June 28, 2011

$20 Billion Air Conditioning Costs in Iraq and Afghanistan

The US military spends $20.2 billion each year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a story in NPR quoting Steven Anderson, a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus' chief logistician in Iraq. "He's now in the private sector," says NPR, "selling technologies branded as 'energy-efficient' to the Department of Defense."
Why does it cost so much?

To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than "improved goat trails," Anderson says. "And you've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way."

Anderson calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125-degree heat require a lot of fuel. Anderson says by making those structures more efficient, the military could save lives and dollars.
I've got an even better plan to bring down costs in lives and dollars: get out of both countries.

June 22, 2011

Iran's Nuclear Declarations: Making Up the Record at the Paper of Record

"Iran's desire to acquire nuclear weapons" is treated often as a known fact in the western media. Two respected analysts, Suzanne Maloney (Brookings Institution) and Ray Takeyh (Council on Foreign Relations) write in the New York Times of Ahmadinejad's desire for dialogue with the western powers as against the more hardline stance of the clerical leadership. That interest, they argue, was not motivated by a desire to reconcile but rather has been "a means of boosting his stature at home and abroad while touting his vision of a strong nuclear-armed Iran."

There is a reasonable argument about what Iran's ultimate intentions are with respect to its nuclear program. But it is not in doubt that the Iranian leadership generally, and Ahmadinejad specifically, have denied that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad does not tout his vision of a nuclear-armed Iran. He denies, and denies vociferously, that Iran wants or needs the bomb. To mischaracterize the record in this fashion is really disgraceful, and doubly so considering that the fabrication manages to undermine the credibility of three titans of the (formerly) liberal establishment--Brookings, CFR, and the Times.

Wide Asleep In America, who takes note of the offending op-ed, assembles the evidence on Iran's public declarations:
Ahmadinejad, speaking in August 2006, declared, "Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran's defense doctrine and Iran is not a threat to any country...We are not a threat to anybody; even our solution to the Zionist regime is a referendum."

In the same speech, he said, "the Iranian nation has always resolutely resisted bullying. The Iranian nation will never exchange its dignity and nobility for anything. However, some oppressor countries can not believe that a nation can be powerful and peaceful at the same time. They can not imagine that a nation can possess nuclear technology with no nuclear weapons. They just come to the wrong conclusions through wrong analyses."

In a lengthy interview with CBS's Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes, Ahmadinejad explained, "Basically we are not looking for - working for the bomb...The time of the bomb is in the past. It's behind us. Today is the era of thoughts, dialogue and cultural exchanges."

The next month, Ahmadinejad was asked by NBC's Brian Williams about whether the Iranian nuclear program was peaceful. He replied, "Did Iran build the atomic bomb and use it? You must know that, because of our beliefs and our religion, we're against such acts. We are against the atomic bomb."

In 2007, Ahmadinejad was interviewed on CBS by Scott Pelley, who asked him, "Is it the goal of your government, the goal of this nation to build a nuclear weapon?" Ahmadinejad answered:
"It is a firm 'no.' I'm going to be much firmer now. I want to address all politicians around the world, statesmen. Any party who uses national revenues to make a bomb, a nuclear bomb, will make a mistake. Because in political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful, it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful, it would have resolved the problems the Americans have in Iraq. The U.S. has tested new generations of bombs, many thousands of warheads you have in your arsenals. It's of no use. And also the Zionist entity, they have hundreds of warheads. It's not going to help them. The time of the bomb is past. The parties who think that by using the bomb you can control others, they are wrong. Today we are living in the era of intellectual pursuits. You should spend your money on your people. We don't need the bomb. For 28 years we have defended ourselves in the face of enemy onslaught. Every day we are becoming more powerful. And, again, we don't need such weapons. In fact, we think that this is inhuman."
A few days later, when interviewed by Charlie Rose, Ahmadinejad repeated himself, adding, "We've said many times before, we don't need the weapon. It's not enshrined in our defense doctrine, nuclear defense. And ideologically, we don't believe in it either. We have actually rejected it on an ideological basis. And politically, we know that it is useless."

At Columbia University, on September 25, 2007, Ahmadinejad stated,
"Making nuclear, chemical and biological bombs and weapons of mass destruction is yet another result of the misuse of science and research by the big powers. Without cooperation of certain scientists and scholars, we would not have witnessed production of different nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Are these weapons to protect global security? What can a perpetual nuclear umbrella threat achieve for the sake of humanity? If nuclear war wages between nuclear powers, what human catastrophe will take place? Today we can see the nuclear effects in even new generations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima residents which might be witness in even the next generations to come. Presently, effects of the depleted uranium used in weapons since the beginning of the war in Iraq can be examined and investigated."
In a response to a question from an audience member at Columbia, he reiterated, "We do not believe in nuclear weapons, period. It goes against the whole grain of humanity...I think the politicians who are after atomic bombs or are testing them, making them -- politically they are backward, retarded."

Speaking to Charlie Rose in Tehran on August 22, 2008, Ahmadinejad stressed, "We want nuclear disarmament [for all countries]...and we consider it to be against humanity to manufacture nuclear weapons...we oppose that strongly," continuing, "Our position is very clear. You can not solve the problem of a nuclear bomb with another nuclear bomb. The solution should be humanitarian and political and cultural...We believe that a nuclear weapon has no use, obsolete. Anyone who has a nuclear weapons does not create any political advantage for themselves."

The following month, on September 23, 2008, Ahmadinejad told Larry King, "We believe, as a matter of religious teaching, that we must be against any form of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. The production and the usage of nuclear weapons is one of the most abhorrent acts to our eyes." He also said, "In addition, we also believe that the atomic bomb has lost its use in political affairs, in fact. The time for a nuclear bomb has ended. Whoever who invests in it is going the wrong way."

The same day, during an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran was "a country that is simply seeking peaceful nuclear energy" and not nuclear weapons.

In an interview the following day, September 24, 2008, with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Ahmadinejad again made his postion clear:
"I think that the time for the atomic bomb has reached an end. Don't you feel that yourself? What will determine the future is culture, it's the power of thought. Was the atomic bomb able to save the former Soviet Union from collapsing? Was it able to give victory to the Zionist regime of confronting the Palestinians? Was it able to resolve America’s or US problems in Iraq and Afghanistan? Naturally, its usage has come to an end.

"It's very wrong to spend people's money building new atomic bombs. This money should be spent on creating welfare, prosperity, health, education, employment, and as aid that should be distributed among others' countries, to destroy the reasons for war and for insecurity and terrorism. Rest assured, whoever who seeks to have atomic bombs more and more is just politically backward. And those who have these arsenals and are busy making new generations of those bombs are even more backward."
When MSNBC's Ann Curry interviewed Ahmadinejad the next year, in September 2009, he again said, "We don't have such a need for nuclear weapons. We don't need nuclear weapons. Without such weapons, we are very much able to defend ourselves...It's not a part of our any – of our programs and plans." (After the interview, Curry published a report entitled, "Ahmadinejad refuses to rule out weapons.")

Speaking at the United Nations NPT Review Conference in May 2010, he stated, "The nuclear bomb is a fire against humanity rather than a weapon for defense," continuing, "The possession of nuclear bombs is not a source of pride; it is rather disgusting and shameful. And even more shameful is the threat to use or to use such weapons, which is not even comparable to any crime committed throughout the history."

The same day, during an interview with Charlie Rose, Ahmadinejad said,
"Let me just set your mind -- I want to give your mind some rest here. We are opposed to the bomb, the nuclear bomb, and we will not build it. If we want to build it, we have the guts to say it. We’re courageous enough to say it, because we’re not afraid of anyone. If we want to have the bomb, we’ll come and tell everyone he want to build it. We’re not afraid of anyone if we want to make it. Who’s there to be afraid of? So when we say we don’t want it, we don’t want it."
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in September 2010, he repeated, "The nuclear bomb is the worst inhumane weapon and which must totally be eliminated" and proposed "that the year 2011 be proclaimed the year of nuclear disarmament," reaffirming Iran's commitment to establishing a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East.

During the same visit, Ahmadinejad told Larry King, "We are not seeking the bomb. We have no interest in it. And we do not think that it is useful. We are standing firm over the issue that both the Zionist regime and the United States government should be disarmed."

June 21, 2011

Threat of Mass Extinction in Oceans

From Yale Environment 360
A series of marine threats — including warming waters, ocean acidification, the spread of oxygen-free dead zones, habitat loss, and overfishing — are pushing the world’s oceans toward a phase of mass extinctions not seen in millions of years, according to a new report by a consortium of marine scientists. In a report sponsored by the International Programme on the State of the Oceans (IPSO), the scientists said that the rates of coral loss, fish stock depletion, open-water “dead zones,” and toxic algae blooms have surpassed even the worst-case projections of just four years ago. And these trends could portend significantly wider disruptions on the world’s marine ecosystems; all five mass extinctions in the planet’s history — the most recent of which occurred 55 million years ago — were preceded by similar ocean conditions, scientists say. “The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized.” The group called on states, regional bodies and the UN to establish programs to better conserve ocean ecosystems — particularly in the largely unprotected high seas that make up most of the planet’s oceans — and to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures.

June 20, 2011

$1000 Billion in Nuclear Weapons Modernization over Next Decade

From the Financial Times:
The world’s nine nuclear-armed powers are set to spend a total of $1,000bn on the procurement and modernisation of atomic weapons programmes over the next decade, according to an anti-nuclear weapons group whose cause has won high-level US support.

Global Zero, which is campaigning for abolition of the world’s nuclear arsen­als by 2030, will host a London conference this week attended by senior Russian, Indian, US and Chinese figures, among others. It aims to highlight how the cost of nuclear weapons is becoming ever more unaffordable for states whose defence budgets are hard pressed by the financial crisis.

According to the organisation, the nine nuclear states – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea – are set to spend $100bn between them on nuclear arms programmes this year. The figure comprises the cost of researching, developing, procuring and testing nuclear weapons. Global Zero calculates that the states will spend the same amount in every year of this decade.
The organisation says spending on atomic weapons accounts for about 9 per cent of total defence spending in these countries – a proportion set to rise because budgets for conventional military hardware are being cut back in many countries.

The campaign to seek total abolition of nuclear weapons has received high-profile backing in recent years, notably from Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, two former US secretaries of state who have embraced the cause of multilateral disarmament. Barack Obama, the US president, has said the organisation “will always have a partner in me and my administration”.
. . .
It's easy to find the Global Zero website, but I could not find any itemization there of how the organization reaches the $1 trillion figure. Is everybody spending exactly 9 percent of their defense budgets on nuclear related activities? The absence of specific figures for individual countries is annoying. The interactive graphic at Global Zero mentions the first nuclear explosion in New Mexico in 1945--but not Hiroshima. Its presentation shows nuclear proliferation occurring in the following sequence: Britain, France, Israel, Russia, Pakistan, India, China, North Korea. The actual sequence was Russia (1949), Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964), Israel (1967), India (1974 and 1998), Pakistan (1998), and North Korea (2006). Why couldn’t the people at Global Zero take the trouble to get this right? The absence of supporting materials at the website--just a breathless but misleading tour through some basic facts, alongside spooky music--speaks poorly of this effort. However, this is a pretty good map (taken as a snapshot of their presentation):

The Arms Control Association has a summary of those states that had a nuclear program or nuclear weapons at one time, but no longer:
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, but returned them to Russia and joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. South Africa secretly developed and dismantled a small number of nuclear warheads and also joined the NPT in 1991. Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but was forced to verifiably dismantle it under the supervision of UN inspectors. . . . Libya voluntarily renounced its secret nuclear weapons efforts in December 2003. Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan also shelved nuclear weapons programs.

June 16, 2011

Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico to be Largest Ever

From Yale Environment 360:
The Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone, an oxygen-depleted area created by excessive nutrient pollution, is expected to reach record proportions this year as a result of the extreme flooding in the Mississippi River basin, according to a forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Using nutrient load data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists calculate that the hypoxic zone, also known as the “dead zone,” could cover 8,500 to 9,421 square miles, an area about the size of New Hampshire. The dead zone — which is created when algal blooms remove oxygen from the water and suffocate marine life — has reached an average 6,000 square miles during the last five years. But with the flow rate of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers nearly double the normal rate this spring, the quantity of nutrients entering the Gulf is about 35 percent higher than usual, according to NOAA. The dead zone, located along the coast, forces Gulf fishermen farther offshore.

China Plans Solar Push in Africa

John Daly of OilPrice.com reports that JA Solar, a large Chinese solar power company, "has just developed a new technology that could cut the cost of producing silicon, an important material in manufacturing solar panels, by 60 percent," and that China plans to make solar a part of its strategy towards Africa: 
According to Sun Guangbin, the secretary-general of photovoltaic products at the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, speaking in a recent interview, China intends to build solar power projects in 40 African nations in a boot-strap effort that will both reduce the continent’s reliance on fossil fuels and open a new market for Chinese manufacturers, the biggest producers of solar panels. Sun noted, “China needs new emerging markets to consume their solar products besides Europe, and Africa could be one of them. We’ll begin investigating this month in Africa to determine a suitable project in each country, such as installing solar panels on the rooftops of schools and hospitals.”

Compare this with today’s pronouncement from London that the Conservative government of David Cameron intends “Drastic cuts for large-scale solar power subsidies,” according to a headline in the Guardian.

London and Washington are both still wedded to Big Oil and nuclear power. But if the 21st century is going to be about the struggle by Western economies to have access to Third World raw materials, it would seem that Africans, their schools, hospitals and home lighted by solar panels, may well look eastwards.

June 15, 2011

OPEC Export Revenues to Top $1 Trillion

From the Energy Information Administration:

Based on projections from the EIA June 2011 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could earn $1,034 billion of net oil export revenues in 2011 and $1,117 billion in 2012. Last year, OPEC earned $778 billion in net oil export revenues, a 35 percent increase from 2009. Saudi Arabia earned the largest share of these earnings, $225 billion, representing 29 percent of total OPEC revenues. On a per-capita basis, OPEC net oil export earnings reached $2,074 in 2010. 

June 14, 2011

Spread Between Brent and WTI At Unprecedented Level

This graph, measuring the difference in price between Brent North Sea crude oil and West Texas Intermediate, has blown out to unprecedented levels. Bespoke does not offer a full explanation but rounds up the usual suspects:"unrest in the Middle East disrupting supplies in Europe, excess supplies in Cushing, Oklahoma (the delivery point for WTI), and decreased demand in North America while demand in other parts of the world is increasing." For further background, see here.

June 12, 2011

Struggle for Kirkuk's Oil

From Joost R. Hiltermann, The National Interest, "Of Blood, Oil, and Kurdistan," June 2, 2011:
Kirkuk’s ethnic communities each have contending claims to the area’s status: the Kurds wish to attach it to the adjacent Kurdistan region; the Turkomans would like for it to become a stand-alone region under neither Baghdad’s nor Erbil’s control; and the Arabs mostly favor the status quo—a province directly under Baghdad’s rule. In pressing their claims, demographics—who has the right to live and vote in Kirkuk—have become the principal battleground. Had oil been absent from the equation, the status question would have become a good deal less incendiary; the significance of the area’s ethnic makeup and numbers would largely have faded; and there would have been no need for the deployment of rival security forces.

The US military presence has succeeded in keeping the lid on tensions that never cease to boil just beneath the surface. It is for this reason that Kirkuki politicians of all stripes have called for an extension of the US troop presence in Iraq, but so far the Maliki government has given no indication it is prepared to face the likely political fallout from supporting such a call and negotiating a new status-of-forces agreement. Lacking mutual trust, suspecting each other’s motives, and manipulated by more powerful forces outside Kirkuk, these politicians have been unable to come to a basic agreement even over how to govern the area, regardless of its status. . . . Very little is likely to happen before US troops pull out, and all sides are now starting to prepare for that eventuality.

The Kurds have been the first to move, citing security concerns. During the Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, in late 2010, they deployed Asaesh security personnel throughout Kirkuk city, angering Arabs and Turkomans. In February, they sent troops to the city’s southern gateway, violating a security arrangement with their Iraqi and US partners in the so-called combined security mechanism, a system of joint checkpoints and patrols that has served to keep the peace. . . . Following US pressure, the Kurdish forces withdrew a month later.

The Kurds’ military assertiveness has been widely interpreted as an attempt to probe their adversaries’ resolve. Perhaps they feel heartened by the result, but they would be wrong to interpret Maliki’s passiveness in February as a potential willingness to acquiesce in a Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk once US troops are no longer there to ease the Kurds back out. No Arab leader in Iraq could hope to survive politically if he is seen to surrender Kirkuk to the Kurds, and inversely Kurdish leaders would lose all their credibility if they failed to stand up to an Iraqi army bid to drive the Kurds out of Kirkuk. This means that if the current standoff persists, unilateral moves, by either side, will without doubt trigger armed conflict once the US security blanket is removed.

Google Images

June 10, 2011

A Total View of the Oil Prospect

Of all the major oil companies, French giant TOTAL has come closest to accepting the peak oil case. In its latest report, detailed at The Oil Drum, it sets forth again a view of the impending collision of supply and demand, with the latter outstripping the former.

Rembrandt's explication of the TOTAL presentation is worth reading in its entirety; there is a detailed demonstration of how different kinds of oil fields deplete. After an exhaustive study of existing fields, TOTAL reached the following conclusion: “Whatever the size of the field, . . . there is some physical law that after a recovery of about 25% - 30% of the Oil Originally In Place (OIIP) in the reservoir oil production will begin to decrease.”

Here are a few other key points, as summarized by Rembrandt:
Since 2006, . . . TOTAL has consistently voiced warnings about the future inability of the oil industry to meet continued oil demand growth. In 2006, then CEO Thierry Desmarest stated that maximum oil production lies between 100 to 110 million b/d, reached potentially by 2020. Only a year later the new CEO Christophe de Margerie announced that it would be difficult for the industry to produce beyond 100 million b/d, a message that became and remained 95 million b/d in subsequent years (1), (2), (3), (4).
[Pierre Mauriaud, who gave the presentation for Total,] mentioned that their key message is not one of a lack of resources. According to the company there are plenty of resources left including conventional oil. The problem lies in turning these into reserves due to the need for advanced technology, large scale investments, and a lack of resource accessibility of international oil majors.
Mauriad emphasized that the only remaining low cost oil is in the Middle East--"the time of cheap oil is finished and has been for some time." While there is lots of "highly technical" oil, "such as deepwater, extra heavy oil, arctic oil," it can only be produced if the price is right.
To underline this view he presented a highly interesting graph [below] with data on TOTAL’s expectation for production costs of different types of oil, denoted in the break even oil price in 2010 at an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) above 10%. The more technical projects, including enhanced oil recovery and extra heavy oil, require an oil price range between 60 to 90 dollars to give a decent return.

TOTAL does not see the international oil majors able to sufficiently increase production by the more complex technical projects. The new detail beyond previous statement’s from Mauriaud’s presentation is the relative quantification given of which regions will be the major producer in the future, as shown in the chart [below] . . . .TOTAL sees oil production as stagnating and declining in all regions except for the Middle East.  . . . It can be inferred from the chart that TOTAL expects 45% to 50% of the 95 million b/d will come from the Middle-East in 2030. 


Recall that ten years ago the prevailing expectation among the IEA and EIA, as the other major oil companies, was that production would rise to above 120 million barrels a day by 2020, as the EIA forecasted in 2002. Official estimates have fallen by 10 mbd in the intervening years. The EIA now says 110 mbd by 2030, much lower than before but still 15 mbd above the estimate from TOTAL (95 mbd).

So we've got 15 mbd to account for. TOTAL discounts the geological constraint and instead places emphasis on the costs of the technology, the huge capital investments needed, and the practical lack of access of the international oil companies to the 70 to 80 percent of world reserves held by NOCs. But the other major oil companies and CERA acknowledge those themes in their presentations, so it is difficult to understand the basis for the huge differential.

If you put together TOTAL's projection of oil supply with the IMF's recent projection of oil elasticities (which showed oil consumption rising with economic growth and falling little in response to price increases), you've got a big collision coming. Under tight conditions, prices are vulnerable to shooting skyward until such time as they flatten the economy, whence they may be followed by vertiginous collapses that imperil investments and dry up sources of capital. That was the pattern of 2008, of which there's been a certain echo in 2011. Over the next several years, I think it is likely that oil will press its limits on the upside, and that the long term path for prices is a jagged march upward.

The feature of this outlook most worth emphasizing (though not especially novel) is the projection that 45 to 50% of production in 2020-2030 will come from the Middle East, presumably driven by substantial increases in both Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Unfortunately, there is no exact estimate given of the assumed Saudi and Iraqi production, but Total appears to credit the more optimistic scenarios about the ability of the two states to raise their production.

Be that as it may, there is no escaping the dependence of the world energy system on the Persian Gulf. All that increased production will be gobbled up by China and other Asian states, making anomalous America's ostensibly protective role. It was one thing to protect the oil supplies of Western Europe and Japan during the Cold War, but to do the same for China in the post-post Cold War? From the standpoint of the national interest, the whole arrangement seems positively idiotic.

It would, however, take a brave man to predict a U.S. disengagement from the region. The interests of the empire, as opposed to those of the nation, dictate that a consuming interest be taken in how the wealth generated by oil gets used. As the $60 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia shows, one thing it feeds is the military-industrial complex. But U.S. interest in the region stems from other factors as well, including the desire to maintain global military dominance, ensure support for Israel, and promote "the general purposes of our greatness."

The world's "indispensable nation" seems drawn, ineluctably, to the world's indispensable resource. I would like to encourage a separation, if not a divorce, between the two, but such a prospect would cause howls in respectable society.

World Energy Supply to 2030

When you think of the effort required to move these lines a few percentage points upward, or even to maintain themselves at the same level, it boggles the mind.

From Total's April 27, 2011 presentation

Our Brothers the Asian Carp

From Bryan Walsh of Time: "Mississippi Floods Could Spread the Invasive Asian Carp"
Scientists are worried that the unusually heavy spring floods along the Mississippi River may free a new battalion of Asian carp:
Duane Chapman, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist and Asian carp expert, says the fish are likely to show up in places where Mississippi floodwaters intruded. They can weigh up to 100 pounds grow 4 feet long and live for 25 years.
They could be crowding out food sources of native species for decades. "I think there is a very serious issue here," said Chapman. "We may now be finding them in lakes, ponds, bayous, anywhere the river water went. Those things will be full of carp now."  . . .
Given the sheer amount of destruction wrought by the floods, there's not a whole lot that ecologists can do to prevent escapee carp from making a new home in the Mississippi system. In fact, it might be time to reconsider the war against the Asian carp and other invasive species. . . . [W]hen it comes to invasives, Asian carp are nothing next to another species that has proliferated into the billions, spread to every corner of the world and displaced other animals and plants and sucked up every available natural resource. They're called human beings.

Top 25 Mercury Emitting Coal Plants

From Climate Progress, reporting a study by the Environmental Defense Fund, on the real costs of coal. CP comments: "There are 600 coal plants in the U.S. These 25 coal plants emit roughly 30% of total mercury pollution in the U.S. electricity sector. The harm from coal, if it were actually added to the cost of their power, would make these plants uneconomic." (see Life-cycle study: Accounting for total harm from coal would add “close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated”)

China's Per Capita Consumption of Oil

"China uses about two barrels a year of oil per person. In the United States we use 23 barrels of oil per person per year. If China’s usage grew to the U.S. equivalent, it would be 85 million barrels a day, which is about the total consumption of oil for the world." (from Robert Rapier, Energy Bulletin)

What was it that Herb Stein used to say?

Highs and Lows in Rocky Mountain Snowpack

Snowpack levels in the Rocky Mountains, according to a new study by the United States Geological Survey, have been declining since the 1980s at a more rapid pace than at any time in the last millennium.

To put the recent observations in a historical context, [Gregory] Pederson and his colleagues examined tree rings to reconstruct winter snow accumulation in the mountains that drain to the Colorado, Columbia and Missouri river basins -- which collectively provide 60 percent to 80 percent of the water needs for more than 70 million people. . . .

Tree rings indicate snowpack levels in two ways: Lower-elevation trees like Douglas fir and ponderosa pine produce thicker growth rings during large snowpack years because more water is available.  Higher-elevation trees like hemlock and subalpine larch show the opposite -- heavier snowfall that takes longer to melt means the growing season is shorter, so the growth rings are thinner. . . .

After analyzing hundreds of thousands of tree rings, the researchers found only two instances of sustained low snowpack in the northern Rockies comparable to the 20th century from about 1300 to 1330 and about 1511 to 1530. However, those dips were not as severe as current declines.

"You have a pretty severe early 20th century and especially a post-1980s decline that is really isn't matched most anywhere in the paleo-climate record," Pederson said. . . .

The contrast between the study's findings and this year's record snowpack is a prime example of the difference between a single weather event and climate, Pederson said. Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, whereas climate is the average condition over multiple decades.

"The actual definition of a 'climate normal' is a 30-year moving average," Pederson said. "So when you hear people say, 'Well, snowpack this year is 300 percent of normal,' it's really anomalous to the last 30 years. ... But we're extremely anomalously low compared to the last century and millennium."

From the New York Times and Greenwire, “1,000-Year Record Shows Unusual Snowpack Declines,” reporting a study published in Science.

See also this discussion by NASA reporting high levels of snowpack in 2011 in five western states:

By July in a typical year, the snow that covers the slopes of the Rocky Mountains has given way to grasses and wildflowers, leaving only the peaks capped in white. But 2011 has not been a typical year. As this image of the Uinta Mountains in northeast Utah shows, winter’s snow is lingering into summer. On June 26, the snowpack on the southern face of the range was 849 percent above average. The northern face had 892 percent more snow than average.

The image was taken by the Landsat 5 satellite on July 15, 2011. . . .

The Uintas are typical of conditions throughout the northern Rockies and northwestern United States. From Montana to California, the extent of lingering snow is “exceptionally unusual,” said the National Climate and Water Center, who reports that snowmelt is usually complete by July.

A cool spring is part of the reason that the western mountains still hold snow in July. Washington and Oregon experienced the coldest April to June on record, and other western states experienced temperatures below or much below normal. With low temperatures, mountain snow didn’t melt quickly.

The other reason the snowpack is lasting into summer is that there was more snow to melt. The winter and spring of 2010-2011 brought far more snow than average, leading to a record mountain snowpack in at least five states. A healthy snowpack is a boon to western states most of time. Snow stores water for use in the dry summer months. However, if the snow melts quickly, the runoff could cause floods. Already, melting snow contributed to flooding in the Missouri River basin. As the snow melts in other basins, it could swell rivers with unseasonal floods.

Despite the record snow in some western states, the snow extent in North America as a whole was below average in the spring (March to May) for the eighth year in a row. The extent was low because less snow fell in central and northwestern Canada and Alaska than average.


Explain Yourself, Solar Guy

Two top solar executives (associated with SunPower and Solaria) have a new presentation from which Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress has extracted some very interesting figures ("Solar is Ready Now"). The first shows declining costs over time.

Lacey notes that costs have fallen 18 percent for every doubling of production, almost equal to a "Moore's Law" for solar, and also produces a graph from the Rocky Mountain Institute predicting that installation costs will fall by 50% over the next five years.

This next graph (below) is less impressive. "17 nuclear power plants worth of solar peak power" needs some unpacking. As Lacey notes: "Nuclear is a baseload resource; solar PV is more of a 'peaking' resource. To compare 17 gigawatts of global solar PV development to 17 gigawatts of nuclear power plants ignores the fact that nuclear produces far more electricity than an equivalent solar PV plant." In the previous post, we just saw a nice breakout for wind power distinguishing among "energy, capacity, and ancillary services," in which it was noted that "a 100-MW wind farm is only worth as much as 15 MW of nuclear power from a capacity standpoint." Do not similar qualifications apply to solar? Mr. Solar Executive, we want to be convinced; do us the favor of addressing objections.

Perhaps that's a bit unfair, for the following chart does seek to show a high correlation between peak consumption and peak solar output. However, the chart is merely suggestive and does not really allay reasonable doubts.

There are several other charts in the solar executives' presentation (as rendered by Lacey) basically purporting to show that solar is cheaper than natural gas and nuclear power, and will become cheaper than coal (though there is nothing comparing solar with wind--an interesting omission). “We are considerably lower than natural gas peaker plants. . . . We’re also coming in lower than new nuclear and becoming lower than new coal. Gigawatts of these plants are being developed in months – not years or decades.”

If solar is looking so good, Wall Street has yet to figure it out. No great faith should be placed in the rationality of stock markets, as everyone now knows. The capital markets can badly misprice value over protracted periods. Still, one is obliged to note that solar stocks are in the pits, despite a recent bid for SunPower from the French energy giant Total.

Solar stocks have also been poor performers as against coal and natural gas stocks, and have not held up well against the nuclear sector despite the beating the latter took after Fukushima. Industry executives need to address this poor performance if they are to win over the skeptical. What is going on? Will solar be another of those industries (like 19th century railroads) that transformed the world while impoverishing a great many  investors?

The really vital question, which one almost never sees addressed in industry promotions, is the wind-solar-gas-coal-nuclear interaction, that is, how they can work together as part of an overall system.

June 9, 2011

Wind Intermittency Not a Big Deal?

I wish I really knew. I've recently been reading Robert Bryce, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (2010). He devotes several chapters to the deficiencies of wind power. He shows the danger to the bird population and has on his side the American Bird Conservancy. But he singles out “intermittency” as the really fatal flaw, because it requires investment in capital plants for other forms of power generation (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) sufficient to carry the load when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. 

He was making a believer out of me. Now I'm wracked by doubt again. 

The following article from the Green Economy Post (May 23, 2011) says Bryce does not know what he's talking about and argues that the costs of intermittency are in fact miniscule.

Electricity markets reward generating companies in three different ways:

1. Energy
2. Capacity
3. Ancillary services

Energy is straightforward: the buyer pays for energy, measured in kilowatt-hours. It’s like buying ice cream on a hot day: the seller gets paid to meet an immediate need. There is no guarantee that either party will come back tomorrow.

Capacity is also easy to understand. If you can guarantee me in January that you will be there to meet my need for ice cream on the hottest day of July, then that’s valuable. And it gets a separate (smaller) payment.

Finally, there is a market for ancillary services, which is more complex. Ancillary service providers are there to step in when the grid needs help — to maintain voltage or frequency, or to maintain technical parameters like power factor. To stretch the ice cream analogy a bit, it would be like having a friend follow you around with a cooler filled with ice cream just in case you needed it. Even if you never had a craving, you’d still have to pay them something to be “on standby” all the time.

For the most part, wind farm owners rely on getting paid for “energy-only.” There are occasions where wind energy warrants some degree of capacity payment or even ancillary services payments. But for the most part, the value of wind capacity is low, about 10 to 20% of nameplate capacity. So, a 100-MW wind farm is only worth as much as 15 MW of nuclear power from a capacity standpoint.

However, the energy in wind is worth 100% of the energy in nuclear (or anything else) in the spot market; wind energy in the day-ahead market may be worth a little less, but this can be “firmed” using energy trading desks or by using other assets in the operator’s fleet (e.g., wind farm owners may also own natural gas turbines that can deliver any shortfall in the forecast). . . . intermittency is no big deal — the energy markets have already accounted for all this.

[Scholars like Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute see] “a hideous externality driven by the near-zero marginal cost of production for wind. Wind turbines use no fuel. This means that wind farm operators can always underbid fossil fuels in the spot market.”

Always. Think about that: the fossil fuel plant is humming along and a storm front moves in. The wind whips up, and the wind farms bid in nearly free power. Well, fossil fuel costs money, so the fossil-plant operator will often choose to ramp down rather than sell electricity for free. But then the storm front moves through quicker than expected — and the fossil plant has to ramp up again. Up and down, over and over, all year long. This is wasteful. It causes increased maintenance. It is an externality imposed on the fossil fuel operators by those darned, fickle winds.

The cycling of fossil fuel plants has been studied for many years, and the generalized form of this problem is called the cost of “wind integration.” As Michael Milligan, a researcher at the National Wind Technology Center, puts it, there are four costs to integrating wind:

1. Committing unneeded generation
2. Allocating extra load-following capability
3. Allocating additional regulating capacity
4. Increased cycling operation

. . . The key point for the layman to understand is that the implicit cost of all of these effects can be seen in the ancillary services market (i.e., what it costs the system operator to pay for backup). If there is greater uncertainty, then generators will charge more for providing backup.

How much more? Many studies have found the cost of wind integration to be in the $3 to $5 per MWh range. Or about FOUR TENTHS of a cent per kWh.

That’s it. All you are paying for is a little fuel and a little maintenance.

Resource Scarcity in Yemen

From Jonathan Ruhe at the National Interest
Yemen has always been heavily populated compared to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, but there has never been a natural proximity between the arid country’s few natural resources and the many people who desperately need them. Under such competitive circumstances, Yemenis largely rely on their particular tribe, rather than a distant central government, for security and provisions. This tendency is compounded by the past empires and present neighbors that sought influence over the country by dividing these many tribes and pitting them against one another. Saleh built his regime on these fissures. Over the years he crafted an elaborate patronage system that used the country’s energy-export revenues to buy military power and tribal loyalty and stifle any sign of rebellion. However, the country’s resources have dried up while the population has ballooned. Saleh’s reliance on repressive, corrupt divide-and-conquer strategies to rule a large, highly-fragmented populace for three decades was bound to fail eventually.
Though he is likely on his way out, a post-Saleh Yemen will only look worse. The country has been chronically fragile for years and would likely slide toward total state failure—with all the violence, dislocation and regional instability that accompany such collapses. Any successor(s) must contend with even more drastic resource shortages than those facing Saleh. Dwindling energy exports simply will not create enough revenue to provide basic necessities like water, food and fuel for a rapidly growing population, especially as the ongoing upheaval stokes inflation and disrupts vital exports and imports. Foreign assistance can fill some of these gaps, but what trickles down to ordinary Yemenis often goes through nonofficial channels, primarily direct Saudi stipends to selected tribal sheikhs. Much of the rest is grafted directly into the Yemeni regime, and thus most citizens never see a dime from their government. . . .

World Oil Consumption Exceeds Production by 5 mbd in 2010

From the Economist, using figures from BP's recently released Statistical Review of World Energy: "In China alone consumption has risen by over 4m barrels per day in the past decade, accounting for two-fifths of the global rise. In 2010 consumption exceeded production by over 5m barrels per day for the first year ever, as world oil stocks were run down."

World Coal Consumption Grows by 7.6% in 2010

Schumpeter at the Economist has some figures from BP's latest report on world energy:
Most of China’s growth came from burning more coal: in 2000 China accounted for just under a third of world coal use; in 2010 a staggering 48.2%. Repeat that sort of expansion on a smaller scale for a number of other countries and you see why coal is going up in the global mix. You also see why the world’s energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions have grown even faster than its energy use—by 5.8% last year, on BP’s figures. That is the fastest growth since 1969.

The shift in production from developed to emerging economies doesn’t just decrease global energy efficiency; it also increases emissions for any given amount of energy use. The less energy-efficient economies also tend to be the heaviest coal users. [Chistoph Rühl, BP's chief economist,] points to the intractability this adds to the problem of emissions; even if emerging economies are reducing their carbon intensity (the amount of carbon emitted per unit of output), global carbon intensity can continue to rise if production shifts to those emerging economies fast enough. Hence record growth in emissions despite modest but real commitments to emissions control in both emerging and developed economies.