Saturday, January 28, 2006

Resource Pressures

Back in 1980 Paul Ehrlich made a famous bet with Julian L. Simon. They bet $1,000 that five resources (of Ehrlich’s choosing) would be more expensive in 10 years. Ehrlich lost: 10 years later every one of the resources had declined in price by an average of 40 percent.

The wager reached legendary proportions among conservative economists and pundits. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute gloated that "Julian Simon’s views on population and natural resources are so triumphant that they are almost mainstream. No one can rationally look at the evidence today and still claim, for example, that we are running out of food or energy."

But now it appears that Ehrlich was not wrong, only two decades too early. Since 2000, the price of energy and metal resources have been soaring. Prices for copper, iron ore, lead, crude oil, and uranium have more than doubled in five years. Others have shown significant gains as well. The markets are signalling that we are reaching the limits of growth.




Iron Ore,

US cts


Crude Oil




1/80 2054 39.6 2592 28.1 1111 6584 35.63 16973 40 773
1/90 1528 38 2365 32.5 707 7056 20.59 6592 9 1294
1/00 1679 25 1843 28.8 471 8315 25.20 5926 9.5 1178
12/05 2250 39.4 4577 65 1120 13,490 56.47 6762 35 1819
% incr

over 1980
9.5 -0.5 76.6 131 0.8 104 58 -60 -13 135
% incr

over 2000
34 58 148 125 137 62 120 14 268 54

As Stephen Moore notes,

Among the many prominent converts to the Julian Simon world view on population and environmental issues were Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Despite howls of protest from the international population control lobby, in 1984 the Reagan administration adopted Simon’s position—that the world is not overpopulated and that people are resource creators, not resource destroyers—at the United Nations Population Conference in Mexico City. The Reaganites called it "supply-side demographics." Meanwhile, in the late 1980s, Simon traveled by invitation to the Vatican to explain his theories on population growth. A year later Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter urged nations to treat their people "as productive assets."

While I would contend that it is not so much population growth that is driving the problem as it is consumption, and therefore very much a western problem, the almost unbelievable naivety of the "supply side demographics model is going to come back to haunt us soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Spectre Is Haunting Europe

Enduring a record cold wave, facing cutbacks in natural gas supplies from Russia (wherre the temperature hit a record minus 30C, and with North Sea production in decline, Europe faces the possibility ofan acute, civilisation-changing energy crisis.

Britain is down to 11 days reserves of gas and facing business shutdowns if that disappears.

Author Jeremy Leggett says that part of him looks at the potential crisis and thinks "Bring it on." Such a crisis might stir the British government into doing something serious about getting off of hydrocarbons. But then he thinks about all the elderly who would die from the cold and he just feels sad. And angry at the government that talks a good game but does very little.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ocean Energy Surges in 2005

On January 14, 2005, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) issued a report that claimed that ocean generated electricity may be feasible in the very near future. This represented a significant step for wave technology as EPRI's membership comprises many of the nation's largest electric utilities which have had little interest in renewables in the past.

In April 2005, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), agreed to provide limited waivers from licensing to Verdant Power, developer of the nation's first hydrokinetic project in the East River, New York, so that it could install six project units and provide power to customers in order to test the project's capabilities in real-world conditions.

Both FERC and the Department of Energy have tried to explore ways to streamline permitting for hydrokinetic technologies in rivers, streams and oceans. In April 2005, at the behest of the National Hydropower Association, FERC convened a meeting of small hydro and ocean developers, resource agency representatives and other stakeholders to figure out how to expedite permitting without compromising environmental protection.

In February and March 2005 FERC issued several preliminary permits to two different companies to study tidal energy sites in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida. Also, the AquaEnergy Group, located in Washington state, continued to advance through the licensing process for its proposed Makah Bay Project, which will be located in the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary in the Makah Bay off the coast of Washington state.

Ocean technologies continued to advance beyond the United States as well. In May 2005, Ocean Power Delivery (OPD) announced a deal with an electric company in Portugal to construct the world's first commercial wave farm. The 2.25 MW project will be comprised of three of OPD's distinctive, orange sausage-shaped, Pelamis units. And in December 2005, Marine Current Technologies announced that it had received additional funding of 2 million pounds for its SeaGen project, which that same month obtained approval needed to move forward with deployment.

It was quite a year for new initiatives in wave power.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Report: China and India May Set the Stage for clean growth

A report by Worldwatch Institute claims that China and India may set the stage for a cleaner and greener earth. Christopher Flavin, director of the environmental research group suggested that;

China and India are positioned to leapfrog today's industrial powers and become world leaders in sustainable energy and agriculture within a decade. We were encouraged to find that a growing number of opinion leaders in China and India now recognize that the resource-intensive model for economic growth can't work in the 21st century.

China's world leading solar-industry already provides water heating for 35 million buildings, and India's pioneering use of rainwater harvesting brings clean water to tens of thousands of homes, according to the 244-page report.

Zjeng Bijian, head of China Economic Reform, an academic group, called in the report for "a new path of industrialization based on technology, low consumption of resources, low environmental pollution and the optimal allocation of human resources."

Flavin challanged the U.S. to improve its efforts;

Americans wondering why the price of oil is so high need only to look in the mirror. A new economic path is at least as crucial for the United States as it is for China or India."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Record for Organic Photovoltaic Cell

Global Photonic Energy Corporation, developer of organic photovoltaic technology for ultra-low cost high power solar cells, announced that the company's research partners at Princeton University and the University of Southern California have achieved a new record in an organic solar cell that is responsive to light in the near infrared range of the solar spectrum. NIR radiation is invisible to the human eye.

Organic semiconductors contain the ubiquitous element carbon and are capable of achieving ultra-low cost solar power generation that is competitive with traditional fossil fuel sources. Organic materials have the potential to achieve ultra-low cost production costs and high power output. The materials are ultra-thin and flexible and can be applied to large, curved or spherical surfaces. Because the layers are so thin, transparent solar cells can be applied to windows creating power-generating glass that retains its basic functionality.

Under only NIR radiation, the Princeton solar cell would appear to be generating power in the dark -- as the human eye is only sensitive to visible light.

"This latest device demonstrates that significant power can be harvested from the IR and near-IR portion of the solar spectrum.", said Dr. Stephen R. Forrest. "In fact, this novel approach has the potential to double the power output of organic solar devices with power harvested from the near-IR and IR portion of the solar spectrum. With this approach we are well on our way to power levels exceeding 100 watts per meter."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Architecture 2030

A new group called Architecture 2030 has launched a website calling for all new buildings, developments and major renovation projects be designed to use 1/2 the fossil fuel energy they would typically consume.
That this fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings must be increased to 60% in 2010, 70% in 2015, 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025 and carbon-neutral by 2030 (meaning they will use no fossil fuel energy to operate).

The group is sponsored by New Energy Economy, a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization. Their mission is to conduct research, and provide information and innovative solutions in the fields of architecture and planning, in an effort to address global climate change.