Nuclear energy is suddenly fashionable -- as new companies are looking to supplant the world's large, uranium-fueled nuclear reactors with kinds that use different fuels and coolants or perhaps even replace fission with fusion.
Two weeks ago, Martingale Inc. unveiled its plans for a molten-salt reactor. Last summer, LPP Fusion raised $180,000 on IndieGoGo to finance some of its research. And these two companies are competing with half a dozen other innovators -- some with deep-pocketed backers.
While making a list of my personal goals for 2015, I began thinking about the major energy stories of 2014 as well as the issues that are likely to dominate the headlines this year. There’s no doubt that the plunging price of oil was the biggest energy story of last year. And oil prices — as always — will dominate the economic and political news in 2015. Herewith, my list of three big stories from last year as well as four issues to watch for over the next 12 months.
Oil prices are falling, OPEC is in shambles, and the latest round of climate-change talks (the ones in Lima) once again failed to achieve much of anything.
But for all the headlines about oil prices and climate change, the most important energy story -- indeed, the energy story of the last four decades – has been the growth in global coal demand. Last Monday, the day after the climate talks in Peru concluded, the International Energy Agency released its annual report on the coal market. Their findings: global coal prices are falling and coal demand is rising.
Amid the many explanations offered by New York governor Andrew Cuomo and his various lieutenants about their reasons for imposing a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing in the state, one of them made me laugh out loud.
“We lack the necessary data,” said New York’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker. I’ll discuss why that claim made me chuckle in just a moment. Before turning to that, let’s be clear: Cuomo’s decision is not surprising, and it’s not very significant either.
If anyone needed proof that subsidy-dependent businesses will always seek more subsidies, look no further than the U.S. wind industry. On Wednesday, the wind sector won a vote in the House on a tax bill that includes a one-year extension of the production tax credit (PTC), which gives wind companies 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity they produce. The companies can collect that subsidy for a decade after they are deemed eligible.
Tomorrow in Vienna, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet once again to jawbone about oil prices.
But here’s the reality: OPEC is no longer a price maker, it’s a price taker. The price of oil is no longer being set by the cartel, it’s being set by U.S. drilling companies producing oil from shale deposits. And those drillers are thriving largely because of three key advantages, ones that I call the three Rs: rigs, rednecks, and rights.
When viewed as a political grudge match, the ongoing battle over the Keystone XL pipeline remains one of the hottest fights in Washington. Proof of that can be seen by looking at yesterday’s vote in the Senate on the project, which failed to get the 60 votes needed for filibuster-proof passage.
Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian academic who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recently declared that we have "the means to limit climate change" and that "all we need is the will to change."
That's a rather glib statement given that just five years ago, Pachauri was lamenting the fact that so many of his fellow Indians were living in dire energy poverty. In July 2009, Pachauri asked reporters "Can you imagine 400 million people who do not have a light bulb in their homes?" He continued, saying "with the resources of coal that India has, we really don't have any choice but to use coal."
Demonize coal. Keep the poor in the dark. And, above all, keep pushing the fantasy that U.S. government action (with or without the approval of Congress) is essential to dealing with climate change.
That — in a nutshell — is the climate-change strategy of the Obama administration and its environmentalist allies.
It has been a curious experience to watch the news about the “largest climate march in history” from Japan. There weren’t any marches here in Tokyo. Indeed, 350.org, the group that was a lead organizer of the march in New York City, doesn’t even appear to have a presence in Japan.
Solar energy appears to finally be coming of age.
In July, Bloomberg New Energy Finance declared that we are in the midst of a "solar revolution" and the firm predicted that solar will be the fastest-growing form of global generation capacity through 2030. A few days after that report was released, Deutsche Bank announced plans to lend $1 billion to support solar deployment in Japan.
Energy policies are faddish. From the energy-independence moonshine of the corn-ethanol scam to the latest 645-page slate of regulations the EPA wants to inflict on the domestic electricity-generation sector, the supposed threats have varied.
Back in the 1970s, the claim was that we were too dependent on Arab oil (a claim that we continue to hear today). These days, in addition to the never-ending blather about “energy independence,” we have the spurious claim from the Obama administration that yet another layer of EPA rules on U.S. industry will make a dramatic difference when it comes to global climate change.
When it comes to the issue of climate change, it’s easy to bash the United States. Yes, the U.S. emits a lot of carbon dioxide — about 5.9 billion tons in 2013 alone, second only to China’s 9.5 billion tons.
But it’s also easy to overlook this fact: The U.S. is leading the world in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions. And those reductions are largely due to the innovation that is happening not in green energy, but in the oil and gas sector’s ability to produce hydrocarbons from shale deposits.
Rasheed Wallace gained notoriety during his 16-season NBA career for being a hot-headed power forward. If called for a foul (or, as was often the case with him, a technical foul) that he thought was undeserved, and the opposing team missed the ensuing free-throw attempts, Wallace would often holler, “ball don’t lie,” as if the basketball itself was pronouncing judgment on the ref’s call.
In April, at a conference in San Antonio, an official from ConocoPhillips made an aggressive prediction: he said that by the end of 2014, oil production in Texas could hit 3.4 million barrels per day. That figure seems inflated given that the latest data from the Texas Railroad Commission shows that in March, oil production was about 2 million barrels per day.
Facebook’s initial public offering was all about superlatives. The May 2012 event was the largest-ever IPO for a US technology company and the third-largest in US history. It marked, or so the hype claimed, the coming of age for social media companies. But amid the hype over the company’s stock price, revenues, and growth potential, the media paid almost no attention to the vast quantities of electricity that Facebook and other tech companies need to operate their business.
On July 1, Alan Mulally will retire as CEO of Ford Motor Co. And when he cleans out his office in Dearborn, Mulally will leave behind him one of the most remarkable comeback stories in US industrial history.
The former Boeing executive took over Ford in 2006 and mortgaged it to the hilt, borrowing $23 billion. Doing so helped avoid bankruptcy and finance a company-wide overhaul. By late 2008, Ford’s stock was selling for as little as $1.39. But Mulally stuck to his knitting. In 2013, the company’s profits hit $7.2 billion and today, Ford stock sells for about $16 per share.
In the wake of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, it may sound odd to say so, but here goes: The prospects for nuclear energy have never been brighter.
Reactor technology is improving fast, the nuclear sector is getting significant private-sector investment, and mainstream environmentalists are embracing nuclear like never before. To be clear, nuclear faces many challenges -- it’s too expensive and there are too many old plants -- but with the right policies in place, nuclear should become more affordable and safer over the coming decades.
Many critiques have been written about the foolishness of America’s mandates and subsidies for biofuels. But the most savage was almost certainly published last year in the Strategic Studies Quarterly, a U.S. Air Force journal, by Ike Kiefer, who launched this barrage:
Imagine if the U.S. military developed a weapon that could threaten millions around the world with hunger, accelerate global warming, incite widespread instability and revolution, provide our competitors and enemies with cheaper energy, and reduce America’s economy to a permanent state of recession. What would be the sense and the morality of employing such a weapon? We are already building that weapon -- it is our biofuels program.
In January 2011, during his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama called oil “yesterday’s energy.” Here’s the reality: Oil has been “yesterday’s energy” for more than a century. And yet, it persists -- because of continuing innovation that allows drillers to produce more oil and gas faster and more cheaply than ever before.
The shale revolution has fundamentally changed the American energy scene. Over the last five years or so, domestic production of oil and gas have soared. And some analysts are claiming that the US oil production could soon surpass that of Saudi Arabia.
The Obama administration is gambling “recklessly” with America’s bald and golden eagles.
That’s the claim of the American Bird Conservancy, which on Thursday announced its intent to sue the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service over the agencies’ plan to grant wind-energy companies permits to kill eagles for up to 30 years.
Solar energy can solve global warming. That’s what Paul Krugman claims in his April 18 column in the New York Times, “Salvation Gets Cheap.”
Krugman extolled “the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.” He used to dismiss the claim that renewable energy would be a major source of global energy “as hippie-dippy wishful thinking.” But now, he says, thanks to the falling price of renewable energy, the process of decarbonization can be accelerated and “drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.”
Some of America’s biggest and most influential environmental groups are not only out of touch with reality, they are actively promoting an agenda that would harm the security of the U.S. and its allies in Western Europe.
Last week, during the climate-change talkathon held by Senate Democrats, Al Franken of Minnesota said, “I rise to suggest that we in this body talk more about climate change so that we can agree on taking action to address it.” Franken’s fellow Democrats offered similar pleas. Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal described climate change as “implacable, relentless,” and said that “only we can stop it.” Hawaii’s BrianSchatz said, “Climate change is real, it is caused by humans, and it is solvable.”
The complaints about the South by Southwest Interactive conference have become as reliable as the blooming of the redbud trees that line Austin’s Lady Bird Lake.
Every spring, there are articles declaring that the event is, choose one of the following: “over,” “not a tech conference anymore,” suffering from “growing pains,” that it has “has lost its compass,” and that, well, it’s just too big. As a long-time Austin resident (nearly 30 years) I can verify that the last item on that list is true. Last year, more than 30,000 people attended SXSW Interactive. (Another 30,000 are in town for this year’s event.) The swarm of “digital creatives” who swarm the city during the five-day conference, along with the hordes who come for the SX film, music, and .edu events, choke the city. They snarl traffic, overwhelm the restaurants, crowd downtown sidewalks, and convert big swaths of the city into no-go zones.
For the U.S., Western Europe, and Ukraine, the best weapons in the ongoing power struggle with Russia won’t be bullets and tanks. They will be natural-gas wells and gas pipelines.
Indeed, amidst all the hand-wringing and speculation about how the U.S. and its European allies should respond to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the best non-military maneuver is obvious: They should launch a natural-gas-drilling campaign in Western Europe and Ukraine. And they should start immediately.