Millions of people on the planet are working on alternative energy: engineers, politicians, laborers and analysts. Even more people are the consumers of these emission-free power sources which range from solar to biofuels. In the future, yet more novel types of energy will charge our grids: geothermal, space-based solar, tidal, hydrogen, and more.
On Thursday April 15, President Biden imposed long-awaited sanctions on Russia, blaming the Kremlin for the SolarWinds hack that breached U.S. government agencies and American companies. The sanctions are aimed at Russia's disinformation efforts and the occupation of Crimea, along with its recent military buildup and exercises on the Ukraine border. Ten Russian diplomats were expelled as a result.
The Biden administration recently announced a plan to substantially expand the use of offshore wind power along the East Coast, aiming to tap a huge new source of clean energy that is likely to gain widespread acceptance in the United States.
March 27 saw the culmination of a half-decade of negotiations between Beijing and Tehran, with foreign ministers meeting to sign a twenty-five-year $400 billion strategic and economic partnership. The specifics of the agreement are largely in line with China’s ongoing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), spending billions in infrastructure investment with an eye on long term influence and economic and security hegemony. Major sectors include oil, gas, petrochemical, renewables, nuclear power, and energy infrastructure. The draft agreement also covered the high-tech and military cooperation, as well as port construction to facilitate Iran’s integration in China’s Belt and Road trade routes.
The idea of space-based laser weapons orbiting the earth has been a part of popular culture and real life government projects for decades, from James Bond’s Goldeneye to Ronald Reagan’s ambitious “Star Wars” program. Recently, the Pentagon began developing a framework to promote the innovation of what it calls Direct Energy Weapons (DEW) designed to weaponize laser systems for use against military targets. The U.S. military more than doubled its spending on DEWs between 2017 and 2019, from $535 million to $1.1 billion. Yet, compared with the massive funding for kinetic missile defense and nuclear modernization, these are minuscule budgets.
This past week, Volkswagen Group brand Audi confirmed an end to the development of new combustion engines, as well as an overarching strategy to give the company an edge in the fierce battle for electric vehicle (EV) marketshare. The future for automakers is all about batteries: lowering costs, improving performance, and increasing production capacity.
The global competition for critical minerals is heating up and the US isn’t winning. Among these critical minerals is a subset known as rare earth elements (REEs) which are vital to everything from the energy transition to national defense. On March 4th Tesla announced its partnership with a nickel mine in New Caledonia. The announcement comes amidst emerging rumors that China will impose export limits on rare earths metals. What’s the connection?
On Sunday March 7, Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked an Aramco oil facility in Ras Tanura, a major port on Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf Coast. Brigadier General. Yahya Sarea, a spokesman for the rebel group, said in a televised statement that ballistic missiles and drones hit the oil facility and one of its largest refineries, along with military positions in nearby Dammam. Sarea said the attack was part of the Houthis’ “natural right” as a response to the “aggression and total siege of our dear country” by the Saudis.
The Israeli government is accusing Iran of environmental terrorism over the historic oil disaster unfolding along its Mediterranean coast line. At this point, nearly 100 tons of tar and contaminated material have been scraped off the country’s shores since cleanup efforts began on the 21st of February. In the ensuing investigation the original culprit has since been identified by authorities as a pirate-owned Libyan oil tanker carrying stolen cargo from Iran to Syria.
A massive oil spill off the coast of Israel is being called the worst ecological disasters in the Mediterranean country’s history. The cause and full extent of the damage is still unknown, but Israeli authorities are investigating. Several tankers are under suspicion.
Let’s not mince words – the energy crisis in Texas is an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. Some 4.4 million people have been without power, heat, and running water for days and lack of the state grid’s preparation is to blame. Texas loves to brag about its energy independence and self-reliant electrical grid. But the events of the past week underscore that America’s largest energy producer is not as energy secure as once thought. About 90% of the Lone Star State is powered by a Texas-only power grid, but the current events strongly suggest that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) should join a regional transmission organization to meet energy demands.
When Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), filed a patent for a “Plasma Compression Fusion Device” in 2019, it was either a giant breakthrough – or mad science. According to the patent application, the miniature device could contain and sustain fusion reactions capable of generating power in the gigawatt (1 billion watts) to terawatt (1 trillion watts) range or more. A large coal plant or mid-size nuclear powered reactor by comparison produces energy in the 1–2 gigawatt range. The revolutionary invention by Dr. Pais, if real, would produce near unlimited clean energy from something no larger than a sports utility vehicle.
President Biden is expected to announce a moratorium on future oil and gas drilling permits today, Wednesday January 27, fulfilling in part his campaign pledge to end drilling on federal lands and the continental shelf. The move, which has long been anticipated by the O&G industry, comes on the heels of a January 20th order signed by Acting Secretary of the Interior Scott de la Vega mandating a 60-day restriction for new onshore and offshore fossil fuel leases. Should the Senate confirm Deb Haaland as the Secretary of Interior, the order might be extended further or even made permanent, though Republicans will doubtless try to ally with pro-business Democrats in opposing such a move.
The success of vaccine rollouts in the US and other energy hungry economies will have considerable implications for energy demand in 2021. The Trump Administration dropped the ball on the vaccine roll-out, and distribution now becomes the first crucial test of the Joe Biden presidency. Unfortunately, current vaccination trends suggest a bleak recovery.
While largely forgotten in today’s news cycle of the attack on the Capitol and the impeachment, last Tuesday’s Democrat victories in Georgia secured the first Democratic Party trifecta — control over the presidency, the House, and the Senate — since the 2010 midterms, enabling President-elect Biden’s ability to enact his climate agenda. The news is welcome to activists, but those hoping for a Green New Deal are likely to be disappointed by the 117th Congress – and the Biden Administration.
Microsoft’s billionaire founder Bill Gates is financially backing the development of sun-dimming technology that would potentially reflect sunlight out of Earth’s atmosphere, triggering a global cooling effect. The Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), launched by Harvard University scientists, aims to examine this solution by spraying non-toxic calcium carbonate (CaCO3) dust into the atmosphere — a sun-reflecting aerosol that may offset the effects of global warming.
The Biden Administration – due to take office January 20th, 2021 – is expected to turn political rhetoric into political action when it comes to the nation’s resource use and energy management. Central to this will be decarbonizing the US electricity sector through renewable power sources as part of the much-touted green energy transition.
Central Asia’s economies have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with demand for the region’s prolific oil and gas supplies down substantially over the course of 2020. Relative to last year, global oil demand is expected to contract by 9 million barrels (about 10 percent) and crude prices remain at an anemic $48/bbl. International natural gas prices are at multiyear lows. This is bad news for gas giant Turkmenistan, hydrocarbon rich Uzbekistan, and OPEC+ member Kazakhstan, which all rely on oil and gas revenues to fill government coffers.
In September, British oil conglomerate BP made a stunning prediction: the use of oil as a fuel in transport may peak in the mid-to-late 2020s. This means that we are either fast approaching peak oil demand — the zenith of oil consumption growth — or we are already there.
By most accounts, OPEC, the global oil exporting cartel and their allies led by Russia — known as OPEC Plus — should be wary of the incoming U.S. administration’s rhetoric. President-elect Biden campaigned on an historically pro-environment agenda: He intends to rejoin the UNFCCC Paris Agreement on climate change, achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, and invest trillions into a ‘clean energy revolution’ that will transition America towards green electrification. This adds yet more obstacles for an organization that once viewed the United States — the world’s number one crude consumer — as its prized export market.
As the world is anticipating the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, energy consumption in industry and services is likely to grow. In the longer term, the developing world will increase its energy utilization, leading to growth of global primary energy demand by of 0.4% - 0.6% per year, or a 25% increase by 2050. According to scenarios calculated by energy giant Total SE, massive electrification of transportation will lead to decarbonization, and will require a rapid growth in renewables as a source of electricity.
On November 15th the world’s largest trade agreement was signed in a virtual meeting room, bringing an end to eight years of negotiations. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) links 15 Asia-Pacific economies, including the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. This is a historic step – and a major trade blow to the United States.
With Joe Biden’s presidential election victory last week, climate change is set to be a top priority for the incoming administration, second only to the Covid-19 recovery. As discussed in my recent article, the president-elect has laid out an ambitious roadmap for decarbonizing the US economy, which includes a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions for the country by 2050. This will require unprecedented investments in green energy technologies: from traditional solar, wind, and storage to frontier tech like hydrogen fuel cells and small modular reactors (SMRs).
Days after Joe Biden’s contentious presidential win, the U.S. Federal Reserve – known as one of America’s most conservative institutions – acknowledged for the first time the financial risks of climate change in its biannual financial stability report. In comments attached to the publication, Fed Governor Lael Brainard said the following:
“Acute hazards, such as storms, floods, or wildfires, may cause investors to update their perceptions of the value of real or financial assets suddenly…slow increases in mean temperatures or sea levels, or a gradual change in investor sentiment about those risks, introduce the possibility of abrupt tipping points or significant swings in sentiment.”
The historic win of the Presidency by Joe Biden will massively change U.S. policies, foreign and domestic. It is too early to project the scope of that transformation. Without a doubt, Biden’s energy policy will differ from that of his predecessor.