute to smog, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seasonally regulates gasoline blends to minimize emissions of gasoline vapors.
The way the EPA regulates these vapors is by putting seasonal limits on the Reid vapor pressure (RVP). The RVP specification is based on a test that measures vapor pressure of the gasoline blend at 100 degrees F. Vapor pressure is a measure of the tendency to evaporate; the higher the vapor pressure the faster the evaporation rate. Normal atmospheric pressure is around 14.7 lbs per square inch (psi) at sea level. Substances with a vapor pressure higher than normal atmospheric pressure are gases, and those with a vapor pressure lower than normal atmospheric pressure are liquids (assuming they are exposed to normal atmospheric pressure). ( Continue… )
China has edged out the US as the world's biggest oil importer.
The shift reaffirms China's ballooning growth and middle-class demand for cars and other amenities. Meanwhile, the US has slogged through five years of post-recession economic malaise. Americans are driving and buying less than before.
That's only half the story. The other half is one of American innovation in domestic energy conservation and resource extraction. A shale oil and gas boom has driven production to levels not seen in decades and efficiency standards have slashed household and vehicular consumption. The deployment of renewables and alternative fuels have contributed to a supply-demand balance that works very much in consumers' favor.
Suddenly, the US won't have to rely on foreign oil as much as it used to, and China will. That gives the US an economic and perhaps geopolitical advantage while China deepens its dependence on volatile, oil-rich countries in the Middle East. ( Continue… )