Daily Archives: May 12, 2009

Carola Hoyos

Rand, one of the US’s most influential think tanks, has figured out what most school children, but few Congressmen, understand: oil imports don’t threaten US security, oil consumption does.

The biggest risk to the US (and all other consumers for that matter) would be an abrupt, extended fall in the global oil supply, Rand concluded.

Nevertheless, striving for energy “independence” (a catchword that has survived the transition from Presidents George W. Bush to Barack Obama and remains alive and well on Capitol Hill) though politically popular, appears a rather fruitless exercise.

Kate Mackenzie

Sutro Baths ruins. Flickr: michaelphale

Wave and tidal power is today seen as a relatively immature energy technology compared with more established renewables, such as wind turbines and photovoltaic solar panels. But a San Franciscan local historical society has charted a much longer history for attempts to harness wave and tidal power.

Most of these attempts were unsucccessful, but they remain fascinating – especially considering that this spate of inventions and projects took place during what was a formative time for the oil industry. The Western Neighborhoods Project lovingly details numerous Californian projects dating back to the 1870s, when several inventions for wave and tidal powered motors were patented. Early efforts were mostly aimed at pumping water for purposes such as flushing sewers, but as early as 1881 an inventor planned to design a motor that could be used for “”public and private baths in this city, watering streets, flushing sewers, generating compressed air for driving machinery, also electric energy for illuminating the streets, etc. together with the last and most important purpose of extinguishing fires”.

Kate Mackenzie

The technology industry often seems to have an innate degree of environmental credibility. Technology, after all, will be a critical element in reducing carbon emissions. There is the problem of disposing of pollutant-rich hardware, but some hardware companies actually do reasonable job of dealing with it; as their marketing campaigns frequently remind us. Lighter, faster web-based applications seem vaguely like a step in the right direction. Google even has a power meter in development. Distributed computing could perhaps serve as a model for distributed energy generation. And shouldn’t all that improved personal productivity goes hand in hand with improved efficiency?

Of course, it’s a little more complex than that.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2006, data centres were responsible for 1.5 per cent of electricity usage, and forecast this to grow to 3 per cent by 2011. Google is often the focus of coverage of massive, energy-hungry data centres, such as this recent Guardian reports on the company’s facility in The Dalles, in east Oregon’s Columbia River basin.

The centre reportedly could use “as much as 103MW of power to run – enough to supply every home in Newcastle” [a city of more than 200,000 people] by the time it is running at full capacity in 2011. As the world’s largest internet company Google’s energy use has come under scrutiny before, prompting it to last year release a little more information about its data centres about which it is traditionally secretive.

However Google is not alone – Yahoo and Microsoft both run data centres along the Columbia River in Quincy, Washington, taking advantage of the river’s hydroelectric dams for power, and its water for cooling the heat generated by such facilities. And Amazon is reportedly building a data centre, also on the Columbia River that is thought to be the sole user of a 10 megawatt substation, not far from Google’s Oregon facility.

The tech industry is not a monolithic entity: virtualisation’s biggest proponent, VMWare, says its tools can substantially reduce energy use. And Google non-profit arm is investing in solar thermal energy.

But the difficult question remains: with all the best will in the world, is computer technology likely to create a net reduction in energy use any time soon? According to this report, experts say the total energy use by the internet is increasing by 10 per cent a year; but hard figures are difficult to come by. This increase is not just due to new online services such as video and cloud computing, but also to growing numbers of people using the internet – which, just like the number of cars on the world’s roads and the number of households with refrigerators, is set to keep rising.

Kate Mackenzie

On Energy Source:

Commodity markets can be manipulated; get over it

Markets: Oil hits six-month high

Venezuela’s expropriations: what it could mean

Another Nabucco pipeline agreement, but where were Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan?

A turning point for Iraq’s oil industry?

The legacy of suburban development: ‘Households that make under $52,000 a year on average are now spending a third of their income on transportation because of where we’ve put the “affordable” housing.’ (Infrastructurist)

Economic growth and environmental stability: Looking at the Environmental Kuznets Curve, which postulates that an economy will first become more polluting and then less polluting as it becomes wealthier, in terms of the law of thermodynamics (The Oil Drum)

Picking the winning car technology: The US government not be so quick to cut back on hydrogen funding when it continues to support ethanol (Environmental Capital/WSJ)

Is there more cheap oil to come? An energy technology company claims 600bn barrels could be unlocked in Alberta (New Energy and Fuel)

Ensco gives Venezuela a deadline Oil services company plans to cancel contract unless it is paid by May 30 (UpstreamOnline)

BP brings ‘green era’ to a close: Green groups say chief executive Tony Hayward is moving away from his predecessor’s focus on being an energy, rather than petroleum, company (BBC)

Oil prices hit on Tuesday a fresh six-month high, nearing $60 a barrel, as traders bet that the signs of economic “green shoots” will boost demand. The move attracted fresh speculative buying, lifting prices even higher.

The rise in oil prices drove a broader commodities prices surge, with agricultural commodities rising ahead of a key supply and demand update from the US government, due out later in the session.

Kate Mackenzie

Not one to mince words, commodities-analyst-turned-commentator John Kemp declares the financial crisis and commodity market gyrations has disproved three tenets of commodities regulation:

  • Speculation has emerged as a factor in its own right, he says, even though most analysts insist this is not possible.
  • Manipulation is possible, he writes, citing examples such as hedge fund Amaranth, which held more than half of the open interest in natural gas contracts when it collapsed in 2006.
  • And settlement failures in the US government bond market highlight how vulnerable smaller commodity markets are to liquidity problems and large positions.

- Exports offer hope in Iraq oil share row
Analysts warn of another false start (FT)

- Nigeria dispute fuels petrol shortages
President and oligarchs locked in showdown (FT)

- EDF open to more deals for British Energy
Willing to pare down stake further (FT)

- EDF and Centrica claim success in rare ‘win-win’ deal
Centrica has more reason to be pleased with outcome (FT)

- EDF’s acquisitions have led to pressure on balance sheet
French group saddled with record debt levels (FT)

- Downturn in oil industry to get worse before it improves, group says
Texas group says recovery will be ‘well into 2010′ (Platts)

- Petrobras net profit falls 20% in first quarter
Crude output up 7% but oil price erodes profit (Reuters)

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