Converting Biodiesel Waste Into A Valuable Chemical to Clean the Environment

Interactions of nanoparticles with biological molecules are facilitated by ligands on nanoparticle surfaces. Rice University scientists discovered a palladium and gold nanocatalyst that is about 10 times faster at converting glycerol into high-value products than catalysts of either metal alone. Vectorised version of image from Journal of Nanobiotechnology, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

Interactions of nanoparticles with biological molecules are facilitated by ligands on nanoparticle surfaces. Rice University scientists discovered a palladium and gold nanocatalyst that is about 10 times faster at converting glycerol into high-value products than catalysts of either metal alone. Vectorised version of image from Journal of Nanobiotechnology, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

Using nano-particles as a catalyst could usher in a global market for industrial catalysts, projected to top $19 billion by 2016

A Rice University team of scientists is on the cusp of a potential breakthrough in chemistry. By using nanoparticles to convert biodiesel into an environmental cleaning agent Michael Wong and his team are at the cutting edge of 21st century scientific advances that synthesizes these disparate strands.

Through dozens of studies, Wong’s team focused on using the tiny metallic specks to break down carcinogenic and toxic compounds. But his latest study, which is available online and due for publication in an upcoming issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Chemical Science, examined whether palladium-gold nanocatalysts could convert glycerol, a waste byproduct of biodiesel production, into high-value chemicals.

In scientific parlance, the data from the study produced a “volcano plot,” a graph with a sharp spike that depicts a “Goldilocks effect,” a “just right” balance of palladium and gold that is faster — about 10 times faster — at converting glycerol than catalysts of either metal alone.

“We’ve now seen this volcano plot at least four times now, first with TCE, then with the dry cleaning contaminant ’perc,’ and more recently with chloroform and nitrites,” Wong said. “The remarkable thing is that the reaction, in each case, is very different.”

In previous studies, the nanocatalysts were used in reduction reactions, chemical processes marked by the addition of hydrogen. In the latest tests on glycerol conversion, the nanocatalysts spurred an oxidation reaction, which involves adding oxygen.

“Oxidation and reduction aren’t just dissimilar; they’re often thought of as being in opposite directions,” Wong said.

While catalysts don’t always take part in reactions they help speed up, in chemistry they do act as “matchmakers” by causing other compounds to react with one another, according to the story on Wong and his associates that ran in the Fort Bend Sun (Texas). The global market for industrial catalysts is projected to top $19 billion by 2016, the article said.

Palladium and gold — and mixtures of the two — have long been recognized as extremely effective catalysts. Among catalysts, gold is now valued because it doesn’t tarnish or oxidize, a process that can shorten a catalyst’s lifespan. Palladium is typically prized because it is especially good at binding and inducing molecules to reduce or oxidize. Wong and colleagues have demonstrated a way to bring these two metals together with better control. They build their catalysts on gold spheres that are about four nanometers in diameter. The spheres are partially covered with palladium, so that the particles’ surface contains some gold and some palladium.

Wong and colleagues have shown that covering 60-80 percent of the gold’s surface area with palladium typically produces the ideal catalyst — though the exact percentage varies for different reactions.

“Palladium by itself oxidizes, which is not good because it slows down the catalysis,” Rice graduate student and lead author Zhun Zhao said, a co-author with Wong. “We found that the gold in our catalysts helps stabilize the palladium and prevents it from degrading. The catalysts in our tests had extremely high durability. Our best catalyst produced a glycerol product with higher purity and in less time than anything else we found in the literature,” he said.

“Now that we understand how these work with glycerol, we can study reactions of other biomass molecules like glucose, a building block of plants,” Wong said.



Contrary to Conventional Wisdom — It’s The Friday Daily Energy News Dump

"Patent puffs to raise the wind or Dandy steam packets on contrary Jacks!" Print shows three men attempting to power their bicycles by means of flatulence, London 1819. An etching from the British Cartoon Prints Collection, via the U.S. Library of Congress, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

“Patent puffs to raise the wind or Dandy steam packets on contrary Jacks!” Print shows three men attempting to power their bicycles by means of flatulence, London 1819. An etching from the British Cartoon Prints Collection, via the U.S. Library of Congress, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

A Contrarian — And Much Worth Considering — Take On Solar Power

Is residential PV solar more trouble than it’s worth?

  • The electrons generated by residential PV solar systems are green, but the electric current they send to the grid is intermittent, unreliable and generally filthy.
  • Since residential PV solar system owners aren’t required to pay the hidden costs of intermittency abatement, their systems increase electricity costs for everybody else.
  • Preferential tariffs and net metering schemes compound the problem by under-charging residential PV solar owners for their utility’s infrastructure.
  • Investment tax credits for residential PV solar systems are patently unreasonable, because the future economic benefits of the investment aren’t taxed at all.
  • While regulatory structures, billing practices and tax regimes will change because they must change, grid-scale energy storage will be a crucial part of the solution.
Now there’s a man who doesn’t mind telling it the way he sees it. And you know, he may be right! What say you, who care about fairness above all?

Germany is headed for its biggest electricity glut since 2011 as new coal-fired plants start and generation of wind and solar energy increases, weighing on power prices that have already dropped for three years.

Utilities from RWE AG to EON SE are poised to bring units online from December that can supply 8.2 million homes, 20 percent of the nation’s total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That will increase spare capacity in Europe’s biggest power market to 17 percent of peak demand, say the four companies that operate the nation’s high-voltage grids. The benchmark German electricity contract has slumped 36 percent since the end of 2010.

The new coal plants are starting as Germany aims to almost double renewable-power generation over the next decade. Wind and solar output has priority grid access by law and floods the market on sunny and breezy days, curbing running hours for nuclear, coal and gas plants, and pushing power prices lower. The profit margin for eight utilities in Germany narrowed to 5.4 percent last year from 15 percent a decade ago.

“The new plants will run at current prices, but they won’t cover their costs,” Ricardo Klimaschka, a power trader at Energieunion GmbH who has bought and sold electricity for 14 years, said June 25 by e-mail from Schwerin, Germany. “The utilities will make much less money than originally thought with their new units because they counted on higher power prices.”


Giving It To ‘Em Good and Hard: EU Seen Curbing Coal Use By Quadrupling Carbon Price

Europe could coax utilities to shift from burning coal to cleaner natural gas by quadrupling the price that financial markets place on carbon dioxide emissions, the head of Spain’s biggest power generator said.

Ignacio Galan, chairman and chief executive officer of Iberdrola (IBE) SA, said European Union leaders should take steps to boost prices in the EU Emissions Trading System in addition to setting a target to reduce pollution by 40 percent by 2030.

“A carbon price of 20 to 30 euros is the right level for switching from coal to gas,” Galan said in an interview at Bloomberg’s office in London. Carbon has fallen by a third to less than 6 euros ($8.17) a metric ton since 2011 as slower economic growth reduced industrial production and the need to offset pollution.

The comments were meant to guide EU leaders as they negotiate targets to restrain emissions, part of an effort by more than 190 countries led by the United Nations to curb the gases blamed for global warming. Coal’s share of world energy demand rose to the highest level since 1970, making it the fastest-growing fossil fuel, the oil producer BP Plc (BP/) estimates.

Muddying the Waters: Norway Oil Engineers May Walk Off The Job Next Week

About 100 workers from oil services firms could walk off the job from July 5 if wage talks fail, the head of Norway’s biggest oil sector union said on Friday, a move that would not have an immediate impact on oil output.

However were such a strike to last for several weeks or longer, or if more workers were to join the action at a later stage, it could potentially affect production and even lead to shutdowns.
Several rounds of wage talks between energy firms and unions have taken place in Norway in recent weeks, with none of them resulting in industrial action after all sides accepted the outcome of state mediation.

Next up is mediation on July 4-5 between oil services workers represented by Industri Energi, the largest union for energy workers, and the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association, which represents employers.

If these talks fail, around 100 engineers from firms including Schlumberger and Halliburton, will go on strike, the head of Industri Energi said.

“These are mud engineers … It will have an impact on drilling,” Leif Sande told Reuters.

Related: More on Norway’s oil and gas industry here, from the archives of the Daily Energy Dump.

I’ll Drink to That: Bacardi in Puerto Rico Being Powered by the Wind

Bacardi, creator of the world’s favorite rum, generates energy with power from the wind. Installed in 2010, two majestic, wind turbines now are a distinct part of the landscape – and the environmental consciousness – at the world’s largest premium rum distillery in Catano, Puerto Rico, just outside San Juan.

“The wind turbine project is important for both Bacardi and Puerto Rico as it creates renewable energy,” says Magaly Feliciano, Environmental Health & Safety Manager for Bacardi Corporation in Puerto Rico. “The two industrial-scale turbines produce enough energy to power our visitor center, one of San Juan’s top tourist destinations,” [a press release said.]

The wind turbines generate approximately 1,000,000 kWh of electricity per year, providing three to seven percent of the power for Bacardi in Puerto Rico. To put these numbers into perspective, that’s enough electricity to run all tourism-related activities at the Casa BACARDI Visitor Center – equivalent to the energy that 100 households would consume on an annual basis. All of the power generated by the wind turbines is used onsite at the facility, resulting in an average carbon offset of more than 900 tons of CO2per year. […]

The two Bacardi wind turbines can be seen from miles away and are industrial scale at 250kW each. They are owned by Catano-based Aspenall Energies, which will sell the wind-produced electricity to Bacardi under a power-purchase agreement.  With their blades, the turbines stand 137 feet high and have a rotor diameter of 75 feet.

Filling the Void: Energy Transfer Partners Board Okays Bakken-Patoka Pipeline

Energy Transfer Partners LP has received approval from its board of directors to manufacture a roughly 1,100-mile pipeline (Bakken Pipeline). The publicly traded energy pipeline operator will transport crude oil from the oil producing region in the Bakken shale to Patoka, IL. Bakken Pipeline will thereafter join the partnership’s existing Trunkline Pipeline (Trunkline).  

Energy Transfer Partners added that the shippers will get the opportunity to access the Midwest and East Coast markets by transporting crude from Patoka via rail. The shippers can also use the Trunkline to carry crude to the Gulf Coast market and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP’s crude oil terminal at Nederland, TX.
The partnership’s plan to build the Bakken Pipeline stems from sufficient interest that shippers showed in transporting the produced crude oil from the Bakken shale to the multiple markets. The pipeline will be able to carry 320,000 barrels per day crude oil initially. Later on, Energy Transfer Partners will boost the capacity as per customer demand. The partnership expects the Bakken Pipeline to start operating by the latter half of 2016.

Dam This Hydropower: Dam Potential To Be Examined Near Philadelphia

Norristown, Montgomery County [Pa.] is exploring whether the Norristown Dam on the Schuylkill would support a hydroelectric power system.

A nationwide study by Oakridge National Laboratory identified the 869-foot-long, 12-foot-high dam as a potential hydroelectric site, estimating that it could generate 12 million kilowatts per year – enough to power 3,600 homes, said Ken Starr, county director of assets and infrastructure.

That Musky Smell: SolarCity Acquiring Start-Up, Silveo, to Build Solar Panels

SolarCity, the fast-growing provider of rooftop solar electricity systems, is moving into the panel manufacturing business, acquiring a start-up and planning to build one of the world’s largest module factories in Buffalo, executives said on Tuesday.

The move into manufacturing, a business that has proved deadly for many other upstart American solar companies, is intended to help the company bring the cost of the electricity it sells below that of fossil fuels, even after subsidies phase out.

To accomplish that goal, the company plans to pay at least $200 million in stock for Silevo, which makes high-efficiency panels at a low cost, executives said. It is also in talks with New York State officials to expand on a plant that Silevo was already planning.

“If we don’t do this, we felt there was a risk of not being able to have the solar panels we need to expand the business long term,” Elon Musk, SolarCity’s chairman and the chief executive of the electric carmaker Tesla, told investors in a conference call. “We’re seeing high-volume production of relatively basic panels but not high-volume production of advanced panels, so we think it’s important that the two be combined.”


“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” — Aristotle



Lifting Oil Export Ban May Be Boon For Dispirited Economy, Cover For Obama

A pumpjack doing its work in South Texas near the Eagle Ford shale play. Photo by Tony Cadwalader.

A pumpjack doing its work in South Texas near the Eagle Ford shale play. Photo by Tony Cadwalader.

Limited modified hangout by U.S. allows opening for oil exports

Perhaps it is a grudging concession by the Obama administration to allow a limited amount of united States oil to be exported, but a concession it is. On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would allow the exports as a result of a petition filed by two independent Texas oil companies, Pioneer Natural Resources, a Dallas-based oil and gas producer, and Enterprise Products Partners of Houston, one of the country’s biggest pipeline operators.

The ruling would allow the companies to export condensate and not heavy oil, an important distinction in refining terms. But the ability to finally export this lighter crude product should alleviate some of the built up reserves from America’s booming shale market. Condensate is the slightly refined product that has been stripped of gases to make it less volatile, a minimal level of processing known as stabilization. “Under current rules, companies can export refined fuel, such as gasoline and diesel, but not oil itself; the government’s new approach reportedly redefines some ultra-light oil as fuel after it has been minimally processed, making it eligible for sale abroad,” a Seeking Alpha brief on the decision said. The first shipments could be made as soon as August and could mean an outflow of as much as 3 million barrels per day.

The ruling loosens a 1975 ban — the Arab oil embargo — that came about because of the OPEC-influenced U.S. oil crisis from the early 1970s. Politically this is probably as far as Obama is willing to go for fear of angering his leftwing, the grass-root Democrats who do not like the oil and gas industry, and in turn angering big oil and its lobbying arm, which has always had a protectionist streak in it, and does not really appreciate the independent drillers. The one area the bigs have the most control is at the refineries, and that is the one place that would be hit the hardest by fully lifting the export ban.

That’s not to say that the big oil companies are hard core Democrats. None of the states at the center of the oil and gas revolution voted for Obama, save Pennsylvania, according to this analysis from December 2013.

Elections have consequences, and the U.S. oil industry backed the loser in 2012. Not only that but oil and gas producers allowed themselves to be painted as an arm of the Republican Party. By contrast, environmental groups and clean-energy companies were among the president’s most important supporters in terms of fundraising and mobilization on the ground. Environmental campaigners have therefore wielded immense influence over the White House throughout the president’s first and second terms.

They are unlikely to be sympathetic to permitting oil exports if it means more domestic oil production and more fracking. While many environmentalists, and the White House itself, have grudgingly embraced natural gas as a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, that enthusiasm is unlikely to extend to crude oil.

Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) argued “either U.S. crude is shipped abroad or it stays in the ground” But that is exactly what many environmental groups want.

That said, in an economy that is one quarter of bad numbers away from falling back into a recession, this stand does little to create new jobs. And the oil and gas boom has been a great provider of that. Indeed, export restrictions harm job growth in the oil industry, but they support thousands of jobs in the refining and petrochemical industries, many of which are unionized, and some of which are based in Democratic districts, the above linked article said. “So while the White House probably has the legal authority to lift the export ban, acting on its own if necessary, it is not a political priority for the president.”

Economically the decision has already shown in the markets where the distance between higher priced Brent Crude, which is linked to the world price of oil and gas, and its export-locked competitor West Texas Intermediate has narrowed. Bloomberg, citing Citigroup, estimates about 300,000 barrels a day of an ultra-light oil known as condensate could be exported by the end of the year. “In total 750,000 barrels a day of condensate is pumped from U.S. shale plays, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Exports would give U.S. producers access to niche markets in Asia and Latin America, while having only a small impact on the price domestic refiners pay for crude.”

The U.S. pumped 8.45 million barrels of oil a day in the week to June 20, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. The Eagle Ford shale produced 205,000 barrels a day of condensate in the first quarter, according to data from the Railroad Commission of Texas. Pioneer Natural Resources pumped about 29,000 barrels a day of oil and natural gas liquids from the formation over the same period, according to a presentation on the company’s website.

There is probably no greater student of the oil and gas industries than Daniel Yergin, the author of The Quest, and vice chairman of IHS, an analytics think tank. Coincidentally Yergin spoke on Tuesday of the economic benefits of lifting the export ban. In summary he said:

  • Natural gas production increased 27 percent between 2007 and 2013. Estimates of recoverable natural gas reserves have more than doubled since 2005. U.S. oil production has increased 3.3 million barrels per day since 2008 – a 66 percent increase. This increase alone is larger than the output of 11 of 12 OPEC countries.
  • By 2012, the unconventional natural gas and oil activity was already supporting more than 2.1 million jobs across a vast supply chain. About 60 percent of these jobs – 1.3 million – were from shale gas activity; the rest from tight oil.
  • By 2012, the unconventional natural gas and oil activity was already supporting more than 2.1 million jobs across a vast supply chain. About 60 percent of these jobs – 1.3 million – were from shale gas activity; the rest from tight oil.
  • The total number of jobs supported is expected to rise to 3.3 million by 2020 – with 1.8 of those jobs from shale gas.
  • In 2012, this revolution added $74 billion to federal and state government revenues. IHS projects the number to rise to about $125 billion by 2020. Between 2012 and 2035, unconventional activity is expected to generate nearly $1.6 trillion in cumulative government revenues. 

According to Yergin, the increase “has almost exactly balanced the amount of oil currently missing from the world market owing to disruptions in countries like Libya and Iraq and sanctions on Iran. In other words, the increase in U.S. oil production has compensated for loss of oil elsewhere. Without that increase, we would be looking at much higher oil prices than today.” 

That’s via Zero Hedge where Tyler Durden notes the issue is too politcal to move any further:

“In other words, the enormous growth in U.S. oil production has helped to displace imports, but only at marginally lower prices than imported oil would have commanded. Unlike the shale-gas revolution, the growth in shale-oil extraction hasn’t led to a big price drop.

“Allowing exports on a large scale under these conditions wouldn’t be a good idea. Pioneer, a small producer, and pipeline operator Enterprise Product Partners, which doesn’t have its own extraction operations, aren’t going to make much difference to the U.S. energy balance if they are allowed to sell some lightly processed condensate abroad. What is valuable to President Barack Obama’s administration is the public-relations effect of the rulings: The world will now know that the U.S. is an oil exporter for the first time since the 1970s. Europeans may take U.S. promises to help wean them off Russian hydrocarbons a bit more seriously. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia will keep in mind the threat of U.S. pressure on global oil prices.”

Study: Solar Panel Costs Likely To Rise Sharply In U.S. By 14% Because Of Tariff War

The American and Chinese flags stand at center table before a meeting between U.S. and Chinese delegates for a meeting at the Pentagon, from Aug. 23, 2012. This Image was released by the United States Department of Defense. Photo by Glenn Fawcett, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

The American and Chinese flags stand at center table before a meeting between U.S. and Chinese delegates for a meeting at the Pentagon, from Aug. 23, 2012. This Image was released by the United States Department of Defense. Photo by Glenn Fawcett, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

The downside to the U.S.-China solar tariff tiff is higher prices for American consumers

According to a recently released study by GTM Research, a clean-energy research firm, U.S. consumers of Chinese-mannufactured solar cells should see prices go up by some 14 percent. GreenTechMedia’s Mike Munsell said in an article summarizing the study that U.S. Department of Commerce’s June 4, tariff announcement will likely cause “Chinese suppliers to increase prices for delivery in the U.S. and consider a number of different value chain strategies.”

If the eventual margins, including both the countervailing duty and antidumping components, exceed the preliminary countervailing duty margins of 27 percent on average, suppliers are unlikely to preserve their previous shipment strategies. GTM Research expects that some suppliers will elect to ship all-China products into the U.S. and pay the under-order import tariffs imposed in the 2012 solar trade case, while others will sell via internal or OEM manufacturing in locations such as India, South Korea, Poland or Mexico.

GTM Research identifies and evaluates four individual strategies and their likely adopters. The price impact of these strategies ranges from 7 percent to 20 percent, but the most affordable strategies are not available to all companies. GTM Research anticipates an average overall price increase of 14 percent on modules shipped into the U.S. by Chinese suppliers.

Cheap Chinese-made solar panels have largely undercut American-made solar cells, and have driven the boom in residential solar installations. As reported here at the Daily Energy Dump, in early June the Department of Commerce imposed newer and steeper anti-subsidies tariffs on Chinese solar panels, ramping up a trade war between the two countries that is now well into its third year.  which have fueled the boom in residential solar-power systems. 

The U.S. installed 1,330 megawatts of solar photovoltaics in the first three months of 2014. (See above link.) China is both the world’s largest supplier of and the largest market for renewable energy technologies, according to the United States Department of Commerce International Trade Administration.

A Marketwatch story by Claudia Assis today said, Chinese companies supplied a third of the modules installed in the U.S. last year, and more than half of the modules used in residential systems. Now those looking to install solar module will likely see their costs go much higher.

Prices for Chinese modules shipped to the U.S. are “highly likely” to increase starting in July, the consultants said. “Consequently, the primary competitive advantage of Chinese suppliers in the U.S. market – lower pricing by as much as 25% historically – could be greatly diminished,” they said.

With the Chinese companies’ likely retreat, beneficiaries will include Norway’s REC Solar ASA, one of the largest European PV makers, and LG Solar, which cater to the residential market, and First Solar Inc. in the utility market, GTM Research said.

Shares of First Solar retreated 1.6% on Thursday, approaching the end of the week with gains of 6.4%. First Solar shares have advanced 54% in the past 12 months, and lost 1.2% in the last three months.

Assis noted the repercussions are already beign felt on Wall Street where among Chinese-based PV makers, U.S.-listed shares of Chinese-based photovoltaic maker JA Solar Holdings Co. were off 3.5 percent, while Trina Solar Ltd.’s U.S.-listed shares declined 2.4 percent. U.S.-listed shares of Yingli Green Energy Holding  fell 1.8 percent.

Shares of SunPower Corp., which also emerged as a beneficiary when the tariffs were announced, were down 0.9% on Thursday. In the past 12 months, SunPower shares have gained 110%, and advanced 22% in the last three months.

SolarCity Corp. shares declined 0.9%. SolarCity shares have gained 84% in the past 12 months, and lost 8.6% in the last three months.

The petitioner for the Commerce Department’s investigations is SolarWorld Industries America Inc., a subsidiary of a German company.

The products covered by these investigations are crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, and modules, laminates, and panels, consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, whether or not partially or fully assembled into other products, including, but not limited to, modules, laminates, panels and building integrated materials, according to Commerce Department documents referenced above.

Excluded from the scope of these investigations are thin film photovoltaic products produced from amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, or copper indium gallium selenide, the Commerce Department said.

After a sunny run of strong performances by many U.S. solar companies the solar industry is beginning to see black clouds on the horizon, according to Jennifer Runyon at She said Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar sees no sign of a settlement coming anytime soon between the two countries. “’Module prices are going up, not down, and uncertainty confuses the supply chain and the entire industry,’ he said.  ‘That is truly bad news for our industry.’”

Clifford also has fears about reaching grid parity, a brewing battle on income tax credits applied to the solar industry, and, perhaps closest to home, a battle between solar and the public utilities, who see solar as threat to their turf “and have not yet begun to do the work involved in adapting to a changing electricity market,” Runyon said paraphrasing.
The wake-up call for them came last year when the Edison Electric Institute said that solar and other forms of distributed generation posed “disruptive challenges” for the utility industry.  Clifford said that solar companies need to be prepared for a fight. However, he said, these battles won’t take place in a large arena but rather in small utility rate cases at public utility commissions all across America.  “Decisions of utilities will vary,” he said.  But they are conservative by nature and “most will fight to defend their turf,” said Clifford.  “Ultimately the value of solar will be determined in utility rate hearings across the country, he warned. “To protect our interests the solar industry must be present and well-prepared for hearings nationwide otherwise utilities will eat our lunch,” he concluded. 

The issue is a complex one that reaches from the lowliest solar user and installer to the highest levels of two governments and Wall Street. GTM Research’s report found that both the tariff process and its potential outcomes remain poorly understood by much of the solar industry.

It may be that it is poorly understood by the Department of Commerce too, as its efforts to prop up Solar World Industries is contributing neither to freer trade nor to increased competition and the influence that has on markets, but to higher prices for solar consumers. That’s a disturbing consequence.


Wind Generates New Record In Texas

Image courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Agency

Image courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Agency

Texas see surge in wind generating, underpinning overall boost

The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports Texas has reached new levels of wind energy production, reaching instantaneous peak output of 10,296 megawatts (MW). The moment came on March 26, and means wind supplied almost 29 percent of total electricity load.

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid’s operator, “The average wind production in that hour was 10,120 MW. The new wind record surpassed two highs reached in the previous week, while the record prior to March was 9,674 MW set in May 2013.” The EIA goes on to report:

March’s wind power record will likely be surpassed in the near future as wind capacity continues to be added in the state. Texas currently has more than 12,000 MW of operational utility-scale wind capacity (see graph below)—about one-fifth of the total wind capacity in the United States. According to preliminary data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Electric Power Monthly, Texas added 150 MW of utility-scale wind capacity in 2013, less than one-tenth of the nearly 1,600 MW added in the previous year.

The significant slowdown in wind additions in 2013 mirrored the national trend, which reflected the lapse of the federal production tax credit (PTC) at the end of 2012. That lapse encouraged those with facilities under construction to complete them and begin operation before the end of 2012 in order to receive the tax credits (which are for all generation during the first 10 years of operation). The subsequent one-year extension in early 2013 required only that plants commence construction in 2013 to be eligible to receive the tax credits after the start of operations at a later date. This modification of eligibility requirements led to many wind projects beginning construction in 2013 with expected completion dates in 2014-15.

The EIA notes that there were some 7,000 MW of wind projects under construction in Texas at the end of 2013, though when that added capacity is ready to come on line is still unknown. EIA credits the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) program as reason for the successful surge in wind energy in the Lone Star State. The CREZ “was specifically designed to allow wind power to reach a wider swath of the ERCOT grid and reduce grid congestion-related curtailments of wind power,” the EIA said.

The high readings in March can perhaps be seen as a sign that wind is playing a crucial role as part of Texas’s energy grid. A Bloomberg article from June 17, said while spot wholesale energy prices moved higher in the MIdwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast because of the first hot days leading into summer, in Texas prices dropped.

“Wind turbines produced an average of 7,447 megawatts for the hour ending at 2 p.m. local time, surpassing the day-ahead forecast by 77 percent, or 3,237 megawatts, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc., which manages most of the state’s power. Wind provided 9.9 percent of the electricity used in the Ercot region in 2013,” Bloomberg said. “Spot power across the Ercot grid fell 48 cents, or 1 percent, to average $46.09 a megawatt-hour during the hour ended at 2 p.m. local time from the same time yesterday.”

This is a compelling anecdote for those in favor of an all-of-the-above energy strategy, as wind energy production proves itself to be a valuable buffer to fluctuating market prices for oil and gas, which are today being buffeted by the problems Iraq.


Brazil: World Cup Brings a Spike in Energy Use, Leaves a Huge Carbon Footprint

Brazilians gather to watch the 2010 World Cup. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Brazilians gather to watch the 2010 World Cup. Photo by Marcello Casal Jr., courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Brazil is uniquely capable of providing the energy needs for the World Cup, but the event doesn’t come without great costs in CO2 emissions

The United States begins its World Cup bid today in Brazil. So what are Brazil’a energy capabilities and how much energy is expected to be used during the month-long festivities? Moreover what does its carbon foot print look like?

To begin with let’s note Brazil is large. It’s by far the largest country and South America  land-wise, representing half of Latin America’s surface area, as well as being its most populated, with more than 196 million people as of 2011, according to the International Energy Agency. With a gross domestic product of $1,126.72 billion (U.S.)

According to a 2006 study done by the International Energy Administration, Brazil also ranks 10th in the world for energy consumption, and the second largest proven oil reserves after Venezuela. It is third in proven natural gas reserves behind Venezuela and Bolivia.

It produced more than 249 million tonnes of energy (Mtoe) in 2011, and consumed some 480 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, the study cited above said.

Indeed, Brazil has a unique energy profile. It is the world leader in ethanol use and production, and the predominant role of hydropower in electricity generation results in very low emissions from its power sector.

The breakdown of Brazil’s energy supply is: 38.4 percent from petroleum, 15 percent from hydroelectric sources, 13.7 percent from woodfuels, 13.1 percent from sugarcane by-products (bagasse), 9.1 percent from gas, 6.4 percent from coal, 2.9 percent from other renewable sources, and 1.4 percent from nuclear.

It is the largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world after Canada. In 2005, it generated 340 terawatt-hours (TWh), equivalent to 77.1% of total electricity generation. The rest includes: imports (8.3 percent), gas-fired generation (4.1 percent), biomass (3.9 percent), oil derivatives (2.8 percent), nuclear (2.2 percent), and coal (1.6 percent), according to the study.

The national oil and gas company, Petrobras, the largest company in Brazil in terms of profits and revenues, and the 14th largest international oil company, has won international recognition as an expert in deepwater offshore drilling technology. Even though the federal government controls only 32.5% of the total equity, it has retained 55.7% of the voting shares of the company. Therefore, Petrobras is not state owned but state controlled. The government ended Petrobras’ monopoly in 1997 creating the ANP to take on the role of regulator of the oil and gas sector. […]

Hydropower, accounts for nearly 80% of generation capacity in Brazil. The country enjoys the largest capacity for water storage in the world, and one of largest transmission networks, given the vast geographical area to cover and the resulting long distances between power stations and consumers and the need for back-up circuits to ensure alternative supply routes and optimal regional balance in supply. Both private and government-owned companies operate in generation, transmission, and distribution.

Brazil is also a large exporter of ethanol, and enjoys a special duty free access to markets in the United States, along with several other Caribbean and Latin American countries. Its ethanol is based mostly on sugar cane.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

So that’s Brazil in a nutshell. But what of energy consumpiton during the World Cup, where an estimated 500,000 fans alone will attend, most of home are flying in to the country and using all that jet fuel?

Nick Cunningham of estimates today that the 2014 World Cup will be “one of the biggest energy-consuming, greenhouse gas-spewing World Cups in history.” He estimates it will generate 2.72 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, mostly from the flights coming in. “Think about this as the music blasts through the stadium and the fans cheer and scream and the players race up and down the field chasing the ball: The 2014 World Cup tournament will burn through enough energy before it’s over to fuel almost every one of the 260 million cars and trucks in the United States for an entire day, or the equivalent of what 560,000 cars use in a year.”

FIFA, the governing body for international soccer has its own study of the World Cup’s carbon foot print, measuring more commonly thought of items like television production, diesel usage, and floodlights, to the more esoteric things like uniform production, team equipment transportation, and furniture moving.

The FIFA study notes 61 percent of carbon emissions will come through airplane travel, followed by air freight (15 percent), and equipment and satellite transmissions (9 percent).

Interestingly, and perhaps only as an international governing body can do, it lays all this off as no big deal saying, “the uncertainties from the scope of the carbon footprint analysis are considered to be irrelevant. […] Besides activity data, emission factors play an important role for the quality of the final results. Adequate emission factors were available or could be modelled for all activities but satellite transmission.”

(For more on the unsavory aspects of the ruling bodies that govern soccer, or European football, it is worth reading last week’s Economist article, “Beautiful Game, Dirty Business.”)

Cunningham, in his OilPrice piece, notes that none of this takes into account the building of the new stadiums for the event nor any other Cup-related energy use in ramping up to the first kick off, a win by host Brazil, incidentally, 3-1 over Croatia.

A spike in energy use is likely to occur in places when millions of people turn on their TVs at the same time to watch a match. For example, in the United Kingdom, the record for an energy surge during a TV program occurred during the 1990 World Cup, when England went to a shootout against West Germany in the semi-final. (Incidentally, West Germany prevailed and went on to win the trophy. West Germany’s title run was led by Jurgen Klinsmann, who is now coaching the U.S. national team.)

During that match, the UK National Grid experienced a spike of 2,800 megawatts of demand, as people across England tuned in to watch the game’s climax. Other significant power surges in the UK occurred during England’s 2002 quarter-final match against Brazil (2,570 MW surge), and the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (2,400 MW surge).

In fact, it’s relatively common for the UK to experience a spike in power demand during big soccer matches. National Grid operators have become accustomed to forecasting higher electricity demand during games, according to its operations manager, Jon Fenn. Not only does electricity consumption spike from millions of TV sets, a surge is felt most acutely during halftime or just after the final whistle, when everyone heads to the kitchen to turn on electric tea kettles or grab a snack from the fridge.

Perhaps this is all just a one-off that happens every four years on the international stage, and it is possible to look at the overall benefits to Brazil and the participating countries, as we are wont to do. But if you care a great deal about greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, then the World Cup might be enough to boil your blood.

Brazil's starting 11 beat Croatia on June 12, in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil’s starting 11 beat Croatia on June 12, in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup. Photo by Jefferson Bernardes courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

Via Brazil Business Today

Everything Old Is New Again: It’s the Friday Energy News Dump — Iraq 2014 Edition

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Darren Vogt, assigned the 1st Battalion 66th Armor Regiment, performs perimeter security in an area where a recent insurgent attack took place on an Iraqi oil pipeline near Taji. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael Larson from March 11, 2006, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Darren Vogt, assigned the 1st Battalion 66th Armor Regiment, performs perimeter security in an area where a recent insurgent attack took place on an Iraqi oil pipeline near Taji. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael Larson from March 11, 2006, courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

Iraq Insurgency Risks Biggest Source of New OPEC Oil, IEA Says

The Islamist insurgency in Iraq highlights the risks to oil supply from a nation forecast to provide about 60 percent of OPEC’s output growth in the rest of this decade, the International Energy Agency said.

Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi speculated yesterday that U.S. planes may bomb his nation’s north as militants linked to al-Qaeda, who captured the city of Mosul this week, moved south toward Baghdad. The country’s crude output capacity will increase by more than 1.2 million barrels a day in the six years through 2019, the Paris-based IEA estimated in its monthly oil market report today.

“While Iraq’s production potential is huge, so are the political hurdles it is facing – and nothing provides a clearer example of that risk than the military campaign,” the IEA said. “Concerning as the latest events in Iraq may be, they might not for now, if the conflict does not spread further, put additional Iraqi oil supplies immediately at risk.”

Iraq Unrest Tests U.S. ‘Energy Independence’

The idea of U.S. “energy independence” is about to get its first real test as a militant uprising in Iraq raises a potential threat to OPEC’s second-largest producer. […]

Although no Iraqi exports or production have been affected yet, there has been some impact on the country’s oil infrastructure, as Bloomberg reported:

“The group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, know as ISIL, seized Mosul this week, forcing a halt to repairs at the main pipeline from the Kirkuk oil field to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey. There were conflicting reports that Baiji, the site of Iraq’s biggest refinery, had been captured.”

The potential is even greater. The International Energy Agency has predicted Iraq will about for 60 percent of OPEC’s production gain by 2020. […]

But the events in Iraq pose a greater test of the notion that the U.S. can drill its way to energy independence. The upheaval comes as seasonal demand for gasoline is picking up and two other OPEC members, Iran and Libya, are producing below their capacity – Iran because of sanctions and Libya because of its own political turmoil.

As the Financial Times points out, these issues are compounded by production outages from South Sudan, Colombia and Kazakhstan.

In other words, the available supply of oil on the world market could tighten quickly.

Oil Heads for Year’s Biggest Weekly Gain on Iraq Unrest

West Texas Intermediate and Brent crudes headed for the biggest weekly gains this year as Islamist fighters extended their advance in Iraq, triggering concern of a return to civil war.

Futures in New York climbed as much as 1.1 percent today while they added 1.5 percent in London. Government forces in Iraq, OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer, are seeking to dislodge Islamist militants from cities north of Baghdad after they overran army positions in Mosul this week. U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday he won’t rule out using airstrikes to help the government.

“Prices have jumped to nine-month highs as the upsurge of violence in Iraq has raised additional risk of supply disruption,” said Gene McGillian, an analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. “The situation in Iraq is going to continue to guide the market for a while.”

How Iraq’s Kurds May Be The Unlikely Losers In The ISIS Chaos

It’s been a tough few days for Iraq’s Kurds. They have failed in their efforts to sidestep Baghdad to sell their own oil. And they have been forced, by the ISIS offensive, to stretch their security forces thin, in order send peshmerga to protect Kirkuk.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Kurds have long appeared to be the only group in Iraq that knows how to get anything done. For a decade now the Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq, backed by their loyal peshmerga security forces, has presided over a relative calm. That has helped draw in billions of dollars of investments from oil companies eager to tap some of the world’s last virgin megafields. […]

The events of this week have made those dreams of independence seem further away. On Monday two car bombs near the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, reportedly killed 22.

Then on Tuesday came the ISIS attack on the northern city of Mosul. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, suggests my source, that Iraq’s federal security forces were encouraged by Baghdad to run away rather than fight ISIS. Why? Because in leaving such a security vacuum it has forced the Kurds to stretch their own security forces thin by occupying Kirkuk and standing on guard against ISIS. This necessarily weakens the Kurds’ security stance along the border with Turkey.

Viewed from 20,000 feet, away from the reality of summary executions and refugees, it’s all a big chess game. “Though I hate to give him credit, Maliki is playing the crisis well,” says a source.

Oil Volatility Rebounds From Record Low as Iraq Violence Worsens

Oil-price volatility rebounded from the lowest on record as violence escalated in Iraq, the second-largest crude producer among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The 20-day historical volatility of Brent crude futures rose as high as 13 percent yesterday, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg. It fell to 7.2 percent on June 3, the lowest since the contract began trading in 1988. Islamist fighters extended their advance in Iraq, entering two northeast towns as government forces failed to halt an offensive that triggered concern over a civil war and prompted the U.S. not to rule out airstrikes.

“Volatility is a reflection of uncertainty,” Olivier Jakob, managing director of Switzerland-based researcher Petromatrix GmbH, said by phone today. “Up until last Friday, we were in a period where uncertainty in the market was low. Libya was out, and we knew, and nobody was expecting it to come back quickly. The market was pretty well supplied. This week we are back to having some uncertainty” because of Iraq.