In honor of the efforts of those in the big Climate March this weekend (http://peoplesclimate.org/march/) and the almost sure to follow disappointment, betrayal, co-optation as well as the derision and depression that is surely to come afterwards to those brave participants, how about a nice picture of something that can remake the future, one turbine at a time? And we wish you the best of luck in your efforts - we hope you at least make it onto the evening news on Sunday. Picture from http://www.vestas.com/en/media/images.aspx#!turbines of a German array when winter was still possible…
As for that wind turbine, it is the one thing that really puts fear and anger into those pushing natural gas as the temporary answer to so many of our energy problems (as in, the perceived lack thereof of Ngas). They really don’t care much about PV’s - in their minds, money spent on PVs is just less money for wind turbines - even though they may not be happy about them. After all, for every million dollars expended in the US for PVs, on average only 292 MW-hr of electricity will get made in a year (at $4.5 million per MW of PV capacity, 15% average efficiency - see https://openpv.nrel.gov). That will (on average) displace the combustion of about 2.375 million standard cubic feet of natural gas (methane) in a year (42% average thermal efficiency), with a bulk value of about $9144/yr at the present gas price of $3.85/kcf. In NY State those PV’s will only make 214 MW-hr/yr - not as much sun gets through the clouds around here, so a megabucks worth of installed PVs only displaces $6706/yr worth of methane at present prices in NY State.
That same $1 million would produce 1753 MW-hr/yr (40% efficiency, $2 million per MW of capacity installed) - though the minimum size that makes sense is now around 1.7 MW capacity these days. So that commercial turbine will displace 6 times as much natural gas for the same $1 million in much of the country, or 8.2 times as much Ngas in NY State (almost $55.000/yr worth of methane). Now, if you are in the business of trying to sell as much methane as you can as fast as you can either because it could soon get really pricey (and then wind sourced electricity becomes cheaper than gas sourced electricity) or it might be forced by bad economics or (unlikely) good climate policy to stay put in the ground, you might not oppose PV so much, because you will certainly sell a lot more Ngas (at least for electricity production) if people choose to install PV’s instead of wind turbines. So if you had a trace of strategic planning capability and were of the conniving sort, you would not really oppose PV installations too much, but instead you would put all your efforts into blocking wind turbines, because you could sell more Ngas in North America that way in the next decade while supplies still exist which can be extracted at prices that undercut wind turbines. In other words, PVs are pretty good for the gas biz, because money spent on them means money NOT spent on commercial scale wind turbines in today’s zero sum arrangement.
But aside from causing Global Warming and a big mess when fracking is employed to get it out of the ground, methane can also lead to all kinds of financial fraud and actual warfare over the huge piles of money to be raked in from selling mass quantities of it. And for a lot of people in places where actual winters exist, at present, methane extracted from underground deposits is what both keeps people warm and keeps the electricity grid functional, supplying considerable amounts of the electricity of many countries, such as the US, Canada and Great Britain.
There are four present big conflicts in the world where one of the central causes or major factors of these wars is natural gas, and in particular, how to get the methane from the gas field to paying customers. These are in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and the Ukraine, though that potential also exists in Algeria, Eurasian former Soviet Republics (FSU), Iraq, Iran, offshore of the eastern Mediterranean Sea (Gaza, Israel, Palestine, Syria) due to the Leviathan field discovery in some deep waters, and a burgeoning spat between China and Japan over disputed oceanic reserves. And it turns out that ONE cure for these social and mental diseases (wars, psuedo-wars, spats) is commercial scale wind turbines, so there also is the war ON wind turbines which has Global Warming as its “minor” consequence. And that is sort of a war on anyone or any living critter on the planet. But since they don’t vote and don’t have money (a bird or a bacteria just has no use for the finer things in life….), they have no say in these issues. And since lots of money is involved, we get to involve the taproot of evil, a combination of money, greed, money lust, nationalism, historical gripes of epoch proportions, power over others, dominance, submission, gambling, epic corruption, religion, fear of starvation, fear of thirst, and fear of not having they money that can buy everything from good health to awesome sex to really bad sex, not to mention promulgating genetic code that are of dubious quality from a mental health standpoint. Quite a batch of gumbo here…, but since the Golden Rule is “those who have the gold make the rules”, well, you know it’s going to get ugly. And then there are those minor conflicts such as in Nigeria, East Timor, Angola, Equatorial Guinea…..
Some particulars on these wars and “conflicts”:
1) Afghanistan has been in play since the 2000 to 9-11-2001 time period, when the Enron Corporation needed a huge flow of gas to go to a 2.2 GW gas to electric plant that they had built in India. Negotiations between the repressive Taliban and US companies such as Unocal and other international entities were being conducted to transmit FSU gas via Afghanistan to both Pakistan and India, especially to the Enron power plant. And the plans still remain, even though the opportunity went up in smoke on 9-11-2001…
2) Libya has gas pipelines that connect its former colonizer, Italy, with gas often derived as a by-product of oil, as well as a a large number of new fields have been located offshore of Libya with BP as the primary player in these (gee what could go wrong…). Before former dictator Qadaffi was removed via a concerted set of activities, Libya was exporting 2 mbd of oil and a 1 bcfd of gas - but with the dictator gone, chaos and jihaists of all sorts (paid by Qatar and others) now reign and jockey for position. Libya still has about 60 billion barrels of high quality oil buried in the ground, and a lot of gas, so a lot of southern Europe’s financial prospects rest on order being restored in that region. And if Italy can’t get that gas from Libya, well, it has to pay more for stuff obtained elsewhere…
3) The Ukraine has gone from being an exporter of gas to the Soviet Union to a “transit country” (the gas fields onshore are mostly tapped out by now). There are several major gas lines that connect Russia’s vast gas supply with central Europe and thus central Europe’s money. In the last 20 years, most of the Ukraine’s income and wealth generation has been in either fees for gas transit (along with a cut of the gas transmitted), agriculture, gas based chemicals and weaponry for Russia. Most of the massive “transit fees” have been stolen by the “oligarchs” in the Ukraine, and now there is little to show for it. The US-European originated coup this spring has degenerated into both a military conflict and a way to massively impoverish EVEN MORE of most of the Ukraine’s people. The vast gas supplies in the Black Sea near Crimea are now forfeited to Russia, and as winter approaches, no money and no gas are going to be a very cruel combination - perhaps crueler than the Ukranian Nazi’s who are consolidating power from the oligarchs who think they can control them. Should things go even worse, a large segment of Europe will have their gas held hostage by the Nazis/oligarchs coalition which hates Russia and is hated by Russia (the Russians just don’t like Nazis after WW2). However, while it is normally money that smooths over things/does the talking, things are now up in the air, and money might not calm these profound disputes. Several million people could starve or freeze this year if some compromise by the oligarchs with Russia and the Europeans is not arrived at soon….
4) Syria’s conflict began shortly after a plan to export gas from Qatar via Saudia Arabia via Syria through Turkey and to Europe was rejected in favor of the Iran-Iraq-Syria plan by Syria’s Baathist Party leadership. The present chaos of ISIS is a “Made in Qatar/Saudia Arabia/USA” mess (check out this most awesome article on ISIS - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html), with all sorts of Sunni extremists waging a mercenary war that may get out of control. It may also turn into a Sunni-Shia bloodbath, where the ancient conflict is settled for once and for all. But it is the ability to transmit massive quantities of methane to Europe that is at the root of this; the religion and other turf wars are just the icing on the cake. Also of interest is the Leviathan gas field that parallels the eastern Mediterranean coast (but is in deep waters) - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan_gas_field. While only a mere 25 trillion cubic feet of gas, this IS 2 billion cubic feet per day for over 34 years. And there is enough oil to keep Israel supplied for some time…. and Israel in the intrigue of this battle in Syria.
In many cases, oil is also involved, as oil and methane often come from the same hydrocarbon deposits. In some cases, the country in question doesn’t even have the gas, but they have a location between where the gas is and where the use that also has money is. This is because methane is somewhat special, as it generally needs pipelines to get it to customers; otherwise very expensive cryogenic liquid methane transportation SYSTEMS need to get purchased and installed. These systems include the liquefaction facility ($5 billion minimum), LNG tankers and LNG storage/gasification units (also $5 billion minimum), and the ability to finance these facilities, too. And then there is the safety aspect - you can’t put LNG facilities in places where really ticked off people are going to use weaponry or other nefariousness to blow these up, or to even threaten to blow them up - explosions that would be like a small nuke going off (but at least no radiation fallout). Pipeline systems (the installed pipe and gas compressors) are cheaper, but there is the issue of trolling. Lots of money is at stake, and lots of people want a cut of the action when all that is needed is the right of transit and not much else. And did corruption get mentioned? Sometimes it’s a fine line between just compensation and shakedown, and isn’t Switzerland a nice place to keep the proceeds? Then there is the issue of banking and how to move all that cash from customer to pipeline troll and supplier… as well as how to finance these deals.
It used to be that the methane that was found when searching for crude oil, or that came along with crude oil, was a real pain - and probably the leading cause of oil wells blowing up. And it still happens - the Macondo well that BP might get dinged for an additional $18 billion blew up because the pressure of the crude (which was about 50 wt% methane). But methane in the form of “natural gas” soon displaced “City Gas” (a mix of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a some methane) that was made in “Gas Works” by reacting red hot coal with water/steam, and “natural gas” is definitely an improvement on City Gas…. After all, in winter it gets cold in a lot of places in the Northern Hemisphere, and methane can mean the difference between freezing to death and staying warm… Methane can also power up a big part of a manufacturing society, and while cheap energy is cheap, lots of wealth (fairly or unfairly distributed) can be generated. Half of the ammonia (which means a major portion of the protein content in food) used in the world comes from hydrogen made using methane - it’s so much easier to use than coal. For North America and Europe, no ammonia means no food for much of the present population….
By now, most of Europe and North America get most of their residential heating from natural gas, which tends to be anything but clean, but if you have the money for it and have access to it, you can stay warm in the winter. Otherwise, you can use propane or fuel oil, but those tend to be more expensive. And for those in rural regions, wood is often an alternative or a supplement to fossil fuels. One of the more expensive other approaches is electric resistance heating. For those paying 18 c/kw-hr for their delivered electricity (as in a state like NY), this is $53/MBtu (hey, at least it is 100% efficient….). Fuel oil at $4/gal delivered is still around $26/MBtu, and correcting for an 85% efficient furnace, you get $31.40/MBtu. Propane is a bit cheaper, but not that much… Meanwhile, delivered natural gas is around $10/MBtu delivered these days, which translates into $11.76/MBtu once furnace inefficiencies are taken into account. Price data approximately from http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Energy-Data-and-Prices-Planning-and-Policy.aspx
North America is essentially a separate world with respect to natural gas from Asia-Africa-Europe, and is still temporarily in a “gas glut” which is slowly fading away as the big drilling boom of 2006-2009 gets “digested”. Most of the wells recently drilled were based on fracking, most have rapid depletion rates, and since less than 25% of the number of wells drilled per year for gas is the present drilling rate (versus 2008), this indigestion will soon pass. Most wells now drilled in the US are for fracking based oil, which also makes a lot of methane, but those too will rapidly deplete. However, the price of oil makes such drilling possible, and the by-product methane can add to profits. But in this temporary glut where most gas wells drilled are money losers or certainly not epoch money makers like they are SUPPOSED to be and where huge losses are still getting racked up (see http://srsroccoreport.com/condition-red-fracking-is-destroying-oil-gas-companies-balance-sheets/condition-red-fracking-is-destroying-oil-gas-companies-balance-sheets/), there is no longer much tolerance for lack of profits. Most gas only wells or prospects for wells are no longer “bankable”. The bottom lines are:
1. Nothing has changed in America….. there’s always another sucker born every minute.
2. Spot price of methane on 9-11-14 was $3.85 per thousand standard cubic feet (kcf = MBtu)
So gas is still pretty cheap, at least in major pipelines. Residential rates… not so much…
But in Europe, where 500 million relatively affluent people live in places that still have actual winters, methane prices are north of $11/MBtu in major pipelines. And while there are some decent methane fields (Netherlands, North Sea) in Europe, most methane used gets imported. That comes by pipeline (Algeria, Libya, Russia) and by Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tanker (Qatar, especially), and while most European countries try real hard to build up big underground stashes (except Great Britain), the stash only goes so far. And then there is India, China and Japan, where methane prices are quite high (Japanese prices are near $17/MBtu), where most imported material arrives via LNG tanker. India and Iran make a natural connection, as do the FSU countries to the north of Afghanistan, but that requires a solution to the potential Iranian nukes issue, a cessation of the Pakistan-India spat and a cessation of Pakistan’s efforts to add Afghanistan to THEIR empire building efforts (via the Taliban-Pakistan security (their CIA-FBI equivalent)). Pipelines require that adjacent countries and customer-suppliers at least be civil to each other and overlook various differences in return for the money made by supplying product or right of way. And while the power of lots of money over long time periods can be great, it can’t do miracles and overcome many severe hatreds (such as the Shia-Sunni or the Muslim-Hindu eternal wars).
The essence of the “methane trade” is to connect customers with money (such as Europeans, Japanese) and natural gas suppliers via pipelines. The supplier and customer are then connected at the hip, so to speak, and it is both of their interests not to rain on the other’s parade. Pipelines are a long term commitment, and the pipelines, compressors and gas/oil fields are a big investment which need to be repaid - such as via steady supplies and reasonably stable prices. LNG systems (tankers, liquefaction, storage/gasification facilities) are an even more massive investment. Much to the dismay of financial speculators, a lot of the gas is sold via long term contracts, especially from Russia. The one area that is NOT connected to either the money stashes in northern Europe or India, China and Japan to any great extent is the Persian Gulf, and the world’s biggest stash of methane is in the southern part of the Persian Gulf. This field is shared by Qatar and Iran (North Dome/South Pars) and it holds close to 1800 trillion standard cubic feet of methane, as well as lots of valuable ethane, propane and butane (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pars_/_North_Dome_Gas-Condensate_field). Production in Iran is now around 18 billion scfd, and in Qatar production is over 23 billion scfd. This filed is amazingly productive, wells are unlikely to go dry for decades, production costs are really cheap, and the combined production (41 bscfd) is similar to that of the entire U.S. (~70 bscfd from 540,000 wells). This field is a license to print money….
But so much of the cost is tied up in compressing an liquifying the methane… if only there were pipelines to connect the monied customers with that methane. And pipelines could easily go to India, Pakistan and China, too…
While the North Dome/South Pars is the world’s biggest gas field, there are a lot of massive fields in Iran, Iraq, and especially Russia, as well as some ex-USSR countries (the “‘Stans”) and Algeria (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_gas_fields). But this gas is useless unless it has paying customers, or else it gets converted into either ammonia or methanol, for which shipping by tanker is easy. In some cases, it can get converted to petroleum (Qatar's Pearl facility) but those are fabulously expensive….. In the meantime, in North America most of the prime gas fields are already tapped out, many of the smaller offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico are getting tapped out, and so fracking has come to fill the void. But fracking wells don’t last decades (they are generally 90% or more used up in less than 5 years. Having to frack for gas means that you will soon be importing LNG and will be one of many customers competing for the fabulous Persian Gulf supplies of methane.
So those who control the flow of gas to dependent (whether to power industry, make electricity or provide the citizenry with heat) countries have a lot of power…. unless there is competition to the Ngas biz. And so far, a combination of getting more efficient and wind turbines ARE the competition to natural gas, with biomass and solar thermal heating being nice supplements to the wind turbines. Nothing else comes close to filling the void that will be left when the gas supplies start to diminish in terms of rate of supply. At least in places like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and almost all of Europe.
So the race is on - will the easy to get at methane get used up in North America before Climate Sanity becomes a dominant thing? Will this country start tapping its awesome and really low cost to produce wind based electricity, or will that opportunity get royally tubed? Will the same nut jobs who brought us the Iraq War disaster (many are still employed in the US State Department - they are often called “neo-cons”) get us into wars in the Middle East or Ukraine or other “Gas states” such as Kazakistan over methane, or will it be done the old fashioned way - over oil? Time will tell, but gettingg active - no matter how futile it all seems - is what has to be done, no matter how distasteful it seems. Otherwise, no pretty winter pictures of wind turbines, because there won’t be winters with snow to them any more… And while that may sound enticing, it isn’t - think Frankenstorm Sandy, but amped up with a rising ocean level that turns a lot of NY State’s money machine - NY City - into a none too valuable fish farm…