What if the uprisings that are currently spreading across northern Africa and the Middle East affected world oil supplies?
Yesterday, David Wogan published a thoughtful post about the potential consequences of disruptions to our oil supply. He has been studying alternative transportation fuels at The University of Texas at Austin as a graduate student researcher for the past 3 years and it acutely aware of the sensitivity of the U.S. to disruptions to our oil supply. And, in the face of recent uprisings and unrest in northern Africa and the Middle East, David took a moment to discuss world oil markets and their sensitivity to changes in oil production levels.
Oil is traded on a world market, with tankers of crude constantly moving across the world’s oceans. It has become a world market in part because of its portability – it can be easily pumped and stored in its liquid form, unlike natural gas that must be compressed and stored in pressurized containers. Refined petroleum products, such as jet fuel, are also traded between countries. The United States, while a net importer of oil, still exports billions of barrels of refined products every year.
In his post, David explores what might happen if unrest in Egypt expanded into the Middle East, which is home to 1/5 of the world’s oil production and 70% of its spare capacity. He discusses the world oil market’s sensitivity to even small production disruptions, while discussing the particular sensitivity of the United States, which depends on petroleum to power (almost) its entire transportation fleet.
Our vehicle fleet is almost entirely depended on liquid petroleum, leaving us vulnerable to political crises around the world – regardless of where the oil comes from. Some would point to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as an option, but it is a short-term solution, and even then its long-term viability is questionable. Natural gas is also a global commodity, andenvironmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing make domestic production a tough deal to sell.
Therefore, the United States is left in a predicament where even though it might like to see a change of power in the Middle East, it is ill-prepared to deal with the outcomes.
Today was the first “full” day of the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This year, the meeting is being held in Washington, DC at the Washington Convention Center. It will run until Monday, hosting panel discussions and plenary speakers on a variety of science topics from sustainability to science and society aimed at giving scientists, engineers and journalists a chance to discuss not only the research topics that they explore, but the ways that they communicate their findings to the world.
Throughout the day, I attended portions of 6 sessions. My runaway favorite – “Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What comes next?” moderated by Bud Ward from Yale University’s Forum on Climate Change in the Media. The conference program provides the following summary for the discussion:
Climate science and “mainstream” journalism interests are undergoing what some call, in the case of journalism, an “epochal transformation.” The communications challenges facing climate science — manifested in part by widespread misunderstanding on the part of many in the public and their policy-makers — will play out against fundamental changes, shaking the very nature of journalism, communications, and science education communities, with blogs, list serves, and “tweets” increasingly complementing (or are they?) conventional journalism. Climate science and climate journalism in the end need each other if we’re to have a more informed and more engaged citizenry. Steps each sector takes during the coming months and years will help shape public and policy-makers’ understanding of the climate changes we all will face. In this session, one of the nation’s most respected students of modern journalism pairs with two journalism practitioners whose reporting frequently puts them in the public spotlight in responsibly informing the public about climate science and policy. The three share critical insights into navigating climate science communications in this “perfect storm” of an economic, geopolitical, scientific, and environmental issue. They serve up a feast for the climate science expert discussant to kick off an exchange with the audience.Moderator: Bud Ward, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the MediaDiscussant: Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologySpeakers:1. Tom Rosensteil, Project for Excellence in Journalism2. Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
Reporting on Climate Change for a Wire Service3. Elizabeth Shogren, National Public Radio
Covering Climate Science and Climate Controversies for National Public Radio
- Communicating Diversity in Science: Implications for Climate Change Denial
- Rethinking Adaptation to a Changing Global Environment
- Powering the Planet: Generation of Clean Fuels from Sunlight and Water
- Mathematics and Our Energy Future
- Samantha B. Joye: Offshore Ocean Aspects of the Gulf Oil Well Blowout
- Deepwater Drilling: A Risk Worth Taking?
- If a Culture of Growth Is Unsustainable, What Should Change?
- Superconductivity: From 1911 to 2021
I won’t be able to attend all of these sessions (too many overlaps) – but, whatever ones I do make it to are sure to be interesting.
The economics of a solar power project can be tricky – especially when you don’t have access to the information you need. While it is pretty easy to generalize – “Arizona is sunny – Seattle, not so much” – trying to calculate how much electricity you’ll be able to generate from the panels on your rooftop can be frustrating. And this problem isn’t just felt at home – as cities and counties take a harder look at their parking lots and garages as potential generation stations, knowing how much sun they have to work with becomes critical.
Last week, the American Institute of Physics published a paper on a new way to calculate, compile and graphically show the amount of solar energy potential in a specific region (for example, county or city). The new methodology presented in this paper provides an easy way for you, or members of your city council, to determine the amount of energy that the sun beams down (called solar irradiance) in your area. You can even sort this information by time of day or year, to see how those panels are going to perform at 4pm in January versus 11am in July.
Developed by former graduate student David M. Wogan (of The Daily Wogan) and his advisors, Dr. Michael E. Webber and Dr. Alexandre K. da Silva at The University of Texas at Austin, the aim of this project was to make solar data more meaningful to people who wish to use this renewable resource. In their paper, they discuss how the methodology works (lots of data + computer program + pretty graphs) and apply it to Texas as a case study. Pretty cool.
If you would like to read the paper, you can access it for free here at The Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
[Image was found using Creative Commons, using the search term “sunshine.”]
David Wogan (friend and author of The Daily Wogan) and I co-authored a post for Scientific American’s Guest Blog. The article, published this morning, discusses Waste-to-Energy technology and the dirty image that might be keeping this technology from taking-off in the United States.
Check out the post here – and, if you have a moment, please share your thoughts and comments.
The following was a post published last Tuesday (12/7) by Mr. David M. Wogan on his blog The Daily Wogan. The post includes commentary on activity in the Texas Legislature on the topic of clean energy.
Published the day before the CleanTX Legislative Minisummit at the Texas capitol building, it is an interesting commentary for those interested in Texas politics and the state’s drive toward the development of clean, renewable, 21st century energy.
Last week Melissa Lott wrote a blog post at Scientific American about how Texas is transitioning beyond being the petroleum capital of the United States. These sentiments are echoed in the Texas Legislature including Kirk Watson, D-Austin:
“You know, stop right there for a second. Because the mere fact that there’s a conference about clean, renewable, 21st Century energy out near the edge of the Permian Basin should tell you a lot about where the world’s headed.
For a century, the energy industry has been defined by oil and other fossil fuels that have meant so much to the West Texas economy – and really, to all of the state.
But that industry is fundamentally changing. It’s moving toward renewable energy, both to solve current environmental challenges and to meet the needs of a growing state, nation, and world.”
But Texas needs to keep innovating and not rest on its laurels. Wind has been extremely successful in the state for pretty much everyone involved, but the CREZ transmission lines are facing opposition from landowners, environmentalists, and elected officials.
In 2005, the Texas Legislature designated Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (affectionally referred to as CREZ zones) to move the electrons from where the wind is (in west Texas) to where the people are (Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston). It goes to show that every energy technology has tradeoffs.
Texas is also conspicuously lacking in solar energy and biomass production (and not for lack of resources). As of 2008, solar energy doesn’t even register on the books (behind California – 416 MW of capacity – and even New Jersey at 4 MW of generating capacity). And with non-attainment looming for most of the urban centers, renewable energy (among many other things) could help the state clean up its air and water.
But even wind development has a few kinks: the CREZ transmission lines are facing opposition from landowners, environmentalists, and elected officials. In 2005, the Texas Legislature designated Competitive Renewable Electricity Zones (affectionally referred to as CREZ zones) to move the electrons from where the wind is (in west Texas) to where the people are (Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston). It goes to show that every energy technology has tradeoffs.
Looking ahead, the upcoming legislative session will be dominated by redistricting and the budget, not leaving room for much else (including energy legislation). However, Senator Watson does plan on reintroducing his solar energy bill again, and it sounds like Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, might have energy bills in the works.
Favorite story of the day – David Wogan’s blog post on Scientific American’s guest blog.
In the discussion of alternative energy and fuels, algae have been bubbling to the top of the proverbial feedstock pool. Algae, the little green guys responsible for everything from making your Dairy Queen Blizzard solid to forming the basis of our current fossil fuels, are being looked at long and hard by some of the nation’s top researchers and decision-makers as a source for next-generation biofuels.
Titled “Power from pondscum: algal biofuels,” David’s post discusses what algae-for-biofuels could mean for the US.
David is currently a graduate research assistant in the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin. A dual-degree student in Mechanical Engineering and Public Affairs, David has spent his time studying the potential for algae to supply our transportation fuel needs. In his work, David has developed a model that incorporates solar, water, and carbon dioxide resources to determine the potential for algae growth by region.
The Daily Wogan is making its official public debut today. This new blog focuses on sustainability, energy and policy – primarily in the context of local (Austin) issues. The blog’s author, David Wogan, is a member of my research group at The University of Texas at Austin. Check it out here!