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Friday, May 15, 2009

SEatWtC Part 18: Solar, Wind and Hydropower

Solar Land Area
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Solar Land Area

Solar, Wind and Hydropower

According to online sources, “Solar energy is the light and radiant heat from the Sun that influences Earth's climate and weather and sustains life. Solar power is sometimes used as a synonym for solar energy or more specifically to refer to electricity generated from solar radiation. Since ancient times solar energy has been harnessed by humans using a range of technologies. Solar radiation along with secondary solar resources such as wind and wave power, hydroelectricity and biomass account for most of the available renewable energy on Earth.

Solar energy refers primarily to the use of solar radiation for practical ends. All other renewable energies other than geothermal derive their energy from energy received from the sun.

Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive or active depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute sunlight. Active solar techniques use photovoltaic panels, pumps, and fans to convert sunlight into useful outputs. Passive solar techniques include selecting materials with favorable thermal properties, designing spaces that naturally circulate air, and referencing the position of a building to the Sun. Active solar technologies increase the supply of energy and are considered supply side technologies, while passive solar technologies reduce the need for alternate resources and are generally considered demand side technologies.”

Yearly Solar Fluxes & Human Energy Consumption
Solar 3,850,000 EJ
Wind 2,250 EJ
Biomass 3,000 EJ
Electricity (2005) 56.7 EJ
Primary energy use (2005) 487 EJ
(1 Exajoule (EJ) = 1x10^18 joules, a unit of energy)

The difficulty with solar power is that it is an intermittent supply of energy: every night the energy supply goes to bed. That is where wind and hydropower come into play. Also, for now, direct conversion of solar energy to electricity is not terribly efficient. Strides are being made every year to improve the efficiencies, but we’re not there yet. The benefits of solar power, however, are great. The distributive nature of solar power helps reduce the need for extensive and complex electrical distribution networks. It also reduces the demand on power plants during the daytime when power plants experience their peak demands.


Tune in Monday for Part 19 of SEatWtC!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

SEatWtC Part 17: Natural Gas

Natural Gas Production by Country
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Natural Gas Production by Country

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a colorless, odorless, organic fuel that occurs naturally underground (hence the term, ‘natural’ gas). According to online sources, “natural gas is commercially produced from oil fields and natural gas fields. Gas produced from oil wells is called casinghead gas or associated gas. The natural gas industry is producing gas from increasingly more challenging resource types: sour gas, tight gas, shale gas and coalbed methane.

The world's largest gas field by far is Qatar's offshore North Field, estimated to have 25 trillion cubic metres (9.0×1014 cu ft) of gas in place—enough to last more than 200 years at optimum production levels. The second largest natural gas field is the South Pars Gas Field in Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. Connected to Qatar's North Field, it has estimated reserves of 8 to 14 trillion cubic metres (2.8×1014 to 5.0×1014 cu ft) of gas.” [11]

Natural gas has several immediate benefits. First, the infrastructure for natural gas is already in place. Developed countries could begin using natural gas as a transportation fuel in a matter of a couple years. Secondly, natural gas burns more efficiently and cleaner than petroleum products. Lastly, the ratio combustion byproducts from natural gas are better than for petroleum. For all combustion reactions, the products of combustion are H2O and CO2. For gasoline, the ratio of H2O to CO2 is about 1:1. For Natural gas, the ratio of H2O to CO2 is about 2:1. For every covalent bond broken to produce energy, the amount of CO2 is essentially cut in half.

Natural gas will eventually suffer the same peak problem as crude is now. Peak Gas is the analogous problem to Peak Oil, and has the same causes and effects. However, it is estimated that the reserves of Natural Gas in worldwide are much larger than the reserves of crude oil.


Tune in tomorrow for Part 18 of SEatWtC!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

SEatWtC Part 16: Peak Oil

Annual U.S. Crude Oil Field Production
Image courtesy of ASPO-USA
Oil Field Production

Peak Oil

According to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO-USA), “Very simply, Peak Oil describes the point in time when oil production in an area—an oil field, a state, a nation, or the world—reaches maximum production. Graphically represented, after reaching the top of a roughly bell-shaped curve, oil production may flatten out for a few years but then it will inevitably decline. Historical proof of Peak Oil is demonstrated by the work of M. King Hubbert, who, in 1956, correctly predicted that US oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970.

A growing number of very credible industry participants and analysts believe that we are now at or near the top of the curve of global oil production.

Peak Oil is not about “running out” of oil, but the curve does illustrate the quantity and pace at which humanity has extracted and used oil. With a rising world population, and large developing countries like China and India experiencing rapid growth, between 2005 and July of 2008 demand was gradually outstripping supply. During the second half of 2008, high oil prices plus financial turmoil and the economic slump actually reduced demand for oil, thus prices crashed. But the reprieve will only be temporary because more oil is being consumed than found; despite the latest technology, few major oil fields have been discovered since the mid-1970s.” [10]

The Peak Oil theory has therefore been around for a long enough time that perhaps we should have been looking for better alternatives to oil sooner. The problem seems to be that oil is such a cheap (relatively) source of energy, and it has made so many people rich, that it is hard to separate ourselves from it. One alternative that we can begin looking at sooner than other sources is natural gas.


Tune in tomorrow for Part 17 of SEatWtC!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SEatWtC Part 15: Crude Oil

Oil Producing Countries
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Oil Producing Countries

Crude Oil

According to online sources, crude oil (petroleum) “is found in porous rock formations in the upper strata of some areas of the Earth's crust. There is also petroleum in oil sands (tar sands). Known reserves of petroleum are typically estimated at around 190 km3 (1.2 trillion (short scale) barrels) without oil sands, or 595 km3 (3.74 trillion barrels) with oil sands. Consumption is currently around 84 million barrels (13.4×106 m3) per day, or 4.9 km3 per year. Because the energy return over energy invested (EROEI) ratio of oil is constantly falling (due to physical phenomena such as residual oil saturation, and the economic factor of rising marginal extraction costs), recoverable oil reserves are significantly less than total oil in place. At current consumption levels, and assuming that oil will be consumed only from reservoirs, known recoverable reserves would be gone around 2039, potentially leading to a global energy crisis. However, there are factors which may extend or reduce this estimate, including the rapidly increasing demand for petroleum in China, India, and other developing nations; new discoveries; energy conservation and use of alternative energy sources; and new economically viable exploitation of non-conventional oil sources.” [9]

So the biggest issue with crude oil is that it seems it will run out. There are some opinions floating around out there that suggest that crude oil may be more renewable than we think, but even if crude oil is renewable, if we’re consuming it faster than it is being renewed then we will still run out. What’s even more concerning is that based on the Peak Oil theory, it looks like we may be running out of oil sooner than later.


Tune in tomorrow for Part 16 of SEatWtC!

Monday, May 11, 2009

SEatWtC Part 14: Energy Types and Sources

Future Energy Sources
Image © 2007 by Aleksandar Rodic
Future Energy Sources

Energy Types and Sources

All global sources of energy except two can be derived from a single energy supply: the sun. The only two energy supplies that don’t receive their energy content from the sun, either directly or indirectly, are geothermal and nuclear energy. Solar power is the only energy supply that receives its energy content directly from the sun, but all others receive their energy from the sun indirectly. Crude oil is simply plant and animal matter that has decayed, compressed and stored for a very long time. Since plants get their energy from the sun, and since animals get their energy from plants and other animals, the initial source of energy in crude oil is the sun. The same argument is made for Natural Gas or any other organic combustion fuel. Even hydrogen, which is not organic, has to be created from either organic fuels or from water. Even wind and hydropower ultimately get their energy from the sun. Wind gets its energy from pressure gradients in the atmosphere caused by heating and cooling cycles that are caused by: the sun. Hydropower produces energy by capturing the potential energy of water at one elevation as it moves to a lower elevation. How does the water get from lower elevations to upper elevations? The sun evaporates it so that it may fall as rain in the water cycle.

Geothermal energy captures heat from the Earth’s core and nuclear energy captures heat from the radioactive decay of certain elements. Even these two energy sources can indirectly attribute their energy to the sun, because millions or billions of years ago the sun provided a gravitational center around which matter collided, producing the Earth itself and the heavier radioactive compounds found therein.

The point of this is that no matter what we do to conserve or use energy wisely, there will come a time when the sun stops shining and our source of energy will cease. Hopefully by that time we’ll be able to pack up and move to another solar system, but it is important to keep this in perspective. Knowing that the sun is the ultimate source of all our energy is also important because it shows us where we should turn for our energy demands in the future. More on that later. First, let’s discuss our current energy sources more and see how they might affect the near future of business and politics.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 15 of SEatWtC!

Friday, May 8, 2009

SEatWtC Part 13: Global Effects of Energy Policies

Our Planet
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Our Planet

Global Effects of Energy Policies

The interplay between the energy policies of these four major states is already a major driver of world politics. The United States, while importing much of its crude oil and other energy sources, is actually sitting on huge energy reserves. It almost seems as if the U.S. is playing the waiting game to let other nations deplete their energy reserves first so that in the long run, the U.S. will be in control of whatever energy is left. That may not actually be the case, but it almost seems that way. China and India, with nearly half the world’s population between them, are growing their middle classes as phenomenal rates, meaning their energy needs are growing at phenomenal rates too. Given that producing more oil than current rates is difficult at best, the growth of China and India will lead to ever increasing fuel prices unless other sources of energy are found or developed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in that the concern over global warming would be more quickly abated with higher fuel costs. However, higher fuel costs will have serious economic impacts on businesses and states around the globe.

Currently, relatively low fuel costs promote shipping of products around the globe. Fruit grown in South America can be shipped to Europe for sale and clothing in China is shipped to the U.S. every day. However, if fuel prices are going to rise, the prospect of shipping internationally will become much more expensive and will seriously change the business models of several firms that have globalized.

Other potential effects have to do with the stability of energy supplies that are exported/imported around the world. Political unrest in parts of the world means that energy prices increase with increased political volatility. Therefore there is a direct economic cost to businesses worldwide when political unrest and terrorism exist. It would seem that there would be a viable business case for businesses to team together and pass legislation in states around the world that promote peace. More on this later when we discuss the future balance of power in the world.

Tune in Monday for Part 14 of SEatWtC!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

SEatWtC Part 12: Energy Policy of Russia

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

Energy Policy of Russia

According to online sources, “the Energy policy of Russia is contained in an Energy Strategy document, which sets out policy for the period up to 2020. In 2000, the Russian government approved the main provisions of the Russian energy strategy to 2020, and in 2003 the new Russian energy strategy was confirmed by the government. The Energy Strategy document outlines several main priorities: an increase in energy efficiency, reduced impact on environment, sustainable development, energy development and technological development, as well as an improved effectiveness and competitiveness.

Russia, one of the world's two energy superpowers, is rich in natural energy resources. It has the largest known natural gas reserves of any state on earth, along with the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest oil reserves. Russia is the world fourth largest electricity producer after the USA, China, and Japan. Russia is the world’s leading net energy exporter, and a major supplier to the European Union.

Renewable energy in Russia is largely undeveloped although there is considerable potential for renewable energy use. Geothermal energy, which is used for heating and electricity production in some regions of the Northern Caucasus, and the Far East, is the most developed renewable energy source in Russia.

On July 2008 Russia's president signed a law allowing the government to allocate strategic oil and gas deposits on the continental shelf without auctions.”[8]


Tune in tomorrow for Part 13 of SEatWtC!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

SEatWtC Part 11: Energy Policy of the European Union

The European Union
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
The European Union

Energy Policy of the European Union

According to online sources, “the European Union has legislated in the area of energy policy for many years, and evolved out of the European Coal and Steel Community, the concept of introducing a mandatory and comprehensive European energy policy was only approved at the meeting of the European Council on October 27, 2005 in London.

The EU currently imports 82% of its oil and 57% of its gas, making it the world's leading importer of these fuels. Only 3% of the uranium used in European nuclear reactors was mined in Europe. Russia, Canada, Australia and Niger were the largest suppliers of nuclear materials to the EU, supplying more than 75% of the total needs in 2007

France has made a common energy and environment policy by the end of the year the top priority of its six-month 2008 presidency of the European Union.”[7]


Tune in tomorrow for Part 12 of SEatWtC!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

SEatWtC Part 10: Energy Policy of China

The People's Republic of China
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
The People's Republic of China

Energy Policy of China

According to online sources, “China has been taking action on climate change for some years, [and] with the publication on Monday 4 June 2007 of China's first National Action Plan on Climate Change, China became the first developing country to publish a national strategy addressing global warming. The plan does not include targets for carbon dioxide emission reductions, but it has been estimated that, if fully implemented, China's annual emissions of greenhouse gases would be reduced by 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2010, although other commentators put the figure at 0.950 billion metric tons.

Publication was officially announced during a meeting of the State Council, which called on governments and all sectors of the economy to implement the plan, and for the launch of a public environmental protection awareness campaign.

The National Action Plan includes increasing the proportion of electricity generation from renewable energy sources and from nuclear power, increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power stations the use of cogeneration, and the development of coal-bed and coal-mine methane.

In addition, the one child policy in China has successfully slowed down the population increase, preventing 300 million births, which is equal to 1.3 billion tons of CO2 emission based on average world per capita emissions of 4.2 tons at 2005 level.” [6]


Tune in tomorrow for Part 11 of SEatWtC!

Monday, May 4, 2009

SEatWtC Part 9: Energy Policy of the United States

The United States
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
The United States

Energy Policy of the United States

According to online sources, “The energy policy of the United States is determined by federal, state and local public entities in the United States, which address issues of energy production, distribution, and consumption, such as building codes and gas mileage standards. Energy policy may include legislation, international treaties, subsidies and incentives to investment, guidelines for energy conservation, taxation and other public policy techniques. Several mandates have been proposed over the years, such as gasoline will never exceed $1.00/gallon (Nixon), and the United States will never again import as much oil as it did in 1977 (Carter), but no comprehensive long-term energy policy has been proposed, although there has been concern over this failure. Three Energy Policy Acts have been passed, in 1992, 2005, and 2007, which include many provisions for conservation, such as the Energy Star program, and energy development, with grants and tax incentives for both renewable and non-renewable energy. State-specific energy-efficiency incentive programs also play a significant role in the overall energy policy of the United States.

The United States has resisted endorsing the Kyoto Protocol, preferring to let the market drive CO2 reductions to mitigate global warming, which will require CO2 emission taxation. Multiple 2008 U.S. Presidential candidates have published aggressive energy policy platforms, and some propose carbon emission taxation, which could help encourage more clean, renewable, sustainable energy development.”


Tune in tomorrow for Part 10 of SEatWtC!

Friday, May 1, 2009

SEatWtC Part 8: National Energy Policies

The 'Solar Two' 10MW solar power facility
Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Three energy sources. Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons,

National Energy Policies

As aforementioned, Energy policies around the world vary as much as the world’s cultures. What is important to one country may not be as important to the citizens of another country. The policies below are simply snapshot overviews of the broad initiatives of several of the world’s largest economies and populaces.

Tune in Monday for Part 9 of SEatWtC!