Published Jan 12 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jan 12 2009

United States - Jan 12

by Staff

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Heinberg: Opportunity for FUNDAMENTAL change

Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute
Petrol pumpsAn article by Neil Reynolds in Friday's GLOBE AND MAIL, titled "Obama's energy quick fix bound for the slag heap," quotes University of Manitoba Professor Vaclav Smil to support its thesis.

"The only way that Mr. Obama could significantly advance this objective . . . would be with the help"—and here Smil is speaking: "of a deep and lasting recession." The article continues: "Otherwise, [Smil] said, 'there will be precious little of any rapid change.' "

Smil's reasoning? "Energy systems are inherently inertial. . . . Energy transitions take decades to accomplish. Anyone who expects Mr. Obama to transform the world will be disappointed [and] the degree of disappointment that must follow such naiveté will be phenomenal."

Well, right on cue we have an article from Reuters titled, "Saudi official says global oil demand could fall 45 percent." Yes, you read correctly: 45 percent. The official, Majid al-Munif, an adviser to Saudi Arabia's oil minister, gives 23 percent as the lower boundary of possible demand destruction, but even this figure is stunning. The world hasn't seen demand for oil decline like this at least since the 1980s, if ever.

The economic crisis is causing immense pain and suffering, and that will only increase. However, it would be a blunder of historic proportions not to seize the opportunity that it affords for the initiation of a comprehensive energy transition. Smil is correct: this is a project that cannot be accomplished in four or eight years. But it has to happen, and that means it has to start at some definable point in time.

With demand for fossil fuels down, it is easier to increase the market share of renewables, and it is also easier to introduce energy conservation measures (which can be branded as economic survival tools for cash-strapped energy consumers).

We will NEVER have a better opportunity than we do now.
(9 January 2009)
Links at original.

Friedman: Tax Cuts for Teachers

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times
Over the next couple of years, two very big countries, America and China, will give birth to something very important. They’re each going to give birth to close to $1 trillion worth of economic stimulus — in the form of tax cuts, infrastructure, highways, mass transit and new energy systems. But a lot is riding on these two babies. If China and America each give birth to a pig — a big, energy-devouring, climate-spoiling stimulus hog — our kids are done for. It will be the burden of their lifetimes. If they each give birth to a gazelle — a lean, energy-efficient and innovation-friendly stimulus — it will be the opportunity of their lifetimes.

So here’s hoping that our new administration and Congress will be guided in shaping the stimulus by reading John Maynard Keynes in one hand — to get as much money injected as quickly as possible — and by reading “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” with the other.
(10 January 2009)

A Crossroad for Russia and America

Ellen Barry, New York Times
In August of last year, a new Russia presented itself to the world. From the battlefield of Georgia, the message said: We are no longer seeking the good opinion of the West. The new taste for confrontation was seen by many as a byproduct of oil and gas wealth, which had given Russia’s leaders the confidence to risk international isolation. In the title of a book he published in April, the scholar Marshall Goldman offered a one-word explanation: “Petrostate.”

That thesis may have a short shelf life. Russian leaders, no longer hoping to make the ruble an international reserve currency, now face a confluence of disasters: The price of a barrel of oil has slid below $40, shares of Gazprom fell 76 percent in a year and more than a quarter of Russia’s cash reserves have been spent shoring up the ruble.

But does that mean we can expect a thaw between Russia and America?

... So there are two paths:

SCENARIO 1: COOPERATION In the global financial collapse, as Alexander Rahr of Germany’s Council on Foreign Relations put it: “We have all become weaker. We have all become poorer.” So, pressed by domestic concerns, both sides pare back their foreign ambitions.

... SCENARIO 2: RETRENCHMENT AND NATIONALISM “Less resources means more selfish behavior,” as Sergei A. Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, has said. In this case, Russia finds itself facing internal dissent and the threat of regional separatism, and lacking large piles of oil money to disburse in hopes of keeping control. Forced to fight for their own survival, political leaders tailor their policies to domestic public opinion. They focus on an external enemy ...
(10 January 2009)

Upgrading the US Electric Grid - Many pluses but some minuses too

Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
President-Elect Barack Obama talks about upgrading the US electric grid. He talks about making it a "smart grid", so that customers can be charged by their time-of-day use, fluctuations from wind and solar can be more easily handled, and it is easier to sell electricity back to the grid. One presumes that he is also talking about upgrading the physical structure of the grid, so that it has better long distance carrying capability and so that parts that are exceeding their normal lives are replaced.

Doing all these things has obvious advantages. Our current grid has been neglected for years, so that many of its parts are nearing the end of their useful lives. Currently, most customers have no incentive for using appliances and machinery at night, during times of excess capacity. This could reduce fuel usage during the day time. Also, as many have noted, to add more wind and solar capacity to the grid, upgrading the grid is a necessity.

In this post, I will offer a few thoughts on the upsides and downsides of the upgrade.
(9 January 2009)

RMI's Oil Imports Map
Rocky Mountain Institute
This map shows the U.S.'s historical imports of oil since 1973, direct from the Energy Information Agency's database, broken down by country of origin. Click on the timeline to jump to any month in history. For important events in oil history, click on the buttons above the map. To view the relative size of projected reserves in ANWR and off-shore, click "Show Projections." To learn about Rocky Mountain Institute's plans to get America off oil imports via efficiency, read on!
(January 2009)
Recommended by Sarah Kuck at WorldChanging, who writes:
Breaking our dependence on fossil fuels isn't only a solution for halting our climate changing emissions, it's also about gaining energy independence and being cautious about when we reach peak oil.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has created a new oil map web tool that intricately illustrates this concept. RMI partnered with Google to create a visual representation of how much oil the U.S. has imported, from where, and how much we have spent during every month since 1973.

... Although disturbing in what it represents, the interactive map is quite entertaining and useful. (I found it interesting to look for connections between spikes, sources and U.S. foreign relations.) To know where we're going, it's important to know where we've been. Being able to visualize an issue, to see how much is where, and coming from who, is important ...