Energy and Global Warming News for August 26: Senators embark on climate change tours of Arctic; an oil field powered by concentrated solar power?

Alaska senator hosting climate-change tour

ANCHORAGE, Alaska “” Sen. Mark Begich says he’ll host four other senators on a “climate change” tour this weekend in Alaska.

The senators will see retreating glaciers, forests damaged by invasive species, and drying wetlands. They’ll also visit the North Slope to see the Prudhoe Bay oilfield.

The senators are Barbara Boxer of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Three of the senators are members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Boxer is the chair.

Begich recently introduced a package of seven bills dealing with the impacts of climate change in America’s Arctic.

A Solar-Powered Oil Field?

BrightSource Energy has broken ground on a 29-megawatt solar steam plant at a Chevron oil field in Coalinga, Calif.

The 100-acre project’s 7,000 mirrors will focus sunlight on a water-filled boiler that sits atop a 323-foot tower to produce hot, high-pressure steam.

For BrightSource, which has signed contracts to supply 2,610 megawatts of solar electricity to California utilities, the Chevron deal is a chance to scale up its technology — the company so far has only built a six-megawatt demonstration power plant in Israel — and explore new applications for its technology.

In a conventional solar power plant, the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity. In this case, the steam will be injected into oil wells to enhance production by heating thick petroleum so it flows more freely. Oil companies typically rely on steam generated by natural gas or other fossil fuels to maximize oil recovery in places like the oil patch in California’s Fresno and Kern counties, where the petroleum is heavy and gooey.

How delightful — using solar energy to extract more oil!

Chevron is an investor in BrightSource, a solar power plant builder based in Oakland, Calif., and solar-powered oil extraction offers the oil giant an opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint while gaining a hedge against volatile natural gas prices.

For BrightSource, which has signed contracts to supply 2,610 megawatts of solar electricity to California utilities, the Chevron deal is a chance to scale up its technology — the company so far has only built a six-megawatt demonstration power plant in Israel — and explore new applications for its technology.

“It’s potentially a very lucrative market for us,” said Keely Wachs, BrightSource’s senior director of corporate communications….

Two BrightSource competitors, Ausra and eSolar, are also eyeing the oil industry as a potential market for solar steam. Ausra, based in Palo Alto, Calif., last year flipped the switch on a five-megawatt demonstration solar power plant outside Bakersfield, Calif., and the company’s chief executive, Robert Fishman, said he had held discussions with oil producers about deploying the company’s technology.

UN’s Ban Ki Moon to see climate change effects on North Pole trip

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to visit a Norwegian island deep inside the Arctic Circle, near the North Pole, to see firsthand the effects of climate change, his spokeswoman said.”¦

He will receive “the latest update on issues related to the thinning ice and make his way to the polar ice rim,” he said.

After his visit, Ban is scheduled to head to Geneva to participate on September 3 in the third World Climate Conference, organized by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.

The UN chief, who has made fighting climate change one of his top priorities as head of the international organization, will host a high-level conference on the issue in New York on September 22, ahead of the annual General Assembly debate, scheduled for September 23-26.

U.K. Renewable Energy Project Sees Barrage of Power and Critics

The United Kingdom is weighing a single project that could carry it a long way toward a tough target: its commitment to generate about 35 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

On paper, at least, what is called the Severn Barrage will deliver a huge pulse of juice, roughly 5 percent of the nation’s requirements. And it would do that without production of greenhouse gases or related pollution.

Moreover, it uses Britain’s largest untapped source of power, the tidal energy of the sea along Britain’s 11,000 miles of coastline. It would make the United Kingdom the leader of a growing worldwide effort to harness tidal and wave power.”¦

Several variations of how to tap this energy are under study. The biggest — and most favored by the government — is a 10-mile-long dam or barrage that would stretch across the mouth of the estuary between Cardiff in Wales and Weston-Super-Mare in England. Tides passing through its 240 turbines would generate 8.6 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the equivalent output of eight large coal-fired power plants.

India Urges Rich Countries to Call Its Climate Change ‘Bluff’

Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) — India’s environment minister urged the world’s developed countries to call his nation’s ‘bluff’ and sign on to steeper cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.
India and China would have to “respond very positively” if rich nations such as the U.S. agreed to a goal of cutting emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, Jairam Ramesh said in an interview yesterday in Beijing, where he met with Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate-change negotiator.
Both India and China want an agreement at Copenhagen and shouldn’t be viewed as a “negative or obstructionist force,” Ramesh said.

“Both of us were of the view that we should be part of the solution,” Ramesh said. “We want an agreement in Copenhagen.”

India and China are looking for developed countries to share more carbon-reducing technologies with poorer nations and help finance projects, Ramesh said.

“For us, climate change is not just an environmental issue, for us, climate change is a development issue,” he said.

Favorable Political Winds Blow E.U. Turbine Producers to the U.S.

COPENHAGEN — It was a scene familiar to many a Western labor activist: manufacturing workers in a developed country protesting in vain the outsourcing of their jobs overseas. Earlier this month, workers barricaded themselves in Vestas Wind Systems’ wind turbine blade factory on Britain’s Isle of Wight to try to convince the company not to shut down the plant, dismiss 425 workers and move production to another country.

The only unusual part of the story was that the outsourcing location was not a Third World country. The blade manufacturing jobs were headed toward the United States. The global wind power industry sees it as its most lucrative future market.

Gas Capacity Is an Issue

Natural-gas prices have tumbled in recent weeks as investors worried that the industry is about to run out of storage.
But a new government report is expected to show there is slightly more storage capacity available than many investors believe.
The report by the Energy Information Administration, to be issued in the next few days, will show storage capacity rose by 100 billion cubic feet or more in the past year, according to EIA economist Jose Villar. That compares with an estimate by Credit Suisse for 86 billion cubic feet.

Climate change law to bring teeth to emissions mandates

China’s proposed climate change legislation will give the country more negotiating power in the upcoming international climate change treaty talks, and also make emissions control mandated by law, environmental experts say.

China is considering putting climate legislation on its legislative agenda, according to a draft resolution on climate change, which has been submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC).

“China will draw up new laws and regulations to provide a legal basis for combating climate change,” said Wang Guangtao, director of the NPC’s environment and resource protection committee.

The resolution shows good coordination between the government and legislative body in advance of the Copenhagen meeting, said Yang Fuqiang, director of global climate change solutions at environmental group WWF.

“Once the government signs the new treaty, the NPC will ratify it,” he said.

Wyoming’s Grousing About Wind Power

Wind power’s future in Wyoming faces a couple of hurdles””a small bird and a big governor.
First, Gov. Dave Freudenthal. He’s served notice that while the wind blows hard across the wide-open state of Wyoming, it’s not free for the taking. In a sharp speech before 600 industry executives, lawmakers, and conservationists earlier this month at Wind Symposium, he threw down a gauntlet .
“The fact that Al Gore likes wind energy is great,” the governor said, “but at the end of the day, we cannot end up with one industry compromising the economy of this state.”

Saudi Blasts American Energy Policy

The question of American “energy independence” clearly rankles officials in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil, who seem increasingly puzzled by the energy policy of the United States, the world’s biggest oil consumer.

In a short and strongly-worded essay in Foreign Policy magazine, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States and a nephew to King Abdullah, said that for American politicians, invoking energy independence “is now as essential as baby-kissing,” and accuses them of “demagoguery.”

All the talk about energy independence, Mr. al-Faisal said, is “political posturing at its worst “” a concept that is unrealistic, misguided, and ultimately harmful to energy-producing and consuming countries alike.”

[What? Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to lose its largest customer? How very puzzling indeed.]

Australian Senate Passes Renewable Energy Target Bill

Australia’s upper house has passed a climate change bill, effectively mandating a renewables portfolio standard that should establish a 20% contribution to electricity production from renewables by 2020.

The passage of the Rudd government-backed bill through the Senate came just days after parliament had rejected a separate, even more ambitious, climate change bill based on emissions trading. Nonetheless, the bill quadruples the renewable energy target set by the previous government in 2001.

Sweden to U.S.: Please Bring Climate Change Deal to Copenhagen

Washington might be preoccupied with health care and CIA interrogation techniques, but Europe is still counting on Congress and the Obama administration to help forge a global climate change treaty by year’s end.”¦

“You shouldn’t underestimate the expectations [President Barack Obama] has created in the world,” Carlgren said. “He’s created huge expectations. That is also something to take into account as we move toward Copenhagen “¦ We expect a comprehensive agreement.” The meeting is sponsored by the United Nations.

During the presidential race last year, Obama famously remarked that his election would be remembered as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Since taking office, however, his aides have sought to lower foreign governments’ expectations on climate talks – much to some allies’ frustration.

“My Chinese counterpart “¦ always uses America as an excuse not to move ahead,” Carlgren said. He suggested that “one of the best tools America has in its hand” to encourage China to join in “is to adopt a cap and trade system.”

13 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for August 26: Senators embark on climate change tours of Arctic; an oil field powered by concentrated solar power?

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Given her role as the Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senator Boxer is one of the politicians to whom I sent the information packet/DVD regarding ExxonMobil. Although she’s undoubtedly a busy person, I hope she has a chance to watch it. It contains great information that can help one “understand” ExxonMobil and that most people don’t realize.

    I also sent copies to Representative Waxman and Representative Markey.



  2. Sable says:

    the AP recently had a story about Brazil’s infatuation with vast oil reserves discovered near its coast. Apparently interest and investment in renewable energy has been pushed to the back burner in favor of drilling – even though the oil is very difficult to get at.

    Every time I’ve tried to post a link here, my post disappears – but if you google “Massive oil field has Brazilians eager to drill” the story comes right up.

  3. Dano says:

    In other words, a tour where you can see climate change from Sarah Palin’s house! Ba-da-BUM!

    Thank you. I’ll be here all week.



  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    Every time I see word of politicians (US or otherwise) doing “fact finding” trips to see climate change in action, I have to wonder what the heck is going on.

    Is this just a boondoggle–they know what’s going on before the trip, but they have a chance to go see something very few human beings will experience first hand (and have it paid for by someone else), so they go.

    They really don’t know what’s going on. I find this mind boggling, given the tidal wave of information they could have an aid locate and summarize.

    They know something is going on, but they won’t truly “get it” until they make the trip. Really? How good does your visualization skill have to be before you can learn everything you need to know from documentaries, still photos, written accounts, and live testimony? Any member of Congress, the Cabinet, etc. can call someone like James Hansen and get all the information he or she could want in minutes.

    It’s a political stunt to show the voters how engaged they are on an important topic, and also to support a green voting record against attacks from the wingnuts. “I was in Alaska/Greenland/wherever, and I saw it with my own eyes. This is real, it’s deadly serious, and we must take action.”

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    “How delightful — using solar energy to extract more oil!”

    Celebrate it. It says that even an oil company has found sunlight to be cheaper than natural gas. It’s a great PR opportunity.

    Plus it means more players in the thermal solar field – more innovation, more competition, higher manufacturing rates leading to lower costs.

    And when the oil field plays out we’ll have some thermal solar steam to run grid-connected turbines. And the NG pipelines will in place so that it can be a 24/365 hybrid site….

  6. Rockfish says:

    Solar powered oil field? Why not?
    The cost of extraction is a big hit to oil companies’ bottom line. If they can find a way to use “free” energy to produce their product it’s a Business 101 no-brainer.
    They can be secure in their anti-environment message because their use of the technology is purely profit driven. No risk of being booted from the club.
    I wonder why they haven’t done this before? Maybe they are not sure their oil fields will be around long enough to amortize the first costs?
    Anyway, if the oil companies want to subsidize renewable energy prototypes I’m all for it.

  7. Mike D says:

    Not to mention that if it works as planned, someone at Chevron might realize that CSP is investment-worthy. And Chevron has deep pockets.

  8. paulm says:

    Takes the cake.

    !A Solar-Powered Oil Field?

  9. dhogaza says:

    Is this just a boondoggle–they know what’s going on before the trip, but they have a chance to go see something very few human beings will experience first hand (and have it paid for by someone else), so they go.

    They want to focus the public eye on the great changes being seen in the Arctic. Their trip will get press coverage, will yield precious moments of network video coverage, newspaper photo-ops, etc.

    Plus, yes, they get to see cool stuff, too. I’m sure they’re aware of that.

  10. From Peru says:

    using solar energy to extract more oil!

    What a WASTE of energy.

    When one believe to have seen all for the greatest exploiters/polluters/lobbysts/liars , one always found that his thought is wrong!

  11. riverat says:

    What a great picture! The walrus sitting on the edge of the ice floe mushroom. I’m surprised it was able to support it.

  12. Cyril R. says:

    A solar powered oilfield, sure do it.

    It is a major advantage for a new energy technology to dock into high value markets where the advantages are valued highly and the disadvantages are a bit less of an issue. Like CSP in a remote location where getting natural gas delivered for heating is expensive and difficult. The CSP installation just needs to be transported once…

    These kind of high value markets allow real world manufacturing, supply chain, actor network, institutional, installation, and operational experience to improve performance and reduce cost.

    Going against large combined cycle gas plants or large coal fired plants is a very difficult market for new energy technologies. This is why new nuclear in the US is not very succesful…