I have seen a number of commentators over the last few days say that the American shale gas revolution means that the U.S. could simply announce new LNG exports and that would undercut Russian gas. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Upton, for instance, said in a statement: “Expanding U.S. LNG exports is an opportunity to combat Russian influence and power, and we have an energy diplomacy responsibility to act quickly.”
Statements like this overstate the influence that U.S. energy can have on this crisis Ukraine. While it is true that a viable, functioning LNG export capacity would provide geopolitical benefits, we do not have it today and we should not think that the U.S. energy boom will help in this crisis.
The U.S. energy boom has already helped reduce Russia’s influence and increased European energy security, without a singe molecule of US Natural Gas landing on the continent. This is because, even if the United States does not directly supply Europe with oil or natural gas, because the U.S. no longer is demanding imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) has freed up major suppliers like Qatar or Norway to send supplies to Europe.
Andrew Holland writes about how Europe can change Russia’s behavior by embargoing imports of Russian natural gas.
This winter has been one of the coldest on record. It’s been the coldest winter in at least 30 years, and I saw a report today that there is a chance that this will be Chicago’s coldest winter on record. Presently it is the 3rd coldest on record for Chicago, but another blast of cold air is just moving into the Midwest and East Coast.
Natural gas is a major energy source for heating homes, and prices have been spiking periodically in recent weeks as the weekly draws on natural gas inventories are higher than normal. Natural gas consumption in the US is highly seasonal, so producers use a system of underground pressurized storage that builds inventories until mid-fall, which are then depleted through the winter. Natural gas can be stored in depleted oil or gas reservoirs, in natural aquifers, or in salt caverns.
The US has nearly 9 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas storage capacity, but only a fraction of that has ever been used. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the actual amount in storage has never exceeded 4 tcf. Inventories will usually build to between 3 and 4 tcf by ~ November 1st each year, before being pulled down to under 2 tcf by the end of winter. So a typical winter season will see just over 2 tcf pulled out of storage — an amount equivalent to about 10 percent of annual US natural gas production. CONTINUE»
Carmakers’ Persistence with Fuel Cell Cars Could Still Pay Off
Being effectively snowed in last week gave me some time to catch up on my reading backlog, including an article in the Washington Post’s “Capitol Business” edition on “Are We Ready for Hydrogen Cars?” Published in conjunction with this year’s DC Auto Show, which I missed, it mentioned a new fuel cell model from Hyundai for the California market, while providing some background on a technology that looked much more like the next big thing a decade ago than it does to many, now.
We can’t talk sensibly about the prospects for fuel cell cars to become practical without discussing the cost of fuel cell components, the infrastructure to deliver H2 to vehicles, and the suitability of various options for storing it safely onboard. However, I was surprised the article failed to mention a new factor that might do more than anything else to improve the odds for this technology: shale gas. CONTINUE»
What Ethanol Problem?
If you live in the Midwest, you are in the midst of a thriving ethanol industry. But the Midwest does not control its own destiny when it comes to ethanol. That is still controlled by the federal government.
When I first started writing about energy nearly a decade ago, many of my early articles were addressed at the ethanol policies we were pursuing in the US. Even though I supported renewable energy, I felt like we were going about things in the wrong way. While I acknowledged that you could subsidize lots of ethanol production into existence, there needed to be a clear path for sustainability in the event that strong government intervention waned.
Today, nine years after I began writing about energy, we have an ethanol industry that has undergone rapid growth, but it is an industry that still relies heavily on the hand of government in the form of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). One need look no further than the uproar over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to lower the RFS for 2014. CONTINUE»
Solar Is Growing, But Hydro Remains Much Bigger
A tweet this morning sent me on a fact-checking expedition into state-level electricity statistics. The subject was a San Jose Mercury article with the unwieldy title, “Drought threatens California’s hydroelectricity supply, but solar makes up the gap.” The article’s quote from the head of the California Energy Commission implied that solar power additions were sufficient to make up for any shortfall in hydro, historically one of the state’s biggest energy sources.
My gut reaction was to be skeptical: Solar has been growing rapidly, especially in California, but even with nearly 3,000 MW of photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal generation in place, it’s still well short of the scale of California’s 10,000 MW of hydropower dams, especially when you consider that the latter aren’t constrained to operate only in daylight hours. However, I also know better than to respond to a claim like this without checking the data on how much energy these installations actually deliver.
The Comparison Has Shifted In the Last Year
My first look at the Energy Information Administration’s annual generation data seemed to confirm my suspicions. In 2012 California’s hydropower facilities produced 26.8 million megawatt-hours (MWh), while grid-connected solar generated just 1.4 million MWh. However, when I looked at more recent monthly data, the mismatch was much smaller, due to solar’s strong growth in the Golden State. For example, in October 2013 California solar power generated 435 MWh, or nearly 24% of hydro’s 1.8 million MWh.
A Disproportionate Response
I had intended to write an article today outlining some potential solutions to the Midwest’s ethanol predicament, but some recent exchanges on Twitter prompted me to postpone that for a week.
The issue in question involves various comments I have made about the Keystone XL pipeline. I have argued that while Keystone XL has mobilized a lot of passion and energy, its threat is minuscule compared to the world’s growing carbon dioxide emissions from coal. Thus, I believe most of the effort being directed at stopping Keystone XL would be better directed at the world’s coal emissions.
Some took exception to this. Some who are spending their time and energy on Keystone XL argued that Keystone XL really is a big deal, while others noted that a heroic effort is being expended to combat coal consumption. So, I have done a few calculations to illustrate my argument. CONTINUE»
It makes little sense to be anti-solar energy in this day and age, although it does make sense to do it right. Even solar can be done wrong. Usurping farmland, forest, or pristine desert tortoise habitats for solar should be against the rules.
I was motivated to do this post by a rare, cloudless, 50 degree day in the dead of winter. CONTINUE»
Energy’s Brief Appearance in the State of the Union Address
Energy issues received scant mention in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, consisting mainly of a victory lap for the President’s “all of the above” formulation and a somewhat contradictory promise to place even more federal lands off-limits to drilling. While browsing through reactions from various energy leaders and environmental groups I was intrigued by one critique of Mr. Obama’s approach from an environmental NGO, arguing that he should instead be placing the country’s bets on “best of the above” energy. They weren’t the only ones to object to the current approach.
It’s clear from their statement that Earthjustice has definite ideas about what’s best and what isn’t, but their comment merits further discussion. After all, who could argue against supporting the best energy sources? And isn’t all of the above just a sop to the status quo, in which a diverse array of energy sources dominated by fossil fuels provides the energy for the rest of the economy?
Obama and “All of the Above”
As President Obama noted Tuesday, his reference to an “‘all of the above’ energy strategy”–a debatable characterization in itself–referred to a key phrase in his 2012 address to Congress. It’s worth recalling the context, in an election year in which the Republican nominee was certain to focus on conventional energy when it was delivering US production growth in both oil and natural gas that couldn’t have been imagined just a few years earlier.
What 60 Minutes Got Right
Following the recent 60 Minutes story The Cleantech Crash, Katie Fehrenbacher at Gigaom wrote a very good article called What 60 Minutes got right and wrong in its story on the “cleantech crash”.
In contrast to some who reacted with righteous indignation against the notion of any troubles in the world of cleantech, Katie noted, “60 Minutes got some key things right in the story”, notably that cleantech HAS crashed from a venture capital (VC) perspective.
Cleantech often requires much longer time horizons and higher capital expenditures before a VC has a chance of seeing a return on the investment. And as I have explained in the past, you can’t really afford to have a 10 percent success rate if that entails building 10 capital intensive biofuel plants before achieving success. It’s a very different model than a couple of guys starting an Internet company in their garage. You run out of money pretty quickly when building plants that fail to perform. CONTINUE»