December 29, 2010

The Efficiency Dilemma, or The Jevons Paradox

This piece by David Owen in The New Yorker ("The Efficiency Dilemma") asks the question: "If our machines use less energy, will we just use them more?" The abstract follows:
Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century was the world’s leading military, industrial, and mercantile power. In 1865, a twenty-nine-year-old Englishman named William Stanley Jevons published a book, “The Coal Question,” in which he argued that the bonanza couldn’t last. Britain’s affluence and global hegemony, he wrote, depended on its endowment of coal, which the country was rapidly depleting. He added that such an outcome could not be delayed through increased “economy” in the use of coal—what we refer to today as energy efficiency. He concluded, in italics, “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.” Jevons might be little discussed today, except by historians of economics, if it weren’t for the scholarship of another English economist, Len Brookes. During the nineteen-seventies oil crisis, Brookes argued that devising ways to produce goods with less oil—an obvious response to higher prices—would merely accommodate the new prices, causing energy consumption to be higher than it would have been if no effort to increase efficiency had been made; only later did he discover that Jevons had anticipated him by more than a century. Nowadays, this effect is usually referred to as “rebound”—or, in cases where increased consumption more than cancels out any energy savings, as “backfire.” In 2000, the journal Energy Policy devoted an entire issue to rebound. It was edited by Lee Schipper. Schipper believes that the Jevons paradox has limited applicability today. Jevons wasn’t wrong about nineteenth-century Britain, he said; but the young and rapidly growing industrial world that Jevons lived in no longer exists. Most economists and efficiency experts, after studying modern energy use, have come to similar conclusions. But troublesome questions have lingered, and the existence of large-scale rebound effects is not so easy to dismiss. Discusses the history of refrigeration in relation to the Jevons Paradox. The steadily declining cost of refrigeration has made almost all elements of food production more cost-effective and energy-efficient. But there are environmental downsides. Most of the electricity that powers the world’s refrigerators is generated by burning fossil fuel. Since the mid-nineteen-seventies, per-capita food waste in the United States has increased by half, so that we now throw away forty per cent of all the edible food we produce. According to a 2009 study, more than a quarter of U.S. freshwater use goes into producing food that is later discarded. Also discusses the improved efficiency of air-conditioners. In the United States, we now use roughly as much electricity to cool buildings as we did for all purposes in 1955. The problem with efficiency gains is that we inevitably reinvest them in additional consumption. Paving roads reduces rolling friction, thereby boosting miles per gallon, but it also makes distant destinations seem closer, thereby enabling people to live in sprawling, energy-gobbling subdivisions far from where they work and shop.
Update: David Owen has just published a book length version of his argument--The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse (Riverhead Trade, 2012), which I await with baited breath. David and I both attended Colorado College and were friends and budding intellectuals back in the day. Here also is a longer extract from his New Yorker piece. 2/24/12


You've got to see and hear the trailer for this new documentary by Laura Israel, Windfall, which recently debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. It tells the story of a heated battle over the installation of a wind farm in Meredith, New York.

Nuclear Power in Your Future

Coal In Your Future

From Jim Fallows' piece in The Atlantic, "Dirty Coal, Clean Future":
“I know this is a theological issue for some people,” Julio Friedmann of Lawrence Livermore said. “Solar and wind power are going to be important, but it is really hard to get them beyond 10 percent of total power supply.” He pointed out the huge engineering achievement it has taken to raise the efficiency of solar photovoltaic cells from about 25 percent to about 30 percent; whereas “to make them useful, you would need improvements of two- or threefold in cost,” say from about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour to 6 cents. He recited a skeptic’s line used about the Carter administration’s clean-energy programs—“You’re not going to run a steel plant with solar panels”—and then made a point that summarized the outlook of those who have decided they can best wage the climate fight by working on dirty, destructive coal.
“It is very hard to go around the world and think you can make any difference in carbon-loading the atmosphere without some plan for how people can continue to use coal,” Friedmann said. “It is by far the most prevalent and efficient way to generate electricity. People are going to use it. There is no story of climate progress without a story for coal. In particular, U.S.-China progress on coal.”

Low Natural Gas Prices To Set Back Construction of Nuclear Plants

Exelon Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Rowe said he expects natural-gas prices to remain low, pushing back the construction of new U.S. nuclear power plants by a "decade, maybe two."
"We think natural gas will stay cheap for a very long time," Rowe said in an interview today at Bloomberg's headquarters in New York. "As long as natural gas is anywhere near current price forecasts, you can't economically build a merchant nuclear plant."

Rowe said that the price of natural gas would have to rise to $8 per million British thermal units and permits for emitting a ton of carbon dioxide would have to be $25 to make the power prices from new merchant reactors competitive with gas-fueled plants. Merchant plants sell their power on wholesale markets without the income assurance that utilities with regulated electricity rates get.

. . . Absent a price on carbon dioxide emissions, gas would have to rise to $9 or $9.50 to make the reactors economically attractive, Rowe said.

The Case Against Nuclear Power

Craig Severance, "Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power"

From the Executive Summary:
It has been an entire generation since nuclear power was seriously considered as an energy option in the U.S. It seems to have been forgotten that the reason U.S. utilities stopped ordering nuclear power plants was their conclusion that nuclear power’s business risks and costs proved excessive.

With global warming concerns now taking traditional coal plants off the table, U.S. utilities are risk averse to rely solely on natural gas for new generation. Many U.S. utilities are diversifying through a combination of aggressive load reduction incentives to customers, better grid management, and a mixture of renewable energy sources supplying zero-fuel-cost kWh’s, backed by the KW capacity of natural gas turbines where needed. Some U.S. utilities, primarily in the South, often have less aggressive load reduction programs, and view their region as deficient in renewable energy resources. These utilities are now exploring new nuclear power.

Estimates for new nuclear power place these facilities among the costliest private projects ever undertaken. Utilities promoting new nuclear power assert it is their least costly option. However, independent studies have concluded new nuclear power is not economically competitive."

. . .Generation costs/kWh for new nuclear (including fuel & O&M but not distribution to customers) are likely to be from 25 - 30 cents/kWh.

December 23, 2010

"Everything Ugly is in Vogue Again"

From the New York Times
Diesel and jet fuel are usually made from crude oil. But with oil prices rising even as a glut of natural gas keeps prices for that fuel extraordinarily cheap, a bit of expensive alchemy is suddenly starting to look financially appealing: turning natural gas into liquid fuels.
A South African firm, Sasol, announced Monday that it would spend just over 1 billion Canadian dollars to buy a half-interest in a Canadian shale gas field, so it can explore turning natural gas into diesel and other liquids. Sasol’s proprietary conversion technology was developed decades ago to help the apartheid government of South Africa survive an international oil embargo, and it is a refinement of the ones used by the Germans to make fuel for the Wehrmacht during World War II.

The technology takes “a lot of money and a lot of effort,” said Michael E. Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, Austin. “You wouldn’t do this if you could find easy oil,” he said.

But with the huge spread between oil and gas prices, and predictions of oil topping $100 a barrel next year, the conversion technology could be a “a money-maker for whoever is a first mover in that space.”

Several other companies have intermittently tried to make liquid fuels from natural gas or coal. For example, the energy company Baard has been planning a coal-to-liquids plant in Ohio but has not been able to pull the pieces together, and Peabody Coal has discussed a similar plant.

Sasol figures that the natural gas needed for a gallon of diesel, plus operating costs, comes to about $1.50 a gallon. In comparison, a gallon of diesel made from crude oil now costs more than $2, even before refining, and many forecasts are for the price of oil to go higher.

But there is a hefty cost of building the chemical plant to do the conversion, which might run over $1.5 billion for a new Canadian plant that would handle 40,000 barrels a day.

The calculations also exclude another cost: greenhouse gas emissions, which may be higher for a conversion plant than a typical refinery, depending on how the work is done.

“Everything ugly is in vogue again,” said Josh Mogerman, an energy specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been fighting a proposed coal-to-liquids plant in Ohio.

From a financial perspective, the technology is far from ugly. A barrel of oil has historically cost one to two times as much as the equivalent amount of energy from natural gas. But right now, vast supplies of natural gas from shale formations in North America have driven prices down, so oil is triple the price of the gas equivalent.

--from Matthew L. Wald,  "New Interest in Turning Gas to Diesel," December 23, 2010.

In Situ Mining of Oil Sands

Cleaning Up the Oil Sands in Alberta (from ClimateWire, December 16, 2010)
It is known as in situ, an alternative form of oil-sands extraction for bitumen more than 490 feet beneath the earth. The deep bitumen is not mined, but pumped out of the ground after being loosened with hot steam.

It is not yet the primary mode of production in the oil sands, but it will be, considering that 80 percent of the overall reserves are too deep to be extracted through traditional mining.

The leased area for in situ is 16 times greater than the entire mining region, according to the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank based in Canada.

Without the massive trucks, factories and large "tailings" ponds of waste that have caused waterfowl deaths and bad press for the mining sector, in situ may help Canada win a public relations war.

Yet this next generation of oil sands extraction is raising concerns among environmentalists because of climate change. In situ produces more greenhouse gases per barrel of oil than traditional oil-sands mining, which in turn generates more heat-trapping gases than conventional oil drilling, such as that in the Middle East.

In situ may be less of an eyesore than mining, environmentalists say, but it is going to worsen the oil sands' carbon footprint when the country can least afford it. It also has the potential to destroy more swaths of the country's boreal forest than mining because of the sheer number of planned in situ facilities.

"Canada won't be able to meet their targets under the Kyoto Protocol largely because of their ever-increasing emissions from oil sands. More in situ development won't help that," said Danielle Droitsch of the Pembina Institute.

Her comments come as Canada is under scrutiny for lowering greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020 to tie its policies to the United States'. At international climate negotiations this month, Canada said it would not support commitments past 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol as long as other large emitters like the United States fail to ratify the treaty.

* * *

On a recent tour of oil sands operations in Alberta, the differences between mining and in situ were stark.

At a Suncor mining operation, a canyon-like pit is home to massive shovels dumping dark, bitumen-rich earth into truck after truck, which move on the horizon like ants circulating through an anthill. They deliver their loads to a building where the bitumen gets extracted from clay, sand and water in bubbly caldron-like machines splattering oily liquid.

All around the complex are tailings ponds of waste, which hold small amounts of bitumen mixed with water, clay and sand. Ponds run by other companies have proved toxic to birds, which have died by the hundreds at some locations in the province and subjected the industry to lawsuits.

Amid public outcry and government regulations, companies are spending millions to clean up the ponds and reclaim the land. This month, seven companies announced they would collaborate on research to reduce tailings waste.

No such obstacles plague an in situ plant two hours down the road, operated by Cenovus on a site called Christina Lake. There, the main above-ground visual is a surgical pipeline network in the snow mixed with patches of buildings and roads. There are no tailings ponds, shovels, trucks or pit mines.

"This is basically what you're going to see for the next few decades as far as in situ disturbance," explained Drew Zieglgansberger, a senior vice president at Cenovus, pointing at forest sprinkled with occasional wells and white pipes.

There are two main in situ methods, but the one being used by companies like Cenovus -- steam-assisted gravity drainage -- is the one projected to grow the most. It involves using natural gas to heat steam, which is then injected underground via a well.

The steam loosens the bitumen underneath the earth, where gravity drains it into a second well below the steam-filled pipe. Water and bitumen are then pumped to the surface, where they are separated before being piped to a refinery.

With in situ, there is no need to break up bitumen from clay or other materials, since the oil comes to the surface relatively pure.

Partially because in situ technology is newer to Alberta than mining, it makes up a lower percentage of oil sands production, standing around 45 percent. It will become the majority mode of production by 2015, according to Alberta's Energy Conservation Resources Board, or ERCB.

The higher greenhouse gas emissions over mining come mainly from in situ's reliance on natural gas. "We're burning a cleaner fossil fuel to get a dirtier fuel," explained Zieglgansberger.

Just how much "dirtier" in situ is on the greenhouse gas front is a matter of debate, however.

A report from IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates this year, for example, reported that one in situ process produced roughly 23 percent more greenhouse gases than oil sands mining methods. The Pembina Institute estimates that in situ is 152 percent more greenhouse gas-intensive than mining, per barrel.

There are similar discrepancies in the figures on the oil sands overall, with some numbers reporting that the industry spews at least 20 to 40 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil drilling, while others state it is more in the range of 6 percent.

The differing numbers result from different ways of calculating the life-cycle emissions of the oil sands, according to Droitsch of Pembina.

Industry tends to calculate the "well to wheels" number for emissions, which includes greenhouse gases emitted when oil-sands oil is burned in a vehicle, along with production emissions. Their argument is that 75 percent of emissions associated with the oil sands comes from a tailpipe, and that transportation should be considered in evaluations of the oil sands.

"With most of the emissions from the oil sands, you're just as much to blame as me," said Zieglgansberger to reporters.

Many environmentalists focus on the "well to tank" number, which accounts for oil sands production only. In their view, the key point in terms of climate change is how extraction and processing of oil sands fuel compares to traditional oil drilling. The inclusion of transportation emissions camouflages the real climate impact, said Droitsch.

There are additional ways to tinker with the estimates, including calculating emissions associated from diluted rather than pure bitumen.

Companies are doing extensive research to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, partially to reduce costs. They also don't know the future of natural gas prices, which need to stay low enough in comparison to oil prices for oil sands processing to be competitive, Zieglgansberger said.

Cenovus, for example, is investigating injecting butane with steam underground to assist with loosening bitumen. In theory, that should lower the amount of natural gas and steam, and thus the emissions and price tag of the process.

Of 50 company research projects, 35 are dedicated to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, said Zieglgansberger. In the next decade, the industry is going to be able to get its "steam to oil" ratio low enough through new technology that emissions will parallel those of conventional oil drilling, he said.

That doesn't change the fact that the emissions from the oil sands could triple from 2008 levels by 2020, according to green groups.

The Albertan government also has invested more than $2 billion on carbon capture and storage technology, although some of that work is focused on coal plants. Carbon capture and storage has yet to be proved at scale.

It is "a small portion of the answer" for oil sands emissions, said Stringham of CAPP. Efficiency is the main way industry will cut greenhouse gases, he said.

In 2007, the Albertan government required facilities emitting more than 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases yearly to reduce their emissions intensities by 12 percent from predetermined baselines.

Companies failing to meet that target must pay a carbon price of $15 per metric ton into an Albertan-run fund. The industry says the fund is boosting development of clean energy technologies, while environmentalists criticize the penalty as a weak one that is a financial drop in the bucket for most companies.

However, the ultimate fate of in situ may not rest with arguments about climate change. Albertan government official Andy Ridge said the province will not consider a cap on emissions if the United States is not doing the same.

"Canada needs the rest of North America to move before we can go any further on our own regulatory framework. We can't put our industry at a disadvantage," said Ridge, Alberta's director of the Climate Change Secretariat.

In the meantime, challenges to in situ are coming over other issues. Yesterday, a peer reviewed report from the Royal Society of Canada reported that the cumulative impact of in situ on groundwater and surface water, such as lakes and wetlands, needs to "be better understood." In situ uses less water overall than mining, but there are "uncertainties" about groundwater contamination, the Royal Society said.

There are also concerns about the woodland caribou, an endangered species in Canada whose habitat happens to overlap with swaths of the in situ region. The landscape footprint per barrel of oil of in situ is lower than mining, but more forest could be lost overall with in situ because of the number of planned in situ facilities.

"If you want in situ and oil sands development, you will not have caribou at their traditional levels," said Stan Boutin, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta who published a peer reviewed paper this year on the species.

The Albertan government is examining the possibility of conservation areas off-limits to development, but the "devil will be in the details" of any proposal, said Boutin.

Dave Ealey, a spokesman for Alberta's Sustainable Resource Development, said he disagreed that in situ had a greater overall impact on forestland than mining. The main issue with in situ is straight "cutlines" through the forest that allow wolves to move easily to attack caribou, he said. They are common with in situ because of the building of pipeline infrastructure.

The government is working with industry to try and reduce the size of the cutlines and reclaim cutline areas, he said. "We are fully aware of the challenges," he said.

At Cenovus, cameras have been erected around the pipelines to monitor the movement of animals such as caribou, although no patterns have been detected yet because the program is in its "infancy," said a company official.

Slowing down development would risk hundreds of jobs and economic growth, other oil sands backers say. The Albertan government collects roughly $3 billion in royalties from oil sands projects in a budget with $34 billion in revenue.

Some of those funds are funneled into local communities in desperate need of money for schools, health clinics and projects. At Cenovus headquarters, Mayor Peter Kirylchuk said in situ development has transformed his county, which is in the heart of in situ country.

The Lac La Biche budget which Kirylchuk oversees jumped from $19 million in 2007 to $44 million this year. The county is about to roll out a new fitness and health center with millions of dollars in donations from companies operating in situ facilities.

"We couldn't have built it without them," said Kirylchuk. "Our corporate sponsors came through in a big way."

Australian Coal for Asia

Joel Kirkland of ClimateWire

For most of the past decade, Australia's miners and the global mining conglomerates operating in the lush Hunter Valley region outside of Sydney and Newcastle could produce far more coal than they could ship.

"The restriction was not supply at the mines, but supply in the coal system to bring it down, whether it be the trains or tracks, or terminals or ports," Beale said. "If you go and ask all four of those players, you'll get four different answers about who was responsible."

Today, the joint owners of the NCIG terminal -- BHP Billiton, U.S.-based Peabody Energy, China's Yancoal Australia (through its subsidiary Felix Resources), Centennial Coal, Donaldson Coal and Whitehaven Coal -- are negotiating with coal buyers alongside other competitors for leverage in the Asia-Pacific coal market.

St. Louis, Mo.-based Peabody uses the term "coal super cycle" to describe what's happening in Asia. In a November presentation, ahead of a tour Peabody gave of its Australian assets for analysts and investors, the miner said it anticipates at least 1 billion metric tons of new global coal demand by 2015.

Asia's developing economies, according to Peabody, represent 90 percent of long-term global coal demand growth.

China, itself a major coal producer, imported 126 million metric tons of coal in 2009, tripling its coal imports in 2008 and signaling to some that the "super cycle" is in full swing. India has also increased its coal imports, especially Australian steel-making coal, or coking coal.

Nick Otter, chief executive of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, said the need to cut carbon emissions tied to climate change rightly thrusts emissions-intensive coal burning in China and India into the spotlight.

"They're on a razor's edge. They have to do both. They have to maintain their economic growth," he said. "You'll see more nuclear and renewables. In real tonnage, coal will probably go up."

December 22, 2010

Solar: The Water Problem

A fascinating post from Climate Progress on new solar systems that require far less water.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: If concentrating solar power (“CSP”) is a core climate solution, indirect dry cooling systems (also known as “Heller” systems) will be a crucial enabling technology, since large-scale CSP will be located in desert regions. US power companies have long favored direct dry cooling systems for fossil plants, probably because of the visual impact of Heller systems. But Heller systems have long experience in certain regions and will probably play an important role in the success of large-scale CSP. This is due to their higher efficiency, smaller footprints, quieter operation, lower maintenance, higher availability, and more flexible site layout. Heller systems can reduce water consumption in a CSP plant by 97% with minimal performance impact. The height of the cooling towers should be less of an issue in remote desert locations, especially since the central tower in power tower facilities will be of comparable height.

See also this post on solar projects which store energy in molten salt

Oil Prices and Inventories

This chart from the Wall Street Journal shows that oil inventories steadily rose despite the gyrations in the oil price from 2007 to 2010. This suggests that the introduction of new commodity funds into the market has played an important role in fostering price increases.

Notes the Journal:

In the market for oil futures and options, investors such as hedge funds and exchange-traded funds have been piling into contracts that rise in value with prices. As of Dec. 7, their bullish bets exceeded their bearish bets by about 223 million barrels, the highest level on record.

In the physical market, oil producers have ample capacity to keep prices in check. The International Energy Agency estimates spare capacity among Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries at 6.4% of global demand, nearly double the level of late 2007. As of the end of November, the world had enough oil in its inventories to cover demand for 20 days without drying out pipelines and refineries, according to data provider Oil Market Intelligence. That's up from 14 days in November 2007.

Thanks to the added inventories, "the broader economy is now more insulated from oil shocks" than it was back in 2008, says Philip Verleger, an energy economist at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business.

While many see speculative investment as a source of volatility, it might actually help prevent a spike, says Mr. Verleger. By pushing up the price of oil to be delivered in future months, investors have made it more attractive for traders to buy oil now and hold it for future sale. That, in turn, keeps inventories higher, providing a cushion that can limit price swings in the event of sudden changes in supply and demand.

Scramble for Coal Assets

From the Wall Street Journal:
Coal may be politically unfashionable, but you'd never guess by the scramble for coal-mining assets. Coal deals worth $45 billion were announced in the first 11 months of this year, not far off the 2008 record of $49 billion, according to Dealogic. Strategic investors such as utilities and steelmakers are leading the rush, keen to lock in long-term supplies. But while the medium-term outlook is strong, coal's long-term prospects are less certain.

The deal activity partly reflects the scarcity of high-quality coking coal for smelting but also surging demand for more plentiful thermal coal to fuel power stations. Coal is responsible for 45% of U.S. power generation and much of the energy supply in China and India, both now major coal importers. Contract prices are up an average of 8% in 2010 to $92 a metric ton and are double the levels of five years ago. They could stay above $100/ton until 2016, partly through transport bottlenecks, according to brokerage house CLSA.

But a coal mine's life is measured in decades, not years. Bidders for coal assets have to bear in mind the impact on long-term demand of competing fuels and environmental regulation. Heavy investment in renewable energy, new gas discoveries, tougher pollution controls and carbon-dioxide taxes are shrinking coal's share of global energy markets.

Chinese coal-fired capacity could decline to 52% of the country's total by 2020 from 71% today. Xstrata reckons coal's relative decline will be slow enough to justify its investment in Wandoan, a $6-billion new thermal coal mine in Australia. But BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are reluctant to build or buy new capacity.

As a result, transaction multiples have failed to keep pace with the rise in stock-market multiples and thermal coal prices. Strategic investors tend to be buying bigger or earlier-stage resources, keeping deal multiples in check. So while coal-mining share prices are up around 30% this year, ahead of the broader mining sector, coal assets continued to change hands at around $2 per ton of resources for producing companies between 2007 and 2010, according to Citi.

That is a good sign that coal is near its zenith as the world's favorite fuel.

IEA 2010

From The Australian

Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, with China and India between them taking almost 20 per cent of its thermal coal exports in 2008-09. Japan and South Korea remain the leading buyers at 39.8 per cent and 16.3 per cent respectively, followed by Taiwan on 9.9 percent, although a report by Deutsche Bank earlier this year said that China and India becoming net importers of thermal coal was transforming the trade.

“We believe China and India together could transform the demand landscape for thermal coal over the next decade, displacing current western importers and evolving to dominate the industry,” the report’s authors noted.

China likely overtook the United States in 2009 to become the world’s biggest energy user, according to IEA preliminary data. The third largest user is India, followed by Russia and Japan. While China and India have low per-capita energy usage, their combined population of 2.5 billion and their high economic growth rates ensure they will have a significant impact on the energy consumption outlook for decades to come.

China alone contributes 36 per cent of projected growth in global energy use between 2008 and 2035, under the central scenario – known as the “New Policies” scenario - of the IEA. India is the second largest contributor with 18 per cent.

“It is hard to overstate the growing importance of China in global energy,” IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka said last month at the release of the agency’s latest World Energy Outlook in London.

“How the country responds to the threats to global energy security and climate posed by rising fossil-fuel use will have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world,” he said.

Fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas – will remain the dominant sources of energy through to 2035, even with the rise of alternatives such as nuclear power and renewables. The IEA projects that in electricity generation, the role of renewables will grow from 19 per cent in 2008 to 32 per cent by 2035.

According to the IEA, China will account for 24.6 per cent of global energy usage in 2035, while the US will drop to 15.5 per cent and India will rise to 5.1 per cent.

India’s per capita usage of energy is very low by world standards, at 531 kg of oil equivalent in 2005, according to a report by KPMG. That compares with 1242 kg for China, 4176 kg for Japan and 7913 kg for the US.

But India’s energy supply base also includes unquantifiable low-grade sources such as firewood and animal dung, which are in wide use in rural communities. As India’s economy continues to grow, and as electricity distribution systems improve and rural incomes rise, these low-grade sources are expected to become less important.

December 20, 2010

Debunking the Debunkers

Here's a list of 131 (at latest count) arguments challenging the climate change consensus, together with replies by Mr. Science.

Wind Power and Bird Slaughter

This disturbing piece by Robert Bryce in the Wall Street Journal shows that wind energy, like all the others, is a devil's bargain. The American Bird Conservancy, Bryce notes, estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that "each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds per year." If the U.S. were to achieve its goal of  300,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2030, representing 20% of electrical usage and a twelve-fold increase over 2008 levels, "we can expect some 300,000 birds, at the least, to be killed by wind turbines each year."


From "Windmills Are Killing Our Birds," September 7, 2009
 On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.

ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.

Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.

A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds—nearly all protected by the migratory bird act—are being whacked every year at Altamont.

Altamont's turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxon's tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.

The number of birds killed by wind turbines is highly variable. And biologists believe Altamont, which uses older turbine technology, may be the worst example. But that said, the carnage there likely represents only a fraction of the number of birds killed by windmills. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies.

"Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card," Mr. Fry told me. "If there were even one prosecution," he added, the wind industry would be forced to take the issue seriously.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry's trade association, each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds per year. At the end of 2008, the U.S. had about 25,000 megawatts of wind turbines.

By 2030, environmental and lobby groups are pushing for the U.S. to be producing 20% of its electricity from wind. Meeting that goal, according to the Department of Energy, will require the U.S. to have about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, a 12-fold increase over 2008 levels. If that target is achieved, we can expect some 300,000 birds, at the least, to be killed by wind turbines each year.

On its Web site, the Wind Energy Association says that bird kills by wind turbines are a "very small fraction of those caused by other commonly accepted human activities and structures—house cats kill an estimated one billion birds annually." That may be true, but it is not much of a defense. When cats kill birds, federal law doesn't require marching them to our courthouses to hold them responsible.

During the late 1980s and early '90s, Rob Lee was one of the Fish and Wildlife Service's lead law-enforcement investigators on the problem of bird kills in Western oil fields. Now retired and living in Lubbock, Texas, Mr. Lee tells me that solving the problem in the oil fields "was easy and cheap." The oil companies only had to put netting over their tanks and waste facilities.

Why aren't wind companies prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds? "The fix here is not easy or cheap," Mr. Lee told me. He added that he doesn't expect to see any prosecutions of the politically correct wind industry.

This is a double standard that more people—and not just bird lovers—should be paying attention to. In protecting America's wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by "green" energy.

Here are additional links on the threat to bird species from wind power:

Wind Power: Green and Deadly from The Resilient Earth

Wind Power Could Put Birds at Risk
One of the nation's largest bird conservation groups says rapid construction of wind energy projects will endanger several avian species. That includes the whooping crane, a famous migratory bird and annual visitor to central Nebraska. Officials with American Bird Conservancy on Wednesday cited data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that estimates 400,000 birds of various species are killed by turbine blades annually.
Google Images

from Cronixsoul