Oil prices – the writing on the wall

The price of crude oil continues to rise. It has now reached nearly $100 a barrel, which is not unexpected, and I expect that prices will continue to rise. Most OPEC members argue that there is no shortage of oil and that the price rise is not alarming. Of course it is in the interests of any oil producer to charge what the market will bear for a commodity, which is both finite and becoming increasingly expensive to obtain in a world where population growth and economic growth requires more energy, and oil is a key source of energy. Continue reading

How do we plan for when the fuel runs out

I wrote yesterday about the conclusion of the International Energy Agency that energy demand will increase by 45% in the next twenty one years and that 80% of the increase will be by people burning more fossil fuel, most of which will be coal. We ought to consider this prediction in the light of the limited supplies of fossil fuel and uranium. No one knows exactly how much of these fuels is left but generally informed consensus is that there is less left than is being claimed. What can we do to protect ourselves from a fuel crisis? If we are to, we must act now, not in two or three years’ time. Continue reading

No credit crunch comfort on climate change

The credit crunch (or perhaps more accurately the confidence crisis) is closing down good businesses, putting people out of work and out of their homes and slowing down production of many goods and leaving most of the service industry not providing as many services. Is there an environmental silver lining? It may be that with less economic activity we can get those wretched greenhouse gas emissions down to a level that the planet can cope with.

Most emissions (by far) are from energy use and with less economic activity there will be less demand, so what do the experts predict about future energy use in light of the credit crunch? The International Energy Agency are experts.founded in the 1974 oil crisis to provide advice to 28 of the most prosperous nation on earth.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has studied, as it studies every year, energy consumption trends, what will happen to carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy consumption, tasking into account all existing energy policies, on the assumption that no new energy policies are brought into being. Its World Energy Outlook is published every year; it out to be read more widely as the Agency is a widely respected body whose studies are created without political motive and without any agenda.

The IEA now expects world wide energy use to grow more slowly to 2030 than it has projected in previous years. It expects energy demand to increase by a massive 45% by 2030 at an average growth rate of 1.6% each year. Fossil fuel will provide 80% of the growth of energy. In other words a 36% increase in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel, assuming that the fossil fuel mix is the same as at present.

The IEA foresees that large energy users in the developed world will be importing more and more natural gas and oil. The IEA has taken the present credit crisis into account in its calculations; otherwise its projected energy consumption would be higher. Out of the fossil fuels, oil will remain dominant, but the demand for coal will rise more than for any other fossil fuel, with the coal being used the generate electricity. The IEA points out that energy is subsidised in the twenty largest countries outside the OECD by more than $310 billion. Subsidising fossil fuel energy may be politically expedient in the short term but it is environmental terrorism.

The IEA forecasts a massive growth in renewables but the growth in energy created from this source is less than a fraction of the growth in energy from demand created by increases in population and increases in prosperity. India and China together will account for more than half of the increased energy use between now and 2030.

The Middle East alone will contribute 11% to the incremental world demand for energy. These increases in demand create a greater need for international co-operation in order to ensure that the energy supply routes are kept working. There will almost certainly be created increased competition for energy and with almost all energy coming from fossil fuel I shall expect very large price increases in real terms for oil, natural gas and coal, as more nations chase larger supplies, most of which will come from non OECD nations.

Certainly on the IEA’s projections there is little sign of any credit crunch comfort on climate change.

Oil will peak in 2020 and we should plan for it now

 Oil exploration is being affected by the drop in oil prices. Although the oil companies cannot turn exploration and an off like a tap, because of the time that new exploration takes, they can and are cutting down on significant new oil exploration, because they fear that it may not be economically worthwhile to invest in new oil development while prices are so low. Continue reading

Solar panel statistics energy gained and carbon avoided by solar panels

Solar thermal panel statistics are quite hard to find and when you find them you have to treat them even more carefully than you treat other statistics. The International Energy Agency commissioned the Institute for Sustainable Technologies in Austria to provide the figures for solar thermal installations and output in the world.

What is the big picture? What kind of role does solar in the world play in meeting the world’s energy requirements?  The big picture is that there are around 180 million square metres of solar collectors in the world of all types.

These range from simple rubber tubing to heat pools, through thermo siphon systems in very hot countries as a cheap way of securing hot water all the way through to large sophisticated systems that provide heat energy for large enterprises. Capacity is in excess of 126,000 MWth of heat each year spread over 34 million solar systems.  The energy produced is equivalent to 12.4 billion litres of oil each year which is about 75 million barrels of oil equivalent. This is just a bit more oil than the world uses in one day. Around 30% of the world’s energy comes from oil, so as a fraction of world energy use, solar thermal panels provide just a world solar capacity in Mwth, merely a few hours of one day in every year.

What contributions do solar panels make to carbon dioxide emission reduction? These solar systems save around 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. It is clear that the opportunities for using solar panels as a a form of renewable heat have barely scratched the surface of their potential.

It is interesting to look at figures provided for the United Kingdom, as at the end of 2006. Here they show that we have about 250,000 square metres of panels with a total capacity of 175.6 MWth in around 62,000 installations. These save the equivalent of nearly 12 million litres of oil and avoid 32,656 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Does that sound impressive? If we compare the UK to Germany we see that the UK is far behind Germany. Germany has 8,804,000 square metres of solar panels installed over 1,171,043 systems saving over 457 million litres of oil and 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

China does even better, as you might expect given the size of its population. There are 93 million square metres of panels, over 22.6 million installations saving 6,369,175,000 litres of oil and 17.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

As you would expect hot places like Australia, Israel, Greece Turkey and Cyprus all have many solar water heating systems. Some countries like Spain, Portugal, France and Italy have relatively few, but they are expanding their use of solar, growing at tremendous rates and all of them have more panels and are growing their use at higher rates than the United Kingdom.

 Some small countries are also growing solar very rapidly. Switzerland has nearly 50% more solar panels than the United Kingdom.  Slovenia has 50% of the United Kingdom’s panels installed.

Solar, form the figures is not just for traditionally hot climates; tiny Denmark has more solar panels than the United Kingdom, as does Holland. Virtually every north European country has more solar panels per capita than the United Kingdom. New Zealand has about half the amount of the UK.

There are I suppose perhaps only two possible conclusions to draw from these solar panel statistics. One conclusion is that the United Kingdom knows much more about solar panels than the rest of the world and that is why it does not encourage or incentivise them. The other conclusion I shall leave for you to draw for yourself.