Saturday, January 29, 2011

$10 billion a year

GetUp is running a campaign to prevent the Federal Government from dropping renewable energy and climate change funding (subsidies) arguing that a more equitable “source” of money would be to redirect some of the estimated $10 billion in subsidies currently received by the fossil fuel sector. From my inbox:

Dear SP,
48 hours ago, the Government announced they want to pay for the climate disasters of today by killing the renewable energy projects of tomorrow. Climate change means more extreme weather events1, so it makes sense to establish a permanent Climate Disaster Fund -- not just to respond to one off events like the recent floods.

There's a simple solution to fund reconstruction after extreme weather events, while also reducing pollution and supporting renewable energy. The Government must establish a permanent Climate Disaster Fund, paid for by ending the billions of dollars they're handing out to subsidise the use of fossil fuels2, most of which ends up in the pockets of Australia's biggest polluters.

Click here to sign the petition

The three Independents in the lower house all support a permanent natural disaster fund. The Government will have to negotiate with them to get its flood levy through, so we have a real chance to preserve the renewable energy programs the Government wants to cut and to set up a permanent disaster recovery fund paid for by ending polluter handouts. To save these renewable energy programs we need an immediate public outcry - please add your voice now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Networked Resources, Declining Quality and the Peak Oil Argument.


(This article is based on a post that previously appeared on my blog:

The Peak Oil argument focuses on the question "How much oil?" We spend a lot of time discussing the exact inputs for Hubbert Linearization and projections of URR, in order to calculate the moment of Peak Oil. Sadly, the question of “How much oil?" is a lot more complicated than it seems.

As I have said previously, theoretical discussions about oil reserves are pointless. In theory, the amount of oil available is an arbitrary number. Oil can be made from any organic source: coal, NG, biomass, or whatever. If enough energy is available, it can be made from CO2 and water.

This applies to ALL resources. Minerals can be extracted from sea water if access to energy is unconstrained.

Low quality is what is killing us, not low quantity. Alternately, we could argue that the constraint is low energy. If energy was cheap and unlimited, then recoverable resources would be unlimited. So we need to look at the availability of oil within a networked resource/energy extraction system, not just as an isolated resource.

Here is my first point in what I will call a “thought bite”:
Resource constraints are about reserve QUALITY not reserve QUANTITY. The issue of quality exists within the context of an interconnected resource profit/loss system.

The fact that the word "liquids" is now being used instead of oil is frankly inconvenient to people who fly the Peak Oil banner. We typically conflate the two words by issuing a hand-waving argument that amounts to "When oil peaks, liquids will peak". But frankly this argument represents a chink in our armour - “unconventional oil" and all sorts of other non-oil liquids are now counted under the broad category of "liquids".

Synthetic and other manufactured liquids don't fit neatly into our Hubbert Linearization model. In fact, they will invalidate the model until such time as we can prove (not deliver hand-waving argument, PROVE) that production of these liquids is limited, irrelevant, or correlated with oil production. What we need to prove is that there is a practical limit to production of synthetic "liquids".

Many factors impact on this practical limit. In my last post at TOD I looked at the interactions that would ultimately limit production. I'm not sure I can put a provable numeric limit on production. Nor can I put a provable date on the Production Peak for liquids. But I can show that we have evidence that these points are either close or past.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who wants to be anti intellectual?

A short break from the PIA series to explore the climate of change espoused by Mr Eddie “can we fix it” McGuire1.  Eddie must have some smarts to get where he is but his article (below) has the sharp critical thinking of a football. Eddie makes a good symbol for the anti intellectual “nice guy” reactionary of the Nike “just do it” consumer age. 

Forget the climate-change theory, let's get on with the job

Eddie McGuire, Sunday Herald Sun, January 23, 2011

VICTORIA'S highest- ranking public official, Governor David de Kretser, believes in the effects of climate change.

Victoria's highest elected official, Premier Ted Baillieu, doesn't.

Opinion writer Andrew Bolt flat-out says that climate change is nonsense.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown believes the coal industry should pay for the damage caused by the floods, so obvious is its impact on our weather.

What they all have in common is that they are intelligent, community-minded people.

Unfortunately, climate change is heading the way of religion and football barracking.

It doesn't matter what the evidence or how persuasive you might be, if I believe in my God and that Collingwood is the one true footballing faith, then that's it.

Climate change is either blatantly obvious or a load of rubbish.

So there. Lets just forget ever attempting reasonable or rational approaches. Everything is just un-provable opinion of equal validity.

Now given this unquestionably solid foundation to the start of an argument, its hard to see how sage Eddie can have any idea what, exactly, is “the job” that we should all be getting on with?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where do the children play? PIA NO. 4

This fourth extract from the Special Edition (Volume 47:4) of the Australian Planner (1, 2, 3) is refreshingly different, asking some interesting questions about how we perceive and organize society. This paper focuses specifically on child transport issues – and they way that society thinks of children as revealed by our selection of  transport modes. The paper also points out that some of our (misguided?) attitudes may become self fulfilling prophecies.

The hope for oil crisis: children, oil vulnerability and (in)dependent mobility
Scott Sharpe & Paul Tranter. Pages 284-292

The abandonment of the streetscape as anything but a thoroughfare for motor vehicles has heightened the perception of the streets as unwelcoming for pedestrians. The exclusions that result for those who are unable to afford a car or who are incapable of driving one, means that the poor, the elderly and the young are all denied independent mobility and are positioned as vulnerable when they do take to the streets as pedestrians.

Australian planning professionals have long been aware of New Urbanism (NU), Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND), Walkable Cities (WC), Transit Oriented  Development (TOD) and … Child-Friendly Cities (CFC). … there is a dearth of consideration of children and child-friendly cities in research on oil vulnerability.

Ultimately, the mobility of children throughout cities is more than simply a transport issue, and the degree of child-friendliness of the city says much about the way that children are conceptualised in contemporary society. [Do we think of them as] vulnerable, incompetent, dependent and passive? Or …  are they valued as participating members of society capable of ever increasing amounts of independence and activity?

Children, through their role as car passengers, are major consumers of petroleum.  In Melbourne, trips to take children to school make up 21% of all trips in the morning peak.

The paper reminds us that management decisions to increase or improve “efficiency” in one aspect of society, when taken in isolation, can have unintended consequences in other areas of our lives.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cycling over the peak - PIA NO.3

Australian cities are generally dispersed, a problem identified in earlier articles of the special edition of Australian Planner Vol47 No4 (here & here). This article reviews what realistic transport role bicycles can play in a post peak world - remembering that we are not all super sleek lycra freaks.

Rethinking oil depletion: what role can cycling really play in dispersed cities?
Matthew Ian Burke and Jennifer Bonham
Pages: 272-283

An overview of cycling in dispersed cities, focused on US and Australian cities, highlights low bicycle mode shares and low participation rates for women, children and seniors at present. Yet cycling can flourish in suburban settings, with  low-density, outer-suburban communities in many European cities having very high bicycle mode shares, and strong participation across all demographic groups. Under a variety of Peak Oil scenarios, the bicycle is shown to play specific roles in supplying local mobility and access to and from mass public transport for longer distance trips.

Many advocates have thrust forward cycling as a way to ‘solve’ an oil-related transportation crisis.

The main bicycle advocacy groups in Australia, including the Cycle Promotion Fund, have included oil vulnerability in their political campaigning for cycling investment. [But if] we look at government, there is very little uptake of such views. Australian state government cycling strategies tend to identify health, environment and traffic congestion as main motivators for encouraging cycling, rather than oil depletion.

This paper seeks to provide a reasoned evaluation of the role of cycling in dispersed cities … thus far absent from the literature.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shorter PIA NO. 2

Continuing my rough dissection of papers from the special edition of the Urban Planner (Australian Oil Vulnerability), the first paper gives an overview and assesment of the Australian transport sector, it oil use and some suggestions for reducing oil consumption. The theme binding these two papers is Australian reliance on private transportation. 

The impact of rising oil prices on the transport sector
Peter Rickwood, pages:243 — 252


Oil is the dominant motorized transportation fuel used in most countries, including Australia. Many other oil derived products and services are important to the functioning of the Australian economy. This paper provides background information about oil consumption in Australia, and reviews the available information on price elasticities for the major oil end-uses.  Reducing fuel used for private motoring, and preparing emergency adaptation plans to cope with sudden oil price spikes are identified as the major areas on which planners should focus.

This paper does not, for example, discuss laudable end-goals such as decarbonizing our economy, or drastically reorganizing our cities, because planners have limited influence over economic policy, and because less ambitious policies such as congestion charging are still contentious and difficult to put in place.

After transport (72%), mining (8.5%), chemicals/ lubricants (7.1%), and agriculture (4.8%) account for most remaining oil consumption.

Road transport (private and commercial) is responsible for 76% of transport-related oil consumption, and aviation 17%, with only small amounts from rail (2%) and water (5%) transport.

We can calculate that private car-based personal transport is currently responsible for ~35% of all oil consumption in Australia, commercial trucking 20%, aviation 13%, and numerous other non-transport sources account for the remaining 32%.

Car-based personal transport (35% of total oil)
Summary: Plateauing per-capita vehicle-kilometres travelled (VKT) will allow per-capita fuel consumption to decline, but population growth will continue to increase total demand for oil.

Apart from increasing population, there are two other trends that have been responsible for steady growth in oil consumption from passenger vehicles: increasing car ownership; and a corresponding increase in percapita VKT (due to increased access to cars and lower occupancy ratios, as well as other factors). Partly offsetting this has been a steady increase in vehicle fuel efficiency.

Commercial trucking (20% of total oil)
Summary: Fuel use largely driven by economic growth.

Aviation (13% of total oil)
Summary: Rapid growth expected to continue under ‘business as usual’, where incomes continue to rise and fuel costs do not increase substantially. Downside risks posed by poor economic conditions and/or significant increases in fuel costs are substantial.

Oil and climate change

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Shorter PIA – Australian Oil Vulnerability

In a previous post I pointed to the special edition of the journal Australian Planner on Peak Oil (Vol 47 No 4) from the Planning Institute of Australia. Starting with this post I will give a brief cut and paste overview of some of the papers, hopefully capturing the flavour and important points of each paper. Much of the information is familiar to followers of energy issues, especially the backgrounds given at the start of the papers. Ellipsis (...) indicates deleted text and square braces [ ] indicates inserted text. Some references have been omitted.

Dark clouds on the urban horizon: petroleum and Australian planning
Jago Dodson, pages: 226-231.

Rapid urbanisation, population growth, infrastructure and resource demands all place pressure on urban systems. A major strategic challenge for urban regions especially among developed nations ...  is the vulnerability of cities to the systemic and particular effects of future constraint on global petroleum supplies.

The years [since oil began its upward climb in the early 2000s] have witnessed extreme volatility in petroleum markets with prices rising to beyond US$100 by late 2007 to a peak of US$140 per barrel by late-2008. Oil prices then slipped back to US$30 in early 2009 with the onset of the global financial crisis, but by mid 2010 had returned to their pre-crisis levels of approximately US$80 per barrel.

It seems unlikely that the world will return to the low and stable price patterns seen from the late-1980s to the mid-2000s.

A commonly cited causal factor underpinning recent high oil prices was the global economic expansion over the decade to 2009 intersecting static or only gradually increasing oil production. China’s economy, for example, has grown by at least 8.3% per year in GDP terms since 2000 (IMF, 2010).

The investment task [for the production, exploration, improving technology and protection of oil supplies] is monumental. The International Energy Agency (IEA, 2008, 39) projects that US$26 trillion worth of production investment is needed by 2030 to meet anticipated global oil demand.

As other reserves decline, the share of global oil production provided by members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) dominated by Middle Eastern nations is expected to increase from 44% in 2008 to 52% by 2030, giving this grouping considerable influence on global supplies. Some 28% of global oil supply in 2030 is projected to come from just six Middle Eastern OPEC countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Probably the most significant and imperative business statement on the problem of petroleum security, peak oil and wider energy constraints came from the Lloyds insurance group in June 2010. Lloyds is, according to the company’s website ‘the world’s leading insurance market’ which ‘is often the first to insure new, unusual or complex risks’. The company’s white paper on sustainable energy stated:

Companies which are able to plan for and take advantage of this new energy reality will increase both their resilience and competitiveness. Failure to do so could lead to expensive and potentially catastrophic consequences . . . An oil supply crunch in the medium term is likely to be due to a combination of insufficient investment in upstream oil and efficiency over the last two decades and rebounding demand following the global recession. This would create a price spike prompting drastic national measures to cut oil dependency.

Perhaps the most substantive, if opaque, signal that petroleum security is now a major international governmental concern is the realigning of political and institutional relations between producing and consuming nations. Thus, the most recent International Energy Forum meeting in early-2010 gathering together 68 national energy ministers  including Australia’s  sought to establish a formal global venue for ‘consumer producer dialogue’ focusing on measures to mitigate energy market volatility, and the security implications of this problem.

Australia’s planning challenge

Australia is the greatest per-capita energy consumer in the OECD (Garnaut, 2008). Australia possesses huge energy resources in coal and gas but only modest petroleum reserves, holding just 0.3%of the world’s oil. Australian oil production peaked in 2000 and now satisfies only two thirds of domestic consumption; this is probably misleading as there is a strong divergence between the types of oil Australia can produce and the types it consumes. This mismatch has already generated a $9.3 billion trade deficit in 2008/2009, which is anticipated to hit $25 billion by 2015.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shed your load

"If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires." (Epicurus)

Discussions, articles and blogs that focus the argument purely on 'base load power' without first discussing that crucial concept just before the word "power" - base load - are not honestly exploring the full complexity of our shared situation.

Base load is a product of our collective real and manufactured needs, wants and desires - the last of which can be a problem.

Some writers  begin the discussion with some variation of the premise 'alternative energy cannot support a consumer based society'. Which may or may not be true, but doesn't that miss the point a bit. The mass consumption society (as we know it) is only about 50 - 100 years old. Is it really inevitable, irreversible, irreplaceable? Are our fates permanently wed to this social construction? Do 'we' lack the imagination and will to modify our present living arrangements?

If a smoker/alcoholic came to you and said "It is my right to smoke/drink but I can't continue smoking becuase my lungs/liver will develop cancer - society must support my freedom to smoke/drink, the only solution is a heart-lung bypass/liver transplant", the fallacy is obvious. In response, we support efforts to change behavior.

Hello everyone, my name is ............... and I'm loaded.
What incremental changes can we make now, collectively or as individuals, to reduce our base load?

Thoughtful comments and suggestions for a reduced base load New Years resolution.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Planning for Oil Vulnerability

The Age is mining stories from a special issue of The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) journal Australian Planner titled CITIES AND OIL VULNERABILITY (Vol 47, No 4, Dec 2010).

I have compiled my own review from this issue (including quotes) which you can find at:
The Shorter PIA – Australian Oil Vulnerability
Shorter PIA NO. 2
Cycling over the peak - PIA NO.3
Where do the children play? PIA NO. 4
Transurbanization – PIA NO. 5
Public Planning and Policy Post Petroleum – PIA NO. 6 Finale

Much of this information may sound like 'old news' to peak oil literate readers but at least in this form it gets reported as a serious topic (no longer some 'fringe' opinion) and the reports will be presented to the council of Australian Governments from a recognized professional body.
Report warns of oil woes (edited - a bit)
Andrew West, December 28, 2010
AUSTRALIA will be forced to rely on huge quantities of imported oil unless it radically overhauls its transport and urban policies, according to a major study by the Planning Institute of Australia.
The study ... warns that without urgent national action the country's trade deficit will spiral and many of the outer suburbs will become slums. ...Professor Peter Newman of Curtin University, who is ... an adviser to the federal government, said the most compelling finding of the research was that "urban sprawl is finished".
"If we continue to roll out new land releases and suburbs that are car-dependent, they will become the slums of the future." He said every state should duplicate a Queensland law that requires local councils to conduct an "oil dependence study" when approving new developments.
Dr Jago Dodson of Griffith University, forecast a grim future, with Australia's trade deficit, which was $9.3 billion in 2008-09, due to hit $25 billion by 2015, largely because of oil imports. "With Australian cities so clearly exposed to the effects of depleting global oil supplies, our urban planning should now turn its attention to mitigating oil vulnerability and adapting Australian cities to an oil-constrained world."
Professor Newman said the cost of building public transport to remote suburbs on the urban fringe would become prohibitive and Australian policymakers were "about 30 years behind the times" in solving the problem.
Transport study derails thinking on outer suburbs
Andrew West, January 5, 2011
Dr John Stone, of the University of Melbourne, and Dr Paul Mees, of RMIT University, argue that many city dwellers have been presented with a false choice - live in apartments and enjoy good public transport or retain the house and land and rely on cars.
"Many planners, and other commentators on urban issues, appear to believe that getting significantly more people on public transport will not be possible until massive changes in suburban densities are achieved", they write. Their study ... finds that cities with densities comparable with Melbourne and Sydney, such as Toronto, Ottawa and greater New York, have better public transport than Australia's two biggest cities.
Greater New York ... has 20.5 people to the hectare: Sydney has 20.4 people. Melbourne, with 15.7 people to the hectare, has only slightly lower density than Ottawa, with 17.2 people.
"There is no doubt that a compact and connected urban form enhances the potential for oil-free mobility through walking, cycling, and greater public transport use", the authors write. "However, we argue that it is not necessary to intensify land-use across the whole city before significant improvement in both patronage and economic efficiency of public transport becomes possible."
[I]ncreasing public transport use in outer suburbs [requires] more frequent buses, running at least every 10-15 minutes, not just in peak hour; better co-ordination with rail services; more convenient transfers; and fares that allow free transfers between modes.
[R]esidents of Australian cities "will continue to live in houses and suburban subdivisions that are already built". "Alternatives to the car will need to be effective at existing urban residential densities".
The forward to this special edition by Neil Savery, the president of the PIA, states in part;

Monday, January 3, 2011

Salty Solar Storage

A couple of solar articles from the US describing plants about to be built using molten salt heat storage to extend or shift the generating ability of the solar thermal plant.

Solar Plant to Generate Power After Sundown
Rebecca Smith, WSJ, 31st Dec 2010

Abengoa's $2 billion Solana plant is expected to be the first major stored-heat plant in the U.S. when it enters service in 2013. Some already exist in Spain and a few more are on the drawing board for Nevada and California.

On Dec. 21, Abengoa, a unit of Spanish utility company Abengoa SA, cleared a major hurdle when it announced it received a $1.45 billion U.S. loan guarantee for the 250-megawatt Arizona project, planned for a site 70 miles southwest of Phoenix near Gila Bend.

The Solana plant will be able to meet winter heating and lighting needs by putting electricity on the grid early in the morning—before the sun is shining—and help satisfy summer cooling demand by producing power after sundown. The plant, which can power up to 70,000 houses, has signed a 30-year agreement to sell electricity to utility company Arizona Public Service.

Such utility-scale solar plants use mirrors to focus the sun's rays on a liquid, contained in tubes, which can be heated to very hot temperatures. The liquid is used to boil water and create steam. By using a conventional steam-turbine generator, electricity is produced.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Regional Roundup

A quick partial regional roundup for the start of the new year – my emphasis added. The Sydney Morning Herald leads off with,
Asian hunger drives coal, oil price rise
SMH, December 31, 2010
Strong demand from energy hungry Asian economies will drive the price of thermal coal even higher in 2011, as wet weather continues to shrink supplies of major global coal producing regions.
Oil prices are also expected to rise in 2011, while analysts have broadly slashed their outlook for natural gas due to an oversupply arising from American coal-seam and shale-gas projects.
Despite concerns about global warming, coal is still the fastest-growing energy source globally, with demand rising three per cent in 2010.
The economies of India and China are behind the surge, offsetting weak economic growth in Western economies that could otherwise have led to a slump on world energy markets.
"On the supply side, Indonesia is playing catch up," UBS commodities analyst Tom Price said.
"They have had very high, unusually high rainfall, well beyond their wet season.
"By the end of the year when the Chinese started restocking heavily on Indonesian coal, the coal just wasn't there."
In December, a severe coal shortage in China forced power cuts in the nation that relies on coal for 70 per cent of its energy needs.
Indian demand for thermal coal imports is expected to grow at nine per cent a year for the next five years as domestic supplies run out.
In Australia, uncertainty surrounding government policy on carbon pricing continues to hang over the energy sector, delaying investment decisions and projects.
Perhaps Lovelock is right and Gaia is striking back with some disruptive possibly climate change induced rain.