Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Peak Oil: Can Alternative Energy Replace Oil?

My latest post (July 2006) on how to replace oil is here:
Ethanol E85 Fuel

Paul Roberts, author of "The End of Oil" in this article for Mother Jones discusses how we may have "a lot less time than we thought" to replace fossil fuels.

As he notes,

One of the most alarming symptoms of an energy system on the verge of collapse are found in the oil markets. Today, even as global demand for oil, led by the economic boom in Asia, is rising far faster than anticipated, our ability to pump more oil is falling. Despite assurances from oil's two biggest players -- the House of Bush and the House of Saud -- that supplies are plentiful (and, as George W. Bush famously put it, that getting the oil is just a matter of "jawboning" "our friends in OPEC to open the spigots"), it's now clear that even the Saudis lack the physical capacity to bring enough oil to desperate consumers. As a result, oil markets are now so tight that even a minor disturbance -- accelerated fighting in Iraq, another bomb in Riyadh, more unrest in Venezuela or Nigeria -- could send prices soaring and crash the global economy into a recession. "The world really has run out of production capacity," a veteran oil analyst warned me in late August. "Iraq is producing less than a third of the oil that had been forecast, the Saudis are maxed out, and there is no place else to go. And America is still relying on an energy policy that hasn't changed significantly in 20 years."

Nor is it any longer a matter of simply drilling new wells or laying new pipe. Oil is finite, and eventually, global production must peak, much as happened to domestic supplies in the early 1970s. When it does, oil prices will leap, perhaps as high as $100 per barrel -- a disaster if we don't have a cost-effective alternative fuel or technology in place. When the peak is coming is impossible to predict with precision. Estimates range from the ultra-optimistic, which foresee a peak no sooner than 2035, to the pessimistic, which hold that the peak may have already occurred. In any case, the signs are clear that the easy oil is harder to find and what remains is increasingly difficult and expensive to extract. Already, Western oil companies are struggling to discover new supplies fast enough to replace the oil they are selling. (Royal/Dutch Shell was so concerned about how declining discovery rates would devastate its stock price that it inflated its reserves figures by 20 percent.)

Worse, according to a new study in the respected Petroleum Review, in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Gabon, and 15 other oil-rich nations that now supply 30 percent of the world's daily crude, oil production -- that is, the number of barrels that are pumped each day -- is declining by 5 percent a year. That's double the rate of decline of even a year ago, and it has forced other oil producers to pump extra simply to keep global supplies steady. "Those producers still with expansion potential are having to work harder and harder just to make up for the accelerating losses of the large number that have clearly peaked and are now in continuous decline," writes Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review and a former analyst with BP and the Saudi national oil company. "Though largely unrecognized, [depletion] may be contributing to the rise in oil prices."

UPDATE (June 2005): I have just finished reading Paul Robert's book "The End of Oil" and I can wholeheartedly recommend it as the best book I've so far read on the energy challenges facing us. I can also recommend "The Party's Over" by Richard Heinberg.

As Paul Robert's notes the idea of peak oil is getting mainstream now being featured in major newspapers and magazines. An Alternative Energy Blog reader recently left a comment asking my opinion on the site life after the oil crash a website that partly inspired me to start this blog (although I question a number of the assumptions and conclusions made). When I visited the site again I noted the full length ebook is now available for free download until election day. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Mother Jones article on oil depletion

Matt Savinar's The Oil Age is Over: What to Expect as the World Runs Outs of Cheap Oil, 2005-2050. Free Download until election day

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Alternative Energy Blog - Suggestions/ Comments

Feel free to post any suggestions on how the alternative energy blog could be improved and discuss any energy related issues in the comments section.

I also welcome any links which should be to:

preferably using the link text "alternative energy" or "alternative energy blog"

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Solar Energy UK: Solar Power for All New Homes

English national newspaper, the Guardian reports that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has demanded that all new homes built in Britain be designed so that they can receive solar power. Draft building regulations from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, due to come into effect in January 2006, stipulate the change.

The move is significant since the government is on the brink of a major housebuilding drive. The government's own agency, the Energy Saving Trust, is trying to ensure that all new homes will be powered in part by solar power before the end of 2010.

Last month Prime Minister Tony Blair said sustainable development would be incorporated in all new schools and public sector buildings.

Last August California proposed to add solar power to a million homes in the next 10 years, paid for by a surcharge on electricity bills equivalent to about 15p (27 cents) a month. Germany has increased its target for putting solar panels on roofs from 10,000 to 100,000, and spent £66 million (around US $120m) last year to install 121 megawatts of photovoltaic panels.

Although the UK has invested £25m in solar power - £9m this year - only 10 megawatts of electricity was produced in 2003, about the same as a small wind farm and only 1 per cent of the output of the Sizewell nuclear power station in Suffolk. Improvements in solar technology have fuelled demand for it but the industry needs significant investment to increase production.

At the moment (particularly in those countries which don't have regular strong sunshine) solar power is comparatively expensive when compared to other renewable energy sources such as wind power. However it is looking increasingly likely that there will be a technological and cost breakthrough in solar energy. When this happens we'll be able to make much greater use of it e if the homes currently being built are ready.

Guardian article on UK Solar Energy

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Europe: Alternative Energy European Union (EU) - Stuck at 6%

The European Parliament

Brussel's EU Observer reports Europe's efforts to secure 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the end of this decade remain stuck at six percent, according to Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio.

Only six percent of the EU's current energy supply comes from renewable sources such as wind power and solar power, seven years after the goals were established.

Current use of renewable energy remains far short of a 12 percent target set for 2010, she said.

Speaking to industry representatives and the press in Brussels, Ms de Palacio described the EU's efforts as "stagnating" but said that the take up of biofuels should help achieve the goals.

"Bio-fuels should reach 5.75% of energy supply for transport by 2010", she told the audience.

However, the Commissioner, who leaves office next month, also noted that the EU's energy demands will grow by a fifth over the next 25 years, meaning a significant increase in use of renewables would be needed in real terms.

"In real terms their [renewables] production is rising, but against rising demand, their share of demand is more or less stagnant around 6%".

Ms Palacio is urging more be done to make renewable energy technologies competitive.

However according to the article companies such as Exxon continue to warn that renewable sources still do not look profitable - even with government subsidies.

That must be why those well known charities General Electric, BP and Royal Dutch Shell are investing in renewables.

EU Observer Article on Alternative Energy in European Union

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Alternative Energy Korea: World's Largest Tidal Power Plant

Korean Red Crowned Crane

According to Korea's this November, the construction of the world’s largest tidal power plant will begin at Ansan City’s Shihwa Lake in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, and next year, the construction of an experimental current power plant will start in Haenam County at Uldol-mok.

The Korean Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) announced on September 30 that it will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the Shihwa tidal power plant that will be constructed in Daebu-dong, Ansan City in November, and is scheduled to be completed in 2009.

The Shihwa tidal power plant will be able to generate 254,000 kW per hour using the flow of seawater into Shihwa Lake, which is above that of the La Rance power plant of France (200,000 kW per hour), the current biggest tidal power plant, and matches the total electricity demand of Ansan City’s 500,000 population.

The assumed construction cost is 355.1 billion won (approximately US $312m), and the Korea Water Resources Corporation will provide the total amount.

Kim Jin-oh, the deputy director of the Korea Energy Economics Institute, explained, “With the construction cost of the Shihwa tidal power plant, you could build a 340,000 kW coal thermoelectric power plant, a 450,000 kW diesel thermoelectric power plant, and a 670,000 kW LNG thermoelectric power plant,” and added, “A tidal power plant has the merit of no additional fuel costs.”

According to Deputy Director Kim, the estimated price per kW of the tidal power plant is about 100 won (8.8 US cents), a competitive price compared to the currently used alternative energy source, wind power (107 won).

The MMAF has decided to experimentally set up a current power plant, which generates energy by turning a hydraulic turbine with rapidly flowing seawater at Uldol-mok and they are currently developing the equipment. Uldol-mok is a bottleneck with a width of 300m and a maximum water speed of 6.5m per second, which makes it the best-suited location for a power plant. The Uldol-mok power plant will generate 1,000W per hour and will be put into operation by 2007. The MMAF is researching and developing a wave power plant which uses the force and drop of waves to generate electricity from a hydraulic turbine, and a seawater temperature difference power plant which uses the temperature difference of the outer layer and inner layer of seawater. Yeom Gi-dae, a senior researcher of the Korean Ocean Research and Development Institute under the MMAF, said, “The endowed maritime energy is above 14 million kW, over 20 percent of 2002’s domestic generation equipment capacity (50 million kW), and unlike hydroelectric, thermoelectric, and nuclear power, there is little environmental damage,” and emphasized the need for the active development of this technology.

As I've previously said tidal power and wave power have huge potential throughout the world - a lot more effort and attention needs to be focused on developing these resources.

Korean website Donga's article on the World's Largest Tidal Power Generator

Larger Picture of Korean Red Crowned Crane

Monday, October 04, 2004

Australia's PM Conspired against Alternative Energy Investment?

Australia's "The Age" newspaper alleges that the Australian Federal Government and fossil-fuel industry executives discussed ways to stifle growing investment in renewable energy projects at a secret meeting earlier this year.

Prime Minister John Howard called the meeting on May 6, five weeks before releasing the energy white paper on June 14.

The white paper favours massive investment in research to make fossil fuels cleaner, at the expense of schemes boosting growth in renewable energy.

Mr Howard called together the fossil-fuel-based Lower Emissions Technology Advisory Group to seek advice on ways to avoid extending the mandatory renewable energy targets scheme.

The Government has touted the scheme as a key plank in achieving its Kyoto Protocol target to hold greenhouse emissions at 108 per cent of 1990 levels.

The Government continues to refuse to ratify the protocol, despite Russia's decision last week to ratify and bring the protocol into legal effect.

Russia's move further isolates the United States and Australia.

Most countries, including big emitters India and China, support the protocol.

The mandatory renewables target is the only legally enforceable measure among Australia's otherwise voluntary policies to encourage lower emissions.

But according to minutes taken by Rio Tinto's acting chairman, Sam Walsh, the Industry and Resources Minister, Ian Macfarlane, told the May 6 meeting the scheme had worked too well.

The scheme requires power companies and large consumers to source an extra 9500 gigawatt hours of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The 9500 kilowatt-hours target amounts to less than 1 per cent of projected electricity generation in 2010.

Mr Macfarlane said "investment in renewables was running ahead of the original planning", and was generating renewable energy certificates ahead of original projections.

The Government-commissioned Tambling review, tabled last January, warned that unless the scheme was extended beyond 2010, investment in renewable energy generation would stall after 2007 and Australia would be locked out of technical advances that would reduce costs.

The review panel recommended doubling the target to 20,000 megawatt hours by 2020.

It said the economic cost would be 0.08 per cent of GDP, but consumers were willing to pay more for clean power.

But Mr Howard told the May 6 meeting that a $1.5 billion low-emission energy fund was more attractive, as extending the renewables scheme would cost industry $1.7 billion.

The industry representatives agreed with the Government's idea, which was similar to a fund set up by the United States Department of Energy.

The Prime Minister said the mandatory target had been a burden on industry, but "it was not credible to ignore" the Tambling review.

He said there was a real need to propose credible alternatives that would pass "the pub test".

Mr Macfarlane supported a levy on all consumers over 10 to 15 years to create the new $1.5 billion technology fund.

The white paper released five weeks later, however, proposed that the Government provide $500 million, with the rest from industry on a two-for-one dollar basis.

The minister closed the meeting stressing the need for "absolute" confidentiality to avoid a "huge outcry" from the renewable energy industry.

Australian elections are being held on October 9th.

The Age Article on PM John Howard and Alternative Energy in Australia

Friday, October 01, 2004

Alternative Energy Taiwan: Wind Power

Shi-Bow Elementary School, Taiwan

The Taiwanese government is accelerating efforts to develop renewable energy, mainly wind power, to guard against a sustained rise in fuel costs, government officials said recently.

Taiwan is heavily dependent on fuel imports, sourcing over 98% of its fuel abroad. The nation's sole power supplier is the state-run Taiwan Power Company. It's paying nearly double what it paid for coal last year. The spectre of a coming energy crisis seems to have spurred Taiwan's government to increase efforts to develop domestic alternative energy resources.

According to the article in Power Engineering Taiwan currently produces 5.4% of its power from renewables sources and hopes to increase this to 10% by 2010.

According to Wang Yunn-ming, deputy director of the Bureau of Energy, wind power has been chosen by Taipower, as well as various private companies, as a major energy source to exploit, Wang said.

"We estimate that wind power will make up 80 per cent of our 10 per cent renewable-energy capacity by 2010," Wang said.

Private companies have been showing high interest in exploiting the nation's rich wind-power resources. Last year, Germany's Infra Vest Windpower Corporation started building Taiwan's largest wind power electricity plant in Chiayi County. Under the plan, the company will build 70 wind turbines at the plant. The company is scheduled to launch the power plant next year. The company plans to build additional plants in Taoyuan and Changhwa. Overall, there will be 200 wind turbines scattered along the west coast of Taiwan within five years.

Power Engineering Article on Alternative Energy in Taiwan