The Obama administration lifted the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling on Tuesday, but it will be weeks or months before drilling resumes while industry and government regulators scramble to meet strict new rules intended to prevent another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.
The moratorium, imposed after the BP accident that killed 11 workers and spewed nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was a blow to the oil industry and angered Gulf Coast communities dependent on offshore drilling for jobs and income. Lifting the ban mollified some of its sharpest critics, but the debate over the economic and environmental impact of oil development in the gulf continues.
The freeze was intended to address lax safety and environmental regulation that contributed to the BP crisis. Department of Interior regulators have written new protective measures that they believe will allow offshore operations to resume safely.
“We have made and continue to make significant progress in reducing the risks associated with deepwater drilling,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in announcing the end of the moratorium. Therefore, he said, “I have decided that it is now appropriate to lift the suspension on deepwater drilling for those operators that are able to clear the higher bar that we have set.”
China is now the world’s largest energy user, overtaking the United States and accounting for nearly half of the world’s [increase in] oil demand, the head of the International Energy Agency said today.
“China is now the largest energy consumer by our definition,” said Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the Paris-based IEA. “Probably half of the oil demand increase comes from China. Nobody knows when it [will] slow down.”
Tanaka also said that Iraq, which has increased the size of its proven reserves by 25 percent, would change the oil markets for the better.
The place where the ocean’s cold deep water blends with the warmer water of the upper ocean is on the move due to climate change, new research reveals. Tropical corals in the western Pacific Ocean revealed that the depth where warm surface water and colder, deeper water meet, known as the thermocline, is getting shallower. The new study is the first physical evidence supporting what climate modelers have been predicting as the effects of global climate change on the ocean circulation below surface waters.
“Over several decades, specifically since the mid- to late-1970s, the records show that the mean depth of the thermocline has been getting shallower,” said study team member Branwen Williams, who conducted the research while a Ph.D. student at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Williams is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto in Ontario.
The thermocline’s upward shift may be due in part to a shift in a long-lived pattern of climate variability similar to the El Ni±o phenomenon, called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The thermocline shift in the 1970s coincides with a shift in the PDO from a negative phase to a positive phase, said Andrea Grottoli, a study team member also from Ohio State. During a positive, or warm, phase, the surface waters of the west Pacific become cool and part of the eastern ocean warms.
The U.S. military is undertaking a massive shift away from petroleum and other fossil fuels, and into a new clean energy future that relies on solar power, geothermal power, and other sustainable sources. Much of the activity is focused on large installations at military bases, such as a new solar array at Pearl Harbor and new geothermal facilities at Fort Drum. However, some of the most interesting stuff is portable solar power, designed for the high-mobility, energy-scavenging fighting force of the future. It can’t come a moment to soon, as witnessed by the logistical nightmare of trucking in conventional fuel to troops in Afghanistan.
Solar Power in a Shipping Container
Along with permanent solar installations at Air Force bases and the beginnings of a heavy investment in biofuel for fighter jets, the Air Force’s sustainability plan includes developing portable solar arrays that are designed to fit into standard shipping containers. To be built by Lockheed Martin, the solar-in-a-shipping-container concept is actually part of a larger sustainability program called Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources (BEAR), which is designed to cut fuel consumption and integrate more portable energy systems into mobile bases.
Solar-in-a-Suitcase for the U.S. Marines
When it comes to portability, the U.S. Marines have gone a step further than the Air Force. They have developed a solar array that folds into a suitcase for ease of transportation, called the Ground Renewable Expeditionary ENergy System “” GREENS, of course. The system consists of stackable solar arrays combined with rechargeable batteries, and with a steady output of 300 watts it can replace the small field generators currently in use.
Solar Power in a Backpack for the Army
Going the Marines one better, the Army has begun to use portable, flexible solar panels that can be rolled up and tucked into a backpack. The whole system, called the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS), weighs only ten pounds and generates 62 watts. The system includes connections and accessories that enable it to recharge many common military batteries, run electronic devices, convert AC to DC, and scavenge power on sunless days from wall outlets and vehicle cigarette lighters.
The military is beginning to develop “smart” microgrids for its bases that, like the REPPS, can adapt to multiple energy sources including solar power. TARDEC, the Army’s vehicle research center, has also developed a mobile microgrid system called the Electronic Power Control and Conditioning (EPCC) microgrid, which can run off conventional fuel as well as wind and solar.
US-based energy firm Bergamo Acquisition Corporation has partnered with an Indian company to set up 1000 MW of solar thermal power plants across India. Bergamo will hold 60 percent equity in the joint venture. The company has already selected six sites in as many states to set up the six 100 MW power plants. The company eventually has plans to ramp up the capacity to 1000 MW.
The joint venture’s first power plant will come up in Solan, Himachal Pradesh. The company would also invest almost $220 million to set up a consumer-cum-retail division to provide high quality solar products such as solar heaters and solar lamps. A facility that will manufacture these products in India will also be set up by 2011.
The increased interest in the Indian solar energy sector is the result of the Indian government’s plan of setting up 20,000 MW of solar power capacity by 2022. Under the National Solar Mission, the central and state governments will provide several financial incentives to investors who wish to invest in solar energy-based power generation.
In addition to tax benefits and guarantee returns on investments, the government has also set premium tariff rates for solar PV and thermal power plants which are almost six to seven times those offered to coal power plants. Therefore, several government-owned companies including the leading oil and gas companies have multi-million dollar investment plans in solar and other renewable energy technologies.
Solar panels, throughout their entire existence, have had the same issue over and over again: once the Sun’s light began to hit them with an angle, they became inefficient, so fixed solar panels were only great at noon. Soon after people realized that, they began constructing all sorts of contraptions that would modify the panels’ position so to face the Sun directly. The problem with the solar trackers is that they’re expensive. A solution to this problem comes from a technology already used in your auto-focus cell phone camera, which uses a liquid and electricity to vary the shape of the lens.
The principle is called “electrowetting” and the technology for using it in solar cells is being researched by University of Maryland scientists. Their “electrowetting-based dynamic liquid prism” focuses the light directly on the solar cells. It consists out of a thin liquid layer on top of the photovoltaic cell that tracks the sun without having any moving parts.
ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s experimental wing, which invests in cutting-edge green technologies, describes the electrowetting lenses this way: “The electrowetting effect controls the contact angle of a liquid on a hydrophobic surface through the application of an electric field. With two immiscible fluids in a transparent cell, they can actively control the contact angle along the fluid-fluid-solid tri-junction line and hence the orientation of the fluid-fluid interface via electrowetting. The naturally-formed meniscus between the two liquids can function as an optical prism. Without any mechanical moving parts, this dynamic liquid prism allows the device to adaptively track both the daily and seasonal changes of the Sun’s orbit, i.e., dual-axis tracking.”
An Israeli firm called R-Jet Engineering has designed a new jet engine that could lower the fuel consumption by 25%. Just like current jet engines are twice as efficient compared to those built in the 1960s, this one, if applied on commercial airplanes, could offer significant savings in fuel and greenhouse gases.
The principle of jet engines is the same, though: a compressor at the front sucks in air and compresses it, and then guides it onto static blades, which diffuse it, to allow for a better ignition when it is mixed with fuel and ignited in the combustion chamber.
The hot gases resulted from burning the fuel, besides pushing the aircraft forward, also drive a second turbine, connected through a shaft to the compressor at the front of the engine, thus allowing it to turn and provide uninterrupted functioning.
R-Jet’s approach uses an orbiting combustion nozzle (OCN) that turns with the compressor and injects air into the combustion chamber as a vortex. Blades that rotate on the inner casing of the combustor keep the vortex alive, and their swirling motion mixes the air and fuel to yield a better combustion. Then, the second turbine remains the same, returning part of the thrust to the input, to draw more air.
Beijing, China With an annual output of 464.9 TWh, Chinese wind farms would replace 200 coal fired plants, according to the joint report by Greenpeace, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA) and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
Over 2009 China’s 13.8 GW in new capacity led the world, working out at a new turbine every hour. The country’s total capacity of 25.8 GW is now the world’s second highest.
“China’s speed of wind power development is remarkable,” said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of GWEC. “In 2005, only one Chinese company was among the top 15 manufacturers in the world. Today, there are five.”
The report quantifies the potential contribution of China’s wind capacity by 2020 as equivalent to 13 times that of the country’s colossal Three Gorges Dam hydropower plant.
With aging power networks that were built in the 1950s and 1960s trying to deliver new sources of energy being as well has handle increased electricity demand, UK electricity regulator Ofgem says Britain will require a rewire that will cost £32 billion [pdf].
The £32 billion is just a fraction of the £200 billion that is estimated to move towards a low carbon economy and provide electricity to consumers over the 10 years. This estimate is based on funding new sources of energy (wind farms, nuclear, solar, gas), creating smarter networks and grids to connect these new forms of generation and supply the increased demand of electrical transport and heat.
In order to generate the funds it has estimated Ofgem has created an incentive based model. Dubbed RIIO (Revenue using Incentives to generate Innovation and Outputs), the model proposes lengthened energy price controls, incentives to encourage innovation and efficiency, intrusive regulation for poorly performing companies and an increased voice for network customers.
“The RIIO model will ensure that efficiency and innovation are hard-wired into the network companies. This means the benefits of the green economy, like more skilled jobs delivering smarter networks to allow householders to run solar energy and other types of microgeneration, will be delivered. However there will be no gold plating of the networks at customers’ expense.” said Ofgem’s Chief Executive, Alistair Buchanan.
Climate change policy is likely to be driven by regional responses before an international agreement is put in place, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said. “Instead of the top-down Kyoto coming down, we’re going to see it come up,” Odin Knudsen, the managing director of environmental markets at the New York-based bank and a former head of the World Bank Carbon Fund, said at a conference in Melbourne today. “We’ll break down to regional, and at some point later on, we may see an international, legally binding agreement. In the interim, we’ll have something like the Copenhagen accord, which will be the political commitment.”
At the Copenhagen climate conference in December, delegates were planning to finish a two-year effort to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which limits emissions through 2012. Instead, they clashed over aid to developing countries, pollution- reduction goals and how to verify individual pledges. No binding treaty was adopted. The next round of international talks is scheduled to start at the end of November in Cancun, Mexico.
Australia in April shelved climate change laws until after 2012 amid lawmaker opposition and a lack of action by other countries. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has established a multiparty committee to study options for introducing a price on carbon. New Zealand started an emissions trading system in July.
A climate change accord with three to four countries should be the focus, rather than trying to get 140 countries to agree on a binding treaty, Aldersgate Group Chairman Peter Young said in an address yesterday.