Wednesday 31 January 2007

The Dilemma of the Future

Having recently read the survey of UK's uni and college applicants opinions on Peak Oil, global warming and sustainable lifestyle, I couldn't help but feel schizophrenic (short summary: they believe in peak oil, global warming and a radical change in life style).

First, it looks like people are finally wising up, especially the new generation, which seems to be getting it's facts from other sources than the brainwashing mass media, that has done fairly good effort of trying to downplay the issues we are facing. Once these people grow up, even if only half of them keep their opinions, the world will be a different kind of place. And not only because of GW, PO and factor-10.

Unfortunately, one can't help thinking: it'll take another 20-50 years before these people are in the position of power to start calling the shots on important decisions. Do we have 20-50 years of luxury?

To add to the misery, opinions aren't as enlightened elsewhere: for most Americans defending against future terrorist attacks if the top priority. Dealing with global warming is fourth last on the list and peak oil in it's entirety does not register on the list.

I wish I could say the situation was remarkably better in Finland, but I suspect it is not. Not even the politician publicly acknowledge peak oil or peak gas. Most of the masses is blissfully unaware of the situation, due to the dismal job done by the national media.

So, we have the dilemma of the future: it looks like attitudes, knowledge and values are remarkably improving as we look into the future (at least beyond Finland), while at the same time it looks like the environment, resource tightness and food shortage situation is deteriorating remarkably at the same time.

I wonder if this is the classic, is the glass half full or half empty question.

I'm afraid that my answer would be a firm "both".

Friday 26 January 2007

Energy = GDP

From Anthropik (slightly modified):

Remember, it's energy that matters, not capital. You can't burn money, if you are short on energy. Or actually you can burn paper notes, but you can't run an economy on them. Way too low energy density, bad EROEI and non-renewable.

IPCC report TBA - counter-propaganda already started

IPCC will release its latest update on the study of global warming and the big-oil black propaganda machine is already gearing up.

One such example is the creation of sites like this:

Now, I won't provide a link there, tell the URL or write out it's name in plain text, because that only gives them more hits, more readers to be duped and benefits the people who spam that site currently on various blogs.

What's so damning about the site?

The site (and it's name) is being promoted by a SEO competition company, who encourages spamming (in blogs, in forums, in newsgroups, etc.). I won't mention their name either, but they are one of the biggest in business.

The site contains utter lies about global warming, directly attributable to National Center for Policy Analysis, a pro big business lobby group, who've already been caught red handed taking money from ExxonMobil and lying about the basic scientific facts related to global warming.

So don't believe everything you read about global warming, especially if it comes from lobby organisations like the NCPA. They are not scientist and understand nothing of global warming. They are just paid-for spin-doctors.

What does this have to do with energy? Remember, some big oil companies would like you to believe their lies that global warming is a hoax (it's not) and that oil will never run out (it will).

Bush's 2007 State of the Foggity

Bush pledged for 20% cut in US fossil oil consumption in the next ten years. A good thing, right? Not so fast. Quick analysis at Grist and Washington Post (oh my) show that the facts behind the rhetoric are not very environmental:

  • Increase in corn ethanol production subsidies (corn ethanol is an energy loser and is probably likely to increase green house emissions). Main reason behind this is more subsidies to the farmers of the hinterlands.
  • Supplanting oil with "alternatives" (not "renewables"), which means making dirty fuel out of coal (with more emissions).
Lesson here? When politicians speak about complex and heated issues like energy currently is, you'd better: read the details, follow the money to the beneficiaries and watch what is being done, not only what is being said.

Friday 19 January 2007

USA to keep attacking countries for more oil & gas

During recent Geopolitics of Oil Congressional hearings (euphemism for "It's Peak Oil time and we need to grab more barrels!") USA senators have stated re-stated Cheney's stance "The American Way of life is non-negotiable". Several senators agree that energy independence for USA is impossible and that USA will ensure it's access to energy, especially in countries which have nationalized their oil fields.

What does this mean in practice? USA needs more evil enemies, which they can liberate from their tyrant leaders and clean up their oil reserves in the process. First of all, the axis of evil is now shifting slowly to Russia, which is a big oil exporter and to China, which is competing with USA for the same oil production supplies (namely in Africa, but also in Venezuela, Cuba and Caspian Sea region).

Still, before that demonisation is likely to get into full force, there are the smaller and more lucrative players to get target: namely Iran (huge natural gas & oil reserves), Venezuela (massive tar sand deposits) and various African countries that can still provide enough oil (likely Angola).

As you may have noticed, the demonisation of both Iran ("they have nuclear bombs!" even though IAEA says the opposite) and Venezuela ("Chavez is a lunatic!") are already well underway. Remember, the first casualty of war is truth. By that measure, the war against both Iran and Venezuela is well under way.

Now, many people are already thinking, "that's crazy, no way USA will attack Iran with the Iraq fiasco on their hands, especially with democrats now holding the majority vote". To this, I offer the following arguments to consider:

  1. Cheney has set forth 1% doctrine: "'If there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction -- and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time -- the United States must now act as if it were a certainty." Very useful policy, once accepted (it has).
  2. Project for the new American century's white paper shows that Iran must be controlled as a strategic vantage point for USA. US not only needs to take control of those points, but also stay there for our life time.
  3. Iran has huge natural gas reserves. US is building new capacity for liquefied natural gas tanker ports (like they are building capacity for new liquefied natural gas they know they are going to get some time in the future). According to Oil & Gas journal it also has the world's second largest untapped known oil reservoirs. Furthermore, it controls the Hormuz water area, through which c. 40% of world's oil exports pass. Crucial strategic point. Even more important, Iran has a shoreline on Caspian sea and Persian Gulf. This is the major route for any oil from Caspian for USA.
  4. US is preparing to move two air carriers to the Persian Gulf towards Iran. This is called escalation.
  5. IAEA has said Iran does NOT have an atomic bomb or capability in the next ten years. USA dismisses this completely (without any proof), trying to build "evidence" and "reason" to attack Iran. Combine this "WMD scare" with reason 1). USA is trying to build a reason, just like with the WMDs and Iraq (compare the 1% doctrine).
  6. Demonising of the Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already started over a year ago in various USA mainstream media outfits. Also, Iran is being claimed as funding Iraq rebels and indirectly Al Qaeda. These are extra reasons to attack.
  7. In January 2007 "Geopolitics of Oil" congressional hearings majority of senators agreed on the politics that USA will "secure the oil it needs, by any force necessary. NATO has also said, that they will respond to any use of "energy as a weapon" [against USA] via conventional military means, including full scale land attack. This NATO link could bring UK again behind US for the attack of Iran, considering UK's natural gas resources are dwindling and they need to start looking for alternatives (other than only Russia).
  8. It's likely that USA has been planning to attack Iran using Israel as a proxy. This has been leaked to the press since last summer already. USA has done this before in collusion with UK, during the Egypt/Suez crisis in 1956. There has even been talks of Israel using nukes. This is another classic "frighten them with genocide and they'll be happy with a mere massacre" tactic often used in international politics.
  9. USA has been flying unmanned missions over Iran air space for months. This has also been reported. When asked about "when will we go to war with Iran", retired USA military specialist said during last summer in an interview in USA mainstream TV that "We are already in Iran, we are running several special operations reconnaissance missions inside Iran", in his opinion USA has already attacked Iran.
  10. Iran has on several occasions offered to have talks with USA on what USA wants (through UN, through Iraqi officials, etc). USA has refused to talk to Iran at all. Only attacking it through the press.
  11. Iran (and Venezuela) have been converting more of their oil trading current basket to Euro from USD. While some temporary controlled devaluation of USD might be beneficial to the current US administration, loss of faith in the USD as the major global trading currency is not. This situation will be monitored closely in the US.

Now, some analysts have already offered their thinking on the issue:

  • Iran is very weak in military terms. It really can't resist any attack. It's putting it's bets on ties with Venezuela and perhaps to some extent Russia & China. If USA can cut deals with Russia and China, Iran has no major supporters.
  • If they can "win" in Iran showman style, Bush/Cheney/et al. will win back some support in polls, even though the situation of Iraq may be deteriorating or even reverse the situation in Iraq (Iran may in fact be funding Iraqis factions indirectly).
  • Bush will use Iraq as a bargaining chip with democrats: yes, we will pull out of Iraq (we support your democrat issue), but in return you support us in the attack against Iran (which dems have to do).

It is of course true, that there are several opinions why USA will not attack Iran:

  • Price of oil will likely rise. Bush ratings will plummet even more. Then again, crude at c. $50, there's now again room for price increase (which was not possible at near $80).
  • Democrats could try to derail the move anyway, at least postpone it towards future, so that they can not take the damage from the attack, if there's a bad fallout.
  • They are afraid how China might react (unless they cut a better "after the bombing deal") with the Chinese
  • Most ex-Iraq war generals (esp. in land & navy) are against any attack on Iran, but apparently no air force admiral is against it (thus you could get support for bombing Iran, but not easily invade it with huge land forces). Of course, in the end army does what the commander says.
  • Sometimes it's easier to make things difficult for a country, then support the opposition, make a coup and you don't have to attack directly. After the new leaders (who you have helped) are in place, you can cut better deals with them. BUT the thinking on this is problematic:
  • in Iran you could probably only support other Islamists, who don't look nicely to USA then coming in, putting up military bases and grabbing all the oil. Sure, they'd like to get the help for a revolutionary fight, BUT would they really support USA after they get into power?

If something "critical" happens, it is very easy to pinpoint it to Iran and get US support back on attacking Iran. This could be: energy shortages, terrorist attack, finding of WMD (planted evidence, risk to Israel), or Iran conducting missile tests, etc.

Personally I believe direct attack from USA has grown less likely in the past couple of months, wheres as an attack using Israel as a proxy has grown more likely.

Of course, only time will tell, but I would not like to be planning any long term trips to Iran myself in the near future.


Canary Grass - to Grow or Not to Grow

ruokohelpi aka reed canary grass

A news piece today in Finnish daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (behind paywall) states that cultivation of reed canary grass weed ('ruokohelpi' in Finnish) should be increased six-fold in Finland for the purpose of bio-fuel production.

While we at TES are all for increase of liquid fuel alternatives to fossil oil, we are not sure that canary grass is the right option.

Without going to the benefits of canary grass, it's problems are hard to circumvent:

  1. It has a fairly low net energy balance (EROEI). This means that it makes no physical sense to cultivate it for energy production using current means. This is regardless of whether it is being burned via gasification measures or being converted to bio-diesel via FT-BTL (or both).

  2. It doesn't scale too well in terms of it's land use. If we were to cover even 20% of Finnish transport oil use with bio-fuel from canary grass, we'd have to reserve one quarter of our cultivated land for canary grass production. It begs the question: where would we grow our food? No wonder the food industry is not happy about the proposed six fold increase, fearing for increase in price of it's basic grain ingredients.

Then again, all of the above is of no importance to Finland or farmers here as long as EU keeps pouring double subsidies to the cultivation of bio-fuel plants, reed canary grass being one of them.

So, unless we wise up, we'll end up making bio-fuels that consume more energy to make than they release when burned AND when oil starts being scarce, our bio-fuel production will crash too.

This story should work as a small reminder to those believing that price on the market is everything and the only real indicator of an energy sources future. If externalities (such as subsidies) are not calculated into the price of a product, price tells us very little about the long term potential of that particular fuel.

Whither Cellulosic Ethanol
Cellulosic Ethanlo vs. Biomass gasification
Support for Global Energy Flow modelling and a Net Energy database

Thursday 18 January 2007

Energy Consumption in Finland 1970-2005

The above graph compiles data from the Statistics Finland for combined consumer, transport and industry energy consumption. The figures represent end use, not energy supply, hence any losses are not visible in the graph. What is interesting to note about the trends (disregarding yearly strong variations) is that oil use and coal have stayed relatively level. This is somewhat surprising considering the growth of motor vehicles in Finland the relatively long distances for transport.

Nuclear has been seen clearly the biggest absolute growth, wind the biggest relative growth and hydro has remained pretty much what it is. Direct solar energy is for all practical purposes unmeasurable in the Finnish energy end use scenario.

Now, the situation for for Peak Oil and Peak Gas is quite dismal. Finland get's more than a third of it's direct energy from oil and gas. Any disruption in the delivery of these fuels or significant price changes will wreak havoc on both transport (liquid oil) and to some extent on heating (gas). Any disruptions in electricity production could probably be covered through other means, unless supply on Nordic markets was extremely tight.

The only alternative liquid fuel that reqisters on the consumption scale are "spent liquors" (an euphemism for waste from wood industry that is turned into bio-ethanol). While is is fairly significant in size (almost at the level of natural gas!) it does not scale well and more importantly, it is an energy loser according to estimates on the issue.

Thus, the liquid fuels used in Finnish transport are all purely fossil based (oil, some natural gas) or depended on the existence of cheap oil (energy losing bio-ethanol).

It makes you wonder how well Finland would cope in case of a liquid fuel crisis, be that a distribution disruption or a long term price increase.