Drumbeat: June 4, 2011

U.S. Warns of South China Sea Clashes Without Code of Conduct

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that more clashes will occur in the South China Sea if nations vying for oil and gas in the waters fail to agree on ways to avoid confrontations.

“I fear that without rules of the road and without agreed approaches to dealing with these problems, that there will be clashes,” Gates said at the annual IISS Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. “That serves nobody’s interest.”

Oil ends week unchanged at around $100 per barrel

NEW YORK – Oil seems to be stuck at $100 per barrel.

Despite a gloomy unemployment report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude on Friday settled just about where it began the day: down 18 cents at $100.22 per barrel. Oil has hovered around the $100 mark since early May.

"It's like there's a magnet on that $100 level," independent oil analyst Jim Ritterbusch said. "As soon as we get $2, $3 away in either direction, it snaps back."

Britain as vulnerable to energy price shocks as Uganda

Maplecroft, the risk-analysis firm, has found that the UK is one of the most exposed developed nations and is more likely to suffer supply disruption than France, Germany or the US.

Only Italy, Spain, Greece and Japan are at greater risk than Britain in the short-term among developed countries. China also faces an uphill struggle to meet its energy demand.

OPEC should raise output at meeting - advisory board

(Reuters) - OPEC should increase its oil production when it meets next week in order to meet higher demand expected in the second half, a delegate who attended a meeting of the group's advisory board told Reuters on Friday.

Four Workers Are Killed in U.K.’s Deadliest Refinery Explosion Since 1974

Four workers were killed when a storage tank exploded and caused a fire at Chevron Corp’s Pembroke plant in Wales yesterday, in the U.K.’s worst refinery disaster for almost four decades.

Another worker was hospitalized with serious injuries, San Ramon, California-based Chevron said in a statement. Output at the 210,000 barrel-a-day refinery wasn’t disrupted and an investigation is under way.

Valero-Chevron deal spins

Britain's deadliest refinery accident since 1974 may give Valero Energy Corp. grounds to renegotiate the terms of its purchase of the Chevron Corp. plant, energy lawyers and analysts said.

Pemex 'could extend life of Ku-Maloob-Zaap'

Mexico’s Pemex could maintain output of 850,000 barrels of oil per day at its Ku-Maloob-Zaap field for seven more years, extending the field’s life by two years.

Iraq boosts oil exports to Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan - Iraq has agreed to increase daily oil exports to neighboring Jordan by 50 percent, a government official said Friday, helping meet rising demand in a country that has few energy resources of its own.

Obama sets meetings next week with leaders of Nigeria, Gabon, 2 oil-rich African nations

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has set White House meetings next week with two African leaders.

The White House says Obama will hold talks next Thursday with President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. Ondimba is serving as president of the 15-nation Security Council during June.

Greenpeace activists force Arctic oil rig to stop drilling

An Arctic oil rig has been forced to stop drilling by environmental activists demanding to know how its owner would respond to an oil leak on the scale of last year's Deepwater Horizon spill.

U.S. Orders TransCanada to Shut Pipeline

After a series of spills, the United States Department of Transportation has ordered the TransCanada Corporation to suspend operation of its one-year-old Keystone 1 pipeline, which carries oil extracted from oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to the United States. The order was issued by the department’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

PG&E takes out ads to say sorry for Calif. blast

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has taken out full-page advertisements in 24 California daily newspapers to apologize for last year's deadly pipeline explosion.

China should scrap price controls

Indeed, while government officials have been warning about a water crisis for a decade, China's water price has been kept artificially low, which averages about $0.40 per cubic meter - "lower than in many emerging economies and a fraction of the real marginal cost" - resulting in huge waste by farmers, factories and households alike.

The power sector also faces the same dilemma, as power generation companies normally shoulder the rising cost. "Beijing approved a 3% increase in prices that took effect Wednesday, but this hardly provides relief to utility firms when annual inflation is running at 5%, especially since residential users are exempt from the hike," the article explains.

The Agriculture Chief as Water Advocate

Because farm runoff has been such a big cause of pollution, many advocates are wary and skeptical about the active role that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is taking on water quality.

China Faces ‘Very Grave’ Environmental Situation, Officials Say

BEIJING — China’s three decades of rapid economic growth have left it with a “very grave” environmental situation even as it tries to move away from a development-at-all-costs strategy, senior government officials said on Friday.

In a blunt assessment of the problems facing the world’s most populous country, officials from the Ministry of Environmental Protection delivered their 2010 annual report. They pointed to major improvements in water and air quality — goals that the ministry had set for itself over a five-year period ending in December.

EPA Said to Delay Draft Power-Plant Carbon Rules by Two Months

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to delay draft greenhouse-gas emissions limits for power plants, according to two people briefed on the discussions.

In Quebec, an economic plan for an environmental mutation

FORTUNE -- Climate change is reshaping our world from pole to pole. But one result of global warming could alter the face of commerce in North America and Asia forever: the opening, thanks to the melting polar ice caps, of a new maritime shipping route through the Arctic ocean. The route would connect Asia with Northern Canada and might open up in the next 20-30 years, according to the Canadian government. When that happens, the Québecois will be ready.

"We're building a parallel canal to the Panama Canal for Chinese ships so they can accelerate the transport of goods," Jean Charest, the Premier of Québec, tells Fortune. Charest and his government predict demand in China, India and other emerging markets will increase dramatically in the next 20 years. During that same time period, "Climate change is going to change this whole economy." So, he asks, "How do we develop?"

His answer focuses on trade. This month, Charest announced Québec's Plan Nord, which aims to convert the northern portion of the province into an economic hot spot and capitalize on rich mineral resources in the tundra. But that's not all: The trade pathway cleared by global warming could usher in a new mentality in Western economic growth. Unlike previous development plans that have bulldozed first and asked questions later, Plan Nord takes the unprecedented approach of tackling sustainability from the get-go.

How blinkered do you have to be to think the above is not 100% self-contradictory? We are in deep trouble.

Yes, Charest and his party are and always have been about the money. They would sell us all into slavery if they could get a quick buck out of it. Their idea of "sustainability" is sustaining cash flow to their friends. How else can you call qualify shale gas drilling of sustainable development? They tack that word onto pretty much everything they announce nowadays. It's ridiculous when you actually stop to think about what they say sometimes.

The Plan Nord will either be stillborn because of the next economic shock or cause a lot of grief a bit later when resource towns die off. I've been some distance north... no sane person wants to live up there unless they make a truckload of money and plan to leave in a few years. It's driving even the natives insane.

What exactly did he mean by "tackling sustainability from the get-go"? Crushing it with linebackers? Hooking worms to it?

It is good to see that our brothers to north understand their part in the NAFTA region. Supply raw resources.

Our brothers to the south cover cheap labor, fruits and veggies. While we service the military and military suppliers.

I read this stuff and I keep thinking about Aldous Huxley's "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan". Huxley had us figgered out decades go.

You left out our key role in creating debt instruments.

With regards to Britain as vulnerable to energy price shocks as Uganda

Power: keeping it green
Angela Merkel’s decision to dispense with nuclear power has left environmentalists around the world exploring alternatives. Henry Gass weighs up the options

People around the world are reflecting on renewable alternatives to nuclear power in the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement that Germany would decommission all its nuclear power plants by 2022. The decision leaves Germany with 11 years to replace the 25 per cent of the country’s energy produced by nuclear power. In the UK, new government incentives are opening up a variety of renewable heating options. So what does this mean for homeowners? Home heating accounts for 13 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which means people willing to give their power supply a greenover could make a big difference.

See: http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/home/926798/power_keeping...


I think the Germans are going to be very unhappy with what the decision to shut down their nuclear reactors is going to do to their electricity prices, not to mention their taxes, in the next few years.

As far as the article is concerned, I would agree that it is indeed time for the Brits to start superinsulating their houses, as they are going to be paying very steep prices for heating in the future.

North Sea oil and gas production peaked in 1999 and is undergoing a steep decline, and Britain is not endowed with a lot of alternatives to it, having depleted its coal reserves generations ago. As the article notes, PV is not all that efficient in gloomy old Britain, and wind turbines are not going to be popular with the omnipresent NIMBY group.

Nord Stream Pipeline Moves Another Step Closer to Completion

Zug, 11 May 2011. The Nord Stream Pipeline takes another important step towards its target of starting to deliver gas directly from Russia to the European Union by the end of 2011. Preparations for welding together two of the three sections of the 1,224 kilometre pipeline through the Baltic Sea have now started. They will be welded together on the seabed off the coast of Finland in a complex process expected to take about two weeks. The technical completion of the first of the twin pipelines will be achieved in June, when the final section is welded onto the pipeline off the Swedish island of Gotland. Construction of the second of the twin pipelines is scheduled for completion in 2012.
When both of Nord Stream’s twin pipelines lines are completed in late 2012, Nord Stream will have the capacity to transport 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year from Russia to Europe, enough to supply 26 million homes. No other major new pipeline with a capacity over 10 bcm is expected to come on-stream before 2015, but as of today all 101,000 large diameter 23-tonne pipes of the first line have already been laid on the seabed.

How does 55 bcm of natural gas compare with the output of the German reactors?

German nukes put out 128 Terawatt hours in 2009. Using 8,000 MCF/GWh for combined cycle natural gas plants I get the following:

128,000 Gigawatt hours * (8,000 MCF / GWh) * 1 m^3/35.3 ft^3 = 29.5 bcm per year.

So the Nord Stream supply of gas will allow the Germans to shut down their nukes if the Russians actually fill the pipelines.

Here's the overview of German Electric generation by sources:


Well, it will allow the Germans to shut down their nukes if they buy 54% of the natural gas carried on the pipeline and build about 40 combined-cycle natural gas powerplants to replace the nukes. The thing is, this pipeline is supposed to supply the rest of the EU with natural gas as well as Germany. It will carry 10% of Russia's total natural gas production.

The rest of the EU will have to bargain with the Poles and Ukrainians.

I think the Germans are going to be very unhappy with what the decision to shut down their nuclear reactors is going to do to their electricity prices

Japan didn't shut down their reactors. Did that improve their electric prices?

What I find rarely discussed is the coming shortage in nuclear fuel.
From what I read at Energy Watch Group (http://www.energywatchgroup.org)
30 percent of the current nuclear fuel comes from nuclear warheads,
and they will be burned in a few years, after which there will be a
dramatic shortage in nuclear fuel. I thought that somehow this would
have to be factored into the equation when talking about the phaseout
in Germany. We just can't have more nuclear reactors worldwide, we
certainly will have to have substantially less. Inevitably, nuclear
energy will be much more expensive, too.

Or am I missing something?

-- Marcus

What I find rarely discussed is the coming shortage in nuclear fuel.

TOD has had such as front page posts and the typical pro-nuker response has been "no one's been looking for Uranium so when they start looking there will be lots".

'given the energy density of uranium who cares how much it costs a ton'


(magical) 'Thorium will be the solution forward'

Humanity has a 'shortage' of oil - but a 'longage' of oil at $200 a barrel right now - shortage is a function of price for most of the TOD readership lifetimes.

Honestly I think Uranium shortage is now pretty academic, i.e. demand won't be there to stress the available supply. There had been concern about shortterm (several year) shortages, as new mining operations take several years to come online, so if the market doesn't plan ahead, then we could get blindsided. Kazakistan has a lot of relatively new and potential capacity. Also new solution mining techniques have come about. But, in anycase with Fukishima induced cancellations and delays, I don't think U supply will be an issue.

I'm not exactly pro-nuke but I do think Thorium will make a difference if Uranium becomes too expensive. Its use has been proven as an extender of Uranium but not yet as the be-all do-all some have proposed.

Many years ago (1973) I personally loaded U-Th fuel into a commecial sized gas cooled reactor.

(magical) 'Thorium

Not so magical. I worked on the setup for taking apart rods from a functional small commercial sized thorium light water breeder reactor in 1978. The reactor worked as designed with a positive breeding ratio.

Honestly I think Uranium shortage is now pretty academic, i.e. demand won't be there to stress the available supply.

You must be joking.
The world will continue to use 69000 tons per year uranium.
Germany which uses 3450 tpy will drop out in 2022 but China 4400 tpy and India 1050 tpy will make up that demand in no time.


Your assumption that demand determines supply is frankly laughably cornucopian.

Of course, this is assuming that the Germans go through with shutting down their nuclear plants.

Unless they really build out sufficient wind, solar, and storage to replace them it won't be politically possible to shut them down.

I think the default German strategy (i.e. when all others don't work) will be to burn more brown coal to generate electricity. But I'm something of a pessimist about the effectiveness of ad-hoc government planning.

I recall arguments on previous posts here that were not just straw men. Snide remarks do not raise the level of discussion here. You might want to check out uranium mine investments. I see enough to make me question CCJ's future profit margins.

If you are a mining company executive making capital allocation decisions why build a new uranium mine as long as old nuclear weapons uranium is keeping down prices? Better to schedule new mine openings to close to when the military uranium will stop coming to market.

Australian uranium mine production is expected to double in 4 years and quadruple in 20 years.

Time will tell, RMG, but if any country can pull this off it has to be Germany; certainly public support for renewable energy is deeper and more widespread there than it is here in Canada. I do agree that the long-term outlook for the UK seems rather bleak and I have no idea how that will ultimately play out for them. Already, in some parts of the UK, 40 per cent of the local population is reportedly living in fuel poverty (source: http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Eco-projects-Meadows-bid-163-600-...). Thirty years ago, my dad who is now long since deceased, gutted and insulated his North Wales home to bring it up to more or less Canadian standards, and this has greatly reduced my step-mom's heating bills and added to her comfort at age 91 (she receives a £400 a year pensioners' fuel rebate that effectively reduces her heating costs to nil).


regarding superinsulation, check out this house:


Have Gas Prices The U.S. Peaked? (Via PragCap)


The article maintains that given the end of Federal stimulus, the dollar's value will indeed increase(a view within the mainstream), and the fall of oil prices will correspond accordingly as it won't have to pair the losses of the greenback's value due to QE I & II with higher prices anymore. It even goes so far to maintain that we may face deflation(Nicole Foss-style) later on.

An interesting counterpoint, in part, to Jeff Rubin's view.
(Although personally I think they're dead wrong).

If the article is correct, then the Krugman wing of economic thought will have a problem. That school of thought is that QE can not cause inflation as long the country is in a liquidity trap.

But that is the point, ehhh. One has to pretend we are not in a liquidity trap to argue against fiscal stimulus and QE.

Although personally I think they're dead wrong

I agree Leiten. This line of bull smacks of the usual child psychology routine churned out of DC, in which opposite projections are pronounced hoping it will sway those in the loop on pricing to go along with it. They project the idea of deflation, when they know full well they are scared speechless that QE's will cause hyper-inflation. They pronounce the idea of the dollar gaining value when they know increased debt loads will erode the buck further. The price of oil is suggested to go down when they know unequivacally oil supply is at full tilt (with no apparent spare capacity being offered by OPEC) and as demand from Chindia continues to increase (lowering exports available to the US) oil price will indeed rise or at minimum remain at its current high price.

The recent uptick in unemployment could be an indicator that we are in for a double dip recession. I think it is likely that the Fed may reverse course and do a QEIII. Meanwhile, failure to raise the debt ceiling or the perception of same trash the dollar. So, we've got a lot of countervailing possibilities which makes it exceedingly difficult to project gas prices.

The trend in unemployment looks pretty favorable.

                                        May 2010           May 2011         Decrease
Government                               23,396             22,550             846
  Federal                                 3,410              2,847             563
    Federal, except U.S. Postal Service   2,754              2,220             534
    U.S. Postal Service                     655                626              29
  State government                        5,176              5,150              26
    State government education            2,403              2,437             -33
    State government, excluding education 2,771              2,713              59
  Local government                       14,810             14,553             257
    Local government education            8,435              8,293             142
    Local government, excluding education 6,374              6,259             115

The above shows unadjusted public sector employment numbers in thousands from the May unemployment report "ESTABLISHMENT DATA - Table B-1. Employees on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector and selected industry detail".

Federal Government employment is down 563,000 year over year, while Local Government is down 257,000. What is needed is more vigorous spending cuts at the state level.

Yeh, the states need to step up the pain. However, this doesn't show contractors so the fed may be hiding things by just contracting out more. More fraud, waste, and abuse.

The fraud, waste and abuse is most obvious in the "Health care and social assistance" category where employment went from 16,386.6 to 16,747.7, an increase of 361,100 year over year. We really need to get Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance payouts under control. A few million fewer jobs in that category would help a lot.

Is it really a shock that "social assistance" increases when the economy is bad and more people need it? Included in this category is vocational assistance, providing food and housing for those who can't afford it, emergency relief services, etc. The fact these categories increased during the worst recession since the Great Depression is hardly evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse.

The real question is what expectations should be for the employment/unemployment rates.

Most government spending goes to pay employees, either those working for federal, state and local government, or those working for suppliers to those levels of government.

So if someone says "cut government spending" what they really mean is "fire government paid workers" in the public and private sectors. Therefore, the austerity measures now being advocated by both parties, though to different degrees, can be expected to result in high unemployment rates in the affected job categories.

This is borne out to a great extent by the detailed employment data in the latest report. Public sector employment is down, as enumerated above. In the private sector, employment is typically flat or increasing except for certain sectors associated with housing (construction, furniture manufacturing, home improvement stores), paper and printing (shift to digital publishing), telecommunications (wireless, internet less labor intensive than old wireline and cable networks), and insurance (sales over the net and online payment processing?).

One of the major categories of employment that is growing rapidly is the health services and social assistance one. This is heavily subsidized by Medicare and Medicaid, and by government assistance programs. So hospitals, doctors, and other government contractors have been hiring vigorously. On the other hand this is an area of "runaway budgets", and is the focus of political budgetary debate.

Agree. My gripe is the knee jerk policy that advocates contracting everything out as if that automatically makes things more efficient. It is not done for efficiency, it is done because of an ideological belief that private industry is automatically more efficient. In the heath care area, it is clearly not more efficient. This policy of contracting everything out started decades ago, accelerated during the Bush years and has not been attenuated by Obama. My first hands on experience in this area was in 1975 when we contracted out janitorial services at a base I was working at. We got half the service for twice the money on top of the extra administrative costs of monitoring the contractor. This was a political, not an economical decision on behalf of the taxpayer. And then we have these meaningless statistics about how many Fed government employees have been laid off. Unless you know how many contractor employees were hired to replace them, you know nothing.

The idea that reducing government payrolls will help the economy
is the height of idiocy.
The government does things private industry can't or won't due to
a marginal profitability.

It is even more idiotic to think that outsourcing work to private firms will do anything but guarantee that scant operating funds get diverted to management salaries.

The sad truth is that states which have all been reducing staff (GOP mantra for decades) must increase revenue to pay their bills and balance their budgets.

Anything else said on the subject amounts to a lie.

As if the US had any monopoly on QE.

China Deploys Quantitative Easing

Last week, the PBOC conducted a net injection of 59 billion yuan into the market.

The People’s Bank of China added a net 81 billion yuan ($12.5 billion) of capital this week...

So QE ends in the west and picks up in the east. The net effect is what?

That is what I get tired of. EU bails out the weak countries which is the same darn thing as QE. Japan dumps tons of cash on its economy. The same thing as QE. The US does it. Who is not doing it? If you do not do it then you cede market to the other countries that are.

That is rub. Blaming the US is a joke.

As ones economy grows one needs to expand the money supply. This is the scale of the Chinese action.

Looking at Chinese economic data for 2011 it doesn't look like their cash injections this month are a response to growth.

The high price of oil is making world economic growth harder to do. QE does not address the root cause of poor economic growth. Oil and other commodities cost too much to allow fast growth.

What I want to know: Can the world economy keep churning right up against the physical limit of oil production? Or will government attempts to rev up economies back up to previous BAU levels cause overheating and recessions? Will the fight against oil-imposed limits cause more economic volatility? I think so.

It's sort of like WWI. If one colonial empire builds up its military, you have no choice but to do the same.

This is a fiat currency nightmare, nothing less than the complete destruction of money as we know it. These are very perilous times, don't believe a word of the techie optimists, bankster hustlers, or government utopians.

Keep on buying those precious metals. Every dog has it's day, right?

Well let me tell you: gold is no dog, and the goldbugs are being proven right.

UPDATE 2-Iraq sees oil output at 3 mln bpd by year-end

Iraq expects its oil output to rise to 3 million barrels per day by the end of this year and sees it growing an additional 500,000 to 1 million bpd next year, Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said on Saturday.

Iraq has been continually downgrading their predicted vast production increase for about a year now. On January 6th of 2010 Stuart Staniford published a thread which stated Iraq Could Delay Peak Oil a Decade and he published the below chart.

As you can see the chart, taken directly from Iraq's predictions in those days, shows Iraqi production at about 3.3 mb/d by the end of 2010 and at about 4.9 mb/d by the end of 2011 and at about 6.5 mb/d by the end of 2012. Yet the above article states that they hope to be producing 3 mb/d by the end of this year and 3.5 to 4 mb/d by the end of 2012. That means they will be about 3 mb/d behind schedule by the end of 2012.

A lot of folks at TOD expressed great skepticism when Stuart published his post in January of 2010. It appears that this skepticism was well justified. In all fairness to Stuart his post only stated that Iraq could delay peak oil by a decade, not that they would.

According to most reporting agencies Iraq is now producing around 2.5 to 2.6 mb/d, somewhere around 100 to 150 kb/d above what they were producing in January of 2010. They are going to need to speed that up quite a bit just to meet their latest predictions.

Ron P.

Thanks for the update. Most realistic commentary on Iraq I've read states that they should, in best-case scenario, be able to reach between 5.5 and 6.5 mb/d.

There's a chokepoint in the production levels(it may be at around 4 mb/d, but I'm not entirely sure at which exact point it is) where you need a whole new infrastructure, as well as massively building out new harbours, pipelines et al to facilitate increased production. This chokepoint itself will almost certainly delay any increased production much above 5.5 mb/d by at least 5-7 years.

And on the same thread,petrobas raises their targets to 6m boed by 2020.With the high rate of depletion in their deepwater fields they will be lucky to reach 4m boed,who are they trying to bull s--t,oh yea shareholders.........r.m.

So reassuring to think that a war zone in the Middle East is coming to our rescue.

case in point:

BASRA, Iraq, June 5 (Reuters) - A bomb attack against an Iraqi oil storage depot set one tank ablaze on Sunday in a rare assault on strategic southern oilfields, but the country's crude exports were unaffected, Iraqi oil officials and police said.

An Iraqi police source said bombs targeted four tanks at the facility, but only one of the tanks hit contained crude and ignited. Another bomb hit an empty tank and bombs at two other tanks were disactivated, the police source said.

Jaffar said the facility had 20 tanks, of which 14 were working. He described the attack as a "terrorist operation" without giving any details.




Lahererre thinks they had something like 90 billions barels of reserves in 2010. Reaching 12.5 mbd by 2020 would imply an annual decline rate of 7% just after to meet the reserve constraint.

If you assume a more credible annual decline rate of 3 or 4% , then the maximum production is somewhere around 6.5 mpd.

A country which I find interresting for the next years is Colombia. They have very significantly increased their production in the last years, producing 0.862 mbd in february (and the production has kept on increasing until May). Nevertheless they only have 2 billions barels of proven reserves, or a R/P of only 6.4 years. So either they have much bigger 2P either their production will start declining very shortly.

Anyone knows something about the geology over there that could explain how they are able to maintain such a production with so little reserves ?

When will the media say, you know Iraq you are full of it. Please stop the lying.

I know I was looking for sanity.

I note that you've dropped all caveats from the original piece, to the point where you are responding to a straw man. For example, the graph was introduced as "if it was done that fast, and if we speculate that production climbs linearly from the middle of this year through the following six years, that would look as follows:" (emphasis added). The linear climb was not something they announced as plans, but rather the simplest way to make a graph from current production to the planned plateau.

Also, quoting from the original piece: "Note that the red line is capacity, which might or might not actually get used (depending on demand, prices, OPEC arrangements, etc).", and "Of course, Murphy will probably have his say here, and we might guess this process would take longer than the the currently planned six years - maybe a decade might be a better guess, even assuming no major relapse into violence and civil war in Iraq. "

So, nothing is behind any schedule that anyone publicly committed to, as yet.

While reading an interview transcript between Amy Goodman and Seymour Hirsch regarding the current assessment of whether Iran is building nuclear weapons, I ran across a passage that some of you may find interesting (emphasis is mine):

SEYMOUR HERSH: Look, there’s been two very secret studies done, called National Intelligence Estimates, NIEs, and these are the most sort of sacrosanct internal studies done by the community. Almost all the time they’re private. There are studies going on, NIEs going on all the time—the situation now in Ecuador, for example, other issues. Venezuela is always looked at. The situation in the war, war-peace stuff, is constantly being looked at by groups of people in the intelligence community. And these documents are promulgated without anybody knowing it.


Gee, why would Venezuela 'always be looked at' by National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs)?

If you look towards the military to employ your children since the civilian economy is so stagnant, be sure they are fluent in Spanish and have taken some courses on the history and culture of Venezuela...their promotion potential will be enhanced.

You know the answer.


Having read the entire article, I would encourage you to do the same.,,the article is about Itan, but talks a little about other MENA countires the 'Arab Spring'.

And one of the things Gaddafi drove everybody crazy with, just to show you how silly the world is, every oil deal he wanted 20 percent on the top of. And so, there was a lot of corporate anger at him, too. He was getting 20 percent kickback. Even Saddam, in the heyday, only wanted 10 percent. It all comes down sometimes to money. And I don’t know what’s going to happen there.

Abstract of Hirsch's article in the New Yorker. Entire article behind the paywall.


According to Sy, the administration seems to think that KSA has ~ 2 Million bbls/day of 'spare capacity':

Even now, when confronted with heinous activity, we still can’t pull the trigger on the Saudis, because of the need for oil. And again, this is a country, Saudi Arabia, that is not lifting—not agreeing to lift two or three more billion barrels a day. They’re at eight-and-a-half billion. We’d love them to go to 11, 10-and-a-half and 11. That would take pressure off the price.

Back to Iran:

in 2007 there was an NIE put out about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the White House wanted a summary made. And I think at that point 16 intelligence agencies were involved in the final conclusions. And internally, the guys running it, to their credit, voted 16 to nothing to say what they said, which is that, in a summary put out about the NIE—as I say, unprecedented summary—saying there’s no evidence they had done any weaponization since 2003.

I do not think President Obama is stupid...specifically, it is hard for me to imagine this administration lighting off a war with Iran.

But maybe I am having a failure of the imagination.

And there is always the next administration. If oil supplies tighten up the some of you predict by ~2106, then desperation may be a harsh mistress.

"Gee, why would Venezuela 'always be looked at' by National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs)?"

Lets' see. They have a Loon in charge of very large supply of oil in easy shipping distance of existing oil refineries. Said shipping lane is easily defended in general, and just happens to be all but inaccessible to a rapidly rising major power that might be inclined to make trouble in the future.

I would be more offended if the intelligence community was not updating plans involving Venezuela.

yeah, I know the answer.

You will not be offended/disappointed, IMO.

I would not underestimate Chavez, and the culture the revolution has nurtured.
He is very smart and policy literate, along with many of his comrades.
Venezuela has learned from the coup attempt, and is leery of putting foreign nationals in places of power within oil and economy, and the resulting power that manifested in the coup attempt.
This has slowed production, but methodical and smart actions are often needed.
Let them have their revolution, they will not get it right the first time, but who does?

They have a Loon in charge

Ok, I'll bite. What makes him a "Loon"?

He doesn't think Capital is God, and the Free Market the Chosen Path?

He is working for the benefit of the citizens of the nation rather than the global bankers and global corporations. Can you imagine a US president working for the benefit of the citizens of the US. LMAO

He is working for the benefit of

I doubt it. I'd say he is working for the benefit of his large revolutionary ego. I have the impression he is a big bully with his fellow travelers.

ah, you mean, a politician.

I have the impression he is a big bully with his fellow travelers.

You should actually check with primary sources (travelers and nationals in Venezuela), and than make an informed decision.

If you are not interacting with people in Venezuela, maybe you are in a challenged social circle, and should expand your horizons.

Actually no I can't. But I can imagine them coming up with a plan to drain the middle class.

I meant China, not Iran, but Iran also fits the description. Although I personally don't see Iran going on a global dominance campaign.

As for Chavez, he's wrecked the oil and electrical industries in his country and keeps trying to get elected president for life, or something similar. He takes are of his base alright, but what else is there? He's not exactly confidence inspiring. Theatrical, yes.

Is your list the reason he's a "Loon"?

I was pretty impressed with Chavez at the beginning but I suspect he has gone the way of so many politicians who accomplish a great deal early in his career. They become so egotistical that they can no longer imagine anyone else in charge. Revolutionaries hardly ever make very good administrators.

Chavez doesn't get that price controls are destructive to an economy and seizing retail store chains doesn't help. He doesn't get that workers cooperatives aren't productive. His economic policies are destructive but he's got oil money to pay for them.

While Venezuela's 23% inflation rate is lower than Argentina's (continued poster child of elite mismanagement of a Latin American country) it is still very high.

I second Eric's question, what makes him a loon?

And while we're on the topic of these two countries, why do we hate Iran so much, other than because we have been told they are bad?

If you or anyone else wants to answer either question, please confine the reasons to things that the western "democracies" and the regimes they support don't do themselves.

Okay guys, lighten up. The term "loon" does not reflect on Canadians or their currency, it is short for "lunatic". If you don't know what that means then google it.

The subject of Chavez has nothing to do with Iran so don't drag them into it. And if you don't agree that Chavez is nuts then you are entitled to your opinion just as we who think he is are entitled to ours. How Dangerous Is Chavez? Let Us Count the Ways

Chavez’s economic policies will bring Venezuela to ruin. He has embarked on a program to seize foreign oil projects and nationalize them without giving a second thought to the fact that this action constitutes theft of the resources of those oil projects and that Chavez’s action gives foreign oil companies a disincentive to invest or explore in Venezuela lest their property gets confiscated as well. Moreover, the Venezuelan President is proceeding headlong with his nationalization project without having figured out the answers to some of the most basic questions surrounding that project.

Well that was four years ago. Now Chavez wants the foreign oil companies back. He needs them to figure out how to get the bitumen out of the Orinoco basin. Lotsa luck fella!

Ron P.

Chavez is nuts then you are entitled to your opinion just as we who think he is are entitled to ours. How Dangerous Is Chavez? Let Us Count the Ways

Yea lets!

Chavez’s economic policies will bring Venezuela to ruin.

VS what - the Economic policies of the United States of America?

taking of property

Ooooh! Ohhh! How about Kelo VS New London! A fine example of the State seeing a benefit for taking of private property and it even has the "good luck with that" part - the land which was the subject of the suit is now undeveloped.

Eric, it's not a contest between the US and Venezuela. The debate is about Chavez and whether his policies are what is best for Venezuela. That question has nothing to do with the US, Iran, China, Russia or Timbuktu.

Ruin is ruin and you can get there fast or slow. True the US is heading for ruin just like all the rest of the world because of declining of fossil fuel, the lifeblood of all modern civilization. But some will wreck their nations long before the shortage of fossil fuel does it. And it simply does not matter if the US is such a nation. That is another debate for another thread.

Regardless of what one thinks about the US and how great is their love or hatred for this country, the discussion about Chavez has nothing to do with the competency of the US Government.

Why do some people turn every debate about some foreign leader or nation into a comparison with the US or the US Government. One person could say "Idi Amin butchered thousands of his own people and even bragged about eating their on flesh." Then someone would say "Yes but in the US of A blah blah blah.

Ron P.

Economy during Chavez:

The current economic expansion began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. Since then, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually.

Most of this growth has been in the non-oil sector of the economy, and the private sector has grown faster than the public sector.

During the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent. These poverty rates measure only cash income, and do not take into account increased access to health care or education.

Over the entire decade, the percentage of households in poverty has been reduced by 39 percent, and extreme poverty by more than half.

There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrollment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008.

Over the past decade, the number of social security beneficiaries has more than doubled.

Real (inflation-adjusted) social spending per person more than tripled from 1998-2006

"Looking at the economic data and social indicators, it's not difficult to see why Chávez remains popular and has won so many elections, despite overwhelmingly hostile media coverage," said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of CEPR.

I get a very different story from my son-inlaw and his family who are from Venezuela. If GDP is rising that is likely just due to the rising price of oil. It certainly isn't due to Chavez providing a good environment for businesses in the private sector. A lot of the oil wealth flows to Chavez's army buddies. That's the history of Venezuela since oil was discovered -- whoever is running the government provides a lot of the oil wealth to their friends.

If you are in the top 20%, you are not better off, as wealth has been going toward the average Venezuelan, rather than the elite.
You might not be able to have the second Mercedes for your daughter.
I know people from the Venezuelan Elite, and they prospered when Venezuela was a client state of the US.

The debate is about Chavez and whether his policies are what is best for Venezuela.

I asked "what makes Chavez a Loon" - and the response was the economic policy and the taking of private property for public good with noting how there is blowback from public taking of private property.

Please don't change the topic by claiming a different topic is in play.

the discussion about Chavez has nothing to do with the competency of the US Government.

Yes it does. If Chavez has a moral failing for X behaviour, then X behaviour is the flawed behaviour.

Why do some people turn every debate about some foreign leader or nation into a comparison with the US or the US Government?

I made your statement into a question. Hope ya don't mind that minor edit.

If one is going to attempt to frame some other action as 'outside the bounds' one should make that thine own eye lacks a mote.

Here's the fun part - as an American Citizen you are in a better position to change policies one is declaring some others as "outside the bounds of correctness". And if one's position is to ignore such, does not that make one a hypocrite?

So, just for yuks - lets stick to the claim "Chavez is a Loon". I've shown how the 2 behaviours you've put forth as 'evidence of lunacy' is alive and well in the US of A. Do you have any behaviour showing "Chavez is a Loon" that is not in play in the US of A?

Not wanting to start a ad-hominem attack here, but you're usually so very smart Ron. Why do you want to troll on a topic you obviously don't know much about?
Just showing a little silly quote about Chavez 'destroying the economy' doesn't really cut it.
Some other commenter showed some of Mark Weisbrot's study material with regards to the economy. I think that's the best way to start to due a bit of diligent economic research that you obviously do very well on oil related topics.
Obviously Venezuela has its problem. Inflation and the official value of its currency are damaging to the economy.
However, the economy has made major strides in terms of GDP since Chavez came to power. Furthermore, in terms of health, jobs, education and poverty reduction there has been no other South American nation that has matched Venezuela in its progress. With regards to political and social progress and what Venezuelans themselves think of their country and leader and compare that to other nations in the region, a good starting point should be to read yearly opinion research studies at latinobarometro: http://www.latinobarometro.org/latino/latinobarometro.jsp

That was a strange reply. I thought everyone knew it was short for lunatic? I don't know too much about Chavez, so I was asking why people think he is crazy. I know the media like to paint any socialist as crazy whether they are or not, and there was no citation.

It's strange that when something is nationalised it is perceived as theft, yet when something is privatised it is not. It is the same thing, except one way hurts a few very influential rich people, where as the other way hurts far more poor people, who get no air time. I know all the arguments in favour of privatisation, and yes it can, in theory, make everyone better off, except when all the benefit goes to a small group of people, in which case the majority who benefited from it being owned nationally are now worse off.

Privatisation has been put in the sacrosanct catagory along with free trade, globalisation and GDP growth at any cost, yet it doesn't seem to be working out very well for the former middle class, now all the benefits accrue to a tiny percentage of already obscenly wealthy people.

Looks like Chavez has made the oil pie smaller, yet all the citizens got a bigger slice than they otherwise would have done, even if the alternative was a bigger pie.

It's strange that when something is nationalised it is perceived as theft, yet when something is privatised it is not.

AdTheNad, you may be aware that "Loon" means "Lunatic" but I find it strange that you do not realize that taking something without paying for it is theft. Hell, I thought everyone knew that.

Nationalizing is not theft if the nationalizing country compensates the owner for their property. It if theft when they just take it and tell the previous owner to just get the hell out of their country. Ditto for privatization. If the government is not paid a fair price for the property privatized then that is theft. It is not theft if the government is paid a fair price.

Well now you know the difference. Amazing how simple it is. And to think you did not know that.

Ron P.

Thanks for the snide reply.

Unless all externalities are counted a fair price is not paid. Since all externalities are not even close to being counted when referring to oil, these companies extracting the oil were taking something without paying "fully" for it, which is theft using your own explanation. That too is pretty simple.

If you take oil out of the ground and the benefits only accrue to a small group of people, that is theft from every other living thing, and not just now, but for future generations as well. If the same people who are benefiting don't pay to sequester the carbon emissions and clean up after the pollution the full societal costs have not been paid. Again, this is theft. So, if you steal from a thief does it still count?

This whole discussion is pretty tricky but arguably our whole approach to natural resources, including oil, is a kind of theft as we are in the process of creating scarcity and probably death for future generations. Arguably, also, Mr. Chavez approach to extracting oil may not be the most efficient and productive approach but may result in more oil for future generations of Venezuelans. His disregard for conventional capitalist economics may be stupid in the short run but rational for the long run.

Anyone who has taken a conventional economics course is probably aware of the importance of efficiency and productivity and understands that there is often a tradeoff between equity and productivity. Socialism may be generally less productive than capitalism but that, in itself, is not necessarily a decisive argument against socialism. I will grant that capitalism is a more efficient way of allocating capital than socialism but that, in itself, may be a good argument against it in the sense that it efficiently results in a more rapid depletion of natural resources.

On the other hand, Chavez is rapidly depleting resources and mucking up the planet by keeping gas prices at an absurdly low level. While that goes counter to the preservation meme, it may actually result in less gas available for the population.

None of this is intended to defend Chavez as I consider him a narcissistic boring egomaniacal bore. But my criticism has nothing to do with the fact that he is a socialist.

As far as nationalization goes, I assume that there was some sort of contract between the Venezuelan government and the oil companies. Breaking contracts without some attempt at compensation seems imprudent even it it does not rise to the level of theft. On the other hand, oil companies are not naive and I assume they went into this with some expectation that nationalization was always a possibility. This may have been part of the calculation up front, including things like the necessary bribery that occurs in these countries.

It is scary to hear how Venezuelans consider dirt cheap gas their "birth right" but I think the government is chipping away at the fuel consumption problem in other ways. In Venezuela the tip you give the gas attendant often is larger than what you pay for the gas.... gas is dirt cheap. But that is only one facet of car ownership.

Venezuela has limits in place as to how many cars can be imported each year, raising prices and putting up wait-lists. It is also difficult to get replacement parts, and oil and other fluids are expensive. Road maintenance is kept to a minimum, if you have a car you must take shuddering over the potholes, fording through flooded intersections and stewing in traffic into account when planning maintenance. Parking in the large cities is not necessarily close to where you want to go (unless you want to go to a mall) and is not free. Public transport is subsidized and heavily used, middle class people often take the bus when traveling to other cities and daily commuting by bus is common. There is a program underway (slowly) converting the car fleet to natural gas.

Other point: As far as I know every nationalization has been accompanied by compensation. But the thing is that the previous owners were usually making money without putting much back in to the business or the community. Of course they howl bloody murder when it is taken away, and of course they say that the compensation was inadequate. As the nationalized businesses are trying to do things a different way all is not smooth sailing, but at least they are experimenting and trying. I imagine it is to be expected considering that their goals are different than the privately owned businesses and their target markets are different.

Last Point: I think that whether or not Chavez is a "loon" is irrelevant, he is a democratically elected leader. I would say that discussing whether or not he is meeting his mandate with the economic policies put forth by his administration, or discussing the effect of his rhetoric on the energy consumption of his electorate is a better use of our time than vague insults.

As far as I know every nationalization has been accompanied by compensation. But the thing is that the previous owners were usually making money without putting much back in to the business or the community. Of course they howl bloody murder when it is taken away, and of course they say that the compensation was inadequate.

Lets look at this from the standpoint of the company being forced to accept the offered level of compensation. Often the ownership and management of the company has changed hands, at a price which reflected the existing contracts at the time of purchase. So the new owners are indeed being shafted, their investment has been decreased in value. So the whole business undermines the capitalist way of doing things. Now we can argue about who is responsible for the shafting, the original owners/management, the current owners whose due dilegence as to the value of the buiness was faulty, or the government for imposing its will?

Nad, sequestering carbon emissions from cars, trucks, plains and all forms of engines is a rather difficult task. Calling the people who supply the fuel thieves while letting the users off scott free hardly makes for a valid argument.

And yes stealing from those you originally contracted with is theft. But you would call the original driller a thief because he sold oil without a plan to sequester the carbon emissions but not using the same epitaph for the person who broke the contract and stole all his investment and equipment is rather hypocritical. Should we assume that Chavez will somehow sequester the carbon emissions?

Nad, in all seriousness, theft if theft. Changing the subject to carbon emissions and the pollution is just a way you seem to want to justify theft. You need to find a better argument.

Ron P.

No doubt it is very difficult. That's why we ignore it and are leaving it to future generations to sort out, thus using up their productive capital without asking permission. That is why it should be calculated and added to the selling price.

So should current day venezualans be saddled with contracts made years past, by either corrupt or idiotic governments that did not obtain a fair price? Theft is theft, but plundering a countries resources because of some historical precedent which screws over the populace is not good enough either.

I know I've taken things off on a but of a tangent here so will close with saying what I think he should have done in an ideal world. Raised taxes to the point where the gains can be distributed amongst the people at a slightly higher rate than they have otherwise received while the companies make a modest profit. This would leave him open to a coup however with the powerful oil companies still operating in the country, and would only work until a corruptable politician is elected, or put in place through ridiculous amounts of advertising to persuade the people to vote against their own long term interests, so it's not too surprising he took the actions he did.

Capturing CO2 onboard cars and trucks is certainly feasible.
You go to the gas station and unload your CO2 and load your fuel at the same time.


If the average gas tank is 15 gallons of gasoline you'd produce about 300# of CO2 per trip.
A neat solution here is to replace gasoline with methanol. Each trip you'd fill up 15 gallons of methanol and deposit 130# of CO2.
At the gas station there would be a plant to watershift that CO2
back into methanol; CO2-->CO+2H20-->CH3OH+O2, basically close looping the whole system.
( Also it's true that you would go only half as far on a tank of gas.)

Of course, customers wouldn't need Big Oil (or Saudi sheikhs)anymore.

Maj - I am amazed to see you post something that actually promotes methanol!

Methanol is about the easiest hydrocarbon to reform to CO2 and H2 (needs about 250-300C - can be done with engine exhaust heat and some steam) - you can also do it with ethanol, or normal oil hydrocarbons, but you need temps of >700C to break the C-C bonds.

Still, doing it on board cars, while theoretically possible, is a lot of complexity, especially since we haven;t even got it sorted for stationary powerplants yet.

If we are going to have all this liquid CO2, we may yet see turbines and engines using the supercritical CO2 cycle

But I am not holding my breath...

My goal is not to promote poisonous methanol but to show how to close loop the transport system so cars no longer cause air pollution.
Obviously, it will require lots of energy (and fossil fuels) to make a closed cycle CO2 system work. The amount of energy input (electricity) would probably be at least 20% more than the energy of the fuel; 1 gallon of methanol would need~ 25kwh of electricity(at 10 cents per kwh)or $2.5 per gal methanol or $5 per gge.

Your link to a ridiculous nuclear powered 50% efficient supercritical gas turbine confirms that you are a techno-cornucopian.

The goal is to reduce CO2 emission quickly to mitigate CC.

OK, but to get past the puerile name-calling for a moment - I don't know enough about turbine tech to pass judgment, but have you got any reason at all why that turbine would likely be impractical or "ridiculous"? Or any reason why the solar-thermal guys - it was one of their trade mags that published that puff piece - wouldn't or shouldn't be very interested in anything that might let them get more out of a CSP plant for the same number of mirrors? Wouldn't using less acreage for a given amount of power (and, as a bonus, without need to put megatons of stuff into orbit implausibly soon) be a good thing in that particular context?

My goal is not to promote poisonous methanol
Fair enough - it's really in the same basket as all the other poisonous fuels like ethanol, gasoline etc

to show how to close loop the transport system so cars no longer cause air pollution.

Fair enough. I'll draw a minor distinction, in that controlling "air pollution" can be done without CO2 capture - CO2 alone doesn't constitute air pollution.
That said, if we are talking about CO2 capture, I do think that by the time we have controlled all the power plants, we will likely have achieved enough to call it a day there. But it is still possible that a mobile systems could be developed, we are some way into the future at that point and anything can happen.

As for the link to the supercritical CO2 turbines, the point was not that they are looking to use them at nuke plants, the point is, that CO2 can be used as the working fluid in a closed loop engine (or turbine). Same as how steam is used for engines/turbines, or even refrigerants in ORC (organic rankine cycle) systems - which are also, by nature, supercritical systems. Supercritical CO2 is already in use in commercial refridgeration systems - so it is possible to reverse the cycle and use it to make shaft power - that is how the ORC system came about. Whether it is economic to do so is the question.

The advantages of supercritical CO2 are;
- the fluid density, which allows components to be very small - this has potential for mobile applications.
- being an external heat engine, heat from any source, or any fuel, can be used
-it looks like this can be done at efficiency equal to and possibly better, than the best ICE's.

As for being a techno-cornucopian, which is closer to that - a new type of engine cycle, or having all cars running around with on-board fuel reforming and CO2 capture from fuel that is synthetically produced from said CO2?

The paper you linked to was from a PhD by an ambitious Georgia Tech student, and GT is not doing anything further on this (unless someone funds it)., The link I provided reports on on-going research, and bench testing at Sandia - which do you think is more likely to make it into the real world?

Supercritical CO2 would mean a closed thermodynamic cycle.
The big advantage of the Brayton(gas turbine) cycle is that it is an open system--i.e. uses air. The Brayton cycle has been proposed for gas cooled nukes but no one has built such a beast.


The insane obsession with 'efficiency' will only result in more dangerous power plants due to Carnot's cycle.
The only way to increase the efficiency is to increase the heat difference between the environment and the heat source;
thermal efficiency =1-Temp of enviro/Temp of heatsource.
It is also a principle of physics that the higher the temperature of a component,the lower the allowable stress of the component.


The Brayton cycle in internal combustion(direct cycle) is great - when used as indirect cycle, it is not that great, and requires massive heat exchangers - at high temperatures. Just one of the problems facing the helium reactor, apart from being a reactor.

One key feature of supercritical CO2 is that your temperatures are in the range of 300-500C - which is the same as normal steam systems - no new high tech materials etc need to be developed.

Another, unique feature of supercritical CO2 is that the compression energy required is very small, compared to using air. It is about 20% of the output energy, whereas Brayton is about 60%. It is one of the odd things about non-ideal gases near the critical point - helium being an ideal gas, doesn't have this property.

You still can't beat Carnot, of course, but SCO2 allows you to get better than steam efficiency at steam temps, and brayton efficiency at a much lower temperature than using an air cycle.

That is why I think it is a good candidate for solar thermal, (and waste to energy) and is likely to be cost effective at much smaller scales than steam turbines.

Won;t save the world, of course, but will be a positive development.

A Rankine cycle power plant operates at about 250C considerably less than your closed Brayton cycle system.
I just think high efficiency heat engines are dumb.
If you want real efficiency how about an 60% efficient fuel cell?


How does a fuel cell apply to solar thermal???

A Rankine cycle power plant operates at about 250C considerably less than your closed Brayton cycle system.

Not necessarily, CO2 has a crticial temperature of 31C, you can operate it at any temperature above that, but it is, naturally ,more efficient the hotter you go.

Same applies to steam of course, you can operate steam as lows as 200C, but it will not be very efficient.

The CO2 cycle gives slightly better efficiency than steam at the same temperature. More importantly, the equipment for CO2 can be much smaller.

This has been posted before, but I think it's worth showing again as it really does illustrate the difference;

It is obvious why the solar thermal folks are interested in this - it could be a game changer.
And solar thermal can only be done with a heat engine.

As for the SOFC, why yes, I would love to have one - the will eat any combustible gas for breakfast and make power at your 60%. The only problem is that at over $8000/kW for the cell, they are an order of magnitude more expensive than a normal engine. Perhaps worth it if your fuel costs are sky high, but when we are talking about waste biomass and landfill stuff, flare gas etc the fuel is very cheap. What matters then is the return on equipment cost, and SOFC prices itself out of contention. And, like all fuel cells, after decades of development, they remain too expensive and there seems little hope of this changing soon.

they remain too expensive and there seems little hope of this changing soon.

We of course have all the hype surrounding the BloomBox, which is just such a thing (or is it a different fuelcell tech). But it is probably only economic because of large subsidies. And fuel cells aren't all that dispatchable, you want to run them at full capacity, both because they run better that way, but also to amortize the cost with a capacity factor as close to 100% as possible. And the sucker will probably have to be completely rebuilt after only a few years!

Note $8000/KW is about the cost of a current generation solar thermal plant (collector and turbine plus sokme thermal storage), so your choice: you can pay the same price and get a system that doesn't need any fuel, or get the same sized system, but fuel is not included in the price! I know what I'd go for....

The bloom box is an SOFC, and is the $8k/kW unit. And if you want to use fuel other than NG, such as woodgas, it needs to be cleaned first, so you have extra BOS costs.

The SOFC's run hot, 700+C, so they are not ideal for cycling on and off - you would indeed want to run 24hrs, and with a flexible, storable fuel like NG, or even woodgas, this seems kinda silly.

For your solar thermal, I would not bother with storage for the reverse reason. Any sunshine hours that you are producing, are already peak load hours, and the power is worth the most. Why spend money on storage to produce power less efficiently, and then sell it at a lower price? There are some summer days when the evening peak is after peak solar production, but that does not justify the cost and complexity of storage.

As long as the plant is plugging into the existing grid there are plenty of other generators to take care of the non sunny periods. We are decades away from really needing to store solar power.

The main thing is to get solar thermal plants cost competitive and operating, storage can come later.

"My goal is not to promote poisonous methanol"

More poisonous than ethanol, but not all that toxic.

Gasoline; http://www.albina.com/fuel/chevronrugasmsds.htm

Acute Dermal Toxicity: 24 hour(s) LD50: >3.75g/kg (rabbit).
Acute Oral Toxicity: LD50: >5 ml/kg (rat)

methanol: http://www.epa.gov/chemfact/s_methan.txt

Oral LD50 values for methanol in animals are 0.4 g/kg
in the mouse, 6.2 to 13 g/kg in the rat, 14.4 g/kg in the rabbit,
and 2 to 7 g/kg in the monkey (Rowe and McCollister 1981). The
LD50 for dermal application to rabbits is 20 mL/kg (approximately
16 g/kg) (Rowe and McCollister 1981).

If you can handle gasoline you can handle methanol.

also if you are wine drinker you are getting some already. "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised ATF that 0.1 percent of methanol by volume in wine was a safe level." "The fatal dose of methanol is 60 to 250 mL"


As always, "do not drink the motor fuel" is good advice. Even with ethanol. The 190 proof version will poison you much quicker than you think; google "alcohol poisoning everclear" on your own for the gory details.

Things are more complicated. Ideally it should be about contracts, and trust. If done properly the resource owner (say the sovereign government representing the people) will have negotiated a fair deal, which allows to contractor to make a decent profit, and the country to meet its development goals. Reneg of past contracts, and potential new contractors have just cause to be concerned that they may arbitraily be ripped off. That goes for both domestic and international contractors. So if in the eyes of the new government, the contracts currently in place are a bad deal, then certain questions must be asked:
(1) Was the contract negotiated in good faith? Was the past government coerced into accepting a bad deal (clearly a just case for redress if this is the case)? Did the previous government simply care about kickbacks and not about the longterm interests of its people (present and future)? That is trickier, you are trying to invalidate the contract claiming the signee was not a legitimate representative of the people. Again as a potential contractor, I want reasonable assurance that my stake (and investment) won't be arbitrarily confiscated at some time in the future. No trust implies no deal.

What if the past government was legitimate, and made a good faith effort to secure a fair deal, but its assumptions were faulty? Say it believed the cornucopians and oil would reain cheap for decades, therefore the proposed contract is a good deal for us. Then oil prices skyrocket, and the deal doesn't look so great. Again there are issues. If you change the rules with respect to the upside potential of the contractor, without having spelled that out at contract signing time, should any potential new business partners trust you?

Ron, your opinion only works if one ignores that the resources of a nation/the planet are considered by many to be The Commons, thus belonging to all. In this context, privatization of certain things is always theft, compensated or not.

Sustainable societies share resources.

Pri, the thread was about Chavez and nationalization, not privatization. I agree with you on "The Commons". I am a great fan of Garrett Hardin and have read most of his works, including "The Tragedy of the Commons". But when you sign a contract to allow a company to drill and produce oil for a given percentage of that oil, then you suddenly shove him out and confiscate everything without compensation that is theft by anyone's definition. Well, anyone's except apparently Nad's.

Hell Pri, all they had to do is pay for what they took then it would not have been theft. How hard is that to figure out? Commons or not if we live in a civilized world we should behave as if we are civilized, not steal from someone then try to justify it by saying we disagree with their philosophy.

Ron P.


Imagine a nasty military dictator seizes control: He is not democratically elected, he keeps power through military and police control. During is rule he signs some contracts that give him quick cash to pay his army but those contracts basically give away the country's resources. After the revolution is it theft for the new elected government to declare those contracts null and void? You could probably say that the dictator stole those resources and that the companies knowingly bought stolen goods, they just didn't care 'cause they thought that they could get away with it.

Okay Sync, I say it is uncivilized to steal simply because you disagree with their philosophy and you say it's okay to steal if you disagree with their philosophy. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

Four American companies spent decades in the Arabian Desert, searching and developing the nation's oil and gas reserves. They made a lot of money for themselves and for the Saudi's also. Then Saudi decided they wanted to run things themselves. They paid the American companies for all their time and effort. That was the civilized way. Chavez did it your way. He just stole everything. Okay Sync, if that's your philosophy fine. I just don't think that is a very civilized way to do things. We no longer live in the Dark Ages you know.

Ron P.

And I say it is uncivilised to privatise state goods when the beneficiaries are the rich oil companies and corrupt officials, with the average person losing out. Look at it this way, how much money did those companies make after privatisation in the 90s to the time they were nationalised? A lot more than those assets were worth I'm guessing. Now, since those resources were plundered from the country, Chavez could have issued an ultimatum, pay us back for the oil you took and then you can keep your assets. He could have jailed them for being complicit in the theft of public resources. Issuing a lien on assets is very different from stealing and it wouldn't even cover the value of the oil that was removed, so they have gotten off lightly. So all in all, he was pretty civilised and in fact quite lenient.

So sure I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this, in that I think nationalising industries for the benefit of everyone instead of a few sociopathic elites is the opposite of crazy, and shows a greater strength of character than anything seen in the vast majority of politicians we get in the western democracies. Is there any other reason people think Chavez is a loon, because I'm really not seeing it?

I guess I would compare it to not agreeing with societal norms. Go against these norms (say in matters if sex, or decide to drive of the otherside of the road), and you are going to be at odds with society, and pay the price. Go against international norms of business dealing (rightly or wrongly), and you will find your dealings with the world at large strained. Now few indivduals will agree will all the norms of the society they are embedded in, and heck I didn't agree to accept them. But, it sure is easier to get along with my fellow humans if I don't openly flout disagreeing.

Now, I'll admit, that western media and politcians probably take things out of context and make mountains out of molehills etc. Thats just part of the process of the world enforcing its norms on others.

I'm sure it would have been a lot easier for Chavez to just take a load of bribes from the oil companies and retire to a life of luxury. Let them continue expropriating both the oil and the profits like a good banana republic should, rather than using the proceeds for social causes. If that makes him a loon then I would have to agree.

I think he's done the right thing however, no matter what the right wing media would have you believe, and the votes show most venezualans agree. You've been a voice of reason in this thread so maybe he could have worked out a better way as you have suggested earlier, but I think he did pretty well in the circumstances given the monied interests against him. Arbitration sounds like a good idea, however it is also open to corruption and hidden incentives. There are plenty of instances where arbitration unfairly favours one side where a company gets to choose the arbitrator, to ensure it gets future contracts.

I think there is a sort of dynamic that makes things unneccesarily difficult. Essentially the PR version of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". It plays out is far leftists taking a position in opposition to the US, in nearly any issue regardless of merit. The US is for X, therefore I have to be against X. That might work politically, but it makes international politics unneccesarily confrontational.

I think you should be concerned with one man Chavez, taking too much power for himself for too long. Thats always a dangerous thing. Many of today's despots started out as the head of some revolutionary process, but over time the power, and the need to defend it, led them into tyranny. He's been head of government for a dangerous amount of time. Time to find someone else (which doesn't have to mean from the opposition party). Although one party rule for too long has its dangers as well (see Mexico). I think in Venezuela politics is pretty seriously class based, and that leaves the upper classes, with whom the west is more familiar as frustrated opposition.

Thats why these sorts of things need to be arbitrated by some process, that stakeholders both within the former banana republic, and the contract holders have some degree of confidence in. Then is serious malfeasence is shown to have occurred, the contract can be invalidated. Not an easy thing to establish. But, remeber the goal is not just restitution for past wrongs, but also a sufficient level of trust that future business can be conducted.

So then once Chavez is gone can the next government break the contracts he's made with China or Iran or Russia?

Maybe not. China or Russia, at least, would be capable of responding with military force (pour encourager les autres for sure, even if oil-related facilities are too fragile to conquer intact.) Who knows, if the chips were really down, which hasn't happened yet, they might prove considerably more willing to use it then the present-day West. And if either chose to do so, I doubt it would spend years dithering about the feelings of "international lawyers" before it acted.

Just trying to adjust our thinking/discussions to where they need to be instead of where they've been. Time is short.

I make no connection to Mr. Chavez with this...perhaps this has been the way of things for many moons:


I found the story interesting...hip, swinging prisons with multiple pools, snack shacks, etc?

Maybe this is what TPTB have in mind for the masses in the U.S. down the road?

A couple of steps up from 'three hots and a cot'.

What crime do I need to commit? Do they have internet too?

What is the state of Nigerian oil fields?

Many slips between the cups and the lips?

27,580 barrels of Shell oil spilt in Nigeria in 2010
AFP / May 27, 2011

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell said Friday that theft, sabotage and operational reasons caused 27,580 barrels of oil to spill from its facilities in Nigeria last year.

"Sabotage and crude oil theft was the cause of 22,310 barrels spilled from SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company) facilities in 112 incidents, an average of about one spill every three days," the company said in a document released to AFP here.

... Nigeria, the world's eighth largest oil producer, currently produces around 2.4 million barrels daily because of relative peace in the delta following a government amnesty deal for militants in the region.

On a good year they only lose 27,580 barrels of oil there.

And after decades of political hee-hawing about air quality and emmisions, mainly from power plants, our inability to address this issue continues. The delays, postponements, obstuctionist political and legal wrangling continue.

From above: EPA Said to Delay Draft Power-Plant Carbon Rules by Two Months

While the article, this time addressing carbon emissions, calls out several private 'violators', I would also include TVA in the list. Meantime, if the Repugs have their way, they would eliminate the EPA, a perennial, though admittedly, not so effective thorn in their side.

Many here bicker over the monetary costs of this or that method of generating the electricity that people (think they) need, claiming that renewables will never be on par, per kwh, with coal, etc. Thinking about this just makes me nauseous.

Living in the sparsley populated mountains of Western North Carolina, every summer we breath the results of continuing rationalizations of .... whatever...


Go to the link to see how you will fare today. This capture shows the ozone levels, a pretty good indicator of overall air quality, and as you can see, our area continues to frequently exceed levels in many highly populated areas, including metro Atlanta. One reason we chose to live with PV is so that we could take the higher ground in this discussion, for all the good it does.

Many local residents in our county continue to oppose the PV "solar farms" being built in the area as "asthetically displeasing", spoiling their view. They are now proposing zoning laws to prevent further installations. Even after being made aware that over 40% of their electricity comes from coal, and of what the effects are on the air and water quality in their little paradise, they continue their NIMBY whining. I tried to get our local paper to publish pictures of mountain top removal for coal, just one state north of here. No joy there. Folks simply don't want to know that someone else's "little paradise" has been utterly, violently, and permanently obliterated so that they can purchase electricity for 10 cents per kwh. Once again, thinking about it just makes me nauseous.

You want to discuss costs? Talk to the hand!

Notice the plume of ozone far out to sea over the Atlantic. All the pollution must go somewhere. I've heard that Charlotte has a bad ozone problem and we know for sure that Atlanta has one too. I remember in the 1980's when the head of the state DOT wanted to eliminate the state motor vehicle inspection program, the main reason being the emissions testing part of the program. The State refused to stiffen the emissions limits and finally the EPA had to come in and cut off funds for new highway construction until the State complied. Now, decades later, there is still a problem, even though a much larger fraction of the cars are newer, low emission vehicles and the testing program requires dyno testing.

North Carolina will need to stiffen the state testing as well, but the new Tea Party Republican majority likely won't do it. In my county, there's still no IM program, other than the safety program. And, there's no limits on agricultural burning around here, either, except during fire alerts. These days, the EPA is being hamstrung and thus the pollution will only get worse. Pollution regs are seen by business as an unnecessary expense and are thus opposed. So it goes...

EDIT: See THIS STORY from Atlanta about temperatures and air pollution this weekend.

E. Swanson

Your paper is not going to bite the hand that feeds it.

I bet that if you tried to rent some bill boards and post pics of MTR mining moonscapes, and/or tried to buy ad space on the decal wraps they now put around some city buses, you would have no joy with that quest either.

PV and wind are the 'new kids on the block', and the vested interests in coal have deep pockets to continue to pay hundreds of talk show hosts and bloggers and newspaper opinion columnists to smear renewables...any way they can. Truth and balance and honest trade-space analyses are not constraints.

There are lots of low info voters...as long as they know that renewables are a lefty, enviro-nazi, big government money-subsidy pit, and are French and gay and socialist, and know that coal is American and patriotic and provides lots of good jobs, then all will be well in their metal paradises.

A back-of-the envelope exercise for the reader


X = all oil that exists on Earth
Y2 = all oil that will be discovered (as a fraction of X)
Y1 = all oil that has been discovered to date (as a fraction of X)
Z2 = all oil that will be used (as a fraction of X)
Z1 = all oil that has been used to date (as a fraction of X)

By definition, X = 100% of the oil on the planet.
What are the percentage values for the rest of the variables?

I think it may look something like this ...

X = 100% = all the oil that exists on the planet
Y2 = 80% = all the oil that will be discovered
Y1 = 70% = we have discovered close to 90% of the oil that we will discover
Z2 = 40% = we will recover about half of the oil we discover
Z1 = 15% = we have used something less than half of the oil that we can recover

These are off-the-cuff rough *guesses* and probably overly optimistic in ultimate recovery percentages. I am very interested in hearing the opinions of others and how others might rack-and-stack these numbers.

I would say the rough *guesses* are in the right range, except for:

Z2 = 40% = we will recover about half of the oil we discover

Recovery rates range up to 50% or so are possible for new oil in developed countries, but most of the world's oil is in OPEC countries, and they typically have total recovery rates less than 20%. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, which have the largest OPEC reserves, are toward the high end of the scale at 23% each.

They can't simply put those big old Middle-Eastern oil fields, which have been producing for generations, onto CO2 flood or steam stimulation and automagically bump the recovery rate up to 50% - they are too thoroughly screwed up by this time. If they wanted to maximize recovery, they should have used advanced recovery techniques right from the start, but they didn't do that. They just cranked the wellhead valves wide open and produced them for all they were worth. As a result, a more realistic estimated for global recovery, OPEC and non-OPEC might be:

Z2 = 25% = we will recover less than a third of the oil we discover world-wide
Z1 = 15% = we have used something over half of the oil that we can recover

Recovery rates range up to 50% or so are possible for new oil in developed countries

That may be true for fields like those which have been developed in the past. But is it true for future discoveries? A new discovery in the future in a developed country will be one of the following:

  • Very small, where the return on advanced recovery techniques may not be high enough to justify them.
  • In very deep water, where fixed production costs are so high that decreased flow rates for an old field do not pay to keep it in production, regardless of how advanced the recovery tecjniques are.
  • Marginal reservoir quality, where recovery is negligible with conventional methods and the "advanced techniques" have to be used from the start of production.
  • Overall, I'd guess that your value for Z2 (25%) is optimistic, though Ron's guess of 70% for Y1 may be a bit high.

Yes, you're right. The global recovery rate of less than 1/3 of the OOIP which I used is on the optimistic side. Given the unsophisticated nature of OPEC resource management and the inefficient nature of their national oil companies, likely it will turn to be less than 25%. That would give a Z2 of closer to 20%. But I would still say we are only about halfway down the depletion curve.

Z2 = 20% = we will recover about a quarter of the oil we discover
Z1 = 10% = we have used about half of the oil that we can recover

Most of the oil that gets discovered, as long as it is not an OOIP estimate, will get extracted. That is just the way the accounting works.

Recovery rates act on OOIP not on cumulative discoveries, which should end up being the same as URR. These are agreed to definitions that Hubbert and others such as Laherrere have used.

He's not using the conventional definitions of these things, so I was going with the definitions he used.

None of the OPEC countries are as sophisticated in regulating and recovering oil as countries in North America and Europe. The recovery rates in the North Sea, for instance, are just stellar by global standards. Given the very poor OPEC oil recovery rates, and the fact that most of the oil is in OPEC, on average we will likely recover less than 25% of the OOIP that we find.

Open question to theoildrum community:

This is a personal question, but answers could perhaps be relevant to many other who might be reading this. I've recently been thinking about going back to school to start a career in solar energy. Basically, anybody out there have any advice? I have no experience in the field, all I have is a Bachelors Degree in music and the subsequent level of general education. I suppose I need to get credentials in engineering, maybe become an electrician. I'm not sure exactly what aspect of solar energy I'd like to go into, just trying to get a better idea of the options and starting point. I'd like to balance a strong education with a path to obtaining employment as soon as possible. I guess my only strength is that I've always excelled at math.

Really, anything someone might have to say would be greatly appreciated. I'd imagine that this is just about one of the best forums for me to ask this kind of question.

Before giving you free advice I suggest you think about the following.

How old are you, how much money do you have in the bank and how deep into debt are you willing to go if you are not currently able to live a few years without much if any income. My guess is that if you have the financial wherewithal to finance an engineering degree that would probably be your best bet long term. As for becoming an electrician most electricians I have met know very little about PV systems. I'm sure there are exceptions and as time goes by that may change significantly. Unfortunately given our current economic troubles not many people are currently able to invest in alternative energy even if it makes long term economic sense, so jobs may be few and far between. It also depends on your particular geographic location. You may however be able to carve out a special niche for yourself. I myself have done some work with low voltage PV and LED off grid outdoor lighting systems.

Best of Luck!

Engineering is mostly wiped out by computers. If you do get a degree you have to fight your way into a PE license. The PE board is interested in restricting supply to keep up wages (see trade guild). Despite the lip service from the politicians, engineering is a declining field. It will never go away completely as someone has to write the computer code (or design the algorithms the code has to perform) but it's not looking great.

Electrician is a better bet. And you can specialize in PV installations once you have your journeyman card. All those installations have to be done to Code, especially if they are grid tied.

And the engineering can be outsourced to cheap-labor-istan. The site work can't be, nor can it be done by illegals, or at least it won't be after a few lawsuits. At worst, you will be doing final inspection (and fixing) on the site work done by illegals.

Going back to the first point, when we were building dams, bridges, and site specific infrastructure work, or all those one of a kind nuclear plants we are not so happy about now, we needed large numbers of engineers. Now, the engineers design a windmill, and you build 10,000. Design a good PV module, and you can build a million. Economies of scale apply there too.

LOL! And there you have it, two diametrically opposing views >;^) So get an Engineering degree and become an electrician as well, probably neither will guarantee you a job or an income. Survival keeps getting harder... the more knowledge and practical skills you have the better prepared you will be for any opportunities that may come along. At the end of the day you need to find a niche and a community or clientele that needs your skills.

Apprentice as an electrician. Zero cost. Good entry in PV.

I think the apprentice route is the best. To get a university degree in electrical engineering is much to theoretical and not focused on PV. With that one can only do work in an office, perhaps designing PV systems. How many workers are needed for such work? I believe that a practical education is the most promising avenue to get employment. In Germany you see tens of thousands of houses with solar panels and labor to install and hook them up to the grid is in short supply, for example.

In Germany you see tens of thousands of houses with solar panels and labor to install and hook them up to the grid is in short supply, for example.

But, are those high skilled jobs with good compensation, or grunt construction jobs? We are likely dealing with a job pyramid, with the higherpaid highest skilled jobs ate the top where there aren't many available. When I ordered my system, the sales rep was doing sales because his back was no longer good enough for roof work.

There are no grunt jobs in Germany.

I live 20 yards from the German boarder, close to a typical German village. The last few years has seen quiet a boom in small PV installations. Most are done by a couple of small firms with perhaps a total of 10 men per firm. I was in one of the firms a couple of months ago to see about prices and check out if it was profitable for me too install as an individual without subsidy, unfortunately it was not. It is why the Dutch village a couple of miles away does not have even one installation. Now people might say that this is a good thing and the state should not subsidise PV. Seen from another point of view, this employs 20 men who most likely would be on the dole and would most likely have to be paid by the state, the people who buy the arrays save on there electricity bill which means that still more money stays in the local economy. Some like a farmer I know who has covered his barns with PV makes a reasonable profit. For the community this makes economic sense but for the individual such as myself it doesn't and there is the rub.

Not an expert, but I'll take a stab at it.

I don't know how easy it is to target renewables, versus general energy industry. Also you should note that an area like solar (assume PV for the rest of this discussion), employment will cover a sort of skills pyramid, with a handfull of solid-state physics types working at the device level, and many many more engineers doing the nity gritty work of optimizing the manufacturing chain (squeeze another fraction of a cent per watt out of panel manufacturing) say. Then there will be many many more jobs, planning installations, bolting stuff down, wiring stuff up, etc. Most of this jobs are probably low-medium skill general labour or construction type jobs. My personal feeling. Within several years panel manufacturing costs will be on the order of $50 per watt. The most recalcitrant part of the cost will be the so called balance of system cost, mostly the cost of materials for an installation of mounting hardware and wiring. This later stuff isn't subject to a Moores law type improvement effect, it is simply old fashioned metal bashing type engineering. Not sexy, but thats where I think the real action will lie.

Of course there is always lots of paperwork, both for design, contracts, and meeting regulations, so normal legaltype or administrative skills will be a part of the industry (and a drag costwise). Currently for residential installations current paperwork costs are probably $.50 to $1.00 per watt, so getting this down by a large factor is important as well. Although I suspect the biggest capacity additions will be in comercial/industrial rooftops and untility scale installations (a 100megawatt utility plant equals 25,000 residential rooftops, and some already signed PV plants are bigger than this).

I've recently been thinking about going back to school to start a career in solar energy. Basically, anybody out there have any advice?

Dig about on the Internet for commentary about the 'spending bubble' for higher education.

Keep in mind studies that claim 10,000 hours must be invested in a topic to be called 'an expert'.

And while most US places allow lower than 90 V wiring to be installed without State blessing - to make solar PV ties to 120 VAC you may need union or other blessings. Check your local conditions.

I think a degree in electrical engineering might be a good idea, but I doubt that it will lead to a career in solar energy. At some point the government incentives will end due to the government running out of free money, and at that point funding for the industry will probably collapse. However, someone will always be using electricity, and designing systems to produce and use it more efficiently and effectively will always be a lucrative trade.

The average person changes careers several times during their working life, and you never know where the next big breakthroughs will be, so you have to stay flexible.

Alot of folks are getting into solar; many don't make it. I think there will be alot of opportunuties in energy efficiency consulting going forward, and follow-up work after consultations (actually doing the work). There are plenty of training programs available (google "energy efficiency consultant"), residential through industrial. Many consultants partner with contractors, getting consulting fees and commissions.

Not quite as sexy as solar, but at least as important. The last three solar prospects I went on, I talked the folks out of spending money on PV and solar DHW, at least until they improved their overall efficiency situation. My brother got work from two of these contacts (and hasn't offered me any compensation, yet :-/

As a retired engineer I recommend against engineering. I suspect that some electrical engineering advances and materials science are going to improve the economics of solar systems but that work is going to have to be done in a very well funded development lab and there are going to be few of those in the next several years. However the larger careers that are going to result from those technical advances are going to go to the installers of those systems. People succeeding in those arenas are going to have a technician-level understanding of the solar systems, good market research skills and the ability to manage the sales, costs and personell associated with installations.

I think a lot of those skills will come from working in the field, not going back to school.

That's my two cents.

The best things about an engineering degree are you learn a little about a lot in your first two years of school (and a lot about a little in your first real job), you solve problems all the time, and you get a lot of expensive toys to play with. As a bonus, you can forever bore ordinary people to death talking about efficiency topics at social functions.

Why do you recommend against engineering? Sure, wages and benefits aren't what they used to be, but it's still a decent living, and a lot of engineers are retiring and leaving unfilled holes. I would say that there is a strong market for "good" engineers, and the difference is knowing how to think and solve problems, versus just knowing facts and doing the math.

Edit: If the scope of the recommendation against engineering was for the original post only, then I fully agree. Technician/trade courses and practical on-the-job experience would be the way to go. Engineering only applies to detailed-design of the components, not the installation and sales aspects.

As a current engineer (with a Ph.D. even), I agree with the commentators saying not to bother. An engineering degree won't help much with the hands-on practical skills you need to actually do installations, and will focus on teaching you fundamental theory. If you want to *design* solar panels, yeah, an engineering degree might be helpful. Or maybe if you want to work in a factory *producing* solar panels, a degree in chemical engineering might be helpful.

But if you want to actually do installations, try to find a trade school. Or if you want to do building efficiency, you can probably intern somewhere and learn a similar amount after reading a few textbooks on your own in advance/on the side. Or if you want to do financing, sales, logistics, etc others probably have better advice.

If there's anything I've learned from 9 years of school, it's that if you take on a challenge as a personal interest, you will learn how to do it as well or better than someone who is learning about it in school. I taught myself enough electrical engineering, biology, and chemical engineering that when I give talks I am very often mistaken for someone with a Ph.D. in whatever field the listener is in. Even though I have not even a bachelors degree in any of those three fields, and have only taken one bio class, one chemE class, and three EE classes. Yet, I have people coming to me for advice on their masters thesis in these fields.

Experience is far more valuable than formal education, except if you want to work on something that requires a significant degree of technical sophistication. And sometimes not even then.

Also a current engineer, and I agree. My local community colleges/adult education programs offer relatively inexpensive solar technology classes. You might start with something like that. You can see if you like it, make connections in the field, etc. If you don't like it, you don't lose much.

At this point, I would try to avoid going into debt for more education.

Here, here. (Esp about education debt.)

Study the engineering on your own, gain the knowledge, especially if you are inclined that way.

(I was just introduced to these vids on the net.. http://www.khanacademy.org/ , covers a broad range of physics and math topics with a clear and simple approach .. sadly I don't know if he's actually good or not..)

MAYBE Get a good hand's-on trade like Plumbing or Electric, learn the local building codes for it, and I'm a big advocate of doing this as an apprentice/intern.. applying that to Solar Heat or Electric doesn't take much more on top.

But in addition to all these things, try to really take stock of your own inclinations. I've swung at a lot of ideas that really didn't fit my own personal strengths and proclivities. It's extra work (and often wasted Energy, ahem!), to play against type. And frequently, the clues about where you should be or could fit best are right in front of you.

I'm really glad I know how to use tools across many trades, but at risk of saying this in an engineer's blog, the world also still has use for music and the arts.. those are trades as well. People will keep needing plumbers and electricians.. and music.

Not to undermine having a 'practical' backup plan, but it still really needs to be said. Both of my parents, for example, as music and theater teachers achieved a lot in giving my classmates different routes into history, math, humanities, self-respect, deeper perception, emotional connection, spiritual expression, soulfulness.. etc. When my mom passed away two yrs ago, the outpouring from classmates of what they still carry with them today, 25-35 years later was simply breathtaking to me. One is a therapeutic nurse, who still uses relaxation techniques for people with chronic illness and pain, that we used as prep exercises for theater rehearsals.. she uses them for her patients and herself.

Don't underestimate the need today for the humanities.

I would recommend microclimatology instead.

Very interesting subject and you will be golden for both solar and wind industries.


I've been wondering about the possible role of nanotechnology in achieving big energy gains through efficiencies. Yet when I do a quick google search, the references all see to be older - 2003, 2007, etc. Anyone up to speed on what may be on the near horizon re nanotechnology?

Most of what I've seen lately is about carbon nanotubes being researched/considered for all sorts of applications, including replacing indium tin oxide in PV, computer displays, etc. Lots of possibilities:

Solar cells—GE's CNT diode exploits a photovoltaic effect. Nanotubes can replace ITO in some solar cells to act as a transparent conductive film in solar cells to allow light to pass to the active layers and generate photocurrent.

Superconductor—Nanotubes have been shown to be superconducting at low temperatures.[12]

Ultracapacitors—MIT is researching the use of nanotubes bound to the charge plates of capacitors in order to dramatically increase the surface area and therefore energy storage ability.[13]

...and this stuff sounds useful:

Buckypaper—Thin nanotube sheets are 250 times stronger than steel and 10 times lighter and could be used as a heat sink for chipboards, a backlight for LCD screens or as a faraday cage to protect electrical devices/aeroplanes.

if you are asking about organic PV, to my knowledge the best reported efficiencies in the research lab are in the neighborhood of 8% - achieved for different device configurations. However I have heard that it is difficult to scale these high efficiency devices due to process limitations. For example, in a large area device, films have to be thicker to prevent shorting defects. There are critical balances between the properties of film thickness, absorptivity of the organic chromophores and charge conduction - you are trying to control the process of splitting the excited states into positive and negative charges and getting them to flow unimpeded to the electrodes. I have heard that 10% is sort of the bar where commercialization becomes very interesting. A few years ago, the best efficiencies were in the 3-4% range, so there has been considerable improvement, but still a long way to go.

I have a Ph.D. in. well, basically nanotechnology. I have seen absolutely nothing that would be a true "gamechanger" on the scale that people expect. Nanotechnology just means small stuff. Small isn't necessarily that much better than big in most applications.

There are just a few where I think it can have a big impact.

Catalysts, where higher surface area and improved nanostructure can decrease the amount of expensive noble metals, increase thermal stability and lifetime, and increase the activity of the catalyst (for reasons too complex to describe here). This can cause significant societal efficiency gains and is what I would consider to be "low hanging fruit" similar to building insulation. It can potentially allow for wider feedstock utilization (for instance, converting corn stover to pharmaceuticals -- currently possible, but super expensive -- but with better catalysts, maybe not). This also includes thermo-, electro-, and photocatalysts for things like water splitting which I don't think have much promise but might provide useful alternatives for current sunlight->fuel techniques "someday".

Microelectronics, where everything is so small and so complex that small structural changes (for instance the fin-style transistors Intel is switching to) can result in significant energy savings at the same computation power. Obviously this could improve efficiency, although that has to be balanced against the possibly increased embedded energy costs.

Bioengineering, where biological tools can be harnessed to provide enzymes which are useful to humans on large scales with minimal scarce resources. For instance, enzymes that break down cellulose. Or proteins which incorporate photoactive molecules to improve solar cell dyes. Or a magical strain of algae that grows insanely fast, produces nothing except for high value lipids, and is so robust that it doesn't need to be protected from contamination from bacteria. And so on.

Batteries, where energy density and power density are limited by surface interfaces, and the ratio of cathode/anode to electrolyte. Find a way to have less electrolyte with the same current densities without leakage current and you can improve the mass-power and mass-energy ratios significantly. But not more than maybe 50% for energy and not more than maybe 500% for power. That would I suppose be nanotechnology in the case of Li-ion batteries. Although for large scale applications I'm so far a fan of Prof. Donald Sadoway's liquid metal batteries. (http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22116/) This thing is definitively not nanotechnology, but it has massive power densitites (liquid phase cathode/anode/electrolyte increase diffusion rates), is cheap because it's simple, and is scalable because it's simple. Very clever stuff. (Disclaimer: Don is a friend of mine, but I've never worked with him on research.)

Other than that, frankly, I've seen nothing remotely interesting coming out of nanotech. Nano-solar stuff is reaching diminishing returns rapidly (if not years ago), and most fancy nanotechnology things are way too expensive or energy intensive to ever be worth the investment.

In any case, what I'd suggest that you'll see in the near future is simply incremental improvements on what you've been seeing for the last 20. Nothing that will save the world, but lots of things that will help here and there behind the scenes where no one ever realizes that new technology is helping.

Hmm, you sound a bit pessimistic. Exponential growth, the Singularity is near etc? :)

Efficiencies of what?

For photovoltaics (PV), I don't see anything on the near horizon (1-5 years).

There is some work being done with intermediate band solar cells and hot carrier solar cells, progress seems to be slow, but some progress has been made, and the occasional paper dribbles out. I am agnostic about either of these, conventional silicon will bust a dollar a watt in a few years, so we don't need any magic bullets. If they turn out to be cost effective/reliable/..., they'll be adopted, if not, they won't.

An intermediate band solar cell would absorb two (or more) photons with energies beneath the band gap of the semiconductor (in an ordinary cell, such photons are not absorbed),
and then create a carrier pair (electron and hole) out of them, increasing the current (thus power).
The usual way proposed/demonstrated to do this is with quantum dots.
You're right - most of the references are older, from 2006 when Antonio Luque's group did this:
Some recent work is from ASU
and of course Uni New South Wales
Martin Green literally wrote on the book:
“Third Generation Photovoltaics: Advanced Solar Energy Conversion” Springer, 2003
You'll get some references in their annual report:

A hot carrier solar cell would take the excess energy of a photon with energy above the band gap (in an ordinary cell, the energy above the band gap is wasted as heat), and uses this "extra" energy to increase the cell voltage (thus power).
A background:
(there's more at GCEP's site, see the list on that page's left).

Other stuff I've seen recently is work on up-converters and down-converters.
These are outside the cell itself, attempting to take sub-bandgap and above bandgap photons (respectively) and emit photons matched to the cell's bandgap.

I don't follow organics or dye cells much - too many issues for anything but niche markets.

The places to look for the latest are these specialist journals:
Progress in Photovoltaics
Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells
You'll also find this stuff in Applied Physics Letters and similar journals.

If you love Oregon enough to live there, you could visit the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference - this year held in neighboring Seattle.
There are proceedings from these conferences.
If you find yourself in Hamburg this September, the EU PVSEC is the place to go:

I found this part of the story linked to Pemex above interesting. Can anyone with more knowledge of this comment on past, present and projected future production? Can they really hold production flat for 5 years?

The head of exploration and production, Carlos Morales said the company expects output from the Cantarell field to range between 530,000 barrels per day and 540,000 until 2016, Reuters reported.

Cantarell’s production will decline after that year, he said.

Pemex has a track record of being disastrously wrong in its predictions of the output from Cantarell and its other big oil fields, so I don't know why anyone would expect them to be right this time.

The idea of holding production flat sounds a bit unrealistic. An exponential decline curve would be more typical for an oil field like this.

Wikipedia say peak 2,100,000 to stabilize at 400,000. This would be a 5% long tail. I do not know oil field history are slow tails normal? Is 5% a reasonable level for a tail?

Cantarell is an offshore field. Offshore fields tend not to have a long tail because of the high cost of operating them - once the production gets too low, they are shut in as uneconomic. Mind you, Cantarell is a very BIG offshore field, so it may take a while until it becomes uneconomic to operate. It's just that Pemex's record in controlling operating costs is not stellar.

German E. coli outbreak caused by previously unknown strain

Fresh vegetables are still the prime suspect, but Flemming Scheutz, head of the WHO Collaborative Centre for Reference and Research on Escherichia and Klebsiella in Copenhagen, suggests that the bacteria might not have originated in the food chain at all. "This strain has never been found in any animal, so it is possible that it could have come from straight from the environment into humans".

Lothar Wieler, a veterinary microbiologist at the Free University of Berlin, cautiously agrees with this theory. In addition to the antibiotic-resistance genes, the bacteria contain a gene for resistance to the mineral tellurite (tellurium dioxide).

Tellurium oxides were used as antimicrobial agents against diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis before the development of antibiotics. Some strains of bacteria may have evolved resistance to tellurium during its historical medical use, or after its use in the mining and electronics industries increased its presence in the environment. According to Wieler, the strain's resistance characteristics could point towards an environmental source, such as water or soil.

Tellurium is also used in PV solar panels.

Tellurium is also used in SOME PV solar panels. not all of them.

The silicon variety do not use Te, the cadmium-based think films do. The copper-based thin films do not use Te either.

Unless someone is growing vegetables on the tailings from an old copper mine it seems unlikely to be tellurium related. However, Spain was famous for its copper mines back in antiquity, so I suppose it can't be ruled out off-hand.

Ok, which growing areas are rich in Tellurium? Interestingly there have been recent studies about how metallic copper is an effective bactericide and suggestions that changing stainless steel door handles to copper or brass may help prevent disease spread in hospitals.


Russia restricts gasoline and diesel exports.

First Germany $9/gal and now China feels the impact ...

Does anyone remember the Germany $9/gal story about Russia export restrictions? It was only a month or so ago.

Let me jog your collective memories a bit.

Peak oil notes
by Tom Whipple / ASPO USA via Energybulletin.net / May 5, 2011

Gasoline prices hit a record high of $9.10 a gallon in Germany after the Russians put a ban on fuel exports to deal with domestic shortages. Price ceilings in Russia were making it too attractive for Russian refiners to sell their products on the export market.

Does it come as a surprise that it spread to China? It wasn't even a real "ban". I chased after the story across many news articles watching the claim evolve into its true nature: prohibitive export duties on refined products, just as bad as any banning.

Does this mean the world has a shortage of refining capacity? Is this due to people being unwilling to invest in refineries? Is this because they see we are near enough to peak refineries that they would never recoup their investments before they owned excess refinery capacity?

"Does this mean the world has a shortage of refining capacity?"

A shortage of refining capacity suitable for the crude oil supply now available, would be the shortest way to put it.

At least the refining capacity isn't where the oil is.

Though I am curious, if the industry really believes that supplies are due to increase, where are the new refinery builds?

A shortage of refining capacity suitable for the crude oil supply now available, would be the shortest way to put it.

The shortest and most oblique: Arab Heavy -- The Crude of the Future!

Hot enough for you? Preparing for Canada’s 100-year heat wave

The long-range forecast for Canadian cities is hot. And we’re talking for the next 100 years or so.

As summer weather finally arrives, municipal governments across the country are preparing for the long-term impact of climate change, adapting everything from the trees they plant to how their emergency services personnel are trained in preparation for the gradual increase in temperature and wildly fluctuating weather patterns expected in decades to come.

“Either you’re a believer in climate change or you’re not, but I don’t think you can deny that the weather we’re seeing across the country is different,” said Serge Dupuis, manager of engineering for the city of Dieppe, N.B. “Believe it or not, it’s here and if you’re ready for the worst, it’s going to help.”

See: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/hot-enough-for-you-preparin...

Although it may be unrelated to climate change, earlier this week Haligonians experienced one of the most intense (and protracted) lightning storms in recent memory.

See: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2011/06/02/ns-lightning-...


What does warm weather mean in Canada? Instead of going up to a sweltering 78 degree it will go to an unimaginable 84 degrees?

What does warm weather mean in Canada? Well, in practical terms, there's this:

In Vancouver, a public awareness campaign is planned about water conservation, as the city faces profound shortages initiated by climate change.

In the summer, the city has historically relied on glacial runoff as its primary water supply. But warmer temperatures are expected to melt the winter snow pack faster, causing floods and emptying city reserves.

“It’s a double whammy,” said Andrea Reimer, the Vancouver councillor who leads the city’s Greenest City action team. “The projections are that we could have significantly less water in the summertime.”

A heat wave in 2009 saw the Vancouver region use one billion litres of water in a single day, reducing the city’s water reservoir to 4 per cent of its capacity.

Water shortages in Vancouver are pretty much unimaginable to most Canadians.


Guess they will have to build some more reservoirs. It does rain in Vancouver? I understand nobody likes change.

And our city will have to build a 1.5 metre high sea wall all around our harbour. No biggie.


I did not see that mentioned in the article. Why do you have to build a sea wall?

If you do have to act looks like the Juan De Fuca Strait near Lopez Island with two 4 km wide flows offers an ideal opportunity to deal with any water issues. (for Vancouver)

For Halifax looks like the mouth to the sea is 1.5 miles and 0.5 and 0.25 miles much easier than Vancouver. You guys are lucky.

Far easier to build 2 miles of sea wall than to get China not to burn every last chunk of coal. Save yourselves. Do it now while you still have cheap oil to do it with. Is this a topic that the city counsel has been working on? If not, maybe you can take the lead.(?)

Prepare for rising sea levels, Halifax told

Halifax municipal officials plan to take inventory of every property along the harbour as a new study suggests water levels could rise 73 centimetres by the next century.

The study, presented to regional councillors on Tuesday, looks at the effects of climate change on the waterfront by 2100. It predicts that sea levels could rise even higher during storms and hurricanes, to 2.67 metres.

See: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2010/02/10/ns-halifax-harbour-le...

And now there's word that sea levels could rise as much as 1.3 metres as opposed to the 73 cm estimated here.

As to Halifax Harbour's shoreline, it is said to be 90 km in length (source: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps/63/m063p305.pdf).


If you need more to worry about; that is a geologically active area.

"Uplift to the north of the fault and subsidence to the south occurred most recently in A.D. 800–1200, not necessarily in a single year (Sherrod et al., 2002). To the northwest at Lynch Cove, tide flats rose as much as 3 m between A.D. 870–990."

"Compared with the Seattle and Tacoma structures, the South Whidbey Island Fault may have produced little vertical displacement in the Holocene. The evidence reported thus far comes from northern Whidbey Island, where two sites (Crockett and Hancock Lakes) appear to differ by about 2 m in relative sea-level change about 3000 years ago."


That is a terrible area to try to judge sea-level rise. The ground keeps moving. Worse than Gilligan with the lobster pots.

I was actually looking for the Pacific beach elevation changes from the 1700 Cascadia fault earthquake. I recall they were several feet in vertical change, and in the downward direction. I haven't found that reference yet. I did find a reference to a cedar forest that was drowned by seawater by that event, but it was a pay-for link.

I know, and it gives me the bee geebers whenever I think about it.

For additional background on this, see: http://earthquakescanada.nrcan.gc.ca/histor/20th-eme/1929/1929-eng.php


If you do have to act looks like the Juan De Fuca Strait near Lopez Island with two 4 km wide flows offers an ideal opportunity to deal with any water issues. (for Vancouver)

Sure, if they like drinking basically full-salinity seawater ;)

Richmond....Van suburb.... is already behind dikes....Airport is at sea level. Fraser river is a major waterway with extremely high seasonal flows. Dredging doesn't keep up. Some parts of Vancouver will have huge problems.

Citizens are water pigs. Infrasturcture leaks badly. Must be fixed under roadways and buildings in a major urban setting. Declining revenues and folks are taxed up the yin yang already. Very pretty for a city but unaffordable for all but the super rich.

Hey, you get 6' of rain a year and lots of snow pack you get a little complacent about water use. Glad I don't live there.

Cheers paulo

And our city will have to build a 1.5 metre high sea wall all around our harbour. No biggie.

My grandparent's house near the Fraser River in Delta, south of Vancouver, was 1 metre below sea level. You can imagine the panic if the sea level rose 1.5 metres. They would be 2.5 metres below sea level and have to add 1.5 metres to the dikes. Instead of being 3 metres high, the dikes would be 4.5 metres high. I don't know if they would be able to cope with that. (/sarcasm)

In reality, as long as the pumps kept running and the Fraser River didn't flood, it was okay. The big threat was the river rising in the spring floods, not the ocean. It's not as if Vancouver is in a hurricane zone.

Flooding will, of course, increase in frequency and intensity. And storms will get more and more violent, and the rate at which sea level might rise is unclear. So it will be an ongoing game of chicken with water from inland and from the ocean.

Vancouver doesn't like building much of anything. Except bike lanes.

Yes the water shortages are due to lack of reservoirs, not lack of rain.


No problem this year. Well, except for the flooding. I wish I could find a bigger version of that snowpack map.

I thought Canadians have a camel hump to store water on their backs ;-)
Good point about snow melts. You have to wonder whether better water storage (more of it) is in the cards if erratic weather pattern continues.

What does warm weather mean in Canada?

There are endless possibilities for answering this question:

  • Being able to take the snow tires off the car in June instead of July
  • Being able to open the windows in summer because they're not frozen shut 12 months a year.
  • Having a couple of weeks to rewax all the skis and restring the snowshoes before it snows again
  • Having to mow the lawn at least twice in summer
  • Having to put summer weight oil in the chainsaw
  • Seeing more SLOW - CONSTRUCTION signs on all the roads
  • Having polar bears digging through your garbage instead of hunting seals out on the ice

I can think of other things but maybe I should stop here.

Water shortages in Vancouver are pretty much unimaginable to most Canadians.

Well, it hardly rains at all in the two months of summer there, and the grass often gets yellow. You can imagine how bad it would be if summer went up to three months. All their lawns would die because they have never heard of watering them.

At least, my relatives in Vancouver thought of watering lawns as something people in other places did. They felt that if the grass couldn't handle the heat and dryness, it deserved to die.

Yes, since "most Canadians" are not fortunate enough to live here in Vancouver (and, secretly, most of them they wish they did) , they assume it is raining all the time - clearly they have not seen the marketing info from Tourism Vancouver!

Summer water restrictions - not shortages - are nothing new around here. AS RMG says, we typically have a dry summer. In the early fall, salmon runs are sometimes delayed as the river and creek levels are too low.
Watering restrictions started four days ago and, in fact, there are lawn watering restrictions every summer, from June 1 to 30 September, and this graph tells you why (from metro vancouver);

Here is the typical pattern of reservoir storage levels over summer, and as of right now they are overflowing;

Of course, Vancouver could build more/bigger reservoirs, but that is expensive, and why expands storage and treatment, just so there is more water in summer for people to waste on their gardens? Much cheaper just to manage the water use, have sensible restrictions, and then spend the money you have saved on other things, like the Sky Train transit system.

Here you can see how well this has worked - the total water usage has been essentially the same for the last 20 years, despite a population increase of 80% in that time.

Just for comparison, Vancouver's storage is equal to 260 days of average water use, while Sydney, Australia, has storage equal to 5.1 years of water use -the highest storage ratio of any major city in the world. But then, Australia is a dry place.

The water management strategy is working for Vancouver, as the total water use is actually decreasing slightly, and the per capita water use has been steadily decreasing since 1985 - from 750L/capita/day to 500. Still, they have some way to go to get to Sydney's level - they use the same water now as in 1975, and have a per capita of of 316L/c/day.

So, the reason why there are "restrictions" is simple - to prevent some people from wasting water, so there is enough for everyone else. This simple concept of managing a limited common resource in the interests of all people, not just those people/companies who can afford it, seems to be quite difficult for some Americans, and American politicians in particular, to understand.

Mind you, one politician did understand it, but the lesson seems to have been lost;

When the well has run dry, only then will we know the true value of water..

Benjamin Franklin circa 1780

You have smart relatives. If you have to plant grass then plant hardy strains that will handle dry conditions and bounce back green when the rains come.

Well imagine being caught without AC in a heat wave. When that happens in Chicago, people die.

When that happens in Vermont the tourists are happy that they can take off their sweaters.

.. so can the ticks.

The changes with a big temperature shift can hit in very unexpected ways. The insect balances can affect the bird/bat populations, certain forests become VERY prone to new infestations, diseases or fires.

Maine has seen an upswing of Ticks by an order of magnitude this last decade, and the variations in Lyme Disease are becoming legend.

It's not just sweaters.

ie, Nature will adjust to anything.. but not always on a schedule or with responses that will suit us.

Well imagine being caught without AC in a heat wave.

When that happens here in the Canadian Rockies, people open a window. They don't take off their sweaters because, well, it's not THAT hot! Firewood consumption drops dramatically except during the midsummer snowstorms.

It hasn't snowed so far this month, but it's only June 4th. The May snowstorms were really bad.

We all live in igloos :( Here in Toronto warming will mean having more over 32 C, 80%+ humidity days in the summer. So, more energy expended for cooling and worse air quality.

In spite of what the current species of right wing parties (neocon scum) thinks adaptation to AGW implies getting poorer and living shorter lives. It does not mean more tourism revenue from the subarctic.

My wife and children and dog have been gagging on the smoke from the 'Alpine' fire (and others) in Arizona for two days now:


Smoke from the Alpine fire was carrying all the way to Albuquerque, N.M., more than 200 miles to the northeast.

There have been times in the last two days when we could not see the Sandia Mountains due to the smoke, which our ~ 4000 feet above us at ~ 1-1.5 miles away.

The swamp coolers draw the smoke into the house...not running them would mean opening the windows even further, also letting smoke into the house.

If Palo Verde in Tuscon ever melts down, the prevailing winds would carry some contaminants up here I imagine.

Oh well, if you can't smell it or see it, it won't bother you, right?

Maybe time for an air conditioner and filter air exchange. We filter year round you would be amazed how much crud gets filtered out.

By air conditioner do you mean refrigerated air?

I have to ask, because many locals out here say refrigerated air, where back east and down south they say 'air conditioning'.

I have thought of that...it costs a whole lot to install, and then it costs a lot more in trons to run than evaporation coolers (swamp coolers).

I do dislike evaps...the pumps get clogged with scale and have to be replaced every 2 years (or one year sometimes), the pads get clogged with scale, the floats and water fittings and tubing can be cantankerous and leak/overflow...the belts wear out and break, the axles squeak if you don't keep 'em greased...everything rusts out...then there is the twice a year change-over festivities with clearing water lines, inserting and removing the cookie sheets, etc. I don't recall having to do much Maintenance at all to the A/C in my previous homes in other parts of the country.

But...the evaps get the job done in a minimally acceptable way most of the time for cheaper than A/C, so there we are.

I have an expensive electrostatic filter on the furnace to knock out the smoke from the forest fires. If you had an A/C you could probably put one on that, but this is, after all, the Canadian Rockies. You would only need A/C if you wanted to have a year-round ice skating rink in the house.

Another reason not to like public transportation - or, this time, to hate it with a passion: City to consider audio bus ads:

Madison buses may eventually tell you where you can buy a meal, phone or flower bouquet near your stop if Metro Transit adopts a new audio advertising system being offered by a Dayton, Ohio-based company.

A city committee is scheduled to hear an initial presentation Wednesday from Commuter Advertising, which pipes advertisements through bus speaker systems when the bus is near the business that paid for the ad. [...]

"It wouldn't be advertisement after advertisement after advertisement," Rusch said Friday. "They've talked about a lot of ways to ease people into it, and not just slam people with advertising."

Sure right, ease people into it. The way New York did with Off-Track Betting, starting the ads off on the high roads, then, as the politicians became addicted to the money, going as sleazy as anything else. As if we didn't have enough cacophony already...

The way New York did with Off-Track Betting, starting the ads off on the high roads, then, as the politicians became addicted to the money, going as sleazy as anything else.

I've never understood why making a boatload of money is never enough. The NFL, which generates billions of dollars of revenue each year, due in great part to massive over commercialization with kazillions of reasons to leave the game for more ads, was recently bemoaning their plight of not finding new ways to generate profit. Ahh, that's a shame! But of course the shame will be for all of us as they squeeze us for more bucks by adding more time outs or some such device to make even more mullah. I don't even watch games live anymore - record and zip through later. It takes 1/4 the time.

This is something the Dalai Lama talked about, the major pitfall of modern man, Greed. Even Heidi Klum is willing to bare all for a photo shoot to promote this coming seasons Project Runway. Sell your soul or whatever it takes to make a little more green.

You could always get noise-cancelling earphones for your iPod. It's an efficient way to avoid noxious advertising. If everybody had them, maybe they would stop it.

The tradeoff is, then you can't hear them call the stops. Some of the buses are ad-wrapped, and after dark, it can be a touch hard to see out the windows and you can lose track. (Another tradeoff is that the iPod might have a fairly short half-life if you have to wait to connect at certain of the "transfer points".)

I've never actually been on a bus where they called out the stops, never mind broadcast advertising, so I guess I live in a totally different world than you do.

The worst problem with iPods is that you can't hear impending disasters coming. For instance, a black guy in a nearby town was walking down the street, jiving to his iPod, when a helicopter crashed on him and killed him. An observer said, "If he had jumped 10 feet to the side it would have missed him, but he didn't hear the helicopter coming down or me yelling at him to get out of the way."

There were 8 helicopters lined up at the local town heliport a few days ago. Tourist season is upon us. Maybe I do live in a totally different world than you do.

Sounds more like a reason to hate Dayton Ohio.

Really, of all the places in the country this is the only place even 'considering' this, and you jump on it as a reason to absolutely loath all forms of public transport everywhere in the world all the time.

I will not call this shallow and transparent, but you might consider that others might well come to this conclusion.

Most public transportation is being economically devastated by high fuel prices. Naturally they will turn to any money making scam to prevent capsizing.

Not to mention their unfunded pension plans.

Calgary's wind-powered light rail system is more or less ignoring higher fuel prices. The new West line is scheduled for completion next year, as are several new stations on the Northeast and Northwest lines. It's looking like a better and better investment all the time as we move into the post-peak-oil era.

Libyan oil money, Gaddafi and Goldman Sachs:


Goldman lost 1.3 billion dollars of Libyan money.


I bet the Libyans feel like they were robbed.

Goldman lost 1.3 billion dollars of Libyan money.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was joking around with a message on these boards saying the big brokerages on Wall Street will probably lose a big chunk of Libya's money and then appeal to Congress to pay for the loss with US taxpayer funds. Either that or Libya will simply have to take the loss.

In any case, Wall Street is more and more looking like a bunch of thugs. The orderly conduct of yesteryear are far behind us.

Two good papers about shale gas (a month old):

Foreign Affairs: The Good News about Gas, The natural Gas Revolution and its Consequences


Reuters: Special Report: China set to unearth shale power


If indeed, China has signiicant shale gas resources, it also has equally significant water resource problems. Even if China could build out the pipeline infastructure needed to dramatically enhance their shale gas production, where are they going to find the water which is use for fracing? Anyone have thoughts on the likly prosects of China tapping the shale ng resources anytime soon? Thanks, Joe B.

where are they going to find the water which is use for fracing? Anyone have thoughts on the likly prosects of China tapping the shale ng resources anytime soon?

I think they are going to have to start moving on developing their shale gas very soon, given the energy crunch they are working themselves into with their very high economic growth rate. They are currently buying up North American companies with shale gas experience, and I don't think they are doing that because they want to develop US shale gas for Americans. I think it is because they are buying the technology and experience they need to develop Chinese shale gas.

Water for fracing is a red-herring issue. There's lots of undrinkable saline water available in deep formations, and the wells don't care whether they use fresh water, salt water, or diesel fuel for that matter. They don't use a great deal of water to frac a well, and the water they do use can be recovered and recycled to frac subsequent wells.

RMG, Thanks, Joe B.


'Romney reaffirms stance that global warming is real'

Good for Romney for having the guts for taking a stance not held by the rest of his party. I'm not a Romney fan but I tip my hat to his courage on this topic! It should be interesting to see if the rest of his party becomes filled with raging hatred towards him on the airwaves to try and force him over to their magical position that we have no influence on the planet, and can therefore do anything we want to it with impunity.

I find this mystifying. He has shown no guts on any issue for years and is the biggest flip flopper around except for maybe Gingrich. With his stance on AGW, he has zero chance of winning the nomination. And, of course, expect a flip flop on AGW in minute now.

ts - Maybe not but in my conservative oil patch circle in Texas he's thought of well despite being a Yankee.

Maybe he believes our conservative friends will be able to read a graph?

More likely, this will be the story:

I think he may be staking out a deliberate position for the future. If by say the 2016 election cycle, the evidence forces the Repubs to backpeddle on the AGW is a fraud theme, then Romney (if he sticks to his guns?) can sell himselve as the reasonable-thoughtful Republican. That is probably a longshot, but how many of us would be willing to stakeout a longshot bet on something we covet, which is otherwise out of our reach.

Earl – Just a little balance. See a lot of shots at R’s over AGW. Everyone knows I work in the oil patch in Texas. Not surprisingly most of my contacts are obviously R’s. And being oil patch and Texans rather conservative. Yet I don’t know one…not one…that doesn’t accept AGW. Maybe because most have a tech background. Especially geologists like me. I was studying global climate changes when working on my earth science degree in the early 70’s.

Maybe it’s because we understand the science better. Maybe because the MSM focuses more on R deniers than R believers. Maybe just because we Texans are naturally smarter than most. Well…let’s not say smarter but “different”. After all we have liberal D’s in Texas that go deer hunting every fall. Like I said…different.

Rock, I wish my experience was similar. I work in mech engineering, and you'd expect the conservatives to be similarly realistic, but no they are uniformly of the "AGW is a massive fraud" frame of mind.

Drought may cost UK farmers £400m

Estimates suggest that Britain's yields of combinable crops – such as wheat and barley – will be 10pc lower overall this year, although the figure will be much higher in the driest areas. Total farm gate prices for the UK's combinable crops is £4bn, giving lost yields worth around £400m...

..."In East Anglia, we're looking at 20pc losses up to 50pc losses," she said. "We're even hearing at the moment about some farmers with total crop loss. That's not something any business can compete with and crop insurance has never been available.

"We won't know exactly until the harvest. Recent rain has stopped it getting any worse, but many of the crops are already damaged."

A long NYT article:

A warming planet struggles to feed itself

Changing weather patterns may be harming agriculture more than rising CO2 levels are benefitting agriculture.

It is a good article, but I think it is too optimistic. Kuntsler is wrong about suburbanization being the worst trend in history for misallocation of resources; by far more damage has been done by the Green Revolution. It enabled the doubling of the world's population over the past forty years, and this doubling has ensured ruin for perhaps half the current world's population.

In the article the quoted authorities say that agricultural output must and can (and probably will) double from current levels. Given water shortages and climate change, I doubt that such a doubling will be possible. World population is not going to stabilize at nine or ten billion; I think we are near Peak Population right now. Rising food prices are causing undernourishment and malnourishment to increase greatly in the poor societies of the world. Because of supply constraints, it is likely that food prices will tend to rise during most years of this decade.

Peak Oil is tough to deal with. Peak food is going to be a lot tougher to manage than Peak Oil. To some extent, we can find substitutes for oil, but there are no substitutes for food. Oil production is going to decline, no doubt about that. Food production may stay about the same for the next decade, but each year we add roughly eighty million to the world's population, thus tending to increase both demand for food and prices for food.

I had the same thoughts about the prospects for another doubling in food production--especially with flat global crude oil production and a (so far) slow decline in global net oil exports.

I posted a note a couple of weeks ago about Albert Brooks' Novel, "2030." In the book, gangs of young people are roaming the country beating up oldsters, because they are consuming such a disproportionate share of resources. In any case, 2030 seems impossibly far away, but 2010 was to 1990 as 2030 is to 2010, and in 1990, Bush 41 was president and Hussein invaded Kuwait. Seems like only yesterday.

Climate Progress has elevated this article to "Bombshell" status.


They also give links to some of the studies mentioned.

U.K. drought ‘may hit at-risk wildlife’

Threatened wildlife such as water voles could be hit by the continuing dry weather across parts of the country, the Wildlife Trusts warned today.

This year has seen an unusually dry spring, and despite some recent rainfall the dry weather is set to continue across much of the country into June, leaving rivers, streams, ponds and lakes all low on water in some areas.

Energy choices and the No Free Lunch Principle
Critics of wind power fail to acknowledge that it calls for much smaller economic and ecological trade-offs than any other source.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal told CNN recently that he wants oil prices to drop so that the United States and Europe don't accelerate efforts to wean themselves off his country's supply. "We don't want the West to go and find alternatives," he declared.

Wow -- I've never seen it put so bluntly. These guys know that the only threat to their gravy train is if we're dumb enough to fail to "go and find alternatives" -- and they'll even lower the price (a little, temporarily) to keep us on the hook. And all the drama about wind power in Maine plays right into their hands.

The truth is that we face a stark reality in energy. Either we stay addicted to oil or go and find alternatives (there's that phrase again), which means two things: change and choices. The question isn't whether we need energy -- it's the basis of our economy and daily life -- but rather where will it come from and what are the costs and trade-offs between the various options for producing it. The key word here is choice, and doing nothing is, in itself, a choice -- almost undoubtedly the wrong one.

See: http://www.pressherald.com/opinion/energy-choices-and-the-no-free-lunch-...


Governor opposition to renewable energy won’t lower prices

A proposal from the LePage administration to stall Maine’s development of renewable energy is misguided and should be rejected.

In his May 21 radio address, Gov. Paul LePage essentially linked Maine’s relatively high price of electricity with Maine law requiring an annual increase in our Renewable Portfolio Standard, the amount of electricity that is generated by renewable energy and distributed here in Maine. It’s a weak link that has already been rebuffed by Maine’s largest newspapers and the Legislature, which rejected his so-called “Act to Reduce Energy Prices for Maine Consumers.” But a number of his arguments or “facts” bear further discussion.


...as noted by ISO-New England, increasing the amount of renewable wind energy to 20 percent of the market share will result in regional savings of $650 million-$1.4 billion. Already, residents in northern Maine have seen a 10-21 percent price decrease in their standard offer from New Brunswick Power, a result, in part, of the electricity generated by the Mars Hill wind farm.

See: http://bangordailynews.com/2011/06/03/opinion/governor-opposition-to-ren...


Prince Al Waleed is not known for his skill in diplomacy. Recall his donation to New York after 9/11?

Efficiency Maine: Is bigger better?
Advocates want the rebate program expanded, but not everyone in the State House would agree.

AUGUSTA - At the Formtek-Maine factory in Clinton, the orange hue from high-pressure sodium light bulbs has been replaced by the white light of 330 high-efficiency fluorescent tubes.

The new lights have improved employees' morale and knocked $25,000 off the plant's annual electricity bill, enabling Formtek-Maine to stay competitive with companies in states where electricity costs less, says plant manager Joel Selwood.

"With so much manufacturing going offshore, you have to be lean and mean," he said.

Formtek-Maine is one of more than 3,000 businesses that have received rebates from Efficiency Maine for energy-saving improvements since the Legislature created the agency nine years ago.

See: http://www.pressherald.com/news/Efficiency-Maine-Is-bigger-better_2011-0...


Re: Efficiency Maine: Is bigger better?

The people in Maine need to forget about the light bulbs and get off oil heat ASAP!

From the Maine Sunday Telegram: Mainers cooling to oil heat. More are switching to wood, but this trend may not last

The number of residents who reported that oil was their primary heat source fell to 71.4 percent in 2009, down from 80 percent in 2000.

The drop is small, but noteworthy. For home heating, Maine is the most oil-dependent state in the nation. In recent years, the state and federal governments have been promoting policies that encourage conservation and fuel switching.

I don't know why anyone in their right mind is continuing to use oil heat, but maybe that is because I am an old timer with 35 years experience in the oil biz. Gentle hint to people in Maine - your oil supply is roughly 99% imported, and the price is only going to rise. Just about any other form of heating is more secure.

Maine's electricity supply is 52% hydro and renewables, and 33% natural gas, so it is a lot more secure than oil heat.

Using electricity more efficiently allows whatever is saved to be used for other purposes and it also makes these businesses more competitive, so it's an important part of the mix. As for reducing Maine's dependence on oil, I think pretty much everyone agrees that this is something that must be done; the stumbling point for many is the cost of switching to one of the alternatives. For example:

New wood pellet boiler in City Hall will likely save thousands

GARDINER -- Officials expect to save about $4,250 a year when the 40-year-old oil-fired burner at City Hall is replaced with a wood pellet boiler.

The city received a $61,000 grant for the $122,000 project as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. The money was distributed by the USDA Forest Service to the Maine Forest Service.

Chuck Applebee, director of wastewater and the public works department, said the city plans on installing the pellet boiler by early fall.

He said the local match will be $61,000, which is included in this year's municipal budget.

"At $2.70 per gallon for oil, the city would save an estimated $4,200 per year," Applebee said. "The city will eliminate the use of up to 6,600 gallons of number two fuel oil annually."

The city replaced the oil-fired boiler in the public works garage on Brunswick Avenue with a $75,000 pellet boiler in December 2009.

If the City of Gardiner had to pay the full cost of converting to wood pellet and were to borrow this amount at 4-per cent interest, the expected savings wouldn't even cover the carrying costs.

I often recommend ductless heat pumps as another alternative to oil, but I also recognize that not everyone can afford to install one of these devices in their home. If the solutions were that simple, there wouldn't be a problem.


Putting a wood pellet burner in city hall is more of a political move than a serious attempt to deal with Maine's developing home heating crisis. A more substantial effort might involve diverting some of that natural gas that is flowing through their state on the way to New York, and distributing it to heat houses in Maine.

This requires a lot more money than putting a wood burning stove into city hall, however.

According to Wikipedia, the median household income in Maine ranges from a high of $44,048 in Cumberland County to a low of $25,869 in Washington County (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maine_locations_by_per_capita_income), and from what I've read elsewhere, one out of eight Mainers lives below the poverty line and with respect to children, the number is one in six.

I don't have a good sense as to what it might cost to install a new gas-fired boiler, but $5,000.00 to $7,000.00 would be my guess, and for a family that earns $35,000.00 a year that's an awful lot of coin. For many Mainers, even if natural gas service were to become available, the cost to convert to natural gas heat is likely to be prohibitive.


That is a fairly low income level. And a huge investment to put NG distribution to all those small towns and rural area.

Surely the ductless mini-splits would be the better way to go here? (as they seem to be almost everywhere)

I suspect ductless mini-splits are a better option for most home owners but, again, the installed cost is likely to run in the range of $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 and few Maine families can afford that.


the installed cost is likely to run in the range of $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 and few Maine families can afford that.

They need to look at it amortizing the costs over 20 years. $4000 per year amortized over 20 years is $200 per year (this is simplistic, but the real cost of paper money may be zero over the time frame as well).

The odds are that 20 years from now, they will not be able to afford oil heat at all because the Chinese and Indians will outbid them for the world's oil supplies. I don't think they realize that, but they are exposed to the same market - they are not supported by the North American oil supply system.

The place for them to cut back is automobile costs, because they may not be able to afford to drive 20 years from now, either, and the time to curtail their driving is now.

You or I might be able to amortize $4,000.00 over twenty years, but a large number of rural Maine families (and an equal number in Atlantic Canada) cannot. It's just the way it is.


This is why you need some sort of program (private or government) that allows someone to effectively float them a loan in return capturing some of the savings from heating plant improvement. A few outfits are financing rooftop PV, by guaranteeing the power to the homeowner for a fixed price (lower than their current utility bills). Essentially the corp owns the panels, and the contract is transferred if the house is sold, and the homeowner gets lower power bills. It ought to be possible to create something similar for heating, the investor owns the improvements, and collects some cut of the reduction in the heating bill.

Hi EoS,

Electrical utilities are the natural candidates for this type of thing; the customer pays so much a month on their power bill (hopefully an amount considerably less than what they will save on oil) and after five years, say, the system is sold to the home owner for a dollar. To make it even sweeter for the utility, allow them to recover all costs and earn a slightly higher rate of return on their investment.


My ductless mini-split ran just over $7000, but was complicated by the need to use a ceiling mounted inside unit instead of the usual wall mount. It's hard to retrofit 50-something house. At least this one.

It's unfortunate, but whenever you go with something other than your standard box on the outside wall it always ends up costing you more money. I'm not sure what size system you have in terms of its heating and cooling capacity, but ceiling mounted or cassette units are typically a little larger than your basic wall mount and this drives up the cost as well (e.g., the smallest Fujitsu wall mount is rated at 9,000 BTU/hr whereas the smallest cassette comes in at twice that).


It's a two ton unit (24,000 BTU/hr), Mitsubishi.

Hello Paul,

Any boiler that can be used with heating oil, can also be used for burning natural gas or propane. Assuming that the existing boiler is in good condition, homeowners can have a new gas burner installed on the front of the boiler, in place of the existing oil burner. Both Carlin and Beckett now have gas burners built on the same chassis as their oil burners, so the conversion cost is maybe $1000 to $1500, including the installation cost.

Gas supply is really the only problem. Most of Central Maine currently does not have natural gas available, but this could change in a few years. If a proposed natural gas line is built up to the paper mill in Madison, most towns along the path will also get natural gas.

For most of Central Maine, propane is the only gaseous fuel now available, and it offers little price advantage. Propane dealers like to promote the lower cost per gallon, but they rarely mention that propane has only 2/3s the heat content of a gallon of heating oil.

Hi BM,

I'm not familiar with code requirements south of the border, but here we can't convert an oil-fired boiler to natural gas unless the appliance is certified to operate on both fuels (my Slant/Fin boiler happens to be one of them). Years ago, you could swap out the burner head just as you described, but not any more. In fact, Consumers Gas in Toronto use to lease them for a few bucks a month so it was an inexpensive option for a lot of home owners who wanted to get away from oil.


Hello Paul,

As far as I know, most of the smaller towns in maine don't even have a building code, so the only rules would apply to the person installing the gas burner, and include such things as boiler room ventilation, etc.

And perhaps they are doing it because they have Maine based wood pellet companies, that wanted the PR plug.

This would appear to be a classic case of making the project more expensive to get more government funding, and they are not the only ones...

23 May 2011, Augusta, Maine – Governor Paul LePage announced today that 11 oil-to-wood heating projects are receiving $3.2 million in federal recovery funds.

The grants are the third and final round awarded under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA) energy grants, which first were announced in August 2009 and awarded by the USDA Forest Service to the Maine Forest Service (MFS).

The Wood to Energy Grants Program awards, ranging from $25,000 to $500,000, are going to Maine institutions across the state, including four schools, four towns, one college, one university and one hospital. The awards will help each institution convert from heating with oil to heating with wood chips or wood pellets, according to the Maine Forest Service.

The grants are expected to support around 110 jobs through the construction phase of these projects, with on-going jobs benefits through the use of Maine wood.

The latest projects are expected to use 2,171 tons of pellets and 3,035 tons of chips annually, according to the Maine Forest Service. “This program is about harvesting, processing, transporting and consuming more Maine wood,” Governor LePage said. “This all adds up to more Maine jobs.” All 22 ARRA grant recipients have committed to using Maine wood products for their new energy projects, according to MFS officials.

Criteria for the project selection included: the number of jobs created and preserved; unemployment rates; the size and scope of the project; community support; and amount of community funding.

The funding, coming from the Fed government, goes through the US Forest Service, thence on to the Maine Forest Service, and then to the various "institutions", and then what's left will actually get used to do something.

In fairness to Gardiner town hall, and these other places, there is probably a substantial cost involved with retrofitting the heating system to something other than oil (or propane) If, for example, they were to use a commercial scale electric heat pump, there would be substantial installation costs with that too so it's not just the cost of going to wood, but the cost of changing from oil to anything else.

Still, the fact that there is money for wood systems only, suggests that wood systems are likely being installed in places where other options may have been better.

I wonder what will happen if the local pellet makers find it's more profitable to ship their pellets to Europe...

Still, that does seem a very high cost inrelation to the amount of heat the project invooves

This would appear to be a classic case of making the project more expensive to get more government funding

Hi Paul,

Just to clarify this one point, are you saying that the City of Gardiner intentionally inflated the cost of converting their heating system so that they could obtain additional funding? Have you come across anything about this particular project that would suggest this is so?

One of my clients who operates a local nursery converted from oil to wood pellet, and although I don't know the exact cost I'm told it was in the "six figures" (this includes the storage silos).


Hi Paul,

Actually, I should have chosen my words a little better there, there are always some grey areas on these things.

The program looks like it was intended to fund labour intensive (expensive) projects, given that "number of jobs created" was one of the criterion - so I suspect that a really simple conversion may not have gotten funding, or not as much, anyway.

But, to Gardiner, I'm not saying they blatantly "inflated" the cost -I am not implying anything fraudulent, but I suspect, that since half the project is being funded from outside, they probably made the project bigger than they would have if they had to pay for it all themselves. I suspect the existing oil boilers, and balance of heating system, could have used some improvements/overhaul anyway, so there there would have been some spending required regardless. There were probably replacements/improvements made to piping, controls, etc that had needed doing for some time. This was a chance to do that, and get half paid for by the state.

When this happens, the simple payback numbers on the fuel change can be deceptive. So, the true payback cost calculation should be the $122k, less whatever $ would have been needed in the near future anyway - which could easily have been up to 50%.

I have seen the same thing numerous times in water/sewer projects, where the muni/prov/feds share 1/3 each, so when the owner (muni) decides to do something that that raises the cost by $1, they are only paying 33c of it. So something that has a "real" payback of 50c on the dollar, and would not normally be done, actually returns 17c on the 33c the muni has to spend, so this looks good, and does get done. The mayor is able to brag about "bringing more$ of prov/fed money to the town".

The biggest (and most frustrating) being that they expanded both their water supply, and sewage treatment, because they would only pay 33c on the dollar. I had put forward doing a joint (or "parallel" ) efficiency project with the the ski resort - would have put off the expansions for years. BUT, the prov/federal money was for "infrastructure" , and any effciency type projects did not qualify, and there was no separate funding for those - the muni would have to pay 100c on the dollar (like we did at the ski resort).

So even though my project had a 2:1 payback, their 66% funded expansion had a 3:1 payback - guess which way they went?

I had this discussion with the prov guy who administeredt the entire $600m program, and he conceded he knew of many such examples, and he had tried (and failed) to get efficiency projects considered as legitimate infrastructure alternatives, but the Minister wanted to see "things being built" and so that was that.

My local muni now is about to embark on an unnecessary $1.5m sewage sludge composting facility, for the same reasons - they have "stimulus" money available. Why is it unnecessary? Because the gravel mine here (largest in N. America) currently takes all the sludge and uses it for land rehabilitation - the compost it on their tree lots, and even truck in sludge from elsewhere to do so. But, this money is available, and it will bring construction jobs, so it is getting done, to replicate something that already gets done for free.

So what I'm saying is that these programs, when the money is targeted in certain ways, it leads to things, or "extra" things being done, just because the money is available. I think the politicos are OK with this, because they regard it all as "jobs", but in terms of the oil displaced per $ spent, as evidence by the payback you calculated, it is not the most efficient use of money.

For my (and I expect your) efficiency projects, we are always looking for the most X saved per limited $ spent. These "targeted" projects are not always proposed, or awarded, on that basis.

Hi Paul,

I appreciate things can get rather wonky whenever outside money is involved, but without knowing the details it's not fair for us to speculate as to what may or may not have transpired. There'll never be a shortage of bona fide targets, for that you can be sure, but I'm reluctant to tar everyone with the same brush.


Paul, can you provide any more details on the nursery, or a contact?

I have a local greenhouse operation that has 100,000 sq ft of greenhouse heated with electrical resistance (via boiler), who is looking to change. Obviously chips are cheaper than pellets, but would be interesting to hear the experience of someone else who has already done this.



Hi Paul,

As I'm bound by client confidentiality/non-disclosure agreements I can't identify the customer by name, but I can provide you with some basic details that are a matter of public record. The system is made by Decker and was installed in 2005. It has reportedly cut their fuel oil consumption by some 150,000 litres a year and their propane usage by 15,000 litres/year. I guess that translates to be about 1.5 GWh if you were to heat with an electric boiler.

Fuel oil locally is currently selling for $1.07 a litre (this same time last month it was $1.123) and propane retails for about $1.14 a litre, so when you add the two together, you're looking at a fuel bill in the range of $175,000 a year. I don't have a clue how much wood pellets cost in bulk quantities, but I'm guessing they would be less than half that.

I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful.


Thanks Paul

The greenhouse in question here uses about 3-4GWh per year! The owner did have the good sense to go on an interruptible rate with BC Hydro, so he is only paying about 3c/kWh

That boiler would be from these guys from Manitoba http://www.deckerbrand.com
Nice looking units.

I think I can see just from looking at them how his cost would get up into six figures! One of the problems with pellets, in their current incarnation, is that they do indeed need to be in silos. Wood chips can just be stored in shed or similar.

The pellet game will change over the next decade as they start to make torrefied pellets, which do not absorb water, can be stored outside, don't provide food for mold, termites, wood bugs etc, have an energy density similar to coal.

An mazing example of the water soaking ability of pellets on slides 16 to 33 of . Scroll through quickly for best effect.

Pellets are about $150-180/ton in bulk, or about $7.50-9/GJ, equal to oil at about 30-40c/L !

Around here, wood chips go for $20/ton (green), which is about $2.50/GJ - the electricity needs to be at 0.9c.kWh to compete with that!

And, if we add the wood chip system, he can keep the existing system as backup - is that what your client did?

You're most welcome, Paul; and thanks for the info on the torrefied pellets -- this adds enormous value to the equation.

I only had time for a quick walk through of this facility and so I didn't have a chance to examine it carefully or to ask that many questions. I don't recall seeing the original oil-fired or propane systems (or their respective tanks), so I'm guessing both have been removed from the site or they may be located in one of the out building that wasn't part of our tour.

I'm almost certain that the operations manager had said that the cost of the system was "in the six figures", but I could have confused that with the annual cost savings; this is going back a couple of years and so I'm relying on my memory. I do remember looking at the silo, boiler and baggers and being mighty impressed.


Hmm, my link didn't come through properly.

here it is again;

I think the pellet industry will go through the inevitable rationalisation, I like the torrefaction process as it solves almost all the material/storage issues, and gives 100% co-compatibility/substitution with coal. Not that I suggest we burn pellets on the scale of coal, mind you.

I also hope that small scale pellet operations become viable - there are lots of towns that produce enough wood waste to justify a small operation, and then locals are more likely to buy the stuff. Industrial sized operations lead to industrial sized consumption/exports!

For the nursery, I think your numbers sound right. Six figure oil savings on prices five years ago would have been a massive amount of oil!

But whats going to happen to the price of the raw material for wood pellets?
When Minneapolis starting mixing sawdust with coal, it was practically free, but as more and more users start bidding for the supply, the price has got to rise.

Yes, that is right, when there are a few bidders, and suppliers, you have a "market"

And that has happened in some areas. I recall reading about some place in the NE that made MDF products with free sawdust, and then found itself bidding for that sawdust against a pellet mill.

I am OK with that - when something has a value, it is not wasted.

Also, with fuel pellets, many things that were considered waste can be pelletised. The torrefaction process will enable any carbonaceous material, even yard waste, to be pelletised.

Here in BC, where we have half a billion tons of standing, beetle kill trees, there is plenty of material for pellet mills - they just don;t have enough of a market for their pellets at present!

I do see pellets as mainly a good option for being produced and used in rural areas. Lots of marginal/abandoned land can be planted with trees, and then selectively/continuously harvested (not clear cutting) for use as pellets. let the trees grow to be about 10yrs old, then start taking about 10% out each year, while maintaining the forest cover.

An area of 1ac, in a good rainfall area (i.e. NE to MW) will produce from 2 to 4 tons of pellets/year.

You can have an economically productive system, that does not need to be monoculture, dose not need to have "sawlog quality" trees, does not require plowing ground, fertilisers, herbicides, etc, minimises/stops soil erosion, supports wildlife and so on. All, while making an economic return similar to conventional farming - just with much lower inputs costs and thus lower risk.

Anyone with some spare land can do it.

The trick here is that whoever is doing this needs to show some stewardship of the land, and not be tempted to clear cut or anything like that. You want to get a forest established, and then be removing material at approximately the same rate as which it is growing. I would also be trying to get the pellet users to keep their ash, and pay a small bonus to them for bringing that back to spread out on your forest - closing the loop for potassium and other nutrients.

The key is to keep it localised and steady state. Anything that ends up clear cutting defeats the purpose.

You can do this dry areas, wet areas, hot or cold. There is almost always lots of land sitting around, usually bare, or maybe overgrown with blackberries etc, because no one can do anything of value with it. Turn it into a productive forest, and you have a solution. If the pellet market dies, you still have a nice forest - an achievement in itself!

I am OK with that - when something has a value, it is not wasted.

My point for bringing it up is that the guy spending capital for a pellet burner, can't just plug in the present price of pellets. If demand grows, fatser than supply (for a lose definition of demand), then the market will bid up the price. So maybe the plans to save big bucks with a pellet solution will go wrong if pellets become too expensive. So pellets are an advance, as far as using waste as biofuel. But, that only scales so far.

Agreed, the scale issue is important with any bio fuels - or any bioproduct (food) for that matter.

As long as we don't have millions of people putting in pellet stoves, and big industrial use, then pellet production will stay within it's feedstock availability.
Fortunately, pellet prices do not fluctuate because of what Saudi Arabia etc do or don;t do.

But if pellet prices get too high, we'll see more grass straw, waste paper etc being turned into pellets.

My POV is that they are great as a household/small commercial transportable heating source to replace oil, propane or even firewood (for those too elderly to handle firewood). People can always use electricity for heating, and heat pumps make it affordable, but then you can have scale issues of rural line loadings.

The fact they can be made locally is a great bonus. For rural areas that send money to faraway oil, gas or elec companies, I think keeping it in their community is much better, makes them more resilient.

For the cities - different story - hands off our trees!

Hello Paul,

If we add in the first two rounds of federal grants, the total number of schools in Maine to get new wood fired boilers is around a dozen, and most of them will use wood chips, not pellets.

But the big thing that most people are overlooking is that a big public school with any reasonable amount of insulation only needs heat for about six hours per week, typically two hours to warm it up on Monday morning, and one hour on each of the other four mornings. After they run several hundred warm bodies into the building and turn on all the lights, they don’t need any heat for the rest of the day, and all the next night! In fact, occupied classrooms typically need outdoor air ventilation by 10 am, to keep them from getting hot and stuffy.

It’s not that I am against burning wood, but public schools are not a good place to do it. Wood heat will be more economical in buildings that need heat 24/7, like big apartment buildings or nursing homes.

Several years ago someone did a big study, concluding that we could only heat about 10% of all houses in Maine using sustainably harvested wood fuel. So we should use wood heat for the most economical installations, not for public schools where it doesn’t make any sense.

You raise some interesting points and I agree that, all else being equal, it makes sense to target the buildings with the greatest space heating demands first and work down from there. Given that the space heating requirements of these schools are relatively modest due to the heat generated by their occupants and lighting systems, at least their impact with respect to the sustainability of the fuel harvest is pretty much a non-issue.


Hello Paul,

Local government bureaucrats just love to spend money, especially if they can get half of it from the federal government.

I’ve been in the Gardiner City Hall, and I’ve seen the energy audit that was done for them in June 2008. The first big problem with the Gardiner city hall is that it was built in 1969, and is typical of many other small government buildings built in that era. According to the energy audit, the outside wall insulation is in the range of R – 12, and the roof insulation is about R – 10. And, of course, the concrete slab has no insulation around the edges.

Windows are double pane but the glass is set in aluminum frames with no thermal break, and they have neither inert gas between the two panes nor Low-E coatings, so the overall insulation value is probably about R – 1.8. Air infiltration is also high, although that was not mentioned in the energy audit. So I would guess that heating fuel use could easily be cut in half just by upgrading the building envelope.

A second big problem is that, the last I knew, they were still keeping the heating boiler hot all summer just to provide domestic hot water for the bathrooms, the break room, and the showers in the fire station. They could probably save another 1000 gallons of heating oil per year by installing a separate gas fired tankless water heater, and then turning off the heating boiler for about five months each summer.

These two changes together would save them about 4400 gallons, or roughly 2/3s of current heating oil use.

Then they could install better controls on the heating boiler, which would then be over-sized by about 200%, to save another 10 to 20%, by using outside air reset, auto differential, and warm weather shutdown, bringing the new annual heating oil use down to perhaps 2000 gallons per year. This would bring total heating oil savings to 4200 gallons or more per year, or roughly 75% of current consumption.

But no, they will not consider these simple changes. I suspect that the biggest reason is because they are afraid that someone might ask them why they hadn't made these changes 20 years ago. So instead, they would rather spend $122,000 on a wood pellet boiler, because that’s the trendy thing to do, and the federal government will put up half the money.

P.S. the Gardiner City Hall, including the fire station, is only about 7000 square feet, all at ground level.

Edit: At 6600 gallons of heating oil per year, for a roughly 7000 square foot building, their heating oil use of 0.94 gallons per square foot is among the highest in the state for that building type. A well designed new city hall in that size range would use 0.15 gallons or less per square foot.

Thanks, BM, for the additional insight. It's a shame that many of the things you mention could have been implemented at little or no cost and may very well remain untapped even after this changeover. With regards to summertime water heating, I'm a big fan of Tekmar control systems and indirect water heaters. The advantage of going this route is that you eliminate the need for a second fuel choice and associated storage, although you may sacrifice some efficiency in the process.


So they have natural gas available there, and went with a wood pellet system?

Surely a gas system could have been done more effectively?
Tell me this is not also the case for the schools on that list?

I am a proponent of pellets, but not where gas is available - surely there are plenty of places not on the gas grid that could have been done instead.

That is too bad about all the efficiency things not done.

I am all for alternate fuels, but I am for efficiency first - otherwise we are merely feeding the beast a different diet.

Hello Paul,

No. Natural gas is not available in Gardiner, at least not for another year or more. A tankless gas fired water heater would have to use propane, which would require a tank somewhere outside the building, but that would be very cost effective for the small amount of hot water needed.

The energy audit from June 2008 showed heating oil use from late April to early October to be a little over 700 gallons, so most of that is due to standby losses from keeping the heating boiler hot all summer just to provide small amounts of domestic hot water.

Even an electric resistance water heater would be much cheaper to operate over the summer months.

Edit: Most of the schools on the list don't have natural gas available either. The only exceptions that I can think of would be the schools in Falmouth, Maine. I'm fairly certain that they have natural gas along Route One in Falmouth, where all the big box stores are located, but I don't know how close it gets to the schools.

Thanks Breadman,

I have heard a mountain lodge around here (BC mtns) that used to do the same thing with the boilers/hot water. When built, it was intended to be a winter only (ski) lodge, but they realised that the summer business was just as good. They did separate the water and space heat, and boosted the DHW with a homemade solar collector (in summer)

Sounds like an electric HW, or the Geospring heat pump HW (or several, if need be) would have been a better bet.

Anyway, it is what it is. I guess we'd all like to see that when these sorts of projects are done, the building is done once, thoroughly, so that all the things that can reasonably be fixed, are fixed.

And then move on to the next one..

Iraq signs gas deals with foreign firms

The Mansuriyah contract was with a consortium made up of Turkey's TPAO, Kuwait Energy and KOGAS, while Siba is to be developed by Kuwait Energy and KOGAS.

Mansuriyah has estimated reserves of 4.5 trillion cubic feet (127 billion cubic metres) of gas, while Siba has 1.5 trillion cubic feet (34 billion cubic metres).