R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Britain’s Impending Energy Crisis

In case you missed the story yesterday in the Economist:

How long till the lights go out?

North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds. By 2015 four of Britain’s ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power. There will be a shortfall—perhaps of as much as 20GW—which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin’s deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia.

Many of Britain’s neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers’ club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

For more background on Britain’s situation, see also The looming electricity crunch.

I thought about these issues a lot when I lived in Scotland. Britain is clearly facing a crisis, and how they address it will be instructive to those of us who are concerned about energy shortages. I always said that Britain will ultimately conclude that they have to have a lot of new nuclear power, but it looks like that recognition won’t come in time to help them. So what’s the answer? They start ramping coal back up – breaking those green promises – or they start to suffer power outages. What do you think they will do? As I have said before, when the power starts to go out, environmental concerns will fly out the window. Sure, people like the idea of not burning coal. But will they give up power 6 hours a day to achieve that? I don’t think too many of them will.

Of course there is still natural gas from Russia, and I think they are going to have to roll the dice in the short term and hope Russia doesn’t hold them hostage. Longer term, LNG terminals would seem to make sense to me, but they don’t seem to be a part of the discussion here.

Ultimately, I think Britain will behave as the rest of the world will behave when faced with energy crunches. They will find that renewables can’t step up and fill the gap, and so they will roll out conservation measures and make do with whatever it takes to avoid crippling power outages: No matter if it takes coal, natural gas, or the blubber from baby seals. This is how I expect the world to respond when renewable dreams meet the reality of power shortages.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | coal, electricity usage, energy crisis, natural gas, Russia, Scotland, United Kingdom | 43 Comments

Slow Squeeze

I have been thinking a lot lately about the impact of $100+ oil prices on the world economy. Like many others, I am trying to work out the probable implications – for the overall economy, for the U.S. economy, for the energy sector, for my personal finances, and for the average person. I believe we have entered an era of permanently higher oil prices, because 1). Supply and demand are in a very tight balance; and 2). OPEC has been very disciplined about keeping a tight reign on supplies. I just don’t see demanding falling enough, nor supply growing enough, to make a major change in the status quo.

In the course of doing a little research, I ran across a couple of interesting graphs that I want to share. The first comes courtesy of a post by Khebab at Graphoilogy: How Probable is a US Recession if the Oil Supply is Shrinking?


Figure 1. Variations of the per capita GDP per capita and consumed oil barrels.

Note that this data was through 2005, and the trend over the past couple of years has already changed direction. But it shows the difficulty in growing the economy if the oil supply isn’t growing. This is the reason that I recently posed the question of whether peak oil – or even a supply plateau – would cause the U.S. economy to stop growing. I think the trends in the credit and stock markets will continue – at least for a while – if supplies can’t get ahead of demand and oil prices remain extremely high.

The next figure is courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:


Figure 2. The global per capita picture.

This figure shows that per capita consumption growth in the U.S. has slowed to a halt. And while this slowdown has mostly been accompanied by an expanding stock market, I think $100+ oil provides so much headwind that the stock market is going to flounder for a while. I think the U.S. economy is in a slow squeeze (I think Stuart Staniford first coined this phrase) brought on by higher oil prices, which are directly related to stagnant production. As long as oil prices continue to remain at these lofty levels, I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel yet.

On the other hand, based on Figure 1, the global per capita picture may be a good indicator that the markets will continue to fare well in places where global per capita consumption is increasing – especially in net exporting countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia. It may be time for me to start looking at some Russian mutual funds. China has certainly been growing quickly, but high oil prices have the potential to do a lot more damage to the Chinese economy than to the Russian economy – which will likely benefit as long as they remain an exporting country. Brazil would also be an interesting case, as their recent oil discoveries promise to turn them back into an exporting nation.

Of course certain sectors that aren’t especially sensitive to energy prices may fare well. There are lots of companies within the energy sector itself that should provide protection against high oil prices – since they benefit from high oil prices.

March 9, 2008 Posted by | China, investing, oil exports, oil prices, oil production, Russia, Saudi Arabia | 39 Comments

Slow Squeeze

I have been thinking a lot lately about the impact of $100+ oil prices on the world economy. Like many others, I am trying to work out the probable implications – for the overall economy, for the U.S. economy, for the energy sector, for my personal finances, and for the average person. I believe we have entered an era of permanently higher oil prices, because 1). Supply and demand are in a very tight balance; and 2). OPEC has been very disciplined about keeping a tight reign on supplies. I just don’t see demanding falling enough, nor supply growing enough, to make a major change in the status quo.

In the course of doing a little research, I ran across a couple of interesting graphs that I want to share. The first comes courtesy of a post by Khebab at Graphoilogy: How Probable is a US Recession if the Oil Supply is Shrinking?


Figure 1. Variations of the per capita GDP per capita and consumed oil barrels.

Note that this data was through 2005, and the trend over the past couple of years has already changed direction. But it shows the difficulty in growing the economy if the oil supply isn’t growing. This is the reason that I recently posed the question of whether peak oil – or even a supply plateau – would cause the U.S. economy to stop growing. I think the trends in the credit and stock markets will continue – at least for a while – if supplies can’t get ahead of demand and oil prices remain extremely high.

The next figure is courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:


Figure 2. The global per capita picture.

This figure shows that per capita consumption growth in the U.S. has slowed to a halt. And while this slowdown has mostly been accompanied by an expanding stock market, I think $100+ oil provides so much headwind that the stock market is going to flounder for a while. I think the U.S. economy is in a slow squeeze (I think Stuart Staniford first coined this phrase) brought on by higher oil prices, which are directly related to stagnant production. As long as oil prices continue to remain at these lofty levels, I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel yet.

On the other hand, based on Figure 1, the global per capita picture may be a good indicator that the markets will continue to fare well in places where global per capita consumption is increasing – especially in net exporting countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia. It may be time for me to start looking at some Russian mutual funds. China has certainly been growing quickly, but high oil prices have the potential to do a lot more damage to the Chinese economy than to the Russian economy – which will likely benefit as long as they remain an exporting country. Brazil would also be an interesting case, as their recent oil discoveries promise to turn them back into an exporting nation.

Of course certain sectors that aren’t especially sensitive to energy prices may fare well. There are lots of companies within the energy sector itself that should provide protection against high oil prices – since they benefit from high oil prices.

March 9, 2008 Posted by | China, investing, oil exports, oil prices, oil production, Russia, Saudi Arabia | 20 Comments

Slow Squeeze

I have been thinking a lot lately about the impact of $100+ oil prices on the world economy. Like many others, I am trying to work out the probable implications – for the overall economy, for the U.S. economy, for the energy sector, for my personal finances, and for the average person. I believe we have entered an era of permanently higher oil prices, because 1). Supply and demand are in a very tight balance; and 2). OPEC has been very disciplined about keeping a tight reign on supplies. I just don’t see demanding falling enough, nor supply growing enough, to make a major change in the status quo.

In the course of doing a little research, I ran across a couple of interesting graphs that I want to share. The first comes courtesy of a post by Khebab at Graphoilogy: How Probable is a US Recession if the Oil Supply is Shrinking?


Figure 1. Variations of the per capita GDP per capita and consumed oil barrels.

Note that this data was through 2005, and the trend over the past couple of years has already changed direction. But it shows the difficulty in growing the economy if the oil supply isn’t growing. This is the reason that I recently posed the question of whether peak oil – or even a supply plateau – would cause the U.S. economy to stop growing. I think the trends in the credit and stock markets will continue – at least for a while – if supplies can’t get ahead of demand and oil prices remain extremely high.

The next figure is courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:


Figure 2. The global per capita picture.

This figure shows that per capita consumption growth in the U.S. has slowed to a halt. And while this slowdown has mostly been accompanied by an expanding stock market, I think $100+ oil provides so much headwind that the stock market is going to flounder for a while. I think the U.S. economy is in a slow squeeze (I think Stuart Staniford first coined this phrase) brought on by higher oil prices, which are directly related to stagnant production. As long as oil prices continue to remain at these lofty levels, I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel yet.

On the other hand, based on Figure 1, the global per capita picture may be a good indicator that the markets will continue to fare well in places where global per capita consumption is increasing – especially in net exporting countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia. It may be time for me to start looking at some Russian mutual funds. China has certainly been growing quickly, but high oil prices have the potential to do a lot more damage to the Chinese economy than to the Russian economy – which will likely benefit as long as they remain an exporting country. Brazil would also be an interesting case, as their recent oil discoveries promise to turn them back into an exporting nation.

Of course certain sectors that aren’t especially sensitive to energy prices may fare well. There are lots of companies within the energy sector itself that should provide protection against high oil prices – since they benefit from high oil prices.

March 9, 2008 Posted by | China, investing, oil exports, oil prices, oil production, Russia, Saudi Arabia | 140 Comments