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On Calibrating Solar Energy's Growth Potential

Roger,

You've made a good argument for space solar power (SPS), which entails placing the PV array above the atmosphere in an orbit that allows either more predictable output or, in the case of geosynchronous, 24/7 output. All this requires is launch costs falling by an order of magnitude or two (I haven't seen current numbers on this in a few years.)

Otherwise, the latest "Tracking the Sun" report just out Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory indicates US utility-scale PV is now $3/W installed (£1.86/W) while home rooftop PV is around $4.70/W (£2.91/W). A far cry indeed from 35p. The Germans seem to do better on installation (balance of system) costs, but then they'd have to wring out all the cost they can, given the low insolation there.

October 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply?

Please delete duplicate.

October 3, 2014    View Comment    

On Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply?

Willem,

As I think you'd agree from numerous other comments you've posted on TEC, a major reason the cost of that incremental RE was so high was that so much of it was installed in unsuitable places: e.g., over $100 B worth of PV in Germany with an average capacity factor of 10% or less (i.e. average annual generation 1/10th of nameplate capacity) or wind turbines in locations with less than excellent resources, driven by poorly-targeted subsidies.

And think about your $2 T figure in terms of the debt that concerns Gail so much in this post. Unlike fossil fuel development, which includes a large component of cash from operations, RE depends mainly on debt, both direct and indirect. Many projects are heavily financed with modest equity--fairly typical for power projects in general--but they also include large components of government subsidies which in cases like the US are funded largely (I would argue entirely, as low-priority federal or state spending compared to other categories) by government borrowing.

October 3, 2014    View Comment    

On Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply?

Gail,

Among other things, your analysis seems to ignore the cyclical nature of oil and gas prices. Even if your assumptions about low prices and growing debt burdens proved true, shrinking future production, that very shrinkage would boost prices again, especially in a world in which billions remain under-served for energy. That would fuel a new wave of investment and, since knowledge of shale deposits and horizontal drilling/hydraulic fracturing knowhow won't disappear--even if some companies did--inevitably boost production again, perhaps even more quickly than in the most recent cycle.

And while high oil prices haven't helped renewables and EVs as much as policy has, plummeting oil prices would surely hurt them. How many people would pay up for an EV or even a hybrid if they thought $2 gasoline was in prospect again (last seen in the US in 2009)?

October 2, 2014    View Comment    

On Exporting US Oil to Mexico

Your figures assume this is a zero-sum game, which it at least has the potential not to be. An exchange between the US and Mexico wouldn't alter net imports unless easing the logjam of light sweet crude on the Gulf Coast resulted in more US production, which isn't out of the question. (That's also the main pathway for exports to reduce global oil prices, by adding to net global supply.)

However, even if none f that happened, oil swaps with Mexico could benefit the US economy if Mexican refiners value US light crude more than US refineries--which are mainly configured to extract the most value from heavy crude--do.

September 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Exporting US Oil to Mexico

Mr Brown,

The figures I have seen suggest that less than half the liquids output of the Eagle Ford shale is condensate. That leaves plenty of light crude oil production to meet the needs of refineries, including those in Mexico.

Certainly US refineries still rely on net imports. However, if you would examine the sources and types of crude oil still being imported, they are dominated by sour and/or heavy grades from Mexico, Venezuela and the Middle East. Imports of light sweet crudes from Nigeria, Angola and the North Sea have shrunk dramatically as domestic shale production ramped up.

In light of those facts, I'm not sure I undestand your objections to exchanges of US light sweet crude for Mexican heavy.

September 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Bakken Shale Gas Flaring Highlights Global Problem

Bob, It's always interesting how differently people can see the same thing. I look at ND flaring and see $$s and the equivalent of 2,000 MW going up in flames; you see a reminder of the price we pay for our high-energy economy. If it makes you feel better, technology is making it harder to leak CH4 without being noticed: http://blogs.nature.com/news/2014/07/google-maps-methane-leaks.html 

August 5, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA's CO2 Rule and the Back Door to Cap & Trade

Looks like the current level of the BC carbon tax works out to about USD 0.24 per gallon of gasoline (~5% of retail pump price), $0.27/gal. for diesel. Gas & coal less and more, respectively.

More info on the carbon tax can be found at: http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/tbs/tp/climate/carbon_tax.htm

I may have missed this at the time because it was implemented in parallel with province-wide cap & trade:

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cas/mitigation/ggrcta/

July 2, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA's CO2 Rule and the Back Door to Cap & Trade

If it imposed a tax at the border, it might solve the offshoring problem, but it would make the US economy less competitive against anyone else not doing the same thing. Can't solve a global problem without global solutions.

July 1, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA's CO2 Rule and the Back Door to Cap & Trade

Thanks, Bob. I apparently missed the details of the BC approach and assumed it was more like what was proposed here in 2009. Will have to look into that further.

The fallacy I see with "fee and dividend" is that most emissions occur not at the source, but during consumption. The net effect would be to offshore production, putting us back in the pickle we were in a few years ago with steadily increasing dependence on imports. Unless you change demand, the fee would work like a supply shock. That's why truly cost-competitive alternatives are so essential.

July 1, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA's CO2 Rule and the Back Door to Cap & Trade

Bob, I understand the economic arguments for the policy. I wasn't aware it actually been implemented and "proven effective at reducing carbon emissions". Where? And as simple as it looks, I'm sure politicians could find some way to game it, though not without wrecking the features that make it attractive.

I've gradually become less convinced of the practicality of such policies, as long as global energy demand behaves as you have suggested: any energy produced will be used. How does even California's emissions performance look when we include the embedded carbon in its imports? That's why I find the case for innovation compelling. Push only gets us so far; we need pull. Until we have alternatives that are truly better/cheaper/cleaner than hydrocarbons (without large net subsidies) it's likely to be very disruptive and expensive to decarbonize more than incrementally on a global basis.

July 1, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA's New CO2 Rules Create Opportunities for Natural Gas, for Now

Brian,

I've read every word of the UT study, and from my training and experience believe I understand them. They certainly identified areas for improvement--leaks that could be remedied and likely for a profit or at least low net cost. However, unlike virtually every study pointed to by opponents of fracking, this one examined real wells, up close, during the various phases of completion and operation. That means that unlike all the overflights with model-based interpretations, very few assumptions were needed, and most of those were verifiable.

Of course it's true the producers agreed to participate, so the study wouldn't include those with anything to hide. But the ones that did participate are among the largest shale gas developers in the business, including Anadarko, Encana, Pioneer and XTO (ExxonMobil). The numbers speak for themselves. This wasn't a snapshot view of a few wells, but a detailed look at 190 sites, including "Measurements of active equipment at 150 production sites with 489 wells, 27 well completion flowbacks, nine well unloadings and four well workovers were included in the study." No other study I'm aware of has a sample size within an order of magnitude of this one.

July 1, 2014    View Comment