Tag Archives: natural gas

Fact Checking Mr. Obama on Energy

I must confess I did not see Mr. Obama’s State of the Union Address.  I expected the speech to be a non event.   The next day I was surprised when the business news channels (CNBC and Bloomberg) discussed his energy policy that included a more favorable view of Natural Gas.  Natural Gas was finally getting it’s due.  That was a change.

I then read an article by Politico, and another in USA Today .  The Politico article talked about energy policy and the USA Today article discussed the statistical gymnastics included in the speech.  I then read the entire speech transcript.

I was not impressed.  I’m a numbers guy.  Too few numbers and too many human interest stories.  I like a good human interest story as much as the next guy, they make great movies.  I wonder why a speech on the status of the USA today needs to be so personal. And as USA Today pointed out, the numbers have been selectively chosen.

Mr. Obama did advocate Natural Gas as a preferred fuel in both electricity production and as a motor fuel.   He’s about 5 years late to the party, but better late than never; a welcome change.   The remainder of the speech was not surprising.

The piece on solar was….well… you decide:

we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be outsourced

OK, I guess?   Becoming?  The USA is not now and never has been a leader in solar.  Germany is the world leader, and China is coming on fast and will likely pass Germany in 2015.  Germany has 35 gigawatts of solar installed right now.  China has over 20 gigawatts now and an additional 14 gigawatts should begin production in 2014.  Italy is third with about 18 gigawatts connected.

The USA, Spain and Japan duke it out for the remaining positions in the top 5.  The USA is currently in the 4th spot with a little bit less than 8 gigawatts connected.  We are adding solar fast enough to maintain our #4 spot on the list, but we will not catch Italy this decade.

Solar, even in Germany plays only a very small part in the carbon emissions game.  Germany gets less than 6% of it’s electricity from Solar power!    Statistically, solar will be a non issue on the global carbon front for years and years to come.  Mr. Obama’s emphasis on solar when talking global climate change is….well….misplaced.

A bit further in the speech he says the following:

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.

True.  We have done better.   The recession reduced demand, vehicles became more efficient and natural gas displaced coal in power generation.  But it’s old news.  2013 reversed the trend as this graph prepared by the US Energy Information Administration demonstrates:


Yep, the EIA is expecting an increase in carbon related emissions in 2013 and 2014.  Perhaps that is why Mr. Obama said the following:

But we have to act with more urgency — because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.

Maybe, maybe not.   Recent studies indicate that long periods of very low rainfall are normal in California.  Twice during the medieval warming period, California had droughts that literally lasted hundreds of years.  And the same study showed periods of spectacular flooding in between the years of droughts.

Perhaps California is witness to normal climate variation.  Recent studies indicate that the last 150 years might be the oddity, not the norm?   20 year droughts in Southern California appear to be relatively regular and surprisingly common.   Maybe what we see in California today is simply Nature being Nature.

I wonder what would happen if a politician simply told the truth?   Unemployment, I suspect.  But come on, Mr. Obama, your last election is behind you.  Suppose, just suppose, that we heard the honest truth about global climate change.   It would look something like this.

The world is warmer than it used to be and it is likely that man is at least partially responsible.   So far, climate change has not been particularly problematic.  If the scientists at the UN are correct, then we must make immediate changes in the ways we use and produce energy or the world will get lots warmer. That warming will probably have dire consequences.

The biggest carbon dioxide producer in the world is China.  In the year 2000, China was a small player.  Today, China produces more carbon dioxide than the USA and all of Western Europe combined.  If China does not slow down their ever increasing rate of carbon dioxide production, and if the UN’s IPCC Scientists are correct, the world is going to get lots warmer.

Actions taken in the USA or in Europe will be of little consequence.  China’s impact is so large it overwhelms everything else.  China’s rate of increase has been greater than 8% per year since 2000.   At that rate they will double their production again between now and 2023.  They are already 30% of the worldwide total.

So far at least, the UN has been horribly wrong in their predictions.   Climate variability is difficult to predict.    The simple fact that the IPCC has been wildly high in their predictions does not prove that they are wrong, it simply accentuates how difficult the problem is.   Yes, global warming stopped some 15 years ago, but it could begin again soon.  We must continue to study the issue with an open mind, and work to minimize our impact on the climate.

Nahhh…to0 boring….it would never work in politics.

Environmental Dreamers on Pennsylvania Avenue

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the Obama Administration Energy and/or Environmental Policies.  I am particularly puzzled by their reluctance to embrace natural gas.  Today I think I finally figured out what is going on…and admittedly I’m a slow study….but I think I’ve got it.   The bureaucrats that advise the President are environmental dreamers.

Dreamers live in the world they would like to have, the rest of us are stuck in the real world.   In the dreamers world…we have lots of renewable energy… and we have a way to store the energy.   Storage that is both economical and efficient would be nice.  Too bad it doesn’t exist.

When it does exist, all sorts of wonderful things become possible.  But until then, there is one truth that cannot be denied, utilities cannot use renewable energy to meet their demand requirements because it is not reliable (except for hydro, which works because it has storage in the form of water behind the dam).  The average solar panel works about 5 hours a day, the average windmill 7 or 8.  What is a utility to do the rest of the time?

Power utilities must choose between three available choices, coal, natural gas and  nuclear.  There are no other currently available choices.   Of those, one is a clear loser… with current technology…coal.  And the Obama administration has figured that out.  There are two choices left….and the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue refuse to make a choice.

I like both choices, but since I live in the real world I know that Nuclear is not a political reality.   This leaves natural gas.  This is not a difficult choice.   Support widespread use of natural gas.  Sure it’s a fossil fuel, but it’s the good one.  It burns relatively cleanly.  Sure natural gas produces some carbon dioxide, but it produces about half as much as oil or coal and is clean burning (no cancer causing air pollutants).  And it’s cheap.

Therein lies the problem….a cheap clean burning fuel reduces the need for renewable energy.   And according to the dreamers at the White House, that is not a good thing.   Renewable energy good…fossil fuels bad….in the fantasy world surrounding the White House.    When a cheap battery becomes available, the economics of solar power and wind turbines will dramatically improve…..but while we wait…..let’s produce lots of natural gas.

Energy Security — Not a Renewable Energy Story

I have just finished reading an article in Bloomberg News  titled Growing U.S. Energy Supply Alters Political Debate.  While I liked the article, I was disappointed by the inclusion of renewable energy rhetoric in an article about shale oil and gas drilling.

The first three paragraphs linked shale oil production to energy security and then linked renewable energy to a discussion of energy security too.   The remainder of the article talks about the changed political landscape that shale oil drilling has created.   So what’s my beef?

Renewable energy has very nearly nothing in common with oil production…..and they are constantly linked together by the press and global warming hawks.   Renewable energy is an alternate electricity source.   Oil is a transportation fuel.   Windmills may reduce the amount of coal or natural gas burned in power generation, but it has no impact on oil use or security of supply.

Security of supply is all about international politics.  Electric power comes from 5 main sources in the USA and they are all domestic.   As domestic supplies, foreign supply concerns are not an issue.

According to the  EIA (US Energy Information Administration) website

Notice, petroleum at less than 1% of supply.

Here is data for the first half of 2012, released last month by the EIA.

  • Coal                                 35.4%
  • Natural Gas                  30.4%
  • Nuclear                           19.5%
  • Hydro                                7.9%
  • Wind                                  3.8%

Coal is fading, natural gas is coming on strong, and wind is a small but growing part of the story.  Solar….forget about it.

Energy independence is all about imported oil   How do we reduce our reliance on foreign supplies?  Lets take a peek at the Bloomberg article.  The very first paragraph has problems.

Ever since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the US has been obsessed with energy security , including the desire to rely less on foreign oil and produce as much as possible at home.

Supply has never been the issue it should be in the USA.  Every President since Nixon has talked the good story…but domestic energy production  is now and always has been a secondary issue.  Production peaked 40 years ago and had been in steady decline until shale oil showed up in 2009.

USA Oil energy policy has been a story of a country attempting to protect foreign supply while arguing wildly about when and where oil should and could be produced locally.  ANWR, the coast of California, the Arctic Ocean, offshore in Florida; the notion that we would produce as much as possible at home is wrong.  There is no national consensus on this issue and there never has been.

The next paragraph sets the link between oil and gas and alternative sources of energy with the following statement

For just as long, the energy debate in the presidential election years has been over the need to take better advantage of our own natural resources: extracting more oil, gas and coal, on the one hand, or promoting conservation along with alternatives such as solar and wind power.

Conservation is a big part of our oil independence strategy, but wind and solar are not.   The third paragraph continues the link between energy security and renewable energy  and makes it sound much more important than it really is:

Discoveries of shale deposits and the rise of new energy technologies have reshaped the energy marketplace.  Big increases in renewable energy as well as domestic oil and gas production — combined with a declining market share of coal — change the terms of the old production-verses- conservation debate.

Big increases in renewable energy?   Sure.  But from a small base.   Renewable energy plays only a minor role in energy supply(see chart above).  The article intentionally makes renewable sources sound more important than they are and then incorrectly links them to the production-verses- conservation debate.

My only other complaint about the article is that it underplays the importance of natural gas in the renewable energy debate.   Natural gas is abundant and clean and could be used as a transportation fuel too.   Natural gas prices have collapsed, accelerating the switch from coal to natural gas and slowing the need for other clean choices…..Wow….another blog subject….stay tuned….