FM newswire for 5 February, articles for your morning reading

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis.  If you find this useful, pass it to a friend or colleague. 

  1. Important article for anyone interested in the coming energy transition:  “21st century energy: Some sobering thought“, Vaclav Smil (Prof Environmental Science, U of Manitoba, Winnipeg), OECD Observer, December 2006 — “Transition to new energy sources is unavoidable, but here are five sobering first principles to remember along the way.”
  2. More vital information:  “Moore’s Curse and the Great Energy Delusion“, Vaclav Smil, The American, 19 November 2008
  3. I don’t know what this means, but I believe it’s important:  “The Steady Erosion of Women’s Rights in Egypt: A Photographic Story“, Phyllis Chesler, PajamasMedia, 28 January 2010
  4. Not yet, but they’re coming:  “Is a Sovereign Debt Crisis Looming?“, Uri Dadush and Bennett Stancil, International Economic Bulletin, 2 February 2010
  5. Food for thought, but he gives little evidence:  “Tea Party Profiteers: How Republican Operatives Are Exploiting Economic Anxiety For Power, Cash“, Lee Fang, ThinkProgress, 2 February 2010
  6. They’re confident we’re stupid, so they can lie with impunity:  “Luntz, Meet Foucault“, Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, 3 February 2010 — Frank Luntz advises the Republicans just to lie to defeat vital banking reforms.
  7. More alarmism:  “NASA Still Spreading Antarctic Worries“, Steve Goddard, Watts Up with That, 3 February 2010 — The Antarctic data suggests these fears are without foundation (unlike the Arctic, where there are signs of warming).
  8. The good news is the bad news is wrong:  “Misconception About Environmental Degradation“, Roger Pielke Sr, 3 February 2010 — Certainly a myth about the developed world. Might be true for the emerging nations in the future, as it is today.
  9. If not stopped, this trend could destroy our banks:  “No Help in Sight, More Homeowners Walk Away“, New York Times, 3 February 2010 — It was known in 2007 that home equity was the primary driver of defaults.  Folks laughed back then when I wrote about the posibility of mass voluntary defaults.  They’re not laughing now.

Book recommendation:  The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward Luttwak.  Excellent subscription-only analysis at the London Review of Books.

Today’s feature articles:

(A)  Graphic for today:  update on Solar Cycle 24
(B)  Quote of the Day — IPCC again lies about its process

Update:  Glenn Beck reported about the IPCC quote on 1 February 2010:  Exclusive: Yet another climategate?”  It’s not gotten the press it deserves.

(A)   Graphic for today:  update on Solar Cycle 24

Solar Cycle 24 Update“, David Archibald, Watts Up with That, 2 February 2010 — “Solar Cycle 24 is now over a year old, so it is appropriate to see how it is ramping up.”  This cycle has been slow to start.  Slow and small cycles have accompanied cold periods.  We don’t know enough to say more at this time.

For more information see these FM reference pages (listed on the right):

(B)  Quote of the Day — IPCC again lies about its process

There might be an innocent explanation for this, but I doubt it.  Esp given the revelations during the past few weeks.  Red emphasis added

Statement on news reports regarding hacking of the East Anglia University email communications,  R. K. Pachauri (IPCC Chairman), undated (the URL ends in “4Dec09”).  Excerpt:

IPCC relies mainly on peer reviewed literature in carrying out its assessment and follows a process that renders it unlikely that any peer reviewed piece of literature, however contrary to the views of any individual author, would be left out.

A copy of the statement in the New York Times, 26 November 2009:

“IPCC relies entirely on peer reviewed literature in carrying out its assessment and follows a process that renders it unlikely that any peer reviewed piece of literature, however contrary to the views of any individual author, would be left out.”

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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6 thoughts on “FM newswire for 5 February, articles for your morning reading

  1. This should be of interest: “World Oil Capacity to Peak in 2010 Says Petrobras CEO“, The Oil Drum, 4 February 2010.
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    FM reply: There is a market for such forecasts, so people make them. Like stock market forecasts, they are almost always wrong. I suspect he does not take into account the effect of high oil prices. That is, when oil demand grows to exceed current oil production capacity — at least several years (which assumes a strong global economic recovery), prices will then rise to “destroy” the demand in excess of capacity (through conservation, switiching to other sources, etc). Commodity demand is inelastic to price, so this will take a large change in price (as we saw in 2008). I doubt that an oil price of $100 – $150 will not increase production. Which will eventually bring us to peak oil, but not immediately.

  2. From Vaclav Smil’s piece:

    PV generation is still so negligible that it is impossible to offer any meaningful averages, but annual load factors of wind generation in countries with relatively large capacities, such as Denmark, Germany and Spain, are just 20-25%: large wind turbines are thus idle for an equivalent of 270-290 days a year! Also, an unexpected drop-off in generation can cause sudden supply interruptions. Unfortunately, we still lack the means to be able to store wind- or solar-generated electricity on a large scale.

    Anyone interested in observing the volatile nature of wind energy can observe power production in Denmark in real-time at this link:
    Vindmøller = wind mills
    Vindhastighed i m/s = wind speed in m/s

    Generally, wind speeds have to be around 5 m/s before the wind mills contribute anything of significance to the power production.

  3. Re Smil’s article: It is trivial that there is no short term solution, especially if we consider the leife-span of houses, trucks, cars. Improving energy efficiency costs money, so the next two decades there will be cost-wise no observable difference compared to the current situation. However they will create jobs in the USA, as many components have to be produced locally.

    New energiefficient houses, which only use 10 or 20 % of the todays US average are doable with mass produced components (here you could check passive house (Passivhaus), the German KfW40 programme, the EU programme House of the Future … They provide very low energy costs in winter and reduce energy demand in summer for cooling and there are ten thouseeds of build examples in Europe.

    The interesting thing for me is that neither Smil nor the authors of the NAS papers provided by FM mentioned this. Greetings from Graz!
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    FM reply: I do not understand your objection to Smil’s article. The time required to prepare for peak oil is perhaps the most important planning factor, esp as most forecasts are in the next 5 -15 years.

    The housing stock turns over so slowly (my home is 50 years old, and in fine shape), esp as we now have 18 million vacant units, that any change due to new home constuction will not visibly change US energy usage over any relevant planning horizon. Esp as we’ve not started building such homes in significant numbers, so their acceptance is theoretical.

  4. OK, we are faced with the problem that there is absolutly no large-scale substitute for petrol (and natural gas), therefore the only option is to incraese the energy efficiency of the economy and to reduce the consumption of crude (and natural gas) for generation of elecrtricity and heating, so we can use it for powering cars/trucks, i.e. we are buying time.

    Here new houses, and this includes office building which contribute a lot to the primary energy consumption in the USA, can contribute as they reduce both heating and cooling energy, latter usually electricity with a high primary energy factor. This is possible with available technology and slightly incraesed costs for the next twenty years. It is however no silver bullet.

    The “fine shape” of houses (at least in Germany) is more and more defined by their energy consumption and resulting running costs, not by their structural state, so office buildings from the early 1980s are often out-dated and should be/are replaced.

    A second issue is the ability to produce electricity on small scale, ideally on demand. Goal here is the reduction of both the primary energy factor for electricity generation, the reduction of peak demand and the ability to compensate for fluctuating production (wind). The idea is to use fuel cells in houses, which convert natural gas/methanol/ethanol into electricity with high yield (50-60%), allow the use of the byproduct heat for heating (usually wasted in power plants). This leads to a much better usage of chemical energy and reduces the peak demand, first field tests are running since 2009. The fuel cells are switched on/off by the public utility.
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    FM reply: Your opening sentence is speculative, not certain as you imply. I suspect it is not accurate over any timeframe.
    * Over the near-term we probably can increase production of fossil fuels — plus begin the conversion to alternative energy sources (including electric cars) and increase efficiency (a natural response as energy prices rise). I do not believe “buying time” well describes this process.
    * Over the long-term alternative sources of energy probably make increased efficiency nice but not necessary.

    “to reduce the consumption of crude (and natural gas) for generation of elecrtricity and heating”

    Probably false. The supply of natural gas might be far greater than anyone dreamed even 3 years ago. Natural gas-bearing shale deposits are common across the world, and the process of assessing their potential has just started. The US has shown that these can be economically tapped.

  5. FM wrote: ” Over the long-term alternative sources of energy probably make increased efficiency nice but not necessary.”
    No dispute here, only a tiny fraction (<1%) of solar energy which reaches earth would give enough energy for all humans even with US per capita consumption. However, we have no payable technology to harvest AND store the energy in large scale yet – compare prices for 1kWh produced by PV, solarthermal power plants, wind. Check the timeframe of the large European solar project (Desertec) in northern Africa. Most of its limitations will apply to the USA, too.

    This leads to your first arguments:
    " I suspect it is not accurate over any timeframe.
    * Over the near-term we probably can increase production of fossil fuels — plus begin the conversion to alternative energy sources (including electric cars) and increase efficiency (a natural response as energy prices rise). I do not believe “buying time” well describes this process."

    If you assume we have peak-oil in the next 5 years and after a plateau we have to decrease our annual crude consumption by 2%, then there is no large scale substitute available. You find this even in some of the sources on your site.

    Cheap liquified gas can be transported everywhere, so you are in direct competition with countries like China, India and even Europe, substituting Russian natural gas with LNG. So I stay with my statement that in the next 2 decades the most efficient approach is reduction of primary energy consumption by increasing energy efficiency.

    According to your NAS articles, the main contribution to crude comsumption in the US transportation sector is caused by trucks, therefore, you face long life-span of the vehicles, compared to passenger cars reduced possibility to substitute oil with electricity and smaller possible gains in efficiency. (There is no equivalent of the "I change my SUV to a Japanese hybrid and save 30% fuel") Of course it helps to replace your passenger cars with more fuel efficient ones, but this still is , as long as you have no real solution for the mass transport with trucks, buying of time.

    The only sector, where you could (with cheap available technology) substitute more than 95% of the crude is housing, therefore, my approach. It is slow, but investments are relatively future-proof.
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    FM reply: I don’t understand much of this. Solar is just one of many alt energy source. Your point about “cheap LNG” makes no sense to me. Esp as Europe and Asia might have large deposits of shale-bearing natural gas. The odds of peaking in the next 5 years are quite small, and the plateau might be many years — even decades.

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