While Australia's oil production seems to be past peak, existing fields like those in Bass Strait are still being squeezed for every last drop. The interesting thing about this report from the SMH is that Esso's (Exxon) ability to prolong the life of their Bass Strait fields is throwing the feasibility of Shell and Anglo American's coal to liquids plant in doubt.
SUCCESS in life extension work by Bass Strait operator Esso has prompted the ExxonMobil subsidiary to predict that the region still has more than 20 years left of oil production and more than 30 years of gas. A $400 million seismic data and infill drilling program, involving wells at the Kingfish, Bream, Halibut and Fortescue fields, is adding 30,000 barrels of crude oil to daily production, worth close to $1 billion a year on current prices.
But Esso's success has implications for the planned $5 billion Monash Energy coal-to-liquids project in the Latrobe Valley, a joint venture between Shell and Anglo American. The Monash project would turn brown coal into gas for further conversion into 60,000 barrels a year of synthetic diesel. A key element of the project is the separation of a concentrated stream of carbon dioxide for geosequestration. Without carbon capture and storage (CCS), the greenhouse gas emissions would be at unacceptable levels.
The potential for CCS in Bass Strait's reservoirs was the subject of a Federal Government-funded study by Monash that found there was massive storage capacity in depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs or in deeper geological structures. But success in the Esso infill program suggests that the implementation of CCS in Bass Strait could be further off than first thought, given the intention of draft legislation that existing oil and gas production not be affected by licences issued for CCS.
Monash countered that there was "still no new information to challenge the initial conclusion that hydrocarbon extraction and CCS can be entirely compatible activities in the Gippsland Basin [Bass Strait]".
A spokesman said it was great that Esso had obtained data that gave it that "level of confidence in the geology and economics of Bass Strait". "All stakeholders interested in developing CCS in Australia would welcome the opportunity to explore such data with the producers to further explore options for continued hydrocarbon extraction at the same time as CCS is developed," the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the crude oil boost for the Bass Strait partnership of Esso and BHP Billiton means that the natural decline curve for production has flattened, allowing the Esso-managed fields to average total liquids production (oil, condensate and liquefied petroleum gas) of 127,000 barrels a day in 2006. While that is well short of the 500,000 barrels a day achieved in Bass Strait's heyday, it still ranks the area among Australia's biggest producers after 38 years of production in which 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of gas have been produced.
ExxonMobil Australia chairman Mark Nolan said the infill drilling program had "significantly extended the life of the Bass Strait fields". "The results so far give us confidence that there is today more than 20 years left of oil production in Bass Strait," he said. "For example, the Kingfish field, Australia's largest-ever oil field, from which over 1 billion barrels of crude has been produced, continues to be one of our most important oil producers 40 years after its discovery."
He said that improvements in technology, particularly in processing of seismic data and drilling accuracy, were behind the infill drilling program's success.
Technology Review has an article on "Thin Film's Time in the Sun", noting that thin film technology is now challenging silicon panels at large-scale solar-power facilities.
The low manufacturing cost of photovoltaics that employ thin films of cadmium-telluride semiconductor have long been seen as having the potential for lifting solar power from its niche status as a very expensive power source, delivering less than a twentieth of 1 percent of U.S. electricity.
Now, after two decades in which cadmium-telluride technology was dogged by low power output and reliability problems, it's suddenly elbowing its way into renewable-energy markets and competing with today's dominant solar technology: silicon solar panels. The company behind this technology turnaround is Phoenix-based First Solar, which says that the technology could eventually be cost competitive with conventional fossil-fuel sources of electricity.
First Solar has racked up a string of large contracts and investments over the past year for its thin-film technology. First Solar closed a $400 million initial public offering in November and clinched a deal three months later to supply a 40-megawatt solar-panel farm in Germany that will be one of the world's largest. And earlier this month, the company revealed that it has signed long-term contracts with European and Canadian buyers to supply 685 megawatts of modules worth $1.28 billion. The latter figure is especially impressive considering that all the solar-module factories in the United States shipped less than 200 megawatts' worth of photovoltaics last year.
Ken Zweibel, who directed the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) Thin Film Partnership Program for more than a decade, says that First Solar has "broken out of the pack" by simultaneously achieving low-cost mass production and respectable power output. Zweibel, who left NREL in January to launch his own thin-film company using similar technology, expects more improvement on both fronts. "Cadmium telluride has a clear route to cost competitiveness with conventional energy," he says.
Thin-film panels are produced by layering shallow coatings of semiconductor materials on sheets of glass, plastic, or metal--a seemingly simple concept that is hard to implement on a large scale. Cadmium-telluride panels in particular seemed finished five years ago when BP Solar, an arm of the London-based oil company, shut down what had been the largest cadmium-telluride commercialization effort.
BP Solar had opened a cadmium-telluride module plant in 1998 designed to make eight megawatts of modules per year, but it never exceeded one megawatt. Creating films to exacting specifications proved harder than expected. And the company was concerned about the product's image, given the use of the toxic heavy metal cadmium. And BP stumbled in the market when the efficiency with which its first commercial cadmium-telluride modules absorbed solar energy slipped from 8 percent efficiency to 6 percent after just a few weeks on rooftops.
First Solar, founded in 1999 from a predecessor startup called Solar Cells and with an infusion of $250 million from Walmart founder John Walton, kept on tweaking its manufacturing process. The company addressed concerns about the toxicity of cadmium by creating a recycling program guaranteed to take back panels at the end of their useful life. Company officials would not comment in advance of an earnings statement. But company documents say that it progressively ratcheted up production at its first plant in Perrysburg, OH, from a few hundred kilowatts of modules per year in the early years to 75 megawatts last year. First Solar now produces more than 100 megawatts' worth of panels per year, thanks to a new plant in Germany. ...
Tech Review also has an article titled "Plug-In Hybrids Get Green Grades", noting "plug-in cars are a plus for the environment, despite the fact that they would increase the demand for electricity" (as V2G means all sorts of smart grid benefits can be achieved).
Plug-in hybrids, which use electricity from the grid to replace gasoline for daily driving, would cut gas consumption and save commuters from high fuel prices. But some experts have been concerned that switching from gas to electricity, much of which is generated from fossil fuels, would actually significantly increase pollution in some parts of the country, as opposed to decreasing it.
A study released last week by the environmental group National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the largely utility-funded Electric Power Research Institute shows that plug-ins, once they're on the market, will significantly cut greenhouse gases. Across the country, the vehicles will on average also decrease other pollutants, but the impact in local areas will depend on the source of electricity.
In plug-in hybrids, a large battery pack that is recharged by plugging it in stores enough energy to power a car entirely, or almost entirely, with electricity for the first 40 miles or so of driving. For longer trips, the car reverts to conventional hybrid operation, relying largely on gasoline for power but improving efficiency: by storing energy from braking in the battery and using it for acceleration, for example.
The study shows that if plug-in hybrids are adopted widely in the United States, and if measures are taken to clean up power plants, by 2050, plug-in hybrids could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 612 million metric tons, or roughly 5 percent of the total U.S. emissions expected in that time frame, according to Marcus Sarofim, a researcher at MIT's Joint Program for the Science and Policy of Global Change. That's a significant amount, he says, considering that transportation accounts for only about a third of the total greenhouse-gas emissions.
But if plug-in hybrids account for only a small part of the total vehicle sales in 2050 (about 20 percent, compared with 80 percent in the first scenario), and if little is done to improve pollution from power plants, the vehicles will still reduce greenhouse emissions by about 163 metric tons, according to the study.
The WSJ Energy Roundup has an interesting post on Merrill Lynch’s Energy Efficiency Index, analysing which companies have the most to gain from improving efficiency of energy use.
Merrill Lynch announced a new Energy Efficiency Index, currently comprised of 40 companies, to identify industry sectors that it says should benefit from the growing drive to improve energy efficiency. “While there has been a clear shift of resources and investor attention into renewable energy, energy efficiency remains an area that is relatively under-explored,” said Asari Efiong, Merrill Lynch SRI/ Renewable Energy equity analyst. “We believe that energy efficiency represents a significant market opportunity for investors, as policy changes look set to force a structural shift in demand.”
Merrill analysts say they think the global manufacturing industry could improve its energy efficiency by between 18% to 26% overall, while cutting the sector’s CO2 emissions by 19-32%. The four sectors most exposed to this theme, according to Merrill, are the automotive industry, capital goods, semi-conductors and building materials.
Among the companies in the index are those with technologies that boost automotive fuel efficiency; building-insulation companies; power-semiconductor makers and efficient-lighting companies.
Jeff Vail is back with a new post on energy driven instability called "Losing Our Balance?". I never thought I'd see Jeff invoking the name of Jay Hanson (now lurking at "Killer Ape Peak Oil" rather than his old Dieoff haunt) - its also an incorrect attribution, as Jay was just parroting Richard Duncan's "Olduvai Cliff" theory (something I liked to throw in for doomerish kicks in my early peak oil blogging days until I decided to be a responsible citizen instead of a fear monger). Duncan always used to send JD off on some wild rants as I recall, and they were reasonably accurate ones.
Personally I don't see the grid failing in any developed nation anytime soon - in fact I envision a globe circling grid appearing a decade or two down the line (a marriage of the smart grid and global energy grid ideas, powered by massive renewable energy projects in the areas with the best solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy resources).
nteresting times, indeed. Oil (WTI) closed within one penny of the all-time record closing price of $77.03 last Friday. The markets seem shaken, and suddenly people are realizing that the recent explosion of derivatives may have created as much hidden rigidity as resiliency in our financial markets (as I wrote about here).
Mexico continues to reveal how deep its problems run. After my article on Mexico Collapse sparked quite a conversation on this topic, the meme of Mexico collapse spread quickly (though I don't take credit for that--the situation speaks for itself). One little gem was PEMEX's announcement late Friday that they will probably be out of oil in seven years--out of oil, not just beginning to decline. Notice how this came out on Friday afternoon. This is when you issue a press release when you want to bury a story.
And electricity seems to be a growing problem, at least in the third world (and those areas that the US military has transformed into the same). It is interesting to note that Jay Hanson (of dieoff.org notoriety) has always predicted that it would be electricity, not oil, that would be the actual cause of collapse. This seems quite plausible to me, though I still think that it will be fundamentally driven by declining oil production, with the resulting electricity-grid problems being best understood as an "above ground factor" stemming from oil. Oil is driving metal theft to new highs, which impacts the viability of electrical grids everywhere. Oil and natural gas prices makes it more difficult to maintain fuels for peak-generating capacity. Oil prices breathe life into infrastructure insurgencies everywhere, which repeatedly target electrical grids for their high return on investment.
Take a look, for example, of what has happened to the electrical supply situation in Baghdad, despite the impending success (sarcasm) of the current "surge" by US military forces there:
Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity.
Interestingly, John Robb has picked up on this crisis in electrical grids around the world as a possible point of development for Africa--their grids are becoming so unreliable that African communities have the opportunity to lead the world in innovating a mode of modern civilization without grid electricity, and possibly export any success that they may have to the rest of the world. While I don't see Africa finding a profitable export market for their brand of grid-free living (admittedly, that isn't actually what Robb was suggesting), I do agree with Robb's assessment that we need to learn to build resilient communities--I've written about that, as well. ...
The article John Robb refers to is this one from the NYT - "Toiling in the Dark: Africa’s Power Crisis".
It is not that Jacob Mwale minds irrigating the 11 acres of land he farms just east of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. It is irrigating his 11 acres in the dead of night that angers him. Two or three times a week, the Mwale farm abruptly loses power, like the homes and businesses of some of Zambia’s 300,000 other electricity users. When the power returns, sometimes late in the evening, Mr. Mwale’s farmhands work overtime, watering the fields by moonlight. “If they shut down the whole day, I have to work nights, and pay extra,” Mr. Mwale, 39, grumbled. “It’s killing us.”
Power blackouts — “load shedding,” in utility jargon — are hardly novel in sub-Saharan Africa, where many electricity grids remain chewing-gum-and-baling-wire affairs. Even so, this year is different. Perhaps 25 of the 44 sub-Saharan nations face crippling electricity shortages, a power crisis that some experts call unprecedented.
The causes are manifold: strong economic growth in some places, economic collapse in others, war, poor planning, population booms, high oil prices and drought have combined to leave both industry and residents short of power when many need it most. “We’ve had no significant capital injection into generation and transmission, from either the private or public sectors, for 15, maybe 20 years,” said Lawrence Musaba, the manager of the Southern African Power Pool, a 12-nation consortium of electricity utilities at the continent’s tip.
The implications go beyond candlelight suppers and extra blankets on beds. The lack of reliable power has already begun to hamper the region’s development, clipping more than 2 percent off the annual growth rates of the worst-hit African economies, according to the World Bank. Some nations, like Ghana, have tried to deal with their power crises by leasing huge teams of gas generators, producing emergency power at exorbitant rates until power plants can be built.
In Nigeria, Angola and some other nations, virtually all businesses and many residents run private generators to supplement faltering public service, saddling economies with added costs and worsening pollution. “I’ve been on the 20th floor of an apartment building in Luanda, and there would be generators on all the verandas, with the racket, the fumes,” said Anton Eberhard, a former electricity regulator and an expert on power at the University of Cape Town. “And the lift isn’t working, because the main power supply is off.”
In normal times, South Africa’s muscular chain of power plants fills the gaps of its neighbors. But South Africa now could experience up to seven years of its own electricity shortages. Rolling blackouts blanketed parts of the country in January, and sporadic power failures have persisted since. The gravity of this year’s shortage is all the more apparent considering how little electricity sub-Saharan Africa has to begin with. Excluding South Africa, whose economy and power consumption dwarf other nations’, the region’s remaining 700 million citizens have access to roughly as much electricity as do the 38 million citizens of Poland.
Much goes to industry: a single aluminum smelter near Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, gobbles four times as much power as the entire rest of Mozambique. On average, the World Bank says, fewer than one in four sub-Saharan Africans are hooked to national electricity grids. Moreover, some grids are so poorly maintained that electricity suppliers get paid for as little as 60 percent of the power they generate. The rest is either stolen or lost in ill-maintained networks.
For decades, the region had enough generating capacity — and few enough customers — to tolerate such waste. No more: sub-Saharan nations are adding about a thousand megawatts of generating capacity each year, World Bank experts say, but need up to twice that to keep pace with demand.
Some governments privatized chunks of their power industry in the early 1990s when free-market solutions to public-sector problems were in vogue, leaving it unclear who is ultimately responsible for providing power. Other governments, as in South Africa, failed to build power plants that experts warned were needed. The government monopoly Eskom, the world’s fourth-largest power utility, was advised in a 1998 report that it would run short of power in 2007, but planning and financing problems — not all within the utility’s control — stalled upgrades. The forecast was actually optimistic: Eskom began running short in 2006.
Yet South Africa’s woes pale beside those of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Only 19 of 79 power plants work, the government said in April. Daily electricity output has plunged 60 percent from its peak, and blackouts cost the economy $1 billion a year, the Council for Renewable Energy in Nigeria says.
Poor management is but one problem. War has devastated the power grid in Congo, in Africa’s heart, and stalled plans to develop its vast hydroelectric potential. In Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and parts of West Africa, drought has shrunk rivers and slashed the generating capacity of hydroelectric dams. Drought in Ghana, for example, has crippled gold and aluminum production and set off blackouts in Togo and Benin, which buy power from Ghana.
Once a major power exporter, Uganda now blacks out parts of its capital, Kampala, for as much as a day at a time and has leased two 50-megawatt generators, burning diesel at a time of record oil prices. The demand for hydropower in Uganda and its neighbors, with drought, is blamed by some for a steady reduction in the water level of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest.
Uganda’s gas stations are now short of diesel for vehicles — in part, paradoxically, because power shortages are shutting down a pipeline from Kenya. News reports say the nation has spent enough on diesel-fueled power generation to build two hydroelectric dams.
Zambia, where power to customers like Mr. Mwale is rationed almost every day, is a template for such problems. Barely 20 percent of households are wired for power — only 3 percent in rural areas — but the Zambia Electricity Supply Company, known as Zesco, is signing up 10,000 new customers a year, said Christopher Nthala, the utility’s transmission director.
Now Zambia is getting a push: a global commodities boom has jolted its moribund metals industry to life. Investors are building two smelters, and doubling the capacity of another, to handle the boom in copper, nickel and other metals, taxing the nation’s power supply. “We’ve never seen this kind of growth before,” Mr. Nthala said.
Once the utility could make up shortfalls by buying power from other utilities in the Southern Africa Power Pool. But today, Mr. Nthala said, neighbors have little surplus to hand out. “Sometimes we get it,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t.” None of that mollifies customers, who say blackouts are so common that service in much of Lusaka has become totally unreliable.
Many power failures seem to hit Matero, a poor township that is home to maybe a million of Lusaka’s estimated three million residents. “Every day — it’s either in the morning, when people are going to work or preparing to cook, or in the evening, the prime time when I’m tired and I need to go home and listen to the news and cook my supper,” said Bishop Peter Ndhlovu, who leads the 250,000-member Bible Gospel Church, an evangelical movement.
Nighttime prayer meetings in his corrugated-roof chapel have been canceled. Bishop Ndhlovu and others say they lave lost refrigerators, televisions and DVD players to the utility’s blackouts and surges. Most of the township’s residents have adapted by turning away from their stoves and instead cooking outdoors, village-style, with homemade charcoal. “Charcoal is going very fast, because they’ve found out that Zesco is cutting power unpredictably,” the bishop said.
On Lusaka’s eastern outskirts, Mr. Mwale, the farmer, also has laid in a stock of charcoal — not to cook, but to warm his stock of newborn chicks, which must be kept at a constant 90 degrees for the three weeks after hatching. He said he worried about the environment. Charcoal production is a major contributor to deforestation in Zambia and nearby nations. But the alternative is to take a loss on his poultry business. “When they make a loss, they just raise their tariff,” he said of Zesco. “When I make a loss, I have to make it up myself. Is that fair?”
Zambia’s plan, like the plans of dozens of other nations, is to build its way out of the power crunch. Zesco plans $1.2 billion in generating upgrades and new capacity, financed mostly by China and India. South Africa plans more than $20 billion in upgrades; Congo is contemplating a hydroelectric station that by itself would increase capacity outside South Africa by 50 to 75 percent.
The World Bank says its financing of power projects in sub-Saharan Africa is ballooning, from $250 million five years ago to $660 million last year to $1 billion in 2007. But many plans remain just that. Issues like creditworthiness, lax regulation, domestic politics and the sheer difficulty of sending power over rundown grids to the customer make outside investments in power stations tougher than they appear, said Tore Horvei, the chief operating officer of CIC Energy Corporation, which is based in South Africa.
The best answer, most experts consulted agree, would be for nations to cooperate on regional power solutions. One or two large regional plants, they say, could supply power more cheaply and efficiently than dozens of smaller ones. But while that may be logical, Mr. Horvei said, “it’s very challenging in practice to do so.” “National pride and everything else comes in,” he added.
There is an alternative: saving energy. Namibia plans a wind farm on its southern coast, while in South Africa, Eskom has handed out five million fluorescent bulbs and 140,000 insulating blankets for water heaters, and has paid industrial customers to switch off equipment during periods of high demand.
I think its fair to say diesel based power generation is going to be a thing of the past in poor countries soon, and aid and development programs (and foreign investment) should focus on building a new distributed / renewables infrastructure - this could become a classic case of technology leapfrogging if handled correctly.
Moving on, TreeHugger has a post on "urbines" at Elephant and Castle (site of the world's ugliest traffic roundabout if I recall correctly).
Urbines. That's what World Architecture News labels urban wind turbines; neat neologism.
Ben Coleman of Hamiltons Architects says that to optimise power, "integrate turbines into the design of tall buildings in such a way that the contours of the building envelope focus wind on to the turbine blades, much like the casing around a gas or water turbine." They are doing this at Castle house, a 43 storey, 408 unit apartment building at Elephant and Castle in Southwark, London. "Three 9m wind turbines integrated into the top of the building are expected to generate sufficient power to drive the energy efficient lighting to the building, an integral part of the sustainable credentials for the building as a whole."
* Tom Whipple (Energy Bulletin) - Peak Oil Review - July 30th, 2007
* Trinidad and Tobago Express - Peak oil - expensive food
* SMH - Oil group slipping into the Kremlin ring
* AFP - Global warming doubles number of hurricanes, study finds
* Tim "Deltoid" Lambert (Crikey) - Joining the dots on The Daily Tele's anti-Gore story
* Technology Review - Saving Bangladesh from Global Warming
* Green Car Congress - Global Wind Power Capacity Increased Almost 26% in 2006
* Khaleej Times - Saudi Arabia to focus on renewable energy
* Green Car Congress - UD-Led Team Sets Solar Cell Efficiency Record of 42.8%; Joins DuPont on $100M Project
* BusinessWeek - Tesla: A Carmaker With Silicon Valley Spark
* Business 2.0 - The 50 Who Matter Now: Martin Eberhard
* After Gutenberg - UltraCapacitor E Bike
* Green Car Congress - Maxwell Ultracaps Cleared for Vehicle Applications in China
* PhysOrg - Renewable energy wrecks environment, scientist claims. Award for most laughable piece of nuclear industry propaganda ever goes to PhysOrg and the Rockefeller University - for a while I thought this was some obscure satire in The Onion. Cherry picking "facts" to make some bogus case isn't what academia is supposed to be about - this guy should get a job as a lobbyist.
* Crikey - The Haneef fiasco: It's the law stupid
* Swans - Iraq Now As I See It
* Huffington Post - Blowing Off the PR Pixie Dust While Waiting for Petraeus
* Technology Review - New report warns some nations imposing too many rules on Internet use. While others just do it a little more subtly (thankfully).
* Cryptogon - Zeitgeist
* Word Of The Day (Rigorous Intuition) - Egregore. For fans of weirdness only. Suspending disbelief for a moment, if egregores did exist, imagine the ones being created by the various doomer cults out there...