Friday, January 2, 2015

Most Important Event of 2014

Subtitle: Weak Sunspot Cycle - Most Important Event was Not On The Radar

Cycle 24 - weakest, at bottom.  Source:
As the year 2015 has arrived and 2014 is gone, many writers have already discussed what they view as the most important event or events of 2014.  This is a very common thing, reviewing the old year as the new year arrives.  

This article addresses briefly a half-dozen events (more or less) that made the news in 2014, in no particular order, then discusses the most important event of the year: Sunspot Cycle 24 (the current cycle) peaked right on schedule, but far below most previous cycles.   The world-wide climate implications are grim. (see chart showing the relative activity of the four most recent solar cycles, 21, 22, 23, and 24)

1.  US midterm elections - resulting in conservative majorities in House and Senate for the remaining 2 years of Liberal Obama presidency.   Many of Obama's presidential accomplishments will be criticized, and a few will be reversed.   The defection of some Democrat legislators to vote with conservatives will be required.  However, the defection will likely save their electoral lives as they can show increasing distance from a wildly unpopular president.  

2.  Ebola outbreak, treatments improved, vaccines tested.   The deadly virus spread to many countries with this most recent outbreak, including the US and some in Europe.  Treatment systems and protocols work, at least for those who seek early treatment and are correctly diagnosed.  

3.  Space - first landing on a comet, successful test blastoff and return to Earth of Orion system.   The comet-lander bounced a bit and landed in a shadow, which is unfortunate because the batteries are solar-powered.  The solar panels are essentially useless in the shade.  We may never receive data from the lander again.  

Meanwhile, the Orion spacecraft was a huge success.    The Orion may be the technology that carries men to other moons and planets in the solar system, and perhaps asteroids.  SLB soon will carry an original article on the idiocy of a Mars manned colony.  As a preview, the hard reality is that Mars has strong radiation, very little protection from meteors, an unbreathable atmosphere, and is very cold, to mention only a few deadly issues.   

4.  China passed the US as the world's largest economy.  The diplomatic implications are staggering, as China can, and probably will, either threaten or impose economic sanctions on the US to achieve their goals.   

5.  OPEC caused the world price of oil to decline more than 50 percent by maintaining cartel output.  Gasoline prices have dropped to under US $2 per gallon, although California in its infinite wisdom increased state gasoline sales tax as part of the futile effort to combat global warming under state law AB 32, "The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006."   Worldwide, the lower oil price has many important implications.  Russia, a major oil exporter, will have greatly reduced revenues.  OPEC members will also see reduced revenues.  As SLB predicted years ago, this will very likely see OPEC fractured and member nations withdraw so they can pump all the oil they want.  Natural gas prices in many countries will also decrease, which will make electricity prices also decrease.  Consumers will have more disposable income, which will boost economic activity. 

6.  Nuclear power - Another US plant shutdown, Vermont Yankee; Sowell published 30 articles on SLB on Truth About Nuclear Power showing the futility of building and operating nuclear power plants, as not economic, not safe, and not sustainable long-term; as predicted, plants under construction are hopelessly delayed and have escalating construction costs; French plants are aging and are not reliable.   Providers of small, modular nuclear plants failed to attract investment or orders, completely as predicted - the small plants cannot possibly hope to be economic.   

7.  CO2 capture plant started operating in San Antonio, Texas - a commercial scale and economically viable plant designed and operated by Skyonic, Inc. of Austin, Texas.   This falsifies the statements made by many (ill-informed?  Deliberately misleading?) who maintain that there is no viable technology to reduce atmospheric CO2, therefore draconian reductions in fossil fuel use are required.    

8.  World coal consumption passed 9 billion tons annually, further decreasing the remaining years of economically viable coal.   An economically viable, and long-lasting (sustainable) source of 40 percent of the world's electricity production must be found and proven, long before the coal runs out.  This should be a strong priority for planners and policy makers around the world.  Economically produced coal is expected to run out in approximately 50 years.  

9.  Sunspot Cycle 24 had a weak peak and is now declining.   This is the single most important fact of the year 2014.   The sun's magnetic poles reversed, indicating the maximum has occurred.  The long, slow decline in sunspot number is now underway.   The Cycle 24 peak was approximately 80, compared to 120 (cycle 23), and 160 (both cycles 22 and 21)  (see graph at top of post).  

Some prominent solar physicists are on record calling for awareness that the weak solar activity is strongly associated with cold, sometimes bitterly cold, temperatures on Earth.   They also predict a return of the cold based on the very weak Cycle 24.   The winter of 2014-2015 has already started, with unusually cold events across the northern hemisphere.  As just one indication, winter ice appeared on the US Great Lakes far earlier than normal.   As another, Heating Degree Days for November in the US, per EIA, were 13 percent above average, however some regions experienced 30 and 36 percent greater than normal HDD.   Data for HDD for December will be published by EIA soon.   And yet another, the NOAA-predicted El Niño did not occur.   Finally, a new media term emerged: Polar Vortex, to describe vast areas of bitterly cold air plunging southward from Arctic regions and causing ice storms, heavy snow, and cold temperatures.  

As stated in other posts on SLB, there is no man-made global warming from burning fossil fuels.   Tiny increases in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere have no measurable effect on Earth's temperatures, as stated (paraphrased) by the imminent climate scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen (professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT).  

The area of grave concern, however, is the sudden and dramatic decrease in solar activity and the associated cold weather.   More detail on the implications are at an earlier post, Warmists are Wrong - Cooling is Coming (see part II), see link

There is no doubt about it:  the sun is weaker than it has been in the past 60 years.  Winter weather is earlier and colder.   The implications of prolonged and bitter cold are grim.   The most important event of 2014 was the weak peak of Sunspot Cycle 24.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California
Copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

Friday, November 28, 2014

OPEC Maintains Output - Prices Decline

In an earlier post, see link, the disarray in the world energy markets was discussed in view of OPEC's upcoming meeting in November, 2014.  

That meeting is now over, and OPEC chose to maintain oil output.  The effect will be for world crude oil prices to continue their fall.  Today's stock prices fell for major energy companies.   

Much has already been written about the likely effects of the lower oil prices.   Transportation costs for many will decrease as the crude oil prices work their way through the refining and marketing systems.  Consumers will have more disposable income, and will likely spend that rather than save. Some, though, will pay down debt.  

Oil-based chemicals and derivatives will also see price reductions, which will also benefit consumers.  

The long-term impact on nuclear power plants, both new and existing, will be to make them more and more un-economic.  Natural gas price, in many countries, is tied at least loosely to the price of oil.  Falling oil prices mean falling natural gas price, and a nuclear plant will have ever more difficulty competing with the power price from the natural gas-fired plants.  This is especially true of the combined-cycle gas turbine plants with the highest efficiencies.  see link  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2014 Roger Sowell

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts At 75000 Pageviews

Today the pageview counter at SLB turned over 75,000 pageviews, another milestone of sorts.   These views are from a bit more than 39,000 unique visitors from 143 countries. As always, it is amazing to see such numbers.  

Lately, the pace of pageviews has sharply increased.  That is most likely due to the 30-part series on Truth About Nuclear Power, TANP beginning in March and concluding in August.  Cumulatively, the TANP articles have almost 9,000 views to date, with the Summary article (part 30) and US Nuclear Plants are Heavily Subsidized (part 13) sharing the most views with just over 1,200 views each.   Nuclear plants typically are lauded by the industry and supporters as being cheap, safe, long-lasting, and reliable.  TANP articles shows the truth, that none of those claims are accurate.   New technologies under development are also touted by supporters (small reactors, fusion, thorium, and high temperature gas reactors), and these are shown in TANP to be hopelessly uneconomic or unsafe, or both.  see link to Article One of TANP. Links to all 30 articles are provided there. 

As my readers know very well, my views on man-made climate change are that the science does not support an alarmist view.  see link  That is based on a critical examination of the available data.  What is disappointing is that so many skeptics of climate alarmism are also nuclear power supporters.  How nice it would be if they applied the same scrutiny of climate data to the nuclear plant data.  It appears to me that the nuclear power supporters are being led by smooth-talking dis-informers.  An article on this appeared here:  see link

Also, another series is underway, this one on wind energy.  see link  There is much mis-information spread by the anti-wind group.  Truth About Wind Energy will dispel those myths and show why and how wind energy presently is providing valuable energy, and will in a few years be supplying reliable, low-cost, low environmental impact energy via grid-scale storage.  See link for additional SLB articles on wind energy. 

A few articles discussed coal as an energy source, (see link) concluding that coal is being used up much faster than in the past.  The grim consequence of this is that an economic and reliable replacement for forty percent of the world's electricity production must be found, tested, and proven long before the coal runs out.   The best candidates for coal replacement are renewable energy with grid-scale storage.  Candidates in this area include solar thermal, and offshore wind with submersible pumped storage.  Ocean current energy needs no storage, nor does energy from river mouth osmosis.  

A trio of legal-oriented articles from SLB were republished on other blogs, those being Are Climate Skeptics Legally Liable for Criminal Negligence (see link), Climate Science, Free Speech and Legal Liability (see link), and Prosecuting Those Who Force a Scientist to Resign (see link).  

It was also very interesting to rebut the false claims of the US President in his recent commencement speech to UC-Irvine (2014).  The President spoke on the urgency to combat dangerous man-made climate change.  see link   There is no man-made climate change, and therefore there is no urgency to combat it. 

Finally, it is is gratifying that several groups continue to request me to speak to them on various topics.   In the past three years, I have made formal speeches to Southern California Section of AIChE, to the student chapter of AIChE at University of California at Irvine, and the student chapter of AIChE at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles).    I am very pleased that UCLA students have asked me to present a four-part series of lectures on approaches to the national student design competition.   See link for a list of recent speeches. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nuclear Until Renewables Can Shoulder The Load - A Bad Idea

Subtitle:  Yet Another Lame Excuse To Prolong Nuclear Plant Lives

An article in Forbes (see link) is rather long-winded but finally gets to the point in the final paragraphs: 

"If we retire (carbon-free) nuclear plants prematurely, there is only one resource that can fill their place today. Gas-fired power plants (i.e. carbon-emitting) – with 40-year legacies – will step in to replace them. And those commitments, once made, cannot be easily undone."

Forbes correctly points out that solar and wind-powered energy technologies are improving rapidly, both technically and economically.  Therefore, Forbes argues, it is worth keeping the uneconomic, money-losing nuclear plants (see link) running for the additional years or even decades that are required to allow the "carbon-free" (their words) technologies to replace the nuclear plants.   To their credit, Forbes includes not only the power generation from wind and solar, but also grid-scale energy storage to allow on-demand, reliable power.  

Apparently, it is abhorrent to build gas-burning power plants, simply because they emit carbon dioxide from their stacks.   However, one must devoutly believe in the carbon-dioxide-emitted-by-man-is-overheating-the-planet nonsense to reach that conclusion.  Never mind that the climate alarmists have been proven wrong at every turn. 

What ridiculous analogies come to mind?  Should horses pulling buggies (and heavy wagons for commerce) have been subsidized, allowed to continue running by government decree, until electric cars became available and economic?  Should pocket pagers (remember those?) have been subsidized and required to be manufactured because flip-phones using cellular technology would someday be replaced by smart phones?  

Plus, what of the outrageous amounts of water for cooling that nuclear plants require?  It is known that a modern, gas-fired combined cycle plant, CCGT, uses one-fourth the cooling water of a nuclear plant.  Should those in water-scarce areas suffer for years, or decades, while the nuclear plant evaporates the fresh water?  Note, this is not a hypothetical:  the South Texas Nuclear Project (STNP) near Corpus Christi, Texas, does exactly that.  Texas has suffered through a prolonged and serious drought, with the primary storage reservoir, Lake Travis, sending water down the Colorado River to the plant while consumers along the river must not touch the water.   see link.   STNP has a small artificial pond to augment the river water, but that pond depends on seasonal rainfall.  Lately, the rain has not happened.  

Other nuclear plants in the arid areas have the same issue:  the cooling water is evaporated into the sky, where it could be used for human consumption.  

Forbes cites a nuclear industry group, apparently newly-formed, that is desperately trying to pitch nuclear plants as "good" because they are "carbon-free."  The group is Nuclear Matters.  This newest, lamest excuse can be added to the other excuses the industry makes for not shutting down the money-losing nuclear plants, one of which is "nuclear plants create jobs," still another is "nuclear plant closures will have a serious negative effect on the economy."  

The bottom line is this, as shown in a recent SLB article on the proposed and newly-approved UK nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, (see link), renewable energy plus grid-scale storage must beat US$ 12,000 per kW installed to beat the economics of a new, grid-scale nuclear power plant.  With large offshore wind turbines coupled to submerged spherical pumped-storage hydroelectric systems, the $12,000 critical threshold should be fairly easy to achieve or better.   Even more, the nuclear plants cannot follow the grid load, and if they did, their economics are much worse.  Meanwhile, the submerged pumped storage systems can easily follow the grid load.   

In conclusion, there is no need to keep the money-losing nuclear plants running.  The US should take full and immediate advantage of the strong offshore wind resources and work out the inevitable kinks in the submerged pumped storage systems. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, October 12, 2014

UK Hinkley Point Nuclear Plant Heavily Subsidized

Subsidies for nuclear power plants are not just in the US.   This week, several sources report that UK's proposed Hinkley Point C plant, a 3,200 MWe nuclear plant, received a blessing from the EU Commission to obtain public funding - a form of subsidy.  See link for a BBC report.   (for more on US subsidies for its nuclear power plants, of which there are at least six different subsidies, see this link and this link). 

The Hinkley Point C plant will have two reactors, each 1,600 MWe, of the EPR reactor design that is currently such a fiasco in Finland at Olkiluoto. (see link)   To their credit, the BBC article admits the Hinkley Point C will require 10 years to first operation.  However, the plant life is also stated as 60 years, which is wildly optimistic. 

The subsidy for Hinkley Point C apparently takes the form of a high sales price for power at the transaction bar - the plant boundary.  The plant owner is guaranteed the equivalent of US 15 cents per kWh, approximately double the present rate for wholesale power in the UK.  

What is interesting is the quoted price to build the plant, at £24.5 billion (the equivalent of US$ 39.2 billion).   This equates to MORE than $10,000 per kW, at $12,250.   Again, this is precisely what SLB has maintained all along - a new nuclear power plant costs far more than the $4,000 some advocates maintain.  Instead, it will cost at least $10,000 per kW, and more likely $12,000 per kW.   Here we see at least a small beginning of honesty from the nuclear establishment.  

However, given the long, dismal history of nuclear plant schedule delays and cost overruns, it is to be expected that the Hinkley Point C twin reactor plant will take far longer than 10 years to startup, and will cost far more than US$ 39 billion.  It will likely require 15 years or longer, and $48 billion or even more.  

The poor people of the UK will foot the bill, as they have few choices but to buy the power.  However, with the higher and higher prices that will inevitably occur, it may be possible for some of the grid customers to unplug themselves from the grid.  There may be better, cheaper ways to produce their own electricity.  For an analysis of such ways, see this link.   In the year 2023 or perhaps later, 2030 as a more realistic startup date, the options for unplugging from the grid and self-generation will likely be more numerous and more appealing than what we have today.  

It will be a long, long time before Hinkley Point C begins producing power and its true impact will be felt.  One can only hope the resourceful people of the UK will rise to the occasion and replace as much power as possible to self-generate and save money.  

In another moment of rare candor, UK officials tried to justify the new nuclear plant by stating that there are few options available for providing reliable power.  They state that coal is nearly exhausted and would be unreliable if imported, natural gas also is in short supply and in danger of being cut off by selling nations (meaning Russia), and wind is too unreliable.  Solar in the UK area is not at all economically attractive, owing to the high latitude and cloudy weather.  (The UK, after all, is of the same approximate latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada)   

What, then, is left but nuclear?    One answer, of course, is offshore wind coupled to ocean-based storage systems that supply power on demand, quite reliably. (see link) By 2030, one expects that the offshore wind with storage to be well-proven and very attractive.    All the offshore wind projects must do to compete is beat US$12,250 per kW.  The energy is free, and many of the other very high costs of running a nuclear plant simply do not exist for wind-energy. 

Update - 10/13/2014:  UK wind resources offshore are quite good.  see link   -- end update. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Grand Game - Oil in Disarray

Subtitle: Precision Directional Drilling Causes Oil Price Decrease

It has been a while (four years) since I last wrote on the Grand Game, where renewable energy, nuclear power, oil, coal, and natural gas all compete for shares of the world's energy needs.  Previous articles on the Grand Game may be found here (see link).   This week has seen a flurry of articles on the weakness of OPEC, and the looming oil price collapse.   (see link for one of many such articles)

The reasons for the impending oil price reduction, or collapse as it may turn out, are fundamental economics of supply and demand.  Demand is stable or slightly falling, while world supply is increasing as US domestic oil production due to precision directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing brings more oil to the surface.   On a side note: hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" as the media terms it, is not the key.  It does little good to fracture an oil-bearing formation if the oil well is vertical and pierces only a small part of the oil-bearing rock.  The key to the recent increased oil production is precision directional drilling, in which the oil well travels horizontally through the oil-bearing rock.   

Meanwhile, new cars are achieving ever-increasing miles-per-gallon ratings.  In the commercial aviation field, more and more ultra-efficient aircraft are flying, including Airbus' A380 and the Boeing 787.   However, the biggest influence is the increased oil production in the US.  

World oil price hit a low point this week, with the benchmark crude reaching $90 per barrel, representing approximately 10 percent decrease from recent prices.   It will be very interesting to see if OPEC members can reach some agreement on reduced production levels in an effort to increase or maintain price.  Or, perhaps the member countries will splinter and engage in a production war, each trying to sell as much as possible while prices plummet. 

On an editorial note, the price of oil has many ramifications.   The primary impact is on the cost of delivered goods since most goods move to their destination by petroleum-powered transport.  The transport usually takes the form of diesel-powered trucks and trains.  Also, ships and barges burn fuel oil.   Consumers who drive cars also enjoy reduced prices at the gasoline pump, leaving more disposable income in their wallets.   Industries do not burn much oil in modern times, and very little electricity is produced from oil so there is not much benefit for them.   

One of the major benefits is the price of natural gas, which in some instances is tied to the price of oil.  For example, Russia recently contracted to supply China with great quantities of natural gas, with the price of the gas being tied to the price of oil.    Since natural gas is used for electric power production, lower oil prices will have some impact on electricity prices. 

Long-term, OPEC has warned that low oil prices will create an oil shortage.  OPEC insists that few, if any, investments will be made into new production unless the price is obtainable to justify the spending.  

OPEC will meet again in November, 2014.   The results of that meeting should be interesting. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Monday, September 29, 2014

Russia and Energy Stranglehold on Europe

Subtitle: Still Dumb to Drill Baby Drill in US

An article by Paul Driessen, senior policy analyst at CFACT, appears at  (see link), in which he makes several points directed at how EU nations and the US should change energy policies to reduce the Russians' grip over those EU countries.   

(side note:  I met Paul Driessen briefly at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change, July 7-9, 2014, in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I cannot say I know the man well; it was just a very brief hello and exchange of cards.)

Some of what Mr. Driessen wrote in his Stranglehold article makes sense, and I agree with those points.   Other points are wrong, in my view.  

He is correct that Russia sells a great deal of natural gas to EU nations, and that Russia sometimes cuts off the gas flow.   He is also correct that EU nations could, and probably should, take steps to reduce reliance on Russian gas.  

His recommended steps are to import more gas from the US and other countries, and produce gas in their own countries.   What Mr. Driessen does not mention is that the US economy is enjoying a boom in engineering, process plant construction, and production of materials produced in those plants.  The economy, as bad as it is, would be much, much worse without the present supplies and low prices of feedstocks for those process plants - feedstocks that derive from production of natural gas.   Exporting natural gas to EU countries or elsewhere would increase the price of our domestic gas, and the light hydrocarbons that feed those chemical processing plants.    Therefore, it is not in the US' best interest to export natural gas to EU. 

I agree that other countries could, and should, produce their own reserves of natural gas.  The key process is precision directional drilling, not just hydraulic fracturing.   (see link for my article on France, natural gas, and the French nuclear industry). 

Next, Mr. Driessen argues that the US should increase drilling and production of oil from Federal lands.  This is an error, as I have written on and made speeches about (see link).  In my 2011 speech at Tulane Law School, New Orleans, Louisiana, I made the point that the US must conserve its oil resources against a future when other countries once again stop their oil exports to us, and we are in a prolonged and possibly world war.  All US presidents know that one of the reasons the Allies won World War II was the oil from the US.   This is indisputable, and is described in great detail in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Prize by Daniel Yergin.    As I said in my speech at Tulane, 

". . . we must take the long view and not be short-sighted. It is critical that the US be prepared for that day when we will desperately need our domestic oil. That day when our foreign supplies are cut off yet again, and this time we are in a prolonged world war, similar to World War II. To meet that day, we must have oil in our own lands. Every president since Truman has known this to be true, and therefore have made so much of the USA offshore off-limits to drilling. The West Coast, East Coast, and eastern Gulf of Mexico are off-limits to drilling. Much of the on-shore lands are also off-limits, including the ANWR. We know the oil is there. We don’t need that oil right now. Preserving that oil for the future is critical, and that is why Drill, Baby, Drill is Dumb, Baby, Dumb."

Finally, Mr. Driessen opines that "the world is not going find safe, efficient, affordable, environment-friendly alternatives to oil, natural gas and coal in the next decade or so."   Yet, the renewable energy industries have already delivered wind and solar power that is producing valuable electric power.  The renewable energy field has ongoing reductions in production costs, as more efficient machines are made in both wind and solar arenas, better wind resources are tapped, economy of scale is applied, and grid-scale storage systems are deployed.   High prices for natural gas make the economics of renewable systems even better, therefore EU nations can look more and more to renewables.   The future will include not only wind and solar, but ocean currents will provide vast amounts of inexhaustible power with no need for storage.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved