I recently recieved two emails on the same day; one about more palm oil plantations usurping yet another tropical ecosystem, this time for highly endangered African Gorillas instead of Indonesian Orangutans, and the other from my local Sierra Club asking me to urge my elected representatives to reject a transportation funding bill that would not allow our Governor to mandate the consumption of biofuels. Instead, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times expressing my opposition to a biofuel mandate (which, of course, wasn’t published). I put a copy of that rejected submission at the end of this post as an example of what not to send to the Seattle Times Op Ed department. CONTINUE»
According to the recently-released BP (NYSE: BP) Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, the U.S. was the world’s largest and most diverse energy producer in 2014. The Statistical Review ranked the U.S.:
- #1 in oil production
- #1 in natural gas production
- #1 in nuclear power
- #1 in wind power
- #1 in geothermal power
- #1 in biofuels
- #2 in coal production
- #4 in hydropower
- #5 in solar power
The U.S. is clearly an energy production superpower, but we are an even greater energy consumer. Thus, despite the large amount of energy production, the U.S. is not energy independent. Our position as the #2 coal producer behind China (not coincidentally) mirrors our #2 position behind China in carbon dioxide emissions. And despite the rapid growth of renewable energy in both countries, carbon dioxide emissions in both countries rose in 2014 (to a new all-time record for China). CONTINUE»
Given the amount of air time the crude oil storage situation received back in March and April, this might be a good time to revisit that situation. If you recall, there was a great amount of hand-wringing regarding the crude oil storage picture in the U.S. Inventories were high and they were continuing to rise. There were a great many articles like this one, which assured us the situation was dire: US running out of room to store oil; price collapse next?
“The U.S. has so much crude that it is running out of places to put it, and that could drive oil and gasoline prices even lower in the coming months. For the past seven weeks, the United States has been producing and importing an average of 1 million more barrels of oil every day than it is consuming. That extra crude is flowing into storage tanks, especially at the country’s main trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, pushing U.S. supplies to their highest point in at least 80 years, the Energy Department reported last week.”
In last month’s article Where are the Unicorns?, I discussed the fact that the commercial cellulosic ethanol plants that were announced with great fanfare over the past couple of years are obviously running at a small fraction of their nameplate capacity. In fact, April was a record month for cellulosic ethanol production according to the EPA’s database that tracks this information, but that meant that at least 8 months into the learning curves for these plants actual production for that month was only about 6% of nameplate capacity.
May’s numbers are now in, and the situation has gotten worse. After reporting 288,685 gallons of cellulosic ethanol in April, May’s numbers only amounted to 114,018 gallons. This is only about 2.4% of the nameplate capacity of the announced commercial cellulosic ethanol plants. If we use year-to-date numbers, the annualized capacity is still less than 3% of nameplate capacity for facilities that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Let that soak in. POET alone spent $275 million, with U.S. taxpayers footing more than $100 million of that bill. Abengoa reportedly received $229 million from taxpayers for its project. For this (plus however much that was spent by INEOS), the combined plants are running at an annualized capacity of 1.7 million gallons of ethanol, which would sell on the spot market today for $2.6 million. CONTINUE»
I’ve recently discovered the reasonably priced LED shop light. “Big whoop” you may be thinking. It’s a bigger whoop than many realize, especially for me. Just for the fun of it, I measured the current draw of one of my old shop lights and one of the new LED versions. The LED lights use 66% less energy. This won’t make a meaningful, or possibly even a measurable difference in my electric bill but to put this into perspective, if you could achieve that level of efficiency improvement for all lighting in the country, from a CO2 emission perspective, it would be roughly equivalent to replacing about 7% of our fossil fuel power plants with renewable green lower CO2 emitting electrical energy sources, without having to build a single nuclear, wind, hydro, or solar power plant. That’s more than today’s total for wind and solar combined. Put yet another way, that is equivalent to about 1,000 utility scale wind projects (48,000 wind turbines), or about 36 nuclear power plants. But before you toss back that shot of whiskey in celebration, understand that the 66% reduction I achieved with my shop lights would not apply to all lighting across the country.
Just last year the Nobel Prize was awarded to the three Japanese scientists responsible for creating the version of diodes that is used for lighting today.
The only downsides of note I found (and I’m sure there are more) are the fact that insects are more attracted to diode lights and that they don’t generate enough heat to melt the snow when used as traffic lights (easily resolved by not using diodes). The insect problem appears to be potentially serious because insects are the key to nature’s food webs and I would hope that laws could be made to minimize their use outdoors where that is a concern.
The OPEC Free Fall
There is a popular narrative going around that I want to address in today’s article. Last November, after several months of plummeting crude oil prices, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met to discuss the oil production quotas for each country in the months ahead. Many expected OPEC to cut production in order to shore up crude prices that had been falling since summer. This was the strategy favored by OPEC’s poorer members, as many require oil prices at $100/barrel (bbl) in order to balance government budgets.
Instead, OPEC announced that they would continue pumping at the same rate. They chose to defend market share against the surge of supply from U.S. shale producers, and in doing so the fall in the price of crude oil accelerated. A look at the U.S. rig count shows the swift impact to U.S. shale drillers in the aftermath of that meeting:
Thanks to Tesla’s new battery packs, Russ Finley asks if we can not only stop building more hydro electric dams, but also remove the existing ones to save what remains of the last river ecosystems, restore the world’s salmon runs.
For more than a decade, fossil fuel supporters have insisted that new clean energy technologies like wind and solar are far “too expensive” to replace our traditional fossil fuel dominated energy industries. A recent report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has put a price on the direct and indirect subsidies that support fossil fuels as a counter argument to the renewables are “too expensive” message.
The numbers are staggering. The expected subsidy for fossil fuels during 2015 is projected to be $5.3 TRILLION – for one year! This means that approximately 6.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) will be dedicated in 2015 to just subsidizing our use of fossil fuels. Or as The Guardian pointed out in its summary of the IMF report, taxpayers are paying $10 MILLION per minute globally in subsidies for fossil fuels.
The idea that fossil fuels benefit from both direct and indirect subsidies has been around for years, but analysis has generally been done in pieces (some of it done very well – Nancy Pfund and Ben Healy at DBL Investors published an excellent analysis of direct subsidies in the U.S. a couple years back) or without complete data robust enough to stand up to critique. The IMF report looks at direct incentives, local pollution and public health effects, climate changes, and a host of other costs to arrive at its projected subsidy number.
IMF’s numbers are already being attacked. UK climate economist Nicholas Stern questioned the report for vastly underpricing the cost of climate change, and Brad Plummer at Vox outlined some of the odd items that arguably shouldn’t have been included in the calculation. Regardless of whether the IMF report gets to exactly the right number, the report provides a very credible starting point to argue over the right value to place on fossil fuel subsidies, and will be a baseline to begin rethinking the right pace for our global transition to clean energy.
Congress Mandates Cellulosic Ethanol and The EPA Tracks It
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with tracking compliance under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) that was set in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). Obligated parties under the RFS2 must demonstrate compliance with Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which the EPA created to track RFS2 compliance. A RIN is a 38-character number assigned to a gallon equivalent of renewable fuel produced or imported. For corn ethanol, 1 gallon of ethanol produced generates 1 RIN. Other kinds of biofuel generates RINs at different rates which are defined by the EPA. For certain gaseous biofuels, such as di-methyl-ether (DME) and bio-methane (methane typically produced from sewage sludge or manure), the EPA has specified that 77,000 British thermal units (BTUs) of fuel are 1 gallon of renewable fuel equivalent. Not coincidentally, this is the energy content of 1 gallon of ethanol.
Obligated parties that produce or own RINs must register with the EPA, and RIN generation and transaction data is available from the EPA Moderated Transaction System (EMTS). A RIN is attached to each gallon of renewable fuel (or equivalent) as it is transferred to a fuel blender. After blending, RINs are separated from the blended gallon and are used by obligated parties (blenders, refiners, or importers) as proof that they have sold renewable fuels to meet their RFS mandated volumes. An obligated party can purchase RINs to satisfy their obligations, and that’s exactly what many obligated parties do. CONTINUE»
In his article, The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen’s Deeply Irresponsible Climate Change Article, Joe Romm, climate hawk, uses the nonsensical graphic shown below borrowed from U.S.News & World Report (also used here) in an attempt to stifle criticism of renewable energy.
One could predict that Franzen’s blasphemous epiphany in the New Yorker that we are not going to stop climate change by blighting “…every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines” would light Romm’s hair on fire. However, it was Franzen’s suggestion that conservation organizations like the Audubon society should be doubling down on what they do best, preservation of what remains, instead of diverting resources to climate change issues which they can’t do anything about, that got the Audubon society’s feathers in a bunch.
- Franzen is probably right about it being too late to stop climate change, although there is always hope.
- Because conservation groups tend to take their cues from the most vociferous climate hawks, who are also anti-nuclear energy, they are under the false impression that renewable energy can save the day.