Renewable and conventional energy, markets and green technology.
The federal government’s ability to gather and analyze energy data and produce market forecasts will be significantly impaired by the recently enacted budget cuts, the administrator of the Energy Information Administration said.
The agency’s 2011 funding levels were cut by 14 percent, or $15.2 million, in a short-term budget deal signed into law earlier this month. Since the fiscal year is more than half over, the cuts will effectively run twice as deep.
Critics of the cuts say that at a time of acute concern over rising oil and gasoline prices, scaling back data collection and analysis of domestic crude and natural gas reserves and the role of financial speculators in energy markets is a mistake.
“Congratulations to those policy makers who thought that cutting the E.I.A. budget would be wise: You’ve managed to lose a few ounces of weight by removing a small sliver of your brain,” Michael Levi, senior fellow on energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.
As I reported in Thursday’s story about solar panels attached to utility poles, New Jersey is the nation’s second largest solar market behind California thanks to the state government’s commitment to increase the amount of electricity derived from renewable energy sources over the next decade.
But where are the other leaders in solar energy?
Here, courtesy of the Solar Energy Industries Association, is a Top 10 list for cumulative installed solar capacity in the United States.
1. California: 47 percent with 971 megawatts
2. New Jersey: 14 percent with 293 MW
3. Colorado: 5 percent with 108 MW
4. Arizona: 5 percent with 101 MW
5. Nevada: 5 percent with 97 MW
6. Florida: 4 percent with 73 MW
7. New York: 3 percent with 54 MW
8. Pennsylvania: 3 percent with 54 MW
9. New Mexico: 2 percent with 45 MW
10. North Carolina: 2 percent with 42 MW
Mexico, the third-largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States, could lose the capacity to export crude altogether within a decade without major new investments in exploration and production, warns a research group report released on Friday.
The country’s shift from exporter to importer would deal a severe blow to Mexico’s federal government, which depends on oil sales for roughly a third of its budget, said the report, a two-year investigation by researchers with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston.
“A shift toward oil importer status would be a severe burden on the Mexican government and curb its ability to provide important services, both related to social programs and internal peace and security,” it states.
Production by Pemex, the national oil company, has fallen 25 percent from its peak in 2004, while internal demand has climbed, sharply curtailing the amount of crude available for export. The drop in supply is largely due to steep declines at Cantarell, an aging super-giant field formerly responsible for the bulk of Mexico’s oil output.
There’s no mystery in why all the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East would cause oil and gasoline prices to soar. Libya’s high quality sweet crude is almost off the market entirely, and it’s anyone’s guess when the next oil producer is going to suffer a revolution that could cripple production.
But PFC Energy, a leading strategy advisory firm, has come up with another reason why political developments in several OPEC countries are driving prices higher, despite Saudi Arabia’s assurances that the kingdom will boost production to make up for any gaps. In a report this week, PFC calculated that populist spending policies are contributing to the need for higher revenues from oil sales.
“Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. (i.e. Abu Dhabi) are now seeing a rising share of total expenditures accounted for by higher government salaries, subsidies and housing allowances, and payoffs to the religious establishment,” a private report offered to the firm’s clients says. “Today’s high oil prices facilitate the financing of the expansive spending packages that [Saudi] King Abdullah has recently announced to prevent outbreaks of popular unrest within the country.”
This is not happy news for anybody spending $4 a gallon at the pump these days. The autocratic regimes of the region relieve social pressures by offering their people all kinds of goodies, including subsidies at the pump. This kind of spending tends to undercut productivity, raise local oil and gas consumption and leave less oil for export — and it can be addictive for the governments and their subjects alike. And in the end, while it may bring some social peace, it increases oil and gasoline prices worldwide.
Even if the United States takes no explicit action to regulate greenhouse gases, emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering substances will grow slowly over the next two decades, not returning to 2005 levels until 2027, according to a new projection from the Energy Information Administration, the research branch of the Energy Department.
Carbon dioxide emissions fell by 3 percent in 2008 and 7 percent in 2009, largely because of the recession. But even as economic activity picks up, emissions will grow at a modest pace because of growing use of renewable technologies and fuels, improved energy efficiency, slower growth in demand for electricity and the growing substitution of natural gas for coal in power production, the agency reports in its annual energy outlook.
The E.I.A. projects that energy-related emissions will not reach six billion metric tons, the 2005 level, until 2027, and will then rise by an additional 5 percent by 2035, reaching 6.3 billion metric tons. United States population and energy use will rise in that period, meaning that per-capita carbon dioxide emissions will fall.
Those figures assume that Congress and future administrations take no aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that coal will remain the dominant source of electricity generation. The outcome could be different if the country moves more quickly to renewable fuel sources or if economic growth is faster or slower than projected.
A sharp run-up in oil prices since January will produce a windfall for major oil companies, which are expected to report their biggest quarterly profits since 2008 this week, analysts said. Leading the pack is Exxon Mobil, whose profits are expected to approach $10 billion for the first three months of the year. [MarketWatch]
The House speaker, John Boehner, suggests in an interview that he is open to repealing a tax break that saves the oil industry roughly $4 billion per year. “I don’t think the — the big oil companies need to have the oil depletion allowances,” he tells ABC. “We certainly oughta take a look at it.” [ABC News]
Yet Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, walks the comment back after the suggestion is embraced by President Obama and other Democrats. “The speaker made clear in the interview that raising taxes was a nonstarter, and he’s told the president that,” Mr. Steel says. [The Hill]
Drivers of the Chevy Volt, the General Motors electric car that features an auxiliary gasoline engine, average 1,000 miles of driving before fueling up, the vehicle’s developer says in an interview. “For the month of March, the average Volt customer was filling their gas tank up every 1,000 miles,” he says. “Some hadn’t filled up at all because they’re driving small distances and plugging in all the time. Others weren’t plugging in and driving long distances. About 67 percent of the miles were driven by grid power or battery power only.” [Txchnologist]
As I wrote in a recent Times article on electric car batteries, scientists are expecting big breakthroughs in battery technology over the next five years that will increase the range of electric cars while reducing their cost. But even with these advances, researchers acknowledge that any rechargeable battery will gradually lose its capacity to store energy after repeated cycles of charging and discharging.
Once storage capacity falls below a certain level, the battery can no longer provide the range that electric car owners will expect, according to Micky Bly, the executive director of global battery, electric vehicle and hybrid engineering at General Motors. For its new Chevy Volt, GM expects that level to be around 60 to 65 percent of the battery’s original capacity, he said in a telephone interview.
At the same time, with most of a battery’s useful life still intact, automakers anticipate that it could serve other, less demanding purposes than powering a few thousand pounds of car.
A number of projects and new ventures are already under way to explore second-life applications for lithium-ion batteries. G.M. has announced a cooperative agreement with ABB, an energy technology company. And Nissan has formed a joint venture called 4R Energy with the Sumitomo Corporation.
This month, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, financed by the Department of Energy, announced their own initiative in this area, a collaboration with academic and industry partners.
The kitchen refrigerator is an obvious contributor to global warming because it usually sucks in electricity that was made by burning fossil fuels. But it turns out that the refrigerator does harm to the environment before it is even plugged in because the insulating foam in its innards is made with a gas that is more than 1,000 times worse, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide.
Now, however, manufacturers are seizing on a single change can reduce both warming mechanisms at once. General Electric said Tuesday that it had become the first American manufacturer of a full line of refrigerators to take that step, which is to eliminate a gas called HFC 134a, a so-called blowing agent.
The blowing agent is used to whip the foam into a frothy milkshake-like mix and move it into the doors and walls of their machines, where it hardens. Unlike the styrofoam in a disposable coffee cup, the material in appliances is filled with bubbles.
Manufacturers once used chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, for that job. When such gas is used, it flows into the atmosphere, either immediately or years later when the machine is junked and the tiny bubbles escape. But CFCs were banned because they accumulated in the upper atmosphere and the chlorine would break down molecules of ozone, which shield the Earth’s surface from harmful rays of the sun.
Dusting off a proposal he has made in his budget requests, President Obama urged congressional leaders on Tuesday to repeal tax breaks for oil and gas companies and use the money to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, the Caucus blog reports.
An oil and gas lease sale covering more than 28,000 square miles in the western Gulf of Mexico could take place as soon as the end of the year, federal regulators quietly announced last week.
The sale of leases in the area was suspended after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill last year.
The area contains as much as 420 million barrels of oil and 2.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to an environmental impact statement drafted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the federal agency now responsible for oversight of offshore oil and gas production.
The impact statement covers deposits located as far as 10,978 feet underwater.
With political turmoil spreading across North Africa and the Middle East and oil and gasoline prices rising, all eyes in the energy world are on Saudi Arabia. So when the Saudis announced last weekend that they had cut oil production by 800,000 barrels a day only weeks after they said they would meet any supply gap left by the civil war in Libya, oil analysts offered an array of interpretations.
Some agreed with the Saudis’ publicly expressed view that the world was actually amply supplied with oil and that speculators and traders were to blame for the rising prices. President Obama even weighed in and endorsed that view.
But others wondered whether the Saudis were able to increase their production at all. Still others suggested that the Saudis were beginning to side with more hawkish members of OPEC, including Iran, who want to curtail production to bolster prices.
The reason for the change, some say, is that the Saudis now need more oil revenue to pay for newly promised social programs aimed at forestalling the kind of political upheaval gripping many of its neighbors.
In all probability, it will take several months before we know who is right. Read more…
In Wednesday’s Times, I wrote about start-up companies developing solar panel arrays that float on water. The companies see a potentially large market to generate electricity from building floating arrays for irrigation and mining ponds, hydroelectric reservoirs and canals.
But the great white whale for some of these solar developers is deploying floating photovoltaic arrays on the California Aqueduct, the 400-mile long canal that irrigates much of the state’s agricultural heartland and delivers water to Southern California.
“It’s a dream for us,” said Phil Alwitt, project development manager for SPG Solar, a Novato, Calif., company that has built floating solar arrays for winery irrigation ponds.
The idea is to reduce evaporation while producing electricity to offset the power consumed by the massive pumps that move water through the aqueduct. Solaris Synergy, an Israeli company, estimates that its floating solar system could generate two megawatts per mile of the aqueduct.
“You could generate gigawatts from all that unused space on the California Aqueduct and there’s a huge electricity demand,” said Danny Kennedy, co-founder of Sungevity, an Oakland, Calif., solar installer. Read more…
As I noted in an article in Friday’s Times, India faced a big energy challenge even before the earthquake and tsunami in Japan called the future of nuclear power into question.
About 40 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people live off the grid, and most of the rest, excluding the well-off residents of a few big cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, cannot count on having power 24 hours a day. Many industries must rely extensively on diesel generators to keep their operations going.
The Indian government has laid out ambitious plans to increase the electricity supply and extend power to the hundreds of millions of people who do not have access to it today. Nuclear power, which currently supplies just 3 percent of the country’s electricity, plays a central role in its strategy. Policymakers want a quarter of the nation’s power to come from atomic sources by 2050 and are planning to build 44 new reactors in the coming decade to augment the 20 the nation already has.
Those hopes, however, have been called into question by the radiation leaks and partial meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. My article on Friday focused on opposition to six proposed nuclear reactors on the western coast of India. In light of the disaster in Japan, many Indian politicians, scientists and activists are calling for the project to be scrapped or scaled down significantly.
Still, Indian energy officials say that the country cannot hope to meet its current and future energy needs without nuclear power’s playing a major role. Read more…
A potentially dim week for the American solar power industry ended on a bright note instead.
Solar advocates mounted a last-minute push Monday to prevent sweeping cuts to a federal loan guarantee program for clean energy development in a Republican budget plan. The cuts would have essentially closed the program, which is popular with solar power developers, and rescinded billion of dollars in loan commitments for dozens of projects.
A bipartisan group of legislators joined the campaign to spare the program, and in a conference call on Thursday with reporters, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, announced that the cuts had been averted.
Mr. Reid noted that funds for the program would only last until October, however, raising the prospect of another budget fight in 2012. Read more…
A few months ago we wrote about Kristianstad, Sweden, an area that now uses biomass to generate all of its heat and some of its electricity. That city pioneered use of this renewable technology, and gradually biomass evolved from a niche component of its fuel mix to the backbone of its fuel supply.
A number of rural areas in Germany and the Netherlands have undertaken similar projects. As the article noted, while biomass could be deployed in similar agricultural regions in the United States, adoption has been slow in this country.
That looks as if it might be changing.
This week the federal Department of Agriculture announced a host of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in rural America, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is touring the Midwest, seeding biomass projects as he goes.
On Friday, the departments of Agriculture and Energy announced that up to $30 million would go toward supporting research and development in advanced biofuels, bioenergy and “high-value biobased products” over the next three to four years.