The Top Energy Stories of 2007

Thanks to Robert Rapier of R-Squared Energy Blog who asked his readers to offer what they thought the top stories in the energy field were for 2007.  In contrast to is the position he’s taken shared by his visitor group that has a much dimmer view of the situation and conditions in the field as a whole.  While the R-Squared Blog is top of the line, the position and perspective are, well, biased off to the doom side of the future.  I can’t get there with them because of all of the potential in mankind.  I am wary enough to not join with the doomers any more than I can join with the global warming set.  In spite of the emails alleging I am (kindly paraphrased) a skeptical cynic infused with inexplicable optimism, I say hoo-rah!

Nevertheless, the fine folks and Mr. Rapier have the premier list of stories that merit a review.  So lets have a look and a bit of counter point where justified.  Might even start a fight!  The link opens in a new window so just click back and forth.

  1. Oil price soars as media becomes Peak Oil aware.  Cough, sorry, peak oil is a construction for fear, uncertainty and doubt.  Learned from Microsoft’s tactics.  A waste of everything used to consider it.  There is an incredible amount of petroleum to be obtained.  Just what will we pay for the service to get it to use?
  1. Criticism of biofuels mounts.  OK, some of the justified criticism is due.  Poor choices in ethanol as the end product, but the discussion is groundless except for the impact on food that is dependent on corn for feeding the animals that are our main high quality protein source.  Significant to farmers trying to make a living producing protein for the world’s diet and consumers wealthy enough to buy, but small in the global sense.  As for the Mexico tortilla demonstrations – the product isn’t the same corn as used for ethanol.  The profit per acre, whether for corn, soy, wheat or another crop is fungible and will change annually.  Cheap tortillas were doomed no matter what corn-based ethanol did.
  1. The Chevy Volt is announced.  Blue Ribbon for Mr. Rapier and readers!  The comment from me can be seen just last Wednesday.  The low hanging fruit for auto manufacturers isn’t little Volts as newsworthy as that may be.  There are millions of consumers using hybrids in construction, farm and lawn equipment who would instantly jump to heavy-duty hybrid pickups and SUVs.  Hybrids offer 100% torque instantly, and everyone who’s using one now will instantly grasp the significance to pickups and SUVs and the fuel savings would be considerable and have a worldwide effect.  I can dream about an F-250 SuperDuty with 500 horsepower per axle and a 75 horsepower John Deere diesel on the generator set can’t I?  Maybe there will be even better news in a few months when the heavy-duty pickup and big SUV folks figure it out and the U.S. manufacturers get it.
  1. Nanosolar begins to deliver. Lets see, all the data is sourced from the company’s PR/Marketing department.  No independent reviews. Supposed to be shipping by now.  I didn’t write about it, tempted as I was and still am.  But, the field has some problems with overstated research results, there was a portable nuclear powerplant a week or so ago, and other things that suck hours of research only to come up -Joke-!  Now I’m not suggesting these folks are putting us on, but one month paybacks and no photovoltaic efficiency, etc. just raises suspicions.  We’ll see.  The position 4 is way over rated, I’m at “where’s the beef?” if you recall the Wendy’s commercial.
  1. LS9 starts up. Or more accurately, the company is set up.  They have a great goal.  I’m again in “where’s the beef?’ mode.  Too high of a ranking position.
  1. Range Fuels breaks ground.  One can read Mr. Rapier’s comments and essay and know as much useful information as anyone outside of the business itself.  Mr. Rapier is right, it’s a form of gasification as far as I can tell, and it looks to be a subsidized company.  Without some results and disclosure, I’m not spending much attention on it.  On the other hand, this one should move further up in the rating.  The backers here are formidable judges of the possible.  I regard it as stronger than LS9, but hey, they are private, proprietary, possibility things, so without something to sell  . . .
  1. First application for a U.S. nuclear plant in 30 years.  (Eyes roll) OK, its worthy of the list, but I suspect that the regulatory compliance costs for one plant alone would pay for most if not all of the research needed to finish a thorium fueled development plan that could be used thousands of times over.  Thorium would not leave tens of thousands of years worth of dangerously radioactive spent fuel and ancillary products to worry about.
  1. Carbon capture & sequestration moves forward.  This story has merit.  Coal can have a good future and the emissions can be contained to satisfy the environmental needs and thermal efficiency improved.  One must hope the economies of scale can be applied to Chinese plants and soon.
  1. Progress on next generation biofuels.  On the spot discussion from Mr. Rapier.  This should be a top three story.
  1. U.S. Navy funds Bussard Fusion.  A top three story.  I have called and written to both the Office of Naval Research and DOD Office of Research and Engineering and have found no one willing to talk about Bussard or the fusion effort.  But, the money is there from somewhere and many top minds in practical physics get it and the prospects look good.  Even a former staff member with an evolutionary concept of the holding field that may become competitive or complementary is in the hunt.    Way under rated, the WB-7 results could be millennium level news next year.

From here on Mr. Rapier hasn’t ranked the stories, nor is there any particular order.

  1. & 12.  King Coal is still king followed by US coal plant cancellations, headlined by TXU canceling 8 of 11 planned plants.  Well, China is making coal king on a worldwide basis and polluting itself and the rest of the world at nearly alarming rates.  On the other hand, in the U.S. coal has tough competitive problems on capital costs.  Newsworthy in the list and justifiably unranked.
  1. Al Gore wins Nobel Prize for work on Global Warming.  I’m shaking my head in marvel.  Its much more like Al Gores the world by absorbing capital and intellect into a huge boondoggle of an industry of Global Warming research and study that exists to produce press releases that do more for the fear, uncertainty and doubt (See Microsoft tactics again) writers and publishers than anyone else.  With two serious problems, scientific integrity and shrill denunciations of good science, and a movie with what must be a joke of “inconvenient truths” that turned out to be full of inconvenient falsehoods, it amazes that this goes on.  But the Nobel committee gave Yasser Arafat a peace prize.  Why does anyone pay attention anymore?
  1. Shell releases details of the shale oil process.  A reader comment is the only detail on the R-Squared page with no comment from Mr. Rapier.  In fact, Shell and the other major oil companies are serious about staying in business and are studying, researching and investing whenever the sense can be made for risking the money and resources.  Just keep in mind at this level, companies are stockholder owned and have the same level of oversight that all widely traded companies must comply with including securities, tax and regulatory filings.  We’ve posted on some of the noteworthy events and the progress coming out of the oil patch is encouraging.  While one of many stories in this group, they are mostly top ten kinds of things, simply because the level of due diligence is absolute top flight.  We noted the likely bigger story that Shell has triggered the construction of an algae biofuels plant in Hawaii, which should be top five ranked or maybe higher.
  1. Resource nationalization grows.  I respect Mr. Rapier and nod along as I read his discussion.  Yet, there are outstanding points overlooked.  History’s trend is reducing the importance of petroleum as a transport fuel or as a factor in western countries Gross National Products and technology research should be looking for a way to shift space heating to electricity at much higher efficiency.   Nationalization only accelerates the rush of technology and financial resources in the customer economies to substitutes, efficiency improvements and conservation.  The risk isn’t so much that petroleum imports will be a crises, rather its that political pressures and incentives can waste time and capital. Meanwhile consumer innovation will likely be followed by even more human misery as the money so greedily anticipated will most likely go up in the phantom smoke of opportunity lost making the citizens of those countries the true long term victims of a petroleum export crises.  The western and other consuming countries whose wealth will grow from the innovation and change could face the guilt of more success and the prospect of more aid given to innocent people lulled into dependency of dictatorship and failed economies. Grim, but inevitable.
  1. New efficiency record for silicon PV- 42.8 percent from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions.  Now this is news.  It’s far stronger than the PR stuff from Nanosolar.  There is a link to and the R-Squared page.  Widely covered, this is a big deal and sets a new milestone for anyone in the photovoltaic field.  Top 5 kind of news.
  1. Manpower shortages in the energy sector.  While this topic is not going to be a big story, its importance is overlooked.  It should be top 5, but isn’t, I assume because of the animosity of the mainstream press toward big oil.  It’s a very serious problem.  Petroleum careers are also a valuable and a community service caliber career choice with quality work that can pay handsome rewards both in financial terms and in personal satisfaction.  At the risk of seeming to shill for the awl bidness, its far better career potential in steady work than most any other field other perhaps than wind.  Some of this is from a fundamental fault in U.S. education.  The emphasis on memory and self-esteem over problem solving skills has misled many wonderful talented kids into poor academic choices.  Math and science ain’t so tuff.  (I test applicants with simple problem.  Of the dozens of lawyers and doctors I’ve asked only two lawyers, one now over 80 years old and one nearing 60 who I have come to know simply is miserable working as an attorney and one lady doctor got it quickly. Two trains one hundred miles apart, one moving at 30 mph, the other at 45 mph will collide.  How long until it happens and at what milepost will it be?  It’s quite illuminating to try this on people.  Everyone who drives is doing it without thinking about it.  Be ready for some snarls!  Now don’t be putting the answer in the comments!  But you can brag about how fast you solved it, or put in the equation.)
  1. Texas surpassed California in wind energy.  AT LAST!  We get to Topic Number One!  If I were going to choose one energy industry that made the story of the year, it would be the windmill industry.  I wouldn’t have chosen the Texas vs. California thing, rather the industry as a whole made one hellava story.

Those are the main story ideas in Mr. Rapier’s post.  While they cover a large amount of turf many other ideas are equal or of more merit.  There are some 13 more listed story ideas in the post that are interesting with the A123 battery one having some particular importance if proved to commercial availability in large volumes at prices that encourage growth.

As a curiosity, these kinds of posts are entertaining and can be refreshing.  But the field of energy and fuel is fast moving and changing quickly with lots of potential for huge opportunity, growth and change tempered by risks than could be big losses too.  I rather expect that hybrid technology will make cars and light trucks even larger, luxurious and much more fuel-efficient.  Devices will last much longer and recycling will become more important.  America’s industry will need to get over the “not invented here” syndrome and the insanity of thinking innovators will sell exclusive patent rights when granting a license will serve society better.  It’s a situation where its better to be first than risk some other company a long head start with their license.  Failing to accept license terms by insisting on exclusive ownership transfer is just a cover for something nefarious.  You can blame Bill Gates again for that.  Mankind will adapt, and I for one am looking forward to it.

Glorious, lets go!


5 Comments so far

  1. Novelex on March 29, 2008 4:29 AM

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  2. Evan Precht on May 26, 2011 5:28 PM

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  5. Rachael Garkow on October 11, 2011 7:08 PM

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