Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Peak Oil: RIP

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

The idea that seized the imaginations of the bien pensant chattering classes in the Noughties – “Peak Oil” – is no longer relevant. So says the commodities team at Citigroup, and policy-makers would be wise to examine the trends they’ve identified.

“Peak Oil” is the point at which the production of conventional crude oil begins an irreversible decline. The effect of this, some say, is that scarcity-induced prices rises would require huge changes in modern industrial societies. For some, Peak Oil was the call of Mother Earth herself, requiring a return to pre-industrial lifestyles. One example of this response is the “Transition Towns” network, a middle-class phenomenon in commuter belt towns in the UK.

But in a must-read research note [PDF] issued this month (which is also implicitly critical of the industry) this is premature.

Thanks to “unconventional” oil and gas, which can be tapped thanks to technological advances, Peak Oil is dead.
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Synthetic renewable oil: what’s not to like?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Craig Venter

“Rely on the sun and the other eco-friendly things that Mother Earth has given us. We need to stop being dependent on the corrupting effect that is oil now!”

– HuffPost Super User “ProgressivePicon86″

The next energy revolution is coming – and promises the biggest disruption since the industrial revolution.

Today we assume that oil is a finite resource. The “Peak Oil” argument, for example, is not that it runs out, but that conventional sources run down, and it becomes prohibitively expensive. This obliges us to think about re-ordering society. The other assumption is that the exploitation of fossil fuels creates the rapid release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, changing the climate. Along with this, too, are arguments for re-ordering society. But with the next generations of fuels, these assumptions go out of the window. Policies based on these assumptions lose their relevance and appeal.

This promises a fundamental change in how we think about man, industry and nature. Just as Karl Marx anticipated a future of machines, where manual labour had been replaced by automation, we need new political thinking.

Replacing oil, however, isn’t so simple. The problem is that oil is a terrifically energy-dense material, and useful in many other ways. Entire industries are founded on the byproducts alone, such as fertilisers and plastics. We tend to take this for granted.

But what if oil could be created in your backyard? Or by your children as a school project? What if we thought of oil as a renewable energy? What if it was a low-carbon renewable? With cheap hydrocarbons it becomes just that, and within 15 years much of our oil will be produced this way: it’s simply an open bet on who’ll get there first.
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The League of Handicapping Gentlemen

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Energy Minister Christopher Huhne has an opinion piece in the The Daily Telegraph today – and it’s really an 800-word explanation of why we need a new Energy Minister. The subject of Huhne’s essay is new, cheap gas.

The article finds the minister on the defensive about shale gas: it’s why he’s taking his argument into print. Huhne doesn’t like this exciting new development, but he doesn’t have the power to kill it. He welcomes it through gritted teeth before explaining how many handicaps could be put in its place: the ownership of the land, the regulatory framework, the planning hurdles, and so on.

(France has bowed to its powerful nuclear lobby by imposing a moratorium on unconventional gas exploration, but since France’s electricity is already so cheap – the cheapest in Europe, in fact – it doesn’t need shale anything like as much as the rest of Europe does.)

Huhne writes that the Coalition’s energy policy is “technology neutral” – a claim guaranteed to invite widespread public ridicule. The UK’s energy policy is anything but “technology neutral”. It’s full of measures created by lobby groups for their respective energy sectors.
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At Esquire: Alien Oil

Thursday, April 21st, 2011


For Esquire‘s May edition, an in-depth feature on the implications of new synthetic hydrocarbons, including interviews with Dr Craig Venter, and Vladimir Koutcherov. An excerpt

We’ll have to get used to thinking of oil as a renewable, low carbon energy source. The difference is this oil is harvested, not excavated.  Oil will be something you’ll create in a back garden, next to the composter and bonfire pile.  Kids will brew up some diesel for their school project. There will be huge implications for military strategy and foreign policy…

It’s not online so you’ll have to buy a copy: £4.25 from all good newsagents.

Shale ignorance

Monday, January 17th, 2011
Is it time to decouple “Climate Change” from the Department of Energy and Climate Change? If it was the plain old “Department of Energy” again, it might spend more time researching new fuel sources.

Is it time to decouple “Climate Change” from the Department of Energy and Climate Change? If it was the plain old “Department of Energy” again, it might spend more time researching new fuel sources. Two peers last week took aim at the department because its latest energy blueprints are ignoring the potential impact of shale gas.

The government is “re-consulting” (in its own words) on national energy blueprints, also known as the Revised Draft National Policy Statements, up to 2050. But one of the Lords expressed surprise during the gathering that the latest didn’t mention shale at all.

“There is the possibility that potentially abundant supplies of unconventional gas will result in considerably lower gas prices,” said Lord Reay, continuing:

“The Government apparently cannot find space in several hundred pages of their energy national policy statements to acknowledge the existence of this potentially game-changing development. Gas is now cheap, the price having decoupled from the oil price, and it is going to be accessible in many countries worldwide, not least in Europe. “It emits 50 per cent to 70 per cent less carbon than coal, with the result that when the previous ‘dash for gas’ took place in the 1990s and gas to some extent took over from coal, our power station carbon emissions fell overall by some 30 per cent.”
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Why recycling is rubbish

Friday, January 14th, 2011

In a utopian report, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) says the UK needs £20bn additional spending on recycling infrastructure over the next decade. The recommendation is made in a report today that proposes “unlocking value locked up in the UK’s current waste” – which sounds great – but the report fails to tell us whether the value unlocked will exceed £20bn. Alas, no attempt at all is made to quantity the costs and benefits of the recommendations – which are grand indeed.

Localism met gesture politics, and authorities rushed through mandatory recycling targets, even though these offered only “short-term benefits to a few groups – politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organisations, waste-handling corporations” and imposed a serious opportunity cost, “diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems”.

No new public money is likely for waste infrastructure once the current PFI-funded projects are complete, which worries the engineering trade group. It has expressed concerns that current technologies are immature and unreliable, which can only deter investors. But, in a splendid bit of utopian speculation, the State of the Nation report proposes that by 2050, “the circular economy is a reality and the waste industry has fully converted into a materials supply sector”.

This is a lofty ambition: only 9 per cent of British waste comes from households to begin with. And, the ICE notes ominously, China may stop taking our recycling as it advances economically. The engineers also advocate new tiers of administration to co-ordinate waste management.
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What’s next for nuclear?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

This year, Imperial College graduated its first nuclear scientists for a very long time. After years in the doldrums, other universities are also increasing their activity. Is this a sign of a Nuclear Renaissance?

Perhaps it is. Even deep Greens are dropping long-standing objections [1] to nuclear power generation. I got in touch with Imperial’s Professor Robin Grimes, who recently co-authored a Science paper with William Nuttall indicating how the nuclear industry could re-emerge. Here’s an interview that encompasses the current state of play, and some ideas about how the next 40 years could take shape.
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Tories promise to prop up carbon price

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The UK faces at least two years of peak-time power cuts in five years, despite the Conservatives’ pledge to revive nuclear power.

The Tories’ energy policy was published Friday, and while a revived nuclear commitment provides some of the promised “energy security”, it won’t come in time. And, amazingly, the party has committed to propping up the carbon price.

By 2015 the high cost of complying with EU environmental compliance will have taken out a third of the UK’s coal capacity – the power companies would rather close than comply – followed by two thirds of its oil powered generating capacity by 2020. Nuclear provides 14 per cent of UK electricity today, but all but one of the current generators are due to close by 2022.

That means cuts – or in the ministry’s jargon “expected energy unserved” – in just five years’ time.
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Lights out, Britons told – we're running out of power

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Carbon quango The Energy Saving Trust has come up with a new reason for Britons to save energy in the home. Our power stations will soon close, and you’ll need to do your bit.

That’s what one Reg reader discovered, after enquiring about the Trust’s calculations on the effectiveness of new low-energy bulbs.

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Lords debate Climate bill

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The government’s climate minister in the House of Lords dropped a clanger on Monday evening, when he claimed that the polar ice caps were melting at a record rate.

“It is indisputable that polar ice caps are melting – we can see that with our own eyes,” Lord Hunt, Minister of State of the Department of Energy, told the house. Hunt described himself as a climate “agnostic” – but he was swiftly corrected by Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Chancellor.

“My Lords, that is not true of the past year; The noble Lord’s predecessors were seriously misinformed by his officials, and I suspect that he will be too,” Lawson replied. Twisting the knife he continued: “That is a real problem for him, and I feel for him.

“The fact is that in the Antarctic, where most of the ice is, the ice is thickening and has been for some time. In the Arctic this year there has been a greater extension of ice than ever before.”

The Lords were debating the Climate Change Bill once again – which the Commons voted through on an unusually snowy October evening recently. That Bill was passed by our elected representatives by 463 votes to 3. Would the unelected upper chamber – which has a reputation for rejecting and amendment hasty legislation – be show greater scrutiny?

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