Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What's On My Mind: Pure Energy

Some good news on the energy front noticed in the past few weeks.

For those sweating out the peak oil theory and nervously counting off the few days remaining until our finite reserves of fossil fuels are sucked dry, Daniel Yergin provides some hope in this WSJ article. A new resource, promising to extend our reserves by a century or more. And it's more than speculation, it's already happening in what Yergin calls a "game changer". Excerpts:

The biggest energy innovation of the decade is natural gas - more specifically what is called "unconventional" natural gas. Some call it a revolution.

Yet the natural gas revolution has unfolded with no great fanfare, no grand opening ceremony, no ribbon cutting. It just crept up. In 1990, unconventional gas - from shales, coal-bed methane and so-called "tight" formations - was about 10% of total U.S. production. Today it is around 40%, and growing fast, with shale gas by far the biggest part.

The potential of this "shale gale" only really became clear around 2007. In Washington, D.C., the discovery has come later, only in the last few months. Yet it is already changing the national energy dialogue and overall energy outlook in the U.S. - and could change the global natural gas balance.

Proven reserves have risen to 245 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2008 from 177 Tcf in 2000, despite having produced nearly 165 Tcf during those years. The recent increase in estimated U.S. gas reserves by the Potential Gas Committee*, representing both academic and industry experts, is in itself equivalent to more than half of the total proved reserves of Qatar, the new LNG powerhouse. With more drilling experience, U.S. estimates are likely to rise dramatically in the next few years. At current levels of demand, the U.S. has about 90 years of proven and potential supply, a number that is bound to go up as more and more shale gas is found.

To have the resource base suddenly expand by this much is a game changer.

This new innovation will take time to establish its global credentials. The U.S. is really only beginning to grapple with the significance. It may be half a decade before the strength of the unconventional gas revolution outside North America can be properly assessed. But what has begun as the shale gale in the U.S. could end up being an increasingly powerful wind that blows through the world economy.

(*Full disclosure, I am a former member of the Potential Gas Committee. Of course, back then we were known by the organization's original name, the Sauerkraut Promotions Council.)

That is exciting stuff for all of us who enjoy things like electricity, heat, and lighting. Of course, the killjoys in the environmental community have already expressed concerns over certain extraction techniques and their potential effect on drinking water (Boo hoo! And Yergin discounts the validity of the claims) Plus, in this modern age, any exploitation of carbon emitting energy resources will be automatically opposed by the global warming cultist crowd. So there is no guarantee that this vastly beneficial opportunity will be fully seized realized.

Those wishing to engage this crowd and help beat back the damaging public policy they are scheming to enact should review this article by Prof. Richard Lindzen of MIT. It's a summary of the so called scientific "consensus" that exists and the highly dubious basis of the claims made by the UN-IPCC. Particularly interesting are his comments that even if you accept the questionable notion that "climate change" is anthropomorphic and rapidly increasing, there is no reason to react to it as if it were an eminent catastrophe. Lindzen is the best and brightest among the scientists opposing the orthodox belief system of the Gore crowd and his article isn't easy to excerpt into a tidy sound bite. Reading the whole thing is advised.

Even if we aren't able to keep the anti carbon fundamentalists from seizing control of the treasuries and economies of the civilized world, another ray of hope exists. Lindzen's MIT colleague, the brilliant Ray Kurzweil, had a recent article speculating on what technology has in store for us over the next 10 years. And we may already be on the path to making fossil fuels a non-factor.

.... we are now applying nanotechnology -- the science of essentially reprogramming matter at the level of molecules to create new materials and devices -- to the design of renewable energy technologies such as solar energy.
As a result, the cost per watt of solar energy is coming down rapidly and the total amount of solar energy is growing exponentially. It has in fact been doubling every two years for the past 20 years and is now only eight doublings away from meeting all of the world’s energy needs.

When I shared this fact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few weeks ago, he asked, "but is there enough sunlight to double solar energy eight more times?" I responded that we have 10,000 times more sunlight than we need to do this.

Wouldn't that be something? Invent our way out of the problem, and the ugly political debate, entirely. It wouldn't be the first time that happened. And it just goes to prove what a wise man once said, the most critical natural resource of all is the human mind. Something to remember when government officials and journalists start telling us that we have to start producing fewer humans in order to save the planet.

And now for your dancing pleasure, from Minneapolis and 1987, The Information Society:

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