Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Offshore drilling is the answer

September 14, 2008 10 comments

Ike pays a visit to the Land Of Lincoln

September 14, 2008 2 comments

Hurricane Ike has settled down to a huge storm system making its way across the heartland, and it’s been on top of us for the last several hours.  I have some water in my basement, an inconvenience the abatement of which is not how I wanted to spend my Sunday.  But check out these pictures… I’d feel silly complaining to the residents of Galveston.  Something tells me a wet-vac and a little profanity isn’t going to fix it for them.

Bloomberg reports that oil production in the area is pretty much shut down.  Joseph at Corpus Callosum points out that we shouldn’t become complacent when the “Ike Spike” in fuel prices finally comes down:

My suggestion: whatever you do to adapt to the shortages, please keep doing that, even after the shortages are alleviated.  There will be a spike in shortages after Ike.  Then things will seem to return to normal.  But it is not really a spike; it’s a preview.

“It is not really a spike, it’s a preview”.  Oil demand is rising worldwide, and production is leveling off.  What’s that old saying?  “A word to the wise is sufficient.” 

The next revolution: RE<C

June 24, 2008 5 comments

I’m not sure whether the entirety of The Economist’s special report is available online – you might have to be a subscriber but give it a try anyway.  Pretty sure the abstract is available to everyone.

The sub-articles are The energy alternatives, Wind power, Carbon storage, Solar energy, Geothermal generation, Bespoke biofuels, Tomorrow’s cars, Nuclear’s return, Energy’s future, and an audio interview with Geoffry Carr, science editor of The Economist.

I recommend these articles for one reason: human nature sucks.  The whole planet can be in danger, with a bleak future for unborn generations, and you’ll only get a minority of people to do so much as recycle an aluminum can.  Altruism is simply not a reliable way to save the world.  But make clean energy one cent cheaper than coal, and the world will practically save itself.

I wish I could in good conscience have a better opinion of humanity, but the evidence is against it.  That is the concept of Renewable Energy cheaper than coal, or RE<C.  And why is a conservative magazine like The Economist reporting on this approach?  Simple:

EVERYONE loves a booming market, and most booms happen on the back of technological change. The world’s venture capitalists, having fed on the computing boom of the 1980s, the internet boom of the 1990s and the biotech and nanotech boomlets of the early 2000s, are now looking around for the next one. They think they have found it: energy.

Think the information technology economy is big?  It’s measured in mere hundreds of billions of dollars.  The energy market is measured in trillions.  So while the 21st century certainly has the potential to royally screw things up for future generations of humanity (to say nothing of fish) it also has the potential to blow the lid off poverty, pollution, and isolation and usher in the 22nd century in shades of cool green.  Take that any way you want.


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A deeper look at Peak Oil

June 10, 2008 3 comments

You’ve probably heard of “Peak Oil” as the condition where no matter what we do, world oil production begins to decline and prices begin an inexorable rise.  Arunn at Nonoscience has an excellent discussion of that concept in “A walk down Hubbert’s peak”.  This is several notches above the usual popular news magazine level.

Many articles I’ve read about Peak Oil suggest it will be an immediate disaster but I try to be a little more optimistic.  There won’t be a sudden point where all the world’s oil wells make a gurgling noise and the world’s leaders say; “Oh frack, we’re out of oil!”  As Arunn’s article suggests, it’ll just start being harder to find and prices will rise.

Now we’re into my decidedly simplistic analysis, and it is this: rising prices will put downward pressure on consumption, flattening out the curve somewhat.  They’ll also make oil alternatives more attractive, pulling in VC funding.  And oil companies are presumably not headed by stupid people; they are probably working on (economical) ways to make oil from sewage right now.

I will not say anything so kind about politicians, however.  Subsidies increase demand, which will steepen the curve of falling production.  The standard Republican solution, which is to drill the Arctic and invade oil-producing countries, will flatten it in the short term, encouraging more consumption, and causing a steeper, more catastrophic curve later as real supplies fail. Both are dumb plans. 

Anyway, go check out the article, it’s very good.  Hat Tip to John Wilkins’ Basic Concepts In Science.

Can we admit corn ethanol is a mistake?

March 14, 2008 6 comments

Here in Illinois there are signs by the road touting the value of corn ethanol.  But there are a lot of reasons why hardly anyone outside the corn lobby thinks it’s a good idea to make fuel from food.  One is that it screws up food markets around the world.  Uber-conservative high-energy technologist Cajun skewers the unintended consequences of food-to-fuel economics: 

“…And people will starve… Doesn’t that make you want to go find your nearest E85 pump?”

But there’s another way that corn ethanol screws with food markets, which Cajun doesn’t mention and which directly affects his neck of the woods in Louisiana – record high corn prices equals more marginal land being pushed into corn production, with more nitrogen runoff. Which leads in one short step to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, an ever-growing anoxic region of the Gulf where there’s no shrimp, no crab, no fish.  Just algae and bacteria.

Chris Mooney, writing on science policy vs. the corn lobby, says:

“We Need Sound Policy Before the Science Gets Hijacked…The future of biofuels does not lie in corn, even if the future of many U.S. companies and politicians might.”

Politicians have never been able to tell the difference between a lobbyist and a scientist.  But here’s a hint: the scientist usually doesn’t try to bribe them; they don’t make enough money. 

No Illinois politician dares to question corn ethanol.  But it’s a bad idea, and a good example of why it’s also a bad idea for the government to be pushing specific technologies instead of specific results.  Funding research is fine, even essential.  But the government ought to be pushing for specific outcomes – carbon neutrality, energy independence, clean water and so forth.  You put a tax on carbon emissions, levy fines for water pollution, and fund research into alternatives, and corporations will figure out what to do from there.  It might help us go down fewer blind alleys like corn ethanol.

Drink up

May 3, 2007 8 comments

I just knew that beer would end up being the salvation of mankind:  Foster’s, scientists team up to generate clean energy from beer-making.