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Military focuses on energy

David Roberts, Gristmill
Over at the DefenseTech blog, Noah Shachtman muses on the military’s need to wean itself off oil, reacting to comments by Jim Woolsey (PDF).

Among other things, he flags the new issue of Defense Technology International (interesting website, though horrendous usability-wise), which is titled “The Military and the End of Oil.” It’s got pieces on hybrid diesel-electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, solid-waste lasers (?!), and the DoD’s new strategic approach to energy and conservation. Interesting stuff.

It’s a little depressing to contemplate, but I suspect that 50 years from now we’ll look back and realize that, as with so many previous technologies, it was military application that really accelerated clean tech deployment.

(ht: reader JH)
Update [2006-5-26 12:31:29 by David Roberts]: Ah, I see there’s related news over on CleanTechBlog, mainly about the shift to hydrogen.

BBC survey: your electricity choices revealed

Richrad Black, BBC
Renewables are the form of electricity generation favoured by users of the BBC News website’s Electricity Calculator. Your responses indicate you would like more than a third of UK electricity to come from renewables such as wind and tidal turbines by the year 2020.

Nuclear power emerges as your second preference, ahead of fossil fuels, with imports the least favoured option. More than 100,000 readers have used the Electricity Calculator since it went live on our site at the end of March.

Overall, your responses showed that you would like to curb Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions in line with government targets, and are happy to pay a little more than at present
(25 May 2006)

Drilling in Troubled Waters
Jeff Rubin and Peter Buchanan, CIBC World Markets
In coming weeks, the now placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico will begin to stir with the advent of hurricane season. US Weather Service forecasts, MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel’s findings and the latest sea temperature patterns all suggest it could be another stormy year, buoying oil prices further. The steady warming of sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico since the mid-1970s is highly correlated with an over-doubling in the storm intensity of hurricanes over that period (Chart 1)—a trend that last year assumed catastrophic proportions. Emanuel, in particular, argues that the dramatic increase in storm severity is, at least in part, the result of soaring man-made atmospheric emissions. Others put more emphasis on natural climatic cycles. Either way, the implications for US energy production are alarming: Only Gulf Deepwater oil production has grown at all in the last decade, among all domestic US sources of supply (Chart 2).

Heightening the risks of more severe production outages in coming months, temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and tropical Atlantic are again well above normal, ahead of the June 1st start of hurricane season. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, moreover, has recently projected a La Niña extending through the upcoming storm season. That phenomenon—a cold water current off the Pacific Coast—points to weaker-than-normal trade winds and wind shear, forces that limit hurricane formation. For this reason, it’s historically been a harbinger of severe tropical weather in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean (Chart 3).

The setback to oil production from America’s only source of domestic production growth will likely see crude prices set new record highs this fall.
(24 May 2006)

Enough coal on hand to keep US cool?

Mark Clayton, The Christian Science Monitor
Utilities that rely on coal give cautious assurances they can meet electricity demand of a hot summer.
The United States is heading into what could be a hot summer with high power consumption, and a number of electric utilities are scrambling to make sure they have enough coal on hand.

With at least a few utilities unable to get enough coal shipped by rail, some are resorting to extreme measures – even importing it. One of the more striking recent examples of sending “coals to New Castle” may be CS Energy, a San Antonio-based power company. Struggling to shore up its reserves, it bought 150,000 tons of coal from Colombia, shipped it to Port Arthur, Texas, and then trucked it 140 miles.

It’s more than a little ironic: Even though the US guzzles imported oil by the tanker load, it is often called the “Saudi Arabia of coal,” with enough domestic reserves to last centuries. But getting America’s abundant coal to where it is most needed is a growing challenge for power companies – and the railroads that supply them.

For one thing, rising natural-gas prices have caused power companies to burn cheaper coal far faster than expected. Derailments and other rail delivery problems have also contributed to dwindling coal stockpiles at power companies across the Midwest and South, analysts say.
(25 May 2006)
Warmer weather -> More air conditioning -> More electricity -> More coal burning -> More greenhouse gases -> Warmer weather…

Warts and Ethanol
A new reliance on coal could sap green cred from the ethanol industry

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist magazine

As ethanol boosterism spreads far and wide — from Bush’s bully pulpit to the New York Times editorial page to green-group press releases — a quietly emerging trend is threatening to undermine the biofuel’s environmental credibility.

More and more ethanol manufacturers are looking to power their plants with cheap coal instead of its cleaner and increasingly expensive competitor, natural gas, thereby potentially limiting ethanol’s environmental benefits. And the Bush administration is doing its part to accelerate this trend. Under pressure from a group of senators and representatives from corn- and coal-producing states, the U.S. EPA is considering a rule change under the Clean Air Act that would relax pollution regulations on ethanol plants, clearing the way for them to burn coal with fewer restraints.

While only four of roughly 100 ethanol plants currently operating in the U.S. are powered by coal (practically all of the rest are fueled by natural gas), some 190 more are under construction or soon to be built. One energy analyst, Robert McIlvaine, president of the Illinois-based research group McIlvaine Company, predicts that “100 percent” of new ethanol plants built in the U.S. over the next few years will be coal-fired, “largely because of the exorbitant cost of natural gas right now, and the comparatively predictable future supply of homegrown coal.” A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor also points out that many ethanol manufacturers are increasingly being drawn toward coal.
(26 May 2006)