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Peak oil, coal, lithium, phosphorus .... Aug 22

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Peak oil alarm revealed by secret official talks

Terry Macalister and Lionel Badel, The Observer
Behind government dismissals of 'alarmist' fears there is growing concern over critical future energy supplies
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Speculation that government ministers are far more concerned about a future supply crunch than they have admitted has been fuelled by the revelation that they are canvassing views from industry and the scientific community about "peak oil".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also refusing to hand over policy documents about "peak oil" – the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then declines – under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, despite releasing others in which it admits "secrecy around the topic is probably not good".

Experts say they have received a letter from David Mackay, chief scientific adviser to the DECC, asking for information and advice on peak oil amid a growing campaign from industrialists such as Sir Richard Branson for the government to put contingency plans in place to deal with any future crisis.
(22 August 2010)

 


What if there’s much less coal than we think?

David Roberts, Grist
How much coal is there in the world?

It's tough to think of a more important question for the next half-century. The answer will play a huge role in shaping public policy and directing capital investments. So we've got it pretty well nailed down, right?

Turns out, maybe not.

The prevailing conventional wisdom is that the U.S. has a "200-year supply" of coal -- sometimes jacked up to "400-year" by industry enthusiasts. If that's true, there's obviously an enormous incentive to build the infrastructure to keep using it. Such is the essential argument for carbon capture and sequestration: coal will always be abundant and cheap, so we "have to" keep burning it, so we have to find some way of burying its carbon pollution.

But what if we're overestimating the amount of coal left? What if it's actually going to get scarce and expensive in the near- to mid-term?

If that's true, it has huge, huge implications. Two in particular: ...
(18 August 2010)

 


Peak Everything - a Libertarian View

Ronald Bailey, Reason
Forget peak oil. What about peak lithium, peak neodymium, and peak phosphorous?

When you really need something, it’s natural to worry about running out of it. Peak oil, the notion that global petroleum production will top out and then begin to decline permanently, has been a global preoccupation since the 1970s, and the warnings get louder with each passing year. Environmentalists want to put limits on the consumption of fossil fuels, but they haven’t been very successful in encouraging people to consume less energy, even with the force of law at their backs.

But maybe they’re going about it all wrong, looking for solutions in the wrong places. Lucas Bretschger, an economist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Sjak Smulders, an economist at Tillburg University, argue that we shouldn’t focus directly on preserving the resources we already have. In a 2003 article for the Italian think tank Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, they instead ask, “Is it realistic to predict that knowledge accumulation is so powerful as to outweigh the physical limits of physical capital services and the limited substitution possibilities for natural resources?” In other words, can increases in scientific knowledge and technological innovation overcome any limitations on economic growth imposed by the depletion of nonrenewable resources?

The debate over peak oil is heavily politicized, so let’s set it aside and test the idea of imminent resource peaks and their consequences for economic growth on three other nonrenewable resources: lithium, neodymium, and phosphorus.
(August-September 2010 issue 2010)
The debate over peak oil is not "politicized" at all, as Bailey claims; very few political parties dare say the term aloud. Mainstream environmentalists are only slowly talking about it. In fact there really isn't a debate at all. It's observation versus obfuscation, with former skeptics stealthily moving into the peak oiler camp.

OTOH, it's good to see that Mr. Bailey is paying attention, and getting on the peak phosphorus bandwogon.

UPDATE (22 Aug) EB contributor Tony W comments:

I seemed to get a different understanding about the Ronald Bailey's article, than you did. He mentioned peak phosphorous, sure, but he also seemed to say that because phosphorous can be recycled, all we have to do is ensure it is recycled. For his other examples of peak lithium and peak neodymium, he talks about substitutes. So he never really answered his own question, "can increases in scientific knowledge and technological innovation overcome any limitations on economic growth imposed by the depletion of nonrenewable resources?" and, instead, highlighted a few potential limits that, only in the short term might (though he didn't really dwell on the "might") have alternatives. He finishes with an almost classic denial line, "The production of some physical resources may peak, but there is no sign that human creativity is about to do anything of the kind."

 

-BA


Go Solar Before it's Too Late!

Susan Kraemer, Scientific American
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about solar is that it is just about to become so cheap that you better not get any now, because in a few years it will be much cheaper.
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One of the biggest misconceptions people have about solar is that it is just about to become so cheap that you better not get any now, because in a few years it will be much cheaper. A common belief is that an astounding technological breakthrough is just around the corner and about to make solar cheaper.

While it is true that technological breakthroughs happen all the time, most are at the lab research stage. That does not guarantee that any of them will ever actually make it past the “valley of death” as VC funders call it, to actually go into production, so that someone can actually buy them, in the US.

Then, because they are radical new technology, they have to be tested and certified by the state (at least in California, which pays the rebates based on “expected performance”) as able to last 40 years or so. The original crystalline solar developed in the Carter years is the only solar that has been proved to last 40 years, because, in the real world, it has. For at least the next decade, tried and tested solar tech that is on the market now is your best bet.

You also have to consider what the future might hold for renewable energy, politically, in this country. Rebates and incentives that now lower your costs might soon be a thing of the past.

As we go into a future that is nastier and more desperate for this country, with peak oil, food shortages and FEMA putting an increasing drain on public funds from the effects of climate change, voters will tend to move to the selfish and shortsighted end of the political spectrum. It’s human nature. Politicians who offer rebates and subsidies to encourage more renewable energy will be less and less appealing to an increasingly desperate “I’ve got mine” crowd in the US.

While prices for new technologies might go down in China and Europe, the technologies might be unavailable here, due to removing subsidies for renewable energy.
(19 August 2010)

 


Think OPEC Exports Won't Decline? You're Living In A Dreamworld

Gregor MacDonald, Business Insider
At the EIA’s International Energy Outlook (IEO) presentation this May the issue of future oil exports from OPEC nations came up, and in an interesting way. Readers may be familiar with the phenomenon of declining net exports, from major oil producing nations, as a result of internal demand from growing, domestic populations. The phenomenon was modelled last decade by Jeffrey Brown and Samuel Foucher. Their Export-Land Model showed that the rate of decline from oil exporters can become quite accelerated. While that may seem obvious, it was a point worth making last decade when it was widely presumed that gross production from large oil producing nations was largely available for export. The tipping, of both the UK and Indonesia, from net oil exporters to net oil importers should have put an end to such a presumption. More importantly, the rise of domestic oil consumption in Saudi Arabia was also a warning. Saudi oil exports have declined now for five years.

Given that Saudi Arabia’s exports have already been in decline for some time, it was surprising to hear EIA Deputy Administrator Howard Gruenspecht not only fail to acknowledge that fact, but forecast a rather sanguine outlook on future OPEC export supply in the IEO May press conference
(14 August 2010)

 


Peak oil is the villain governments need

Graham Wayne, Guardian
Using the threat of a high oil prices is a sell the public will buy into – unlike intangible arguments over climate change
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Could peak oil lever politicians out from between the rock of the electorate and the hard place that is climate change mitigation? As Daniel Gros wrote in the Guardian: "the climate-change bill, for which President Barack Obama had pushed so hard, will not even be presented to the US Senate, because it stands no chance of passage". His analysis ends with a fatalistic statement: "Determined action at the global level will become possible only when climate change is no longer some scientific prediction, but a reality that people feel … A world incapable of preventing climate change will have to live with it."

Isn't that the trouble? Climate change is a stealthy foe, hard to feel, see or identify. Unlike peak oil. So here's another question: did western administrations know that the International Energy Agency (IEA) had been consistently concealing the imminence of peak oil? One might hope our leaders would know about something as serious as this. But if they did, why is it that renewable energy replacements haven't been far higher on the agenda, for much longer and addressed with rather more conviction? This is the question George Monbiot put in a freedom of information request sent to the Department for Business in February 2008, asking for details of the government's peak oil contingency planning.
(11 August 2010)

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