Observing the renewable energy transition from a European perspective

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

William Engdahl on the Abiotic Origin of Oil

The West believes that oil has an organic origin.

Russia believes that oil originates from the core of the earth and migrates to the earth’s surface under pressure until it is halted by a granite ‘roof’.

Engdahl believes that the Russians are right and that under the right circumstances oilfields could replenish.

Editor: without taking sides in this issue, it is interesting that oil accumulates in oil fields and that oil is not universally present, where in contrast life is.

Kjell Aleklett Update: Peak Oil = 2015-2016

What happened to peak oil?

Here an older 2012 video from Swedish peak oil luminary and ASPO chairman Kjell Aleklett.

At the time, when we started this blog, we were entirely in the Richard Heinberg mode of thinking, summarized as: ‘industrial society is going to be hit very soon by a truck, that few see coming and industrial society is doomed, because the world is running out of oil quickly.

We no longer think that is the case. That doesn’t mean that peak oil is not going to happen, but it is at least a little postponed and there is fossil fuel life after peak oil. On the fossil fuel supply front, we are much more optimistic than we were three years ago. Meanwhile we think that it is very well possible to have a sustainable light-weight industrial society for 100% based on renewable energy, to be largely realized by 2050, at least in Europe, North-America and China.

There is no video made by Aleklett since, so this could suggest that he quietly dropped the peak oil subject? Not really. Here a recent article from his blog, let’s see what he has to say on peak oil in 2015:

[] – The crash in the price of oil may change the oil market – a look at the IEA’s “Oil Medium-Term Market Report 2015”

The article discusses this report:

[] – Medium-Term Oil Market Report 2015 (80 euro)

Aleklett argues that he and the other ASPO members were basically completely correct with their predictions concerning conventional oil and that production indeed peaked in 2005. The increase in oil production of 4.2 Mb/d we saw from 2008 to 2013 was not cheap (conventional) oil; It came from deepwater, from Canada’s oil-sands and as NGL and shale oil from fracking in the USA.

The world acording to the IEA

Aleklett explains that a reduced need for oil imports (US cars becoming 25% more efficient over the past decade) has led to the current oversupply of oil on the world market and corresponding price implosion. In other words: demand destruction was an important factor causing the drop in the oil prices.

According to Aleklett, OPEC has lost its significance, because it no longer has the will to set the price by varying production, like it did in the past. Everybody is now producing the maximum amount it can, which lead to price erosion.

Aleklett is skeptical of the IEA’s future prognoses. According to him neither shale oil nor the price crash of the past six months negate the fact that the world finds itself near Peak Oil and he concludes concerning conventional plus unconventional oil:

There are strong indications that 2015/2016 may see this global peak.

Editor: in our view, Aleklett might well be right about “peak oil=2016”, but he is focusing too much on oil, where he should concentrate on fossil fuel in general. With the current level of technology, oil, gas and coal are highly interchangeable, although they are not equally clean (read: dirty). When you add up all potentially combustible hydrocarbon material, still stored in the earth’s crust or laying around on the bottom of the ocean (methane-hydrates), we tentatively come to the conclusion that fossil fuel is indeed an infinite resource. Not in a literally sense, after all the earth is a sphere with 12,000 km diameter, but in a practical sense, namely that there is probably more fossil fuel around than the tiny earth’s atmosphere ever can handle. This is easy to exemplify: the atmosphere measures about 30 km. If in a thought experiment the atmosphere would be cooled to near zero degrees Kelvin, that atmosphere would shrink to a pool of ca. 10 meter liquid oxygen and nitrogen. The atmosphere is that thin. And it is in that tiny pool that cars, airplanes, home heating equipment, etc., etc. discharge their combustion waste into.

To illustrate the huge fossil fuel reserves, take for example the recent report about the discoveries of huge coal reserves under the North Sea, 20-150 times the total amount of oil burned so far in the entire history.

Another question is if that fossil fuel is accessible. Key parameter is EROEI (energy return on energy investment), that is: do you get more energy in return compared to the amount of energy you need to invest to harvest the fuel? That’s a matter of technology and that is a very dynamic factor.

The fact that the atmosphere could be the final limiting factor in global fossil fuel consumption is acknowledged in the IEA report:

“There is a rapidly growing discussion within the oil industry regarding what are called ‘stranded assets’ – the fact that the larger part of the world’s fossil fuel reserves cannot be produced if the world is to avoid serious climate change. New calculations presented in the journal Nature in January show that 80% of the world’s coal reserves and one third of the world’s oil reserves cannot be used, at least not before 2050.

Conclusion: for better or for worse, there is a near endless amount of fossil fuel waiting in the earth’s crust, but it will be technology that will determine if these reserves can be exploited economically. The end of the fossil fuel age will probably come in leaps and bounds. Perhaps that in a year time oil prices will sky-rocket again, if the world does indeed pass peak oil (conventional + unconventional). This will cause a shift to other fossil fuels. The best energy strategy is to be not distracted by fossil fuel price variations and continue on the path of installation of renewable energy (wind/solar) and demand destruction.

Read more…

Artificial Photosynthesis Breakthrough?


Plants are able to store solar energy by converting CO2 and H2O into biomass. Scientists have been trying to mimic this process in an attempt to speed the natural photosynthesis up and create fuel, literally from the air and now scientists from Berkeley claim they have made considerable progress.

Key ingredients: mixture of nanotechnology (silicon and titanium oxide nano-wires) and biology (Sporomusa ovata bacteria). The wires absorb the sunlight and the energy is used by the bacteria to convert the CO2 in the air into acetate, which can be used for more complex chemicals, fuel and plastics.

Current energy conversion efficiency is a meager 0.38%. The team is working on a ‘second generation’ system which should bring 3%. They hope to achieve 10% in the future, in order to make the process ‘commercial viable’.

[Berkeley Lab] – Major Advance in Artificial Photosynthesis Poses Win/Win for the Environment
[] – Artificial photosynthesis

Editor: as long as ever cheaper solar panels can achieve efficiencies of 10-15%, it remains unclear why this biochemical process would represent an advantage, except for niche applications, for instance in areas where there is no grid plus mass pumped hydro storage.

Solar Panel Covered Bicycle Lane in South-Korea

Published 28 March 2015
Travel from Daejeon to Sejong by bike (Watch it from the air)

Aerial view of the bicycle road between Daejeon and Sejong, both cities are located 2~3 hours south of Seoul. Solar panels not only generate power but also provide protection to cyclists from sun and rain. Taken by a drone camera in fall, see the golden rice fields!

[] – Korea’s Solar Panel-Covered Bike Highway A Model For America

Bloomberg Bullish About Renewable Energy

Projection of newly installed capacity of energy sources. Renewables surpassed fossil in 2013.

Solar, the newest major source of energy in the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but could be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

The question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take.

[] – Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables

Iran-China Pipelines

To be constructed: Gwadar-Kashgar road, railroad and pipeline infrastructure.

The AIIB infrastructure investment bank is in place, now let the fun begin! The Chinese president has arrived in Pakistan on Monday, to sign energy ($34B) and infrastructure ($12B) contracts. Focal point is the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), between Gwadar, Pakistan and Kashgar, West-China, see map above, part of the massive Chinese New Silk Road strategy.

The creation of road, rail and pipeline links that will cut several thousand kilometers off the transport route for oil from the Middle East to China, bypassing rival India is also one of the aspects of the investment project.

On top of that, China will finance the so-called Peace Pipeline between Iran and Pakistan:

Peace Pipeline Iran-Pakistan, an an essential leg connecting Iran with China.

Furthermore, China and Pakistan will ‘cooperate’ (read: China will invest) in 16.4 GW new power (gas, coal, solar), an amount equal to what is already installed in Pakistan and every now and then works.

[] – China to invest $46bn in economic corridor with Pakistan – media
[] – China president arrives in Pakistan to sign £30bn ‘land corridor’ agreement

Editor: get this, after completion, China will not only be able to import oil from the Middle-East via pipelines, rather than via the vulnerable sea route, at the mercy of India and the US, but will also be able to bring troops over land directly to SCO-ally Iran, obviously in consent with the government of Pakistan (and consent will probably not even be necessary in the worst case, just like Germany didn’t need the consent from the Belgian government in 1914 to meet the French army in France). In comparison: the US invested a meager $5B recently in ‘ally’ Pakistan. Conclusion: China will gradually replace the US in Pakistan, giving China indirect access to the Indian Ocean.

The geopolitical consequences are breathtaking. Everything what Brzezinsky feared, as expressed in his 1998 book The Grand Chessboard (core message: it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger should emerge capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America’s global pre-eminence) is happening before his eyes, because thanks to US policy in Ukraine, Heartland giants Russia and China were pushed into each others arms and began to act as one “Eurasian Challenger”. It doesn’t even matter that much if the US will be able to keep Europe isolated from Eurasia or not. China plus Russia combined have more than enough gravitas to withstand the assaults of the US-led West.

There is something gigantic brewing in Eurasia.


Karakoram Highway (4700 m), connecting China and Pakistan through the Himalayas.

Offshore Wind Already Cheaper Than Gas-fired and Nuclear


Analysing public data on offshore wind in Denmark, energy consultant Mike Parr concludes that existing offshore wind is already cheaper than gas-fired power plants. Future offshore wind farms will be cheaper still – and up to 60% less expensive than the proposed nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C in the UK. This means, writes Parr, that government support for offshore wind can be quickly and substantially reduced.

[] – The myth of expensive offshore wind: it’s already cheaper than gas-fired and nuclear

Heinberg – The Great Burning

Published 16 apr. 2015
In this short video, Richard Heinberg explores why The Great Burning — the combustion of oil, coal, and natural gas — must come to an end during the next few decades. If the twentieth century was all about increasing our burn rate year after blazing year, the dominant trend of twenty-first century will be a gradual flame-out.

This video is the second in a four-part series by Richard Heinberg and Post Carbon Institute. The themes covered in these videos are much more thoroughly explored in Heinberg’s latest book, Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels.

Offshore Wind Turbine Installation

During the Autumn of 2014, 43 foundation piles were installed on behalf of the new Eneco Luchterduinen wind park, 23 km from the coast at Noordwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. Project: 43 Vestas wind turbines of 3 MW, 129 MW in total (135,000 homes).

JuiceBox 8.6 kWh Storage


The US company JuiceBoxSolar brought a 8.6 kWh energy storage system to the market, specifically designed to support a domestic solar system. This kind of storage provides for the missing link between electricity production during the day and electricity consumption at night, when people return home from work. The system is advertised as maintenance free for a minimum of ten years and can be installed outdoors, against a wall.

Editor: the price is still a mystery and for that reason probably high.

[data sheet]

Dutch History Illustrated by ‘Schoolplaten’

1666 – Dutch fleet preparing for yet another battle against the British.

Yours faithfully had the privilege to attend primary school during the golden early sixties in the Netherlands and regularly thinks back with nostalgia to the class room, the three rows of two-seat-benches (‘schoolbanken‘) with build-in ink pots, the maps and the headmaster teaching history.

But the point of this post are the ‘schoolplaten‘, no need to translate that word into English, on the walls, mostly illustrating the great moments in Dutch history. Spending a weekend collecting almost all of them and put them in chronological order and adding comments, is all in all a very pleasant task.

A schoolplaat is a piece of hard carton with typical size of 80 x 110 cm, sometimes reinforced at the corners with a piece of iron and a picture painted on it, that is not directly High Art, but sufficiently attractive and above all lovingly made. The purpose was education of children, the first ones were brought to Holland from Germany in 1839, but from 1857 on-wards they were all Dutch made by artists like Jetses, Ising, Bueninck and many others and served their purpose until the sixties, after which they went out of fashion. The pictures usually have an idyllic character, the harsher aspects of life are avoided and Dutch history is presented in a positive light only.


Idyllic scenes of typical Dutch landscape

Below a large number of pictures that illustrate Dutch history in chronological order:

Read more…

Californian Drought and the Power of the Lobby Groups

Water is getting scarce in California because of the seemingly never ending drought. Now the governor has decided that a consumption monitoring system needs to be in place to ensure that nobody uses too much. Except for the powerful farmers.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the state’s water consumption, but 2 percent of the state’s economy. To spell it out a little more clearly: Under Jerry’s Brown water plan, it’s fine to use a gallon of subsidized water to grow a single almond in a desert, but if you take a shower that’s too long, prepare to be fined up to $500 per day.

Reason: agricultural lobbies have achieved that they are exempt from the restrictions and that water prices are artificially low; growers pay less than half of what city dwellers pay. If true market prices would prevail, there would not be a substantial agro-business in California, like there is none in the Libyan desert. Agriculture belongs in Iowa, not California.

[] – Drought and the Failure of Big Government in California

Almond plantation, soon history in California?

World’s First Hydrogen-powered Tram Rolls off Assembly Line

We don’t believe in the hydrogen economy, much hyped in the past, for the simple reason that hydrogen does not exist in nature and needs to be produced. That production invariably goes hand in hand with conversion losses. So why would you want to use electricity, generated by solar or wind, to produce hydrogen first, to power a tram with it next. It makes more sense to directly pump the electricity in the grid and use it to power the tram in the conventional way.

Hydrogen perhaps has its place as a means to store energy for selected niche applications in a renewable energy economy, but the best way to store energy is in batteries or pumped hydro storage in mountainous areas.

The hydrogen economy won’t fly as things stand now.

[alternative-energy-news] – Hydrogen-powered tram developed in China

[] – Hydrogen economy

Efficiency electrolysis water:

Current best processes have an efficiency of 50% to 80%

So you already lost 20-50% in the conversion process electricity –> H2.

An Otto cycle internal-combustion engine running on hydrogen is said to have a maximum efficiency of about 38%, 8% higher than a gasoline internal-combustion engine.

Compare that to the efficiency of an electric motor:

BLDC motors are typically 85–90% efficient or more. Efficiency for a BLDC motor of up to 96.5% have been reported, whereas DC motors with brushgear are typically 75–80% efficient.

See? Hydrogen does not make sense at all in the case of trams.

[] – Why a hydrogen economy doesn’t make sense

In a recent study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains that a hydrogen economy is a wasteful economy. The large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use — an unacceptable value to run an economy in a sustainable future. Only niche applications like submarines and spacecraft might use hydrogen.

Richard Heinberg – The Law of Diminishing Returns

Note that Heinberg has quietly dropped his original Greatest Hit: the subject of Peak Oil. The message is now about ‘less complexity, less debt, less fossil fuel’, the latter not as a constraint imposed on us by geology, but as a matter of life style choice.

Not that we disagree with that message, but it seems that Heinberg has arrived at the same conclusion as we gradually did over the past 18 months: we are not going to run out of affordable fossil fuel any time soon and that we indeed can fry the planet many times over with all that combustible stuff around.

We are intrigued by Heinberg’s advocation of ‘less population’. Is Richard going to organize a ‘Texas chain saw massacre‘ all by himself?

Nice new glasses, Richard!

Read more…

Enormous Coal Reserves Found Under the North Sea


Rough estimates of the potential of fracking, as practiced in North-America, are that it can postpone the end of the oil age with perhaps a decade or so.

However, there never has been any doubt that the remaining quantity of fossil fuel, stored in the earth’s crust, is many times larger than the cumulative amount of fossil fuel consumed so far in the entire history. The problem has always been: can we access that fuel in an economic way and the concept of EROEI is the leading indicator to decide if a fuel can be exploited economically. The decisive factor is technology, a very dynamic factor. There are for instance enormous quantities of frozen methane lying around on the ocean floor and now it is beginning to dawn that unbelievable large quantities of coal are waiting to be exploited beneath the North-Sea floor, that could be harvested in gas form:

Scientists have discovered vast deposits of coal lying under the North Sea, which could provide enough energy to power Britain for centuries.
Experts believe there is between 3 and 23 trillion tonnes of coal buried in the seabed starting from the northeast coast and stretching far out under the sea.
Data from seismic tests and boreholes shows that the seabed holds up to 20 layers of coal – much of which could be reached with the technology already used to extract oil and gas.

In comparison: so far the world extracted ‘merely’ 0.135 trillion ton of oil, a small fraction of the coal reserves located beneath the North-Sea. In other words: peak conventional oil may have happened in 2005, but in hindsight it was a completely irrelevant event.

If it is wise to exploit these vast reserves is a different matter altogether. But one thing is certain: the original idea we had when we started this blog over three years ago, namely that fossil fuel could become scarce on relatively short notice, that idea needs to be abandoned. Limiting factors will more likely be: finance, geopolitics, war, environment, climate change; not lack of combustible material. It is likely that there is far more fossil fuel around than the atmosphere can ever handle.

Obviously we do not advocate the grand-scale exploitation of coal underneath the North-Sea, although it is nice to know that we in Europe are perhaps not as dependent on the Middle-East for the duration of the transition. What we do advocate is the exploitation of a limited amount to enable the renewable energy transition to occur, meaning a large wind-turbine next to every village and solar panels on every available roof, combined with large scale hydro-storage in mountain areas. The EU should stick to its original goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. Again: there is no serious energy problem in the long term. There is an awareness problem.

[] – Vast deposits totalling up to 23 trillion tonnes found under the North Sea
[] – Coal gasification
[] – ‘Underground coal gasification’ hell-fires threaten Tyneside and the North Sea
[] – Coal is the new black gold under the North Sea
[] – 3000 Billion tons of coals off Norway’s coastline
[] – Drilling date set for North Sea’s vast coal reserves
[] – An estimated trillion tonnes of coal found off Wales’ coast
[] – North Sea is the place to be in crude price slump declares entrepreneur
[] – Review of UCG technological advancements
[] – Independent Review of UCG – Report

gasification_world_624map[source] – North Sea is the place to be in crude price slump declares entrepreneur

Read more…

Global Wind Report 2014 – 50 GW New Installation


Wind (50 GW) fared better than solar (37 GW) in 2014.


China is the clear winner in expansion rate and cumulative installations.



Asia is outpacing Europe and North-America combined.

[] – Global Wind Report 2014 – Annual market update
[full report] – pdf, 78p

Global Solar Expansion is Stalling


Disappointing news from the International Energy Agency: in 2014 the installed base of photo-voltaic system merely grew with 39 GW to a cumulative 177 GW. Asia is clearly leading, Europe is behind.

[] – Global Solar PV Capacity Ends 2014 At 177 GW

Saving Energy When Walking

With a bicycle, a trained human can travel up to 250 km/day, purely on his own energy. Yours faithfully for instance traveled with friends by bike from Holland to Denmark (4 days), Venice (7 days) and several times to Switzerland in 5 days, a long, long time ago, complete with tent and cooking gear.

Now scientists from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have found out that it is possible by using springs, to ease walking and achieve an effect as if you have just put down a backpack of 4 kilo:

[] – Energie-Ersparnis: Mit diesem Federstiefel läuft es sich leichter

Auftrag: Zero Emission – Die Fabrik der Zukunft

German language documentary.

Es ist Zeit für eine neue Fabrik. Weltweit arbeiten Forscher an ihrer Realisierung. Ihr Auftrag lautet: Entwicklung von Faktor 10-Technologien. Effizienzsteigerung. Integration von erneuerbarer Energie. Biobased Industry. Null Emissionen. Ein Jahr lang begleiteten die Dokumentarfilmer Claudia und Peter Giczy Pilotprojekte zum Thema Zero Emission. Der Film zeigt u.a. High-Tech-Innovationen in der metallverarbeitenden Industrie und ein „Cleaner Production” Projekt in Indiens Boomtown Gurgaon.

Floating Solar Panels

Floating solar panels, an interesting solution for overcrowded places like the UK?

Since 2011, French Company Ciel & Terre has been developing large-scale floating solar solutions. Their innovative Hydrelio Floating PV system allows standard PV panels to be installed on large bodies of water such as: drinking water reservoirs, quarry lakes, irrigation canals, remediation and tailing ponds, and hydro electric dam reservoirs. This simple and affordable alternative to ground-mounted systems is particularly suitable for water-intensive industries who cannot afford to waste either land or water.

[alternative-energy-news] – Floating solar panels: a viable solution?

Post Navigation