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By Robert Rapier on May 26, 2016 with 3 responses

The Solar Story Is Just Getting Started

Several years ago, when I was working on my book Power Plays, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of energy. One thing I concluded was that solar power would become one of the world’s most important sources of energy – if not eventually the most important source of energy. I also discussed this in the 2007 column “The Future Is Solar.”

There are a couple of reasons I still believe this. But first, I should make it clear that it will be a long time before solar power rivals the consumption of oil in the global energy market.

While solar power is growing rapidly, we still use about 100 times as much energy in the form of oil (and about 90 times as much in the form of coal). Further, even though solar power is growing at a fast rate, the absolute growth in oil consumption from 2013 to 2014 was about 3 times the growth in solar power consumption. In other words, even though solar consumption grew at a 38% rate and oil consumption grew at about a 0.7% rate, this amounted to an increase in solar consumption of 11.6 million metric tons of oil equivalent versus an increase in oil consumption of 32 million metric tons. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on May 21, 2016 with 5 responses

Challenging The “Does Nuclear Really Help The Integration Of Renewables?” Strawman Argument

Photo courtesy of tracie7779 via Flickr

What’s with the green parrots you may be asking? A parrot repeats what it hears without understanding what it’s saying. And by “green” I’m referring to people who, like myself, consider themselves to be environmentalists (whatever exactly that means). To the left of the green parrots is a screenshot of the “shares” from a guest post on the Clean Technica website, which has at least 99 parrots sitting on their wire.

It all started when an apparent shale gas enthusiast (Nick Grealy) wrote a 1,100 word article at his blog about the use of shale gas in France which contained the following rather cryptic throwaway sentence:

French nuclear exports help Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain accelerate their renewable uptake.


By Robert Rapier on May 10, 2016 with 1 response

The Massive Decline In Crude Oil Reserves

I spent a lot of time in 2015 warning that at year-end we would see a huge decline in crude oil reserves. As I have explained in the past, the reason I expected this is because of the relationship between proved oil reserves and oil prices. This relationship is important for understanding oil reserves. Some articles that recently began making the rounds made certain conclusions from this paper — A global energy assessment — in which some subtleties about oil reserves have been lost. So let’s review.

An oil resource refers to the total amount of oil in place in particular area. Generally, most of a resource can’t be technically recovered, but the resource refers to the amount that could potentially be recovered. These estimates can go up and down, but the resource is what could be recovered at 100% recovery based on current estimates.

As an example, it is estimated that the Bakken Shale centered under North Dakota contains several hundred billion barrels (bbl) of oil (the resource). However, what is technically and economically recoverable in the Bakken has been estimated at less than 10 billion barrels (<10% of the resource). CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on with 3 responses

What Environmentalists Are Getting Wrong: Articles of Interest and Commentary

Green Tech Media

I Was Wrong About the Limits of Solar. PV Is Becoming Dirt Cheap

by David Keith

Although quite upbeat about solar PV (and I’m also a big fan of solar PV), this article generated almost 300 comments because it was also frank about the limits of solar PV, and wind, and to make matters worse, he concluded the article with the following statement:

My view is that only two forms of energy — solar and nuclear power — can plausibly supply tens of terawatts without a huge environmental impact.


By Robert Rapier on Apr 29, 2016 with 12 responses

Reports Of A Unicorn Sighting: Is Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol A Reality?

A few people have asked if I can reproduce more of my Forbes columns here, because they don’t like wading through the ads there to get to the content. This week I wrote an update on the progress toward cellulosic ethanol commercialization, and given my previous coverage on the topic (especially Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work) this seems like an appropriate subject to discuss here.

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that during the first quarter of 2016, just over 1 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced. In fact, production for the month of March jumped 64% from the previous month to 446,000 gallons produced, the highest levels of the modern era. Production this year is well ahead of the pace in 2015, when 2.2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced for the entire year.

So, have we finally reached the long-promised realization of commercial cellulosic ethanol? CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Apr 20, 2016 with 9 responses

Terrorists, Nuclear Powerplants, and Snakes

Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times a few weeks ago titled: Terrorists, bathtubs, and snakes.

It was about how our evolved abilities to assess risk (which worked great when we were hunter-gatherers) can fail us pretty miserably in the modern industrial world–a point that has been made over and over again by lesser known writers over the last decade about the safety of nuclear powerplants.

In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!

Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.


By Robert Rapier on Apr 13, 2016 with 12 responses

Natural Gas Bankrupted The U.S. Coal Industry

Coal Goes Bust

Today, as had been expected, Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) — the largest coal producer in the United States — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Following the announcement I immediately began to receive press releases from various environmental organizations crediting the rise of renewable energy and/or the campaigns to divest investments from fossil fuels for the decline in the U.S. coal industry.

A press release from declared Peabody’s bankruptcy “A harbinger of the end of the fossil fuel era.” While I applaud a transition away from coal, these organizations are falling all over themselves to give credit to everything except the primary culprit behind the demise of the U.S. coal industry, which is natural gas (as I demonstrate below). In fact, many of these organizations have circulated stories — usually from those with clear vested interests — intended to discredit the indisputable role that natural gas has played. So let’s take a closer look.  CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 25, 2016 with 50 responses

Magical Thinking On Climate Change

In my previous article — Leonardo DiCaprio’s Huge Carbon Footprint — I discussed the seeming inconsistency of Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change activism and his excessive fossil fuel consumption. My argument was that with his own large carbon footprint, DiCaprio is undermining his message and making himself an easy target for critics.

My argument wasn’t specifically that he is a hypocrite, although that has indeed been the argument of many. But others have argued that DiCaprio isn’t a hypocrite at all, because he isn’t actually asking anyone to sacrifice. This is the position articulated well by David Roberts at Vox in Rich climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio lives a carbon-intensive lifestyle, and that’s (mostly) fine. I generally find a lot of truth in what David writes, even when I disagree with him. But here I kind of think David misses the point.

Roberts acknowledges the appeal of the critiques against DiCaprio, noting that there are even plenty of liberals and environmentalists who are quick to criticize climate activists with high-carbon lifestyles. He believes there are two arguments that DiCaprio’s critics make, and then he sets out to debunk them. My intention today is to challenge his debunking. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Mar 15, 2016 with 6 responses

Update on the Progress of the Electrification of Transportation


Graph from Study in Nature Energy Modified by Me to Add Timeline

I found this study on Nature Energy, which I subscribe to: Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation.

Although I disagree with the study’s main conclusion, the above chart they put together (which I have modified) was of interest to me because it suggests that things are finally starting to happen when it comes to electrification of transportation. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 8, 2016 with 14 responses

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Huge Carbon Footprint

Leonardo DiCaprio recently won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant. I saw the movie, and to my layman’s eye it certainly seemed like an Oscar-worthy performance. I was rooting for him to win, as was, it seems, most of America. His victory reportedly set a social-media record, with 440,000 posts in about a minute to become the single-most Tweeted minute during an Oscar telecast.

While I applauded his victory, I took exception to part of his acceptance speech. Here is an excerpt:

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.”

The problem isn’t the message. I believe we are engaging in a dangerous experiment by dumping ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I don’t think there is an easy fix to the problem, but I agree with his characterization that it is an urgent threat. CONTINUE»