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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 worker looks over solar panels at the NRG Solar and Eurus Energy America Corp.’s 45-megawatt solar farm in Avenal, Calif. Over the last few years, both wind and solar technologies have seen significant growth, Stepp writes, and with continued subsidies and regulations, solar and wind technologies can potentially reach 20 percent market penetration. (Apolinar Fonseca/The Sentinel/AP/File )

Energy innovation: views on the future

By Matthew SteppGuest blogger / 02.05.13

The purpose of Energy Innovation 2013 – a half-day conference co-hosted by my organization, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and the Breakthrough Institute – was to discuss the possibility of developing and deploying all of the cheap, high-performing zero-carbon technologies necessary to meet 40 terawatts of projected global demand by mid-century.  Most importantly, the conference spurred debate on how the need for clean energy innovation should influence the climate and energy policy debate.

Over the course of three stellar panel discussions as well as follow-on debate via twitter (check out #EI13), a number of themes emerged that merit further debate amongst advocates, thinkers, and policymakers:

It’s Global Warming, Not American Warming

ITIF President Rob Atkinson set the stage for why energy innovation needs to be a policy priority by presenting a straight-forward logic chain: climate change is real and man-made, it’s about developing clean energy technologies that are cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives to drive down carbon emissions, and it’s globally pervasive. Clean energy technologies need to be affordable to all nations, and particularly emerging economies with growing populations that will consume more energy in the coming decades than the United States.

From a global carbon emission perspective, our policy choices cannot be made in a vacuum. This is particularly important because many countries are simply trying to provide access to energy in the first place (vs. providing new access to clean energy), so cost and performance are even more acutely important. (Read More: Breaking Down the Federal Clean Energy Innovation Budget: Demonstration Projects)

Of course, this doesn’t mean America shouldn’t act. On the contrary, America should act aggressively even if other countries don’t. What the global perspective tells us though is that we have to be smart about what aggressive policies we choose to pursue.  ( Continue… )

A dump wagon adds freshly gathered corn cobs to a pile on a farm near Hurley, S.D. Less than a week after the court ruled that the EPA had based their cellulosic ethanol projections on wishful thinking, Rapier writes, the EPA set the 2013 cellulosic ethanol mandate at 14 million gallons. (Dirk Lammers/AP/File)

EPA doubles down on ethanol mandates

By Robert RapierGuest blogger / 02.05.13

In my previous column — Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work — I used an analogy to describe the US government’s approach to cellulosic ethanol mandates. In brief, they have mandated that something that does not exist — commercial cellulosic ethanol volumes — be blended into the fuel supply in the hopes that they can incentivize the industry into existence. They decided to require gasoline blenders to purchase the fuel, which as it turns out was a bit of a problem since it didn’t exist.

Last week the court sided with the American Petroleum Institute in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the mandates. The court ruled that the EPA — which was responsible for determining the mandated volumes each year — based their projections on wishful thinking rather than on sound analysis (See the court decision here).

So how did the EPA respond? Less than a week after the court ruled that the EPA had based their cellulosic ethanol projections on wishful thinking, the EPA set the 2013 cellulosic ethanol mandate at 14 million gallons — up from last year’s mandate of 8.65 million gallons. Given that only around 20,000 gallons of qualifying cellulosic fuel was produced in 2012 — about 0.2% of the final mandated volume — the EPA’s decision to increase the 2012 mandate by over 60% is odd to say the least. It seems like they have doubled down on last year’s wishful thinking with an even larger dose of wishful thinking.

Where did the EPA come up with 14 million gallons for 2013? They once again set the 2013 mandate based on what producers (e.g., KiOR and Ineos Bio) said they would produce, which was the approach that has failed miserably for each of the past 3 years. What’s the old saying about the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I expect that we will see the EPA waste more tax dollars this year fighting — and losing — another lawsuit.

Link to Original Article: EPA Doubles Down on Unicorns

Surface melt water rushes along the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet through a supra-glacial stream channel, southwest of Ilulissat, Greenland. Global warming proceeds whether we like it or not, Cobb writes. (Ian Joughin/AP/File)

Global warming vs. time: why some problems can't wait

By Kurt CobbGuest blogger / 02.04.13

America believed it could put off the question of slavery. It did for 73 years from the drafting of the U.S. Constitution to the beginning of the Civil War.

America believed it could put off women’s suffrage after the Civil War even though so many women had worked so hard for abolition and for the rights of former slaves. It did for 54 years until the passage of the 19th Amendment.

The right of gays and lesbians to marry and to be free from discrimination in employment and housing is an ongoing struggle.

All these problems, however painful in their consequences, were or are being addressed over time. I say over time because, by their very nature, they were or are capable of being addressed by human action alone. In short, they are social problems. And, while those who are suffering from discrimination and hatred would like both to end now, the American republic has experienced continuity for more than 220 years despite many such trying social issues.  ( Continue… )

The American Electric Power Company's cooling tower at their coal-burning Mountaineer plant is shown in New Haven, W.Va. Under Obama’s guidance the US is shifting its energy sector away from high carbon fossil fuels to lower carbon fuels, alternatives, and renewable energy sources, Kennedy writes. (Ayesha Rascoe/Reuters/File)

Carbon emissions in US drop to lowest level since 1994

By Charles KennedyGuest blogger / 02.04.13

A new report, written by Bloomberg New Energy Finance for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), has shown that carbon dioxide emissions in the US in 2012 were at their lowest levels since 1994.

Carbon emission levels have fallen by 13% since 2007, and a total of 10.7% since 2005. This means that the US is now more than half way to achieving President Obama’s goal of cutting emissions by 17% from 2005 levels before 2020.

This news works to support Obama and his environmental and renewable energy position, a stance that he has received criticism for over the years. It will also boost the credentials of the US in international global climate negotiations. (Related article: The Trade-off between Aerosols and Greenhouse Gases)

Under Obama’s guidance the US is shifting its energy sector away from high carbon fossil fuels to lower carbon fuels, alternatives, and renewable energy sources. Oil consumption has fallen in recent years, and coal accounted for only 18.1% of the US’s energy mix last year, compared to 22.5% in 2007; renewable energies saw the largest growth.

Over all energy use in the US has fallen 6.4% since 2007 and this has mostly been accredited to more efficient heating and cooling systems in commercial buildings.


Miles of pipe intended to be used in construction of the Keystone Pipeline are stacked in a field near Ripley, Okla. Leak detection technology around pipelines is not modern, scientific or technical, Schaefer writes. (Sue Ogrocki/AP/File)

How do you spot a leaking oil pipeline?

By Keith SchaeferGuest blogger / 02.02.13

Do you know how most leaks are found on oil and gas pipelines?

They get a shrill complaint over the phone from one of the landowners where the pipeline crosses.

It’s true, says Dr. David Shaw, one of the authors of a draft “Leak Detection Study” prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation, for a report that will go to the US Congress early in 2013. Dr. Shaw is a project engineer with independent consulting firm Kiefner & Associates, Inc., a high-end, Ohio-based consulting firm that specializes in pipeline engineering.

The Study – commissioned and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – analyzed several leak detection systems. What the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is to airlines, for example, PHMSA is to the pipeline industry.  ( Continue… )

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell answers a reporter's question during his first news conference of the new legislative session last week. Alaska’s economy is in trouble and oil and gas production are declining, Alic writes. (Becky Bohrer/AP/File)

Alaska mulls tax breaks for oil and gas

By Jen AlicGuest blogger / 02.01.13

Everyone likes a good tax break, and Alaska’s governor is courting the oil and gas, timber and mining industries with a legislative proposal designed to make the state as attractive as North Dakota.

On 29 January, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell proposed tax cuts at a legislative hearing.

So would tax breaks be enough to turn Alaska into North Dakota—to ensure an Alaskan Bakken?

Alaska’s economy is in trouble and oil and gas production are declining and explorers and developers complaining of too much red tape and prohibitive taxes.  

According to the Senator in a commentary published in Alaskan media, “The volume of oil transported through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) has steadily declined over the past few decades. Whereas 2,100,000 barrels per day were being transported in 1988, fiscal year 2012 saw a mere 579,100 bpd. That's a 71-percent decrease. Moreover, that volume is expected to further reduce to 552,800 and 538,400 in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, respectively. If current policies remain in place, the Department of Revenue expects the decline in oil production to continue at a rate of 5.5 percent per year through the next decade.”  ( Continue… )

Energy Secretary Steven Chu testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mr. Chu will earn the title of longest-serving Energy secretary by the time he officially steps down. (Evan Vucci/AP/File)

Steven Chu to resign from top post at Energy Department

By Correspondent / 02.01.13

Steven Chu announced Friday he will resign his position at the Department of Energy, after serving four contentious years as Energy secretary.

The Nobel-Prize-winning physicist made renewables a centerpiece of his tenure. But while surges in wind and solar installations garnered praise from Democrats, Republicans excoriated the Obama administration when clean-energy investments backfired.  

In a lengthy resignation memo to his staff, Mr. Chu ticked off what he counts as the department's accomplishments under his lead: increased investment in high-risk, high-reward energy technology development; a doubling in production of clean, renewable energy from wind and solar; and more than $90 billion in Recovery Act loans to green energy companies.

When Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer backed by $535 million in federal loan guarantees, filed for bankruptcy in 2011, critics of investments in private energy firms pounced. Chu downplayed the incident, saying that only 1 percent of the more than 1,300 companies funded by DOE Recovery Act funds went bankrupt.  ( Continue… )

An employee of Kansai Electric Power Co. speaks to a reporter as the company's Ohi nuclear power plant reactor No. 3 is seen in the background in Ohi, Fukui prefecture. Economic and security concerns could give the Japanese government continued cover to walk back its nuclear phase out policy in 2013, Rogers writes. (Issei Kato/Reuters/File)

Mexican oil, Chinese drilling, Japanese nuclear: Energy trends to watch in 2013

By Will RogersGuest blogger / 02.01.13

Energy issues ranked among the top international headlines in 2012 – from reports that the United States is on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of crude oil by the end of the decade, to an announcement that the United States would no longer require countries pursuing nuclear energy to forgo producing their own nuclear fuel. As we look ahead, what are the major energy trends that are likely to take shape and play out in international headlines in 2013? Here are five international energy trends worth watching this year:  

1) Renewed vigor in Mexico’s moribund oil industry.

Mexico’s oil industry has been in a perpetual state of decline. In its heyday, the country was the world’s second largest oil producer, just behind the United States. But when the industry was nationalized in the 1930s, it all began to go south. Private foreign companies – with their capital, skills and technology – left the country and spent years seeking compensation from the government to cover their losses. In their place, the industry was left with the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos – Pemex. Unfortunately, Pemex never quite brought the same resources to bear as its foreign competitors and has been plagued by technical deficiencies that have contributed to poor management of its oil fields and their subsequent decline. One need only look to Mexico’s Cantarell super-giant oil field as a case in point: production has sharply declined from about 2 million barrels a day (mbd) in 2004 to 400,000 barrels a day in April 2012. It bodes poorly for a government that relies on oil revenue for roughly 35 percent of its budget. (Read More: Newly Found Mexican Oil Source Could Hold 1 Billion Barrels)

But all that is starting to change and Mexico’s moribund oil industry may be on the rebound.  Since his election in July, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto started the move toward privatization of the oil industry, which would help bring the necessary capital, technology and skills to onshore oilfields that have been in decline and the deepwater oil fields that have effectively gone untapped. If the industry does turn around, Peña Nieto may singlehandedly be responsible for unleashing the country’s energy potential, potentially adding as much as 1.6 mbd of petroleum to North American output by 2020.  ( Continue… )

A customer looks for a large screen television while shopping at a Best Buy store in Elk Grove, Calif. The total decrease in US home electricity use during the Super Bowl is greater than three times the amount of energy consumed by all the TVs showing the Super Bowl, according to a study by Opower. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File)

Will the Super Bowl save energy?

By Correspondent / 01.31.13

One benefit of 111.3 million people simultaneously consuming the same thing is that they're not consuming a vast multitude of other things.

That might explain why residential electricity use dropped as much as 5 percent below average levels during last year's Super Bowl, according to a study by Opower, a company that develops energy-monitoring tools for utility companies.

The Arlington, Va., firm analyzed electricity usage across 145,000 US households on Feb. 5, 2012, comparing the data to similar Sundays in January and February 2012.

"[W]hen the game kicks off," the study found, "electricity usage plummets."

The Super Bowl, Opower's theory goes, distracts us from the kilowatt-chugging chores we typically reserve for Sundays. Instead of doing laundry, running the vacuum cleaner or cooking dinner, we're glued to our big-screen TVs and stuffing our faces with pizza and buffalo wings.   ( Continue… )

A general view shows pipelines at the Zueitina oil terminal in Zueitina, about 120 km west of Benghazi, Libya. The energy industry appears to be underestimating the security threat across the Sahel, Alic writes, misreading the attack on Algeria and implications of the conflict in Mali. (Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters/File)

Libya confronts energy security dilemma

By Jen AlicGuest blogger / 01.31.13

Libya—awash with roving militias and presently undergoing a near-total evacuation of Westerners from oil-producing Benghazi—is doing its best to make a few cosmetic security changes in an atmosphere of growing uncertainty.

Libya has announced a new visa policy requiring all foreigners to obtain visas before entering Libya. This adds Tunisians, Turks and Jordanians to the list. It has also implemented stricter policies for employing foreign workers on Libyan territory.

These are the measures being put in place to boost security of energy assets—the bulk of which are located in remote, sparsely populated desert regions close to the Algerian border.

Libya is keen to insist that it was in no way involved in the spectacular attack on the BP-operated gas field in the Algerian Sahara in mid-January. It is less keen to bring up the fact that the attackers entered Algeria from the Libyan border, which sits only 100 kilometers from the BP assets.  ( Continue… )

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