Friday, July 15, 2011

CO2 to Hold Steady This Year, But Rise Coming in 2012

The Energy Information Administration expects fossil-fuel CO2 emissions to remain flat in 2011, as higher petroleum and natural gas consumption is offset by a decline in coal, according to the agency’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook.

Increases in hydroelectric and other renewable energy generation will help to mitigate growth in emissions, EIA says, and it expects natural gas inventories to approach record levels this year. But the agency expects a 0.9 percent increase in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions in 2012 as consumption rises.

EIA expects very little growth in electricity consumption this year, with a decline in residential use balancing out increased electricity sales to industrial and commercial sectors. Average residential prices are expected to rise 2.9 percent from 11.6 cents per kWh in 2010 to 11.9 cents per kWh this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that cooling degree-days this summer will be about 14 percent lower than last summer, resulting in a 5.3 percent comparative decline in residential electricity consumption.

Natural gas generation in the electric power sector is projected to increase by 1.6 percent in 2011 and by 1.2 percent in 2012. Natural gas’s share of electricity generation has shifted either up or down, depending on what part of the country is under consideration.

Its share in the West Census Region slumped from 29 percent to 19 percent between Q1 2010 and Q1 2011, reaching the smallest first-quarter share since 2000, as a result of record levels of hydroelectric generation. On the other hand, low marginal costs for natural gas compared to coal pushed up natgas’s share by nearly six percent in the Northeast Census region.

EIA expects that generators in the East will continue the trend of substituting natural gas for coal, with nationwide coal production falling by 1.2 percent this year, while in the West natural gas’s share will rise as hydroelectric’s falls. But in 2012, EIA expects a 1.8 percent increase in coal production. It expects the power-sector deliverd coal price to rise from $2.26 per MMBtu in 2010 to $2.32 in 2011, and then hold steady in 2012.

Working inventories of natural gas ended June 2011 at 2.5 trillion cubic feet, or about eight percent below their level one year previously. EIA expects that these inventories will build strongly this summer and approach record-high levels in the second half of 2011, with the Henry Hub natural gas spot price projected to average $4.27 per million British thermal units, $0.12 below the 2010 average.

EIA expects, however, that the natural gas market will begin to tighten in 2012, with the spot price increasing to an average of $4.54.

The agency predicts that regular-grade gasoline prices will average $3.62 and $3.51 per gallon over the third and fourth quarters of 2011, a further drop from their $3.68 per gallon level in June. That was itself a steep drop from the average $3.91 per gallon price in May, which reflected a decline in crude oil prices from their April peak, as well as recovery from refinery outages and Mississippi River flooding.

EIA expects oil markets to tighten through 2012, although the IEA release of strategic oil reserves will provide some additional supply. The projected cost of crude oil for U.S. average refiner acquisition is for $108 per barrel in 2012, up from $102 in 2011 – about $1 per barrel below the projection in last month’s Outlook.


Putting Sunshine in the Tank

Working with the Universities of East Anglia, York and Nottingham and using nanotechnology 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, the researchers are working on harnessing the vast energy of the Sun to produce clean fuel.

The scientists are presenting their research at the Royal Society's annual Summer Science Exhibition which opens July 5, 2011.

Members of the consortium at UEA have already found a way to produce hydrogen from water. A revolutionary future use of this technology could be to make the fuel for hydrogen-powered cars, rather than making it from fossil fuel.

Now the scientists are aiming to use the same technology to create alternatives for other fuels and feedstock chemicals, including turning methane into liquid methanol and carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

The sun's potential is vast -- just one hour of sunlight is equivalent to the amount of energy used over the world in an entire year -- yet no one has yet tapped into its immense power to make fuels.

Professor Wendy Flavell, from The University of Manchester's Photon Science Institute, and her colleagues are working to create a solar-nano device using 'quantum dots' -- tiny clusters of semiconducting material which absorb sunlight.

When sunlight is absorbed, carriers of electric current are created. Together with catalyst molecules grafted to the surfaces of the dots, these create the new fuel -- for example hydrogen can be produced from water. Professor Flavell said: "Our sun provides far more energy than we will ever need, but we use it really inefficiently.

"To make better use of the fantastic resource we have in our Sun, we need to find out how to create solar fuel that can be stored and shipped to where it is needed and used on demand.

"Most hydrogen so far is obtained from fossil fuels, which are of course not going to last for ever, so it is important to get energy from renewable sources."One of the key questions is: 'what do we do when the sun goes down, what happens at night?' If we can store the energy harnessed from the sun during the day then we will have supplies ready to use when the sun is not shining.

"This is a first step in taking the vast power of the sun and using it to provide the world's fuel needs."

At the exhibition, Professor Flavell and her team will be displaying an interactive world map which will show children and other visitors just how much energy the Sun provides.

There will also be a chance to see the quantum dots at work, and show how, simply by changing the size of the dots, the colour of light they absorb or give out can be changed.

A solar cell that produces hydrogen directly from the electricity generated will also be on display and there will be a chance to race solar-powered and hydrogen-powered model racing cars.

Professor Chris Pickett of the University of East Anglia said "Creating catalytic devices which harvest light energy using quantum dots, or photovoltaic materials to drive the formation of synthetic fuels from water or carbon dioxide can be viewed as artificial photosynthesis.

"Globally, chemists, physicists and materials scientists are coming together to work on artificial photosynthesis to get to a stage where we can viably make clean, green fuels"

Professor Robin Perutz of the University of York said:"This is the most challenging scientific project I have ever been involved in, but it will be the most rewarding if we can bring it off. It's no use sitting back and hoping that someone else will work out how to harness the Sun's energy. This technology could revolutionise our energy usage in the coming decades."