The festive season is over, so this week it’s back to OPEC, who are claiming that the current turmoil in the oil market is everybody else’s fault:
When OPEC blames everyone else for a glut that’s sent oil prices to the lowest in 5 1/2 years, it’s not without some merit. The chart of the day shows crude production in the U.S. increased 75 percent over the past 5 years while output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries grew 5 percent. Canada boosted supplies by 42 percent while Brazil pumped 24 percent more, according to data from New York-based Energy Intelligence Group. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al Naimi has asked why he should be responsible for cutting output while U.A.E. Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said non-OPEC producers should reduce “irresponsible” production.
A mixed bag below the fold, including more on OPEC, grid batteries for solar & wind, a new Integral Molten Salt Reactor, climate change displacing millions of people, threatening mass extinctions and forcing us to leave 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves in the ground, the Earth’s flipping magnetic field, coal strike in India threatens blackouts, market traders say UK has plenty of spare capacity, outrage in West Virginia that climate change will no longer be taught as a “foregone conclusion” in schools and the National Grid under constant cyberattack.
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Oversupply in crude markets could take months or even years to fix depending on when producers outside OPEC cut their output, Abu Dhabi-based The National reported, citing comments by U.A.E. Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei. “Depending on the actual production growth from non-OPEC countries, this problem could take months or even years,” the U.A.E.’s Mazrouei was quoted as saying in The National, referring to oversupply. “If they act rationally, we can see positive corrections during 2015.”
Iran and Venezuela vowed Saturday to work together to stabilize falling global oil prices as Iran’s supreme leader accused “enemies” of using crude prices as a political weapon. With Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by his side, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged OPEC members to “neutralize schemes by some powers against OPEC and help stabilize an acceptable oil price in 2015.” Maduro also called for OPEC’s cooperation in stabilizing oil prices. “We are making efforts to create a consensus among OPEC members and other oil-producing states, including Russia, to cooperate and use novel mechanisms to reverse the oil price to an acceptable level,” Maduro was quoted by Iranian state television as saying.
For all the talk of championing domestic oil reserves and becoming self-sufficient, it all comes down to money and North Americans and Europeans will always buy cheaper foreign oil over more expensive domestic supplies. For environmentalists this means that fracking, shale oil and expensive ocean-drilling cannot compete. The respite will not be permanent. At some point even Middle Eastern and other OPEC supplies will be diminished and demand will lure the investors back to the Tar Sands and fracking. However until then OPEC can control the situation by raising prices when their opposition is forced to shut down and by lowering prices when their opposition tries to recover. What this means is more time can be bought to develop alternatives like solar, which is now entering a new sophisticated stage of technological development. OPEC is not a friend to environmentalists, but for environmentalists it is a classic case of a divide and conquer strategy with the enemies of our enemies being our friends, at least temporarily.
Washington Times: House approves Keystone pipeline
The Keystone XL pipeline cleared its first hurdle of the new Congress on Friday when the House voted to approve construction of the long-stalled project, just hours after a court in Nebraska cleared a final legal hurdle there. The 266-153 vote saw 28 Democrats side with the GOP in backing the pipeline, signaling significant though not overwhelming support for the controversial project that would carry crude oil from Canada into the U.S. for refinement. The House has approved Keystone before, but the project has stalled in the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats. The GOP took control this week, however, and is speeding its own bill through its chamber, with an early test-vote slated for Monday. President Obama has already vowed a veto, and the vote signals there are probably not enough votes to override him if he does follow through.
“It is time for coal workers to do or die,” a veteran union leader declared on Jan. 6, as some 500,000 Indian coal workers launched a massive, five-day strike that has already cut coal production by more than half—and pushed India’s power sector to the brink of a crisis. On the first day of the strike, production and dispatches at Coal India Limited (CIL)—the state-run mining company that supplies about 80% of India’s total coal requirement—fell by about 60%, a company official tells Quartz, with operations stopped at more than half of the miner’s production units. Unless the government and leaders from the five different trade unions—who have come together in a rare show of unity—can hammer out a solution quickly, the impact of the strike could include power cuts and blackouts for Indian homes and businesses.
World Nuclear News: Ireland needs to consider nuclear option, says minister
Alex White, energy minister for the Republic of Ireland, has said that nuclear power ought to be considered in a debate on the country’s future energy needs. “I have the view that if you’re having a serious debate about energy, you cannot exclude nuclear,” White told the Irish Independent in an interview published on 31 December 2014. “We have a dependence on damaging carbon-based energy sources which are effectively destroying the planet. You cannot preside over a full debate by excluding anything.”
Argus Media: UK to lobby for softer EU control on climate targets
The UK favours light, bilateral monitoring of EU member states’ progress towards meeting their 2030 energy and climate goals rather than strict oversight by Brussels, according to a leaked position paper seen by Argus. The non-paper, drafted jointly with the Czech Republic, sets out the two countries’ views on the best governance structure to help the EU meet its 2030 climate and energy goals, with a view to achieving energy security and a single energy market. The UK-Czech paper calls on the commission to develop a governance structure that is “light touch and non-legislative so as to respect member state flexibility over its choice of measures and technologies.” The system should focus on the EU’s collective progress towards its energy goals and assess the coherence of measures to deliver them, rather than focusing on details of implementation at a national level, which will necessarily differ, it suggests.
Utility week: Big six set to clash with chancellor over price cut call
Energy companies are on a collision course with the Treasury after refusing to announce price cuts in response to falling wholesale costs, despite calls from the chancellor for them to “immediately” pass on savings to customers. Npower said it has “no plans at the moment” to reduce its energy tariffs although it monitors wholesale prices to ensure it offers “fair value to customers”, while the other major energy suppliers also failed to respond to calls made yesterday by George Osborne to pass on the lower costs.
Traders on the UK wholesale electricity market have waved away concerns of a potential squeeze on capacity margins over the next few years, following a month of record falls on seasonal power products instigated by plummeting prices on European and world fuels markets. The losses have occurred in spite of previous analysis by the transmission system operator National Grid and energy regulator Ofgem that the UK would be entering a period of increased threats to security of supply. “I think there’s plenty of capacity – no real issue there,” said a trader from an energy management company.
UK CCS Research Centre: More DECC funding for North Sea Carbon Capture & Storage
DECC has made up to £2.5m funding available to deliver a new CCS project to identify the next phase of CO2 storage sites in the North Sea. The £2.5m is new funding from DECC’s Innovation Fund and will be delivered by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). This project will build on the UK’s potential for storage in the North and Irish Seas to make it into a reality and keep us at the forefront of developing CCS.
Most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground if dangerous global warming is to be avoided, modelling work suggests. Over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are “unburnable” under the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2C, say scientists. “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said lead researcher Dr Christophe McGlade, of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources. “Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.”
Projections by leading climate scientists of rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods and droughts linked to global warming are likely to oblige millions of people to move out of harm’s way, with some never able to return. “Natural disasters displace three to 10 times more people than all conflicts and war in the world combined,” said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council which runs the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva. IDMC data show that 22 million people were displaced by extreme events in 2013, led by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, three times more than the number displaced by conflicts. In many other years, the ratio was much wider. In the early 1970s, the total number of people displaced was only about 10 million. Extreme events also include earthquakes and tsunamis, unrelated to the weather. “Many more people in a growing population live more exposed to more extreme weather,” Egeland told a conference in Oslo about migration and climate change.
Canadian climate refugee camp in Florida (photo credit Toronto Star)
The world is losing dozens of species every day in what experts are calling the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. As many as 30 to 50 percent of all species are moving toward extinction by mid-century — and the blame sits squarely on our shoulders. “Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.”
The Earth’s magnetic field, which protects us from potentially dangerous solar radiation, is gradually losing its stability. Now the most detailed analysis of the geological evidence to date suggests that the field really is slowly destabilising. Whereas in the distant past it reversed direction every 5 million years, it now does so every 200,000 years.
Economic Times India: Scientists say fears of man-made global warming exaggerated
Two of three scientists at a session on climate change and society at the Indian Science Congress on Tuesday felt fears of man-made global warming were greatly exaggerated. “Climate change is a natural phenomenon while pollution is caused by man. We are definitely accelerating the process of climate change, but we cannot predict the rate or extent of climate change that can be attributed to man,” Singh said. According to him, fears of climate change amount to propaganda and “unnecessarily cause panic”.
After a public outcry, West Virginia’s Board of Education will review its new climate science standards. A member of the state board of education requested last year that alterations be made to a blueprint of new science standards, suggesting in particular that climate change not be treated as a “foregone conclusion.” After the state Department of Education drafted those changes and made the standards available for public comment, the SBOE voted in December to officially adopt them. The original standards asked students to assess the reasons for the rise in global temperatures over the past century. The new version, however, asks students to assess the “rise and fall” in global temperatures. Additionally, while the original standards asked students to use data to make an “evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change,” the new standards ask students to assess the credibility of “geoscience data and the predictions made by computer climate models…for predicting future impacts on the Earth System.”
Forbes: Nuclear Power Turns To Salt
The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is partnering with Canadian nuclear company Terrestrial Energy Inc. to assist with TEI’s new Integral Molten Salt Reactor. The reactor should come online in less than ten years. Think of it: a nuclear reactor that is cheaper than coal, creates much less waste and few long-lived radioactive elements, uses almost all of the fuel which lasts 7 years between replacement and can be recycled easily, is modular, from 80 MWt to 600 MWt, is small enough to allow fast and easy construction, and trucking to the site, operates at normal pressures and at higher temperatures making it more energetically efficient, has the type of passive safety systems that make it walk-away safe, does not need external water for cooling, can load-follow rapidly to buffer the intermittency of renewables and can last for many decades. Now that is different!
Technology Review: Grid Batteries for Wind, Solar Find First Customers
Several new types of battery, each capable of cost-effectively storing the energy output from a wind or solar farm, are finally being hooked up to power grids. The so-called grid batteries could lower the cost of renewable energy by eliminating the intermittency problem that arises when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. On Wednesday, Aquion Energy, a Pittsburgh-based startup that makes one such battery, announced that the technology will allow a small electricity grid in Hawaii to run around the clock on solar power. Conventional batteries would be too expensive or unreliable to use for grid-scale storage. The new batteries coming online use materials and manufacturing processes that not only lower costs but should also allow them to last for decades.
National Geographic: Ten energy breakthroughs of 2014 that could change your life
From a new kind of light bulb to a carbon-removing power plant, a dazzling array of new technologies that promise to save energy and help fight global warming debuted this year. (Viewer warning: contains CCS).
Bloomberg: National Grid under constant hack attack
The U.K. government is one step ahead of hackers trying to turn off the country’s lights — for now. The prospect of cyber-attacks on the nation’s power network is a major threat to the country’s security, according to James Arbuthnot, a member of parliament who chaired the Defense Select Committee until last year. He plans to visit National Grid Plc (NG/) next month to discuss the issue. “Our National Grid is coming under cyber-attack not just day-by-day but minute-by-minute,” Arbuthnot, whose committee scrutinized the country’s security policy, told a conference in London last year. “There are, at National Grid, people of very high quality who recognize the risks that these attacks pose, and who are fighting them off,” he said, “but we can’t expect them to win forever.”
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