Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

July 30, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

RUSSIAN GAS....Via Juan Cole, Asia Times reports that Russia, the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, has signed an agreement to buy and market Turkmenistan gas. "Curiously," says M K Bhadrakumar, "the agreements reached in Ashgabat on Friday are unlikely to enable Gazprom to make revenue from reselling Turkmen gas....In other words, plain money-making was not the motivation for Gazprom. The Kremlin has a grand strategy."

That "grand strategy" is, basically, to control as much world gas production as it can, and to form a cartel with other gas producers where it can't. I'm not sure what exactly this means, but at a minimum it kills the American plan to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India; it makes Iranian gas production even more strategic than it already is; and it makes me more perplexed than I already am about T. Boone Pickens' claim that natural gas is the key to U.S. energy independence. Hopefully some energy experts will weigh in soon to tell me whether any of this is stuff I really need to be concerned about.

Kevin Drum 1:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

T. Boone Pickens' claim that natural gas is the key to U.S. energy independence.


SWAG's-
1) most Nat Gas used in this country is made in the country, or at least in this hemisphere.
2) It's relative easy to make 'artificially' through coal conversion. So, if you have gas plants, you don't need to convert if you suppliers get squirrelly - you can get new suppliers.
3) It best compliments his wind farm source. Nat Gas plants take virtually no time to spin up to self sustaining, and as such make the best back up source.

Posted by: Kolohe on July 30, 2008 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

The basic idea of Picken's plan is to re-purpose the natural gas we are currently using to generate electricity and use it for automobiles. We use more wind power to generate electricity instead.

The idea sorta falls apart when you figure that -
1) Wind and electricity are not very portable - how are you going to get all that power to the coasts?
2) Electricty use is often high when there is no wind (hot days)
3) Quick fired natural gas plants are often used for peak situations - you wont have the luxury of timing if depending on wind

Posted by: kis on July 30, 2008 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

If this agreement really does tank the plans for a US pipeline through Afghanistan, you can count on our interest in terrorists in the area to mysteriously disappear. The Warlords can go back to carving up their country however they choose. On the other hand, it'll free up more soldiers to "hunt down terrorists" in Iran. Nod, nod, wink, wink.

While we're busy killing everything in sight (our own children included), other countries recognize the power of diplomacy. (Apparently their economies haven't been taken over by the military industrial complex.)

Eisenhower. Grave. Rolling over.

Posted by: Everyman on July 30, 2008 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

I believe Pickens does address the issues raised by kis. The first is solved by the national electrical grid.

The second is just not true. Wind blows just as hard, if not harder on hot days, especially in the areas where Pickens is building his wind farm (outside of Pampa, Texas). Having grown up in West Texas, I understand why the biggest wind farm is outside of Abilene. It's an extremely windy place year round.

Third, all electrical generation facilities are required to have backup fuel sources when the primary source is unavailable for any reason. That source could be biodiesel, biomass or any number of fuels.

Go to The Oil Drum site. There are some excellent articles on conventional and unconventional natural gas there, and a lot of good technical analysis of Picken's proposal.

Posted by: DevilDog on July 30, 2008 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

"The idea sorta falls apart when you figure that -
1) Wind and electricity are not very portable - how are you going to get all that power to the coasts?
2) Electricty use is often high when there is no wind (hot days)
3) Quick fired natural gas plants are often used for peak situations - you wont have the luxury of timing if depending on wind
"

These objections strike me as limited.
1) Is the claim that it is technically infeasible to move the electricity (ie the resistance over the distances involved makes it impractical) or is the claim simply that it is politically problematic (new wires have to be put up and either no-one wants to pay for them, or various people are complaining that they spoil the view/disrupt bird migration/cause cancer)? Obviously the first type of difficulty is something different from the second type of difficulty.

A second issue with siting is the question of how much US power is essentially tied to location as opposed to being mobile. What I mean is, there are at least certain types of power use (eg Al refining, nitrate production, data centers) that use tons of power in a localized "factory" that could, for the right economic incentives, move to where the power was cheapest. What I don't know is what fraction of US electrical usage is of this form.

2) There are other alternatives tailored to this particular problem. The current promising idea is solar power concentrators which are essentially mirrors that heat up a huge vat of some liquid (eg CO2 under extreme pressure) over the course of the day. At peak load time (generally late afternoon through evening as houses have warmed up and air con kicks in) the pressure is released, a turbine is fed, and power is generated, nicely in synch with usage patterns.
This sounds cool; not clear if it can be made to work economically, at least right now. There is an experimental plant that just started operating, just off the highway from LA to Vegas. We shall see.

3) I'm not sure what your claim here is. Obviously gas is valuable as a minute-by-minute topper-upper to the system but
- some of this can be handled (for short drop-outs from wind) by large capacitor banks, surely?
- my understanding was that for various reasons (less non-CO2 pollution, smaller plants, gas was cheap) there are a number of places in the US that are using gas not for this sensible purpose but for baseline generation which really, over the long term, makes no sense.


Posted by: Maynard Handley on July 30, 2008 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

Natural gas is more substitutable than liquid fuels. Aside from making it out of coal (possible, but bad for greenhouse without carbon capture), or biomass (also possible, but again, you run out of biomass fairly quick), like Pickens says, you can replace gas-fired electricity with renewables (or nuclear).

If Russia really is trying to build a gas cartel, expect a whole lot more nuclear reactors throughout Europe, particularly former Warsaw Pact countries.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on July 30, 2008 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

I don't pretend to know any more about gas than KD claims to, but it seems to me that Putin trumps Bush every time they clash....

Posted by: nota bene on July 30, 2008 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

Everybody trumps Bush if they play their cards. The secret of GWB's success is that he's always been surrounded by people who let him win every hand.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on July 30, 2008 at 3:29 AM | PERMALINK

dr sardonicus nails it.

What's with this, "how are you going to get all this power to the coasts"? That's where the wind blows also, and predictably. It's where the argument is going on about Marther's Vineyard and off the European coastline. Put the damn things over the horizon. I've seen them in Europe from the beach and they are so darn feint I bet on some days you can't see them at all. Maybe if they weren't white?

Russians? They are and have always been paranoiac; both persecution and grandeur. Both, perhaps, with reason and coupled to an almost unbroken history of authoritarianism and sadism, all of which Russians are fully aware of through their schooling and wonderful historic literature. It pervades their outlook. And they're proud and nationalistic, too. Those last two might ring a bell with US citizens.

On persecution, they see the rest of the world out to do them down. Chinese and Japanese to the East, Europe and the USA to the West. Look at their history. They do. Grandeur? See how sensitive they were when they lost their world power status and how they now again fly their long range bombers through the Med and Atlantic. Their big moments came in the repulse of Napoleon and Hitler, both impressive achievements, but were punctuated by the Crimean war, naval defeat by Japan, humiliation in WWI, and the dismantling of not only their East European "empire" but the dislocation of their states -- Balt, Ukraine, Byelorus, the stans, etc. -- they considered permanent parts of greater Russia.

The authoritarianism and sadism leads to other events. Suppression of press and political opposition with no conscience about foreign (or home) opinion. Murder of dissent -- particularly journalists -- and cutting off supplies of fuel to nations. Executing ex-pats in overseas capitals. It's quite bizaar but then there's not much in repurcussions. Even the people accept all this as "strength". They gamble on the downside and are generally correct. They are good chess players. You might think that's a dwebish comment but chess requires both tactics and strategy, thinking moves ahead.

It's worked for them so far 'cos they've done plenty of outlandish things and suffered what?

They play a dangerous game but, so far, have been winning hands down.

Meanwhile the US plays a foolish game and is losing every day.

Oh, and here's a link to known oil and natural gas reserves. Please note Russia's dominance in their locality and Turkmenistan's small addition. We need to stay with the Middle East, S. America and our own fields.

Posted by: notthere on July 30, 2008 at 4:47 AM | PERMALINK

It is pretty easy to ship oil all over the world in tankers. It is much, much harder to ship natural gas. So oil functions as one world market, but natural gas functions as separate markets.
Also, we seem to have found most all of the oil there is to find in the US (because we have been looking so much for so long; over a century), but there still seems to be natural gas to be found.

Posted by: Jessica on July 30, 2008 at 5:57 AM | PERMALINK

What exactly does Pickens want us to do for him?

Up subsidies for his wind farms or mandate automobile useage of his natural gas reserves?

Posted by: asdf on July 30, 2008 at 5:59 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, I think Pickens's proposal seems to be the rare kind that will be helpful even if it is wrong. Because it is focusing attention on practical solutions and triggering useful discussion/investigation.
Imagine if a fraction of the money spent on the now putrifying securitization fiasco had been spent in this direction. At least we would have something to show for our money.

Posted by: Jessica on July 30, 2008 at 6:03 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, Jessica, but I really am asking what action Pickens wishes the government to take. What we've seen is the pitch. The item for sale is still behind the door.

Personally, I am sick of having CEO's define our energy policy and I would much prefer we ignore this guy and have a panel of less biased experts and smart people weigh the options. If they come up with a similar "plan" so be it. The choice isn't between Pickens plan and homeland security/militarization.

Posted by: asdf on July 30, 2008 at 6:57 AM | PERMALINK

As Jessica pointed out, it is quite difficult to move natural gas. You either need a pipeline or a coastline (and then it must be liquefied--an expensive proposition).

However, natural gas supply has been a lever of power for Russia over the last decade. Western Europe in particular depends on natural gas supplies from Russia. And Russia has occasionally cut back supplies. It has also been a significant point of dispute and pressure with Ukraine.

Certainly, by maintaining control of the surrounding oil supplies, Russia can keep members of the former Soviet Union dependent and (sometimes) unstable. The last thing Russia wants is for the US to build a pipeline from Central Asia, providing a further US foothold in the region, providing a chance to bypass this Russian choke hold, and perhaps helping stabilize/wean the surrounding nations from Russian power.

Frankly (as a Russian specialist, though not of this issue) I would say that much of Russian foreign policy at the moment is aimed at rebuilding (at least in a loose alliance or federation) the Soviet Union. Certainly Russian nationalists would like to take back (or roughly control) Ukraine, at least part of Georgia, Belarus, and Central Asia (and they make no bones about it).

This issue of natural gas and pressure on Western Europe is very real.

As for natural gas in the US... I would guess that the focus is on not so much transporting it (though with current prices liquifying might be practical), but rather in power generation. Certainly we have a heck of a lot of it that just goes to waste. Of course burning natural gas is relatively clean (if you don't count CO2!).

Posted by: Cornfields on July 30, 2008 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK

Russia is also dumping it’s FNMA/FHMLC exposure, as well. They know a sinking ship when they see one and the American ship of state is going down fast with George W. Bush as the Skipper!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 30, 2008 at 7:26 AM | PERMALINK

Pickens made some 1.5 billion off oil speculation...I dont think hes in the energy business to save anyone or anything.

Posted by: on July 30, 2008 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Pickens is trying to make a buck. Big deal. He has made a proposal that focuses us in the right direction.

We need to improve our electric grid and greatly increase electricity generation from renewable resources. The new plug-in electrics demand improved electricity generation.

As to wind not blowing, and sun not shinning, well yep those are local problems, but problems that diminish in importance over a large enough grid. The wind is always blowing somewhere. We will still need conventional generation from other sources including nuclear and coal.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 30, 2008 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Pickens is asking that there be something like 20 billion in subsidies for the type of things outlined in the plan. Anyone can join in and take part in the plan. He isn't asking for it to be given to him. He's already making a huge investment in wind taking advantage of existing subsidies. That's what those subsidies are for, to increase the interest of people with money in doing stuff that has a beneficial effect. Pickens thinks it makes more sense for the government to spend 20 billion on subsidies than for the US to send 700 billion to oil exporting nations.

Posted by: crack on July 30, 2008 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

That state control of both oil and gas is a Russian goal has been obvious for several years. Remember the purge of the oligarchs and legal persecution of the guy who used to run Yukos? So the "grand strategy" is no surprise. And besides being a strategic resource, oil and gas are also the one reliable source of state income for Russia.

As notthere implies, the Russians see an American "grand strategy" in their region-- to control Caspian oil via the planned Afghanistan-Karachi pipeline, for starters. (I think they believe the US is behind the Chechen rebellion because Caspian oil goes through Chechnya, but I'm not positive about that.) We also have ringed Russia with dozens of military bases and bribed our way into several former constituent states of the USSR. Just because they're paranoid, etc.

The worst and stupidest thing we ever did vis-a-vis Russia was expanding NATO. We'll pay for that one for a hundred years or more. When Russians feel under threat, they'll absorb any amount of pain, in ways we can't even imagine in this country. And McCain wants to threaten them even more?

Nobody else in the world believes that something as important as energy supplies should be left up to a free market of private companies seeking only their own advantage. And actually we don't either, because we've dispatched the national military to try to lock up supplies. We just say we do, and then we act surprised when other countries admit that they don't.

About Pickens, I think a big part of his thinking on gas has to do with the new fracking techniques (and no, that's not a Galactica reference). Immense amounts of gas are theoretically available using it, but at the cost of tremendous problems in finding and treating water to do the fracking. But the stuff's there.

Posted by: Altoid on July 30, 2008 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Water's a choke point for the other promising source of carbon energy: oil shale. Oil shale is super-abundant, but it takes lots of water to turn it useful and oil shale is most abundant where water isn't. There's an unbelievable amount of carbon in the ground, but getting it into a useful form and moved to where it can be easily used is going to be difficult now that we're on the down slope of petroleum supplies.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on July 30, 2008 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure what exactly this means, but at a minimum it kills the American plan to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India...

I think that idea is dying away because Afghanistan is too unstable, too much of a wildcard. Yep, sink a ton of money into building a pipeline through an unstable country and then have it cut off later. Not so smart. Yes, the Russians will have more "control" of the gas, but until potential importers for gas get LNG facilities built the only thing the Russians can really "control" is the Western European gas market.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on July 30, 2008 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Wind, solar and biofuels can provide reliable baseload electricity. This has already been demonstrated in Germany, and a recent study by the Rocky Mountain Institute also shows that a portfolio of wind and solar power generation can provide baseload electricity.

The off-shore wind energy resources of New England alone are sufficient to provide all the electricity consumed in the USA. The same goes for the wind energy resources that Pickens wants to develop in the midwest.

Likewise, the solar energy resources of the southwestern deserts are far more than sufficient to produce several times as much electricity as the US consumes with today's concentrating solar thermal technology.

Solar thermal also has the advantage that the heat energy it produces can be stored for night time use more easily, inexpensively and efficiently than electricity. Nonetheless, the technology for utility-scale storage of electricity in lithium-ion batteries and flywheels is already in production and being deployed today.

Also, in addition to wind and solar thermal for utility-scale electricity generation (and photovoltaics for municipal utility generation in the range of 20MW plants, as envisioned by Nanosolar), distributed small-scale photovoltaics can provide peak power (which is generally for cooling during the sunniest days) and reduce or eliminate the need for large centralized power plants to produce peak power.

The state of Texas has just approved a five billion dollar project to build the high-capacity distribution network that will be needed to move large amounts of electricity from wind turbine farms to cities where it is needed. And General Motors is already partnering with utilities to develop the "smart grid" and charging station infrastructure that will be needed to support large numbers of electric and pluggable-hybrid cars.

Al Gore is correct in saying that people who think his proposal that the USA produce 100 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and biofuels within ten years is unrealistic, are generally not aware of the advanced state of renewable technology. Today's wind and solar technology is quite capable of producing several times as much electricity as the USA currently uses -- we just need to deploy it.

Gore's proposal and Pickens' proposal are similar in their emphasis on rapidly scaling up wind energy production in the midwest, as well as solar thermal power plants in the southwest. Private capital is already pouring into these efforts, and very little assistance is needed from the government -- and that mostly in the form of production and investment tax credits to encourage more private investment.

Where Gore and Pickens differ is with regard to the fossil fuel generation that they want to replace. Pickens wants wind and solar to replace natural gas for electricity generation as a priority, so that gas can replace oil as a transport fuel, thus cutting US expenditures for foreign oil. Gore wants wind and solar to replace coal as a priority, in order to reduce CO2 emissions -- replacing gas for electricity generation would be a lower priority under Gore's proposal since its CO2 emissions are about half those of coal. And under Gore's proposal, electricity would also replace oil as the primary "fuel" for surface transport.

I think Pickens is somewhat misguided in his goals, and that Gore has a better understanding of what is really needed -- however, at this stage of the game, their plans are essentially similar in calling for a rapid scaling up of wind and solar electricity generation.

We can completely phase out all fossil fuels, as well as toxic and dangerous nuclear power, and transition to a new energy economy based on clean, free, endless wind and solar energy within a generation. It isn't even that technologically or economically challenging. The obstacles are not technical or economic -- the obstacles are the entrenched political power of the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries who do not want to see a huge transfer of wealth to the new energy industries of the 21st century.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 30, 2008 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Jeffrey Davis wrote: "Water's a choke point for the other promising source of carbon energy: oil shale."

No source of carbon energy is "promising". The only thing that extracting and burning more fossil fuels "promises" is irreversible catastrophic global warming, a planetary ecological collapse, mass extinctions, and the end of human civilization. We need to phase out ALL fossil fuel use as quickly as possible, not dig up more of the stuff ... and particularly not the low-grade fossil fuels like oil shale and tar sands, the mining and refining of which causes massive environmental damage totally apart from the associated CO2 emissions.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 30, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Why do we persist in talking about the War on Terror in Iraq or the "right" war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan? "Terror", the Taliban, fundamentalism , and whatever else they can come up with is just a pretext for the Great Game for fossil fuels. Russia's move should make it abundantly clear what is going on. Why would there be such massive expense to remove yet another illiberal third world regime and manage events on the ground into the distant future if not for something quite valuable?

The Cheney folks, friends at the AEI, have to make things work with AIPAC, so making friends with the enemies of Israel is not an option and it will not be for Obama. But the Russians and Chinese can make whatever deals they want. The Europeans threw it in with the US in Afghanistan and it seems they will not be getting the return they had hoped for.

Posted by: bellumregio on July 30, 2008 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

One point that seems to be missed is, unless I am mistaken, natural gas is used to make fertilizer. Already food production is being pinched by the burning of food for automobile fuel. If we divert natural gas to automobile fuel we will drive the price of food up even further.

In the US we don't give a rip because our food costs are at an historic low but right now people in the world are starving due to the rising cost of food.

Cynically I'll say as long as that is far away and happening to poor brown people the US couldn't care less.

And we are facing a global shortage of potable water. In essence drought stricken regions are importing water by importing food. That is why I think guzzling water to extract the oil from shale is really stupid.

I fear we are going to stumble from one stupid idea to another due to the industries that have the power today and who won't give it up without a fight.

We are fighting for scraps.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

The Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and parts of New York, Ohio, and West Virginia has recently been estimated to contain 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

http://geology.com/articles/marcellus-shale.shtml

Posted by: egadfly on July 30, 2008 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, google Fayetteville shale or Haynesville Shale. Major gas plays in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Posted by: Roger on July 30, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Who were we kidding that we could ever build (and protect from the Taliban) a pipeline through Afghanistan!

Heck, I'm amazed that nobody's tried to attack the Alaskan pipeline from Prudhoe Bay yet. Hundreds of miles long...no security...about as easy a target as there is.

Posted by: mfw13 on July 30, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

The fuel side of Pickens' plan is not particularly clever.

I mean it's clever, but not so clever.

Natural gas used as a cooking or home heating fuel is 90% efficient (assuming an Energy Star boiler or furnace). So using it as a transportation fuel is a step backwards.

If the goal is simply reducing dependence on foreign oil, then it can have a role. Compressed NG is an option.

But what you really want to do is an environmental thing, which is cut your emissions from coal. *that* is why you are using wind power (and the flipside of that is that renewables need gas turbines as backup).

Give Pickens full credit for thinking big-- really big.

The US has the best onshore wind resource in the world in the Great Plains, and one of the best offshore wind resources. Couple them together with the Direct Current power transmission lines used in Quebec, Russia and Brasil, and you have the makings of a USA which is carbon free in its electricity (or nearly so) and entirely independent of foreign sources (except Hydro imports from Canada).

Such a vision is now utopian and impracticable: but in 40 years time it need not be, particularly as large scale energy storage may be more of a reality (fuel cells, compressed air, pumped storage, vanadium flow batteries etc.).

Whether the US has the vision and the ambition to build and site 350,000 wind turbines to make it happen, I do not know. But the resource is there.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 30, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

The "grand strategy" should be energy independence.

T. Boone Pickens more than anyone else, can certainly see the writing on the wall, it's either bloody war for oil or energy independence.

T. Boone merely wants to get in on the ground floor of his grand schemes, something I'm not willing to invest in as a taxpayer, since I find his ideas fairly flawed. If Boone wants to push it, fine, he should do it with his own money, for certainly he has plenty of it.

But there is lots of evidence that alternative energy exist and many times these ideas sometimes have been forcibly shelved by US Western Contract oil interest, who buy up patients and shelve them permanently. Surely we have all read articles that say someone invented a vehicle that can run on water ONLY to never hear about the invention ever again.

I've gone over to YouTube and found evidence that I posted here of some of these wonderful inventions from around the globe.

Finding new forms of energy belongs to start-up American entrepreneurs, the small business backbone of American, the true investment of any real freedom is in the dreams of sole inventors and sole proprietors, who are more interested in problem solving for their fellow humans rather than enriching investors pocketbooks unlike conglomerate corporations, that are only concern with their rating on the stock exchange. Huge corporations that have done much to snuff our freedom in this country more than to encourage it.

We can't move ahead with energy independence because our mega corporations WILL NOT allow us to move ahead and our corporate controlled congress won't let us to do this either. It's time to move on from fossil fuel dependence for good, for the good of our environment, the good of our economy, the good of our democracy.

Posted by: Me_again on July 30, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

The Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and parts of New York, Ohio, and West Virginia has recently been estimated to contain 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Yeah! And from the same article, they said it *might* have 500 trillion cubic feet and up to 10% of that *may* be recoverable.

Also, the 50 trillion cubic feet, which *may* be recoverable from what *might* be 500 Trillion cubic feet would supply the US for two years! I mean 730 days! Or even 63,072,000 seconds!!!

Perspective, people, perspective.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

But there is lots of evidence that alternative energy exist and many times these ideas sometimes have been forcibly shelved by US Western Contract oil interest, who buy up patients and shelve them permanently. Surely we have all read articles that say someone invented a vehicle that can run on water ONLY to never hear about the invention ever again.

Oh great. Somebody left the door open and now we are hearing how we can power everything on snake oil.

Yeah. Sure. Call me when you can demo it and produce it on a massive scale.

Posted by: on July 30, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Why so confused, Kev?

Pickens is:
A. Ignorant (of Peak NG, among other things)
B. Full of it
C. Wedded to an old hydrocarbon-based energy model
D. Trying to become even more filthy rich with a PR veneer to boot
E. All of the above.

Re other ideas. I'm sure DevilDog knows of the Texas PUC's new transmission lines approval earlier this month. Secular Animist notes it.

Merkel et al are right that Kohole overlooked the CO2 issue with coal-to-gas.

Jessica -- wrong. We hit Peak NG for the US at the start of the decade. North America hit PNG a couple of years ago.

(Sidebar to Kevin -- do a Peak NG story along with Peak Oil posts sometime.)

Secular Animist is right and Jeffrey Davis wrong about shale oil. The energy needed to produce, the EROEI, the environmental issues beyond water are all huge factors.

egadfly Not all of that is easily, or profitably reachable. Right here in North Texas, it's estimated that the average gas-producing well (not including dry ones) from the Barnett Shale is a money-loser.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 30, 2008 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Aw, shoot, the last post was from me.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly,

Awww, sniff, don't I get my name in bold?

I know I was late to this but I added some good stuff.

I'll even repeat myself: People need a sense of perspective and proportion about this stuff.

The perspective is that a lot of people are trying to sell a lot of stuff to make a lot of money even if it doesn't help the situation. I would have thought the bio-fuel debacles with soybeans and corn would have demonstrated that already.

The proportion thing is that we currently require a truly massively huge amount of energy today and while it is fun to throw around big numbers or point to little projects like sugar cane for ethanol in Brazil people need to understand the idea that fifty trillion of something might not really be that much.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist is right and Jeffrey Davis wrong about shale oil. The energy needed to produce, the EROEI, the environmental issues beyond water are all huge factors.

I think SocraticGadfly and SecularAnimist both read too much into the word "promising". It wasn't a stand-in for any other attitude about oil shale except that it's always almost ready to be exploited. I don't want to level the Green River basin a la West Virginia strip mines to produce oil shale and I certainly don't want the 6C of temperature rise associated with doubling atmospheric CO2.


Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on July 30, 2008 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Duly noted, Tripp.

Posted by: Bob M on July 30, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

I'm so glad Kevin cited the Asia Times (through Juan Cole). In my view it's the most informative (and unbiased) source of information around on geopolitical issues. Anyone who read it pre-Iraq would have had no doubt about Bush's bamboozlement of the American people in the march to war. Besides Turkmenistan, Russia is making gas deals with the other central Asia nations as well as Libya and Nigeria. The Cold War is alive and well. If you want to read more, see:

Russia Energy Drive Leaves US Reeling

Posted by: nepeta on July 30, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker, it is misleading to say NG heating is 90% efficient. Thermodynamically using a combustion source for low grade heat is very inefficient. This is reflected in the fact that burning the natural gas to make electric power, then using the electricity to power a heat pump, will provide several times as much heating per BTU than your furnace. We need to start using technology to optimize the efficiency with which we use energy. That is by far the cheapest source. In fact given the global scarcity of many industrial commodities, any new power generation will be more expensive than the existing use. If we want to avoid rapid escalation of the price of power, the only choice is serious conservation and efficiency improvements.

Posted by: bigTom on July 30, 2008 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Here is an example of what I mean. This graph shows the Barnett Shale Gas production and the caption notes the "explosion" in gas production.

The graph is very impressive. However, using the figures from the same article the US uses 25 trillion cubic feet a year and the Barnett Shale Gas production is 0.6 trillion a year, about 2.4% of the current US needs. The shale gas production will decline slowly while US needs will rise.

I think the term for this kind of thing is "a drop in the bucket."

That drop is extremely important to the company that can make millions from it but it doesn't matter that much in the big picture.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

"One point that seems to be missed is, unless I am mistaken, natural gas is used to make fertilizer. Already food production is being pinched by the burning of food for automobile fuel. If we divert natural gas to automobile fuel we will drive the price of food up even further.

In the US we don't give a rip because our food costs are at an historic low but right now people in the world are starving due to the rising cost of food.

Cynically I'll say as long as that is far away and happening to poor brown people the US couldn't care less."

Gee. You mean there are not enough resources to feed the planet and allow us all to live well! Gee, this comes as complete news to me. I mean, it's not like people like Paul Ehrlich haven't been saying for 40 yrs that things are finite and will run out.

I have to say that of all the arguments I hear regarding future energy uses, this is the one that I care least about.
Yes, when push comes to shove, plenty of poor people are going to starve. That is going to happen; get used to it. Just, as you are weeping about this, remember whose choice it was to have these children. When something is inevitable, that means it is GOING TO HAPPEN. When Ethiopia has a population of 40m in 1984 (the year of Band Aid), and now has a population of 75m, well, how does any thinking person imagine this story is going to end?

(And don't give me the speech about racism. I'm against population growth in any and every country. I'm glad the Japan and European numbers are negative and wish they were lower. I'm certainly not enthusiastic about the US' slightly positive numbers.)

Posted by: Maynard Handley on July 30, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Those pesky Ruskies are playing by rules established long ago, even before Easter Island's forests were destroyed by them. Human history must be a continuing cycle of natural resource monopolization, consumption and decimation.

Posted by: Brojo on July 30, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Pickens wants insurance. The problem with wind and solar, or any alternative resource for that matter, is the ability to recoup the investment in the infrastructure. Many alternatives are viable and profitable in a $100 or more per barrel environment; however, experience from the 70s-80s shows that you can lose your shirt if the price drops precipitously (sub-$10 per barrel) before you have recouped your investment. In today's prices that breakeven point is probably around $70 per barrel.

Pickens wants a floor guarantee so that if he invests millions in wind turbines, the price of oil won't crash before he recovers the capital cost of building the facilities. In my opinion, if congress guaranteed a floor price for oil, whether through an import tax of a carbon tax, then the market would build alternatives that can compete or are cheaper than generation based on imported oil. Pickens wants to obtain a "free" upgarde to the electrical infrastructure in order to make his deal fly and give him more alternatives for investment. Further, he doesn't want a carbon tax since that would be applied to gas as well as oil and limit the sale of gas reserves he already owns.

Posted by: BobPM on July 30, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

An earlier commenter wrote: "... natural gas is used to make fertilizer ... If we divert natural gas to automobile fuel we will drive the price of food up even further."

The way to feed the world sustainably is with organic agriculture, producing food locally and regionally for local and regional consumption, using locally available organic materials for fertilizer rather than chemical fertilizers synthesized from fossil fuels.

Research has shown that small farms are more productive per acre than large farms, and that organic agriculture is comparably productive to so-called "conventional" chemical-fed agriculture, and organic agriculture is more productive during times of drought (which global warming will make more frequent).

I don't mean to sidestep the population issue -- of course birth rates need to be reduced or all of our best efforts will be overwhelmed (and population will be reduced "naturally" through the traditional, rather inhumane means of famine, plague, pestilence and war).

And it is also important to note that "animal agriculture" on the scale that it is practiced in the developed world, and increasingly in the developing world, is massively polluting as well as massively wasteful of resources. There is much discussion about the impact of agricultural biofuels consuming grain supplies but it is rarely pointed out that animal agriculture wastes far more grain than is consumed for biofuels. And animal agriculture produces more "greenhouse gases" (CO2 and methane) than the transport sector, so it is a major contributor to global warming.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 30, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

The way to feed the world sustainably is with organic agriculture,

You know I agree with you. Also, personally, I suspect the sustainable carrying capacity of the earth is about 3 billion, meaning about that many will need to starve or die by other means.

Maynard, you are preaching to the choir, although I do not share your attitude that the poor brought this on themselves. Not all of them had too many children. No, we, the global rich, brought this on the poor. Don't blame the victim. We did what people always do, seek power and then use it for our own and fight sharing or giving it up. It is the human way.

Sadly this greed will not only affect the world poor but it has already started affecting many in the the US as well. The rich have taken more and more of the power and left less and less of it for the poor and also the middle class.

I don't really blame the rich or the poor. I do have some frustration with those of us in the middle who *had* some power, given to us by our parents and grandparents, and who pissed it away mostly due to a massive marketing campaign which appealed mostly to our own selfish tendencies.

As I said, we had plenty of warning but we ignored it and gave up, inch by inch, because that was always the easiest thing to do.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,

animal agriculture

Again you speak truth but the thing is people in general *like* meat. It is instinctive. It will become, as it was in the past when resources were scarce, a luxury but I don't think we'll ever lose the desire for it.

Combine our desire for meat with our selfishness and those with the means will eat meat even while others starve because of it.

Posted by: on July 30, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Put the damn things over the horizon. I've seen them in Europe from the beach and they are so darn feint I bet on some days you can't see them at all. Maybe if they weren't white?

Maybe shouldn't go there, but... As a resident of Mass and erstwhile longtime resident of Cape Cod, I really don't get the esthetic objection. I mean, a lot of esthetics has to do with understanding of function. A string of oil rigs on the horizon? Ugly. A string of slowly rotating fans that generate clean power? Kinda pretty actually. Big pinwheels. Paint 'em cute colors. Or not.

Best argument I've heard from locals involved in this fight is that the esthetic thing is wholly trumped up and the real objections are about Cape Wind getting hold of a big public asset and making money off of it without having to shell out massive amounts of cash to... well, somebody. I'm sure that's a fairly garbled version but it's something along those lines. But as for looks, I think wind farms look pretty nice.

Posted by: DrBB on July 30, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I cannot imagine a more direct route to bankruptcy except by attempting monopoly control of a sector with such huge capital investment. Just go back to Gray Davis and his efforts at energy price controls, and you see the impossibility.

The problem, quite simply, is once Russia has its billions spent in pipelines, then suddenly, the consumers start eating cold foods, and the the rapid changes in consumer demand cause huge instability in the long term estimated value of the capital expense.

Posted by: Matt on July 30, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

DrBB,

I've always been skeptical of this supposed aesthetic objection to windmills. I'd sure like to know who is funding it.

Around these parts the blades are high enough not to disturb birds and they rotate slow enough that they are still visible an no bird worth its salt would fly into on.

We've tolerated water towers with no problem so what is the big deal with windmills? Paint the things sky blue and keep the frigging strobe lights off them and people would hardly notice them after a year or so. Heck, make them a tourist attraction at the start and charge money for tours and use that money to build a library or some other public good.

Nah, I'm thinking there is some astroturf fake grassroots campaign behind the opponents to wind mills.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Beano!

Posted by: Luther on July 30, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Matt,

The problem, quite simply, is once Russia has its billions spent in pipelines, then suddenly, the consumers start eating cold foods, and the the rapid changes in consumer demand cause huge instability in the long term estimated value of the capital expense.

I don't think you are following the timeline. In the end energy is *food,* and people ain't gonna stop eating. Food is a really good long term investment. People living today are pretty blind to that, cause we've had a time of previously unknown plenty, but that time is ending.

Potable water and food and the energy to produce them. Those are the safe investments of the future. Everything other than those are pretty much a luxury.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Luther,

I think you mean БОБO!

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

A sort of compilation of many of the ideas here can be found in the Jan 08 issue of Scientific American, "A Solar Grand Plan".

This last year, MIT has shown how energy can be transferred in a near lossless manner that I found intriguing, imaging a hybrid cruising over a roadway using energy from embedded technology.

Hanging flexible clear tubes filled with bacteria converting water filled with trash or whatever into biodiesel, mixed in with the solar generators.

Excess power to desalinate seawater.

This could become exciting times, once again.

Posted by: Intelvet on July 30, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp, there you go, and I agree with you... you and I were posting at the same time.

You are also VERY right about the Barnett Shale. (I live in the D-FW Metroplex.) And, that's not to mention that when you're drilling for gas around, oh a couple of million people, they start having safety questions!

Jeffrey Davis,, actually, I think SA and I were saying you, not us, were reading too much into the "promise" of shale oil.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 30, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Re: A Solar Grand Plan

Excess power to desalinate seawater.

This could become exciting times, once again.

I really hate being a wet blanket but again I need to say "perspective."

What SA proposes is great, really, given the circumstances it is great, and maybe even exciting if you look at it the right way but geeze.

By 2050 the US could get roughly a third of it's total energy from solar? That's a grand plan?!

I'm sorry but that is not a grand plan. That is a let down and a soft landing from the heights we were at. That's what that is.

With cheap energy and knowledge we were flying to the Moon and Mars and taming the atom and feeding the world and supporting almost seven billion human lives and now what are we gonna get? A grand plan of eating plankton and having golf carts move us around and Segways and the stupid-ass robot sound of Wall-E and billions of people dieing and China regaining the world throne?

We walked with giants and now we will go back to being monkeys bickering over scraps of food. Let's at least hold onto our dignity on the way down and stop fooling ourselves about some kind of grand plan.

Posted by: Tripp on July 30, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp wrote: "By 2050 the US could get roughly a third of it's total energy from solar? That's a grand plan?!"

From the Scientific American article:

On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the US’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050 ... If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

The Scientific American article is conservative. The offshore wind energy resources of the Northeast alone are sufficient to provide all the electricity that the entire US uses. So are the wind energy resources of the Midwest. So are the solar energy resources of the Southwest.

Al Gore's proposal -- to produce 100 percent of US electricity from renewables within ten years, while putting the country well on the way to electrifying our transportation systems as well and establishing a new energy economy based entirely on clean, free, abundant, endless wind and solar energy -- is a better reflection of what can be achieved if we make the effort.

There is no future in fossil fuels and nuclear power. If you want to give up and accept the absence of a future, that's your choice. But there is a bright future in wind, solar, geothermal and biofuel energy, that is ours if we want it.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 30, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

To keep up with the energy "debate" you might want to monitor the following sites :

Green Car Congress

The Oil Drum

and for a different global perspective :

Global Guerrillas

And to clear out some of the monetary bias hocus pocus in all these schemes to "save the planet" learn something about the real world (EROEI etc) from these two individuals :

Eugene Odum

Howard Odum

and be aware of this "arrangement" :

WannaBe Anti-NATO

"Lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination." - Alan Watts

Posted by: daCascadian on July 30, 2008 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Re: government's role in the Green revolution

It seems to me the government should set up as much infrastructure as is needed for electricity to get from points A to points B and to push or pull for electric cars and biofuel trucks & cars.

Isn't that usually government's accepted role? To create & maintain infrastructure and the 'rules of the road'? To do the things we don't want private entities to do (or monopolize)?

Posted by: MarkH on July 30, 2008 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

bigTom

Fair point *if* NG is used to power an efficient heat pump.

Here, gas is used directly to cook (which also means its being used to heat) or to power boilers for hot water. A Heat Pump (without booster) doesn't give hot enough water for most UK heating systems or bathing. Underfloor heating just isn't that common.

As a UKian, heat pumps are almost unknown. Air Sourced Heat Pumps are COP 2-3 times, so that's probably breakeven (55% efficiency turning gas into power, then 8% transmission loss, pace say 2.5 times as efficient in actually moving heat). However there is the embodied capital/ energy in actually installing ASHP and Ground Source HP in the UK housing stock (don't hold your breath, we are 90% hot water or electric baseboard systems, not air ducts).

Would certainly be a good point re commercial ASHP which are more and more common: we wear suits to work, and office buildings are hot.

It's worth noting that in the UK, leaving your light on in winter is a particular form of heating.

In the US, leaving the lights on (or the battery charger) is a double lose, because of the air con bill.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 31, 2008 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist

The industry capacity doesn't exist to do it in 10 years. The wind and solar industry just couldn't churn out the parts and cells and rotors, gearboxes, erect the turbines etc.

20 maybe.

It would be worth shooting for. The US could reach a very high level of renewable electricity-- perhaps even 50%-- within 20 years. Add carbon sequestration on coal and gas fired stations, plus at least stability in the nuclear fleet (20-30 new stations) and you could have a nearly carbon free electric system by, say, 2040.

Fuel is another matter. It's not obvious how that can be changed, meaningfully. Compressed Natural Gas for some applications, perhaps. Electric vehicles for short trips.

However conservation is your cheapest source of gasoline. The US passenger car fleet runs at 26mpg, and SUV/light truck at 22mpg (AFAIK). Roughly speaking, the US car 'park' turns over every 14 years.

Doubling that fuel economy is certainly feasible in 20 years. Even given growth in Vehicle Miles Travelled, US gasoline consumption could be 1/4 or more less than it is now, then.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 31, 2008 at 4:30 AM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker, it is beyond me how you can say that "industry capacity" is an insurmountable obstacle to building up wind and solar to produce 100 percent of US electricity in ten years, and then in the next breath assert that 20 to 30 new nuclear power plants can be built and operational by 2040 -- that's about one new nuclear power plant coming online every year, starting now, for the next 20 to 30 years. And then you tout "carbon sequestration" for coal-fired power plants, a technology that doesn't exist, and is unlikely to ever exist on a commercial scale.

Wind turbine "farms" and concentrating solar thermal plants can be built from scratch in a year or so. Nanosolar's new CIGS photovoltaic production process can put out 1 Gigawatt of capacity per year, from a single piece of equipment. Solar and wind are already the fastest and second fastest growing forms of energy production in the world, have been growing at double-digit rates for several years, and that growth is accelerating. According to WorldWatch Institute, over $70 billion in private capital was invested in these industries in 2007 alone.

A nuclear power plant takes at least a decade, even when the regulatory system has been gutted (a.k.a. "streamlined"), and requires far more resources. There is virtually no private investment going into nuclear power anywhere in the world, because it is an economic failure. The only way that nuclear power plants will be built, the only way they have ever been built, is under a command and control economy where the taxpayers are compelled to pay for them.

Coal, oil, nuclear and gas are dead-end technologies with no future. Wind and solar are the foundation of the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st century. We need to get on the program, now, and break the death-grip of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries on US energy policy, if we don't want America to become an economic backwater.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 31, 2008 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist:

There is no future in fossil fuels and nuclear power.
I agree, although short term there is still a great need.

If you want to give up and accept the absence of a future, that's your choice. But there is a bright future in wind, solar, geothermal and biofuel energy, that is ours if we want it.

I live in the US. I'm giving up nothing. I'm doing my best to stay on top as the ship sinks. The same with my kids. Still, the US has, what, 5%-10% of the world population? Tell the people in Indonesia how bright their future is. Tell that to Africa. They won't have quite as far to fall but they will fall. Do you know they are already dependent on fertilizer?

Bush sold a plan based on a lie and that never works. We better not do the same because the backlash will be murder.

Posted by: Tripp on July 31, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Pickens calls for using *natural gas*, that is methane gas actually removed from the ground, because it is cheap and relatively clean. Making methane or gasoline from coal is certainly an alternative which we may come to eventually (or even fairly soon if current oil prices hold up), but it is more expensive and much dirtier in terms of CO2 emissions and environmental effects (think mountain-top removal) than using actual natural gas.

Posted by: skeptonomist on July 31, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist

I am a big bull of solar and wind, but they are starting from very small bases. installing 5-10GW in the US pa is not a big number when installed base is 1000GW (all forms of electricity generation) and wind has a Load Factor of 0.3 (vs. say 0.9 for a coal-fired station).

The world wind industry is busting a gut to handle the current installation rate. It cannot ramp capacity that fast.

Interestingly, at the moment in the UK a wind farm is taking c. 5-6 years including planning appeals. And new wind turbines are being ordered 2-3 years out.

Solar is much, much lower down on the scale of the energy being produced. Again, ramping it any faster than the current torrid rate won't be easy.

As I said, 20 years yes. 10 not likely or impossible. Even 20 years would be a tremendous stretch. The UK is calling for 32GW of installed wind capacity (pace 60GW peak demand now) by 2030 and the industry isn't sure it can do it.

On nuclear it is a different set of constraints: quite real, but not the same constraints. Commissioning 1.5 new reactors a year from 2016 say until 2040 is not inconceivable: I believe at the peak in the early 1970s the industry was commissioning around 6 units a year.

In practice I suspect, like the UK, and perhaps Germany, the US will find it essential. That 16-20% of electric power that is nuclear baseload generation is just too valuable to give up.

Given the challenges of global warming, I think the analyst who pointed out that it doesn't matter if we land the world in the 22nd century with a nuclear power plant problem, because we are well on the way to landing them with an uninhabitable planet if we don't change course, I suspect nuclear is a 'sauve qui peut' (save who/what you can) technology.

The second half of the 21st century will have to look after itself, because our capacity to destroy the future of the planet in the first half is so great. Nuclear is a technology we have now, so we will use it.

I would rather Ontario be 56% nuclear baseload, and replace Pickering with Darlington C, and phase out Nanticoke (at 4GW the largest coal-fired power station in North America) than that it keep Nanticoke open longer (already the closure has been delayed several times: to 2016 I believe).

On Carbon Sequestration the technology is there. It's a value judgment to say a technology that is already used commercially, and is used in power generation (Sleipnir) will never be used commercially.

Again, not the technology we want to take into the 22nd century, maybe. But the problem is now, and in the next 40 years.

Posted by: Valuethinker on July 31, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

great, usefull 0_0

Posted by: jiimiona on August 13, 2008 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly