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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.

Israeli gas platforms are seen in the Mediterranean sea, some 15 miles west of the port city of Ashdod, Israel. (Amir Cohen/Reuters/File)

Israel mulls natural gas exports. Is that a good idea?

By Kurt CobbGuest blogger / 06.27.13

As the United States contemplates exporting natural gas to the rest of the world, previously energy-poor Israel seems about to jump on the export bandwagon. The current government is seeking approval to export about 40 percent of the production from its newly discovered offshore natural gas fields.

In an era of high volatility in energy prices and supplies and in a country surrounded by unfriendly neighbors, one would think that Israel would want to keep this valuable energy prize all to itself. Current estimates suggest that the remaining 60 percent of production will allow Israel to supply all its needs for 25 years.

My question is: What will the country do after that? Presumably it will need natural gas after 25 years. And, what if estimated reserves turn out to be too optimistic and the supply doesn't last that long? No one really knows what's in a reservoir until it is actually produced.  ( Continue… )

Solar panels are seen at a small solar farm in Linyola, northeastern Spain. (Albert Gea/Reuters/File)

Renewable energy is growing, but ...

By Robert RapierGuest blogger / 06.27.13

This past week I posted the following graphic on my Twitter account (@RRapier) showing the explosive growth of renewable electricity, particularly over the past decade: (see left)

The first response to this graphic was “But…INTERMITTENT!”

It is true that wind and solar power are intermittent — points I have discussed on several occasions. Biomass and geothermal power, on the other hand would be considered firm power (i.e, power that can be counted on to be available whenever it is needed).

However, we do not have a single energy source that doesn’t have a “but” associated with it. Every one of them. Even renewable energy sources have “buts” associated with them.  ( Continue… )

An electric charging station is shown in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP/File)

Are electric cars really cheaper than gas cars?

By Geoffrey StylesGuest blogger / 06.27.13

I’ve been looking through a new website developed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to assist consumers in comparing the energy costs of driving an electric vehicle (EV), relative to posted gasoline prices in their state. I heard about this site at the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) annual energy conference in Washington, DC earlier this week. It sounded like a handy feature for both current EV owners and those considering buying one, but I couldn’t help thinking about it in the context of a presentation I saw at the same conference on the cost effectiveness of federal tax credits for EV purchases. A key question in both instances concerns just what kind of car is being replaced by that new EV.

The website uses simple math, together with the EIA’s continuously updated data on gasoline and electricity prices around the country, to come up with a national and state-by-state price for an “eGallon”. That imaginary construct is essentially the quantity of electricity that would take a typical EV as far as a gallon of gasoline would take the average new conventional car. As the text points out, it’s hard for consumers to do this for themselves. They see gasoline prices everywhere they drive but must dig through their utility bills to find their electricity price–not always obvious–and then might not know how to compare the two.

The site’s documentation indicates the eGallon calculation is based on the average energy usage of five specific EVs, including the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus EV, along with the 2012 EPA fleet average fuel economy for what EPA defines as small and mid-size cars. The result is side-by-side postings of the US average gasoline and eGallon prices, plus a drop-down menu to replicate that for each state. The site also includes the chart at left, comparing these two prices over the last decade.  ( Continue… )

Smoke billows from a chimney of the cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Dadong, Shanxi province, China. (Andy Wong/AP/File)

Global warming and the politics of fossil fuel

By James StaffordGuest blogger / 06.26.13

It’s not mere anecdotal evidence: Visibly melting sea ice is the best evidence that the planet is warming. So prospecting for oil in the Arctic is a tricky endeavor that must be undertaken slowly and with extreme caution, argues Fen Montaigne, senior editor of Yale Environment 360, author of “Fraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica” and other books, and contributor to National Geographic, The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines.

So just how hot is it going to get? Hotter than we can handle if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, Montaigne tells us in an exclusive interview in which we discuss:

•    Why prospectors should proceed with extreme caution in the Arctic
•    Just how hot it’s going to get with global warming
•    Why science is being side-lined in the climate change debate
•    Why oil companies will have to keep their assets in the ground
•    Why we need to rethink agricultural subsidies
•    What we can expect next from the volatile EV market
•    What really concerns environmentalists about natural gas
•    The great fossil fuels paradox
•    Why natural gas may not only be a bridge to the future, but the future itself
•    Why the US government has no business mandating ethanol

Interview by. James Stafford of We’ll start with the Arctic Sea because so much of your work has focused on this area. Right now, the talk here is of vast opportunities, and vast environmental concern. How can we balance these two, and what is at stake?  ( Continue… )

President Barack Obama gestures during a speech on climate change Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

How Obama's climate change plan promotes natural gas

By Andrew HollandGuest blogger / 06.26.13

An article I wrote was published yesterday, Why a Global Shale Gas Boom is Key to Combating Climate Change. Because I had actually written the article a week ago, I didn’t know that it would come out at the same time as the release of the President’s big speech on climate change. As I demonstrated in the post, the U.S. has been the most successful country over the last decade in reducing its emissions; most of that is due to fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Natural gas generates more than 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than coal, not even including the many harmful particulate pollutants coal emits. To achieve similar benefits around the world, we need to replicate America’s shale gas revolution around the world.

While most of the news about the speech will be about how Obama is planning to accelerate renewable energy, I believe the biggest area of near-term action on reducing emissions will come from some underreported sections that will encourage the replacement of coal with natural gas for energy generation, both in the U.S. and globally.

Emissions Reduction Laundry List

The President’s plan is actually not one thing; it is a laundry list of federal actions, many of which are already being done. It is broken into three parts: (1) mitigating emissions in the US, (2) adapting to inevitable climate change, and (3) using diplomacy to lead international emissions reductions. Each of these has areas that will help accelerate fuel switching.  ( Continue… )

The Google logo is displayed outside Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google is highly interested in renewable energy and cleantech, loving to invest in companies where it can use it technical expertise. If Tesla were ever to put itself on the market, Google could be an interested buyer. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File)

Google Tesla: Could a tech giant buy the electric car company?

By Charles KennedyGuest blogger / 06.26.13

Bloomberg has made a rather interesting discovery about the loan deal that Tesla has just bought its way out of. As part of the agreement that Tesla Motors made with the US department of Energy (DoE), Tesla could not be sold as long as it still owed money to the DoE.

That news adds a whole new dimension to the fact that Tesla has just paid off its DoE loan, nine years early, as now they are no longer bound by the terms of the agreement and can put itself on the market.

Any prospective buyer would have to be technically focussed, and have very deep pockets. Tesla is the most expensive car manufacturer, trading at 816-times its 2013 earnings, and giving it a value of more than $5 billion. That is a lot of money to pay for a company that is only 10 years old, and has just reported its first profit ever. (Related article: Emerging Green Technologies to Invest in( Continue… )

President Barack Obama gestures during a speech on climate change, Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington. Obama's proposal to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants may mean trouble for his nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. (Evan Vucci/AP)

What Obama's climate plan means for his pick to head EPA (+video)

By Correspondent / 06.25.13

The broad climate plan President Obama put forth Tuesday may cost him an important member of his second-term energy and environment team. That won't stop his administration from implementing the proposals, but the fight over one nominee to the president's cabinet could slow it down.

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has faced an uphill battle in the Senate, where lawmakers have upheld her confirmation over questions of transparency and Ms. McCarthy's role in regulations curtailing emissions from future power plants. In Tuesday's speech, Mr. Obama outlined plans to broaden those rules to include existing power plants.

That won't sit well with those in Congress who say such regulations do more to slow economic growth than global climate change. House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio called the new regulations "absolutely crazy" during a time of stagnant job creation, Politico reported.

McCarthy is likely to take the brunt of the backlash to Tuesday's announcement.  ( Continue… )

President Obama, right, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Rancho Mirage, Calif., earlier this month. An bilateral agreement on hydrofluorocarbons offers a glimmer of hope for the international push in Obama's climate plan. (Evan Vucci/AP/File)

Obama climate plan: bold, but will China go along?

By Correspondent / 06.25.13

As President Obama unveils sweeping policies to address global climate change in a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, his focus is on curbing power plant emissions at home and boosting US investment in efficiency and clean energy. 

But climate change is a global problem, and the atmosphere, as they say, doesn't care where the carbon comes from. And whatever the United States does, the fate of global warming lies in the hands of China, India, and much of the developing world. China's growing emissions in the past decade has swamped the decline in emissions in the US.

This phenomena helps explain why a third of Mr. Obama's climate plan is devoted to addressing emissions abroad. By fostering bilateral initiatives with major emitting countries and promoting free trade of clean-energy technology, the plan aims to build globally on domestic climate goals. 

International climate change cooperation has fallen far short of environmentalists expectations, and some are skeptical that rapidly developing countries will have the resources to adopt more sustainable energy policies. But Obama has had a glimmer of success in the global arena when it comes to climate change, in contrast to a divided Congress that routinely balked on climate goals.   ( Continue… )

Smoke billows from a chimney of the cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Dadong, Shanxi province, China. (Andy Wong/AP/File)

How shale gas can slow global climate change

By Andrew HollandGuest blogger / 06.25.13

Reduction in Energy-Related CO2 Emissions

The United States has seen a remarkable run in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions over the last five years, reducing energy-related CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2012 by 12%, from six billion tons to 5.29 billion tons. While part of this reduction in emissions is attributable to a reduction in energy demand due to the economic downturn, another reason for this huge reduction is an increase in the use of natural gas for electricity.

In a story that is now familiar to most readers, the shale gas revolution in the United States has dramatically reduced the cost of natural gas. From a peak of $10.54 per million btu (mbtu) in July 2008, the spot price of gas at the well-head had fallen to less than $2/mbtu by April 2012.

Because utilities respond to price incentives, this caused fuel-switching of baseload electricity production from coal to natural gas, leading to a time in April 2012 when natural gas equaled coal as an energy source for the first time. This switch has partially been undone, with coal now producing 40% of electricity and natural gas 26% as gas prices have bounced back to $3.85/mbtu. Because burning natural gas for electricity produces half as much carbon emissions as coal, fuel switching is one of the main causes in the U.S. reduction in emissions.  ( Continue… )

An undated image shows the Amenas natural gas field in the eastern central region of Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages in January. (BP/AP/File)

How energy companies fight terrorism

By Daniel J. GraeberGuest blogger / 06.24.13

Norwegian energy company Statoil said last week it was forming a special operations division to handle emergency operations in response to a terrorist attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria. The company said it would double the amount of employees it had designated for existing security operations after reviewing the measures in place at the In Amenas gas facility. A January attack there left employees with Statoil and BP dead in what al-Qaida said was a response to French intervention in Mali. With the economy just as much a viable target as any, counter-terrorism may becoming more than just the military's game.

A January attack by a division of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb left several energy company employees and foreign fighters dead. The Algerian attack had the logistical support of Islamic fighters who traveled across the western border from Libya, still unsettled nearly two years after the revolution. (Related Article: Open Season on Syria’s Civil War)

Statoil said last week it was forming a special unit in response to the attack as part of a comprehensive response to the tragedy. Operations at In Amenas resumed at a limited capacity after the attack for owners Statoil, BP and Algeria's state energy company Sonatrach. French supermajor said it too was spending more on industry-wide security operations since the January attack. Natural gas production has declined more or less since 2005 for Algeria and lingering instability in the region suggests a turnaround isn't likely in the medium term.

BP said it had its own concerns, noting it was holding back on natural gas projects in the country because of the security situation there. Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi told a Houston energy conference in March the country "remains a stable country" despite the terrorist attack. He said the country wasn't discouraged by the incident and remained committed to developing its natural gas sector. Algeria has enacted policies that would give foreign investors an incentive to take a closer look at unexplored fields in the country. Algeria in 2011 produced around 2.9 trillion cubic feet of gas and has since worked to return to its previous glory. (Related Article: Why the US government Spies on its own Citizens( Continue… )

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