My Top 10 Energy Stories of 2007

First, thanks to all who contributed ideas. You may have an entirely different opinion on the most important energy stories. Feel free to share it. Many of these stories were contributed by various readers. Comments by readers are italicized. If you want to know who wrote what, you can see the entire comment thread here.

Click "There's More" to see my Top 10 Energy Stories of 2007:

1. Oil price soars as media becomes Peak Oil aware

One reason I felt pretty safe in making the $1,000 bet on oil prices is that a move from $60 - the price in January - to $100 - the price at which I would lose the bet - would be unprecedented. Of course a worldwide peak in oil production will also be unprecedented, and I expect oil prices to soar when that happens. While I still don't think we have quite peaked, what did happen is that Peak Oil awareness really hit the mainstream in 2007. I started noticing a great many stories on Peak Oil (and quite a few on Peak Lite), especially following the ASPO Conference in October. This was right in the middle of the sharp run-up in prices. So I believe that a major factor contributing to the fast run-up was the sudden realization by a critical mass of people that Peak Oil is on top of us. In that case, the value of oil will be much higher.

In addition to record oil prices, back in the spring we saw record-high gasoline prices as a result of sustained, record-low gasoline inventories. Conditions are currently favoring new record-high gasoline prices in 2008.

2. Criticism of biofuels mounts

The bloom comes off the biofuel rose. European studies showed oil-palm biodiesel was actually worse for the environment due to tropical rainforest destruction, and US corn ethanol plants lost money because of overbuilding. A general biofuel backlash took root due to higher food prices and other side effects.

While I was criticizing corn ethanol before criticizing corn ethanol was cool, in 2007 the media started asking critical questions about water usage, pollution from industrial corn farming, and the impact of ethanol mandates on food prices.

3. The Chevy Volt is announced

GM has dedicated a full product team and allocated a plant for mass production -- the first time in history an electric car has achieved such status.

Years after GM killed the electric car, they are bringing it back in the form of the Chevy Volt. I have long advocated the need for the electrification of transportation as one of the key elements in any Peak Oil mitigation plan. Therefore, I am very pleased to see GM making another effort at electric cars.

4. Nanosolar begins to deliver

Cost-effective solar power would be a very big silver BB in a Peak Oil mitigation plan. Nanosolar has the potential to deliver a game-changing thin-film photovoltaic technology. If you don't know much about Nanosolar, check out this interview with their CEO: 10 Questions for Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen

However, the potential for cost effective solar power also highlights the desperate need to tackle and solve the problem of energy storage for intermittent sources of energy like wind and solar power. Hopefully we will see some breakthroughs there in 2007.

5. LS9 starts up

For years I have dreamed of a microbe that eats garbage and excretes hydrocarbons. The beauty of such a system would be that the hydrocarbons would just phase out of solution, thus ensuring a low-energy purification step. If you think about it, the concept is not that far-fetched. The human body produces fats and fatty acids that are not too far-removed from the hydrocarbons that make up gasoline or diesel. There is no reason, in principle, that a microbe couldn't be designed to do just that.

The difficulty lies in understanding the metabolic pathways well enough to modify them to produce the target molecule without severely compromising or killing the microbe. This is exactly what LS9 - the "Renewable Petroleum Company", is attempting to do. And they have certainly assembled a team that just may pull it off.

6. Range Fuels breaks ground

In November Range Fuels - formerly Vinod Khosla's Kergy venture - announced the groundbreaking of the first commercial "cellulosic" ethanol plant in the U.S. While I dispute the terminology (as I explained in this essay, it is actually a gasification process, which is not specific to cellulose), the process does have a chance to be a success in the long-run. Short-term, I believe they will remain highly dependent on generous subsidies because the capital costs for gasification processes are so high. But on down the road I think gasification makes a lot more sense than most fermentation processes.

One thing that I would have done differently would have been to produce diesel instead of ethanol. Once syngas is produced in a gasification step, there are many different products that can be made. It is not particularly efficient to produce ethanol in this process, but this is the kind of thing you end up with when the government is picking technology winners.

I do think Range Fuels has a high likelihood of becoming a significant technology. What little information is available certainly sounds promising, including the result from EBMUD that the Klepper gasifier was the most efficient.

7. First application for US nuclear plant in 30 years

NRG announces first application for US nuclear plant in 30 years:

NRG South Texas Nuclear

They propose to use GE's Advanced Boiling Water Reactor technology.

My personal belief is that we are going to need nuclear power to continue making a significant contribution toward our electricity needs. This will be especially true if electric transport takes hold. Therefore, I think it is a very big story that 2007 saw the first application for a new U.S. nuclear plant in 30 years.

8. Carbon capture & sequestration moves forward

The FutureGen alliance announces the site for its demonstration plant on Tuesday, Dec. 18:

FutureGen Announcement

For those not familiar with it, FutureGen is a clean coal demonstration plant that will include carbon capture and sequestration. There are 4 finalist sites. Two in Illinois and two in Texas. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate commercial scale CCS technology.

FutureGen selected Mattoon, IL for their site.

FutureGen runs a combined cycle instead of the single cycle of existing coal plants. Combined cycle plants can achieve 50-60% thermal efficiency vs. the 33% typical of single cycle, so it's quite possible FutureGen will deliver more kWh/ton of coal than existing plants.

9. Progress on next generation biofuels

The biofuel spotlight turned to the future. Dozens of startups focused on cellulosic ethanol, gasification and other next-gen processes competed for headlines with "green diesel", butanol and other biofuel initiatives from the oil majors.

Most of the oil majors have taken a pass on the ethanol craze, but they are looking at other biofuels. 2007 saw announcements from BP that they would team with D1 Oils to produce biodiesel from jatropha; from ConocoPhillips that they would team with Tyson Foods to produce "green diesel" from waste animal fats; and that BP and Dupont would team up to produce bio-butanol. (I wrote a reality check on bio-butanol here).

10. US Navy funds Bussard Fusion

I think you have to include the US Navy funding Bussard Fusion in there:

Bussard died a couple months ago. I had really given up on fusion, but his work actually appears to have a reasonable change to work. Hopefully with more funding his team will be able to make it work.

Yes, Dr. Bussard's work will be carried on. First step is to construct WB-7 and replicate the results achieved with WB-6. Hopefully by the end of April 2008. If that works, then on to WB-8, and then an actual power generating plant.

The rest of the list (mostly contributed by readers, and in no particular order), many of which could have easily been in the Top 10 list:

11. King Coal is still king

If we look for the stories that did not attract attention, surely one of the big ones has to be the continued surprising vitality of the international coal industry. King Coal has officially been dead for a long time. Who would have predicted that, 10 years after Kyoto, coal would once more be where it's at, supplying more Btus to the world than ever before?

12. US Coal Plant cancellations, headlined by TXU cancelling 8 of 11 planned plants.

CO2, the primary driver behind the other half of our top 10 stories, has long played in Europe but will only achieve global influence by spreading through the US into the developing world. 2007's coal plant cancellations marked the tipping point.

13. Al Gore wins Nobel Prize for work on Global Warming

Gore's tireless efforts to educate the world on Global Warming was recognized with this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Tiny Carthage, Tennessee now claims two Nobel Laureates. (Cordell Hull is the other).

14. Shell releases details of their shale oil process

Probably the most important energy announcement was Shell's release of info on their proprietary in-situ process for generating oil from oil shale. Could open a whole new branch of the oil industry, put a cap on the price of oil from conventional fields, and thereby inject some realism into windy dreams. But it turns out that Shell has been working towards this for about a quarter of a century. "Incremental advances" indeed!

15. Resource nationalization grows

While the seizure of the assets of international oil companies by Hugo Chavez got the most press, many other countries are moving to nationalize their oil resources. Many other countries, and even states like Alaska, are also passing laws to increase their tax revenues from the extraction of oil. The U.S. needs to sit up and take notice, because this will further constrain supplies. We can't continue to count on a steady supply of oil from countries who don't like us, yet we lack the political will to reduce our dependence on these countries.

16. New efficiency record for silicon PV - 42.8 percent from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions

The highly efficient VHESC solar cell uses a novel lateral optical concentrating system that splits solar light into three different energy bins of high, medium and low, and directs them onto cells of various light sensitive materials to cover the solar spectrum. The system delivers variable concentrations to the different solar cell elements. The concentrator is stationary with a wide acceptance angle optical system that captures large amounts of light and eliminates the need for complicated tracking devices.

In a way I find the Nanosolar story more compelling since they are actually in commercial production now. Still, the prospect of high efficiency PV without using exotic and/or toxic materials gives me hope.

17. Manpower shortages in the energy sector

Big Oil's Talent Hunt

From the article:

ConocoPhillips (COP) has grand plans. With demand for oil soaring, the company announced on Dec. 7 that it will boost its exploration and production budget by 8%, to $11 billion, a war chest intended to fund massive projects from Canada to China to the Caspian Sea.

But there's a potential obstacle to the company's vision: not enough people to get the work done. Half of Conoco's employees are eligible for retirement within five years. Unless older workers can be replaced, Conoco's expansion could be costlier and slower than planned. In an interview with BusinessWeek, CEO James J. Mulva said that the lack of talent is one of the most dangerous threats to his company's long-term health. "People are a big concern," he said.

This is not just a big oil story. Lack of workers is hitting all sectors of the energy industry. It seems that college students would rather be lawyers or investment bankers than scientists and engineers.

18. Texas surpassed California in wind energy

This signals a shift in wind from high-cost, subsidized eco-darling to cost-effective energy source. As the low-cost provider, wind now thrives in low bureaucracy states such as former oil-king Texas. Meanwhile high-regulation states such as California lag behind.

19. Potential PV improvement

Potential improvement on PV front

Transparent electrodes created from atom-thick carbon sheets could make solar cells and LCDs without depleting precious mineral resources, say researchers in Germany.

Solar cells, LCDs, and some other devices, must have transparent electrodes in parts of their designs to let light in or out. These electrodes are usually made from indium tin oxide (ITO) but experts calculate that there is only 10 years' worth of indium left on the planet, with LCD panels consuming the majority of existing stocks.

"There is not enough indium on earth for the future development of devices using it," says Linjie Zhi of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany. "It is also not very stable, so you have to be careful during the fabrication process."

20. Study analyzes off shore wind in US Northeast

The wind resource off the Mid-Atlantic coast could supply the energy needs of nine states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, plus the District of Columbia--with enough left over to support a 50 percent increase in future energy demand--according to a study by researchers at the University of Delaware and Stanford University.

The study marks the first empirical analysis in the United States of a large-scale region's potential offshore wind-energy supply using a model that links geophysics with wind-electric technology--and that defines where wind turbines at sea may be located in relation to water depth, geology and "exclusion zones" for bird flyways, shipping lanes and other uses.

21. A123Systems mass produces next generation lithium batteries

Shipping in DeWalt's 2007 line of 36V cordless power tools, these new cells mark the 5th wave of rechargeable batteries (lead-acid, NiCad, NiMH, Li-ion and now advanced lithium). Advanced lithium chemistries from A123 and dozens of other vendors offer the possibility of cost-effective plug-in hybrids as well as applications in the electrical grid.

22. Electricity shortages, particularly in the developing world

Some appear to be related to climate change -- droughts that require major hydro cutbacks. Some are clearly due to oil prices/supplies -- poor countries that burn heavy diesel in their power plants and can't afford it at the new world prices. Some are due to bad bets on fuel sources -- natural gas generators put in, and the gas supply declining sooner than planned.

23. Solar thermal heats up

For decades the SEGS parabolic trough plant in California's Mojave desert stood alone as the only large-scale CSP plant on earth, but 2007 saw a rebirth of this technology with the inauguration of the 64MW Nevada Solar One plant and construction of plants in Spain, Australia and elsewhere. California utilities have ordered up to 1750 MW of capacity from dish-Stirling purveyor Stirling Energy Systems and startups such as Ausra are pushing the price/performance barrier with linear Fresnel architectures.

24. First Solar market value hits $20 billion

As the first mass producer of non-silicon thin film PV, FSLR cashed in big-time in 2007. Their $1.40/W manufacturing cost is a huge competitive advantage, yielding fat profits and an eye-popping 200% growth rate. True to their name, First Solar got out of the gate first, but other non-Si players are still in the race. Companies using CIGS, including the much-hyped but yet-to-deliver Nanosolar, promise to break the $1/W barrier.

25. Cooper Pairs in insulators

One of the AIP's top stories of the year, this discovery may well help us reach a better understanding of superconductivity and insulators both. Superconductivity is of course a holy grail in energy research, and while this discovery doesn't directly lead to a room temp superconductor, it does add to the fundamental knowledge of material in the solid state.

26. Medvedev slated to take over from Putin

Essentially Putin's Russia will continue, and that has direct implication for all the fossil fuel industry in Asia, regarding everything from global warming to export control to defense postures. Putin's Russia, one of an energy oligarchy, will continue to express those policies likely for a good portion of the 21st century.

27. Conditions in Iraq improve enough to get the oil industry back online

Opening the possibility that Iraq just might return to a functioning member of OPEC has direct implications on the availability of oil for import around the world.

28. USAF test flight of transport aircraft C-17 using CTL synthetic fuel

This heralds the onset of CTL and likely portrays our (US) future over the next couple of decades.

29. And now, for my wildcat speculation of the most important news item:

Namibia: Expert Confident About Oil Reserves

Southwest Africa will turn out to be a major oil exporting region over the next couple of decades, slowing the decrease in available net exports of oil.

30. The response of the global economy to the large increase in oil prices

Most people would have probably assumed that $90 oil would have caused mayhem in the global economy a year or two ago. Yet the effect has been relatively muted. I think this says a lot about how effectively individuals, businesses (and hats off to alternative energy firms), and governments have responded to increasing oil prices over the long term. Oil now has a much smaller (I believe around 50%) impact per GDP than it did in the 1970's in most of the big western economies, including the US.

31. Tesla troubles

A not-positive but nevertheless noteworthy story is Tesla Motors recent troubles with putting the final touches on its long-awaited car, particularly with the transmission failure and the management shuffling.

And I love this suggestion for 2008. What a great idea this would be:

My favorite energy story for 2008 would be -- Congress recognizes they cannot pick winners, and instead sets up a multi-billion dollar X-Prize competition for the first three alternate energy sources to supply reliable commercial-scale power at costs competitive with fossils.

So those were the energy stories that I, or various readers thought were significant in 2007. Were there other significant stories that we missed?

Looking back at the list, many (most?) of the stories were not anticipated at the beginning of the year. So, who knows what 2008 will bring. Any thoughts?

So, who knows what 2008 will bring. Any thoughts?

Hillary Clinton chooses chemical engineer Robert Rapier as VP running mate...;)

2 Jan 08: WTI pulls back from record $102 / bbl reached on 31 Dec 07:-(

Have a good break RR

One of the big stories is that Nanosolar is actually producing their thin film solar using printing technology. Another big story you cite says we are running out of indium, a key component of the CIGS process, saying we have only have ten years of indium left. If true, doesn't this still some thunder from the Nanosolar story. Alternatively, is it really true that we are running out. Further, if we are indeed running out, are there any alternatives to Indium on the horizon?

I looked on the Nanosolar website and found it difficult to find any information about the efficiency of their thin film technology. Anyone have any pointers here?

If you follow the link that Robert has, they are really secretive about the entire thing

Q). Will Nanosolar begin production this year?

A). Yes, we’re on track with this. Do not expect an Apple style product launch though. Our first 100,000 panels are already set to go into closed, private, utility-scale deployments, with a tall fence around them and not much accessibility to the general public.

Maybe that is just good business sense, but it smells a bit of hype. He also trashes his chief engineer later in the article, not cool in my book. He could have just said they parted ways.

I have heard it reported that this technology
uses photosensitive dyes, which evidently do not
have the staying power of traditional silicon
based PV technology.


Actually 10 years of assured reserves is a pretty typical figure, and not that bad one. IIRC lithium reserves for example are also in the 15-20 years range - does this spell an end to Li batteries and plug-in hybrids?

What non-oil peakist fail to understand is that resources with relatively small market are in their infancy of exploration and development compared to oil. Indium circa 2007 is pretty much in the phase oil was in 1907. And why not? Who needs millions of tonnes of Indium nobody will ever use? Even with these high prices, the whole Uranium market for example is paultry $1.4 bln a year. This compared to a daily value of oil of $8bln. So, why dig the whole world for small-value resources nobody has a pressing need of!?!

Further, are we saying we will run out of LCD TVs? Also read in Wikipedia that Indium is less rare than silver. Just wanted some feedback. Every time we have a breakthrough in solar, or whatever, there are always those who spoil the party by pointing to some shortage of something. Further, those, like the Google founders; are they investing tens of millions in technologies that will disappear in ten years. Seems like they or their well paid minions would have checked this problem out.

look to electronics. costs are going up yet prices are still going down. it's called economies of scale. why can't solar experience the same thing. why can't the costs go up but because we produce so much the panels cost less like plasma screens?

That is not the definition of "economies of scale"-I would have thought the term itself would have tipped you off. You remind me of the guy buying shoes for $3 and selling them for $2- his friend asks-how do you stay in business-his reply: We make it up on volume.

"Electronics" is not necessarily a good example. You can miniaturize information processing, but you can't miniaturize power production.

I have looked a tiny little bit into the Indium issue, and I wonder if it's not just a matter of no one ever really cared that much about Indium before. It appears to be as common as silver in the earth. Yet, no one in the west is specifically mining Indium - it is most often a by-product of zinc production (such as for the Canadian company Teck Cominco).

If no one is specifically mining it, and it is as common as silver, then there would seem to be some hope that production of indium could be substantially increased.

If it's a byproduct, there's the potential to promote the production of the primary product by pushing e.g. zinc-air fuel cells and get a two-fer.

Indium was $1000/kg a year or so ago, has since fallen to half that. No sign of distress...

Can't indium be recycled? What's the cost on that?

Robert, well down your list, but if Namibia has significant onshore reserves, why wouldn't South Africa have exploited them back in the bad old days? South Africa had the technoloy. They had control. They were very active in mining in Namibia. They had an oil problem in a big way. This story just doesn't seem to add up.

why wouldn't South Africa have exploited them back in the bad old days?

Violence? Cheaper reserves elsewhere? (Remember $10 a barrel oil and sub $1 a gallon gas?)

Or perhaps your sense of a scam is correct.

Not so much a scam as an odd oversight given the coal to liquids push in South Africa.

The strange aspect is the presence of seeps pointed out in the article which would almost undoubtedly have been pursued. If I was worried about an oil embargo, I would sooner start a home grown liquid fuels program with nasty slow producing heavy crudes than coal.

The embargo back then might have had an effect.

(Oh and RR - thanks for the Butynol link again)

...if Namibia has significant onshore reserves, why wouldn't South Africa have exploited them back in the bad old days?

That story wasn't mine, it was contributed by a reader. I included most stories that various readers suggested, some of which I did not agree with. But I figured they would generate some debate and discussion.

I think that you got the wrong piece of the FutureGen story. Hours after the announcement you quoted, the Federal Government nixed the plan. This story appeared:

DOE Pulls Back on FutureGen's Reins

But within hours, the FutureGen Alliance found itself in silence as the U.S. Department of Energy, which had been expected to cover 74 percent of the plant's cost using taxpayer money, told the group it had got ahead of itself.

The federal agency said there are major issues that still need to be addressed, not least of all a projected major cost overrun.

Although the alliance puts the price tag at $1.5 billion, some industry watchers have put the gross estimated cost at $1.8 billion, saying that the alliance's figure deducts $300 million in estimated revenue from electricity. But either figure is significantly higher than the earlier government estimates of $950 million.

On the wind side, especially offshore wind, I'd argue that the more significant news come from Europe, with both the UK and Germany establishing the regulatory framework (tariff + grid connection) that will allow large scale deployment of the technology (and by large scale, it means at least 40GW by 2020)

"competition for the first three alternate energy sources to supply reliable commercial-scale power at costs competitive with fossils."

I simply do not understand why it is mandated
that clean, renewable energy compete with
subsidized, polluting, fossil fuel prices? This
is really comparing apples to oranges.


Because the "clean renewable energy" may not be reliable? Or because it may be too costly? There must be a reason we prefer to put gas in our tanks, not wind turbines.

Your cliche "clean renewable energy" is positioning it above objective criteria. Does corn ethanol also qualify? Does a hydro dam that buries thousands acres of tropical forest also qualify?

If we want to level the playing field we need to make FFs pay for their pollution, which is the most pressing thing we should do. We all know this is politically impossible, but in this case we'd better try to make politically possible instead of picking arbitrary winners and play the devils game ones again. Such games always end up in the hands of certain corporate interests.

There must be a reason we prefer to put gas in our tanks, not wind turbines.

Because it's free energy. All the hard work was done millions of years ago. It's pretty hard to compete cost-wise with free.

Wind is also free. You can call any source of energy "free" until you realize it costs a lot to find it, harness it and turn it in usable form.

Yes, it is an unfair playing field. But that is the world we currently live in.

Thought this might be of interest, apologies for the length:

Press Release
RWE Power and GE to develop
new power storage system
Essen/Cologne 27. Dezember 2007
RWE Power has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with GE for the joint development and validation of a zero-emission storage technology (Advanced Adiabatic Compressed Air Energy Storage -AA-CAES) with higher efficiency than current available solutions. The memorandum is aimed at finding alternative paths for large-scale energy storage in an effort to better align distribution of supply and demand currently within the electricity market.
“The highly fluctuating power input is expected to increase in the future, if only because of the planned massive expansion of wind energy. Therefore it is important to address this challenge and develop concepts for efficient storage in due time”, explains Dr. Johannes Lambertz, CEO of RWE Power AG, Fossil-Fired Power Plants portfolio. “Hence, RWE Power and GE will initially conduct a joint feasibility study to be completed by end of 2008. Based on the findings of this study, a first demonstration plant is scheduled for 2012.”
AA-CAES is a zero-emission storage technology with higher efficiency with respect to current available energy storage solutions. A major challenge will be to develop a compressor technology that can withstand high temperatures during compression and ensure high availability of Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) power plants. To prevent this heat from being lost, it is extracted from the compressed air before the latter is stored in a cavern, and directed to a separate thermal energy storage.
“We’re excited about this project because we believe that thanks to GE’s vast experience in compressor technology, we have the capability to study and propose unique solutions as an alternative to the current state of art,” said Claudi Santiago, president and CEO of GE’s Oil & Gas, which will study the compressor technology required.
The most interesting sites for CAES power plants are regions where caverns of worked-out salt mines are present. “This is an important project for GE. We are pleased to be partnering once again with RWE Power, a long time collaborator of ours,” said Ricardo Cordoba, president of GE Energy, Western Europe and Northern Africa.
About RWE Power
RWE Power AG is the power generator in the RWE Group in Continental Europe and one of the largest European power producers. The generation of RWE Power draws on a broad range of primary energies: nuclear energy and lignite produced in the Company's own opencast mines in Rhineland for base load; hard coal, gas and renewable energies like water, wind and biomass for mid-merit and peak load. With its highly diversified energy mix, RWE Power offers its customers power supplies which are as reliable as they are reasonably priced and environment-friendly.

Awesome List Robert, you definitely have become my favorite TOD writer this year, rational, fair, and open minded.

I can hardly wait till May to find out if the WB-7 Fusion device is successful, if it is, it will be the biggest news of 2008. Best hopes everyday for the WB-8.

The list actually made me a bit nervous. The vast majority of the stories were potential technological solutions to energy supply. I guess this is what should be expected from a list edited by an engineer. However, I can't get around the fact that so many technological solutions to the energy problem have fallen flat, or at least tripped embarrassingly, over the last few years.

In my opinion, the solution isn't so much to increase supply as it is to control demand. More stories in this direction would have made me more comfortable. Maybe 2008 will be a different year.

(Of course, Robert's stories on his new year's resolutions show that he is focusing his personal efforts on the demand side. So he's obviously has a good handle on the issue.)

Re: indium.

Nano-carbon to the rescue. I'll have to find my resource and post a link later but it looks like single layer carbon will substitute for indium/tin.

If you want to get deeper into Bussard Fusion technology visit:
IEC Fusion Technology blog

Start with the sidebar which has links to tutorials and other stuff.

Why should AE compete with coal and natural gas? Because then roll out will not depend on the whims of government and the vagaries of the political process. Look at how the Dem Congress gutted the science budget.

The best thing the gov. can do is invest in lowering the cost of the technologies and then let the profit motive take over.

Re: economics. Think Drug Prohibition. The gov. has been trying to stop illegal drugs for 90 years. As long as there is a profit to be made the drugs are unstopable. We want the same conditions to apply to new energy. Unstopable.

Here is a carbon nano-tube/indium replacement link from 2004. Nice picture of Bush signing something to do with it:

There was a more recent article. I'll see if I can find it.

Here is one from March 2007:

Dr. Shi also discussed Suntech's primary strategies for growth and the acceleration of the Company's 1GW expansion target by two years and doubling of its 2010 plan to 2GW due to accelerated market demand and outstanding operational execution. "With the economies of scale generated from rapid capacity expansion, our broad portfolio of low cost silicon supply and next generation technology that will raise our conversion efficiency and improve profitability, we are on track to reach grid parity pricing within a five year time frame -- well ahead of many of our peers."

How do they compete with thin film, especially considering that Nanosolar claims they have already reached parity? Or does it depend upon one's definition of parity? Five years may be just enough time for STP to disappear if they are betting on silicon . Don't know, just asking.

Hoku and Suntech Sign $678 Million Polysilicon Supply Contract

POCATELLO, ID and WUXI, CHINA--(MARKET WIRE)--Jun 13, 2007 -- Hoku Materials, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hoku Scientific, Inc. (NasdaqGM: HOKU) established to manufacture polysilicon for the solar market, and Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (NYSE: STP), one of the world's leading manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules, today announced the signing of a definitive contract for Hoku's sale and delivery of polysilicon to Suntech over a ten-year period beginning in mid-2009.


Hoku is in the process of building a plant capable of producing 2,000 metric tons of polysilicon per year in Pocatello, Idaho.

Big time story coming up in the CSP solar systems aera, have a look at
Putting the system offshore, including heat storage and linking it to the grid via HVDC cables gives you almost unlimited clean power generation 24/7
The proposed system is capable of producing 100 GigaWatts at the equivalent "barrel price" of less than 20$
Seems to be the future ...

At first I was fascinated by the idea, but then I was mildly said puzzled by the offshore portion.

What exactly is the point of deploying hundreds of square kilometers of platforms in the sea? How are CSP mirrors going to fare in the harsh sea conditions? What about maintainance, corrosion, sea storms?

I think it is non-starter offshore. Doing this on land will be much more attractive, that is, if the cost-reduction promises of CSP indeed materialize.

I would be inclined to agree.

There are reasons to put wind farms out on the water:  the resource is much better there, and many population centers are on or near bodies of water.  But CSP?  Doesn't look right to me.

What exactly is the point of deploying hundreds of square kilometers of platforms in the sea?

Because most land is 'spoken for'. The 'wide open sea' has no humans who say 'we own this'. 200+ mile cables to shore are the least of the problems.....

A lot of the "spoken for" land is beneath roofs and parking lots, which could be used for PV or CSP.  This also cuts the transmission and distribution distance from miles to yards.  Plus, who wouldn't mind being able to park in the shade every day, or eliminate the solar heating of the roof during A/C season?

Unless the solar resource offshore is much better than it is on-shore, there will be no advantage to going to the ocean.  Worse, offshore is a "high-energy" environment; the collectors would have to be built at least as high as oil platforms or be shredded by waves.  The same wind which makes offshore attractive for wind farms makes it troublesome for solar collectors.

This idea is a non-starter.

It seems a very silly idea - and the land ownership issue seems nonsensical as well - the Mojave desert is enormous - and full of BLM land which I'm sure would be made available for large-scale PV farms

They are going to expand Kramer Junction in the Mojave to 9 square miles, which will be able to produce enough power for 450,000 homes.
There seems to be enough land and power lines out there to do it if the will and follow through are there.

Good list, RR. My only nitpick is that I'd move #15 up to the top 10, and the Volt doesn't deserve anything near that high a ranking. At this point, IMHO, it is still just vaporware. I still have my doubts about whether they will ever actually deliver a real product to market.

What a great idea this would be:

My favorite energy story for 2008 would be -- Congress recognizes they cannot pick winners, and instead sets up a multi-billion dollar X-Prize competition for the first three alternate energy sources to supply reliable commercial-scale power at costs competitive with fossils.

Up to a point.

One improvement would be for the body offering the prizes to be a group of large shareholders in petroleum producers and/or natural gas producers. As recipients only of the profits on sales of fossil fuels, not the taxes, they wouldn't lose as much money upon paying out the prizes as the US government would.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

I thought the news about the THAI process would be somewhere in this list.

good catch speek, I agree it should be up there as well.


Regarding this comment in number 6:
"But on down the road I think gasification makes a lot more sense than most fermentation processes."

Could you point me to some info on why you think that is true ? Thank you.

Thanks also for the interesting list. It will be fun to follow those issues over the year to come.

Happy holidays,

I think there is the happy microbes problem and the water separation problem. Bacteria, yeast and algae need the right temperature, nutrients, absence of competitors and removal of some waste products. Not only does ethanol buildup inhibit yeast but it takes lot of energy to separate from water ie distillation. Water is a flame retardant and so fuel purity is more critical than overlapping fractions in oil distillation.

This is not to say 'dry' is better than 'wet' since thermochemical experiments are underway using supercritical water at high temperature and pressure.

If you search biomass gasification, you will see large scale projects in Sweden, the Netherlands and Minnesota that have proven the technology is cost effective.

I agree with the great list comments. In addition, if the following pans out, significant battery improvements may be coming:

I'm an occasional lurker (who's extremely appreciative of everything on this site), and if this has been commented on already, debunked, etc., I apologize.

Considering where we're at with PO and GW this list should be a lot more positive. Item after item shows no real progress. The numbers associated with technology advances are small and some other big bad numbers have held the line. It's as if we're closing in on the iceberg but slowed a barely noticeable amount.

I'd like to see more of PV costs down 90% with new cheap materials, FutureGen amazes critics with early results, electric cars break sales records, public demands greater windpower, Congress approves carbon caps, commercial fusion reactor goes online, battery breakthrough..

I think the biggest news to the public was that the price of a barrel of oil shot up to within a hair of $100. That part didn't really surprise us here at TOD. What did surprise us (or a least me) is how little impact $100 oil had on the world.

Nothing much changed, except for details. I'm sure a few more people take mass transit or carpool. Car ads now tout their cars fuel economy, and car buyer presumably take fuel economy into account. Maybe the average driver uses 1 or 2% less gas. But basically, the world is still pretty much the same as it's always been. At least here in the U.S.

NECESSARY energy story for 2008: U.S. Congress passes extension to tax credits for renewable energy installations on homes and small businesses.

You may not be aware that these credits will expire end of 2008 unless Congress passes a law extending them. This was one provision chopped out of the law just passed a couple of weeks ago, to accomodate Republican objections in the Senate and to ensure passage of the Senate version (they didn't have enough votes for the tax-credit extension).

Whatever you think about the rightness or wrongness of financial incentives for renewable energy, the loss of these credits will kill the just-revived solar energy industry as dead as it was after Reagan came into office. Including a startup company I just began working for.

- Dick Lawrence

Just Remember that it is a tax credit not a rebate. I would need to spend at least $6700 to get a $2000 tax credit.

what kind of a qualifing system would I get for $6700 ?

How many folks need a $2000 tax credit ?

For $6700 you would get a system supplying most or all of your hot water needs (depending on family size, usage patterns). Depending on how you heat water now - nat-gas, electric, LPG, oil - the payback is in 5 to 10 year range - note implicit assumption of cost of future energy in the calculation, could be faster if energy cost increases accelerate. Also state-level tax credits are available in many locations. And that's not including the fact that when (if) you sell the place, you get most of it back as it's a substantial enhancement to the property.

Viewed in terms of financial return on investment, it's typically in the 12% to 20% range. This is a pretty good ROI with practically zero risk. Where else can you put your money and get that return with that level of risk?

Dick Lawrence

For $6700 you would get a system supplying most or all of your hot water needs (depending on family size, usage patterns).

Tell me more. Does a system like that provide any heating for the home, or is that just for hot water? It occurs to me that a solar hot water system could be circulated through radiators in the home during the winter, but I don’t know if these systems generate enough heat for that. But I would like to hear more. I would be interested in taking advantage of that tax credit before it expires (and making sure to publicize the fact that we shouldn’t allow it to expire).

I would also like to know more about a solar system that would give me a $2000+ tax credit.

I/we only have 3 more days to invest !

I can't speak for Dick, but that sounds like a typcial domestic hot water system, not something suited for home heating. Using solar thermal for home heating is do-able, but problematic, because if it generates enough heat to warm the house in the winter, then it will produce a lot of unwanted heat in the summertime, which then has to be dumped to a heat sink somewhere (as I recall, far more than you would need to keep a hot tub really hot). Systems sized for home heating are also considerably larger, and more expensive than a typical $5-7K domestic hot water system.

IMO there are still many applications yet to be explored with solar thermal...e.g., build a good-sized aquifer underground to be used as a heat sink in the summer, then use a heat pump to pull heat from it in the winter. Or perhaps residential-sized CSP unit could be developed that could alternately provide heat or power, whichever is needed at the time...

In any case, YES, we must preserve the tax credits for both solar thermal and PV. The coming and going of such incentives makes it very difficult to sustain a market for both, which ruins planning for manufacturing cap ex and everything else down the line.


earth as a BTU battery
inter-seasonal thermal aquifer storage is already being done. See

You can use the heat in the summer to provide absorption cooling for the house. The condenser can be used to feed a geothermal soil mass under the house to store heat for winter use.

It seems to me that the top 10 energy stories of 2007 are all quite centered on the "maintaining the status quo" theme and exclude those who believe that radical culture change is needed.

Some of the reality-based top stories may have to do with those who see that the ecological perfect storm we have summoned is upon us, and that focus on developing truly sustainable ways of living is the single most important path: reduction of consumption for many of us, but also consuming in a "cradle to cradle" way.

("C to C" = What we consume needs to be created through sustainable processes, needs to be used in processes which are sustainable, and needs to be put back into the supply chain as useful material at the end of useful life.)

I do not mean this to put down the stories that RR has included so much as to point out that we are not changing fundamental thinking here, and that is what we need to do.

The fact that "Peak Oil" and "Climate Change" may be breaking into MSM and mainstream thought seems to be the most important anthropocentric news of the year.

I question whether or not the "debates" and "conversations" on the MSM will allow us to deal with the Carbon Twins at all.

If we continue to focus only on new technologies to come and save us, have we not replaced the notion of tribal War God with the Great God Technology?

Isn't the MSM and Corporatist way of thinking about "the economy" magical thinking and superstition?

I'd like for the list to include stories of some of the many efforts to establish permaculture in various contexts.

I also think that the skew toward big Corporatist "solutions" and stories is very understandable.

We need new stories. The old stories we continue to tell ourselves are destroying us.

We need to focus on the very heart of the radical changes we need to make in the way we each relate to the planet, and tell stories about that is changing.

It seems to me that the top 10 energy stories of 2007 are all quite centered on the "maintaining the status quo" theme and exclude those who believe that radical culture change is needed.

What stories would you have included that were about energy, and radical culture change? I don’t believe that maintaining the status quo is an option. However, we will need some mitigation options to maintain something resembling an OK standard of living. We need energy options, even if they are very expensive. That’s what my Top 10 primarily focused on: Potential Peak Oil mitigation options.

I've not been able to gather a bunch of stories that relate to my idea of the most important energy stories of 2007, but here is an article that represents some of what I have in mind, for starters.

John Jeavons claim is essentially this:

"Biointensive mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using 99percent less energy in all forms - human and mechanical, 66 percent to 88
percent less water, and 50 percent to 100 percent less fertilizer, compared
to commercial agriculture. They also produce two to six times more food and
build the soil."

Add to this such insights as:

"Each person's urine and manure contain approximately
enough nutrients to produce enough food to feed that person."


"Because of this higher productivity, Biointensive practices could allow
one-half to three-quarters of the world to be left in wild for the
preservation of plant and animal diversity.

It has been said that Biointensive practices might make it possible to grow
food for all the people in the US in just the area now used for lawns. This
possibility could mean thriving agriculturally self-reliant cities with
'green belts' to produce all their food."

The Corporatist agenda of course prefers not to allow these kinds of "stories" to permeate our media or our culture. Such stories actually challenge the status quo far too much, do they not? The larger story that dominates all of the so-called "Energy" stories you've presented as important is Wall Street and the maintenance of the current economic anf geopolitical sytem .. at least that's how I see it.

This is not to be hostile or critical, I'm just trying to sort out how to convey my message that the key stories right now are precisely those that present an entirely different way of relating to the planet than is possible within the Corporatist narrative.

RR -- I went to a local Chrysler-Jeep dealer to talk about the GEMCar. The dealership had maybe hundreds (?) of h-u-g-e new Jeeps on the lot -- gas-guzzlers all! They all sported big, colorful 0.0% stickers on the windshields, because, Hell, the dealer was desperate to unload them!

I spoke with the sales rep and manager about maybe giving me a break on a GEMCar, as I will be a driving ambassador for them if I drive one for my sustainable handyperson/ household helper business. Already I've had questions about the ZAP Xebra I've been test-driving, and am willing to hand out cards and brochures to questioners.

The response was basically this:

WHEREAS The auto business has overproduced the market for quite some time, rather than shutting down production. The big Corporations are pushing dealers to buy vehicles at fire-sale prices, but then those vehicles sit on the lots and so the dealers must reduce prices even further to entice people to buy them.

THEREFORE there is no money in the Corporatist system to support extra "marketing" for energy-sipping vehicles that we might all agree are what we really need to focus on at this time.

And so the Corporatist story, RR, remains that the sadly impoverished corporations cannot be made to bear the costs of the very transformations we need to make in order to address Peak Oil and Global Heating. We must continue to buy what we do not need from them in order to subsidize them as they design future models for us....

My concern is that the corporatist mindset is such that the real story of our actual, factual relationship to the planet is forever excluded and not even yet acknowledged. Plunder, rapacity, and avarice are indeed the core Corporatist cultural paradigms that are not at all challenged by the supposedly "big top 10 stories" we tell ourselves are important.

The culture change website has a story that is important, and complements the story told in the book and documentary "The Corporation."

"Looting" is what corporations do, is it not? We loot the planet without accountability, we loot other countries, the poor, our colonies, and suck all of those energies and other resources to ourselves at the point of a gun -- but we hide that as much as possible from ourselves with the stories we tell.

The planet is telling a different story, is it not? Will we be able to hide from that narrative told in such words we are not able to form: storms and drought and scarcity of soil and oil and even of forests; a kind of impoverishment of the gene pool of the human species as we descend into madness trying to outdo one another in raping the planet and stealing resources from each other?

RR: One of my favorite sources for such stories is (not suprisingly) Jan Lundberg's Culture Change blog. For example, his article Albert Bates, guide for our post-petroleum, globally warmed future about Bates' work at The Farm, an intentional community in Tennessee.

It still blows my mind that the former publisher of the Lundberg Letter is now an avid depaver and post-petrocollapse planner.

"It still blows my mind that the former publisher of the Lundberg Letter is now an avid depaver and post-petrocollapse planner."

It's not surprising at all, from a different point of view.

People who have spent their career in the oil industry tend to believe that oil is king, and that if that king is dethroned that the world will end - all or nothing.

Oil is indispensable in the short term, but it's easily replaced in the longer term. People like Lundberg and Kunstler are mirror images of the same coin in their inability to see that.

People who have spent their career in the oil industry tend to believe that oil is king, and that if that king is dethroned that the world will end - all or nothing. Oil is indispensable in the short term, but it's easily replaced in the longer term. People like Lundberg and Kunstler are mirror images of the same coin in their inability to see that.

GREAT QUOTE Nick. Probably the best I have read here in a long time. Another way to say it would be Lundberg is the Yang to Kunstlers Ying.

"GREAT QUOTE Nick. Probably the best I have read here in a long time. "

Thank you.

I'm often puzzled by the ready acceptance of oil & gas industry veterans as authorities on things which are either outside their industry or are competitors, such as wind/solar, and the nature of a post-oil economy.

Exxon/Mobil, in a rare semi-honest moment recently, said that they don't invest in renewables because renewables are a different industry - it's not their expertise, and there's no special reason why an oil company would be successful at it.

Another top story can be found here:

Any review of energy needs to be placed within the context of the Sixth Great Extinction, which looks to be largely anthropogenic.

Every corporation needs to ask itself first and foremost how it is contributing to this massive die off, how it can stop causing the massive die off, and how it can actively restore habitat to diverse species.

Profit needs to be redefined as the ability to create habitat wealth.

Energy companies do their share of habitat destruction from wellhead to end-use of the products they sell.

Corporations need to organize themselves to encourage home sustainable food production, Transit-Oriented Development, and sane population reduction -- rather than encouraging rapacious consumption which requires resource war and ignores famine and disease as necessary evils or manifestations of the free markets invisible hand.

Once again, my conversation at the car dealer (see my above post) reveals that corporations operate in a vacuum rather than in the context of the real world we inhabit.

I do hope you are able to read E.O. Wilson this year. "The Creation" is a good book to start with -- short and pretty much to the point.

The biggest energy story of the year goes unreported:

"Corporatists refuse to believe that we live on a planet, and insist that we live on an infinite, self-replenishing magic ball that will supply us with an Eternal Disneyland of goodies."

That is the really big story.

It's very hard for me to see GM listed as number 3. They've been playing the electric car game a long time and nothing comes of it.

Toyota on the other hand produces. I would much rather they get listed than GM.

Toyota sells three Hybrid cars with extremely limited range when using just electric power. The Volt has a (announced) 40-mile range on electric power.

For my money, the Prius/Insight/Camry are "improved efficiency" vehicles, and barely worth the monkier of Hybrid. If you're driving on the highway, the mileage figures for the Toyotas can be achieved just by making a given car more aerodynamic (SUV's may have trouble here though).

Hybrids like the Volt are an important step to make the sheeple understand that if they're only driving 40 miles a day, they don't need a car with a range of 500 miles and has a low efficiency.

The fact that anyone with a little knowledge, some time, and $10K can build for themselves (using a cheap donor shell and Deep-Cycle Lead Acid batteries) a car than can go 40 miles puts the 'achievements' of the auto manufacturers into perspective. Changing the LA batteries to Lithium is even better, as they weight less, and last longer (although we're waiting for a Battery Management System to become available before recommending them for widespread use in conversions).

The Insight was made by Honda, but now discontinued. Not to quibble...Toyota and Honda make good hybrids and Toyota has sold more than 1 million of them worldwide to date. GM has a long way to go to catch up. Making $50k hybrid Tahoe SUVs will not get them there.

First Solar uses fairly old technology and I question the $1.40 per watt manufacturing cost. One thing they have done is hype their stock price way beyond valuation. "There is a sucker born every minute and two to take him." - P.T. Barnum