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Back to talking about oil?

by Jerome a Paris Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 03:04:18 AM EST

Washington considers a decline of world oil production as of 2011

The U.S. Department of Energy admits that “a chance exists that we may experience a decline” of world liquid fuels production between 2011 and 2015 “if the investment is not there”, according to an exclusive interview with Glen Sweetnam, main official expert on oil market in the Obama administration.

This is rather striking news, even if if comes only from an interview with a blogger, and it shows that medium term availability oil remains a fundamental preoccupation. With oil prices trading in a fairly narrow range for almost a year now, far from its recent highs and lows, the topic has seemingly completely disappeared from media attention, but the mere fact that oil stayed at $70-80 (a price unheard of just 3 years ago) in the face of a savage recession, with unprecedented falls in energy demand, should in itself be a warning. There was another significant tidbit last week:

Energy minister will hold summit to calm rising fears over peak oil

Lord Hunt, the energy minister, is to meet industrialists in London [on Monday 22 March] in a bid to calm mounting fears about the disruption that could follow a sudden shortage of oil supplies.

In a significant policy shift, the government has agreed to undertake more work on whether the UK needs to take action to avoid the massive dislocation that could be caused by the early onset of "peak oil" – the point that marks the start of terminal decline in global oil production.

But this has not triggered widespread awareness so far. Oil companies and their faithful servants like CERA have managed to deflect the attention through the notion of "peak demand," ie the idea that production could, but will not need to, rise because demand will be lower. Tales of energy abundance have once again been pushed following the boom in shale gas production last year, despite doubts that this can be sustained.

Stay tuned for oil to get back in the news, though.


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As I said here Gas, Oil and the Central Oil Bank of Saudi Arabia it is my view that the oil price is being supported by cheap/free ETF fund money and pegged artificially - via opaque manipulation of the Brent/BFOE crude oil complex which sets the global price - within a range of $70 to $80/bbl at the 'upper bound' market price above which demand destruction would occur.

The analogy is with Open Market Operations conducted by a Central Oil Bank, and the enabling factor has been the emergence of Financial Oil Leasing as  a technique to augment the limited above ground storage available in tank or afloat, with producers' de facto storage under ground (and maybe even the US strategic reserve).

If such 'macro' manipulation is occurring - and there are many precedents eg tin, copper, coffee - it would require the complicity of a few key people in the heart of the US financial and energy establishment. It's an interesting question whether the President would be aware.

Every OPEC meeting that goes by confirms my suspicion because:

(a) fuck all happens, even by their standards;

(b) they can hardly keep a straight face about how 'perfect' the oil price is;

and the other circumstantial evidence was the fact that the Saudis recently, after God knows how many years, abandoned the use of the US WTI benchmark price in favour of the ASCI benchmark, probably because they were suffering from friction losses in the course of this macro manipulation.

But this is an inherently unstable situation, and a good analogy is a RoRo ferry with water swilling around the decks in a relatively calm sea. One decent wave, and over it goes.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 07:05:18 AM EST
that speculation has anything to do, other than on the margin, with oil price levels.

Saudi Arabia has reduced its production by a couple mb/d, so they are bringing sufficient discipline to the cartel's behavior just on their own.

And meanwhile, production stagnates or falls in places like Russia, Mexico, the UK et al, and demand is still growing briskly in the BICs and the oil producers...

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 01:25:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speculators have got nothing to do with this.

Speculation by the likes of hedge funds and prop desks is a zero sum game (apart from the casino's take) and increases volatility: the price could go either way.

ETF investors are not speculating. They are doing the opposite. They are offloading dollar risk and taking on energy risk. So they borrow or lease oil from producers - Shell were the first to do this with ETF Securities on the other side - who borrow dollars interest-free from them. That suits both sides because it cuts the futures casino out as an intermediary.

Ask yourself 'cui bono' from high oil prices. It's the producers of course, and if they can borrow money for nothing - which at the zero bound they can from ETFs - then that is what they will do if it helps to support prices.

Now it may well be the case that it is not necessary to support prices - which is your argument, and you may well have better data than me. But whether that is or is not the case, the Saudis are IMHO managing this market - to cap the price if necessary - within bounds necessarily agreed with the US.

There's nothing new about macro manipulation by producers - cf tin, copper, coffee, even diamonds -  and that IMHO is what is going on now.

Jerome a Paris:

Saudi Arabia has reduced its production by a couple mb/d, so they are bringing sufficient discipline to the cartel's behavior just on their own.

Saudi's actual spare capacity is one of the most problematic subjects there is. But OPEC discipline is an oxymoron. As far as I know, at these prices they're all cheating as much as they can.

Do you have figures to back your statement?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 02:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been thinking that this is a strong possibility.  The gap between production capacity and consumption that allowed prices to drop was quite low, and the ramp up in prices as that is closed is bound to be quite rapid.  If so, that suggests that we could see a return to 2008 prices at the pump in short order.

One of the things that gives me some hope is that plug in hybrids are going to come on the market in the next year.  The memory of 2008 is likely a selling point for these vehicles, however they create a problem of their own.  There were something like 250 million vehicles in the US in 2007. Assuming an 8 Kwh charge per day to keep them on the road, that 2 million hours of new demand for electricity each day.  Given the best case scenario (that this demand is spread out evenly over the day, so that there isn't a spike when people get home from work) that's still 83,333 Mwh hours of capacity needed.  There's 1,104,486 MWH (nameplate) capacity in the US, which means that even at a 100% capacity factor, that's a 7.5% increase in generating needs.  

Now there is a bit of excess generating capacity in the US (in particular in natural fired merchant power plants), however given that any source of electricity isn't going to be operating at 100% of capacity, and that there are bound to be surges of demand created by vehicles charging, the bottom line is that a great deal of new capacity is most likely going to be needed.

There seems to be a real trade off here.  I think it can be a good one, but I imagine that there are going to be groups who push for coal to fill that hole.  That would be unfortunate, because it would negate much of the gain in carbon emission terms of turning to hybrids.  It seems that we are on the cusp of something big here, and that if the cards are played right that producers of renewable energy can make a national security case for expansion.


And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 11:04:21 AM EST
The gap between production capacity and consumption that allowed prices to drop was quite low, and the ramp up in prices as that is closed is bound to be quite rapid.  If so, that suggests that we could see a return to 2008 prices at the pump in short order.
Do we have an updated version of the following chart?

I got it from Jérôme and used in my diary OPEC blames speculation (July 2nd, 2008) and also in one of the comment threads.

That chart only gets up to 2005, it would be nice to see an updated version to 2009.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 11:38:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't believe that replacing all vehicles on the road would only increase electric consumption by 7%.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 01:27:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My math could be wrong.  Part of the problem is assumptions.

So ok. I was basing the number of an 8 kw charge.  The Chevy Volt will drive 40 miles on that charge.  There are roughly 250 million vehicles on the road.  So that's 2 billion kwh (2 million Mwh) that are added to demand each day.  So I took that number and divided it by the number of hours in the day (2 million/24).  

So that means if demand is spread equally over the day that's 83,333 MW of new generating capacity that's needed. Again that assumes a 100 % capacity factor.  

So thinking in terms of capacity we get a 7% increase.

Thinking in terms of generation.  The US produced 4,119,388,000 MwH in 2008.

So 2 million Mwh over the course of 365 days is 730 million Mwh. So 730,000,000/4,119,388,000 is equal to 17.7 %.

That still assumes a 100% capacity factor.

So I think that it matters, but the math gives me a headache.  Regardless, 83,333 MW in new generating capacity still means bringing online the equivalent of 208 new small coal power plants, roughly 100 new nuclear plants, or 55,555 new 1.5 MW wind turbines.  And in that later one it's probably 3 times that because actual generating capacity is going to be 30-40% of nameplate.

The big discrepancy between potential capacity and actual electric generation is most likely an artifact of the large number of natural gas fired merchant power plants that may operate at only 5-10% of capacity.  These are peaking, not base load plants.  Deregulation around 2002-2004, moved a lot of base load production over into the independent production sector.  Duke and a lot of other companies have been building these natural gas fired peaking plants throughout the US.

So you have a lot of excess capacity, but it doesn't come on line unless the baseload plants can't carry the burden.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 04:15:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
EPRI made a study which showed that like 70-90 % of all US cars (vehicles?) could be run on electricity without building a single new power plant, just by raising the capacity factor of the current plant fleet (ie burning more fuel in the plants to make more power). I suppose this would require smart electronics that make sure cars only are charged when there is excess capacity available though.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 05:53:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The assumptions matter so much.  I can see EPRI's point, but only if we are talking about a smart grid and electronics in the car that prevent draining the grid in peak periods.

Ideally, cars would charge during the night, so that the surge would come when higher daytime usage drops.

Nonetheless, this does nothing about the trucking fleet, which is going to drive way more than 40 miles in a day. Nor does it deal with the fact that even using existing excess capacity, the fuel of choice is going to be natural gas.  And with stocks being limited, that's going to drive up the price.  That will ripple out in fertilizers (made from natural gas by steaming) and home heated with natural gas.  Unless there is a push for greatly expanded renewables production, it's biofuels all over again.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 06:08:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The thing is that the transition to electric has a certain level of inevitability to it - Electricity is, quite simply, much cheaper than even cheap gasoline, and every part of the car except the battery is cheaper and easier to manufacture, so as soon as someone perfects a battery with sufficiently good energy density and a not-insane price, gasoline cars become roughly as marketable as a steam tractor. 7 years after that, natural turnover in the car park gets you an entirely electric car fleet.

Potential effects on the electricity market:  the simplest, and most likely outcome is the installation of smart meters, and a typical charging pattern that goes "daily drive, nightly charge", with drivers taking advantage of lower night-time electricity prices to recharge their cars. This increases the amount of base load generation the grid needs, but not the overall need for capacity. More nukes, more coal. (mostly nukes I think. American/german/ect motor association v greenpeace is not going to go well for greenpeace)

If the battery breakthrough enabling the transition to electric drive is sufficiently good, (Mostly, this means "sufficiently cheap") we go from a regime where it is used to smoothen out demand, to a regime where it also gets used to supply peaks via the simple method of "warehouse full of batteries"   - This favors wind in addition to the aforementioned coal and nukes, and completely fucks over gas, because it steals the peak supply market from it, wrecking its economics.
Heck, I think this could even work out badly for solar. The most economic facilities are in places where peak demand for airconditioning creates high prices for the production of solar power installations, but this is mostly me being sceptical about solar ever delivering at a low price per kwh.

by Thomas on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 08:06:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's still the issue that cars are vastly over-used.

There's no reason to believe that electricity will ever become "too cheap to meter," so energy efficiency matters. And cars - even electric cars, and even with hypothetical magic pony batteries - are ridiculously inefficient compared to modern rail lines. Bluntly put, the only two serious justifications for using a car are a) irregular movement of bulky and/or heavy goods (regular movement of bulk goods would justify a rail line) and b) trips to erratically visited destinations between 10 and 30 km away from the starting point (less than ten km and you should be on a bike, more than thirty km and you should in most cases be able to take a train to a terminal closer to your destination and switch to a car there).

This use is sufficiently limited that a fleet of personal vehicles is largely uneconomical compared to a much smaller fleet of rental cars - at least in densely populated areas like Europe and the American coasts. A fleet of rental cars has the added advantage of increasing the flexibility of its interaction with the rest of the transportation infrastructure, by allowing people to park and ride without having to worry about not having a car at the other end (and without having to worry about having to get back and remove the parked car either).

And that's before we even get into the whole issue of safety. Move 1 % of the traffic currently conducted in automobiles onto trains, and you would save, ceteris paribus, approximately a hundred European lives every day. This is not a trivial number. By way of comparison, a decade's worth of car-induced fatalities in NATO countries alone are comparable to the low end of the estimates of civilian fatalities in the latest American colonial war in Iraq.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 02:51:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Land planning, zoning, flight from "urbanity," government transportation policies, and infrastructure crumbling have all contributed to the necessity of heavy car use in the US.  In Albuquerque they are busily constructing and selling residential developments were it is impossible to purchase a packet of pins without driving; the shopping areas are too far away to walk, the mass transit system is either non-existent or, in the areas they do reach - uneconomical.

 

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 03:34:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Electricity does not have to become to cheap to meter - as long as it stays priced in the vicinity of where it is now (in terms of hours worked to pay for a given number of kwh) and becomes carbon free, the electric car can be used to remove the carbon emissions from personal transport without changing anyones lifestyle an iota.

This is a Good Thing (tm) because it is much easier to build electricity generation infrastructure than to rebuild entire cities. As a matter of economic efficiency and sound urban planning, urban development should aim for high densities, but writing off the existing housing stock is wasteful and not likely to happen. The focus should be on killing coal, because that solves the problem regardless of national culture, politics, or anything else in the fuzzy realm of human factors. No one is emotionally invested in burning coal for the sake of burning coal after all, so a technocratic solution which eliminates the need should be universally adopted.

by Thomas on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 06:35:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm with you on the coal phaseout, for all the reasons you enumerate.

However, it is important to realise that people's lifestyles are going to change in the near future. That's not a political programme, that's a non-negotiable physical reality: Unsustainable global raw material use will not be sustained. The choice here is whether it becomes sustainable the hard way or the painful way.

The same thing is true for global trade flows: Gunboat diplomacy is increasingly uneconomical, and raw materials are increasingly important - a combination that ensures that raw material producers will be getting a steadily better share of a stagnant or shrinking pie. Again we have a choice: We can adapt to this new reality on a time table that we have partial control over - that's the hard way - or we can sail on fat, dumb and happy until we hit a copper embargo, a serious natural gas shortage or some similarly destructive way for physical reality to reassert itself - that's the painful way.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 07:59:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've done some rough calcualtions on that, and usually they end up with an increased power consumption of 10-30 %. Usually closer to the lower bound. The big thing here is the much higher system efficiency of a charger+battery+motor compared to an ICE.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 05:50:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The memory of 2008 is likely a selling point for these vehicles, however they create a problem of their own.

These are problems we should want to have. In Los Angeles a plug in hybrid vehicle with a 40 mile range on battery alone would be in great demand were the price of gasoline go above $4-5 dollars/gallon. Technology would quickly be available for metered off-peak charging at home and many company and for pay parking lots would likely add such capability at the destination, which would double the all electric range.

Solar-thermal generation would be an excellent complement to such a shift, as over-sized collectors and insulated storage for molten salt would allow power delivery well into the evening. Such a plant is in the early phase of planning for the Mojave Desert. Its location could use the same transmission lines, or upgraded versions, that are currently being used to bring power from Hoover Dam and other plants near the Colorado River.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 02:11:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These are problems we should want to have.

I don't disagree, however remember what the biofuels rush did to the price of corn and other crops.  We could see the same thing happen to electricity.  Which would mean that people with money get to drive without gasoline, but the poor folks who use electric heat have to freeze to death.

Solar-thermal generation would be an excellent complement to such a shift, as over-sized collectors and insulated storage for molten salt would allow power delivery well into the evening.Such a plant is in the early phase of planning for the Mojave Desert. Its location could use the same transmission lines, or upgraded versions, that are currently being used to bring power from Hoover Dam and other plants near the Colorado River.

This molten sand stuff is awesome, however I thought that Nevada solar one used mineral oil for the heat transfer.  The molten sand stuff I've heard about was being developed by ENEA in Italy.  

I've read that because there's a limited ability to throttle electric generation at hydro plants in Ontario and Quebec, that much of the energy produced goes to waste.  Imagine if you could capture that with a molten salt or mineral oil system.

Even more so than electric production, I would think that this could be used in colder climates to heat greenhouses, so that you could avoid importing tomatoes and other fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers from thousands of miles away.  Given how much of a modern resident of the developed world's carbon footprint comes from this, it seems like this could seriously drop emissions from transport.  And create new jobs in the consuming countries.


And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 04:27:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If memory serves some of the solar thermal projects in California use or are planning to use molten salt. Also, IIRCC, an earlier system with a series of concentric mirrors focused on a tower used liquid sodium metal as the medium. THAT I can see might pose problems.

Molten salt has a number of advantages:

  • It melts at 240oC and becomes a clear liquid with properties like water and it conducts electricity.
  • It can be operated over a temperature in excess of 180oC, between 565oC as it exits from the tower to hot storage and down to 285oC as it exits the generating facility to cold storage.
  • The heat capacity, the number of calories to raise the temperature of one gram one degree C is likely many times that of water.
  • The basic material, salt, is non-toxic.
  • The system has been demonstrated at commercial scale.


As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 06:23:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is really cool.  It seems like something that could be used to even out solar production.  

Have you heard of the solar project that shares a turbine with a natural gas fired plant in Jacksonville.  Sharing turbines like this would cut the cost of building another turbine, and provide natural backup when it's cloudy.

It seems like this is a great idea wherever natural gas plants have open land surrounding them, and sufficient sunshine.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 06:51:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do recall that a story on that project ran, I believe, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Without the solar component the plant would just have been a peaking facility. This makes it much easier to justify the capital costs for the solar thermal component. I do not recall what was the design of the solar thermal installation, however.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 07:08:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"...250 million vehicles in the US in 2007. Assuming an 8 Kwh charge per day to keep them on the road, that 2 million hours of new demand for electricity each day.  Given the best case scenario (that this demand is spread out evenly over the day, so that there isn't a spike when people get home from work) that's still 83,333 Mwh hours of capacity needed.  There's 1,104,486 MWH (nameplate) capacity in the US, which means that even at a 100% capacity factor, that's a 7.5% increase in generating needs."

Did you include the time it would take to replace all those 250 million vehicles, and if there would be any advance in usage, efficiency in generation of electricity or vehicles themselves. Could you rework the figures with that in mind?  

Align culture with our nature.

by ormondotvos (ormond no spam lmi net no spam) on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 08:20:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, but if anything, he is lowballing the demand. The 8 kwh charge number assumes a car with volt-equivalent efficiency, and that is a very efficient car indeed. Given continuing advances in battery tech, a fairly notable faction of that electric car fleet will get built with entirely other priorities besides kilometers per electron in mind, which will increase their power consumption. Electric monster trucks, suvs and sports cars may seem like silly ideas now, but they are going to happen.  
by Thomas on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 08:18:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thomas:
Electric monster trucks, suvs and sports cars may seem like silly ideas now, but they are going to happen.  

it's the electric tractor i want.

store the batteries over the plough part for extra clay-breaking power...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Mar 30th, 2010 at 12:02:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I almost finished a small electric tractor in SWFlorida in the early 70's, as part of a commune-motel for itinerant salmon fishermen from Washington and Alaska. It was a 1.5 ton truck with a double transmission and an aircraft starter motor. Pretty crude relay system, eight 8D marine batteries, dual snowtires on the back. Got called back to Washington when the marina closed, and sold the kit to a mudracer.

We were going to use it to strip out palmetto roots, and then for farming. We had ten acres of pretty good dirt.

Align culture with our nature.

by ormondotvos (ormond no spam lmi net no spam) on Wed Mar 31st, 2010 at 07:11:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hey well done, you futurist, you!

it doesn't seem like it'd be rocket science, but i'm mystified why more don't make them.

what sort of HP was your design, and there wouldn't be a blueprint of it floating in the net somewhere, by any kind chance?

i don't like breathing diesel while working, duh.

bad combo.

a quiet tractor would be very nice too.

seems like a no-brainer, it's not in frequent use, and could sit around charging in the sun till the right time. have 2 sets of battery banks trickle charging under a PV canopy, reverse into the dock, mech-aid the switch over with pulleys and a rotating tray.

beats growing ponds full of reeds,  or fields of oilseeds for biodiesel.

save that for a genny.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Mar 31st, 2010 at 09:31:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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