A lot happened in the energy sector in 2016, with two major stories leading the way. Both the surprising election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and OPEC’s November announcement to curtail production vied for the top spot on my list, as they will both likely impact the energy markets for years to come.
But in 2016 there were also huge wildfires that curtailed oil sands production in Canada, a major new pipeline protest that erupted in North Dakota, high profile bankruptcies in the coal sector, and several important stories on hydraulic fracturing in the U.S.
Here is a list of what I believe were the year’s major energy stories. First the Top 5: CONTINUE»
By now you have undoubtedly heard that late last month at OPEC’s 171st Ordinary Meeting in Vienna, the group announced that it would reduce output by about 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) by January. This is the first announced output cut by the group in eight years. Saudi Arabia will bear ~40% of the cuts, with Iraq reducing output by nearly 20%. Nigeria and Libya were exempted from the cuts.
OPEC also secured agreements from non-OPEC members. Russia led this group of non-OPEC producers by agreeing in principle to cut production by about 300,000 bpd. Most of these non-OPEC cuts are symbolic, as many are in line with the natural production declines expected to be experienced by these countries.
The market response to the OPEC cuts was swift. Global prices for crude quickly jumped >10% to above $50/bbl. Shale oil producers surged across the board, with Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum jumping 23% and 30% respectively. CONTINUE»
Some readers may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as many articles here as I have in the past, but it’s simply because I am busy keeping up with deadlines elsewhere. I have an article due once a week for Forbes, and two weekly articles and one longer biweekly article for Investing Daily. Add to that occasional articles I do for other sites, and I am writing around 200 articles a year with firm deadlines. On top of that, I have a regular day job as an engineer, and this year has been exceptionally busy.
This column doesn’t have a firm deadline. It’s a place I can write when everything else is caught up. But lately those other commitments have been taking up most of my spare time, and I have been lucky to get one column posted a month here. So, that’s the reason my posting frequency here has declined.
I have had some people tell me that they don’t like dealing with the ads on the Forbes site, and they have asked if I could repost some of my Forbes articles here. I am allowed to do that after they have appeared exclusively at Forbes for a few days. So today, I want to reproduce a modified version of one that got pretty good traffic at Forbes, and has gotten a lot of attention in the press. CONTINUE»
If I told you that I had created a process to extract pure gold from seawater, you might deem it an amazing accomplishment. If I issued a press release stating these facts, it very well could go viral.
In fact, the oceans do contain an estimated 20 million tons of dissolved gold, worth close to a quadrillion dollars at the current spot market price. But you may have noticed that I have omitted a very important fact.
I haven’t mentioned how much it costs to produce a troy ounce of gold using the process I have designed. That seems like an important detail, so I explain that the production cost is only $50,000 or so per ounce (which today is worth about $1,265), but I am sure that with enough investment dollars — and maybe a few government subsidies — I can get that cost down to something more reasonable. (This is how we subsidize some advanced biofuels where production costs are an order of magnitude above what could be considered economical). CONTINUE»
If you happen to be interested in the topic of “peak oil”, you almost certainly know the name M. King Hubbert. While you may know that Hubbert is widely credited with accurately predicting the peak of U.S. oil production, you may not know the full context of his predictions — which are legendary in peak oil circles.
The history of the scientific study of peak oil dates to the 1950s, when Hubbert, a Shell geophysicist, reported on studies he had undertaken regarding the production rates of oil and gas fields. In a 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, Hubbert suggested that oil production in a particular region would approximate a bell curve, increasing exponentially during the early stages of production before eventually slowing, reaching a peak when approximately half of a field had been extracted, and then going into terminal production decline.
A peak in oil production, that is the maximum rate of production after which a field, country, or the world as a whole begins to decline is at the core of the peak oil issue. A country is said to have peaked, or reached peak oil after it becomes apparent that oil production in the region is steadily declining year after year. CONTINUE»
In last month’s Short Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that it now expects record U.S. gasoline consumption this year:
Motor gasoline consumption is forecast to increase by 130,000 b/d (1.5%) to 9.29 million b/d in 2016, which would make it the highest annual average gasoline consumption on record, beating the previous record set in 2007 by 0.1%. The increase in gasoline consumption reflects a forecast 2.5% increase in highway travel (because of employment growth and lower retail gasoline prices) that is partially offset by increases in vehicle fleet fuel economy.
This projected increase follows several years of lower gasoline demand that resulted from persistently rising gasoline prices over the past decade. From 2002 to 2012 the average retail price of gasoline rose nearly every year, from an annual average of $1.39/gal in 2002 to $3.68/gal in 2012. Consumers responded to these higher prices in multiple ways, which cumulatively led to falling gasoline demand. Some even suggested that U.S. gasoline demand had permanently peaked, as a result of more fuel efficient vehicles and increasing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). We can now say those predictions were premature. CONTINUE»
When I built my electric bicycle back in 2007, I had been waiting for a battery that was less volatile than what had been available. I didn’t want to risk having a fireball under my seat. Tesla traded volatility for power density.
I think electric cars are great for all kinds of reasons, which is why I bought one in 2011. But like any car, they are not created equal, and as marketers begin the process of differentiating them to get us to buy them, that inequality will grow and diversify as it has for conventional cars. And for any fellow electric car enthusiasts out there who think electric cars are going to make a significant dent in carbon emissions in the foreseeable future, read Robert Rapier’s article on that subject. Even a strongly biased study by the UCS shows that electric cars, on average, presently produce about half of the emissions of conventional cars in a cradle-to-grave analysis. Eliminating fossil fuels instead of nuclear from our energy mix will improve that over time. CONTINUE»
I was recently invited to attend the first annual Clean Energy Forum, hosted by Energy Northwest in Richland, Washington, which included a tour of the Columbia Generating station.
We were greeted at the security gate by three polite security guards who inspected the bus and checked our photo IDs against a list. This level of security isn’t unique to nuclear power stations. You would have to go through a similar procedure to take a tour of Hoover dam. We also had to leave our cell phones on the bus (which would also be the case should you ever get the chance to take the highly recommended Boeing, Everett factory tour). CONTINUE»
Before you start furiously typing out a retort, hear me out. First, I want to make it clear what I am not skeptical about. I am not skeptical about electric vehicles (EVs) continuing to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. Indeed, I believe that will happen — although growth has slowed in the U.S. in recent years.
I am also not skeptical over the fact that EVs make sense for many people. Indeed, I would buy one myself if I could justify it economically. I have only put about 5,000 miles on my car in the past 2 years, so it’s hard to justify any sort of premium that could be paid off by fuel savings.
I am also not skeptical that EVs will get cheaper, and that improvements in batteries will extend their range. I believe tomorrow’s EV will be much better than today’s.
So far, so good. On these three points, I am on the same page with the most rabid EV enthusiast. But I am extremely skeptical about one thing. CONTINUE»
The biggest constraint to renewable energy growth in the US is the availability of tax equity to support project investment. There is not nearly as much tax equity investment as is needed to support financing and building all of the renewable energy projects in development – as a result the pace of project financing and construction is being severely constrained. Many new investors will begin to enter this tax equity investment space in pursuit of outsized returns with virtually no risk created by a significantly undersupplied investment market. These new tax investors will usher in a period of unprecedented growth in the construction of renewable energy projects.
The Strange Market of Tax Equity Investing
Investment in renewable energy comes from three sources. (1) Project Equity –the investment that actually owns the clean energy facility, this includes the risk of operation and the long-term value of the asset, and there are plenty of investors willing to participate as part of (or all of) this investment. (2) Debt – this is generally traditional project equity lending, and as with project equity there are plenty of lenders – big banks, small banks, private debt funds – ready to lend to all kinds of renewable energy projects. For these traditional sources of project financing project risks are increasingly well understood and, provided there is enough project revenue to cover debt repayment, this money is readily available. (3) Tax Equity – this third, and vital source of capital are investments made in the project that will be repaid primarily through tax credits and other tax savings to the tax equity investor. There simply is not currently enough tax equity to support the pace of growth in renewable power development in the U.S. CONTINUE»