Monday, November 10, 2014

Cellulosic Ethanol


The hand-wringing and soul-searching that has gone on at the US EPA regarding a proposed reduction in the amount of ethanol to be blended in the gasoline in 2014 is emblematic of a policy based on optimistic projections divorced from reality.

It began with establishment of the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) of 2005 with the desire to reduce the US dependence on imported oil and to reduce emissions of anthropogenic CO2. Ethanol could be considered a “carbon-free fuel,” since its combustion would only be emitting the CO2 the plant had used in the photosynthesis process. Ethanol is produced by the fermentation of sugar using yeast. The sugar may be obtained by expressing it from sugarcane, or by hydrolyzing the starches from crops such as corn.

In the US ethanol is produced mostly from corn, and there is an inherent attraction to the notion of growing one’s own fuel instead of importing it. An additional benefit of EPACT was that it provided US farmers with an opportunity to grow a lucrative cash crop and thereby support the farming industry. There was already a movement afoot in the US to eliminate the use of MTBE in gasoline, and using ethanol as an alternate oxygenate provided a straightforward mechanism to increasing the use of ethanol.

The EPACT required that 10% by volume of ethanol be blended into gasoline. The 10% level was in practice at many locations, and was found to work well with the existing automobile fleet. US gasoline consumption in 2004 was about 130 billion gallons a year, and that meant that ethanol production should rapidly increase from the then 3.4 billion gallons a year to about 13 billion gallons. The act spurred major investments in the biofuels industry, and the installed capacity for corn ethanol grew rapidly.

Over the next few years it became abundantly clear that production of corn ethanol required substantial quantities of fossil energy: fertilizers to grow the corn, diesel for the tractors and other farm machinery, and natural gas or coal for the distillation. Depending on the specifics of the farming practice and processing details the energy return on fossil energy invested (EROI) was found to vary between 0.8 and 1.5, which meant that corn ethanol hardly added to the total pool of energy, although it did provide a storable liquid fuel. Likewise, studies on the life-cycle emissions of CO2 from using corn ethanol showed that CO2 emissions could range between 0.7 and 1.3 times that of petroleum-based gasoline. In other words, greenhouse gas emissions could be marginally better or somewhat worse than petroleum, a far cry from the promise of being a carbon-free fuel. Moreover, production of corn ethanol competed for the land and water resources used for growing food or feed, and thus contributed to increasing food prices.

Ethanol can also be produced from lignocellulosic materials, and life-cycle analyses showed that cellulosic ethanol had a markedly lower carbon footprint and a more favorable EROI. The estimated availability of a billion tons of sustainably harvested lignocellulosic materials such as agricultural and forestry residues raises the potential for producing over 200 billion gallons of ethanol, sufficient to displace all gasoline consumed in the US.  

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) tried to aggressively promote the development of cellulosic ethanol by setting new standards for renewable fuels (RFS 2). Under it the total volume of biofuels would be steadily increased to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, which would correspond to 25% of the projected gasoline consumption. The larger fraction of blending would also require more flex-fuel vehicles that could operate with 15% or more of ethanol. To limit the potential conflict of food versus fuel and other negatives of corn-based ethanol, no more than 10 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol would qualify under RFS 2. Most of the rest would be made up by alternate biofuels, notably 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol. Commercial production of cellulosic ethanol in 2007 was in its infancy. The dramatic increase in the production of ethanol, from essentially zero in 2208 to 16 billion gallons by 2022, as envisaged under EISA is illustrated in the graphic below from the Energy Information Administration. 
 
The question before the EPA was whether to increase the mandate of ethanol as required by EISA, or to propose a cut to it in face of the reality. It issued a draft rule last November to cut the mandated volume of biofuels and opened it for public comment. The EPA has received more than 340,000 comments, and although it has made its final recommendation, as of this writing (Nov. 4, 2014) the final ruling has not been announced. Despite that, the mere announcement of possible cuts led to a drop in the price of corn, and many commentators hailed it as a win for Big Oil over Big Corn. However, the important issue is whether the nation wins—whether this action will help in achieving the original objectives of reducing dependence on imported oil and reducing CO2 emissions.

Given the very limited benefit of corn ethanol and the potential to do environmental harm and raise food prices, EPA had already capped its use to 10 billion gallons. The corn ethanol industry is lobbying hard against any cut back and also promoting the use of higher blends of ethanol. In the absence of cellulosic ethanol, that demand would be met by corn ethanol. Because the installed capacity of all the plants in the US already breaches the blend wall of 10%, higher blends will have to be permitted. The auto industry is opposed to the idea because higher percentages of ethanol in gasoline are not compatible with the fuel storage and delivery systems and could cause engine damage, and there are too few Flex-Fuel vehicles that can use the high ethanol blends.

The only reason for the EPA to stick to the RFS 2 mandates would be to keep the pressure on the advanced biofuels industry, but the installed capacity for cellulosic ethanol is so low that the law would end up penalizing gasoline vendors for non compliance with when there is no way that could comply. In any case, there is no justification to increase the use of corn ethanol.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Increasing Oil Reserves and Peak Oil


In public lectures that I give about global energy, I often note that since the writing of A Cubic Mile of Oil the global reserves of oil have increased, not decreased, despite the fact that in the intervening time (i.e., between 2007 and 2013) the world has consumed about 7.5 cmo. In this post I want to dig deeper and look at the changes that have brought about this paradox, and what it means for Peak Oil.

As I explain in the book, reserves have a special meaning refer to those geologic accumulations that can be economically extracted with the current technology. With the development of technology and/or changes in the price of oil, geologic accumulations that were once only part of the larger resource base may get transferred to the reserves. Focusing only on the reserves is apt to give a wrong impression about the total availability of oil. The chart below shows the historic data for the World Proved Reserves (blue line) from the 2014 edition of the BP Statistical Review of Global Energy (BP2014) .  Using the right ordinate I have also plotted the Reserves to Production rate (R/P) ratio (brown line). This ratio has the units of years, and it has often been mistakenly interpreted as the years to exhaustion.


Likewise, current price of oil largely reflects the immediate surplus or shortage of supplies, and reflects more on the conditions above ground (in the supply chain) than on the geologic endowment of the resource.
That said; let’s begin by taking stock of how the world reserves of oil have changed in the last seven years. According to BP2007 world reserves of petroleum in 2006 stood at 1,208 billion barrels (45.6 cmo), and that’s the number I used in the book. The BP2014 edition lists the 2006 reserves at 1,364 billion barrels (51.5 cmo), and the 2013 reserves at 1,688 billion barrels (63.7 cmo). The upward revision of 156 billion barrels for the 2006 reserves resulted largely from reclassifying about 160 billion barrels of Canadian tar sands from the category of unconventional resource to the reserves pool. Although production of synthetic crude from tar sands had already begun to be commercialized, BP did not include them in the World Total of oil reserves until 2009. To a large extent the reclassification was aided by the maturing of the technology, and also by the rise in the price of oil. In 2006 oil was selling at around $40/ barrel, and that price was barely enough to make Tar sands operations economical. By 2009 had already spiked to above $140/barrel; since 2010 it has been hovering around $95±10/barrel. Smaller upward revisions were also made to the reserves of Venezuela and the Russian Federation, while there was a downward revision of the Kazakhstan reserves (ca. 30 billion barrel).

The increase of 324 billion barrels in the global reserves between 2006 and 2013 as listed in BP2014 edition is largely due to Venezuelan oil. The heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt was very uneconomical to produce, but has been less so since 2009 and the reserves in the Orinoco Belt have increased by over 220 billion barrels (8.3 cmo). Iraq, Iran, and the US have also registered increases in the reserves of 35, 19, and 15 billion barrels respectively.  

The shale oil development in the US had received much attention in the media, but it is sobering to realize that its contribution to the reserves has been rather modest (<1.0 cmo). It has, however, had a more profound and immediate impact on the US oil production, which has increased by about 3.2 million barrels/day, whereas the Venezuelan and Iranian productions have each decreased by about 0.7 million barrels/day. Oil production in Iraq, which was close to its low point in 2006 following the Gulf War, did recover and increased production by about 1.1 million barrels/day. Total world production increased by 4.2 million barrels/day, and had the US shale oil not developed the world supply would have been much constrained, and we probably would have seen much higher oil prices.

The recent news of abundant oil supplies has once again called into question the Peak Oil theory. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold recently provided a nice perspective on why peak oil predictions have not come true. I agree with him on most points, but would quibble with him on the role of technology. He ascribes the increased production to the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, and places faith in technology to provide developments that will unlock further resources of oil. Perhaps just as important to consider is the price change, which responds more to the global demand for the commodity than anything else. Producing shale oil is not inexpensive; the cost can be upwards of $60/barrel. As mentioned above, prior to 2008 the oil price hovered around $40/barrel, and after some spikes it has been above $80/barrel since mid 2009; evidently the global market seems to be willing to pay this high price to support production of expensive oil.

Distinct from geologic and economic limits, which have dominated the Peak Oil debate, is the energy limit. I am referring to the energy return on (energy) invested, or EROI. It takes energy to extract oil, and easy oil—the kind that gushes out of wells can have an EROI values around 100, meaning that for each barrel of oil energy invested, the well produces 100 barrels of oil. Current global average of producing conventional oil has EROI of 20, while the more difficult to extract Alberta tar sands and shale oil have EROI between 5 and 7.

While it is true that oil may still be extractable at higher prices, oil ceases to be a source of energy when the energy required in recovering it exceeds what it can deliver. Now, there still maybe an economic incentive for continuing to produce a fuel from sources with EROI of less than 1 as long as the product fuel provides sufficient value—corn-derived ethanol is a prime example of that. I should note that I was incorrect in the book to say that once the EROI is less than 1, “there will no longer be an incentive to extract it regardless of price.” I should have said that oil ceases to be a contributor to global energy supply when its EROI drops below 1.


My Talk at UUCPA


This afternoon I was invited by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Palo Alto to give a talk on global energy based on A Cubic Mile of Oil. It was great to see many familiar faces and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion following the presentation. The slides I showed and many more that I held in reserve are available here.

During the Q&A I was asked how CO2 emissions from electric cars compare with those from a gasoline-powered car if one takes into account emissions associated with electricity production. I responded by saying that in general CO2 emissions from electric vehicles are lower than those from gasoline-powered cars, but it really depends on the specifics—particularly on the location because grid emissions per kWh vary considerable across the country depending on the fuel mix used to produce the electricity. Here is a link to a NY Times article that I mentioned during the talk. It shows the required fuel efficiency of a car to have emissions equivalent to a Nissan Leaf that is charged in different parts of the country.  As the graphic illustrates, in many parts the country the required fuel efficiency is in excess of 50 mpg, which is higher than the fuel efficiency of even hybrid cars, but in much of central USA, where a larger percentage of electricity is produced from coal, the required efficiency of 35 mpg is easily surpassed by many fuel efficient cars.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rise of Renewables in Germany


The release of the report Better Growth, Better Climate last week and the People’s Climate March just before the UN Climate Summit this week has focused much public attention on the climate change crisis. The report by the Global Commission on Economy and Climate chaired by the former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, and co-chaired the notable economist, Nicholas Stern, provides support to the notion that the actions to mitigate climate change are not expensive and will not even hurt the economy. Many commentators have used this report to buttress their calls for strong action to curb greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions by turning off fossil fuel power generation, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and using the revenues in alternate ways to help develop clean energy sources and grow the economy.

Writing in the NY Times, Mark Bittman, argues for developing small, decentralized, clean energy sources instead of projects like the Tar Sands and fracking. To further support this approach he refers to Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, showing Germany’s success in transforming its energy system, "Klein cites the example of Germany, which reached a goal of making about 25 percent of its energy clean and renewable within 15 years..." For the world’s 4th largest economy to get 25% of its energy from renewable sources would be truly remarkable. Unfortunately, Klein, Bittman, and others have conflated energy with electricity. While Germany now derives 25% of its electricity from renewable resources, these sources amount to only 9% of the total energy consumption.

Through the policy of Energiewende, Germany has made huge progress in installing renewable energy systems like wind and solar. Since 2005, the installed capacity of wind power has nearly doubled, from 18 GW to 34 GW. Solar power has had an even more spectacular rise, from 2 GW to 35 GW. While this is commendable, it also shows how hard it has been to get to the 10% mark in 15 years.


It is instructive to look at the numbers. The 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy lists energy use in various countries by the sources. The total energy use in Germany was 325 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE). The contributions of different sources in MTOE units are as follows:

Source
Amount (MTOE)
Percentage
Oil
112.1
34.5
Natural gas
75.3
23.2
Coal
81.3
25.0
Nuclear
22.0
6.8
Hydroelectric
4.5
1.4
Renewables
29.7
9.1

In converting the energy from sources that produce electricity directly, the BP compilation does not use just the energy equivalence (1 MTOE = 12 MWh), but allows for inefficiencies of thermal power sources and uses 4.43 MWh as the equivalent of one MTOE.


The International Energy Agency (IEA) also compiles data for various . Its data for Germany summarized in this one-page overview also confirms that renewable resources make up 11% of Germany’s primary energy consumption, and about 25% of its electricity production. Before we get too excited and attribute the 25% electricity to the rise of wind and solar installations, lets take a look at the breakdown provided by the IEA. About of half the renewable electricity comes from biofuels and waste (9%) and hydroelectric (3%); the remaining 14% are from wind (9%) and solar (5%).


Figure: Electricity generation in Germany, 2013: Renewables provided 25% of electricity, while coal still dominated with 47% and nuclear produced 15%.

The challenge of providing cubic miles of oil worth of affordable energy so people can lead healthy productive lives while curtailing greenhouse gas emissions to levels that make an impact remains wickedly tough. Cheer leading alone will not get us there; commitment and persistence are the watchwords.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Another trip around the sun



Last Monday, June 16, BP released its Annual Statistical Review of Global Energy, and it is an opportune time to gauge the progress made on the energy front. I am commenting on some salient bits that jumped out at me at first glance.
Total Energy. Primary energy use climbed another 2.3% in 2013, bringing the total to 3.7 CMO.  This value includes an estimated 0.3 CMO from biomass that is not covered in the BP reports. In Chapter 4 of the the book, A Cubic Mile of Oil, we had looked at various scenarios for future energy demand spanning several growth rates. Global energy consumption has been following the high-growth business-as-usual (BAU) scenario trajectory, which, if continued, leads to an energy consumption rate of 9 CMO by 2050.
Figure 1.  Energy growth scenarios.
The world has been implementing many measures to increase energy efficiency—light bulbs, appliances, automobiles, power stations etc. Nevertheless, since 2000, except for a temporary dip following the economic crisis in 2008, global energy consumption has continued to rise at. As we had pointed out, the BAU growth rate was based on the historic data since the 1960s; it subsumes a certain level of consistently improving efficiency. Thus, if we wish to bend the growth curve down further, we will need to redouble our effort to increase efficiency in everything we do. While the trend line has clearly diverged from the scenario corresponding to the 1.8% growth, it is still not too late for the future energy consumption to follow the green trajectory we had labeled “variable profile.” The good news is that global CO2 emissions from energy use increased only 2.1% to 35.1 Gt while energy use increased by 2.3%; global GDP increased at an even faster rate of 2.7%
The increase in a tenth of a CMO was made up by increases of 0.01 to 0.02 CMO in all the different sources of energy: wind and solar, hydro, coal, oil, and natural gas. Only nuclear energy remained flat.
Electricity.  Total electricity production, which comprised 36% of total primary energy, has grown to 41% in 2013. The increasing contributions wind, solar, and geothermal sources are shown in Figure 2. For perspective, the figure also includes a line corresponding to 2% of total electricity generated in each year. The sum total of solar, wind and geothermal exceeds 5% of the global electricity generation, with both wind and geothermal exceeding the 2% level.
Figure 2.  Electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources.
As wind and solar installations continue to get cheaper they become the preferred choice for new installations in more markets. The cost of solar panel has already fallen to about $0.70/Watt, but the total cost of installation is still above $4/Watt. Rightly so, greater attention is now being paid to cost of other components, including permitting and installation. We can hope that these costs continue to decline and make PV affordable for the utilities and their customers. Nonetheless, it is a long road to reach the scale of a CMO/year.
Oil Production. In previous posts (March 10 and Oct. 15, 2013), I had commented on the increasing oil production in the US. I was particularly surprised by the projection by the IEA that the US oil would soon surpass that of Saudi Arabia. Yes, there had been a recent uptick in the US oil production, but in 2011 the Saudi production exceeded that of US production my more than 3 million bpd. While this gap could be bridged in a few years, that would require a massive investment, which I had not seen, and also it would depend not only on US production, but also the response of Saudi Arabia to the rise in US production.
The figures in the latest BP Report show that the gap between the US and Saudi production has indeed narrowed.  In 2013 it was down to 1.5 million bpd. Here is the updated figure of the US and Saudi oil production and consumption. Incredulous as I was then of the IEA analysts, I am beginning to feel that they had done their homework and looked at not just the past production numbers, but also the investments made for projects that were already in the pipeline.
Figure 3. Oil production and consumption in the US and Saudi Arabia.
Writing this post reminded me of the time I was asked, back in 2008, if the US could replace all its coal-generated electricity with that from “green source” in ten years. Here is a short, 3-min video clip from that event.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Et tu, UCS!


In my last post I wrote about the erroneous conclusions one can arrive at by conflating greenhouse gas emissions reported as tons of carbon with those reporting tons of carbon dioxide. There is a factor of 3.7 lurking in there! It is unfortunate, but different agencies report ghg emissions in one or the other convention. Those of us engaged in analyzing their implications just have to be very careful. 

I would have thought that the Union of Concerned Scientists (Full disclosure:  I am a member) would not mix these up. To my chagrin, last week I ran across a report on the UCS website with precisely that mistake. The report uses the following infographic attributed to Information is Beautiful:1

Notice that the figure to the gigatons of carbon dioxide, but then uses the numbers corresponding to gigatons carbon in the colored rectangles. As I pointed out in my previous post CO2 emissions between 1960 and 2000 already exceed a trillion tons, and the 530 Gt figure in the olive green rectangle for emissions between 1850 and 2000 makes sense only if it refers to the weight of carbon only. The figure then switches to using gigatons of carbon dioxide in the dark green rectangle (380 Gt CO2 does correspond to the amount emitted from the use of coal, oil, and natural gas between 2000 and 2012).  It switches back to gigatons of carbon in the black rectangle for “our carbon budget.”

In the lower portion the diagram shows an olive green square with 31 gigatons for current human emissions per year.  This number does correspond to the total weight of carbon dioxide emitted from fossil sources in 2009. If all that is not problematic enough, the inforgaphic goes on to calculate the “time before we break the budget.” It does that by dividing the total budget of 500 Gt C by the current emission rate of 31 Gt of CO2. After allowing for a 3% escalation factor, the time remaining is extremely short, just 13 years. Had they used the same convention for the numerator and denominator the result would not be 13 years but somewhat longer.  If we assume that global ghg emissions continue rising unabated at 3%/year, the cumulative emissions would break the budget 35 years.  Still a relatively short time but perhaps not as ominous, because it gives us a fighting chance to implement measures to curtail ghg emissions.
_____________________________
1 When I clicked on the link to the infographic on the ucs website it took me to the original on informationisbeautiful.net.  I noticed that the figure there has been updated. It lists 1565 GtCO2 as the amount emitted between 1850 and 2000 and 405 GtCO2 as the amount emitted since 2000. The remaining budget though is only 860 GtCO2.  I do not know the source of that number.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Carbon or Carbon dioxide? It matters!


Greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions are often reported as tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent.  This terminology takes into account greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons which may be emitted in smaller amounts, but because of their higher global warming potential can nonetheless make a significant contribution to the total anthropogenic global warming gas emissions. The US EPA recently published a draft report on the inventory of the US ghg emissions, and the report can be downloaded from here. Below is a figure from the Executive Summary that shows the trend in emissions of the main ghg gases since 1990, and it reports the emissions in the units of tera grams (Tg) of CO2 equivalents.  
 Burning of fossil fuels, which produces CO2, is the largest component.  The drop in CO2 emissions in the last few years is notable, nevertheless it still amounts to roughly 5,000 Tg, which is the same as 5 gigatons.  Incidentally, global emissions of CO2 from the use of fossil fuels in 2012 were 35 gigatons.
On Feb. 13, Inside Climate News published a story on coal utilization in China on.  It contained the following attention-grabbing graphic.

The graphic reinforces the meme, “If only China would stop burning so much coal, we’d be fine.” Two important questions that this graph (nor the accompanying article) address are: (1) How many gigatons of carbon are the US and the OECD countries slated to emit during the same period? And (2) How many of the 531 gigatons of carbon already emitted were contributions of the US and the OECD countries.

Wait a minute, does the graphic say that the world has emitted only 531 billion tons since 1860?  I added up CO2 emissions since 1965 as reported in the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2013, and they totaled to over a trillion tons.  Now, the graphic does say carbon emissions. Perhaps it is counting only the weight of the carbon in the carbon dioxide emitted.  I can agree that under such a convention global emissions of carbon in the 150 years from 1860 to 2010 could amount to 531 billion tons.  If so, I have serious problems with the suggestion that China is slated to emit 349 billion tons of carbon in the next 40 years?  It doesn't seem very plausible.  CO2 emissions from China in 2012 were 9.8 gigatons or 2.5 gigatons of carbon.  Even a tripling of carbon emissions over the next 40 years would bring the estimate to about 200 billion tons of carbon.  However, if ICN switched to counting the full weight of carbon dioxide, the projected 349 billion tons number could make sense, but using different conventions in the same graphic would constitute a gross deception. 
By the way, over the next 40 years, the OECD countries are also estimated to emit 151 billion tons of carbon (i.e, 556 billion tons of CO2)!  Between 1965 and 2010, CO2 emissions from OECD countries, which comprise 18% of world's population, amounted to 153 billion tons of carbon, and I estimate that their contribution to the stated 531 gigatons since 1860 is about 300 billion tons.
The ICN article also highlights the air pollution caused by coal power plants and the respiratory ailments and premature deaths it causes. Unfortunately, coal will continue to be a major source of energy, and we need to burn it as cleanly as possible. Technology for producing electric power without emitting particulates and toxic gases from coal exists, and—unlike carbon capture and storage (CCS)—is not prohibitively expensive. In the US we are breathing easier, thanks to the Clean Air Act and the technical innovations it engendered for capturing the toxic emissions. People often bring up premature deaths in China caused by air pollution from coal burning as an argument against using coal; they do not cite the reduction in poverty levels enabled by the use of coal, nor the concomitant reduction in infant mortality.  Since scaling renewable sources like wind and solar or coal-power with CCS tpo a level that can have a meaningful impact is going to take many decades, we need to rely in the meantime on sources that can substantially reduce CO2 emissions such as natural gas and nuclear.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Water use for fracking exacerbating water shortages?


While fracking has helped reduce CO2 emissions in the US (see previous post), expanding the use of this technology is meeting a lot of resistance from many environmentalists. Some worry that cheap natural gas increases the challenge for wind and solar technologies.  Others worry about the fugitive natural gas that could quickly negate any benefits of the reduced CO2 emissions because of the 20X global warming potential of natural gas. Still other concerns have to do with ground water contamination, or just water use. A typical fracking well takes between 2 and 4 million gallons of water.  To help visualize a million gallons, picture an Olympic swimming pool, 100 m x 25 m and 2 m deep.  It holds 660,000 gallons, and so a million gallons is a half larger than an Olympic swimming pool.


A recent report by Ceres, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness among business leaders and investors about issues of climate change and water scarcity, asserts that water used for fracking was depleting water in arid regions and thus exacerbating the water shortage. This report attracted a lot of media attention.  The headline for the story in The Guardian ran, “Fracking is depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas, report shows.”

While it is true that water use in dry areas diverts the resource from other uses some quantitative consideration is needed to provide perspective.  As I read through the Guardian article, I found this bit of information: Fracking operations in Texas (the state with most frack wells) used about 48 billion gallons of water. 
Now, 48 billion gallons sure sounds a lot; and yes, Texas is pretty arid.  The question one has to ask is how much water does the state use? A little searching led me to the fact that in 2010 Texas used 22 million acre-feet of water, which translates to 7,168 billion gallons of water. In other words, all the water used for fracking in Texas represents just 0.68% of water used in one year! Pointing to fracking as the reason for the water shortage is clearly misplacing the blame.

Energy Forum at Port Metro 2050


I recently spoke at Vancouver’s Port Metro 2050 Energy Forum.  I talked about the need to reframe the debate of energy supply, and to focus on solutions that could either provide—or avert the use of—energy at the scale of about 1 cmo/yr.  The presentations are now posted on the web. My talk (about 30 min long) is in Session 1, and it begins around minute 36.  Too bad that in the posted video the camera just focuses on the speakers and not the slides they were showing.  The slides may be downloaded from the same site.  

The first presentation by Sandra Winkler of the World Energy Council covers the latest WEC thinking about managing the energy, economy, and environment trilemma. WEC lays out two extreme scenarios, dubbed Jazz and Symphony. The Jazz scenario is trade based, consumer driven, and focused on access and affordability It achieves growth through low cost energy and Governments facilitate GHG actions.  It leads to a rather high demand for energy by 2050 of 880 EJ (about 6 cmo). The Symphony scenario is government led, voter driven, and focused on meeting environmental goals and energy security. It includes a binding international agreement on curbing GHG emissions. Under this scenario, global energy demand in 2050 is 700 EJ (4.6 cmo). Either way, the global energy demand does not flatten, but increases by about 50% or 100% of current levels.
In the second session there are presentations about the measures maritime industry is taking to minimize its carbon footprint. Ginger Garte from Lloyds Register pointed out that about 40% of the fuel used on cruise ships goes to powering their hotel services, and 60% is used for propulsion.  Thus, there are opportunities for cutting fuel use by undertaking efficiency measures ranging from LED lighting, replacing sheets and towels only when requested by guests, and smarter management of distributing power to different galleys. She also discussed newer hull designs and coatings to reduce drag and improve the fuel efficiency of the propulsion system. The presentation by Lee Kindberg contains a startling bit of information. It was an an eye-opener for me.  She points out that while the carbon footprint for shipping a pair of sneakers from China to Europe in a container ship is 100 g-CO2, the carbon footprint for a 20-km car trip in an efficient diesel automobile to purchase it at the local mall is 1800 g-CO2.  Like she said, “Mode of transportation matters.”  And, I would add that one needs to be quantitative about these matters.

The final presentation in this set is by Storm Purdy from GE.  His talk focuses on the opportunity presented by the increased availability of natural gas in North America by the developments in shale gas technology.  Already it has allowed the US to reduce its energy-related CO2 emissions from a peak of 6.0 billion metric tons in 2007 to 5.2 billion metric tonnes last witnessed in 1992.  He also described the challenges to increasing natural gas production and installing the requisite infrastructure to handle the wider distribution and use.