Tough transition

The Russian natural gas pipelines that heat and power Europe/Wikimedia Commons

Before the first great pandemic of the twenty-first century played havoc with life as all have known it in the Information Age, some European countries seemed on the verge of upending the hydrocarbon economy that has powered the world since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

And now, as the world that was in lockdown starts to unlock, the Europeans are facing what is touted as an “energy crisis” thanks to a perfect storm of natural and manmade events.

“Resurgent energy demand post-Covid, extreme weather events (unprecedented heatwaves and prolonged winters), supply chain disruptions, and poor regional and global stockpiling have all contributed to Europe’s current crisis,” writes market analyst Ariel Cohen at Forbes. “Russia’s supremo Vladimir Putin may have a reason to pop a champagne bottle in view of the EU’s sanctions on the Kremlin. He says that Europe had created a self-inflicted wound. He may be right.”

Putin was the man in charge of Russia’s zigging toward increased production of natural gas when Europe was zagging toward renewable energy because of concerns about global warming due to an atmospheric carbon-dioxide build-up linked to the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas.

As a result of this move, Putin now has significant parts of Europe dependent on Russian gas.

“Supplies of natural gas are so tight that prices are up by almost 400 percent since the start of the year. Utilities are switching to power generated from coal and even fuel oil, two of the world’s dirtiest fuels. That has some accusing Russia – which supplies 35 percent of the European Union’s gas imports – of using energy as a weapon,” Foreign Policy reported this week. “It didn’t help calm waters when the Russian ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, recently suggested a linkage between gas supplies and Europe’s behavior, hinting that the gas shortage could get resolved if Europe stopped treating Russia as an ‘adversary.'”

Putin, for his part, called the accusation that Russia is restraining gas supplies “entirely groundless bloviation.”

Storage problems

Whatever the case politically, the physical problem is a simple one: storage.

Wind and sunlight can produce a lot of power, but there are problems storing it, not to mention predictable interruptions like night and dead air. Water can be stored and reused, but hydropower has a somewhat dirty reputation thanks to dams in the U.S. Pacific Northwest that helped make a mess of salmon runs.

France’s response to the problematic problem of dirty fossils versus clean, renewable energy was to go nuclear. About 70 percent of that country’s electricity – necessary to power electric cars, heat homes and power industry in a “clean economy” – is now produced by nuclear power plants.

Most other countries, however, fear the potential for a nuclear disaster more than the threat of climate change and thus the nuclear option remains widely unpopular.

All of which has the Russians gambling fossil fuels are going to be around for a long time still although anyone who has regularly been using cordless power tools for the past decade knows well the slow but steady improvement in batteries.

There are now, too, companies looking at using surplus renewable power – say wind power that isn’t needed in the moment – to split water into oxygen and clean-burning hydrogen, which can be stored like any other gas for future use.

Renewable energy production will continue to grow in the future because the wind and sunlight free, but what Europe is experiencing now is the storage problem destined to plague its growth.

“Renewable energy became the biggest source of electricity in the European Union in 2020, beating fossil fuels for the first time,” The Verge raved as the start of this year. “Germany and Spain also hit that milestone individually last year – so did the UK, which officially left the EU in January 2020.”

Unfortunately, the big growth was in wind and solar which present the biggest storage problems.

“Much like refrigerators enabled food to be stored for days or weeks so it didn’t have to be consumed immediately or thrown away, energy storage lets individuals and communities access electricity when they need it most – like during outages, or when the sun isn’t shining,” notes the Union of Concerned  Scientists. “Storage can reduce demand for electricity from inefficient, polluting plants that are often located in low-income and marginalized communities. Storage can also help smooth out demand, avoiding price spikes for electricity customers.”

The Russians

Enter the Russians, who understand state capitalism, recognize the comparatively easy storability of their gas and have less reason to fear climate change than most any other area of the globe.

The largest country in the world, Russia has the longest Arctic coastline and the largest Arctic landmass, about 5 million square kilometers or approximately 1.9 million square miles.

That’s an area about the size of France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom combined, and yet home to only about 2 million people or about a fifth the population of London.

Credit the long, cold Arctic winters for keeping the population low, if you love the wilderness, or blame it if you prefer the bustle of the cities in which eight out of 10 Americans now live. 

“Siberia, like ‘the cold,’ has for centuries been synonymous with the very image of Russia,” Clifford Gaddy and Fiona Hill of the Brookings institute observed almost two decades ago. “From the tsars, who first planted the seeds of cities in Siberia, to the Soviet central planners, who moved masses of people and industry into its vast and remote regions, the exploration and development of Siberia have shaped Russia’s sense of national identity. Siberia’s ‘untamed frontier’ has long promised wealth and opportunity for the rest of Russia.”

They went on to characterize that promise of wealth and opportunity as foolishness.

“Thanks to Soviet industrialization and mass settlement of Siberia, much of Russia’s population today is scattered over a vast landmass in large but isolated cities and towns,” they wrote. “Inadequate road, rail, air, and other communication links hobble efforts to connect those population centers, promote interregional trade, and develop markets. About one in ten Russians live and work in almost impossibly cold Siberian cities, places where average January temperatures range from -15 to -45 degrees Celsius (5 to minus-49 degrees Fahrenheit). Because of their location, these cities still depend heavily, as they did in the Soviet era, on central government subsidies for fuel, food, and transportation. Costs of living are as much as four times higher than elsewhere in the Russian Federation, while costs of industrial production are sometimes higher still.”

The duo pretty thoroughly trashed the Siberian dream of Russians.

“…Pumping large subsidies into Siberia deprives the rest of Russia of the chance for economic growth,” they wrote.

“To become competitive economically and to achieve sustainable growth, Russia must modernize and connect its physically vast but misdeveloped economy,” they wrote.

Fixing Siberia’s infrastructure problems, they wrote, “would simply improve the connections between towns, cities, and enterprises that should never have been where they are. It would make places more livable where, from an economic point of view, most people should not live to begin with.”

Putin’s view

Putin – a product of that old Soviet system and the man who “rears his head” over the Arctic as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin once so famously and hysterically observed – clearly had a different view of the situation.

Under his leadership, Russia has aggressively moved to tap oil and natural gas resources in Siberia – global warming be damned – and pioneer the Northern Sea Route along the Arctic coast while at the same time building pipelines to deliver oil and gas to Asia.

“Russia is one of the three biggest oil exporters in the world, alongside Saudi Arabia and the United States,” noted in May. “It has enough oil to keep producing at current rates at least until 2080, with enough gas reserves to last for another 103 years. And the state is pouring billions – $110 billion to be precise – into the development of new oil reserves in eastern Siberia to tap 100 million tons of new crude annually. That’s about a fifth of the country’s annual output in 2019.”

“In the first eight months of the year, China spent some $837.32 million on Russian gas, which is a 98.94 percent increase compared to the corresponding period last year, the Chinese General Customs Administration said on Monday.”

China, like Russia, publicly proclaims a desire to join the battle to slow global warming, but its action say something else. China more than a decade ago surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest greenhouse-gas producing country.

And China’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, continue to creep upward.

In 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported, “most economies saw a decline of five to 10 percentage points compared to recent rates of emissions growth, with lesser declines in Brazil and most notably, China. The only major economy to record an increase in annual CO2 emissions in 2020, China’s emissions growth slowed by just one percentage point compared with its average rate over the 2015 to 2019 period.”

U.S. emissions dropped 10 percent in the same period, and those in the United Kingdom fell `even more.

The United Kingdom – formerly the British Empire and the dominant world force from the sixteenth into the twentieth centuries – has promised to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050 and was applauded for getting more than halfway there last year.

“The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 51 percent below 1990 levels, according to new Carbon Brief analysis,” Carbon Brief headlined. “This means the UK is now halfway to meeting its target of ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050.

“The milestone was reached after a record-breaking 11` percent fall in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020,” Simon Evans wrote in the story below before adding the all-important caveat, “largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The pandemic slowed the carbon-dioxide spewing engines of commerce and significantly altered the way the Brits got about. They started working more from home than driving to offices, and when they did go there or elsewhere, they traveled less by motor vehicle and more on foot or by bicycle because of their government’s encouragement of “active travel” to increase “social distancing.”

“COVID-19 has radically changed our travel habits in just a matter of weeks. Walking and cycling are up, as people enjoy their daily exercise or take essential journeys they might otherwise have made by public transport. Cycle-to-work schemes have seen a 200 percent increase in the number of bicycle orders, while car use is roughly 40 percent of what it was in mid-February as more people work from home. Air pollution in cities has duly fallen rapidly, with nitrogen oxide pollution down 70 percent in Manchester, England,” The Conversation reported in May 2020.

“Transport is the UK’s most polluting sector, so encouraging more people to keep walking and cycling after the pandemic would benefit the environment, as well as make cities healthier for the people who live in them.”

But these weren’t the only reasons for the UK’s drop in production of the gases that power the atmospheric “greenhouse effect” that  has kept the planet warm enough to be habitable for humans for 200,000 to 300,000 years,  but which many now believe could make it uninhabitable in the near future as the planet steadily warms.

The government backed a plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution” to power the country with wind, water and sunshine to fight “climate change” and to take advantage of, according to a government white paper, the “huge opportunity for both growth and job creation. The global markets for low-carbon technologies, electric vehicles and clean energy are fast growing: zero-emission vehicles could support 40,000 jobs by 2030, with exports of new technologies such as CCUS (carbon capture usage and storage) having the potential to add £3.6 billion GVA (gross value added) by 2030. The time is now to seize these opportunities.”

The time may still be now – some in fossil-fuel short EU countries are arguing the current energy crisis only underlines the need to speed the move to renewables – but the crisis of the moment also makes clear the bumps in the road, more of which can be expected ahead.

Oil and gas are wonderfully convenient sources of power, and there’s nothing much more than convenience that the citizens of the modern world now desire.





13 replies »

  1. What kind of fools lets putin control their energy source?
    ( kick me !kick me! say the Europeans) didnt Germany get a full taste of russia after WW 2 ? It seems folks on that side of the pond just cant be helped.
    As is becoming abundantly clear Alaska should have developed their nat gas line . Or at a massive nat gas burning power plant on the slope to create cheap electricity that could be line shipped to our cities and create hydrogen for sale with the excess electrical production. Whichever was cost effective. Alaska really needs to diversify and capitalize on its resources.

  2. Producing green hydrogen from water requires a lot of energy.
    To produce enough green hydrogen to create 1 kWh of energy requires 3 to 4 kWhs of energy to distill the water and then break the chemical bonds of the water molecules. Green hydrogen is very inefficient. The physics doesn’t work. Much better to use the 3 to 4 kWhs of energy for a useful purpose rather than wasting 2/3rds of it making hydrogen.

    If you use wind or solar to make the hydrogen, there is another issue.
    Over the average life span of a solar panel farm, roughly 70 units of energy have to be input for every 100 units of energy created. (This includes mining the materials, creating the panels, shipping and installation, storage, backup and transmission.)

    For the average wind farm, 40 units of energy in for every 100 units of energy created.

    Coal and Natural gas plants over their 60 to 80 year lifespan require around 3 units of energy in for every 100 units created.
    Nuclear plants, over their 80 to 100 year lifespan, well less than 3 units in.

    • Many years ago, a big thinker wrote a letter to the editor about using the free geothermal energy in the Aleutians generated by the movement of the Pacific Plate. The concept being that the production of Hydrogen from seawater into an ocean transportable form would be from a “free” source of input energy and be ready to load at tidewater. A side benefit would be the valuable minerals that would also precipitate from the seawater during the process. Of course the amortization of the capital and operating costs would also need to pencil out. Perhaps it would be more efficient to transmit the power generated by an undersea HVDC line or fulfill Tesla’s idea of transmitting the energy without wires.

  3. There will be a massive devaluation of the US dollar at some point soon, particularly when foreign countries and investors no longer have faith in US bonds due to an enormous debt load. By 2040, Medicare, SS, and interest on debt will eat the entire US budget. Living standards will begin to fall by the end of this decade. Yet, people will talk about the danger of global warming and “terrorist” parents speaking at schoolboards.. THANK YOU DEMOCRATS….

    • Bryan,
      Perhaps your not familiar with how % rates affect the $,and visa versa.Rates up,$ up.
      Rates down,$ down.Thats a general rule of thumb mind you.
      So if say the Chinese sold there bond holdings(first or second largest global holders), the dollar would rise, thereby supporting rising rates.But then what are the Chinese going to buy?
      More of there overly debt ridden own sovereign(Evergrande anybody?,who’s going to eat those hundreds of billions of R.E debt?)
      Maybe the Japanese with the first or second largest global US bond holdings?
      And buy what, more of there negative interest rate Bonds?With a declining birth rate, almost as bad as the Chinese (thanks Mao and the one family one child policy).Rates tend to follow over long periods of time the country birth/death rates (least thats the camp that Im in).
      Well then its simple, they will all buy Bitcoins!….now we have serious problems, makes zombie apocalypse look like COVID 19
      OTOH,hydrogen produced from natgas will be the bridge of choice till renewables and storage fill the gap.Both will take investment, all the more reason for republicans to do something more than stand for The Party of NO.

  4. Storage of energy is a tricky deal. The whole second law of thermodynamics and entropy and whatnot. Converting kinetic or photovoltaic energy into electrical energy is one thing, storing that energy for any amount of time in a usable manner is another, releasing that energy is yet another. It can, and has been done, and we continue to make great strides to improve the process.
    Converting one energy source to another is a losing proposition, even though the first law of thermodynamics still hold true, so does the second. We only have an imperfect process, but we can maximize that process and in so doing save money by operating at peak efficiency and storing excess energy.

    There are projects in state that have recently come online offering energy storage through kinetic energy, there are some about to come online in state offering state of the art electrical storage, there are others in the works offering either kinetic or electrical storage. They all have their pros and cons. We have vast amounts of energy capacity in this state, but to date our storage capacity has been constrained to hydropower and other limited amounts of kinetic storage. There are grid scale projects in state coming online and in the works that open up all kinds of new possibilities.

    Green energy is a misnomer. The raw materials and expenditure of energy alone required to create solar and wind results in a massive negative pollution hole before any of these projects generates its first electricity. All of these projects must be over built in order to produce the amount of energy they claim. The solar company near Willow is trying to build a solar farm on the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage. On top of the overly generous federal subsidies they already receive they are asking for massive local property tax exemptions in order to try and make their project competitive.

    Scaling up for worldwide energy storage will require an extensive push for mining to gather and develop the raw materials required not only for “green energy” production but also the storage required for “green energy” to become reliable in any meaningful way.

    • Yes going green is a hard transition.
      Whats not hard that’s worth doing?
      Marriage can be hard. Raising kids can be hard .
      Climbing Everest can be hard . Breaking new ground for a garden can be hard.
      Developing a controlled nuclear chain reaction was hard .
      The trick is applying all our knowledge and effort.
      Clean air, water and soil is worth the strain.
      Efficiency is the key . L.E.D s , effecient electrical appliances, re directing excess power to areas its needed, heavy insulation, even an electrical system that directs power to passive storage. When solar is at peak production maybe freezers could change their settings to deep freeze and reduce compressor effort at high production times.( charge mobile batteries at high production times )( If storage is the problem then timing is the key) There are under ground bladder air compressor energy storage systems that could work under that concept. As well as systems that store water and electric motors that move heavy objects up hill to be used as stored energy.
      Very few solar energy production systems use directional collectors . As in , cheap reflectors to maximize solar efficiency. ( a few lower 48 solar farms do) the fact that the willow farm doesn’t happens to show someone is not applying their brain in full. In Alaska a marginal solar production area requires solar collectors to maximize panel efficiency. Panels just don’t produce well unless operating at full sun therefore you need cheap reflectors to maximize returns and efficiency.
      We are barely in the entrance stages of maximization.
      For mobile vehicles Don’t rely on batteries when lng is more appropriate.
      Use locally effective methods of energy production. Geo thermal where it’s appropriate. Solar where it’s appropriate, lng where it’s appropriate, wind where it’s appropriate, catering the production to the area is key.
      then link the grid system worldwide or hemisphere/ continent wide with a carefully managed system to send power from where efficiency is high to where it’s needed.
      Myself i plan to adhere to the great reset method promoted by the globalists like my good german Freind klauss. I plan to keep on skipping showers and only wash my clothes once a month. Bugs to . We should all eat bugs to reduce energy usage.😉 ( i always knew i was ahead of my time)🤤

  5. Anybody remember just 10 months ago when gas was under $2/gallon and we were the largest producer of oil and natural gas in The WORLD? Anybody remember on January 19, 2021 we were energy DOMINATE in the world?
    Anybody remember on January 21, 2021 how we became energy DEPENDENT with the stroke of the Democrat pen?
    “I don’t have a quick solution for lower gas prices” Joe “Dementia” Biden.
    Only a moron would think EV vehicles are anything other than making billions for the Globalists. “Oh, but I feel good saving the planet”. Haha. Um, ok!

    • Totally agree!!!

      The Lower 48 alone has over a 1000 years of Natural Gas. Natural Gas powered vehicles have been used by the Municipality of Anchorage for over 50 years. NG vehicles are cleaner(no monster batteries disposals & mining essential minerals) and don’t put a strain on the national electrical grid that can barely handle light bulbs and air conditioning. Also, does one consider the ill effects of being surrounded by a strong electrical force while cruising down the highway?? Gas stations need a tax incentive to develop NG fueling pumps so the country can move forward logically…..

  6. The U.S. may have won the cold war with Russia, but they are winning the war in developing the Arctic.
    Deep water ports, LNG storage production & storage, Nuclear Ice-breaker/ LNG tankers for transport over the Northern Route & successful drilling rigs in the Arctic Ocean as a result of their partnering with China.
    “Using a supposedly ice-resistant platform, Russia has already begun drilling in the Arctic Ocean at the Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea off western Siberia.”
    Meanwhile the politicians in Alaska continue to work over the remaining oil fields while looking to build a pipeline that is no longer needed due to the open Northern Route.
    It is sad to loose our advantage to communist powers when over twenty years of time & money was wasted fighting a war in the middle east that has not brought stability to the region.
    Renewables are nice but I would say the mining & gasses released as a result of their production is not much better than using natural gas.

    • You don’t want LNG off the Slope. You want GTLs / CTLs, batch shipping syn diesel down TAPS. Market for that is both sides of the Pacific Rim. Market for LNG is flooded and will be for a while. Cheers –

  7. The democrats are using the enviroment and health care to control you. They will enact whatever policy they want based on saving the environment or your health. People died in Texas from the worst cold spell anyone had ever seen and if Global warming theory is correct the planet is the hottest in human history. The second coldest tempurature ever recorded on earth just taken a few month ago on the hottest planet in human history. Putin knows global warming/climate change is a scam and our governments are acting irrationally. The people are not going to suffer to reduce carbon emmisions while the elites fly around in jets and enjoy carbon spewing yachts.

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