Sunday, February 13, 2005

Weekly Briefs

I've decided to try putting a series of small items together this week, rather than posting them separately. Here they are:

Terminal Illness. Greenpeace Mexico and other organizations are lining up to fight a liquified natural gas terminal planned for Coronado Island near Tijuana. As I discussed in Terminals, terminals everywhere, natural gas production is near a peak in North America, and a gas-hungry continent will now seek to import the stuff. There's only one way to do that and that's in liquid form using special tankers. It means many more fights to come throughout Mexico, the United States and Canada over the citing of these terminals. The main concern: If any of them blow up, it'll be as bad as a nuclear blast.

Plugged In. The Alternative Energy Blog has a lengthy piece on plug-in hybrids, that is, hybrids with an extra battery that allow owners to make most local trips without ever using the gas engine. Prius hybrids sold in the United States can be converted now, but owners may be risking their warranty. Some are choosing to make the conversion anyway. In The answer is blowin' in the wind I discussed how such plug-in hybrids could be a key strategy for making an energy transition.

Recycle or else. Seattle is currently transitioning to mandatory recycling. Right now people who don't follow the rules get a warning, but starting in 2006 they can get fines. As landfills become more scarce and materials prices rise, more municipalities are likely to follow suit.

Dirty alternative energy. "Waste coal," the stuff that's left over from coal mining that isn't worth transporting, has for decades fouled waters and land. Now in Pennsylvania huge piles of the waste are being burned for electricity in state-of-the-art facilities with all the newest pollution control. It takes care of an environmental problem, but it isn't really a solution to our long-term energy needs. The waste coal is still fossil fuel and it's still emitting carbon dioxide, lots of it. Beware of the term "alternative energy." Ask who is using it and how.

Not as advertised. When oil was discovered in and around the Caspian Sea, energy analysts predicted a bonanza totaling 200 billion barrels. Now, the evidence is trickling in. ExxonMobil has announced it will abandon one and possibly two major fields without producing a drop of oil. The trend is not new as this article from 2002 demonstrates. Mid-range estimates put the total reserves in the Caspian region at about 70 billion barrels, quite a bit, but hardly the new Saudi Arabia as has been claimed. (Thanks to Flying Talking Donkey for spotting this one.)

As free as the wind. This piece in The New York Times shows how competitive wind power is becoming. Two problems remain. First, wind is intermittent and so utilities have to keep their coal-fired, gas-fired and nuclear plants on line all the time to make sure they can meet demand. Second, there's is currently no cost-effective way to store wind energy for times of peak use. Fuel cells, if they become much cheaper, might be one way. Wind energy could also be stored in the form of water pumped behind a dam which is then released through generating turbines as needed. (This, of course, calls for the availability of such locations.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

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