R-Squared Energy Blog

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My Top 10 Energy Related Stories of 2009

Here are my choices for the Top 10 energy related stories of 2009. Previously I listed how I voted in Platt’s Top 10 poll, but my list is a bit different from theirs. I have a couple of stories here that they didn’t list, and I combined some topics. And don’t get too hung up on the relative rankings. You can make arguments that some stories should be higher than others, but I gave less consideration to whether 6 should be ahead of 7 (for example) than just making sure the important stories were listed.

1. Volatility in the oil markets

My top choice for this year is the same as my top choice from last year. While not as dramatic as last year’s action when oil prices ran from $100 to $147 and then collapsed back to $30, oil prices still more than doubled from where they began 2009. That happened without the benefit of an economic recovery, so I continue to wonder how long it will take to come out of recession when oil prices are at recession-inducing levels. Further, coming out of recession will spur demand, which will keep upward pressure on oil prices. That’s why I say we may be in The Long Recession.

2. The year of natural gas

This could have easily been my top story, because there were so many natural gas-related stories this year. There were stories of shale gas in such abundance that it would make peak oil irrelevant, stories of shale gas skeptics, and stories of big companies making major investments into converting their fleets to natural gas.

Whether the abundance ultimately pans out, the appearance of abundance is certainly helping to keep a lid on natural gas prices. By failing to keep up with rising oil prices, an unprecedented oil price/natural gas price ratio developed. If you look at prices on the NYMEX in the years ahead, the markets are anticipating that this ratio will continue to be high. And as I write this, you can pick up a natural gas contract in 2019 for under $5/MMBtu.

3. U.S. demand for oil continues to decline

As crude oil prices skyrocketed in 2008, demand for crude oil and petroleum products fell from 20.7 million barrels per day in 2007 to 19.5 million bpd in 2008 (Source: EIA). Through September 2009, year-to-date demand is averaging 18.6 million bpd – the lowest level since 1997. Globally, demand was on a downward trend as well, but at a less dramatic pace partially due to demand growth in both China and India.

4. Shifting fortunes for refiners

The Jamnagar Refinery Complex in India became the biggest in the world, China brought several new refineries online, and several U.S. refiners shut down facilities. This is a trend that I expect to continue as refining moves closer to the source of the crude oil and to cheap labor. This does not bode well for a U.S. refining industry with a capacity to refine 17.7 million barrels per day when total North American production is only 10.5 million bpd (crude plus condensate).

5. China

China was everywhere in 2009. They were making deals to develop oil fields in Iraq, signing contracts with Hugo Chavez, and they got into a bidding war with ExxonMobil in Ghana. My own opinion is that China will be the single-biggest driver of oil prices over at least the next 5-10 years.

6. U.S. oil companies losing access to reserves

As China increases their global presence in the oil markets, one casualty has been U.S. access to reserves. Shut out of Iraq during the recent oil field auctions there, U.S. oil companies continue to lose ground against the major national oil companies. But no worries. Many of my friends e-mailed to tell me that the Bakken has enough crude to fuel the U.S. for the next 41 years

7. EU slaps tariffs on U.S. biodiesel

With the aid of generous government subsidies, U.S. biodiesel producers had been able to put their product into the EU for cheaper than local producers could make it. The EU put the brakes on this practice by imposing five-year tariffs on U.S. biodiesel – a big blow to U.S. biodiesel producers.

8. Big Oil buys Big Ethanol

I find it amusing when people suggest that the ethanol industry is a threat to the oil industry. I don’t think those people appreciate the difference in the scale of the two industries.

As I have argued many times before, the oil industry could easily buy up all of the assets of ethanol producers if they thought the business outlook for ethanol was good. It would make sense that the first to take an interest would be the pure refiners, because they are the ones with the most to lose from ethanol mandates. They already have to buy their feedstock (oil), so if they make ethanol they just buy a different feedstock, corn, and they get to sell a mandated product.

In February, Valero became the first major refiner to buy up assets of an ethanol company; bankrupt ethanol producer Verasun. Following the Valero purchase, Sunoco picked up the assets of another bankrupt ethanol company. If ExxonMobil ever decides to get involved, they could buy out the entire industry.

9. The climate wars heat up

There were several big climate-related stories in the news this year, so I decided to lump them all into a single category. First was the EPA decision to declare CO2 a pollutant that endangers public health, opening the door for regulation of CO2 for the first time in the U.S.

Then came Climategate, which gave the skeptics even more reason to be skeptical. A number of people have suggested to me that this story will just fade away, but I don’t think so. This is one that the skeptics can rally around for years to come. The number of Americans who believe that humans are causing climate change was already on the decline, and the injection of Climategate into the issue will make it that much harder to get any meaningful legislation passed.

Closing out the year was the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. All I can say is that I expected a circus, and we got a circus. It just goes to show the difficulty of getting countries to agree on issues when the stakes are high and the issues complex. Just wait until they try to get together to figure out a plan for peak oil mitigation.

10. Exxon buys XTO for $41 billion

In a move that signaled ExxonMobil’s expectation that the future for shale gas is promising, XOM shelled out $41 billion for shale gas specialist XTO. The deal means XOM is picking up XTO’s proved reserves for around $3 per thousand cubic feet, which is less than half of what ConocoPhillips paid for the reserves of Burlington Resources in 2005.

Honorable Mention

There were a number of stories that I considered putting in my Top 10, and some of these stories will likely end up on other Top 10 lists. A few of the stories that almost made the final cut:

The IEA puts a date on peak oil production

The statement they made was that barring any major new discoveries “the output of conventional oil will peak in 2020 if oil demand grows on a business-as-usual basis.”

AltaRock Energy Shuts Down

Turns out that deep geothermal, which the Obama administration had hoped “could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source” – triggers earthquakes. Who knew? I thought these were interesting comments from the story: “Some of these startup companies got out in front and convinced some venture capitalists that they were very close to commercial deployment” and “What we’ve discovered is that it’s harder to make those improvements than some people believed.” I am still waiting to see a bonafide success story from some of these VCs.

The biggest energy bill in history was passed

In total, $80 billion in the stimulus bill earmarked for energy was a big story, but I don’t know how much of that money was actually utilized.

The Pickens Plan derails

The website is still there, but the hype of 2008 turned into a big disappointment in 2009 after oil prices failed to remain high enough to make the project economical. Pickens lost about 2/3rds of his net worth as oil prices unwound, he took a beating in the press, and he announced in July that we would probably abandon the plan.

So what did I miss? And what are early predictions for 2010’s top stories? I think China’s moves are going to continue to make waves, there will be more delays (and excuses) from those attempting to produce fuel from algae and cellulose, and there will be little relief from oil prices.

December 24, 2009 Posted by | biodiesel, China, climate change, ethanol, ExxonMobil, geothermal, global warming, Media coverage, natural gas, oil consumption, oil demand, oil prices, oil refineries, T. Boone Pickens, valero | 27 Comments

Potential Markets and Benefits from Ocean Thermal Energy

Happy Thanksgiving to those who will celebrate it tomorrow. I plan to spend the long weekend with my family, and probably won’t be on here much.

In the interim, two things. First is that it is about time to start thinking about the top energy stories of the year. As in year’s past, I would like reader’s opinions on the top energy-related stories of 2009. I will put up a post late in December with the ones that I think are most significant.

Second, I present a guest post by Dr. Robert Cohen on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Dr. Cohen has been an advocate of OTEC for many years, and has posted a guest essay here previously:

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

There were some useful comments following that essay that I think explain the challenges for OTEC. Dr. Cohen has a website where he addresses OTEC in more detail, and his contact information is also available there.

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POTENTIAL MARKETS & BENEFITS OF OCEAN THERMAL ENERGY

Robert Cohen, November 24, 2009

Once the Obama Administration and the Congress put ocean thermal R&D back on a fast track, one that leads to the maturation of this technology within a few years, ocean thermal energy can foreseeably provide baseload electricity to energize at least three major geographic markets (see the ocean thermal resource map on the next page) in the following time-frames:

1) An early market to displace the use of oil, oil that is presently being burned to generate electricity in places like Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and in many developing countries. Places that are relatively accessible to the ocean thermal resource. Years ago we estimated that that early market could utilize about 50,000 MWe, which amount would achieve an oil savings of 2 million BBL/day [calculated @ 40 BBL/day per 1 MWe of ocean thermal].

2) A near-term market for electricity generated (for example) in the Gulf of Mexico and delivered via submarine cable to the U.S. electrical grid at points on the U.S. Gulf Coast, such as Key West, Tampa, New Orleans, and Brownsville. This source of baseload electricity could substantially implement the priority strategies advocated by Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens, which are aimed at providing renewable energy for propelling vehicles.

3) A potentially vast longer-term market for products derived from electricity generated aboard a fleet of ocean thermal plantships grazing on the high seas. Those plantships would convert the baseload electricity (plus air and water) to energy-intensive products such as hydrogen or ammonia, which could be shipped as energy carriers or as final products. For example, ammonia could be used as a hydrogen-carrier, combustion fuel, or for fertilizer.

Note that achieving the third option would mean that energy and energy-products could be shipped to the USA from domestically-owned ocean thermal plantships at locations that are in many cases closer to our shores than are many of our (often hostile) foreign sources of imported oil.

A global map of the OTEC Thermal Resource to supply energy to the above markets

This map shows contours of annual average temperature differences, in degrees Celsius, available in the world’s major oceans between surface waters and the cold water at 1000 meters depth that serves as a heat sink. The most desirable regions (bounded by the areas in yellow) are where that parameter equals or exceeds 20 degrees Celsius.

Energy FROM the oceans, to replace energy from ACROSS the oceans!

November 25, 2009 Posted by | geothermal, ocean thermal energy conversion, reader submission | 31 Comments

Geothermal’s Earthquake Problem

In a recent post – It’s Always Something – I argued that for seemingly every renewable option, there is a trade-off. In that particular essay I was discussing a recent report that suggested that jatropha curcas – which I have written about as an intriguing option for renewable, liquid fuels – has very large water requirements. It is also poisonous, and was banned as an invasive species by the Western Australian State government. So as the title suggested, there always seems to be a catch with any of these options.

Geothermal energy is one of the most promising renewable energy technologies. There are a number of commercial geothermal plants already in operation (the U.S. is the world leader in geothermal energy), and the economics are much more favorable than some of the other choices. Geothermal electricity makes a much larger contribution to the electricity mix than does solar power, and does not suffer from the intermittency issue. A 2006 report from NREL (PDF warning) concluded that the potential for domestic geothermal energy at a depth of 2 miles (3 kilometers) is 30,000 times all current annual U.S. energy usage.

But while the current plants in operation utilize geothermal energy that is close to the surface, tapping deeper into the earth would hugely increase the geothermal potential. The only problem is that this sort of deep drilling can cause earthquakes. From the New York Times:

Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears

BASEL, Switzerland — Markus O. Häring, a former oilman, was a hero in this city of medieval cathedrals and intense environmental passion three years ago, all because he had drilled a hole three miles deep near the corner of Neuhaus Street and Shafer Lane. He was prospecting for a vast source of clean, renewable energy that seemed straight out of a Jules Verne novel: the heat simmering within the earth’s bedrock.

All seemed to be going well — until Dec. 8, 2006, when the project set off an earthquake, shaking and damaging buildings and terrifying many in a city that, as every schoolchild here learns, had been devastated exactly 650 years before by a quake that sent two steeples of the Münster Cathedral tumbling into the Rhine.

Hastily shut down, Mr. Häring’s project was soon forgotten by nearly everyone outside Switzerland. As early as this week, though, an American start-up company, AltaRock Energy*, will begin using nearly the same method to drill deep into ground laced with fault lines in an area two hours’ drive north of San Francisco.

The New York Times article goes into a lot of detail about why the deeper geothermal techniques cause earthquakes, but it also gives a good overview of the geothermal potential. I think the solution to this – if they can’t come up with techniques that don’t spawn earthquakes – is to only tap geothermal in relatively uninhabited locations. There are lots of places in the Western United States that have very low population densities, but very high geothermal potential.

Regardless, geothermal is one of those options that I think is around for the long haul, and won’t require endless subsidies in order to be competitive.

* As a footnote, AltaRock Energy is a company that Vinod Khosla has invested in. AltaRock also has some information at their site about how geothermal works.

June 27, 2009 Posted by | AltaRock, electricity, geothermal, Vinod Khosla | 50 Comments

Speaking of Geothermal

In the previous post I stated the geothermal – a very promising and cost-competitive source of alternative energy – doesn’t get the same kind of press coverage as wind or solar power. Ironically, I hadn’t realized that Google has just announced a >$10 million investment in advanced geothermal technology. It even got quite a bit of press coverage (probably due more to the ‘Google’ factor than anything). Scientific American has one of the better articles I have seen:

Drilling for Hot Rocks: Google Sinks Cash into Advanced Geothermal Technology

Some excerpts:

For $1 billion over the next 40 years, the U.S. could develop 100 gigawatts (a gigawatt equals one billion watts) of electricity generation that emits no air pollution and pumps out power to the grid even more reliably than coal-fired power plants, according to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now Google.org—the charitable wing of the search engine giant—has chipped in nearly $11 million for this renewable resource: so-called geothermal power, or tapping the Earth’s heat to make electricity.

Amazingly, this is more money than the U.S. government spends on this technology:

That makes Google.org the largest funder of enhanced geothermal research in the country, outspending the U.S. government. The Australian government has pledged $43.5 million for such projects and already has several in the works, as do Europe and Japan.

While there are still technical challenges for advanced geothermal, geothermal itself has been producing cost-competitive electricity for many years in places where surface magma is readily available. In fact, as I have pointed out before, the U.S. is the world’s leader producer of geothermal electricity at around 3 gigawatts of capacity. The difference in advanced geothermal is that they are going after magma that is far beneath the surface, which would greatly increase the geographical area over which geothermal technology could be applied. Therein lies the technical and economic challenges: Drilling rigs are expensive and in short supply, and you use a lot of electricity pumping water down the drill hole.

August 24, 2008 Posted by | geothermal | 60 Comments

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

There are several potential sources of alternative energy that I think are quite promising, but don’t get nearly the press of wind or solar power. Geothermal power is one. There are already a number of geothermal power plants in operation around the world, but you wouldn’t know it by the amount of press coverage. Iceland derives 20% of their electricity and nearly 90% of their heating from geothermal power, but in terms of total megawatts the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy (covered in a previous post here).

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is another potential energy source that gets little press. Think of OTEC as a big heat pump that operates off of the temperature differences between the surface temperature of the ocean and the cooler temperatures in deeper waters.

I recently received an e-mail on this topic from Bob Cohen, a friend of my friend Jerry Unruh and advocate of ocean thermal energy. He included an essay that he has written on the potential of the technology. I am reproducing it below, with Bob’s permission.

Status and potential of ocean thermal energy technology

Unlike most renewable energy options, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technology is a “baseload” (continuous) renewable energy source that potentially can provide a substantial portion of global energy needs. As such, it is worthy of ample national attention and R&D funding. Yet today, OTEC technology is largely unknown to the public and has become an “orphan technology” that is being widely overlooked and left out of the public discussion on energy.

In September 1973, during President Nixon’s “Operation Energy Independence”, I left my scientific career at NOAA/Boulder in favor of becoming the first ocean energy program manager within the budding U.S. federal solar energy R&D program, then headquartered at NSF/RANN. Ocean energy R&D was later moved to DOE. The initial federal ocean energy R&D program was mainly focused on OTEC technology, in view of that technology’s potentially large energy payoff. Indeed, assuming that OTEC-derived ammonia or other OTEC-derived energy carriers become competitively viable, OTEC technology could provide the largest payoff of any renewable energy source.

Soon after arriving at NSF, I initiated an RFP seeking an objective evaluation by industry of OTEC’s viability, to get their take on what four groups of OTEC advocates (three of which were in academia) were saying about OTEC. That RFP led to our funding two parallel, buffered studies, which were conducted by Lockheed and TRW starting in 1974. Both studies independently reached favorable conclusions as to the prospects for the technical and economic viability of commercial OTEC plants. Since 2006, there has been a resurgence of interest in OTEC at Lockheed Martin, which is currently investing significant internal funds in reexamining OTEC technology.

From 1972 to 1981, the U.S. ocean energy R&D program thrived and grew under the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations. But in 1981 the Reagan Administration curtailed funding, just on the verge of DOE’s realizing a 40 MWe cost-shared OTEC pilot plant. All funding of the DOE ocean energy R&D program ceased in 1995, leaving the nation hitting on only five of the original six renewable energy R&D cylinders. Meanwhile, DOE has been advancing the other five renewable-energy technologies (wind, photovoltaics, biofuels, heating/cooling of buildings, and solar thermal) toward commercialization.

Thanks largely to an emerging constituency in the coastal states—groups who have been working on generating energy from ocean waves and tidal currents—Congress recently reactivated in FY08 the former DOE ocean energy R&D program (including hydropower R&D) under the name “Water Power Energy R&D”. Congress gave DOE considerable latitude on how to allocate the $10 M FY08 appropriation among hydropower and the various ocean energy technologies.

Subsequent to the U.S./DOE R&D program on OTEC technology during the 70s and 80s, which expended a total of about $250 million, the offshore oil industry has made remarkable progress in developing and advancing marine technology, much of which can be spun off to OTEC applications. So I conclude that elements within the oil industry are likely to become interested in diversifying into an OTEC industry, since they have the capital to do so and because they are likely to be comfortable investing in this sister technology.

There is a substantial U.S. market for OTEC-derived electricity that can be delivered via submarine electrical cable. For example, from locations about 60 to 100 miles off Tampa, New Orleans, and Brownsville. Also, OTEC plants situated much closer to shore can provide electricity and fresh water to a large island market, such as in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and U.S. military bases (e.g., Guam, Hawaii, Kwajalein, and Diego García). Abroad, there are similar potential markets in developing nations that are located in tropical and sub-tropical latitudes. The reason that many such locations are especially attractive early markets for OTEC-derived electricity is that it can be supplied—often, along with fresh water as a valuable co-product—competitively with the oil-derived electricity presently being utilized.

Each baseload megawatt of OTEC power—cabled to locations like Hawaii and Guam that presently use oil to generate electricity—could replace 40 BBL of oil each day. Projections made in 1981 estimated an early OTEC market in such places at some 50,000 MWe, achievement of which would offset a total of about 2 MBBL of oil per day.

Renewable energy technologies are often lumped together and dismissed as serving only nîche or boutique markets. However, OTEC technology is likely to be an exception, assuming that baseload OTEC electricity—harvested aboard factory “plantships” grazing on the high seas—can be converted at sea to viable energy carriers that can economically and competitively deliver those products to markets ashore. Promising candidates for OTEC energy carriers include hydrogen or, more likely, ammonia (as a hydrogen carrier, fuel for combustion or use in fuel cells, or for end-uses like fertilizer). By employing such energy carriers or energy-intensive products as an “energy bridge” to shore, OTEC has the potential to become a major global source of renewable energy.

From the standpoint of national security and energy security, achieving the goal of importing substantial amounts of renewable ocean thermal energy—harvested in international waters by a fleet of domestically-owned OTEC plantships—would be in marked contrast to importing oil from foreign, often hostile, sources. At the same time, OTEC can become an attractive means for mitigating global warming.

I responded by telling Bob that I had a favorable impression of ocean thermal, and I followed up with a few questions about cost, as well as whether anyone has actually managed to produce ammonia in this method (a similar scheme has also been proposed for wind power, but not yet demonstrated) because I am concerned about the worldwide fertilizer situation. Bob’s response (in part):

Insofar as energy cost, one current capital-cost estimate for a proposed first commercial ocean thermal plant — a 75MWe plant projected for a location in Puerto Rico — is $8,000 per kWe. Assuming that that capital-cost estimate is realistic and in the ballpark, that first plant would generate electricity roughly costing about 15¢/kWh.

You mentioned being alarmed by the fertilizer situation. So I’ve just asked the NYTimes to send you a front-page article they published in April [RR edit: Here is the article] about the threat to farmers being posed by increasing fertilizer cost and shortages.

Re deriving ammonia from offshore wind, I’m in contact with George Hart, Jr., who is looking into that possibility conceptually. George is Chief Technical Officer for the Ocean Energy Institute, which was formed a year or so ago by oilman Matt Simmons. My impression is that there has yet to be anything demonstrated along those lines. George is talking about offshore wind @ something like $3.50 per installed watt, and he estimates a duty cycle of ca. 40%. One question I was asking Jerry [Unruh] about is the feasibility of intermittently powering an ammonia plant from a source of electricity like wind.

One nice feature of producing ammonia from renewables would be that — assuming there is ever a cap-and-trade system — those processes ought to warrant a CO2 credit. As contrasted with a CO2 debit when ammonia is produced from natural gas, oil, or coal, since I gather that when those fossil fuels are used to make ammonia, the resulting CO2 is dumped into the atmosphere.

I was recently asking Jerry about the prospect of avoiding the electrolysis of water to make ammonia, by instead combining nitrogen and water. You may have already heard about the technology being proposed to do that, which is being called “Solid State Ammonia Synthesis” (SSAS). A PDF file of a presentation on that subject is available here.

My understanding is that the primary obstacle right now is capital costs. The ocean is very harsh on equipment. But the potential is there for a renewable source of energy that does not have some of the negative land usage baggage that is associated with biofuels.

Like most of the stuff I do, Bob is a pro bono advocate because he thinks this is the right thing to do. If you have some useful expertise or criticisms to add, Bob can be contacted at r.cohen ‘at’ ieee.org.

August 23, 2008 Posted by | geothermal, ocean thermal energy conversion, reader submission | 62 Comments

How to Change the World

Fortune has a very interesting interview with Google co-founder Larry Page. He hits on a lot of topics that are frequently discussed here, and some that aren’t often discussed, but that I have spent a lot of time thinking about (e.g., geothermal). Here is a link to the interview:

Larry Page on how to change the world

And some energy-specific excerpts:

Do you have other examples where innovative leadership could move the needle?

I think there are a lot of areas. You can be a bit of a detective and ask, What are the industries where things haven’t changed much in 50 years? We’ve been looking a little at geothermal power. And you start thinking about it, and you say, Well, a couple of miles under this spot or almost any other place in the world, it’s pretty darn hot. How hard should it be to dig a really deep hole? We’ve been drilling for a long time, mostly for oil – and oil’s expensive. If you want to move heat around, you need bigger holes. The technology just hasn’t been developed for extracting heat. I imagine there’s pretty good odds that’s possible.

Solar thermal’s another area we’ve been working on; the numbers there are just astounding. In Southern California or Nevada, on a day with an average amount of sun, you can generate 800 megawatts on one square mile. And 800 megawatts is actually a lot. A nuclear plant is about 2,000 megawatts.

The amount of land that’s required to power the entire U.S. with electricity is something like 100 miles by 100 miles [RR comment: That's around what I have come up with whenever I tried to calculate it. Maybe that's where he got it, since I often get hits from Google in Mountain View. :-)] So you say, “What do I need to do to generate that power?” You could buy solar cells. The problem is, at today’s solar prices you’d need trillions of dollars to generate all the electricity in the U.S. Then you say, “Well, how much do mirrors cost?” And it turns out you can buy pieces of glass and a mirror and you can cover those areas for not that much money. Somehow the world is not doing a good job of making this stuff available. As a society, on the larger questions we have, we’re not making reasonable progress.

And it looks like we are on the same page – no pun intended – regarding the solution to our energy problems:

So you think that geothermal and solar thermal could solve our energy problems?

Yeah, probably either one could generate all the energy we need. There’s no discipline to actually do this stuff, and you can also see this vested interest, risk-averse behavior, plus a lack of creativity. It sort of conspires. It’s also a timeliness thing; everyone said Sam Walton was crazy to build big stores in small towns. Almost everyone who has had an idea that’s somewhat revolutionary or wildly successful was first told they’re insane.

He also comments on who needs to be working on these changes:

Whose obligation is it to make this kind of change happen? Is it Google’s? The government’s? Stanford’s? Kleiner Perkins’?

I think it’s everybody who cares about making progress in the world. Let’s say there are 10,000 people working on these things. If we make that 100,000, we’ll probably get 10 times the progress.

And then you compare it with the number of engineers at Exxon and Chevron and ConocoPhillips who are trying to squeeze the last drop of oil out of somewhere, and all the science brainpower that’s going to that. It’s totally disproportionate to the return that they could get elsewhere.

What kind of background do you think is required to push these kinds of changes?

I think you need an engineering education where you can evaluate the alternatives. For example, are fuel cells a reasonable way to go or not? For that, you need a pretty general engineering and scientific education, which is not traditionally what happens. That’s not how I was trained. I was trained as a computer engineer. So I understand how to build computers, how to make software. I’ve learned on my own a lot of other things. If you look at the people who have high impact, they have pretty general knowledge. They don’t have a really narrowly focused education.

April 30, 2008 Posted by | geothermal, Google, Larry Page, solar power, solar thermal | 13 Comments

World’s Largest Producer of Geothermal Electricity

I would have guessed Iceland, but it’s actually the U.S.:

Beyond the sun, a new wave of clean energy

As policymakers promote alternative energy sources to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil, entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly inventive about finding novel ways to power the economy.

Beyond solar power and wind, which is America’s most developed renewable-energy sector, a host of companies are exploring a variety of more obscure technologies. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to turn algae into diesel fuel. In landfills, startups are attempting to wring energy out of waste such as leaves, tires and “car fluff” from junked automobiles.

It is hard to predict what portion of the country’s needs could be met by these emerging technologies. The United States is already the world’s largest producer of geothermal electricity, with 212 plants generating 3,119 megawatts. A panel convened by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a recent report that by 2050, geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts, which would be equivalent to 10 percent of current U.S. electricity capacity.

To be honest, I never think too much about geothermal, because I always thought of it as a niche application. I had no idea the U.S. produced that much geothermal energy. To put the 3,119 geothermal megawatts in perspective, installed wind capacity is about 12,000 megawatts in the U.S., and installed solar PV is about 6,000 megawatts. And to put those numbers in perspective, installed nuclear capacity is 100,000 megawatts, and installed coal capacity is 335,000 megawatts.

September 3, 2007 Posted by | coal, geothermal, nuclear energy, solar power, wind power | 9 Comments

World’s Largest Producer of Geothermal Electricity

I would have guessed Iceland, but it’s actually the U.S.:

Beyond the sun, a new wave of clean energy

As policymakers promote alternative energy sources to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil, entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly inventive about finding novel ways to power the economy.

Beyond solar power and wind, which is America’s most developed renewable-energy sector, a host of companies are exploring a variety of more obscure technologies. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to turn algae into diesel fuel. In landfills, startups are attempting to wring energy out of waste such as leaves, tires and “car fluff” from junked automobiles.

It is hard to predict what portion of the country’s needs could be met by these emerging technologies. The United States is already the world’s largest producer of geothermal electricity, with 212 plants generating 3,119 megawatts. A panel convened by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a recent report that by 2050, geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts, which would be equivalent to 10 percent of current U.S. electricity capacity.

To be honest, I never think too much about geothermal, because I always thought of it as a niche application. I had no idea the U.S. produced that much geothermal energy. To put the 3,119 geothermal megawatts in perspective, installed wind capacity is about 12,000 megawatts in the U.S., and installed solar PV is about 6,000 megawatts. And to put those numbers in perspective, installed nuclear capacity is 100,000 megawatts, and installed coal capacity is 335,000 megawatts.

September 3, 2007 Posted by | coal, geothermal, nuclear energy, solar power, wind power | Comments Off

World’s Largest Producer of Geothermal Electricity

I would have guessed Iceland, but it’s actually the U.S.:

Beyond the sun, a new wave of clean energy

As policymakers promote alternative energy sources to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil, entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly inventive about finding novel ways to power the economy.

Beyond solar power and wind, which is America’s most developed renewable-energy sector, a host of companies are exploring a variety of more obscure technologies. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to turn algae into diesel fuel. In landfills, startups are attempting to wring energy out of waste such as leaves, tires and “car fluff” from junked automobiles.

It is hard to predict what portion of the country’s needs could be met by these emerging technologies. The United States is already the world’s largest producer of geothermal electricity, with 212 plants generating 3,119 megawatts. A panel convened by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a recent report that by 2050, geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts, which would be equivalent to 10 percent of current U.S. electricity capacity.

To be honest, I never think too much about geothermal, because I always thought of it as a niche application. I had no idea the U.S. produced that much geothermal energy. To put the 3,119 geothermal megawatts in perspective, installed wind capacity is about 12,000 megawatts in the U.S., and installed solar PV is about 6,000 megawatts. And to put those numbers in perspective, installed nuclear capacity is 100,000 megawatts, and installed coal capacity is 335,000 megawatts.

September 3, 2007 Posted by | coal, geothermal, nuclear energy, solar power, wind power | Comments Off

World’s Largest Producer of Geothermal Electricity

I would have guessed Iceland, but it’s actually the U.S.:

Beyond the sun, a new wave of clean energy

As policymakers promote alternative energy sources to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil, entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly inventive about finding novel ways to power the economy.

Beyond solar power and wind, which is America’s most developed renewable-energy sector, a host of companies are exploring a variety of more obscure technologies. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to turn algae into diesel fuel. In landfills, startups are attempting to wring energy out of waste such as leaves, tires and “car fluff” from junked automobiles.

It is hard to predict what portion of the country’s needs could be met by these emerging technologies. The United States is already the world’s largest producer of geothermal electricity, with 212 plants generating 3,119 megawatts. A panel convened by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a recent report that by 2050, geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts, which would be equivalent to 10 percent of current U.S. electricity capacity.

To be honest, I never think too much about geothermal, because I always thought of it as a niche application. I had no idea the U.S. produced that much geothermal energy. To put the 3,119 geothermal megawatts in perspective, installed wind capacity is about 12,000 megawatts in the U.S., and installed solar PV is about 6,000 megawatts. And to put those numbers in perspective, installed nuclear capacity is 100,000 megawatts, and installed coal capacity is 335,000 megawatts.

September 3, 2007 Posted by | coal, geothermal, nuclear energy, solar power, wind power | Comments Off

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