Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Converting From Electricity Heat To Gas Is Green Squared

Switching from electricity heating to natural gas could save a household $2,000 and cut pollution. It is a green-squared solution. I wrote a full post on this today, but I brilliantly managed to post the posting in yesterday's offerings. Take a look at the Tuesday, November 29th posts.

Shale Gas Is Not Stopping Renewable Energy Boom

I often hear both that the shale gas industry is fraudulent or a ponzi scheme and that it is so inexpensive, big and ubiquitous that it will kill renewable energy.

In fact, the shale gas boom is real and has coincided with a renewable energy boom that is growing in the USA and around the world.  Consider these recent facts:

1. Global investment in renewable energy power plants exceeded investment in fossil fuel power plants during 2010 ($187 billion to $157 billion according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance).

2. The International Energy Agency's 2011 Annual Report projects a global tripling of renewable energy  from 2008 to 2035.

3. The North American Electricity Reliability Council's 2011 Long-Term Reliability Assessment released just last week projects that renewables will provide 50% of the expected new generation over the next 10 years. Nearly all the rest will be gas, according to NERC. More on this in an upcoming blog posting.

4. US wind generation capacity will double between 2008 to 2011, increasing from about 25,000 to 50,000 megawatts.

5. US solar capacity will have increased 8-times from 2008-2011, rising from about 500 megawatts to 4,000 megawatts.

Just as renewables boomed, the shale gas revolution began in 2000, took off in 2007, and now accounts for about 30% of total US gas production. Did one cause the other? No.  Did one stop the other?  Also, no.

Both the IEA and the NERC 2011 Reports confirm that the next 10 to 25 years will see both renewables and gas continue to boom.  Will there be ups and downs for renewables?  Better and worse years for renewables?  Of course.  Will individual companies such as Solyndra fail? Absolutely.

Does state, federal, and global policy impact the growth of renewables and improvements in the technologies? For sure. Global public and private investment is pouring into renewables and that investment has already both grown substantially renewable production and improved renewables' competitiveness. 

The Chinese plunge into solar, for example, has been the single, biggest factor in dropping solar prices a great deal around the world. The falling price of solar is now inexorable and will hit the equivalent of $2 per watt installed by around 2016.

Are current soft US demand for electricity and low-electricity prices bullish factors for any sort of new generation, including renewables and gas? No.  But gas and renewables are uniquely positioned to grow, even in this environment. Moreover, as intermittent renewables grow to be more than 5% of regional grids, they need natural gas turbines that are ideal for firming electricity supplies. In this important respect, renewables and natural gas are partners.

Renewables are prospering and will continue to do so, because they are the cleanest source of energy, often the easiest to build, and because their costs are falling, while their productivity is increasing. New wind in the USA in good locations is right now as low-cost as a new gas plant. Increasingly sound economics is the strong foundation of the global renewable energy boom.

Rolling 12-Month Oil Prices Reach Record High

If you are wondering why gasoline is stuck between $3 and $4 per gallon or why the USA needs to use more substitutes for oil like natural gas and biofuels to protect its economy, look no further than this fact:

The Rolling 12-month Brent crude oil average has reached a record high of $109, according to calculations done by JBC Energy and as reported by Liam Denning in yesterday's Section C of the Wall Street Journal.

The previous record was $106, reached in September 2008, and was set right before the Lehmann Brothers bankruptcy triggered a massive financial crisis that plunged the world to the edge of depression and pushed oil prices to about $30 by December 2008.  Daily world oil prices peaked in July 2008 at approximately $147.

While today's daily oil price is well below the July 2008 daily peak, the average oil price over the last 12 months has never been higher.

The record high oil prices come at the same time that natural gas prices in the USA are at very low levels, with the spot market in the low $3 range and the January 2012 contract around $3.50 for a thousand cubic feet.

Shale gas has made natural gas in the USA a bargain and prevented a big, broad energy shock that would have pushed the US economy back into recession during 2011.  But oil prices are showing the impacts of steady upward pricing pressure, and our continuing oil addiction poses multiple threats to the USA.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Important Drilling Water Impact Study Updated

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has updated the report it financed that examined the water impacts of gas drilling.  The report had previously found 7 water wells out of 233 where bromide levels had increased in before and after drilling measurements.  Penn State researchers now state that 1 water well had increased bromide levels.

You can read a prior blog posting on this study on October 24th and an article about the updated report by Laura Olson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at

The original report also found no increases in methane levels in before and after drilling.

The New Yorker On Shale Gas Dumps Howarth Into Oblivion

Hooray for The New Yorker and its writer Elizabeth Kohlbert for not transmitting one more time Professor Howarth's junk science.  She writes: "Coal plants, meanwhile, produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as natural-gas plants per unit of energy generated.  In the end, the best case to be made for fracking is that much of what is already being done is probably even worse."

At least 5 studies (Carnegie Mellon University, Worldwatch Institute, National Energy Technology Laboratory, University of Maryland, and the Second Cornell University study) confirm the accuracy of her statement and justify her judgment for consigning Howarth to oblivion.  Kohlbert also could have added that gas power plants emit no toxics or soot that sicken and kill up to 34,000 people per year, according to the EPA.

The fact that coal emits twice the carbon on a lifecycle basis as natural gas certainly makes the environmental case for banning shale gas difficult. Indeed the United Nations for the Durban Climate Talks announced that the world needs to cut global carbon emissions by 53% below 2005 levles by 2050 to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Natural gas when it replaces coal essentially meets the 53% cut right now and not in 2050. To be clear I am not saying gas alone is the solution.  Energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, and more are needed in large quantities as well.

While Kohlbert gets the big carbon point and the big picture right that gas has impacts but  is much cleaner than coal (and oil), she is on the edge of getting some other important details wrong.  For example, she writes: " the absence of a rational energy policy, there's no reason to substitute shale gas for coal.  We can combust them both!" 

Kohlbert is apparently unaware that 231 coal units over the next 10 years are closing (see yesterday's posting) and often are being replaced by gas or that coal's national market share of power generation already has fallen from 52% to 43% as gas' has increased from 16% to 24%.  Two things are driving the move from coal to gas. 

The shale gas boom has created record supply and crashed the natural gas price, making it more economic than coal in many cases.  That is quite a reason to substitute gas for coal. 

And policy is becoming rational by requiring all power plants--including old, coal fired power plants--to meet modern pollution standards for air toxics, soot, smog.  The EPA's proposed air toxic rule is met by natural gas plants but old, coal plants without modern pollution controls do not.  The EPA's proposed air toxic rule is creating a level economic playing field for all power generators and is indeed rational policy that requires power plant owners to invest in modern pollution controls or switch to gas and other power generation that meet the rule.

Kohlbert will be having a live chat tomorrow at 3pm so perhaps some of you can dialogue with her then.

Converting From Electric Heat To Gas Is Green Squared

Saving lots of money and preventing lots of pollution--a Green Squared solution--is becoming more and more possible.  Energy efficiency investments typically do both for example. Driving a natural gas fueled vehicle  is another Green Squared solution. So is converting from electricity to natural gas for heating.

In the PECO service territory (the Philadelphia area), where 140,000 customers use electricity for heat, the savings right now are 40% to 50%, according to a great column by Jeff Gelles in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Those percentage savings convert to about $850 per year for a typical customer in the Philadelphia area and amount to lots of extra green in the wallet.

Moreover the savings of switching to gas probably will increase, because the old, subsidized rate for electricity heating that was established when electric utilities had a state-granted monopoly on generating power is ending.

Moreover switching from electricity to gas typically cuts pollution, because modern home gas furnaces are 90% to 95% efficient in converting gas to heat, while gas-fired power plants are about 50% efficient and most coal plants are just 33% efficient in converting fuel to power.  It just takes much more fuel at a power plant to produce usable heat than a home furnace requires.  Moreover, roughly 8% of the electricity that is generated at a power plant is lost when it is transmitted from the power plant to the home.

Converting from electric heat to gas is green squared.

Renewable Electricity Investment Exceeds Fossil Fuel Plants

The historic energy transformation to renewable energy passed another global milestone in 2010.

Global investment in renewable energy power plants exceeded the amount invested in fossil fuel power plants during 2010, according to a November 25th Report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In fact substantially more was invested in renewable energy than fossil fuel power plants.  Last year, $187 billion were spent on building renewable energy power plants and $157 billion on fossil fuel plants.

This amazing transformation in global power plant investments from fossil fuels to renewables is not likely to reverse itself, with fossil fuel investments regaining its once normal domination over renewables. For example, the global wind industry built 38,000 megawatts in 2010 and will build 43,000 in 2011, and 48,000 megawatts in 2012. Up, up, up. More than a 25% rise in the annual amount built in three years.

The growing investment in renewable energy also starkly refutes the claims made by some that shale gas would stop renewable energy investment. Shale gas is displacing primarily coal and oil, but renewable installations are booming. Better still the renewables boom is fueling itself by driving down the costs of renewables and increasing the productivity of especially wind and solar equipment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Honda Civic CNG Wins Big Green Award

A panel of judges that included three top environmental leaders picked the natural gas Honda Civic as the 2012 greenest car.
The 2012 Honda gas Civic won the prestigious green car award at the Los Angeles Auto Show prior to Thansgiving. The 5 judges for the award included Carl Pope (until recently the Chairman of the Sierra Club); Frances Bernanke (President of the NRDC); and Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society.

The Honda natural gas Civic is the cleanest car running on an internal combustion engine, according to the EPA. At the LA Auto Show, it beat for the top award the Ford Electric Focus, the Mitsubishi I, Prius V, and Volkswagen Passat TDI.

The car costs $26,155, refuels in 5 minutes, runs clean and cheap. Gasoline costs about $1.50 to $2.00 more per gallon than natural gas. The car is also made at a factory in Greensburg, Indiana and will be available this December at Honda dealers in 36 states.

While producing natural gas has environmental impacts, using more natural gas to displace coal and oil has environmental, health, economic as well as national security benefits. The Honda Civic CNG is just one example of how using natural gas benefits the environment.

Weekly Facts Rodeo

This week's Facts Rodeo begins with:

1. The real possibility that the Euro could collapse gave US stocks their worst Thanksgiving week since 1942, with declines around 4.8%. Feeling helpless in the global economy?

2. Apparently not everybody is. Black Friday retail spending reportedly hit a record at $52 billion.

3. More than 14 million mortgages are "underwater" in America, meaning the mortgage debt exceeds the value of the property mortgaged.

4. About 10 million gas leases have been signed by landowners across the country.

5. Republican voters favored Gingrich over Romney 49% to 39% in a head-to-head contest, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

6. The New Hampshire primary is January 10th, and the famous, influential, and hard-right Manchester Union Leader endorsed Gingrich over Romney, a resident of New Hampshire. Iowa caucus is January 3rd.

7. Eagles season effectively came to an end, with the 7th loss, proving again that bad defense makes for a losing team.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Updated: NYT Gas Reporter Strikes Again

Is gas drilling causing banks to incur mortgage losses? Are the approximately 10 million natural das drilling leases a threat to the repayment of mortgages? Are banks "increasingly" refusing to write mortgages if gas leasing has taken place on a property?

The notorious NYT gas reporter has another article at page A16 in today's NYT, saying directly or implying affirmative answers to those questions. No doubt the NYT gas reporter is powerful and causes a flurry of political and regulatory activity whenever he is given space in the NYT. Today's article is another self-congratulatory piece documenting how high various regulators and politicians have jumped in response to his piece arguing that gas drilling puts mortgages at risk.

Just one problem exists with the premise-- gas drilling creates the risk of mortgage loan losses--of this latest "great" investigative reporting. The NYT gas reporter is totally wrong. Who would have ever thought that this next Upton Sinclair (in his own mind) could be wrong, given his impeccable track record of error and manipulation?

I am willing to bet that gas leasing actually is associated positively with the repayment of mortgages and negatively with mortgage defaults. This nation is in the middle of a tsunami of mortgage foreclosures, and virtually none result from gas leasing or drilling. Indeed, the money produced for landowners and mortgage debtors has enabled millions of mortgages to be repaid, when lots would not have been, but for the gas revenues.

Every bank that has issued a mortgage should pray that their debtors have gas leases and better still royalty checks.

Driving A Volt

Thanksgiving Day was the first time I drove about 10 miles fully on electricity. I did so in my sister and her husband's Chevy Volt, and I thank General Motors for pushing forward auto technology.

My previous approximately 600,000 miles of driving since 1973 were all fueled with gasoline, blended with ethanol in the last few years, and mainly in hybrids since 2005. The Prius that I often drive "idles" on electricity and runs on electricity at very low speeds.

The Volt in all electricity mode is a joy to drive--great acceleration, quiet, comfortable, and saving about 10 cents every mile.

The Volt comes with a 25-foot extension cord, an electric charging port, and gasoline tank. It can charge in 10 hours from a 110 household outlet, 4 hours from a 220 outlet, and travel on just electricity for 38 to 40 miles. It is the perfect commuter car but with the ability to go on long trips.

The Volt's total range with the gasoline engine is about 320 miles. Great car! It is one more practical way to break our addiction to oil.

Turkey Day Facts

Yesterday, 46 million turkeys were the center of culinary delight. About 26 million turkeys were cooked in electric ovens, and the rest prepared mainly with natural gas, according to

So how much did it cost to cook a turkey in an electric oven?

According to TXU electric utility, about 8 kilowatt-hours were required to cook each turkey for 4 hours. Most residential customers pay between 9 and 14 cents per kilowatt-hour so the turkey cooking cost typically between 82 cents and $1.12.

In Hawaii cooking a turkey cost $2.40 where each kilowatt-hour costs 30 cents.

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving and reflects just a moment on its origin as a national holiday, when President Lincoln made it one at the end of 1863, in an effort to unify all Americans, by reminding us all of our blessings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stunning Fact: China Consumes 50% of World's Coal

The scale of development in China is breathtaking and so many energy facts underline it. For example, the International Energy Agency ( reports that China consumes 50% of the world's coal.  China is 20% of the world's population and the largest total energy consumer.

It is also currently building an incredible 27 nuclear plants.

Energy Growth Slowing Sharply Around The World

World population reaches 7 billion people, Chinese energy demand is soaring, and the impression created is that global energy demand is growing rapidly. Not so fast actually.

While global energy demand is rising, the growth rate is slowing significantly.  For the last 27 years, world energy demand rose by 2% per year and is projected to increase by 1.4% per year from 2008 to 2035, even if there are no changes to current energy policies, including to the massive subsidies of fossil fuel and electricity consumption, that range from $300 billion to $500 billion per year.  Those numbers come from the International Energy Agency and its 2011 report (

Put another way IEA is projecting a 30% decline in the global growth rate for energy.  Indeed the IEA projects a 40% decline to an annual growth rate of 1.2% in its New Policies scenario in which the IEA models the impacts of declining fossil fuel subsidies and other policy changes.

To be sure, even with a 1.2% annual growth rate, global energy demand increases by 36% from 2008 to 2035.  That is a substantial amount of new energy production that will be required and the IEA projects that fossil fuels and non-fossil fuels will each provide 50% of the new, incremental demand.  But the slowing of the world's energy growth rate is a significant change in a fundamental world energy fact that warrants close watching.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wind Taxes Provide Annual Check To All Households In County

We have all heard about the Alaska oil check or the annual payment to every Alaska household financed by taxation of oil production.  How about the wind check?

In Sherman county, Oregon,  the wind check or the annual payment to every household of the county financed by taxation of wind production arrives in the mail. See   This year's payment is 590 people.  The household payments are part of the $9 million per year the wind industry pays to Sherman county in taxes.  Payments will continue until at least 2025.

Wind tax revenues have also paid for a new public library, county-wide high speed internet service, a $1million  building to house the Oregon State Cooperative Extension Service, and increasing the Sheriff's department from 4 to 5 officers.

Sherman county is home to twelve wind farms and 550 wind turbines with 1,000 megawatts of electric generation capacity or 2% of America's soon 50,000 megawatts of wind generation. The county wanted literally to spread the wind wealth in order to make every county resident a winner in the wind boom, since hosting even clean wind turbines is not without impacts.

In addition to wind, Sherman county is known for wheat farming. Most of the 12 wind farms are located on wheat farms, with some farmers having 30 turbines on their property.  Wind companies typically pay $6,000 per turbine per year to lease property for the turbines.

High wheat prices and wind power have helped to make Sherman county the second wealthiest in Oregon, with per capita income of $41,049.  Sherman county is part of  America's wind energy boom that is bringing enough clean energy to supply 13 million homes, creating more than 100,000 jobs, and new wealth to rural landowners and communities in more than 30 states.

The continuing attacks on wind power from various quarters must seem strange to the 1753 residents of Sherman county where wind energy is making better the county and America.

Monday, November 21, 2011

San Fran Area Installing 300 EV Chargers & Leaving PA Behind

Pennsylvania should be a world leader on both electric and natural gas vehicles.  But instead the world is getting a jump on us in breaking the addiction to oil.

The San Francisco Bay area understands the value of being on the cutting edge of technology development and adoption. It is now determined to be the world leader in electric vehicle deployment and so is moving forward with public-private partnerships to install 300 public electric vehicle charging stations. A CEO level "EV Strategic Council" is leading the roll out of EV infrastructure and has a goal of 100,000 electric vehicles on the road in the region by 2015. See

A total of 12 counties in Northern California are also writing EV strategic plans to map out fueling infrastructure and resolve other issues needed to make the regional area an EV world leader.

These communities with much less comparative advantages to break the addiction to oil are leaving Pennsylvania behind.  For what are we waiting?

2011 Gas Generation Grows Slowly Nationally; Jumps In PA

To understand the incredibly low natural gas prices of 2011, look no further than the combination of massive increases in shale gas production and a small rise in natural gas generation.  Supply of natural gas is outstripping its demand in large part because the nation is slowly, slowly increasing the use of natural gas to generate electricity.

Through the first 8 months of 2011, natural gas generation increased just 2.1% nationally compared to the same period in 2010 (all data taken from the latest EIA monthly report at Overall generation from all sources grew 0.5% in 2011 through August compared to 2010 so natural gas generation's growth exceeded the growth of the total generation market. Yet, considering the low, low natural gas prices of 2011, national increases in natural gas generation are minimal.

But in Pennsylvania 2011 natural gas generation increased by 32.6% or 6.88 billion kilowatt-hours through August compared to 2010. Pennsyvlania had the second highest absolute increase in natural gas generation of any state, beating Florida's increase, and only exceeded by the gas generation rise in Texas.

The large increase in natural gas generation in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida were more than offset by big decreases in California, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. Record precipitation on the Pacific coast had hydro power increase more than 30% nationally and displaced considerable gas generation.

A small 2% increase in natural gas generation to date in 2011 will keep downward pressure on natural gas prices. The gains for natural gas generation, though slow and small in anyone year, have been taking place every year for more than 20 years and are adding up. America got 12% of its electricity from gas in 1990 but will get close to 25% in 2011, a substantial increase in the demand for gas to make electricity.  But the shale gas revolution is increasing gas supply at a faster rate and in bigger amounts.

Weekly Facts Rodeo

Those living in this great land, even during difficult times, have much for which to be thankful during this Thanksgiving week.  While some may recoil in near horror from the political process, democracy itself is one of those things.  As Winston Churchill said about democracy, it is the worst possible system until all the alternatives are considered. The health of any democracy rests on the degree of civic engagement, the quality of leadership, and regular voting.

1. The Iowa caucuses that begin the selection of the most important, powerful official in the world are just 6 weeks away.

2. The battle for the Republican nomination remains in flux, with both Paul and Gingrich surging and Romney falling in New Hampshire in the latest poll from the Granite state. There Romney leads Gingrich 29-27, with Paul at 16%.  In Iowa, Cain and Paul both hover around 20% and lead narrowly Romney.

3. How informed are voters as they prepare to select a President? Just 12% of voters know that taxes have declined since President Obama took office, according to an ABC poll.

4. A family of four with median income is paying less in federal taxes than in 1955.

5. While taxes are down, total energy production in the USA is rising to record levels. The USA will almost certainly produce a record amount of natural gas in 2011 and produce more gas than any nation.

6. Temperatures continue to rise, with NOAA saying that August 2011 was the second hottest month ever in America.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ron Paul Surges & Creates 2 GOP Nightmares

One of America's great political characters is living his dream by running for President and seeing growing support.  Congressman Ron Paul is surging and creating the scenarios of a brokered Republican Convention, with Paul as kingmaker, or a Ron Paul independent campaign for President.

Both scenarios are nightmares for the Republican party establishment but are growing in probability as Gingrich surges, Romney holds steady at about 20% -25% support, and Paul shows signs of expanding his support from a fringe 10% to a pivotal 20%.

New polls this week put Ron Paul at 19% of the vote and in a statistical tie with Herman Cain for the lead in Iowa as well as in third place in New Hampshire with 16% of the vote.  While Cain is still polling well, I will voice conventional wisdom and say that the last 2 weeks have been devastating for Cain, and his poll numbers will soon follow the trail to the bottom blazed by Governor Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann.

Paul's polling numbers, however, are not a fluke and reflect millions of dollars being spent on television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, a real ground game of supporters that are being professionally organized, a candidate that is showing up everywhere in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the benefits of his 2008 campaigns in both of these states.

Paul's surge coincides with Congressman Gingrich's rise that has now destroyed Governor Romney's once secure lead in New Hampshire. After having a 20 point lead in New Hampshire for most of this year, Romney this week has 29%, Gingrich 27%, Paul 16% and Cain 10%, according to the most recent poll done for the New Hampshire Journal.  The decline of Romney in New Hampshire is hugely important and surprising, since if Romney cannot lockdown New Hampshire, then Romney cannot lockdown the nomination for many months or win it ever.

With just 6 weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd, a wide range of outcomes are realistically possible from Romney winning both Iowa and New Hampshire with about 30%-35%; to Gingrich winning; or Ron Paul winning at least one of the contests.  While for Mitt Romney the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses are almost do or die, since Romney has decided to compete fully in Iowa and is ramping up his campaign there for a sprint to the finish, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire will end Ron Paul's campaign for the Republican nomination or begin a possible independent run. 

Ron Paul will compete in every state at least through early April, drawing often about 20% of the vote, and creating a real possibility of a three-way splintering of the Republican convention delegates between Romney, now probably Gingrich as the main anti-Romney conservative, and himself.  Ron Paul' s success may create a choice for him. 

Does Paul go to the Republican convention as kingmaker of the Republican party or run for President  as an independent, something that he has repeatedly refused to rule out?  It is hard to imagine a Republican convention, with Ron Paul in the role of kingmaker, that nominates Romney, and it is near impossible for Romney, even if he wins the nomination, to win the Presidency, with Ron Paul running as an independent.

Ron Paul will not be the next President of the United States, but he may decide both who will be the Republican nominee and who will win the 2012 general election.  That outocme would not be Ron Paul's dream come true, but it would be a nightmare for the Republican party.

Friday, November 18, 2011

MUST READ: World Record For Wind Power Set In Colorado

How much electricity can wind power provide in a utility system? It is a question for which the answer is changing with improving technology.

From 4 to 5 in the morning of October 6th, wind provided 55.6% of the electricity consumed by the 1 million customers of the Xcel utility in Colorado, according to the Denver Post. The 55.6% mark establishes a new world record, surpassing a 53% wind power level set in Spain during 2009.  Higher wind penetrations are made possible by both better wind technology and natural gas plants that support grid operations--a true marriage of gas and renewables.

The Denver Post also reports that Xcel that operates in 8 states is adding another 200 megawatts of wind energy to its 3,400 megawatts, making Xcel the nation's top wind producing company.

Proving again that the price of wind power is falling to incredibly competitive price points, Xcel will  buy the latest 200 megawatts of wind at $27.50 per megawatt-hour (2.75 cents per kilowatt-hour) from NextEra Energy. No gas or coal plant could compete with that price which is the lowest price for wind Xcel has ever paid.

The average price for wind that Xcel has paid since 2007 is $42.16 per megawatt-hour, a bargain price itself.  We all have friends who have drank the Kool Aid of bashing green energy.  Perhaps these price points just might make some of them to start thinking once more. 

NYT Sunday Magazine Focuses On The Good & Bad Of Gas Production

The NYT Sunday Magazine has an article entitled, "The Fracturing of Pennsylvania," by Eliza Griswold.

The article tells the story of the natural gas boom by writing about a few people and their lives in Washington County, Pennsylvania. This anecdotal account puts a bright light on both the positive impacts as well as the environmental challenge of natural gas production.

The piece describes the jobs, income, wealth created by gas that have made the lives of many much better. It also describes the substantial health problems of one family that may be the result of drilling pollution possibly coming from a nearby pit that stored drilling wastewater.

The article raises troubling questions about the pit and the use of such pits. It is not clear to me whether the pit that is a focus of the story remains open or has been closed.

Maximizing the benefits of natural gas production and minimizing its impacts by continuously improving regulation and operations must be done. It requires commitment and vigilance.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Renewables Boom Is Recent And Sustainable: Why?

In all its forms--hydro, ethanol, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, biodiesel--renewable energy will likely in 2011 provide more energy than nuclear power in the USA.  It is a big, booming business.

But the boom is recent, with a bit of growth starting in 2005, and then a rapid acceleration of renewable energy production commencing in 2007. Most of the sharp gains in renewable energy production have been since 2007.  For example wind generation will double from 2008 to 2011.  Solar generation will quadruple from 2009 to 2011.  Ethanol production is up sharply in the last 3 years.

According to the EIA, US renewable energy production has increased from 6 guadrillion British Thermal Units to 8 quadrillion from 2005 to 2010. That is a whole lot of energy, with growth continuing in 2011, and without which US consumers would be paying more for energy, imports up, pollution up, and jobs down.

By contrast, from 2000 to 2004 the amount of renewable energy actually stagnated, with even declines in some years.

What triggered the boom?

The combination of federal policies like the Renewables Fuel Standards and production tax credits for renewables as well as state renewable energy portfolio standards and similar policies around the world attracted significant private investment that drove economies of scale and innovation, creating a US and global boom in renewable energy.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance puts global renewable investment at $195 billion per year and projects that it will more than double over the next decade.

Certainly concern about loading the atmosphere with heat trapping gas and other pollutants from traditional energy sources partly is driving policy. But also there is an international economic race underway to win jobs and investment by gaining market share through the entire renewable energy supply chain.

While policy remains important, the boom is now fueling itself.  It is lowering costs, with wind and solar declines being remarkable and increasing power production, and building further momentum. US and global government support for renewables is being repaid with production of already large, still increasing amounts of cleaner energy and declining costs for the technologies producing it. 

Government policy is actually working.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Gas Drilling Poll Warns Environmentalists, Industry, Governor, Media

Public opinion in Pennsylvania has warnings for nearly everyone involved in the debates about natural gas drilling.  Forty one per cent of the public believes drilling benefits outweigh problems; 33% believe the reverse; and 26% believe benefits and problems are equal, according to a poll by the Gerald R. Ford School of Policy at the University of Michigan and the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College. Over the long-term 50% to 32% the public expects gas production to have more benefits than costs for Pennsylvania. See for a different interpretation of the poll.

The gas industry should understand that its operations in Pennsylvania and its stances on regulation and legislation affect public opinion and are being watched by a constructively critical public.  The public remains supportive narrowly but major splits exist already that can grow or narrow, depending on the performance of the gas industry and whether gas production directly benefits all Pennsylvanians.

The poll also has a warning for environmental advocates, finding that 48% of the public believes environmentalists are overstating drilling impacts.  Many Pennsylvanians have credibility issues with both environmentalists and drillers.  The media too does not escape the skepticism if not cynicism, with 44% saying the media overblows stories.

The poll offers  the Governor a caution, with 60% saying he is too influenced by gas companies when making decisions about taxation and regulation.

On the front and center issue of taxing the industry, 72% of the public favors taxing the industry with opinion more supportive of specific local than general statewide uses of the funds.

This poll offers the wise good food for thought. 

Gas Stampede: UGI Sees Record Shifting From Heating Oil To Gas

Sky high heating oil bills and bargain basement natural gas prices due to the shale gas revolution are causing consumers to stampede to natural gas for heat.  For example, record numbers of heating consumers are switching from oil to gas to heat their homes and businesses in the UGI utility service territory.  UGI is a combined electricity and gas utility that serves portions of eastern Pennsylvania.

UGI had an incredible 1700 heating oil customers switch to gas in just October.  It is scrambling to keep up with all the requests. The 1700 customer conversions in October smash the previous record of 800 conversions for a year. 

The customer stampede is being driven by record high heating oil bills that mean many consumers would have to pay $3,000 to $4,000 to get through a winter and by sharply lower natural gas bills, as a result of the massive new natural gas supplies from shale production that have lowered the commodity cost of gas from $13 for a thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to below $4 currently.

Switching to natural gas can save a family easily $1,000 to $2,500 per winter, depending on their fuel consumption. Median income families this winter using oil may have to pay 10% of their after tax income to stay warm but about 5% or less if they have natural gas. 

These are big numbers that impact the financial security and health of average families and explain the stampede to gas

Congratulations to Coach K on 903 From This Duke Alum

Prior to the arrival of Coach K, I graduated from Duke Unviersity in 1979 officially with majors in public policy studies and history but arguably with a third major in college basketball.   Last night Coack K, who began coaching at Army and then Duke in 1981, set the record for career NCAA Division 1 wins at 903, when Duke beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.

Congratulations to Coach K on the landmark.

Yet, the complicated, awful Duke Lacrosse affair and  events at PSU are a reminder that what happens on the field at any level is unimportant compared to what happens off the field.    Sports motivate people, are fun, build health, make different people interact with each other, and foster critical personal traits.  Sports done right are much more than wins and losses.  Sports done wrong are just about wins and losses.

Wind Turbines Cost Less & Produce More, Making Wind Power Highly Competitive

The heart of the wind power revolution globally and in the USA is much better wind machines. Today wind turbines cost much less and produce much more. The cost and production trends for wind power are startling good, as reported by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In real terms, the cost of wind turbines has declined from $2.74 million per megawatt in 1984 to $1.2 million in 2011.  Operating costs have declined from a very high $68 per megawatt-hour (6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour) to $15 per megawatt-hour, as reported by Bloomberg.

Cheaper machines are producing more.  Capacity factors have risen from 21% to 34% from 1984 to 2011. One megawatt of wind capacity produced 1800 megawatt-hours in 1984.  Today one megawatt produces 2900 megawatt-hours.

The combination of declining costs and increasing production has made wind power a competitive, attractive source of electricity.  Its cost are almost fixed for 25 years, since the fuel is free.  Wind power has zero carbon, soot, smog, toxic pollution.  It consumes and discharges no water.  All are big advantages now that will get bigger over the next 10 years when water limits become more severe in many places and when the need to cut carbon pollution is accepted across the globe.

Even without important environmental and health external costs included in energy pricing, the modern machines can produce electricity competitively, even with gas turbines, when they are located in strong wind areas or when gas is priced at $5 to $6 per thousand cubic feet.  In Asia and Europe gas is priced up to $16 per thousand cubic feet.

The best wind machines are ahead.  Innovation continues. That means the best days for wind power are also ahead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Global Wind Revolution Hits 240,000 Megawatts and To Double Again

The rise of the global wind industry to incredible heights is an amazing story that is still unfolding. In 1984 a total of 300 megawatts of wind power were installed in the entire world.  Nothing really.  Yet, by the end of 2011, the world will have about 240,000 megawatts operating, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and IEA data.

Moreover Pike Research is predicting that wind power will more than double again in the next
10 years, reaching globally more than 560,000 megawatts. The USA currently has a bit more than 1 million megawatts of all types of electric generation and between a fifth and a quarter of the world's electric generation. Wind generation of 560,000 megawatts would be an extraordinary electric generation revolution completed in about 40 years.

The USA will account for 50,000 megawatts of wind power within the next few months or about 20% of the world's total. In the next decade, where will the US winds blow?

Continued improvements in wind turbine productivity and more declines in costs mean the odds are also good that the USA will have about 100,000 megawatts of wind power operating by 2021. Achieving the 100,000 megawatt mark in the USA is certain if the production tax credit is
renewed and less certain if it is not.

Wind remains the most competitive renewable energy resource, with the exception of the limited amounts of landfill gas that remain to be developed. Indeed, wind turbines can produce electricity at costs equal to natural gas plants in high wind areas or when gas is around $5 to $6 per thousand cubic feet. Consequently wind will provide most of the electricity required to meet state level renewable energy standards over the next 10 years.

Wind will increasingly be deployed with natural gas and storage technologies in the USA to manage intermittency, as wind generation exceeds 5% of generation in more and more electricity control areas. Wind power is now a reasonably priced, zero carbon, zero air pollution, zero water consumption source of electricity that has a very bright future in a world that one day will need solutions to global warming and water constraints.

GOP Voters Rocket Gingrich To Top & Treat Romney Like A Bad Date

With the Iowa caucuses 7 weeks away, two new polls have Newt Gingrich at the top of the Republican Presidential Field, while Governor Romney amazingly just cannot breakout of a pack that features the worst Presidential crop of candidates at least in the last 80 years and possibly in the history of the country.

Public Policy Polling has Gingrich with 28%, Cain 25%, Romney 18%, Perry 6%, Paul 5%, Bachmann 5%, Huntsman 3%, and Santorum 1%, in a poll done November 10-13.

CNN has Romney at 24%, Gingrich 22%, Cain 14%, Perry 12%, Paul 8%, Bachmann 6%, Huntsman 3%, and Santorum 3%, in a poll done November 11-13.

GOP voters are doing everything possible to avoid nominating Governor Romney who strikes them as genuine as a $2 Confederate bill.  They have had a fling with Donald Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and now Gingrich.  Meanwhile Romney proves time and again that he will say anything at anytime to win the nomination, but about 70% of GOP voters are reacting to his romancing as though he is a bad date. 

My sympathies are with GOP voters, given their choices. It is actually impossible to figure out what Mitt Romney really thinks or believes beyond that he should be President.

Yet what to do if not Mitt Romney? Herman Cain is not qualified to be President which he proved yet again in an interview in Wisconsin yesterday where he showed he knows less about Libya than a well-informed high schooler.  The idea of Herman Cain as Commander-in-Chief is a bad joke.

Governor Perry has showed why he refused to debate during the last Texas race for Governor or meet with editorial boards.  His refusal to debate in Texas shows he knows his limits. But his painful performances during the Presidential race simply prove he is not Presidential.

Then there is the other Texan--Ron Paul who worries about killing Americans who take up arms against our country and who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard, among many crazy, dangerous ideas.

And so it goes.  In pure desperation, GOP voters are now back to Newt Gingrich after earlier sending him to  the bottom of the pack after his entire campaign team quit.

The GOP does actually have one sensible conservative in the race, and it is not Rick Santorum who just cannot wait to bomb and invade Iran and probably Syria and North Korea for good measure. Governor Huntsman generally has run a rational campaign at a time when the Tea Party demands extreme positions.  He of course barely registers in the polls, though I would sarcastically observe the latest CNN poll had him surging from 1% in October to 3% in November .

The Republican nomination for President of the United States is especially serious business, because the nominee has about a 50% chance of being elected President of the United States in 2012.  I send my condolences to GOP voters over their horrible choices but plea with them: how about Governor Huntsman?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Krugman's Solar and Gas Column Draws Conservative Attacks

Few things upset regularly movement conservatives more than Paul Krugman and solar power, while "fracking" has drawn many missiles from environmental organizations and the political left. As soon as I read Krugman's November 7th column arguing the solar revolution is near and sprinkling a few poorly aimed shots at  natural gas, I went for the popcorn, knowing that the reaction from the right would be big and fun.

The smartest Knight for the Conservative Roundtable proved to be Robert Bryce who is a regular conservative energy commentator and who published a piece in National Review Online that tore into Krugman entitled, "Krugman's Solar Eclipse."

While on solid ground when discussing Krugman's superficial knowledge about shale gas, Bryce predictably made 6 mistakes in his solar analysis, since it is conservative gospel that solar is uneconomic and loved only by lefties. Here are the 6 mistakes in Bryce's attack on the current competitive status of solar and its immediate future:

First, Bryce used one-year-old solar pricing data from the EIA as his principal source for attacking solar and Krugman's view that it is nearly competitive. One year in the solar business is more like 5 years in the general economy, because the pace of change is so rapid. Solar panel prices for example have fallen by about 25 per cent in 2011. Hence, Bryce's numbers are already badly out of date.

Second, Bryce featured the average solar cost, as stated in the 2010 EIA data, and ignored the minimum solar price in that data. The minimum solar price was $158 per megawatt-hour, while the average cost was $210. It is the minimum price that is important in determining whether or not solar is cost competitive and not the average or maximum numbers, since the minimum price reflects the most competitive companies and applications.  The minimum price is on the margin of the market and is the cutting edge of the solar revolution.

Third, Bryce compared the prices of central station solar to other forms of central station power plants, neglecting the key fact that solar is increasingly being built at the premises of power consumers. Solar can be and is distributed generation. Simply put solar can avoid large transmission and distribution costs that a coal or nuclear plant cannot. Transmission and distribution costs can add $30 to $70 per megawatt-hour to the cost paid by retail consumers for coal, natural gas, and nuclear generation.

Fourth, distributed solar is competing against the full grid electric rate retail electricity customers pay. The national residential average rate is about $120 per megawatt-hour for generation, transmission, and distribution. Millions of consumers pay the equivalent of $140 to $180 per megawatt-hour. Distributed solar is already within that range. Moreover, some electricity consumers in Connecticut, Hawaii, Alaska have paid $200 to $300 per megawatt-hour.

Fifth, since Bryce did not analyze the competitiveness of distributed solar, he also neglected to include the increase in home values that result from solar installations when costing out distributed solar. Home values increase when solar is installed by about an amount equal to 30% of the solar system.

Sixth, a solar distributed system locks in the electricity price for 25 years for the electricity it produces. No local electric utility will offer to do the same for grid power.

While Bryce is largely right about shale gas, he is wrong on solar. The reverse is true of Krugman. The Bryce-Krugman dialogue also underlines the growing, silly tendency for the right to bash solar and the left to attack fracking.  The same political divide has been apparent on nuclear power and discussions about it for decades.  This political polarization sadly injects a whole level of misinformation into energy discussions.

Weekly Facts Rodeo

The Weekly Facts that shape our world begin with India, where energy is powering tens of millions to escape poverty and reshaping world commodity markets but:

1. Seventy-five per cent or about 800 million Indians still survive on about $2 per day. Growth in global energy demand is centered in India and China as those nations lift more than 1 billion people out of grinding poverty. Energy demand in the USA and Europe by contrast is now stable or even declining, as energy efficiency advances keep pace with modest economic growth.

2. Back in the USA, a record 46.2 million people in 2010 had incomes below the US poverty level and 20.5 million people or 6.7% had incomes below 50% of the poverty level. Families at 50% of the poverty level are living on about $30 per day.

3. Of Americans between the ages of 26 and 64, 19.9% are without health insurance at any one time. Medicare provides health insurance to the elderly, and those below 26 can be on the health insurance of a parent if a parent has health insurance, as a result of the health insurance reform passed in 2011.

4. A major cause of high health care costs and high health insurance premiums is smoking. Each year just 6.2% of smokers are able to kick the habit. Many more try but fail.

5. Coach K wins 902 and ties Bobby Knight for coaching wins. Duke plays Michigan State on Tuesday in Madison Square Garden. Both the Duke Lacrosse affair that began with a team party involving strippers and the horrendous scandal at PSU that ended coach Paterno's career are reminders to all that wins and losses matter little compared to what happens off the field. In our sports culture, the seduction of victory can cause coaches, players, parents, fans to forget what builds or destroys lives. With proper perspective, sports are a positive, fun, healthy force in lives.

6. Steelers roll in a big game, and the Eagles look like a team that does not want to play, sticking a fork in themselves, virtually ending their season, absent a miraculous turn around.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Honda Civic CNG Goes Nearly National

Are you tired of paying nearly $4 per gallon for gasoline? Are you mad about 47% of the oil we consume coming from foreign lands?

The Honda Civic CNG goes on sale in 36 states at 200 dealerships and offers an escape from foreign oil and $4 gasoline. The CNG Civic had been available in just 4 states.

Fuel costs of the CNG is around the equivalent of $2 per gallon, plus or minus a bit. The Civic CNG costs $26,925 or about $5,000 more than the oil Civic.

Fuel cost savings from using gas and not gasoline would recover the additional costs for most owners within 3 to 6 years. Moreover emissions are lower than the gasoline Civic, and your addiction to oil will have been kicked.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Facts Everyone Must Change

A disgraceful 12% of our veterans are unemployed and 100,000 are without homes today. We honor and thank all veterans on this day. I join everyone in thanking them for their service and remember that this nation is at war right now and has been for 10 years.

Yet words are not enough. This nation and we the people owe every veteran a roof over their head and a job. They did their duty, and we have this duty to them. This must be an unbreachable social contract.

If you can hire a veteran, please do it. Please support both public and private initiatives that employ veterans and provide housing.

New Cornell Study Destroys Howarth Junk Science Gas Paper

Climatic Change Letters will publish shortly a new paper from 3 professors at Cornell University that destroys the Howarth and Ingrafea paper that triggered false global headlines that gas was as dirty as coal. I have obtained a copy of the scorching paper, and a much milder summary of the paper is on the website of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Its principal author is Lawrence Cathales III of the Cornell Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Other authors are from the same department as well as from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The paper itself is a scientific wrecking ball aimed right at the credibility of Howarth and Ingraffea that is sprinkled with sizzling commentary. For example, the paper itself says: "Switching from coal to natural gas would dramatically reduce the greenhouse impact of electricity generation. Minimizing this point by stressing extreme rather than likely scenarios is perhaps the most misleading aspect of the Howarth et al. analysis."

The Howarth paper is so full of false and misleading pieces that it is indeed difficult to pick its most misleading part. But the new Cornell paper does an excellent job of taking one on a tour of Howarth's malicious betrayal of the climate, the environment, and science.

The Cathales paper concludes that coal emits twice to three times more carbon than gas on a full life cycle analysis from production through combustion. This conclusion is similar to recent studies done by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Maryland, the Worldwatch Institute, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Despite its junk science status, the Howarth paper continues to mislead good people, with Robert Kennedy recently approvingly relying on it and with it being prominently mentioned in a draft letter written by a prominent environmental group fighting drilling in the Delaware River Basin that sought the signatures of Pennsylvania state legislators.

The Howarth paper betrays the climate as surely as the climate denial industry. No environmentalist who cares about global warming or his or her credibility should ever mention it, except with disgust.

Howarth cares so much about banning shale gas that he has gone off the cliff into misinformation and propaganda. He has proven that he will say anything and use any means to advance his rabidly held end. The new Cornell paper ends the scientific credibility of Howarth and Ingraffea.

The questions now become: will all environmentalists shun the Howarth paper? And will the NYT and other media prominently report both on the scorching new Cornell paper when it is published and the present availability of the milder summary?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DOE Shale Gas Committee Unhappy With Pace of Addressing Environmental Issues

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board chaired by John Deutch just released its Second Ninety Day Report and is rattling bureaucratic and industry cages.  It plainly is willing to fuss to prevent the 20 recommendations in its August 18th report from being disappeared by the typical Washington DC fog and bog that have banished to not remembered irrelevance countless other reports and recommendations from federal advisory groups.

The SEAB means business, saying "that progress to date is less than the subcommittee hoped" on implementing 20 recommendations in the August 18th Initial Report.  At page 4 of the Second Report released today, the SEAB states: "Absent action there will little credible progress in toward reducing the environmental impact of shale gas production, placing at risk the benefits of this domestic energy source." See  Also see

The SEAB Second Report divides its 20 recommendations into 3 groups: 9 recommendations that can be primarily implemented by the federal government; 4 recommendations that can be primarily implemented by state governments; and 6 recommendations that require new partnerships and mechanisms for successful implementation.

The SEAB will have on November 14th a conference call meeting on its Second Ninety Day Report.  This report is again challenging, but the wise would rise to the challenge posed by the SEAB.

UPDATED: UT Preliminary Fracking Study Finds Little Impact On Water

Chip Groat, a prominent geologist at the University of Texas, released yesterday preliminary results of a study underway that is examining impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and ground water. See The UT team states that its review of data so far indicates that spills and leaks at the surface are the major source of impacts on water and that the rate of these problems appears greater at shale gas operations than conventional gas drilling sites.

Professor Groat is quoted as saying: "Hydraulic fracturing doesn't seem to be of concern to groundwater."

The UT study will cost $300,000 and is being paid for completely by the University of Texas.  Final results from the UT study are expected in the coming months.

EQT's Pittsburgh Gas Customers See Huge Savings From Shale Gas

Unlike gasoline or milk prices, utility rates are mysterious to most consumers, with few able to say how much they pay per kilowatt-hour or per thousand cubic feet of gas.  Consumers get just 12 utility bills in a year, unlike the daily gasoline pricing information they see, and utility bills are hard to read no matter what is done to simplify them.  As a result many consumers insist that they have seen no benefit in their gas bill from the huge shale gas production that has flooded energy markets since 2008.

Despite the perception of no bill impact, gas costs and gas bills in fact have declined sharply since 2008.  Take the incredible EQT (a gas utility in the Pittsburgh area that also drills and transports gas) gas rate and bill story as just one example.

EQT's 2011 gas costs charged to consumers are down 60% compared to October 2008.  The lower gas rate produces residential bills that are $55 per month less in October 2011 than at the same time in 2008. 

The current annual savings for a residential customer are about $660.  A very big deal for median income families and the difference between having gas service or losing it for tens of thousands near the poverty line.

Here are the EQT details:

On October 1, 2008, the gas cost rate charged by EQT and approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission was $10.98, and the average residential bill was $146.35.

On October 1, 2011, the EQT gas cost is $4.78, and the average residential bill is $91.12, a huge savings compared to 2008 when shale gas production in the Marcellus began to ramp up.  Indeed the 2011 gas rate is 10% lower than it was just last year, when EQT charged $5.31 per thousand cubic feet and the average bill was $99.29.

Savings of this magnitude are a major boost to the economy, as these lower gas bills free up income to purchase other goods and services.  These lower gas bills also come when major cuts to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program are hitting needy families.

While reading gas bills will be as difficult as ever this winter, the bottom line is much lower than it was in October 2008. Shale gas has yielded the much lower gas bills delivered last winter and the still lower gas bills that will arrive this winter.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shockingly 2011 Creates 1.4 Million Jobs & Sadly Is Among Best Years Since Clinton

Incredibly 2011 is shaping up to be among the best years for total number of new jobs since the Clinton Administration, when 22 million new jobs were created in 8 years or 2.75 million on average for each year. That 2011 may rank among the best job creation years in the last 11 underscores the depth of the job crisis facing the USA.

The US economy has generated about 120,000 jobs per month and 1.2 million new jobs from January to October 2011. America is on track to create approximately 1.45 million jobs for the full year.

Indeed the 1.2 million jobs created already in 2011 exceeds the 1.1 million produced from January 2001 to January 2009, during the Presidency of George W. Bush. Even worse, the USA lost 4.5 million jobs from September 2001 to September 2009. Http://

The US job crisis is now more than ten years old and leaves the country today with about 3 million less jobs than at the end of the Clinton Administration. Moreover, given that the US population has increased close to 30 million people in the last decade, creating 120,000 jobs per month, as has been done in 2011, barely keeps up with the number of new jobs needed due to population growth.

Though Pennsylvania has been losing jobs over the last 6 months, 2011 represents nationally
jobs growth, but much more is needed.

Solar In China Reaches "Grid Parity" In 2013

China is closing in on a true energy transformation tipping point. Powering buildings with solar power will cost by 2013 the same as taking power from the grid in parts of China, according to a featured story at At that point, large investment will flow to installing solar and solar market penetration will surprise many.  In the USA, solar will achieve this competitive pricing position in more electricity utility service territories by 2015.

A world where its two biggest economies--China and America--feature large areas where solar is cost competitive with grid power is fundamentally and positively different.  Economically creative destruction will be unleashed, creating winners and losers, but increasing wealth and decreasing pollution.

Reducing solar power costs to achieve parity with grid power pricing--"grid parity"--turns the energy world upside down by making central power stations and the huge transmission infrastructure more costly than generating solar at businesses and homes. Achieving grid parity in China is made more difficult by government actions that subsidize power from the grid. Indeed the government in some cases has refused to allow some coal plants to recover even the full cost of the coal combusted. Solar subsidies for manufacturing have counterbalanced to a degree subsidies of grid power.

While China is a world leader in manufacturing solar panels, it has exported nearly all its solar product and not installed much solar until this year. The sharply falling price of solar means that China is transitioning from manufacturing solar panels and exporting them to installing significant solar generation for domestic power production.

According to, China will install 1800 megawatts of solar power in 2011, roughly equal to US solar installation this year. Another 16,000 megawatts is in the Chinese pipeline.

Yet, once solar hits grid parity in any market, solar installations will jump to massive new levels and dwarf even 16,000 megawatts in the pipeline today. Achieving grid parity in portions of China by 2013 is one more stunning energy development.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

US Carbon Clock Setback 14 Years Despite Defeat Of Cap & Trade

While global carbon emissions spring forward, driven by enormous pollution from China and India, the USA carbon clock falls back 14 years, a significant and paradoxical development. The latest EIA data indicates that sharp drops of carbon pollution from coal (down 11% from the 2005 peak) and oil (down 14%) will rollback in 2011 USA total carbon pollution to 1998 or 1997 levels.

These large reductions in US emissions take place just as Republican Congressional gains make proposals for the national pricing of carbon pollution dead on arrival. Since national policies to price carbon pollution into energy have been defeated, what explains the reductions in US carbon pollution? And will the 2011 carbon totals be an aberration or part of a sustained trend of lower emissions?

Greater energy efficiency that has decreased USA energy consumption to about 2000 levels plus growing substitution of low carbon gas or zero carbon renewables for oil and coal have setback by 14 years the US carbon clock.

Sharp decreases in the prices of low or zero carbon fuels that compete with coal and oil have been vital to declining US emissions. Both natural gas and solar prices have declined 70% since 2008. Wind prices too have declined significantly.

While natural gas, solar, wind took a quick elevator down to lower prices, coal and oil prices rose since 2003 or 2005, when oil and coal carbon emissions peaked in the USA. The combination of higher coal and oil prices and lower prices for competitive fuels is the economic foundation on which the lower carbon pollution trend rests. That foundation looks sustainable, since massive new supplies of shale gas will moderate natural gas prices and the pricing of solar in particular continues to drop rapidly.

Batteries Storing Wind Revolutionize Renewable Energy

Energy storage technology is erasing the billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that promote coal by saying the wind dies and the sun sets.

Sixteen massive 2 megawatt batteries manufactured by A123 Systems at an existing AES 89 megawatt wind farm in West Virginia are storing significant amounts of wind energy and enabling the wind farm to dispatch power when it is needed. Or when the wind dies. The 16 batteries combined storage represents 32 megawatts that can be discharged and recharged in 15 minutes.

The A123 Systems and AES collaboration is the largest application of battery technology to firm up wind power in the world. The project revolutionizes wind energy and solar power, since it demonstrates today the commercial viability of battery technology to firm intermittent wind and solar.

As batteries improve and decline in cost, the sun will never set and the wind will never die.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Oil Carbon Emissions Declining 14% in USA

Carbon pollution from oil will decline 14% in 2011 from its 2005 peak year total, according to EIA data. The oil carbon clock has been setback to 1996 levels.

In 2005 oil consumption in the USA produced a record 2628 million metric tons of carbon pollution, but 2011 levels will fall approximately 330 million metric tons from the 2005 total to about 2295 million metric tons. Oil accounted for 2290 million metric tons in 1996.

Increases in gasoline and heating oil prices are driving both greater efficiency in using oil and substituting especially lower carbon natural gas and biofuels for oil. Now electric vehilces are just emerging as another powerful substitute for oil, with my sister who has ordered a Volt as an example of a rapidly changing auto consumer and marketplace.

Will this trend continue? Yes, if oil stays above $80 per barrel and the odds of it doing so are high. Indeed, probabilities are significant that oil will trade consistently above $110 for the next 10 years. Oil pricing that high will boost electric vehicles, in addition to CNG, biofuels, and efficiency.

Advances in technology and so called tight or unconventional oil production do create a new scenario where oil prices are not pressured by demand consistently pressing against supply limits. The odds of super high oil prices in the $200 range within a few years that were considerable in 2008 have declined in 2011 as a result of technology advances.

Weekly Facts Rodeo

The weekly facts rodeo begins with jobs, jobs, jobs.

1. The US economy in 2011 has created 1.2 million jobs or about 120,000 per month. It is just about enough to keep up with a growing population but not enough to lower rapidly the now 9% national unemployment rate.

2. The 1.2 million jobs created nationally so far in 2011 underscores the poor performance of the Pennsylvania economy since May. Since May, Pennsylvania has lost 5,000 jobs per month, with the unemployment rate jumping from 7.4% to 8.3%. Pennsylvania now ranks in the bottom 10 states for job creation, after being a top ten state from January 2010 to April 2011.

3. Chinese greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 were 50% higher than US emissions. China had matched US emissions in approximately 2007.

4. India ranks third in world carbon pollution and are rising swiftly. The combination of rapidly rising Chinese and Indian emissions make it difficult to see how carbon concentrations could be stabilized at less than 600ppm and make a world with 1,000ppm possible. Those numbers are scary whether anyone is scared or not.

5. Indeed 2010 global carbon emissions exceed the worst case scenario in the IPCC studies. But world leaders are not paying attention.

6. Despite massive global increases driven by Chinese and Indian demand, USA emissions in 2011 will fall to 1997 to 1998 levels and are likely to continue falling as gas substitutes for coal and oil;  renewables grow; CNG, biofuels, and electricity substitue for gasoline and diesel; and energy efficiency rises in transportation, buildings, and production processes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

PWSA Gives DEP Troubling Bromide Data For Allegheny River

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been doing testing for bromide levels in the Allegheny River and has provided test results to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that raise concerns. Four municipal treatment plants that had been taking drilling wastewater are located on the Allegheny River.

DEP apparently is investigating to learn what are the sources of bromide on the Allegheny river, since bromide can come from a variety of waste streams.

The public needs clear information about whether or not any plants are discharging drilling wastewater without treatment for total dissolved solids, the volumes of any discharges, the locations of any discharges, and the companies, if any, that are taking drilling wastewater to plants without TDS treatment capacity for discharge.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New CMU Study Shows Bromide Declining But Above Background On Mon

The AP is reporting that yesterday researchers at Carnegie Mellon University presented at a CMU conference new but preliminary data that showed bromide levels on the Mon river had declined but were above background readings and still a concern.  The AP states that the researchers would not now release the newest data, because the study is preliminary and undergoing review.

Bromide research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in 2010 and released in early 2011 prompted Secretary Krancer to request that gas drilling companies no longer take gas drilling waste to municipal water treatment systems that did not have the ability to treat wastewater for total dissolved solids of which bromide is a part. DEP states in the AP story that "nearly all" drilling companies no longer discharge drilling wastewater at treatment plants.

Other than drilling wastewater, there are multiple other sources such as industrial plants and coal plants for total dissolved solids discharges of which bromide can be a part to the historically tds stressed Mon river.  TDS readings on the Mon River for many years and well before Marcellus wells were drilled have had elevated levels of TDS, though below levels established by the Safe Drinkig Water Act, except during a spike from October to December 2008.   DEP in 2010 recommended to EPA that the EPA list the Mon river as being impaired by sulfate pollution.  Sulfates are also a part of TDS.

Bromide itself is not toxic, but can react with certain chemicals sometimes used at drinking water plants that could create a harmful compound.  Consequently, drinking water systems monitor bromide levels in their intake water to determine whether bromide is at concentrations that could lead to reactions that could compromise drinking water safety.  If bromide levels are at such levels, drinking water systems change the chemical treatment process of the water to prevent the reactions that create the harmful compound.

2011 US Carbon Emissions Will Be Below 1998 Levels

Carbon emissions in the USA during 2011 are likely to below 1998 levels. Emissions in 2011 will also be below the 2010 mark. Those are the conclusions from EIA data at

What explains the USA's real progress on reducing carbon emissions?

America is using production, energy more efficiently with energy consumption at 2000 levels, rampimg up sharply all renewables, including biofuels as a substitute for oil, and continues to shift from coal to gas for electricity production.  Coal on a lifecycle basis emits twice the carbon pollution to make electricity as gas does.

Other pollutants like mercury, nox, sox are also declining sharply, in part for the same reasons that drive carbon emission declines and in part  because 60% of coal plants now have installed pollution controls for non-carbon, traditional pollutants and comply with the new EPA cross state air pollution rule and the proposed EPA Air Toxic Rule.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

EPA Issues Final Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan

EPA's Final Hydraulic Fracturing Study plan is released.

My quick review reveals no surprises in the final study plan. It will look at the life cycle of water issues associated with hydraulic fracturing. The plan identifies 5 category of issues: water acquisition; chemical mixing or surface spills; well injection; spills of flowback and produced water; and wastewater treatment and waste disposal.

The issues will be examined through both retrospective and prospective studies in five locations. First results of the study will be delivered in 2012 and final results in 2014. 

This EPA study is required by Congress, and I commend the EPA for its inclusive, careful process in crafting the study plan.  The study plan should provide good information to the public.

One-Stop Shop For Studies Debunking Howarth

Professor Howarth's study continues to be cited as the definitive study on the carbon emissions of gas compared to coal.  This reality is distressing.  The study damages science and betrays the climate by falsely saying that "gas is as dirty as coal," when all other studies conclude that coal emits twice the carbon as gas on a life cycle basis.

I have blogged on nearly all the studies debunking Howarth--Carnegie Mellon University, National Energy Technology Laboratory, Worldwatch Institue, University of Maryland.  My postings on these studies are in the blog archives, with August being a rich month.

But if you want a One-Stop Shop for studies debunking Howarth, go to:

No matter one's views, perhaps too hopefully, I hope that the discussion on gas is not at a point where the end sought justifies the means of touting false information to mislead good people.  No matter who enagages in that behavior, the whistle should be blown loudly for a red card foul.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gas Prices for Northwest PA Fall 50% Thanks Mainly To Shale Gas

Erie where I recently spoke at Gannon University and the surrounding region have the coldest, longest winters in Pennsylvania that create big heating bills.  Yet, Marcellus Shale gas supply is playing a major role in making winters in Erie less financially hard.

NFG is the local gas utility that supplies 214,000 customers, and its peak price was  $19.71 for a thousand cubic feet of gas on August 1, 2008.  A typical NFG customer uses 95 thousand cubic feet each year and faced an annual $1,872.45 bill at the August, 2008 price.

Today NFG's current price is $9.56 for a thousand cubic feet or $ 907.20 for a year to a typical customer using 95,000 cubic feet.  The price reduction since August 2008 amounts to more than 50% and creates a $965 saving per year.

Speaking of the latest 8.2% price reduction that NFG passed through to its customers effective November 1, NFG said:  "The decrease is the direct result of a continuing decline in the market price of natural gas, largely due to the increased supply, particularly from the Marcellus Shale development."

Natural gas heating customers in the Erie region have received nearly one thousand dollars per year in heating bill savings largely due to Marcellus shale gas production.  Savings of that size matter a lot for median income families and even more for those near or below the poverty line. 

Stark Job Loss Data Warn Pennsylvania Economic Policies Are Failing

The state jobs data are remarkable and stark. Pennsylvania has gone from leading the nation in job creation to being a job destroying machine.  Pennsylvania  ranks among the 10 worst states for job creation for the last 6 months.

Pennsylvania's recent terrible economic performance is a dramatic reversal, because Pennsylvania ranked among the top 10 states for job creation prior to April 2011. Here are the dramatic facts for the last 12 months when the Commonwealth went from good to ugly from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry..

Pennsylvania's economy was humming until April, 2011, creating 72,000 jobs from September 2010 to March 2011 or about 12,000 per month. But in April and May the state's economy hit a brick wall and has been shedding thousands of jobs ever since.

Pennsylvania lost 24,000 jobs from April to September 2011 or about 4,000 per month in the last 6 months. 

All the job losses mean that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate has now jumped from 7.4% in April to 8.3% in September.  Our unemployment rate had been steadily decreasing until April.

Pennsylvania's economic performance over the last 6 months is remarkably bad, especially given two other factors. The nation's economy grew 2.5% in the third quarter and had positive job growth for the period, and the gas boom in Pennsylvania is creating thousands of jobs. 

National economic growth and the Marcellus job boom was not enough to overcome the profound economic and budget mistakes made in Harrisburg.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Snowing On Global Warming

A good friend of mine who is a loyal Republican always says when I discuss global warming science and policy with him: "As long as I am shoveling snow, it is not warm enough."  As I said, he is a loyal Republican so he often adds to tweak me: "I will believe global warming when I can play golf in December." 

Public opinion about global warming is now in three key blocks.  About 55% accepts global warming science and wants sensible action taken.  At the other end of the spectrum is about 20% that denies global warming is taking place.

My friend reflects the 25% of people whose views are fluid and for whom their daily weather experience drives their opinion about global warming. This group is the key to global warming politics and action.
Convincing about two-thirds of this group that global warming is real and getting worse is a necessity to reach the 70% threshold where our democratic system responds to public opinion.  It is my rule of 70%.

 The October snows snowed on global warming among this key group whose views often are shaped by their weather experience. I am sure that I will hear about this snow from my friend.

What will be my response?  More conversation and information.  I will appeal to his brain, reminding my friend that the ratio of new record highs to new record lows has been getting greater every decade.  I will remind him that warm air holds more water vapor and that the amount of moisture in the air has increased 4%, since temperatures have increased 2 degrees fahrenheit already.  I will remind him that the Koch Brothers funded research confirms global warming is real and accelerating.

But humans do not decide by the brain alone.  My friend's December golf or snow shovel test will be met if the world stays on its current course, but by then enormous damage will be done.

Fueling America's Home This Winter: Trick or Treat?

As the discussion about shale gas and our energy choices continues, far too little is said about home energy security and affordability of heating bills. America has 113.6 million homes, but tens of millions of Americans struggle financially to keep homes warm on cold nights. 

Especially at risk this year of heating bill shock are the 6.9 million homes that use oil that is jumping in price by another 27% and the poor who face major cuts in programs providing assistance to pay for heat. 

By contrast, the 55.6 million American homes who heat with natural gas or the 38.2 million that use  electricity for heat will have the treat of a stable, even slightly lower heating bill, thanks to the enormous new natural gas supplies that have driven down the price of gas from $13 for a thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to less than $4 for the January 2011 contract. These lower natural gas prices save many families a total of $1,000 in lower gas and electricity bills, because lower natural gas prices drive down electricity prices too.

Unfortunately unlike natural gas, oil pricing is up. After another round of price increases, heating oil prices that where high last winter will reach on average $3.82 per gallon, according to the EIA.  In the Northeast where 80% of the 6.9 million homes using oil are located, a family can use 700, 800 or more gallons each winter, and face a heating bill for $2,500 to $4,000.  Even median income families using oil must spend about 7% to 10% of their after-tax income just to stay warm.

A poor family living with $10,000 to $20,000 and using oil may have to spend 20% or more of their income on the heating bill.  Remember that a disgraceful 25% of America's children woke up this morning in a poor home.

To make matters worse, major cuts in the Low-Income Home Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) are being implemented.  Indeed, even when the LIHEAP budget is high, this program typically contributes $300 to $600 for heating bills that reach a thousand dollars and much more.

For tens of millions of Americans finding the money to pay the heating bill is an annual struggle that imposes sacrifices in the form of foregone medicine, food, or needed clothing purchases.  As a young lawyer in Philadelphia, I represented good people who had no heat but ice in their homes.

I would ask that discussions about shale gas policy remember the millions of Americans for whom the approximately $1,000 energy savings produced by the huge, new natural gas supplies are no windfall or luxury but a necessity.