Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A four year study of the earth's ecosystems, the "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment" conducted by 1,300 scientists from 95 countries was released today. The study concluded that sixty percent of the world's resources are being degraded or used up, with "substantial and largely irreversible" loss of biodiversity set to worsen over the next 50 years.

The study found that poor people, especially those in "dryland" regions -- mostly Africa and Asia, but also in parts of Mexico and northern Brazil -- suffer disproportionately, largely through desertification, lack of access to clean water and increase in disease.

Other major findings by the UN-backed report include:

-- The evolution to the ecosystem has led to more "nonlinear changes", like the radical, seemingly sudden collapse of some ocean fisheries; jumps in climate change and the rapid emergence of certain diseases.

-- Future biodiversity loss is likely to be caused primarily by climate change and by "nutrient-loading", the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers that pollute waters and create oxygen-void "deadzones" in rivers and coastal waters.

--Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems faster and more extensively than in any period in human history. This has been due largely to rapidly growing demands for food, freshwater, timber, fiber, and fuel. The result has been a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

--The changes made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs. These costs include the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of abrupt changes, and increased poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially reduce the benefits that future
generations get from ecosystems.

--This degradation of ecosystem services could get significantly worse during the next 50 years. It is a barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

--Reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services is a challenge. This challenge can be partially met in the future under scenarios involving significant changes to policies, institutions, and practices. However, these required actions will have to be substantial when compared to the
actions currently taken.

The full report can be found here.

A summary can be found here.

The leader of the report's core authors, Walt Reid commented that;
"The bottom line of this assessment is that we are spending earth's
natural capital, putting such strain on the natural functions of earth
that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future
generations can no longer be taken for granted."

Ominous words. Unfortunately, they won't make the headlines until real people start to die, in accordance with the media's "if it bleeds, it leads" mentlity. By then it will be too late.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Arizona's House of Representatives passed two bills which will boost energy efficiency and provide new incentives for solar photovoltaic energy. One of the two bills improves upon current state legislation that offers a tax credits for the installation of renewable energy systems. The other bill provides incentives for energy efficient appliances.

Almost 90 percent of Arizona's residents can qualify for some level of rebate or incentive from utilities in the state, according to Sean Seitz, the President of Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association. Investor-owned utilities like Arizona Public Service are required through the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) legislation to source 1.1 percent of their power from renewables -- a requirement they have partially satisfied by offering rebates for residential solar systems. Municipal utilities like Salt River Project have followed suit by voluntarily enacting similar rebates.

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), which regulates the state's investor-owned utilities, is currently reviewing options to expand the RPS standard, perhaps to as much as 5 percent by 2015 and 15 percent by 2025, according to Seitz.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The market for green energy sources could hit $100 billion in the next decade. In two years, the market for green energy grew 68 percent to more than $16 billion in 2004, a heartening growth rate. A $100 billion market would be significant--the value of fossil fuel imports in 2003 was around $145 billion. If we had a $100 billion green energy market today, the need for fossil fuel imports would be significantly reduced. Of course 10 years from now the import burden will be much more--the value of imports has more than doubled in the past 10 years--so we are still playing catch up.

Still the signs of growth in the clean energy market are significant.

In the United States, incentives for renewables have been growing at the state level. Some 18 states have issued rules known as renewable portfolio standards that require as much as 20 to 25 percent of the power used in the state in the future to come from clean energy sources.

Two trends are boosting wind power in the United States. In gusty parts of the country, such as West Texas, wind power at 4.5 cents per kilowatt has even become cheaper than power from natural gas at 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt. In addition, utilities, such as Puget Sound Energy, a utility division of Puget Energy, have been buying wind farms.

"Instead of buying kilowatt hours, utilities are buying production outright," said Thomas Carbone, president of Vestas Americas, a division of Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine maker.

Meeting our energy needs in a post oil peak world will require both a major clean energy market and a substantial conservation effort for energy consumption as a whole.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A flood of stories about water scarcity:

Water scarcity, contamination could become wave of the future

As the planet prepares to mark the 13th annual World Water Day on Tuesday, water scarcity and contamination are becoming both an increasing economic threat to industry and a growing business opportunity, experts said.

More than 1 billion people worldwide don't have safe, reliable drinking water and 2.6 billion don't have access to adequate sanitation services. Between 2 million and 5 million people die each year from water-related diseases.

China, with a population of 1.3 billion, is facing severe water shortages as well as widespread water pollution. Seventy-seven percent of effluent is currently untreated, 70 percent of the Chinese population has no access to safe drinking water, and 400 of 600 cities face water shortages, according to a report released Monday by Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, an international environmental and technology consulting firm in Tuebingen, Germany. Contamination and lack of supply capacity are the leading factors for water shortage. ...

A recent study by the nonpartisan Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., warned that businesses around the world, from beverage companies to microchip manufacturers, are failing to prepare for the serious risks posed by growing competition for fresh water, the threat of water contamination and rising water-related costs.

In a separate report, the United Nations' Environment Program and the Stockholm International Water Institute said, "The potential risks associated with water scarcity have become an emerging risk of strategic importance to businesses and their financial backers around the world."

Gregoire seeks $12 million for drought relief

- A week after declaring a drought emergency, Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday proposed $12 million to help with water shortage problems throughout the state in preparation for what she called one of the driest summers in the state's history.

She also said she would allocate an additional $16 million in her proposed state budget to avert future problems by building two Eastern Washington reservoirs and a water-storage system.

Drought could parch Indian reservation

Some 14,000 residents of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation could run out of water by August because of a drought along the Missouri River basin, officials said.

The tribe's list of potential problems stretches from health concerns to fire fighting. The reservation's schools and its only hospital and clinic would have to close.

"It will be more than just running out of water for a couple of days. There will be 14,000 people that have no water whatsoever," said Wayne Ducheneaux, a tribal official and member of a task force working to come up with a water plan.

Water Shortages Are Potential Threat to China's Growth, Stability

A 74-year-old woman struggles to push down the lever of a rusty pump, to draw water from a cistern beneath her house in Shanhou village, about 100 kilometers outside Beijing.

The nearby Juma River used to supply the cistern, but it is now dry, and she depends on rain to fill the tank.

Now, she says, she is lucky to have water left from last year's rains. Since the river dried out, she has sometimes had to depend on friends who have deeper wells than she does.

For as long as anyone can remember, the river has been Shanhou's only source of water. That was until recently, when the government diverted virtually all the river's water to the capital, Beijing.

The woman says she and her sons used to plant wheat, corn and soybeans, but now the river is dry, their fields no longer produce.

Pakistan faces water shortage despite huge rainfall

Perhaps the only positive thing to come out of the deluge for Pakistan as a whole was some relief from the potentially crippling water shortage gripping the nation.

Or was it? Not in the long term, say analysts and officials.

Instead a combination of poor infrastructure and sheer mismanagement means farmers in the heavily agriculture-based economy must still look to the heavens, they add.

Worries over water are also poisoning Islamabad's international relations, pushing it into a damaging dispute with nuclear-armed rival New Delhi over a huge dam being built in the Indian zone of divided Kashmir.

Friday, March 18, 2005

While renewable energy sources remain a small proportion of total energy sources, they continue their double digit growth.

Global wind power increased by 20% world wide according to the Global Wind Energy Council. Global wind power capacity has grown to 47,317MW.

Europe continued to dominate the global market in 2004, accounting for 72.4% of new installations (5,774 MW). Asia had a 15.9% installation share (1,269 MW), followed by North America (6.4%; 512 MW) and the Pacific Region (4.1%; 325 MW). Latin America and the Caribbean (49 MW) and Africa (47 MW) had a 0.6% market share respectively.

Solar power grew by nearly seventy percent.

Last year, world solar cell production reached 1,256 megawatts (MW) or about enough to power more than 1.2 million average American homes during daytime.

That was a 67 percent increase over the 750 MW produced in 2003, according to PHOTON International, a German magazine.

"In Japan they're making solar cells because of high electricity prices. Solar panels are selling like hot cakes there," said Colin Murchie, director of legislative affairs at Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

"Germany is boosting output because they want to meet Kyoto Protocol goals," said Murchie. Under the international pact that went into force earlier this year most industrialized nations, excluding the United States and Australia which did not sign the pact, must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Utilities and cars mostly produce such gases.

In 2002 the world solar market increased 40 percent.

Very promising numbers. We can only hope they are not too little, too late.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The International Petroelum Monthly has posted statistics for crude oil production in 2004. The reports lists indiviudal production statistics for 30 countries, plus a catch-all "other." It also lists combined totals for the North Sea, OPEC and the World.

Total world production grew by 3.3 million barrels a day--a fairly sizeable increase. But a closer look at the numbers raises doubts about whether oil producers can repeat that performace in 2005.

Twenty countries increased their proudction in 2004, racking up gains of some 4 mbd, while 11 countries saw production declines totaling 850 thousand barrels a day.

But many of the countries that posted gains are probably unlikely to be able to repeat their performace. Iraq gained just under 700 thousand barrels a day, but continues to face problems with sabotage. Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emerates increasd their production by a combined total of 650 thousand bpd, but this was primarily by bringing reserves online and not from new discoveries. Few experts believe that these countries have any significant reserves left. Venezuela increases production by 222 thousand bpd, but this reflected the political turmoil in 2003. Venzuela's production was still below its 2002 level. Russia capped six years of spectacular growth by increasing production by 673 thousand bpd, but production declined by 120 thousand bpd the last three months of the year. Norway posted its first increase in four years--127 thousand bpd, but remained well below its 2000 peak. And Norway, too, showed a significant decline in the last half of the year.

These eight countries combined for an icnrease of 2.4 million barrels a day, more than half of all the increase. These countries are very unlikely to be able to repeat this performance in 2005.

There were some significant changes among the decliners as well. U.S. production declined by 250 thousand baarrels, more than it had declined in the previous four years combined. Deep water wells in the Gulf of Mexico were keeping U.S. production relatively flat, but that may have run its course now. Brazil posted its first decline after twelve straight years of increases, a signal that Brazil may be near or at peak. Mexico had a modest 12 million bpd increase, but Mexican production declined by over 200 thousand bpd in the last two months. Combined with the announcement by the Mexican governement that Cantarell is in decline, this could mean that Mexico has now passed peak.

The overall picture for 2004 is one of an increasing number of countries rolling over into decline, while production barely kept up with demand through a number of one time increases that probably can't be matched.

2005 could be the year that demand finally overwhelms supply. If so, it could get interesting.

Friday, March 11, 2005

China's Rising Demand for Wood Threatens Other Countries' Forests[[Today's News Full Story ]]

China's astounding rate of economic growth is giving us a glimpse of how the rest of the World must have seen the United States' uncontrolled consumption of the world's resources in the twentieth century. Already China is the world's second largest importer of oil. If the Chinese has the same per capita consumption of oil the U.S. has, they would be using the entire world supply of oil.

Now their demand for wood is straining the resources of nearby countries.

China is now the second-biggest market behind the United States for timber, pulp and paper, but is expected to take over the top spot as its economy grows and demand for construction materials and furniture expands.

Increased Chinese demand could take a greater toll because the country is a major destination for wood that was illegally harvested or taken through unsustainable means such as by felling natural forests, according to WWF, formerly known as the World Wide Fund for Nature.

There are voices of concern in China for forest conservation, such as Zhu Chuquan, director of the World Wildlife Foundation's China forestry program who declares that; "China will soon be leading the global wood market. We hope that it will also lead the efforts to safeguard the world's forests."

According to Zhu; "The Chinese government has a high (degree of) commitment to the control of illegal logging. China also has a high-level commitment to doing responsible ... business with other countries."

All of which begs the question of limits. The acreage of forests to be harvested is limited. Demand can only grow for so long even under responsible policies.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The battle over scare water supplies has hit the corporate world as the citizens of Plachimada, an Indian village of about 30,000 inhabitants, denied the local Coca-Cola plant access to its groundwater to protect farmers in the area who were suffering from a lack of water.

This month, the high court of the state of Kerala will rule whether the village exceeded its authority in doing so. The case is being watched closely by other states where Coca-Cola plants are being blamed for using up badly needed water. In January protesters demonstrated against 87 Coke and Pepsi plants in India.

India has suffered from three years of drought combined with the growing demands of a rapidly expanding urban society. Water tables are dropping rapidly, a cause for major concern.

In Plachimada, the Coke plant uses deep-bore wells during the summer months to extract at least 130,000 gallons of water a day. Environmental activists put the figure three times as high. Furthermore, environmental activists claim that waste from the plant has leached into the soil, contaminating drinking water.

Legal experts say that the law is on the villagers' side.

"When it comes to local resources, the Constitution is clear that local people are the key stakeholders," said K.C. Sivaramakrishnan of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "That's the guarantee the Kerala courts have so far upheld."

Vanada Shiva, a New Delhi activist in the campaign against Coke claims that victory in Plachimada will have repercussions throughout India. "If they win, the fight will be replicated across India," she said.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

DOE Report on Peak Oil

The Department of Energy has always been among the most optimistic in forecasting future oil production. They were among the last to accept that oil production would inevitably peak world-wide and then roll over into decline. Even when they accepted this, they estimated the date of peak oil to be 30 years in the future, much more optimistic than what others were predicting.

Now a report by Drs. R. L. Hirsch, R. H. Bezdek, and R. M. Wendling has been completed for the DOE on the mitigation of world oil peaking. Among other things the report states that "Optimistic oil production forecasts deserve to be viewed with considerable skepticism" and that "World oil peaking represents a problem like none other. The political, economic, and social stakes are enormous."

The report states that, "Waiting until world conventional oil production peaks before initiating crash program mitigation leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for two decades or longer."

However this is exactly what is happening, particularly in the United States. The effort that has been made to find alternatives to oil have been on a state wide level at best.

The overall picture is bleak.

1. The date of world oil peaking is not known with certainty, complicating the decision-making process. A fundamental problem in predicting oil peaking is uncertain and politically biased oil reserves claims from many oil producing countries.
2. As recently as 2001, authoritative forecasts of abundant future supplies of North American natural gas proved to be excessively optimistic as evidenced by the recent tripling of natural gas prices. Oil and natural gas geology is similar in many ways, suggesting that optimistic oil production forecasts deserve to be viewed with considerable skepticism.
3. In the developed nations, the economic problems associated with world oil peaking and the resultant oil shortages will be extremely serious. In the developing nations, economic problems will be much worse.
4. While greater end-use efficiency is essential in the long term, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the oil shortage problem in the short term. To preserve reasonable levels of economic prosperity and growth, production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required. While a number of substitute fuel production technologies are currently available for deployment, the massive construction effort required will be extremely expensive and very time-consuming, even on a crash program basis.
5. Government intervention will be essential, because the economic and social impacts of oil peaking will otherwise be chaotic, and crash program mitigation will need to be properly supported. How and when governments begin to seriously address these challenges is yet to be determined.

The report is correct that the date of peak oil cannot be known with certainty, but several recent developments suggest that it may be sooner rather than later. Indonesia, whose oil production has been in decline since 1991, is now considering dropping out of OPEC because they became a net importer of oil in 2004. The government of Mexico has just announced that its largest oilfield, Cantrell, which supplies about half of Mexico's total production, has peaked and will produce less oil than last year. North Sea production is now in its third year of decline. The spectacular increase in Russian oil production, which went a long way in carrying the world through the last two years, now appears to have leveled off; production has declined for three months in a row. On top of this is the concern by a growing number of experts that Saudi Arabia may have mismanaged it's fields by pushing production too hard and may be close to decline itself.

If peak oil happens this decade--and some believe it may already have happened--it will hit the world economy like a tsunami of enormous proportions. And the U.S., which consumes a quarter of the world's production, will be hit the hardest.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich proposes green energy plan.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich used his recent State of the State address to outline one of the nation's most ambitious renewable energy prgrams, calling for Illinois utilities to generate at least 8 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2012.

The Governor's proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) would require 2 percent renewable energy from all electric utilities by 2006. The level would increase 1 percent annually to 8 percent by 2012. This would translate to some 4,000 MW of power generated by renewable sources by 2012, enough to serve nearly 1,000,000 Illinois households. At least 75 percent of renewable energy - or 3,000 MW - would be generated by wind power.

"While our energy needs continue to grow, we remain dependent on imported energy sources such as coal and natural gas to power our homes and businesses," Blagojevich said. "The Renewable Portfolio Standard proposal will increase our use of Illinois' untapped renewable natural resources like wind power. Boosting our use of clean, renewable, homegrown energy will put Illinois on a path toward greater energy security."

The Governor's Illinois Sustainable Energy Plan also calls for an Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard that would lead to greater investment by electric utilities in programs that save energy.

"Upgrading heating and cooling systems and replacing inefficient lights and appliances with less power hungry equipment will slow the growth of our energy use and help lower energy bills for businesses and families across Illinois," Blagojevich said. "Investing in energy efficiency will not only save money but will help prevent blackouts by taking pressure of the grid."

The proposal could generate more than $2 billion in investments in Illinois, creating about 2,000 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs. It has been endorsed by environmental groups as well as by Illinois' two largest utilities.

This project is a model for people interested in both renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas admissions. The state level appears to be where pressure can actively pay off.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Making the best of garbage gas

A new method of harvesting methane from trash dumps could yield a significant amount of methane gas. Methane is extracted from landfills by sinking pipes or wells into the landfill and sucking the gas out. But if the surroundings are not airtight, sucking out methane also sucks in air. This is not only difficult to separate from the methane; it also means methane production slows down. "You don't want oxygen in there because that would prevent anaerobic digestion," says Popov. In addition, oxygen reacts with methane, further diminishing the supply. As a result the only landfill sites suitable for methane extraction are those that are large and deep enough to restrict the entry of air.

But Viktor Popov at the Wessex Institute of Technology, in Southampton, UK, says simple modifications to existing landfills will make it possible to extract methane from any site. Popov's solution is to cover landfills with a membrane that prevents air contaminating the methane. The membrane consists of three layers: a middle permeable layer sandwiched between two relatively impermeable layers, which would probably be made of clay.

It is estimated that Europe alone has the potential to generate as much as 94 billion cubic meters of methane each year, which by comaprison represents about 5% of all the natural gas produced in the U.S. each year.

This is yet another part of the puzzle. There is no one solution to decline oil and gas production, but there are many little solutions that just might patch together to fill the gap.