Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I Support Renewable Energy

I was asked recently why I, a former oil company employee, and now an attorney, am so much in favor of renewable energy.  Don't I know that renewables are intermittent, unreliable, too expensive, and too dilute to ever replace the fossil fuels?  

Waxing a bit philosophical here, but I see many worthy reasons to pursue renewable energy over fossil energy and especially over nuclear energy. Nothing is free, but all products must carry the cost of their raw materials, production, and maintenance. Even a canister of compressed air is not free, yet the raw material (air) is certainly free. Nor is a bottle of spring water free, although the water flows eternally from a spring. Not even hydroelectric power is free, although the rain falls freely from the sky to fill the reservoir behind the dam.

But I disagree with some about using coal, oil, and especially nuclear power. I leave natural gas to the side for the moment. My point is that combustion of fossil fuels is not truly clean, but produces various levels of toxic substances, such as SOx, NOx, soot or particulate matter, and in the case of coal, mercury, plus ash that contains solid toxics. I also have written about this elsewhere on this blog, and hope to see the day when all our energy needs are provided by clean renewable sources such as hydroelectric, wind, solar, wave, ocean thermal, and ocean current, and possibly geothermal.

I foresee a day when oil can and will be used exclusively for high-value purposes such as petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, lubrication, and asphalt. When that day comes, oil will drop in price due to low demand, and pharmaceuticals will also drop at least somewhat in price. Lower prices for medical drugs are good for society. The world political balance will shift dramatically, and some of the current tensions will ease.  Transportation will be petroleum-free, as electric vehicles and hydrogen from electrolysis will provide motive power. 

As for nuclear power, in my view, it is now completely uneconomic, unnecessary, and should be forever banned. That should be the goal of every country, and any world-wide body such as the U.N. I am encouraged each time I read that another planned nuclear power plant is cancelled due to inability to obtain the exorbitant financing.

I look forward to the day when the engineers, my clients, can proudly state that the renewable power systems they developed provides power that is cheaper than any other power, also more reliable, more abundant, more secure, and less polluting than any other power source. No more coal miners need die deep underground, or from breathing black coal dust. No more children need grow up with the spectre of nuclear bombs falling on their heads. No more poor and elderly need make horrible choices between heating their homes or buying medicines or buying food. No more people anywhere need suffer from a lack of abundant, fresh, clean water, as they will have sufficient cheap energy to make fresh water out of seawater or brackish water. No more people anywhere need suffer from tainted food because they will have abundant, and cheap, electric power for refrigerators and freezers. No more people need sleep miserably in hot, humid homes while fighting off mosquitoes and flies, but will sleep in air conditioned comfort with the insects buzzing outside.

The promises that were made in the 1950's by the nuclear power engineers regarding abundant power, that is too cheap to meter, will finally be realized. However, it will not be nuclear power providing that cheap energy, it will be a mix of renewable energy sources coupled to reliable energy storage systems.  No matter how cheap uranium is, nor how efficient it is at producing electrical power, nothing is cheaper than free.  Wind is free.  Sunshine is free.  Ocean currents are free.   Rain is free.  

Those are worthy goals for renewable energy, and CO2 has nothing to do with any of it. The engineers are close, and getting closer.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

LNG Cheaper than Ever

As my two regular readers will remember, I earlier predicted that natural gas prices will fall, and fall they have.  

Merrill Lynch energy analyst Francisco Blanch wrote: "Only 12 months ago LNG demand seemed insatiable, with Asian and European consumers soaking up any available spot cargoes. As the market overheated last summer, spot LNG prices hit record highs of $25/MMBtu. Since then, the LNG market has tumbled, with spot prices in Asia now trading in a $3.80-5.00/MMBtu range."   Blanch forecasts LNG prices dropping further, to $0.70 per million Btu.  

The LNG market consists of two segments: long-term contracts, and the spot market.  The spot market has the volatile swings in pricing.  As new LNG plants begin operation, more and more product is available for consumption, thus driving down prices under classic supply/demand theory.  

This is good news for utilities that burn natural gas, such as those in California.  It is not such good news for natural gas companies and independent gas producers.  There are sufficient LNG import terminals in the U.S. to provide competition to domestic producers.   

It is even better news for drivers who own CNG vehicles, as their costs per mile will decrease.  This will perhaps spur car companies to make and sell more CNG vehicles, and that will help decrease gasoline consumption and prices.  However, the effect of lower gasoline prices will be a reduced incentive for car buyers to purchase hybrids, with their added costs for the hybrid system.  The net result is oil prices will also remain relatively low.  

What effect will this have on major car manufacturers, who have apparently committed to building hybrid cars?   Once again, they will be shown to have made the wrong moves.  On the other hand, CNG conversion of existing cars may see a revival.   Now, at least, the car companies can share the blame with Obama's omniscient government.  "You told us to make hybrids, so we did.  We should have made CNG cars, but you would not allow it."

For European countries, more imports of LNG will provide a welcome alternative to pipeline supplies from Russia.  As an example, the U.K. very recently received its first cargo of LNG from Qatar into the South Hook LNG receiving terminal in Milford Haven, Wales. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

AGW Is Not a Problem

[This arose from an exchange on WUWT with a die-hard Global Warmist, one who (rather typically) is snide and just short of being nasty with his / her comments.  He/she writes anonymously, which says much for his/her character.  I'm going with "his," just a guess, of course.  Commenter DJ is unhappy that WUWT devoted blog space to the unusual and prolonged snow events across the U.S., in particular as measured by snow depth at two ski resorts.  Apparently, in DJ's world, it is perfectly OK and indeed a public service to trumpet daily each warming weather event, such as heat waves, record high temperatures, wildfires, sea ice decreases, polar ice meltings, glaciers retreating, polar bear population counts, etc.   He did refrain, at least thus far, from repeating the AGW mantra "The U.S. is not the whole world."  Perhaps he forgot for the moment.    The "good for the goose, good for the gander?  comment is mine, reminding DJ that his side continually blares on and on about any warm event, so he is hypocritical by whining about anyone publishing and discussing a cold event.   He then responded that the skeptics must hold ourselves to a higher standard if we want respect.   ]

AGWer DJ wrote:  “What is good for the goose, surely is good for the gander?” is exactly wrong. Hold yourselves to a higher standard if you want respect.”

My reply:  

Respect is something one earns. Wanting it or craving it is never the way to earn it.  It is earned by doing the right thing at the right time, without regard to the consequences or the cravens who take potshots from the sidelines, especially those who hide behind a sorry excuse for science.

Practicing proper science, as Dr. Richard Feynman so eloquently stated it, would go a long way toward earning some respect for your side, the AGW proponents. That would include such things as carefully measuring the data, providing all the data in a completely transparent manner, drawing logical and supportable conclusions based on sound physics and math, stating the areas of uncertainties, and how those would impact the conclusions.

And yes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Why shouldn’t WUWT or any other blog publish cold weather events as they occur? Are you advocating censorship?

Speaking (writing, actually) only for myself, I could care less if anyone respects me or not. My concern is keeping the policy-makers from heading down the wrong path, wasting trillions of dollars (and other currencies) on an ideologically-driven, scientifically-unsupportable movement to punish affluent Western societies for having had the resources and opportunities to build a better world.

As I wrote elsewhere, Western man has done more good in this world with energy and ingenuity than the liberal idealogues will ever admit. Obama got one thing right thus far, and that is that we should be willing to extend a helping hand to others. But that help is provided by energy, and comes in the form of using energy. As E.M. Smith wrote on his chiefio blog, there is and never will be a shortage of energy. He is right.

And because there will never be an energy shortage, if and when the Earth is ever in dire need of reducing excessive air temperatures, or the opposite, reversing severe cold, the engineers will step up and get the job done. If the AGW proponents turn out to be correct in their assertion that CO2 causes unacceptable global warming with the massive increase in sea level, in perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 years, there will be plenty of time to make adjustments. As I have written before, there is no technical challenge to adjusting the atmosphere’s composition with respect to any component gas. We have all the knowledge we need, right now, to remove 100 ppm or more of CO2 or any other gas within a very short time frame.

When (I should say, IF) the first non-floating polar ice slides off into the ocean, and the sea level rises that first centimeter, call me. Let me know. At that point, the engineers will stop the ice slides and fix any other problems that require fixing, and nobody need panic. Impossible, you say? Hardly. Talk to some engineers sometime.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

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