President Barack Obama used his weekly address to say the country is ready to take control over its energy future. This is because oil production is at a 15-year high at the same time that imports are at a 20-year low. American commuters, however, still pay what the president said was the equivalent of a new tax by way of higher-than-average retail gasoline prices. The best way to shield consumers from pain at the pump, the president said, was to move away from oil altogether. A look at consumer trends, however, suggests the American economy isn't quite ready for low-carbon prime time.
A series of refinery and market issues this year pushed gasoline prices higher earlier than during past years. In February, some U.S. regional markets saw gasoline prices top $4 per gallon. By mid-March, however, prices pulled back to seasonal lows. Motor group AAA reported that U.S. commuters paid Monday, on average, $3.68 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That's about 4 percent less than they paid during the same time last year. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency said the average fuel economy rating for model year 2012 passenger vehicles was 23.8 mpg, the highest on record.
Obama delivered his weekly address from the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, home to some of the most advanced vehicle battery technology in the nation. There, he echoed a pledge made during his State of the Union address last month by speaking of plans to use oil and natural gas money to help fund alternatives to hydrocarbons as the primary source of fuel from passenger vehicles. ( Continue… )
Imagine for a moment that it's 2050, the United States has managed to cut the oil used by cars and light trucks by 80 percent, and you're pulling out of your driveway.
What is it that you're driving?
It would be a light, highly efficient vehicle. New cars in 2050 would have Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ratings of about 74 miles per gallon, better than twice today's standards. It might be powered by a traditional internal combustion engine, a battery, or an engine burning biofuels, hydrogen, or natural gas. Your car would probably be cheap to run but cost several thousand dollars more to buy (and that's not counting inflation).
That's what the future might look like if the United States committed itself to reducing the oil use and greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks, according to a new study by the National Research Council. The NRC, a private, Washington-based nonprofit, founded by congressional charter to provide expert advice on scientific matters, found that the US could meet the goal of an 80 percent cut in the oil consumption of light-duty vehicles (LDV) by 2050 if the federal government provided strong leadership.
But the prospects for cutting the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from LDVs by 80 percent look more challenging. ( Continue… )
Canadian coal plant retrofit could be a 'game changer' (Sponsor content)
A recent story from E&E reported on the progress of Canadian utility SaskPower’s 43-year-old coal plant at its Boundary Dam Power Station. The facility is being retrofitted to capture roughly 90 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions and store the gas deep underground.
The Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Project will see Unit #3 at a coal-fired power plant located at Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada, rebuilt with a fully-integrated carbon capture and storage (CCS) system. It will be the first commercial-scale power plant equipped with a fully integrated CCS system. Operations are expected to begin in 2014.
According to the story, “The 110-megawatt project may be a game changer in two ways — it could become the world’s first commercial demonstration of carbon capture technology on a power plant at large scale. And it differs from other proposals in that it is a retrofit of an older coal plant and the retrofit might later be applied to similar plants.”
The Boundary Dam project will reduce CO2 emissions by approximately one million tons a year — the equivalent of taking more than 250,000 cars off Saskatchewan roads annually. The CO2 will be sold to resource companies to be used in enhanced oil recovery operations. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) will also be captured and sold.
“Boundary Dam will make the first benchmark. It will define the costs, which is so important,” Mike Monea, SaskPower president of carbon capture and storage initiatives, said at a briefing in Washington, D.C., last week. “Whoever builds the next one won’t have to spend as much money as us.”
Globally, more coal is expected to be used to produce electricity in 2017 than now, despite changing dynamics in the United States, according to the International Energy Agency.
The United States is expected to lead the pack among non-OPEC members in terms of oil supply growth for 2013. That's the assessment from this month's market report from the Vienna-based cartel. OPEC said it projected U.S. oil supply growth of around 600,000 barrels per day in 2013, with most of that coming out of tight oil formations in the country. For the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, that means oil imports should fall to their lowest level since 1985. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said more energy development is the key to a balanced budget, a sentiment enforced by EIA predictions of 7.9 million U.S. bpd by 2014. OPEC, however, said it may need to revise its figures because a possible slowdown in the U.S. oil boom.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., unveiled a 91-page plan that he says would balance the budget in 10 years without raising taxes. The congressman said the Obama administration was over-subsidizing renewable energy programs to the detriment of the fossil fuels industry. With that policy, Ryan said the administration is standing in the way of the country's true energy potential.
"Our country has 163 billion barrels of recoverable oil and enough natural gas to meet the country’s demand for 90 years," his agenda states. (Related article: China Set to Become the World’s Largest Oil Importer)
The EIA, in its latest report, said it estimates 2012 oil production averaged around 6.5 million barrels per day. The average for November and December, however, was 7 million bpd, the highest volume recorded in twenty years. By 2014, that level should reach 7.9 million bpd. For EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski, that means the United States is relying less on foreign markets to meet its energy needs. By next year, foreign imports should fall to 32 percent of consumption, putting the United States on the road to the energy independence envisioned by House Republicans.
OPEC finds that tight oil production, coupled with modest growth from the Gulf of Mexico, meant most of the supply growth from non-members would come from the United States. For Ryan, expanding that growth to potential on federal lands, now off-limits, could add another $14.4 trillion in cumulative economic activity during the next 30 years. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings said that's reason enough to embrace fossil fuels over tax increases. ( Continue… )
Rep. Ed Markey, ranking member of the House Energy Committee, said an investigation into Shell's offshore Alaska campaign suggested the company wasn't ready to work in extreme environments. An Interior Department report found problems with the way Shell managed its Alaska campaign last year. Last week, Markey added that he wanted to restrict oil and gas exports to ensure U.S. energy security. Amid the firestorm over Republican pressure to pass the Keystone XL pipeline, some party leaders on the other side of the aisle are embracing a protective model as a way to keep the domestic economy going. The political debate around energy, however, is becoming less about energy and more about partisanship.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Tommy Beaudreau led the Interior Department's review of Shell's work offshore Alaska. The New Years Eve grounding of drillship Kulluk gave environmental campaigners the fodder they needed to reiterate their position that arctic oil and gas exploration wasn't safe. Beaudreau found that "Alaska's harsh environment was unforgiving" to Shell's lack of oversight in Alaska.
Markey, D-Mass., said the report showed Shell wasn't prepared to drill in the harsh arctic environment of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. (Related article: Using Oil Revenues to Research Alternative Fuels)
Clean-coal power plant to break ground in Texas (Sponsor content)
In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, author Joe Nocera talks about “A Real Carbon Solution” in Odessa, Tex. as the Summit Power Group plans to break ground on a $2.5 billion coal gasification power plant. Summit has named it the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP).
TCEP is a “NowGen” Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) facility that will incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in a first-of-its-kind commercial clean coal power plant.
TCEP will be a 400MW power/poly-gen plant that will also produce urea for the U.S. fertilizer market and capture 90 percent of its carbon dioxide (CO2) – approximately 3 million tons per year – which will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the West Texas Permian Basin.
According to Nocera, “Part of the promise of this power plant is its use of gasified coal; because the gasification process doesn’t burn the coal, it makes for far cleaner energy than a traditional coal-fired plant.”
“But another reason this plant — and a handful of similar plants — has such enormous potential is that it will capture some 90 percent of the facility’s already reduced carbon emissions. Some of those carbon emissions will be used to make fertilizer. The rest will be sold to the oil industry,which will push it into the ground, as part of a process called enhanced oil recovery.”
TCEP received a $450MM award in 2010 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative. TCEP received its final air quality permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on December 28, 2010.
The Texas Clean Energy project will be the first United States based power plant that combines both Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle and carbon capture and storage technologies.
With the media awash in stories telling us how much oil is being discovered around the world, there is one word which the optimists quoted in these stories refuse to utter: Depletion.
The simple fact is that depletion never sleeps. It starts as soon as an oil well begins production and goes on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Furthermore, it is not exactly news that oil is being discovered all around the world. The industry has been spending record amounts to find it.
What’s critical is the difference between the annual additions to oil production capacity and the annual decline in the rate of production from existing wells, a decline which is running anywhere from 4 to 9 percent depending on whom you talk to.
Even at the low end of decline rate estimates, the world must find and put into production the equivalent of what is currently coming out of the entire North Sea, one the world’s largest finds, and we must do so EVERY SINGLE YEAR before worldwide production can rise. So difficult has this task become, that we’ve only just been able to keep global production on a bumpy plateau since 2005. For now, the oil industry is on a treadmill which requires ever more drilling just to keep production even. ( Continue… )
US consumers aren’t sure the ethanol math is adding up here as they prepare for this year’s new federal mandate—they’re also not sure whether it’s good for their car engines.
To wit: This year, the use of renewable fuels must rise to 16.55 billion gallons, and this means more ethanol and more ethanol-blended gasoline for cars. More specifically, US refiners will be required to use 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol—up from 13.2 billion gallons now--but this is too much to blend with gasoline.
Right now, the gas Americans are putting in their cars is about 10% ethanol, but even this hasn’t been approved by regulators for ALL cars. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the E15 blend—for newer cars--thanks to a lot of lobbying by the ethanol producers. ( Continue… )
Innovation vs. Deployment
One of the continuing debates among climate and energy analysts and advocates is whether public policy should emphasize innovation or deployment. A hardy round of wonky discussion brought to light the nuances of each point of view, but it still leaves one lingering issue: how do we make energy innovation part of advocates’ climate policy pitch?
There are two levels to the debate between innovation analysts and deployment advocates. The most significant debate is over policy nuance and is what has been in the blogging spotlight recently. The debate logic chain typically plays out broadly this way:
- Mitigating climate change requires cutting global carbon emissions to near zero, which requires no less than a transformation of the global energy system from fossil fuels to clean energy. For its part, the United States has set a goal of 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050 and a midterm goal of 17 percent reductions by 2020.
- Innovation analysts argue today’s technology isn’t enough to get us to 80 percent global (or US) carbon reductions. Cheaper and better technologies are needed to fully address climate change, which requires looking at the full innovation ecosystem and aggressively strengthening through policy. Today’s policy approach is woefully lacking because it underinvests in research, development, and demonstration, and provides limited deployment incentives that don’t drive innovation. As a result, innovation analysts (for example, myself) typically focus on boosting R&D budgets, bridging the valley of death, and reforming deployment policies to drive technological improvements as the best path to addressing climate change.
- Deployment advocates argue today’s technologies are enough to at worse meet our midterm climate goals and at best get us much closer to our 80 percent goal than innovation analysts argue. Most commonly, this extends to deployment advocates arguing that big innovations really aren’t necessary. In other words, we need to do everything we can to push deploying today’s technologies by using policies including subsidies, carbon pricing, and mandates. By no means is funding research not important, but it’s not a high policy priority. As a result, deployment advocates (for example, Climate Progress EditorJoe Romm) champion clean energy subsidies and incentives to accelerate the deployment of existing technologies and as the best path to addressing climate change.
As Dave Roberts at Grist argues, there is in fact a lot both “camps” agree on at this level. Cheaper and better clean energy technologies will make deep carbon reductions less and less “difficult, expensive, and politically contentious” than if we relied solely on today’s technologies. The agreement only breaks on the policy implementation side. ( Continue… )
President Obama's visit to the center of a national energy-storage-research effort Friday highlights an overlooked tool in the administration's push for renewable energy: batteries.
The technology is ubiquitous – in our phones, our cars, and our planes – but the science is far from simple. The challenges are well-documented in news stories about bankrupt batterymakers, winter-averse electric cars, and grounded Dreamliners.
Many in the energy community believe we need a better battery. That's the focus of the work under way at the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago – and the reason for Mr. Obama's visit. The president is expected to urge Congress to provide an additional $2 billion for battery and transportation research meant to end the nation's use of oil.
Better batteries would not only extend the range of electric-only and hybrid cars, they would also make the nation's electric grid a lot "greener," capable of storing energy from wind turbines and solar panels on a large scale and then delivering it when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining.
"It’s not glitzy; it’s not glamorous," said Donald Sadoway, a battery researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., in a phone interview. "But – boy – if this thing works, it has enormous benefit." ( Continue… )