Click on the headline (link) for the full text.
Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
What's raining on solar's parade?
Almost all solar panels are made with silicon -- and makers can't buy enough of it -- Sometimes it's possible to be a little too successful. The solar power industry has been on a tear, growing at more than 30% per year for the last six years. It's poised to reach a surprising milestone within two years, when it will gobble up more silicon for its electricity-generating panels than semiconductor makers use in all their chips and devices. The onetime "'tree-hugger' industry is not a niche business anymore," says Lisa Frantzis, director of renewable energy at Navigant Consulting Inc.
So what's the problem? "Global demand is stronger than the existing supply," says Lee Edwards, president and CEO of BP Solar. His company and others can't buy enough of the ultrapure polysilicon now used in 91% of solar panels. The raw material shortage has slashed growth for the industry from more than 50% in 2004 to a projected 5% in 2006.
(6 Feb 2006)
Kentucky's underground economy
Bobbie Ann Mason, NY Times
When you fly over the Appalachians of eastern Kentucky, you can see the gray scars on the mountains, pockmarks reaching far to the north and east that are the results of a kind of strip-mining called mountaintop removal. Most Kentuckians never see that part of the state because it is so isolated, and most people across the nation (which burns the premium coal from these mountains) don't know how costly their cheap electricity really is. It could break your heart to know.
It takes just a dozen guys with giant D-9 bulldozers about a year to wreck a mountain. They dynamite it, then shove the shattered vegetation and topsoil (called spoil or overburden) down into the valleys, followed by chunks of bedrock.
Everything in this horrific pile dies. Even the streams are buried. Every rain is a flood. Slurry ponds spill black sludge.
...The United States gets half its electricity from coal, and about a seventh of that comes from Kentucky. But coal money has not lifted eastern Kentucky out of poverty. In fact, the strip-mined counties have the highest poverty rates in the state...
...With mountaintop removal, the ancient forests won't come back in a hurry. The fertile topsoil, which took thousands of years to form, can't be recreated. The timber that might offer economically profitable, self-sustaining industry is flung aside, along with other valuable plants, animal species and minerals. Any miracle medicines the forests might yield will be gone. It's our Brazilian rainforest.
(5 February 2006)
Also at Common Dreams.
Preparing for life after fossil fuels in Australia
Jessica Irvine, Sydney Morning Herald
Does Australia's fledgling biofuels industry have a future?
...From the little guys to the very big guys, biodiesel is raising eyebrows across the world.
As international oil prices test $US68 a barrel this year, concern about dwindling oil supplies has moved into the mainstream, leading governments and the oil industry to investigate alternative sources of fuel.
...Momentum behind alternative fuels is gathering closer to home, with the Federal Government having set a 350 megalitre target for renewable fuels by 2010.
The focus so far has been on ethanol blends made from sugar and petrol. But the biggest potential environmental rewards are diesel alternatives made from used cooking oils, canola crops or tallow from slaughterhouses.
"Biodiesel is potentially going to have the most impact in terms of environmental impact," predicts outgoing Shell Australia chairman Tim Warren. Carrying a "much greater environmental prize", biodiesel is something we should be targeting, he says.
(6 February 2006)
Canada has 8 years of natural gas left - researcher
Dan Crawford, The Republic (Vancouver)
A Natural Resources Canada presentation in the heart of Canada’s energy industry lays bare the stark reality of energy resources
The University of Calgary’s Geology Department played host to a presentation given by Dave Hughes: “The Coming Energy Sustainability Crisis: Alternatives to Oil, Implications of Demand Growth and the Way Forward.”
Hughes is a full-time employee at Natural Resources Canada. He spends much of his time delving into North America’s energy situation, heavily focusing on the natural gas component.
...Hughes began with a slide showing the resource pyramid. Located at the top of the pyramid are the high-quality resources normally found in large distinct pools. Going down the pyramid to the base, the resources become more abundant but of lesser and lesser quality and dispersed over larger and larger areas. Exploiting these resources eventually leads to a point where the energy used for the extraction and distribution equals the amount of energy recovered, marking the transition between energy source to energy sink.
A look at global primary energy growth showed that over the past four decades, growth has been 165%, with 4.3% growth in 2004 alone. Overall, natural gas has been the fastest growing fuel source in percentage terms at 283% since 1965. In most recent years, from 2001 to 2004, the fastest growing fuel source has been coal.
For natural gas, North America is now on what Hughes calls an “exploration treadmill,” meaning that the number of wells drilled must be continually increased in order to hold production steady.
...Hughes walked through various scenarios where the shortfall in conventional natural gas supplies could be made up. He touched on Liquefied Natural Gas imports, coal bed methane, and the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. His conclusion was that it is going to be extremely challenging, perhaps even impossible, to keep North American production at a level plateau in the years ahead.
Consumption trends and patterns were also explored. In every case, the phenomenal growth rates in our economy show a complete disconnect with the reality of the resources currently supporting them. Canada, for example, has 8.1 years left in natural gas reserves.
(2-14 February 2006 issue)
Exxon: America will always rely on foreign oil
HOUSTON (Reuters) - The United States will always rely on foreign imports of oil to feed its energy needs and should stop trying to become energy independent, a top Exxon Mobil Corp. executive said on Tuesday.
(7 February 2006)
Sweden plans to be world's first oil-free economy .