Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

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 man arranges drums at an oil station and depot in Nigeria's capital Abuja. Crude oil production in Nigeria has suffered in recent years because of militant campaigns and sabotage in the Niger Delta region. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters/File)

Nigeria oil production slides amid unrest

By Daniel J. GraeberGuest blogger / 05.13.13

The wealthiest man in Africa said he's secured billions of dollars in loans to help kick start the refinery business in Nigeria. OPEC-member Nigeria is forced to import most of its petroleum products because of aging infrastructure. Crude oil production in Nigeria has suffered in recent years because of militant campaigns and sabotage in the Niger Delta region. Last month, the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said it was launching a campaign to save Christianity in Nigeria. With militant group Boko Haram seeking to establish an Islamic state in a country divided along religious lines, poorly maintained refineries may be the least of Nigeria's concerns.

Nigerian business magnate Aliko Dangote said he's secured $4.25 billion in loans from domestic and offshore banks to breathe new life into the refinery business in Africa's largest crude oil producer. Nigeria exports about four times as much crude oil as it can handle with its existing refineries. Aging infrastructure and poor maintenance means Nigeria has to rely on imports to meet domestic oil requirements and Dangote said such a significant investment makes good business sense. (Related article: SOUTH SUDAN: More Good News for Oil Production)

The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Nigerian oil production peaked at 2.6 million barrels per day in 2005. Since then, militancy and corruption have contributed to relative declines in production. Last week, Timipre Sylva, former governor of southern oil-rich Bayelsa state was arrested for fraud, adding to a steady stream of corruption charges filed against officials in the Niger Delta. Later this week, lawmakers said they will look into allegations that Nigerian Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke is loosely connected to some shady deals involving Niger Delta oil blocks.  President Goodluck Jonathan, himself a former Bayelsa governor, said he would crack down on corruption, though recent developments show his efforts so far have lacked teeth.  ( Continue… )

Algerian soldiers stand guard at the natural gas plant in In Amenas. Since a January terrorist attack and hostage standoff there, the Algerian government has increased security along the border and around energy plants. But fundamental security risks remain. (AP/File)

Algeria after terrorist attack: Don't count on security promises

By Yuval OrrGuest blogger / 05.11.13

Four months after militants linked to Al Qaeda attacked the In Amenas gas facility in eastern Algeria – triggering a four-day confrontation with the Algerian army and the deaths of nearly 40 hostages – the Algerian government has beefed up border security and pledged to deploy the army to protect energy sites.

Threatened with a potentially weakened oil and gas sector, which accounts for more than 95 percent of Algeria’s exports, Algerian authorities had every incentive to quickly shore up confidence. This is particularly true at In Amenas, which represented over 10 percent of Algeria’s natural gas production and nearly 18 percent of its gas exports prior to January’s attack. The concerns of foreign governments, energy companies, and other investors, however, should not be assuaged by Algeria’s security window-dressing or assertions that the country’s woes can simply be traced back to a resurgent Al Qaeda.

While Algeria's maneuvers promise to improve its defenses against external forces, they do nothing to address – and in fact are likely to see their efficacy degraded by – the underlying threat to the security and economic progress of the country: the fundamental dysfunction of the Algerian state. Destabilizing rivalries among the country’s leaders and a habit of nurturing extremist groups for political ends have shaped the security environment that allowed the In Amenas crisis to occur and are unlikely to fade away in the short term.

Rather than a story of youthful revolution, Algeria’s is one of ongoing struggle between two factions organized around septuagenarian autocrats clinging to power: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Gen. Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène, who has served as head of the country’s powerful intelligence agency, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), since 1990. President Bouteflika represents the public face of the Algerian government, while General Mediène, who is believed to have initially backed Bouteflika’s ascension to the presidency in 1999, maintains a less visible though equally influential presence within Algeria. ( Continue… )

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks at his company's factory in Fremont, Calif. Tesla is among perhaps only a handful of companies that have changed the way consumers think about alternative energy. (Noah Berger/Reuters/File)

Tesla Motors: Lots of buzz. Is it warranted?

By Correspondent / 05.10.13

Tesla Motors had a good week.

The luxury electric carmaker posted its first profit late Wednesday. The next day, Tesla's Model S tied for Consumer Reports’ highest testing score ever. Wall Street rejoiced, pushing shares of Tesla up 24 percent on the news.

Tesla Motors is a bright spot amid high-profile, federally-funded electric car flops. CEO Elon Musk's innovative approach to carmaking suggests the energy industry can benefit from borrowing a page from the tech sector's playbook.

The two sectors have borne some resemblence of late. New computer software has changed the way we look for oil. Smart thermostats are saving on residential energy consumption. The lithium-ion batteries that have powered our consumer electronics for a decade, are beginning to transform the way we fuel our cars.  

But if you're expecting the electrical grid to transform as quickly as the superconductor, you may be disappointed.  ( Continue… )

Shoppers enter the Kohl's store in South Burlington, Vt. Kohl’s saved $50 million in energy costs over four years and has continued to improve its energy performance with lighting and energy management systems upgrades, Asplin writes. (Toby Talbot/AP/File)

Energy efficiency: how retailers save money

By Allison AsplinGuest blogger / 05.10.13

When it comes to energy efficiency, retailers are on a roll. Convenience store chain Wawa announced last year that it saves over $1 million a year in energy costs thanks to an LED lighting retrofit. Nationwide department store Kohl’s saved $50 million in energy costs over four years and has continued to improve its energy performance with lighting and energy management systems upgrades.  As a result, Kohl’s claims, “we have one of the lowest energy usages per square foot in the retail industry.”

Walgreens, the country’s largest drugstore chain, recently completed lighting retrofits at 80% of its locations nationwide. The company said this change not only saves money, but also improves the customer experience: “Colors appear more vibrant and more like they would in daylight, so customers don’t need to second guess themselves in the cosmetics aisle.”

For retailers like these, energy efficiency offers an edge over their competitors. It’s about the bottom line, pure and simple.

The quest for a competitive edge may explain why retail stands out as the only sector of the commercial real estate industry that has shown appreciable success in overcoming the plague of the “split incentive.”  ( Continue… )

A large bull dozer sits ready for work to move coal into transport trucks at Peabody Energy's Gateway Coal Mine near Coulterville, Ill. (Seth Perlman/AP/File)

Struggling at home, US coal finds markets overseas

By Jen AlicGuest blogger / 05.10.13

US coal giants have been hit hard, unable to compete with natural gas at home, but overseas this market is getting hotter by the minute.

Illinois is a key coal state benefitting from this development, with the latest reports showing that it exported a record 13 million tons of coal last year. This is a major increase over the previous years, with only 5.5 million tons of exports in 2011 and 2.5 million tons in 2010.

So now production is back on the rise. Illinois’ production is up 25% over 2011, and counting—despite that fact that US coal production in general has been down about 11%.

US coal-producing states are ready to take advantage of global markets that are starving for this cheap coal. (Related articles: Coal Is the Fuel of the Past and the Future( Continue… )

An F/A 18 Hornet, which runs on biofuel, performs a drill during flight operations from the USS Nimitz off Hawaii. In many ways, the Navy has taken a lead on the transfer from oil to biofuels, Holland writes. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters/File)

Why the US military should continue biofuel research

By Andrew HollandGuest blogger / 05.09.13

Biofuels Leader

The military has been a leader in the development of biofuels – for good reason. As I’ve written before, the military’s single-source dependence on petroleum for fuel is a strategic vulnerability. Oil has a monopoly on energy supply for 80% of our military’s energy needs, including virtually all of the non-nuclear transportation. To simply accept that oil is going to remain as the sole source of liquid fuel that the US military relies on for its transportation, operations, and training is to say that we should accept the long-term strategic risks of price volatility and dependence upon uncertain foreign countries.

We should remember that, even if the military uses oil solely from the United States and its allies, the price that the Defense Logistics Agency pays for oil is largely set by global market conditions – and saying that those are highly vulnerable to conflict and unrest in the Middle East is an understatement. (Related: The Operational and Strategic Rationale Behind the U.S. Military’s Energy Efforts)

Last year, in an attempt to address this threat, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy were authorized under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to support the development of an alternative source of fuel. The funding agreed in a joint memorandum, and appropriated by Congress, each agency will invest $170 million over three years in helping to build a domestic biofuel industry (read more about the DoD’s biofuels policy here). This funding will be matched by investment from the private sector. Over the past several months, the agencies have been deliberating over which companies will partner with the government.  ( Continue… )

A pumpjack drills for oil in the Monterey Shale formation in California. Forty-six percent of new oil and gas jobs in the first three months of 2013 were filled by women, according to a new analysis. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File)

'Unconventional' energy: rise of women in oil and gas industry

By Correspondent / 05.09.13

Women made up almost half of oil and gas industry hires in the first quarter of 2013, a new report shows.

Men still dominate the field – making up 82 percent of the oil and gas workforce, according to an analysis of government data by Rigzone, an oil and gas industry news and job recruitment website. But 46 percent of new jobs in the first three months of 2013 were filled by women. In the previous quarter, women filled 30 percent of new jobs.  

The demographics reflect a changing industry. The image of the macho roughneck toiling on isolated rigs persists, but computer-assisted exploration and advanced petroleum engineering have diversified the profile of oil and gas workers. 

"The industry itself is becoming more sophisticated, more technologically advanced," said Mary Usovicz, vice president of marketing and external affairs at OsComp, which develops compressed-natural-gas delivery technologies.  ( Continue… )

An atmospheric phenomenon known as a "sun dog" is seen in the sky over Havana. Designers in Korea have developed a portable solar charger that suctions to windows. (Desmond Boylan/Reuters/File)

A solar charger that turns your window into an outlet

By James BurgessGuest blogger / 05.09.13

The conceptual solar charger known as the Window Socket has been everywhere on the internet lately, and whilst many have been criticising its lack of energy storage and the low current that it provides, I for one am very impressed.

The simple solar charger was created by Kyuho Song and Boa Oh of Korea, and is designed to attach, via a suction pad, to any window that receives sunlight, and immediately begin producing electricity.

The small device has a plug socket (European connection only at the moment) which can be used to charge small devices directly, or it can also store charge in a battery for up to 10 hours, to act as a fully portable charge station. (Related article: Falling Solar Costs Drive Increase in Number of Large Scale Solar Installations)

  ( Continue… )

An employee works at the Tawke oil fields in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Genel Energy is the leading producer in Kurdistan and the leading builder of infrastructure to Turkey. (Hadi Mizban/AP/File)

Genel Energy capitalizes on Kurdistan, Africa oil finds

By Jen AlicGuest blogger / 05.08.13

Genel Energy (GENL) is hot right now, with new April finds in Northern Iraq, a targeted uptick in production here, as well as a new gas-to-oil pipeline conversion to come on line this year. The latest feather in its cap is the securing of a rig contract for offshore drilling in its Africa portfolio.

In late April, Anglo-Turkish Genel announced the successful testing of a second well in its Chia Surkh license in the eastern territory in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan), near the border with Iran.

The second test on the Chia Surkh-10 well yielded a sustained preliminary flow rate of 3,200 barrels of oil per day and 8.4 million cubic feet of natural gas. (Related article: Kenya Aspires to be East Africa Hydrocarbon Transit Hub)

This is one of five exploration wells Genel has in Chia Surkh, and the testing confirms it’s a significant discovery.  ( Continue… )

Pedestrians stroll along the beach near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Onofre, Calif. Cheap natural gas is among a range of factors that can contribute to a nuclear plant's demise. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP/File)

Natural gas glut crimps nuclear power

By Correspondent / 05.08.13

A nuclear plant in Wisconsin closed Tuesday, after nearly four decades of power generation. Earlier this year, owners of a plant in Florida opted for retirement over rehabilitation. The fate of the San Onofre nuclear plant in California hangs in the balance.

Differing factors play a role these plants' demise – age, regulations, leaks, and regional market conditions, to name a few. But one unifying pressure on these nuclear plants and others is the abundance of cheap, American natural gas.

Low-cost, low-emission natural gas has already been blamed for shuttering coal plants and weighing on wind and solar financing. Now, it seems, nuclear is also falling victim to the natural gas glut.

It partly explains Tuesday's closing of the Wisconsin-based 556-megawatt Kewaunee Power Station.  ( Continue… )

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Editors' picks:

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!